“Respect my authority”

Whether a college, a corporation, or a community they all have their own “culture”. That is the written and unwritten “laws” that govern behavior within the group. There is always an authority to respond to. In every group that I have been part of there are those who respect authority and those that don’t. There are those that comply and those that defy. There are those that cooperate and those that comply without cooperating. Do we as Christians have any Biblical mandate about our response to authority?

Before I answer that question let me share an observation as an old man with lots of experience with Christians in different settings. Over the years I have found Christians are little different than non-Christians in their attitudes and responses toward authority. Compliance is given, but cooperation is not. For example I am just as likely to find a radar detector in the car of a Christian, as in the car of an unbeliever. Christians comply with the law. We slow down as we pass the police car with its radar speed detection equipment. We drive carefully and lawfully when the patrol car is following us. But as soon as we are sure it is safe, we drive normally—and illegally. (I am guilty as charged!)

Now back to my question about a Biblical mandate about Christians and civil authority. The Apostle Paul lived and died as a Roman citizen. In his letter to the church in the most powerful city in the world Paul, in Romans 13:1-7, deals directly with the Christian’s obligation to civil government.
There are a number of reasons Christians and civil government often are at odds with one another, and it is relatively easy for Christians to twist these into excuses for disrespect and disobedience to authorities. Let’s look at this dynamic in the time of Paul’s writing.

The first factor is simple but far reaching, civil government is secular and the church is spiritual. According to the Apostle Peter Christians are aliens and strangers, just passing through this world. Paul writes in Phil. 3:20  that Christian citizenship is in heaven. This difference misunderstood led the state to view the church as hostile to its authority. The church acknowledged that Jesus is Lord because their highest authority is God. The Roman government of Paul’s day acknowledged that “Caesar is Lord”. The church refused to acknowledge this and so the Romans considered Christians as atheists. It was a small leap for the government to see this atheistic institution as treasonous. The practical application of “Jesus is Lord” is that Christians are required to obey God, rather than men“. With each conflict the government’s suspicions of the church were confirmed. The result of the secular/spiritual conflict was that government officials, either unconsciously or willingly, used their authority to actively oppose the church and to persecute Christians.

In this political climate with civil government viewing the church with suspicion, and even fear, Christians were tempted to see government as their opponent, and as an enemy of God and the gospel of Jesus. Therefore civil disobedience might easily become common practice rather than a necessary exception. Submission to governmental authority was a vital topic in a day and time when the church and civil government were on a collision course. So what? What does that matter today?

I believe the church is on a very similar course today. In the earlier days of our nation, our government was founded on certain Christian assumptions and convictions. If our early government founders and officials were not Christians, at least their beliefs and values were compatible with Christian doctrines and practices. Our culture and our government today are post-Christian.

I am amazed when I hear Christians talking as if their views and values are still held by a majority of Americans. These are those that still mistakenly believe that if we could just mobilize the moral majority and encourage them to speak out—especially by voting – it would turn things around. I believe this view is, for the most part, unrealistic and untrue. I believe that Christian moral values are largely an unpopular minority view. Consequently, I expect that government will increasingly regulate, hinder, and even oppose Christian objectives whenever they conflict with the government’s objectives. Not surprisingly in this political climate some Christians are becoming increasingly disdainful of the laws of our land. Some even teach that if we disagree with a particular law, we are both obliged to disobey it, and justified to disobey other laws in protest.

Now if a good time for us to read Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.
What? No, God’s Apostle by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would not tell persecuted Christians to be in subjection to the pagan, Christian hating Roman government would he? Yes he would and he did. This principle was not only vital for the first century church, but it is just as vital for the 21st century church. Let’s unpack what Paul says God requires of the church in our relationship to civil government: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.

First notice that this is a clear, categorical commandment addressed to all mankind, without exception. Every person  includes both believers and unbelievers. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Subjection includes obedience, but implies much more. Subjection means recognizing an authority over us to which we are obliged to not only obey but to respect.

The governing authorities  are quite simply those authorities which govern us politically. This is pretty straight forward and under normal conditions in any country, it is the government which is in place.

Are there exceptions to the rule or precept Paul has laid down here? Certainly there are Biblical examples of those who chose to “obey God, rather than men” (Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:19-20; 5:27-32).
I believe that while the Christian may not, in good conscience before God, be able to obey the government in every instance, the Christian is never free to set aside true submission to the government. In other words, even when we cannot obey civil authority, we can always demonstrate a submissive spirit. According to Paul’s precept a submissive spirit should never be set aside when it comes to those in authority over us.

