Bible Gateway's Verse of the Day


Welcome to my blog, MB's Theological Thoughts. If you have a question you'd like me to answer, feel free to ask, either in a comment or an email. If it's a legitimate question, I'll do my best to answer it. Might take some thinking and some time, but again, I'll do my best.

11 September, 2011

9/11 Tenth Anniversary Thoughts

It's 9/11/11, and I have no idea what to say. I remember when it happened; the day is still vivid in my mind. Everybody was late to school that morning as we watched history happen before us. I support the hunt for bin Laden and the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and against the Hussein regime and oppressive Wahhabism. But I don't think we should be nation building. Reuters says we need to stay in Afghanistan or risk more attacks, but we can't afford these wars. I'm a patriot, but I'm also a pragmatist.

But I must say that if we are attacked today, it will be like kicking the hornets' nest. You don't mess with the USA. We're going to rebuild the World Trade Center just as tall. We're going to stand strong no matter what happens. And those who would call the rebuilding effort "pompous" or "overbearing", saying that we should just "learn our lesson" and bow to these terrorists--you are America-haters and shouldn't be in this country. You're no better than domestic terrorists.

As this cold civil war draws to an ultimate close, its conclusion being the second advent of Christ, I can only hold faster to what I believe. Things are getting worse, and it's only a matter of time before Christians start blaming all this on somebody. With Katrina, it was the New Orleans debauchery. With the wildfire season several years ago, it was gay marriage. The four angels aren't going to be able to hold back the winds of destruction much longer, and I can see it getting only worse from here.

Stand firm. Follow the Bible. Keep the Sabbath. A strong relationship with the Creator is the only thing that's going to be able to sustain us in the last days.

Your Brother in Christ,

06 June, 2011

Still Here....

Hey all, I just thought I'd say that I'm still here, and I plan on continuing this blog; I wasn't raptured or anything. In fact, nobody was. Why? Because setting dates is a fruitless prospect. Jesus said so himself. Adventists learned not to set dates at the last Great Disappointment in 1844. Instead, I think we should all follow the William Miller philosophy: "Instead of saying that Jesus will return on this day, or on that day, I am going to keep telling myself, 'Today, today, today,' until He actually does." (Paraphrased, of course.)

Nobody knows the day, nor the hour when Jesus will return for us, but we do know what is going to happen. It's going to be sudden, like a thief in the night. And when it happens, every eye shall see Him. It's not going to be a secret at all, or there would be no use, really.

Your Brother in Christ,

06 May, 2011

Osama's Dead; What Should We Do?

I have seen two reactions to the recent death of Osama bin Laden: "This is the greatest day of the last 10 years!" and "You should be ashamed of yourself for rejoicing!" The latter reaction tends to be in the form of a chain letter-style reposting of a quote attributed to MLK, Jr.: "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." (Any quick research will tell you that this quote is falsely attributed in its entirety to MLK, Jr. The original post is here:, found through

Here is what I have to say about Osama's death. A dangerous man has been taken out of power. He was an oppressor, a terrorist, and he stood for everything America has fought against since the Revolutionary War. He has been at the top of the FBI's most wanted list since the 90s. He and his organization attacked the USA almost ten years ago, and we vowed as a nation that we would hunt him down and put him to justice, and that we would stop at nothing. Under the Bush and Obama administrations, our nation's military has worked tirelessly to hunt him down. In the process, we have been attacking the ideals that oppress others.

I myself rejoice in Osama's death. Not because of some animal, sinful desire to harm others (which some "enlightened" people would lead others to believe), but for a couple of other reasons. First, this might mean we will finally leave Afghanistan and Iraq, freeing up billions of dollars in the Federal Budget. Being a Tea Partier, the prospect of this money being put back into the pockets of its owners, the American People, is exciting. Secondly, Osama's death symbolizes the defeat of a radical, oppressive political ideology that flew the flag of Islam. True Islam is indeed a religion of peace; the Koran teaches love for God and love for others. It says nothing about 72 virgins, nothing about burqas, nothing about killing Christians. Those are counterfeit ideas, and more Westerners need to see that.

Rolling over and submitting to radical Islam, as suggested for the more desirable course of action in this Spectrum article, would have spelled the death of Americanism. We have to turn the other cheek to show that their insults mean nothing! That is what Jesus preached, and that is what Jesus practiced. You could sit here and argue that war is always the wrong answer, but you would be denying that while there is a time for peace and a time for healing, a time for war and a time for killing also exists (Ecclesiastes 3).

