Cults, Divinity of Religion and the Formation of Theology



It is I believe, a truth self-evident, stemming from the nature of Christianity…

…that you can neither see the richness of Christianity as a religion, nor enjoy its benefits, nor be covered by the depths of its grace, if you only hold to a few of its principles in a loose and random fashion, and to do so separately from the whole of it.

william-millerFurther, it bears to reason, that if you do not consider each of Christianity’s components, or the components you are examining within the context of the whole system of truth, you will have no self-checking, self-correcting guide to keep your considerations from veering off the narrow path of the truth as God has given it. For we see that religion, by its very definition, forms a system which is complete as a body of coherent doctrines, closely connected, perfect in harmony, and absolute in its teachings.

To be sure, as pastor James Saurin has pointed out, “Nothing better proves the divinity of religion, than the connection, harmony, and agreement of its component parts.”

May15-1984WTcoverHalfSizeConsistent to this proposition; is this fashion of non-regulative theological formulations that many of the newer, “New,” and “New Age” denominations have veered off into believing. For in their obstinacy of opinion, that they have founded “new brands” of Christianity that are non-biblical in character. For by holding tightly to certain ill-shaped doctrines, prophecies, etc., many of these so-called “Christian” denominations have viewed specious systems of thought singularly, alone, as unto themselves, that is to say, to the exclusion of the Bible’s main teachings and its central “grand truths.” And in doing so, whatever their protestations, they have by practice committed heresy, all the while proclaiming commitment to Christ and loyalty to scripture.

Originally, Heresy did not mean flagrant dissent or deviation from a dominant doctrine opinion, practice, or dogma. Rather, it was simply a slight turning, a slight shading of truth, and a gradual veering away from what was considered biblical orthodoxy. In essence it was a small adding to and slight twisting of a body of truth.

As Spurgeon once said, “The root of every heresy in history is adding something of our own to the work of Christ.”

Lesson 37 2 Nephi 27 Prophecy of the Book of MormonToday’s Christian student can readily see how that down throughout the Christian era, men have wantonly contrived chains of theological systems to please themselves. If we were to cut to the chase, we can see that in the final analysis they have, for their own purposes and convictions, substituted doctrines of their own imagination and preferences, into teachings that have skewed the systematic body of doctrine which God has given us in holy scriptures.

Understanding why and how these groups formulate theology is important to understanding their unrepentant obstinacy, especially in their maintaining, and advancing such unwholesome religions. For of all obstinate people, none excel more in these dreadful kind expositions, than those who are prejudiced in favor of their own self-contrivances.

downloadA person or a group prepossessed with self-contrived imaginary systems of theology is seldom teachable. Why? Because he knows, that if one link be taken away, his chain falls to pieces; and that there is no removing a single stone from his building without destroying the whole edifice. On the other hand, if infatuation with self-contrived doctrinal systems has occasioned so many disorders in the church, the opposite disposition, I mean, the obstinate rejection of all orthodoxy, or the careless composition of some parts of it, has been equally hurtful: for it is no less dangerous, in the system of Christian religion, to omit what really belongs to it, than it is to incorporate anything foreign into it.

Therefore, one can see that in the Christian religion, which has its doctrines in such harmony and in such connection, and which has its body of doctrine so systematic, so symmetrical, compact, and united, ought not to be taken apart by bits and pieces, without a consistent and repeated evaluation and application to the whole.

Once again, as Saurin points out,

“Apply this to spiritual things. In a compact system, in a coherent body of doctrine, there is nothing useless, nothing which ought not to occupy the very place that the genius who composed the whole hath given it. What will become of religion if we consider any of its doctrines separately? What becomes of religion if we consider the holiness of God without his justice, or his justice without his mercy?”

11-27To acquire a complete knowledge of Christian truths and doctrines, one cannot study them by one’s self amid silence; we must converse with others who study them also. And we must also understand the bible and its doctrines as it was seen and understood from other great Christians of the church, who together with solemn unity have spoken down throughout the ages to the truths which were “once for all, handed down to the saints.”

The Mind of Judas, Part 3 of 3

Written by Michael W. Pursley



There comes a time in our lives where once we commit ourselves to a course of action, where we have intentionally and unconditionally bound ourselves to a position of commitment, that outside of some unmerited act of grace from heaven, we have now come to a place where there is simply no withdrawal.

And so it is, from the time that Judas met with the Jewish leadership and committed himself to the betrayal of his Lord, his time and ability to completely and cleanly withdraw from his course of action had essentially come to an end.