For example, in Acts 5 the Sanhedrin demand that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This they cannot do without disobeying God. Though they could not and would not stop preaching in the name of Jesus, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  Submission usually is demonstrated by obedience, but even when we must disobey, it is to be done with a submissive spirit.

To summarize: Submission to the authority of legitimate civil government is required by God, at all times and in all cases. Submission usually, but not always, results in obedience. But even when disobedient because of a conflict between God’s command and government’s laws, we are still to have a submissive spirit toward civil authorities. Submission means giving honor to who honor is due.

In my next post we’ll look at Paul’s reasons for our submission to human government. For now ask yourself if you have a respectful, submissive spirit to our government. Do you want to obey God or men? Man’s way is rebellion and disrespect of authority. God’s way is “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.

The Fundamental Difference between Christianity and Mormonism

The One God of the Bible versus the many Gods of Mormonism

To put it succinctly, the fundamental difference between The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and Christianity is that one is monotheistic and the other is polytheistic.

Biblical Christianity is rooted in Ontological Monotheism which is the belief in one God by nature.

LDS religion is rooted in Polytheism which is the belief in more than one God by nature.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

  • LDS founder Joseph Smith in The King Follet Discourse, August 15, 1844 said:

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . . I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370; emphasis added).

This teaching was elaborated upon by the Prophet Brigham Young:

  • Brigham Young, second President and Prophet said:

“There was never a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 22-23).

This belief is fundamental to LDS theology:

  • Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:

“In the Heaven where our spirits were born, there are many Gods, each one of whom has his own wife or wives which are given to him previous to his redemption; while yet in his mortal state” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, 37- 38; emphasis added).

In devastating contrast to LDS doctrine, Scripture teaches that there is only one true God. Yes, anything can be called a god, money, career, automobile, etc. But calling it a god, even worshipping it as a god, does not make it a God. Scripture teaches ontological monotheism, that is, by nature there exists one God. John 17:3 states: “And this is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” All other so-called gods are false.

The apostle Paul makes a crystal clear demarcation of false gods and the one true God in 1 Corinthians 8:4-5, “There is no God but one… many ‘gods’ many ‘lords’ yet for us there is but one God.” Underlining this central theme of Scripture, Paul reminds the Galatians, when they did not know God- they were slaves to those who by nature were not gods (cf. 4:8).

Scripture teaches One God and Mormonism teaches many gods. This deviation essentially separates Christians and Mormons.

But aren’t Mormons just members of a Christian denomination? Although that perception is carefully cultivated, this must be stressed: there is a fundamental difference between Christians and Mormons. That fundamental difference between historic orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is that Christianity maintains the belief in one immutable, Eternal God by nature. He does not grow, change, or progress (cf. Mal. 3:6). He is God from all eternity, Creator (not organizer)1 of everything that exists. Absolute monotheism has always been the distinctive principle “norm” of Jews and Christians alike.  Never has the church or any of the church Fathers held to the pagan doctrine of many Gods.

Pure monotheism (ontologically) is the core of Christian theology from which all other doctrines flow. The first lie ever told to humankind was from Satan, in the Garden of Eden. “Ye shall be as gods. . .” (Gen. 3:5)Satan is the originator of polytheism.  The monotheism of the Jews is what separated them from all the pagan nations that accepted the existence of other Gods.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deut. 6:4; emphasis added).

Literally: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah.”

Mormons try to assuage their polytheism by claiming “we don’t worship those other Gods.” But, whether or not someone worships these “other Gods” is wholly irrelevant, the question is: how many Gods are there? For the Mormon there is an infinite number of Gods and for the Christian there is One.

To ensure that no one will be confused God explains again and again that no other Gods exists! Particularly in the book of Isaiah, where absolute monotheism (one God by nature) is incontrovertibly taught:

Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: That ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me (Isa. 43:10; emphasis added).

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of host; I am the first, I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isa. 44:6; emphasis added).

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know of not any (Isa. 44:8; emphasis added).

God asks the question: “Is there a God beside me?” LDS doctrine would have to say yes, but God responds sharply: “NO, there is no God, I know of not any.”

Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretched forth the heaven alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself (Isa. 44:24; emphasis added).

I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me. . . . (Isa. 45:5; emphasis added).