Your Brother in Christ,

18 April, 2011

On the Scriptural Nature of Our Doctrines

Al Nonymous, a commenter on this post on reverence, seems to claim that the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist church are based on the writings of Ellen White, much in the same way that many doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are based on the Book of Mormon and other writings of Joseph Smith, Jr. There is a problem with this statement: if you ask any Adventist, he or she will say that our doctrines are based on and supported by Scripture alone. Why would any Adventist say that? Because it's the truth.

Ellen White was a modern-day prophet. She didn't have miraculous powers to heal the sick; nor did she claim to be the voice of God. In fact, she didn't call herself a prophet because she didn't want people deifying her. In her own eyes, Ellen was somebody who loved God more than anything else, and wanted others to share that love through the study of Scripture, prayer and simple living.

Her writings are not doctrinal in nature, but are instead advice for living simply, focusing on the Kingdom of God, and some elaborations on Scripture (the Conflict of the Ages series is a good example). There are times where she changed her mind (the Righteousness by Faith controversy of the last quarter of the 19th century), and other times when she gave advice that is no longer applicable (bicycles, for instance - Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 50-53). Just as God works within the confines of culture rather than counter-culture, Ellen White's messages are contingent on the culture of the time. God revealed specific knowledge to her when the time was right to do so, proving that a quick study of Adventist history takes care of any "discrepancies".

Basing our doctrines on the writings of Ellen White would mean that we shouldn't eat meat, that we shouldn't ride bicycles, that we shouldn't wear dresses that drag the ground, and so on and so forth. But these "doctrines" would be present simply for the fact that they come from Ellen's writings, making them on par with Scripture. She said that she was not to be revered in such a way, and that anything she wrote was meant to draw us to Scripture and to God, for by faith and grace alone we are saved.


Nonetheless, people revere her more than they should. Just as the Apostle Paul, Ellen White was a human being. She is fallible because she was born into sin. Yes, she may have been God's messenger to a new denomination, but many people have misconceptions about her.

One misconception deals with church history. I would hazard a guess that many Adventist (and vast numbers of non-Adventists) say she founded the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That is simply not true. The SDA Church was originally a group of individuals with like-minded beliefs that got together and worshiped together. They emerged from the Millerite Movement, which would insinuate that Miller, not White, was the founder of the Church, or at least the "Adventist" part.

Joseph Bates is probably the name that people should look to for the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He actually convinced James and Ellen White that the Seventh-day was the true Sabbath. Still, I rarely hear his name dropped as a hero of Adventism. It's always Ellen White--not even her husband James, who wrote plenty as well, is named very often.

There seem to be two extremes when dealing with Ellen White. Her writings are either discounted (especially by so-called "progressive Adventists") or elevated to the level of Scripture. This is why some believe our doctrines are based on her writings. But if one were to examine the Twenty-Eight Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-Day Adventists, one would see that this is not the case. Every one of our doctrines (and no matter what anybody says, these are ALL of our official doctrines) is backed by Scripture, not some passage from Ellen White's writings. This is because Scripture is the source for knowledge of the Divine. Without it, we would not know Jesus.

In conclusion, I do not deny that Ellen White was a prophet. Nor do I deny that her writings are divinely inspired. I will say that unless one reads them, one cannot understand them. There are issues like historical and cultural context that we need to take into consideration, just as we must when trying to understand the Bible. Many people don't read Ellen White's writings because they are downright difficult to understand. She uses 19th century English and always quotes the King James Version of the Bible. On top of that, she tends to write deeper and more meaningful advice than we are accustomed to understanding. We have always been told, "Know this, do that, behave this way," and it's killing our church. The departing youth see that there is no reason behind the traditions of the Church, and they solve the problem by doing one of three things: delving into study like me, throwing out what they don't understand or agree with like the "progressives", or just leaving the Church altogether and creating the age gap that we see.

"Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. Don't turn away God's Spirit or ignore prophecies. Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don't have anything to do with evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, CEV).

Your Brother in Christ,

01 April, 2011

A word on the Sunday Law

The National Sunday Law has been a focal point of Adventist theology for decades. Will it happen soon? I can't say for sure. Will there be blood running through the streets? I seriously doubt it. Here are my thoughts.