Now, for the first time Jesus has two groups seeking his destruction, the Jewish leaders and a member of his own twelve. While it appears from all practical purposes that Jesus’ ministry was on the verge of dismal failure, Jesus here instead uses the to occasion to bring his ministry to a stunning climax which both fulfills the Father’s will, and completes the prophetic intent of scripture. This latter is an extremely important consideration, because one has to ask, why didn’t Jesus who knows all things from the Father, why doesn’t he go to Judas and have a heart to heart talk with him? Why doesn’t he confront Judas regarding his actions? Why doesn’t Jesus at least stop him from committing so egregious an action; from letting Judas kill the Messiah, the Savior of Israel? Did Jesus not realize, that he was consigning Judas to bearing the guilt of killing the Son of God? –except “that the scriptures might be fulfilled.”

Perhaps another interesting question is, if Judas thought that he had cleanly succeeded in negotiating the betrayal unbeknownst to Christ? I certainly would not have wanted to have been Judas’ conscience at this point. Guilty? Unbelievably so. Jumpy? Like a cat on a hot tin roof. Every kind word Jesus directed to Judas would have been seen as accusatory. Every act of kindness from Jesus would have seemed doubly suspicious. The mind of the betraying disciple would have been working overtime analyzing and re-analyzing every word, action and expression. On one side, looking to see if he was discovered, on another, looking for justification for his actions, and on another, pitying his poor victim, and yet another, looking to the future to see how he may betray Christ; for “from that time he sought opportunity to deliver him unto them.” Matthew 16:26.

I think that it is safe to assume that Judas never wanted Jesus to die. For we find that when the death sentence had been pronounced upon Jesus, Judas hurried to undo the blasphemous transaction bitterly exclaiming, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”  –Matthew 27:4. We say this to his dubious credit, for the sentiment shows that this betrayal was not a simple act of revenge; it was much more complex than that.

Needless to say, for Judas, the anxiety levels were most likely close to intolerable. Something had to give. By looking to force the situation and thereby defusing it, Judas’ had instead made it both more unstable and more intolerable, especially for himself; for now, life was no longer about Jesus and the kingdom of God, it was about himself, and the state he found himself in, –which meant that he had to be miserable.

The next scene clearly involving Judas after his sell-out, occurs during the last supper. Typically, it is John’s Gospel that deals with the scene most elaborately as well as giving it a descriptive theological interpretation. It is found in John 13:21-30:  “After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered,“It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.”

For all the disciples to ask Jesus if they were the one who was going to betray him, shows that this group, on this evening, had an exceptionally unsettled state of mind. Remember, the disciples are on hostile territory and they are hunted. Despite the miracles, things seem to be gong badly. They have been hearing over the last several days that their life together was coming to an end. And instead of sounding confident and victorious, Jesus is sounding sorrowful, pensive, perhaps even resigned. Now, on this particular evening, with these ongoing statements of death bothering them, they are introduced to yet another dimension –death is by betrayal. And worse, it was going to be an inside job, for one of them, one of the trusted twelve, is doing it. I find it interesting that Judas wasn’t the first to inquire, “Is it I?” Instead he waits; finally, with a sinking heart, Judas asks, “Is it I?” It must have been to the worst of his expectations that Jesus says “yes.” But if he had any question as to whether Jesus really meant it was him, that was about to be dispersed. For the final clarion note on this matter is about to sound. And with awful finality, Jesus looks at him and says, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

It’s over, the gig is up. Now it is time for Judas to go to his new masters and to deliver on his side of the bargain. Judas might have even felt a sense of relief at this turn of events. Whatever delusions of jealousy, or pride, feelings of being slighted or snubbed, however melt into insignificance, for “then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him.” The resolve that Judas now felt was not his own, it was Satan’s. The last flame of grace once strong, growing weaker, now at once flickers and dies away. John noting this, completes the description…“And it was night.” Yes, Jesus and the disciples were experiencing a night of discouragement, and even depression. But for Judas it was different. For Judas was experiencing an altogether different kind of night; for him it was a night of eternal spiritual darkness and for those who experience it, this is a darkness co-inhabited with Satan. This darkness is like no other darkness. For as John expresses it, this is the night of the soul, this is a night to which there is no morning.

What feelings might Judas now be experiencing? Did he feel Satan’s giddiness sliding through his soul? Was he feeling hatred for his old master and for the stupid disciples? Or was he simply looking forward to a new life somewhere else? Perhaps, he just felt numb, like he lost part of himself but in haziness of mind not quite knowing how to place it. We don’t know. I am sure there was a smothering of some feelings. But what we do know is that he was bent upon finishing his singular task; which was to give up the future whereabouts of Jesus.