All throughout Scripture God consistently affirms that He is the only true God:

Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightiest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him (Deut. 4:35)

Know ye that the LORD he is God (Ps. 100:3)

In the New Testament, one of the scribes had asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answered: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

The polytheistic teaching of the LDS Church comes from their founder and first Prophet, Joseph Smith. He plainly defines the doctrine of the LDS Church teaching:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. Here then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . .”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-347; emphasis added).

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . .  I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods” (ibid., 370; emphasis added).

The Mormon God is a changing god that is not eternally God. What he was before, he is not today. Mormons say that God was once a man that lived on a planet similar to this one. He progressed and was exalted to become the God of this planet by His Father God Who Himself is an exalted man that lives on the planet Kolob.2

Without question, Mormonism and Biblical Christianity believe in different Gods: “For I am the LORD, I change not. . . . ” (Mal. 3:6).

The doctrine of many Gods then, will always be the primary and fundamental difference that excludes the Mormon religion from bona fide orthodox Christianity. Christianity is cradled in the same monotheism that was fundamental to Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

Notes

1 In LDS theology God does not create anything He merely “organizes” eternal matter. Joseph Smith explains: “I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house–tops that God never had the he power to create the spirit of man at all” (Teaching s of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354).

Of course, this idea does not square with Scripture. The Bible presents God as Creator (e.g., Gen. 1:1; Isa. 44:24; 45:18; Jer. 10:10, 11; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-18; Heb. 1:2, 10).

2 Pearl of Great Price: Abraham, 3:9.

The Way Out of A Slump

Eight years ago I was in a slump. God seemed very distant from me.  I was tired.  I had been taught and had taught others that we can live with the assurance that everything that happens in our day-to-day life will work out for the best…for God’s best which is ultimately for our best.  I knew God’s promise that  He would take care of me.  I had experienced God lifting the burden off my back, and Him carrying it for me.  I had experienced God’s peace.  But at the moment none of that mattered to me.  I was in a slump and God seemed very distant from me.

What was wrong with me?  It wasn’t my faith.  I knew and even believed the right things but slowly, over time, I had closed the door of my heart to God.  I had relegated God to a safe place in my intellect that allowed me to say and teach the right things, to do my job, without the principles I was sharing with others impacting my own life.  My problem wasn’t my faith it was that I had forgotten that  what really mattered was my relationship with God not how much I knew about God.  I needed to reopen the door of my heart — and my life — to God. 

Some of you need to do the same thing I did.  I had to humble myself before God and say, “Jesus, I give my entire life to you.  Thank you for all you did and do for me.  Take the lead and I’ll follow.”  But hadn’t I done that before?  Oh yes, and I have had to go back to that relational square one many times since.  The wonderful thing is that no matter how often I retreat to my intellect Jesus is always there ready to gently welcome me into relationship with Him once again.

Maybe you have been following Christ for years, but, like me, you stubbornly keep putting yourself back in charge.  As a result, you find yourself trying to do everything on your own.  You’re attempting to build your own house, and watch your own city — and you’re discovering that what Solomon said in Psalm 127:2 is true:

“In vain you rise early and stay up late.”

From experience I can tell you that when you try to do it on your own, you find that there’s just no peace.  You find no peace no matter how hard you work, no matter how great your accomplishments, no matter how much you possess, no matter how much effort you put in your relationships, or in anything else.  There’s only one place of peace in this world: living everyday — all day, day-in, day-out, in dynamic relationship with the living God.

Being in relationship with God is different than our normal human relationships.  It is not a 50/50 arrangement.  We’re not equal partners with God.  To put it in sports terms (sorry, but that’s the way I roll!) He’s the coach; we’re the team.

When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers in 1959, they were at the bottom.  They had won only one of twelve games during the 1958 season.  As the players arrived for camp in June 1959, Lombardi greeted them with this speech: “Gentlemen, we are going to have a football team and we are going to win games.  You are going to learn to block, run, and tackle.  You are going to outplay all the teams that come up against you. And, most of all, you are to have confidence in me and enthusiasm for my system.  Hereafter, I want you to think of only three things, because only three things matter: your family, God, and the Green Bay Packers!”

Lombardi was probably the best coach who ever lived but our Coach is infinitely better!  I want for you what I have: full confidence in God and enthusiastism for His “playbook”. 

God’s promise to each and every one of us is: Enter into relationship with Me through My Son.  Follow My lead, and I will make you more like My Son than you ever thought you could be!