The Blue Laws were seen as the forerunners of the National Sunday Law, a foreshadowing of the second Advent, as written about by Ellen White. The biggest thing about the blue laws is that they don't outlaw Sabbath worship, and they don't force Sunday worship. They simply regulate commerce on Sundays, mandating a day of rest. In fact, if there were blue laws that regulated homework, I would run out into the streets and shout, "Thank you Jesus!" 

In order for a Sunday Law of the caliber that we have predicted with dread to be enacted, serious changes must be made to the Constitution. First, the entire First Amendment must be abolished (as of yet, such a change is far from sight). The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid a theocracy, and so they penned the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Not only can Congress not establish a national Day of Worship as Sunday, but they can not prohibit Sabbath worship. These are two essential tenets of the dreaded Sunday Law. 

Also prohibiting the Sunday Law are the other clauses of the Amendment. Establishing a State Religion will surely gather the protests of every atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Satanist, and so on within our nation's borders. These make up such a percentage that we wouldn't be able to function unless under martial law. No, the only way to swing something like this would be to abolish free speech and the right to assemble and petition.

Even if the First Amendment, something which defines the USA, could be abolished or altered, we would have to get people to agree to the establishment of a State Religion. Given the attitudes of people toward religion nowadays, I think that the number of people that would go along with it would be very slim. The system of Checks and Balances prohibits one branch of the Government from having the power to hammer the law through, so that system would also have to be abolished. The Legislative and Judicial branches would have to be absorbed by the Executive, creating a monarchy, something the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid like the plague. You know the aphorism: "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Let's say that the Sunday Law were to pass somehow. We would need a way to enforce it. That is where martial law would come in. The amount of people protesting the law would fill our prisons to bursting. House arrest would be useless, and we wouldn't have enough law enforcement personnel to make anything work. We would have to give the military the authority to punish those who didn't follow the law. (A text comes to mind. "Unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be spared." Mt. 24:22) This would require enough military personnel that didn't have qualms about killing their own people for religious reasons, and I don't think even the most autonomous of soldiers would do that.

What do I know, though? If you told somebody 50 years ago that we would have computers in our pockets, they would have laughed you out of existence. But no matter what Ellen White says, there are insurmountable obstacles between current law and the Sunday Law. I'm not saying it won't happen. If it does happen, though, it won't be for some time. One theory is that a global catastrophe will force people into this Old Testament-era "we must avoid the wrath of God" mindset--a global catastrophe like an asteroid impact (Rev 8:8). The biggest likelihood of such a strike is the asteroid 99942 Apophis, an 880 foot wide asteroid with an impact likelihood of 1 in 250,000. And that won't even be close until April of 2036. 

So is it wrong to prepare for something that won't happen in the foreseeable future? No. But nobody should be paranoid about it. If this oppressive Sunday Law should come about, the Bible lets us know that we will be protected, so long as we love God. Remember, nobody knows anything definitive about this. We have our warnings, and we can heed them without using scare tactics to tell people to run for the hills. Remember Isaiah 41:10; Proverbs 3:5, 6; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; and Psalm 91:12.

Your Brother in Christ,

29 March, 2011


What is reverence? Is it a set of motions we go through before we can be granted an audience with God? Is it a list of ideals that help us to show greater respect for God? Is it a synonym for manners? Reverence is a term that we are often unacquainted with because its meaning is so nebulous that we just take it in context like a baby learning how to speak. Many in today's society are calling for a revival of sorts. We want to make church services more reverent, and in so doing, bring our focus back to God. It is my experience that there are several ways to do this, some of them right, and some of them wrong.

Before we address what must be done to make church services more reverent, we first must address the definition of reverence, this enigmatic thing with a myriad of nuanced meanings. According to, reverence is "a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe", with another definition being, "a gesture indicative of deep respect". The latter definition, while appropriate, is not the kind of reverence we need more of. It is the kind of reverence that Ellen White is always advising must be observed, and for good reason. She writes that, as the person giving the sermon is a messenger of God's, we shouldn't be chit-chatting back and forth, being disruptions and distractions for other people that are actually trying to listen to the sermon. She also cautions that if your children are wild and unruly, you would be better off staying home (as a courtesy to others, more than to God, I think) and teaching them yourself. Yes, this reverence is needed, but it is in no way a means to ridding the congregation of lukewarmness and bringing them to a holy boil.