This he did. At once, the Jewish priests and leaders began rounding up their posse of devoted and loyal followers from their celebrations of high passover. And this had to be a difficult task at best. But here we look around and ask, where was Judas at this point, did they keep him there? Did they give him some simple task, so he wouldn’t revert back to Jesus and warn him? Did they treat him with disgust after he gave them the information they had required? Did they treat him as a traitor or renegade, which is typical treatment for those kind of people by their new benefactors? We don’t know. But we do know this, that he stayed close to the action. For as soon as judgment is pronounced, we find Judas back again in front of the same leaders in desperate appeal; “for I have betrayed innocent blood” Matthew 27:4. I think that the Pulpit Commentary describes Judas’ sentiments precisely.

“By speaking of “blood,” he showed that he knew the murder was certain. Judas seems to have had no faith in Christ’s Divinity, but he had perfect assurance of his holiness and innocence, and felt, and endeavored to make the rulers feel, that an iniquitous sentence had been passed, and that a guiltless person was condemned to death. This consideration added to the bitterness of his regret.” But it was too late.

As is often the case, the consequences of his actions were going forward now with a life of their own. The situation for Judas was now unresolvable. For he who thought himself the master of the situation, now finds he has badly over played his hand. His dreams of success for this venture and for himself, utterly destroyed.

There is one more thing here worth noting; Satan may enter his victim, but that does not mean that the victim completely loses his conscience. In fact, quite often the reverse is true. The conscience may often be overstimulated, leading to a breakdown of judgment and healthy perspective. In the end the overburdened conscience lends itself to desperation and to desperate acts of violence, degradation and death. In the final awful scene Judas both pronounces and executes judgment on himself; “And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” –Matthew 27:5

“Wicked men see little of the consequences of their crimes when they commit them, but they must answer for them all. In the fullest manner Judas acknowledged to the chief priests that he had sinned, and betrayed an innocent person. This was full testimony to the character of Christ; but the rulers were hardened. Casting down the money, Judas departed, and went and hanged himself, not being able to bear the terror of Divine wrath, and the anguish of despair.” –Matthew Henry Concise Commentary.

Hence we see that Judas died as he had lived, believing to the end that he alone was the “Captain of his own ship.”

[Originally, I had planned to stop here, but I must write a postscript. It would not be complete unless we look at the differences between the repentance of Judas and Peter. I say this for if we look closely, each had effectively betrayed Christ, and Peter did so while calling curses down upon himself. (see Mark 14:71). Here, I must confess that there was a time in my life where I thought that there just might be a possibility that Judas would also be saved. It all seemed so unfair! Each had repented! Each repentance looked remarkably similar. Only the end of each repentance was different, and that could be explained as due to temperament or state of mind. But there was one vast underlying divergence. And it is this divergence that we shall look at in our postscript as we look at: “The Repentance of Judas… and Peter.” –MWP]

The Mind of Judas, Part 2 of 3

Written by Michael W. Pursley


images (2)How did it happen? A fit of passion? Some festering need for revenge? Some uncontrollable urge which, in the heat of the moment, overmastered the will? A Satanic impulse that took possession of the heart? Can there be some resident evil in the human psyche which completely explains this betrayal of Christ?

There are a number of interesting things about the story of Judas, but one of which that strikes us first is the unlikelihood that those thirty pieces of silver would be the underlying motivation for the betrayal of Christ. Think about this, the Jewish priests and leaders were being offered the chance of a lifetime; the one unassailable thorn in their side, was about to be handed to them. Their growing existential nightmare of loss of influence, power, money, position, prestige, and significance, was about to be handed them on a platter, so to speak. Here was a chance to play the game on their turf; here was a chance for them to use the home field advantage; here was a chance for them to play the game they new best, to push the levers of power, to use the great geopolitical and religious machine they set up in the name of God and Israel, and to quietly but efficiently neutralize their opposition. What would they not have paid for the opportunity? “…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative…” John 11:49-51.

This was a dream too good to be true! The Jewish leaders and priests were describing this deal in terms of saving “the whole nation.” –Thirty pieces of silver? Save the nation? What a deal! I am going to guess here, with just a little sanctified imagination perhaps, but I am going to guess that the leaders did not offer Judas that sum of money. You see, from their perspective, they had no idea what he was thinking, the Jewish leaders knew that Judas knew that they wanted Jesus, and they knew that Judas knew they wanted Jesus bad, real bad. This was not a secret. What was also not a secret, was that the priests had almost unlimited funds which they could commit to this project; they had and could use the treasury of the Nation. I would not be surprised if these leaders spilled that kind of money over lunch. No, I think that they asked Judas how much he wanted.

But why 30 pieces of Silver? The word used in Matthew 26:15 ἀργύρια simply means “silver coins.” There were several coins circulating in the system at that time which could have been used. But I think that most likely it was the Tyrian shekel. Interesting to note, that because Roman coinage was only 80% silver, the purer (94% or more) Tyrian shekels were required to pay the temple tax in Jerusalem. The money changers referenced in the New Testament Gospels (Matt. 21:12 and parallels) exchanged Tyrian shekels for common Roman currency. This would, I think be the more likely coin that they would have had in hand. Also, Matthew does indicate that prophecy was fulfilled in regards to this exact amount by “what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet.” (Jeremiah 32) Namely, “They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me” (Matthew 27:9–10).