The former definition is probably the most appropriate reverence to practice in the house of God. It is a sense of deep respect, tinged with the awe that Jesus, creator of the universe, died in our place. I think the NIV puts it best: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8, emphasis mine). That is the sense of reverence that we should be feeling every time we step into the Sanctuary. It should not be nothing but a multipurpose room; it should be a special place where we can think about God's only Son, and His sacrifice. I mean, we are Christians, aren't we?

This is one reason that Catholic cathedrals are designed the way they are. As the worshiper enters the cathedral, before them is an image of Jesus, before which is an altar where the bread and wine is blessed (similarly to the blessing on the bread and wine given in Adventist Communion services, but we don't believe in transubstantiation and they do). To one side--I've always seen it on the left, or at "God's right hand"--is the pulpit, where the priest gives his homily. This placement is to draw attention away from the human messenger and toward Jesus, whose image is there to remind parishioners of the Crucifixion. It is not really idolatry, just symbolism (I'm not saying it's right to worship at the image of Jesus, but they aren't worshiping a false God and therefore not breaking the First Commandment). The crucifixes present in any Adventist church I've attended have been empty, pointing to Jesus's victory over death and His coming return. But other than the occasional stained glass window, those empty crucifixes are the only thing that separates our churches from ordinary auditoria.

If imagery is not present to remind us of Jesus's sacrifice, then what is left? The service content. At any part of the service, from prelude to postlude, one of the people who make the service possible can mention something that points to Christ. And if we are observing proper reverence (manners) then we can take that anecdote, song, text, or sermon, and we can use it to have more reverence (awe-inspired respect) for God.

Therein lies the problem; we have always been taught, essentially, that reverence meant manners. As a young Adventist, you probably went through the "prayer checklist", a template given you by your parents as to what you did with your eyes, hands, head, and so on. Why? It was reverent. You never ran in church (you probably did; you just won't admit it). Why? It was reverent. You didn't talk aloud during the service. Why? It was reverent. Reverence was a list of rules, not a sense of respect. It wasn't until I got to college that I really felt that sense of reverence. And still, I have found reverence in a wide spectrum of things, from the Z. Randall Stroope's loud and tumultuous Conversion of Saul to the silence of Heubach chapel when all I needed was a whisper.

Just as it is experiences that count when building any relationship, it is experiences that count when building reverence. As Adventists, we tend to become Vulcans and avoid outward displays of emotion, unless we are showing a placid happiness. I say that if anything, that practice has made us lukewarm. We are so apathetic that we don't feel anything. Throughout the Bible, what were some of the biggest events that converted people or brought them closer to God? One very notable display was the contest on Mt. Carmel. After hearing nothing from Ba'al, I would assume his followers had begun to doubt (Elijah probably didn't help with his taunts). Finally, FIRE shot down from heaven, instilling reverence into the people. This reverence, the kind that God desires, is also translated in some versions as "fear".

No, this is not a fear for one's life. It is not a worry. It is, in fact, the very essence of a relationship with God. This definition relates to a reverential awe for something or Someone. Without this reverential respect, we are lukewarm. We need to understand every time we think of God, that our Creator gave His life so that we could have life to the fullest. That alone demonstrates a selflessness that none of us is capable of. Not Ghandi, not Mother Theresa, not even you. We as humans are inherently imperfect, and a being of such perfection as God demands that respect.

We can sit here and say, "Don't chat back and forth with your friends in church; when you do, you are an instrument of the Devil," or we can tell people to take a seat and greet people instead of standing up. But none of that matters. Isaiah paints the picture of our obeisance plainly: "We are unfit to worship You; each of our good deeds is merely a filthy rag. We dry up like leaves; our sins are as storm winds, sweeping us away" (64:6). No matter how many times you refrain from talking during the sermon, kneel in submission when praying, or even try to be respectful of God, it will never be enough. No one can please God by obeying the Law (Galatians 3:11). So why should we even try?

Let's decide once and for all what it means to make our services more reverent. Instead of focusing on our actions, we should focus on the content. Yes, we should listen to the sermon; in being respectful of the speaker, we are being respectful of God and His message. But we should also realize that without your heart in the right place, you might as well stay home. Open yourself to receive Christ, and He will fill you. That's what being reverent should entail. When we're so focused on what to do and what not do do while in the Sanctuary, we inevitably lose sight of the reason Christianity exists: to praise and thank the One who made it possible for us to live.

Your Brother in Christ,

12 March, 2011

Creation vs. Evolution: my thoughts

This is a touchy subject. A lot of you will be horrified by what I say. But nevertheless, in light of the recent debate with La Sierra University at the core, I decided I would share my thoughts regarding Creation and Evolution.

First, let me state what I believe. Then I will explain.
  1. I believe in six consecutive, twenty-four hour periods of work, followed by one twenty-four hour period of rest in which God shaped the blob of matter He that had just created into the planet that we call Earth.
  2. I believe that these one hundred and sixty-eight consecutive hours occurred approximately six thousand years ago.
  3. I believe that God created all the base forms of life, the unique ancestors of every genus that we see on this Earth today.
  4. I do not believe that certain forms of evolution are impossible, and I do not believe that God created every species that we see on this Earth today.
Yes, I believe in certain kinds of evolution. But before we continue, let me settle this little semantic argument. Evolution is a notable change observed over a period of time. It could be anything ranging from laptop computers to the myriad species of Galapagos Finches (one of the most commonly cited examples of evolution). In organisms, evolution is what we could call in music Variations on a Theme. The original species still survives (unless it has become extinct), but there are numerous variations within it.

Let's take a look at domesticated animals: dogs, cats and horses. Each kind of animal has a common ancestor, and yet there are many different breeds with unique characteristics within each. I have heard that some people who disavow evolution believe God created every sort of animal we see today. While I don't doubt that God designed for things like crossbreeding, God did not create Labrador retrievers as Labrador retrievers. He did not create Tennessee Walkers as Tennessee Walkers. Those are human-supervised variations in species due to selected breeding. This form of evolution has been going on almost as long as history has been recorded. It is documented, proven science.

Another form of evolution that is documented, proven science is something called adaptation. This is variation in species due to environmental factors. The aforementioned Galapagos Finches display numerous variations in beak size based on diet. This is due to inherited changes brought about by environmental factors. Natural selection plays a big role in survivability: if an organism simply cannot adapt enough to survive in an environment, it becomes extinct. However, if an organism can adapt enough to survive, it survives. I do, however, doubt that God makes these natural selections completely random. He designed the food chains and the systems of adaptation to be self-sustaining, much like the systems that make up any living organism.

One prime example of adaptation is people of African ancestry. They are primarily dark skinned (though still humans; I hate to use "race"), and the obvious reason is that the people that migrated to the deserts of Africa needed darker skin to avoid many of the problems associated with overexposure to the sun. This variation was inherited and is still seen today. I don't think it was a random mutation, either. It was God saying, "This is what they need to survive. Make it so, Number One."

Any demonstrable natural evolution is driven by the Divine hand. Similarly, any demonstrable unnatural variation is driven by human hands. It is not random mutation that gets the job done; if left unchecked, nature on this sinful Earth would be devoid of beauty and filled with chaos. The fact that a flower blooms is evidence that somebody has His hand in the harmony of the universe.

Now, shall we discuss the biggest argument between creationists and evolutionists? Yes, let's. The two biggest complaints Creationists have with the Theory of Evolution are abiogenesis and the common-ancestor theory. Abiogenesis is the formation of life in the primordial sludge of the young Earth, and the common-ancestor theory states that every form of life (at least within the animal kingdom) has a common ancestor in that primordial sludge. The most notable series of evolution are that of the horse and that of homo sapiens.

Let's start with abiogenesis. When you mention it to a run-of-the-mill evolutionist, you receive flack; they state that "Evolution has NOTHING to do with abiogenesis! It has to do with how life has changed over the years!" Oops, problem. You see, when a run-of-the-mill creationist thinks of Evolution, they automatically think of the old-style theory that contains abiogenesis, billions of years, asteroid impacts that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, etc., placing a heavy emphasis on the notion that God does not exist and had nothing to do with the origin of life. Current evolutionary theory, according to those I've spoken with, has almost nothing to do with origins and more to do with non-theoretical evolution such as intraspecies variation. Why, then, are people so vehemently opposed to teaching intelligent design in schools? Could it be that they are in the business of teaching things like adaptation, things which are not theories, but science? My biggest guess is that the reason ID is never really even brought up is that people automatically think "YOU'RE PROSELYTIZING OUR KIDS!" That, and they misrepresent ID as an explanation for our current variations rather than an origin theory, which is what it is. They make the same mistake Christians do in thinking that Evolution, which itself has evolved since Darwin's time, is an origin theory and not an explanation for the variety we see in life today.