However, there may be an even deeper prophetic meaning attached here. In Exodus 21:32, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave. A number of scholars see the significance of this, and suggest that Matthew may also be saying that “Jesus’ death is a ransom, the price paid to secure a slave’s freedom.” Matthew 27:7 may even hint at the idea that “Jesus’ death makes salvation possible for all the peoples of the world, including the Gentiles.”

Once again, outside of the parameters of prophetic interpretation given by Matthew, we may never know precisely why the exact reason for 30 silver coins. But there maybe some other, additional considerations some from Judas’ perspective worth reflecting on. First, when Judas met with the Jewish officials, they most likely did not know his purpose for being there, so I am sure that they were hardly happy to see him. For Judas represented Jesus at that point, and did so until he finished stating his purpose for coming. With this in mind, Judas may have certainly felt himself on shaky footing during the discussion. He may have felt that this was the most dangerous part of the equation. He might have been afraid that he could have been put in jail at any moment. He might have even been a little “roughed up” on the way in or even during the interview. One thing for certain is that for Judas to have accepted 30 coins for the betrayal of Christ, does not bespeak the fact that he felt that he was entirely negotiating from a position of strength. And it is quite possible that even the Jewish leaders wondered as to whether Judas was as sharp as he thought he was. As such, there may have also been another possibility. The money may have only been a monetary “binder” into a larger agreement with the leaders. This could have certainly been the case if Judas had serious doubts about whether Jesus was truly the Messiah, sent from God.

From Judas’ perspective, this was a classic, if not the ultimate game of “playing each side against the middle.” On one side, Judas could be seen as putting Jesus into the position of rightfully assuming the Kingship of the nation, thereby Judas would be awarded for his sagacity, foresight and courage to precipitate the momentous and necessary event. And on the other hand, if Jesus was a fraud, then he, Judas would be rewarded by the Jewish leaders for his keen insight and remarkable courage to come forward. But whatever was in Judas’ mind at this point, one thing was for sure, the game was afoot, the betrayal was committed to, and purpose would soon be crystallized into action.

“Thirty pieces of silver”
Burns on the traitor’s brain;
“Thirty pieces of silver!
Oh! it is hellish gain!”

images (2)

The Mind of Judas, Part 1 of 2

Written by, Michael W. Pursley


Judas Iscariot (76.7 x 56cm, 2009)I do not believe that Judas sold his Lord with the objective of obtaining thirty pieces of silver.

The complexity of his actions, the far-reaching extent or measure of its effects, the utter badness of his betrayal of Jesus, a close friend, prevents such a supposition; it is inconsistent with his past avarice. The acceptance of so paltry an amount is conclusive to my mind that money was not the primary object.

I believe that the mind of Judas could have been at this time animated by an actual demon; this consideration alone suits our Lord’s description, “Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself (I, even I the Holy One of God) not choose you, the twelve (you the twelve to myself -ἐξελεξάμην) , and yet one of you is a devil?

I know that there are many who are willing to believe that this diabolic or demoniacal influence Judas experienced was merely a passion. –That it was something which swept over the mind in gusts, something which could happen to anybody, especially to those who operate impulsively, whereby their will is overcome.

However, even though a certain impulsiveness or compulsion may certainly have been involved, I think that we can see that the simple passion of avarice was not the basis of such a state, or of such a plan. This action was not that of simple passion; it is rather the want of passion. What I am saying is that what took place did not happen from a passion that came in gusts; rather, it was the working out of a heart existing completely under the control of one stronger than itself. As such, it could happen to any one of the sons of fallen Adam. For in its context, was not Peter a second Judas? Did he not betray his Savior with curses, as have we?

In the narrative as it took place, I maintain that the actions and passions involved were symptomatic and systemically part of a larger issue, an issue of a different kind, of a more malevolent kind of issue. Everything about the narrative I believe demonstrates that the motives which led Judas to the betrayal of the innocent Lamb of God, were inherent and came to the fore of his mind gradually and methodically until in the end, when the purpose and the course of action took possession and control of his thinking.

We do not see from the narrative any suggestion of an emotional outburst, such as what we saw just earlier with the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her bottle of expensive ointment, where it is exclaimed,” Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8-10).

However, if the inconsequential acquisition of a mere thirty pieces of silver will not explain the deed of Judas with any reliable conclusiveness, what then, does explain it?

First, let us admit that unless it is revealed to us through some act of Divine Providence, we will never know the entire mind of Judas, even in heaven. For the mind is God’s providence and he will reveal what he reveals, but there are certain tantalizing clues that may point as to what the intent of Judas’ motive might have been.

1. There was an atmosphere which permeated all of Judas’ actions, and that was one of “self-interest.” Judas kept the money the disciple collected (see John 12:39). To this extent we see from the above passage referenced in Matthew 26, that the concern for Judas was the collection of funds, which was considered paramount, even over the overt and public act of charity for their Master and teacher. If one thinks about the dynamics of this situation, as well as the thoughts and words of Judas and the disciples, this was an exceptionally disrespectful denigration and lack of consideration of one’s own Rabbi.

2. There was also a heightened sense of mission among the disciples, including Judas. As Jesus and John the Baptist had readily propounded, the Kingdom of God had come, and the Kingdom of God has come with power. This power was obviously concentrated in the person of Jesus. The fascinating aspect for Judas was that it was a raw physical power which could be conferred to his deputies, namely his disciples. Like them, Judas must have experienced the power of the “force.” And this had to be a power which both amazed and awed all of them, including Judas (see John 10:17).

Obviously, this period was both a heady and scary time for the disciples. Things were happening faster and faster on all fronts. The fact that there was an unpredictable end coming, an end for the quiet world which they well knew, was obvious. For Judas, seeing the end coming like a freight train, must have especially galling. To watch Jesus, being undiplomatic to the powers that be; to watch Jesus, instead of courting the powers of Israel, confronting, denouncing and making enemies as fast as he possibly could, must have seemed to Judas like a lesson in self-destruction.

Seen in this context, Judas must have been beside himself; an emotional wreck. I am sure that he must have quantitatively analyzed that over here is raw power, and over there, the Judicial, legislative and Executive powers; why must Jesus needlessly antagonize all of these levers of power? But by the time of the betrayal, Judas must have also realized that these two cultures were never going to homogenize. There was too much hatred between the two; with each side irretrievably irretractable; each side vociferously proclaiming its irreconcilable differences. Each side trying to lay its own axe to the roots of the other’s tree. It was now apparent, one side in the end, had to win. Dominance and submission, must now be the name of the game.

3. There must have been another angle playing around in Judas’ mind. It was the fact, that with the confirmation of power, there were at least two new implications which presented itself. As he thought about it, it was now obvious that Jesus had enough power to wipe out both the Jewish leadership, and the Roman occupiers. How so? If Jesus was who he said he was, than his power, was both unlimited and inexhaustible. Which meant… the Jews didn’t have a chance. Which also meant that Jesus would have all the power of Government, and that he would be the defacto second David. It also meant that the Romans didn’t have a chance either, and that would mean that the populace, thankful that they had a savior from the evil empire, would see their way to crowning him king; without any problem. Further, with Jesus’ ability to heal the sick, feed the poor, and raise the dead, the thought of an everlasting kingdom no longer looked so far-fetched. And with Jesus’ hatred of the leadership, and compassion for the poor, this whole thing might look like a cake-walk, if put together carefully.

4. But what if he was wrong? What if the scenario failed? Obviously, all he needed was a fuse; Jerusalem was already a powder-keg. But what would happen if he stood up for Jesus in dramatic fashion and Jesus called him down? Not only would it be completely humiliating, but his credibility would be forever shot. And further, it was entirely plausible that Jesus would do exactly that. Hadn’t that just happened the day before? (see John 12:7) That was a situation which had worked out very badly. No Jesus didn’t want to be pushed… He always pushed back, and in ways that were never foreseeable. No this was a situation that had to be handled delicately. For if Jesus did not cooperate, the Jewish leaders would take out their wrath on all of them, but especially on the one who had caused them grief. No, for Judas the scenario had to be seen as both initiated by him alone, but in complete compliance and cooperation with the Jewish leaders own wishes and desires. That way if something did go wrong with the Jews, they might take it out on the others, but for him, he at least had his own get out of jail free ticket. If he could just find a way.

5. Was there was yet another interesting implication? Since he had been given power, and was in solid with the disciples, there was also the consideration that there would be plenty of power sharing with the disciples in the New Kingdom. Who cares if Jesus loved like the top three disciples, of which Judas was not? He was at least part of the top twelve, and besides, all the money of the New Kingdom would pass through his hands. The permutations of those kind of sums was mind-boggling; for with the money, lies the power. This meant that the faster he, Judas, did something, the faster he could get rich. Maybe he would write a book on it; “Investing tips with Judas,” or say, “Investing for Eternity,” or maybe even, “How I Landed the BIG ONE.”

6. How could he, Judas, therefore force Jesus into a certain position, in which Jesus would have to defend himself, take charge over his worst enemies (the Pharisees and the Priests), while not necessarily compromising his own position with the Lord? Yes, how could he do that, and yet at the same time, keep himself off the hook with the now ruling parties, –just in case if things happen to turn out badly? This must have become a time-consuming question, as well as an emotional one, for it involved betrayal. And while he could justify betrayal in any number of ways, the fact of the matter was, that it was betrayal none the less. Fortunately, he had seen that Jesus was good at forgiving, and if he had a good excuse ready, perhaps he could smooth it out. Besides, if things went altogether badly, at least he had the cover of plausible deniability.

Judas Iscariot (76.7 x 56cm, 2009)

Who is the strong man at YOUR house?

Thoughts on Mark 3:23-27
Written by, Michael W. Pursley


“And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.”  Mark 3:23-27

There are two definitive objects in this passage that Jesus would like us to consider: Namely, the “strong man” and the “house.”

In dealing with the last object first, we notice that the house has ownership. We notice that the ownership of the house belongs to the strong man. We are given to understand that the house does not belong to itself; the house does not claim self-ownership, it is not viewed as an independent identity; it is an owned identity; it is the strong man’s possession.

images (1)In case some might wish to be strictly literally minded about this passage, the real context to which Jesus was speaking, is not in regards to a physical house, but about a person’s heart, your heart. And one of the implied questions to which he is addressing is not about the inherent characteristics of the house but about the definition of ownership. As we shall see later, the characteristics of the house are defined by, and flow from, who owns the house, that is, who is the strong man that is in possession of the house.

Therefore, to understand this passage deeply, we need to interpret who is the strong man. For in digesting this passage we realize that Jesus is really asking, who is the strong man in your heart? And interestingly, we find that Christ does not lay out three choices. He does not say, here are the three choices for the strong man, and the choices are, God, Satan, and You. No, instead we find that for Jesus the choices are only two, God and Satan.

Now this is an interesting proposition, for the implications are significant and deal directly with those dominating souls who feel that they are “the captain of their own ship.” And while not abrogating one’s personal responsibility, Christ does address heart and life ownership; for he calls it the “strong man’s house.” What is being said is that the individual is owned, possessed, even controlled and that there is never a lack of ownership. So we see from first to last, that the house is owned by someone. That the house, which is representative of our heart, is never left on its own; and it is never abandoned. But interestingly, we find that the heart may be taken by force.

The question that now comes to mind is; can Satan take the heart  by force?  

1233-300x120But in the passage, Jesus discounts that idea, “How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.” The implications here are staggering, for in the passage we see that Satan is both the original and residing owner. Also, we see that Satan is “bound” to the house, or heart; he cannot cast himself out; he cannot become divided… or he “hath an end.” By even a casual reading, we see that Satan already has the house (heart) of the person, and interestingly there is no mention of Satan taking it back again by force from Christ in this passage, and importantly, it is also not found elsewhere in the whole of scripture either. (see also Romans 8: 35-39) So we find in this passage the evidence of a strong internal theological consistency.

Notice also, that the house or heart does not have an end to its existence, only that Satan or his kingdom has an end, and even that is tied to ownership of the house. Another implication is that the heart which was once Satan’s, can now belong to someone else. But how is this to be accomplished? The passage gives both an answer and another implication. First, it is Jesus himself, who points out that the transference of property (the house or heart) cannot be accomplished except by force. “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.”

Christian, this language speaks to you.

You are the house in this parable. You are considered valuable both to Satan and also to Christ. Each of the parties have, and will fight for control of you. Satan owned you first, and he still fights for control today, for you were his and have “spoil” or value to him.

But there is another important consideration to be taken from this passage; in no sense does the “house” rise up and bind the owner. Your house, or heart, does not have that power. You cannot “bind the strong man.” In short, you cannot not own your own soul; it simply will never belong to you. Nor can you give it to Christ, for your heart is an object that must be taken by the force of another, stronger, party.

For some, these thoughts will be debilitating.

They have always believed that they would eventually be strong enough to someday bind the strong man, or Satan, by themselves. Others believe, that they were destined to bind the strongman, but with some help from Jesus. But what flows from the passage, is that each of those considerations are wrong. The house is both stationary and helpless, subject to spoiling, pending of the binding of the “strong man.” The house is subject to the work of alien, outside forces, it does nothing in the story, but holds intrinsic value to the opposing forces. In it we hear ringing in our ears like a clarion bell the voice of Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” –Romans 7:24-25.

luciferLet’s address one final aspect of the passage, though not quite as clear, it is implied none the less; that is the binding of Satan by the other “Strong Man,” Jesus Christ. We see this worked out more clearly, when we understand that the passage itself is part of an extended declarative statement by Christ, namely that the “Kingdom of God has come.” Here, as part of his argument with the pharisees, we see Jesus proclaiming the binding of Satan, his conclusion to the pharisees is that their arguments are completely stupid, Satan cannot bind himself. But that his own actions, the miracles, the healings, the repeated feedings of the multitudes, all clearly show that he is here personally to bind Satan, and that he was here as the Messiah, the I AM, the Son of God, as God himself, and as Son of Man, etc.; and that he alone has the power to do so; and he is doing it by force of power, for the kingdom of God has come with power.

Boiled down, the argument is essentially this, only someone who can do these things, these miracles, can be strong enough, has enough power to bind Satan. BELIEVE IN ME, Jesus says, because of the Miracles, if you cannot see ME in scripture, if you cannot see God in my life… at least believe in ME because of the miracles…. This is a plea, as heart-felt from Jesus as if he was already dying on the cross. It is also a plea to us as well, “Believe in Me.” For he has already made it clear in this passage, you will remain helpless, you WILL remain a child of Satan, for he is the original strong man of your house unless the strong man, Satan, is bound by a stronger Strong Man.

May God give us the grace to believe today, and may Satan be bound in your life. Amen

Part 3. The Beginnings of Adventism: As the Twig was Bent, So Grew the Tree: Ellen White, Seventh-day Adventist’s Prophet for Profit.

Written by Michael W. Pursley 

35.2_595_EGW-CopyrightAnd in their greed
they will exploit you
with false words.

— 2 Peter 2:3 ESV

sheep“Our financial matters stand well,
and there is wealth yet in our pens.”

— James White, Letter to Ellen White,
Feb. 18, 1881

There is no example in the Bible where a Godly prophet took advantage of his inspiration to enrich himself. The prophets of the Bible generally worked hard, had little and died poor. Mrs. White and her husband began poor. She says: “We entered upon our work penniless” (Testimonies, Vol. I., p. 75). But as soon as they became leaders, they commercialized their work, and managed to supply themselves well. They soon had abundance, and used means for themselves lavishly. They would always have the best of everything, and plenty of it. Everywhere they went they required to be waited upon in the most slavish manner. At an early campmeeting in Michigan they sent their son Edson out in camp crying: “Who has a chicken for mother? Mother wants a chicken.” Mrs. White dressed richly, and generally had a number of attendants to wait on her.

When Elder White died, it is said he left some $15,000 or $20,000 [$356,763 or $475,685 in 2013 dollars]. He took advantage of his position to benefit himself and family financially, and she aided him by her revelations. She received a larger salary than was paid most of the ministers of the denomination; received pay for all her articles furnished to the leading papers of the denomination (while others generally contributed theirs gratuitously); besides receiving a large and increasing income from the royalties on all her books. For several years before she died, because of the “peculiar position” she occupied in the church, she was paid a higher royalty than was paid other authors in the denomination.  –The Life of Ellen White

How did this occur?
How far did it go?
Who knew about it?
What evidence is there?

These are just some of the questions that I had to ask myself one morning a long time ago.  It was spring, I had just had to defend a term paper which I written in Christian Theology class, -and the ordeal had been bloody. My paper had been on, how God initiates salvation on his own accord, and it had not been well received, by this time I was way tired. On the way to the library at Southern Missionary College, I happened to overhear a couple of students talking about a quote from letter they had heard about: there is wealth yet in our pens” one student claimed that Ellen White had said it, the other said no, he thought the quote was from James. Stopping to ask the guys about the particulars of this quote, they just turned and stared at me.  

This, I decided however, could not wait. Turning around I went straight back to the theology department. Confronting one of the professors of the department, I told him what I had overheard and asked the professor if it was, in fact, the truth.  With a deep sigh, the good professor simply looked at me and asked, “why does everything have to be a battle with you, Michael? This unadvised statement of James, was simply to reassure Ellen that this was how God was going to provide for them….”  Leaving me to stand there, he turned away saying nothing further. And so, wanting unbelievably hard to believe and trust him as my professor and as keeper of the Adventist flame, and also trying desperately hard to be, or at least look like a good ministerial student after my controversial paper, I quite simply left it at that.

blue_pill_red_pill1-478x346After having recently talked to a lot of Seventh-day Adventists on Face Book, I am convinced that many of them are in the same place, or quandary that I was in; they are very tired of the controversies, they are trying unbelievingly hard to be good little Adventists, they are also scared silly of getting off the “Remnant Train,” also they want with every fiber of their being, to trust the spiritual leaders that they have always trusted and have decidedly committed themselves to following. What a shame. However, if you are one of those who would rather be left alone, contented where you are in Adventism, may I just gently say that this post is not for you. I don’t want you to be offended. Because it is unfortunately, decision time. For you must at least metaphorically decide between the red pill and its opposite, the blue pill, each represents the choices between embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red pill) and the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue pill).

Since we have already started our examination with what James White left Ellen, lets keep working our way backward.  And by the way, I quote  funds translated into today’s dollars in Red, for ease of understanding the significance of the amounts.

D. Anderson points out in his web page that, She [Ellen White] may have started out penniless in the 1840s, but that situation was soon reversed. By the late 1850s she was making over $1,000 [$27,598.04] a year on royalties. Mrs. White earned $11,435 in the decade of 1856 to 1866.* In terms of year 2013 dollars, that is [$292,309], or over $29,000 per year. Yet these were still lean years compared to what she would make later on. In the 1890s and 1900s she was making $8,000 to $12,000 per year in book royalties. In year 2013 dollars, that amounts to $220,558 to $330,837 per year!

That type of income would easily place her among the top 1% of wage-earners in the world!

However, we have not even begun to count the other White enterprises that they were involved in. We are also not counting the income that James received on his own personal royalties, nor are we counting their dual enhanced salaries as ministers and Ellen’s extra salary enhancement which she demanded for her unique role in the church.

As D. Anderson further points out, “James wrote books, and although we have no figures on his royalties, it can be presumed the Whites enjoyed the income from his writings as well. James was known as a shrewd and gifted businessman. He wrote a letter encouraging Ellen to write more books, holding out the prospect of increasing their income: “With the increased demand for our writings…there will be an income of several thousand dollars annually, besides the immense amount of good our writings will do….”

Even using the preliminary numbers that we are ascribing here, I want the reader to compare this particular prophet with a description of God’s true prophets found in Hebrews 11…. See if you can see any differences between the two. Oh, if you are not embarrassed by the differences presented, well, you should be.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

* Mrs. White’s earnings were also reported in the November 6, 1866, issue of Hope of Israel.

In our next issue we will look a little deeper into the finances as well as the White’s corresponding life-style


The Futility and Foolishness of the Gospel


For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

–1 Corinthians 1:18-19

Lately, I have been debating the Gospel…


…with people who believe in the state of sinless perfection in this life (…yes, unfortunately, it’s true), a belief that is otherwise known as “phenomenal perfectionism.” And while they won’t come right out and admit it, some of them think that they are getting pretty close to arriving at this glorious point. In speaking to people with this perspective, it has always been interesting to see just how much the Gospel has been denigrated. How the emphasis has been shifted. How the message is lost. In a very real sense, the Cross has all but disappeared. Also along with this perspective, one is hit by the apparent sense of spiritual pride, arrogance, and unmitigated estimation of their own self-righteousness.

So far, I have not been able to figure out a way to break through this high and thick barrier. The Gospel seems almost futile in reaching them. It seems as if they are beyond it and are now without need of an immediate Savior. Oh, at times they mouth the right words, but their heart does not seem to be in it. Somehow, the words and protestations seem to ring very hollow.

But in my thinking and researching an approach to answer this spiritual conundrum, I came across this thought from Luther:

“A preacher should know how to make a right difference between sinners.” –[that is] between the impenitent and confident [sinners] and the sorrowful and penitent; otherwise the whole Scripture is locked up. When Amsdorf began to preach before the princes at Schmalcalden, with great earnestness he said, ” The gospel belongs to the poor and sorrowful, and not to you princes, great persons, and courtiers that live in continual joy and delight, in secureness, void of all tribulation.”  –Luther’s Table Talk.

Luther and Amsdorf have conclusively hit upon the answer, “The gospel belongs to the poor and sorrowful.” Not to the self-complacent, spiritually prideful, arrogant and the self-righteous. No, in fact, the Gospel is “hid” to these people; it is “foolishness” to them.

I am reminded of a very old story about a missionary who discovered residing all along the Malabar coast an ancient sect of Syrian Christians. Their number at the time was about three hundred thousand, and they called themselves the Christians of St Thomas. Further, these Christians claimed to have sprung from the preaching of St. Thomas himself.

In one of their out-of-the-way churches there is a very ancient tablet which has become an object of interest. The tablet, which is set into the wall, shows a cross with an inscription beneath in some dead, unknown tongue. When an official of the church was asked what the inscription meant “He didn’t know.” Surprisingly, none of them knew.” The Inscription is, it is believed, to be in the Pehlavi language, a long extinct dialect of the ancient Persian tongue, and it has since been translated as to its meaning.” “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ Jesus my Lord.” But the language which was before their eyes, day after day, was as dead to them as the truth it expressed.

I guess what I am saying is that for many of these highly religious and pietistic sounding people, the Gospel really has very little significance. There is simply no way it can compute in their minds. It is a message to them that is as alien as the righteousness it promises.

So I cannot communicate the Gospel here, they are not ready yet. The Holy Spirit will have to do its work in opening the heart, so that others can water. It breaks my heart, but I will have to remember that…

“…if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. –2 Corinthians 4:3-4

Hidden Gospel, and very lost, but perhaps only for now.

Written by Michael W. Pursley