Now let's talk about the common-ancestor theory. The theory that hominids share a common ancestor with apes is a subject of much debate since the Bible says God created man in His image. The Evolutionary Theory states that apes and humans are two different evolutionary paths of the same organism. This I must disagree with. Humans are the only sapient creature on the planet Earth. There are, I would argue, other sentient creatures, but as intelligent as they are, they still don't have the ability to philosophize. I think apes probably do have a common ancestor, but they do not share it with humans. I've heard people talk about the upright-walking gorilla Ambam as evolving before our eyes. I can't agree with this, though; his standing upright is obviously imitative of the people he sees at the zoo every day.

I could go for pages and pages about the reasons I don't believe in as broad of a common-ancestor approach as the evolutionists, but I think I've covered the topic well enough. I believe that God created life and the base forms of all organisms. I also believe that God set in motion processes which allow organisms to adapt to their environments. All the animals we see today are descended from versions of themselves, be the evolution divinely supervised or the cause of human intervention. Burn me at stake all you want; that's what I believe about the origin of species.

Your Brother in Christ,

04 March, 2011

What About Foul Language?

I recently read the Sermon on the Mount again. It is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. One segment jumps out at me every time, and it's not because it's confusing or especially great, but it was one thing that I always thought was really strange in the way people used it:
33You know that our ancestors were told, "Don't use the Lord's name to make a promise unless you are going to keep it." 34But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God's throne, so don't swear by heaven. 35The earth is God's footstool, so don't swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don't swear by it. 36Don't swear by your own head. You cannot make one hair white or black. 37When you make a promise, say only "Yes" or "No." Anything else comes from the devil. (Matthew 5:33-7, CEV)
Every time I've heard somebody use this text throughout my years, it's been in reference to foul or vulgar language. But the passage is clearly not talking about the usage of foul language. The verse that always made it sound weird to me was v37: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No,' 'No'. For whatsoever is more than these is from the evil one." This verse has nothing to do with "swearing" as we use the term today. Taken out of context, and especially if one omits v37, this passage could be used as a prohibition on such intensifiers as "Oh crap!" But including v37 makes the passage about trustworthiness, which is ever-important in the life of a Christian.

So if this passage doesn't place a ban on vulgarity, what does? I think something that would be more conducive to the ends of the misquoters is Philippians 4:8: "Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise" (CEV).

In order to understand why we should stay away from foul language, we sometimes need to understand its origins. Here are three "bad" words that are in the Bible: hell, ass and damn. Why, then, are they considered to be foul language? Well, let's start with "damn".

To damn is to condemn, or to curse. The Bible says that only God has the power to judge, and therefore we should not condemn people or things. The word's use as an intensifier is probably more common than as a curse today: "Damn, that was close!" is just one example. An acceptable alternative would be, "Wow, that was close!" but it does lose some of the intensity that the less desirable word adds to the sentence. It can also be used as an expression of disdain, which is closer to a curse: "Damn, I was hoping that would have worked out."

The usage in the expression, "Damned if I do, damned if I don't," for expressing an impossible and undesirable situation is perfectly legitimate and is not foul or vulgar in the least. It's another way of saying, "Either way, it will end in ruin for me." The only thing is that since the word "damn" has been added to the list of foul words, all instances of it are barred from modern "polite" conversation.

Many words have come to replace "damn": man (as an intensifier), blast, curse, etc. But are we really avoiding a certain series of muscle movements, or are we avoiding the actual curse itself? We as humans naturally want to curse things undesirable. If not, why would Jesus have warned us to "judge not, lest ye be judged" (Mt 7:1)? Blasting is a form of condemnation; cursing something is a form of condemnation; everything we replace "damn" with means essentially the same thing. We have no reason whatsoever to judge something because we are not perfect, and we will not be until after we ourselves are judged.

Now let's look at "hell". The only reason that word is considered a bad word is that we hate to talk about the ill fate of the wicked. In many Christian circles, Catholic and Protestant alike, Hell is described as a place where the wicked and sinful will feel the wrath of God for all eternity. It is a place of torment and of suffering. Sounds like a nice vacation, doesn't it? Of course not! Nobody wants to think of this as being anybody's fate, and it was (and still is) often used as a scare tactic. "If you don't repent, you're going to hell!" say some ministers. "Gays will burn in hell!" says Fred Phelps and his thralls. Hell this, hell that: everybody that isn't perfect is going to burn in hell. The Bible teaches something else, though: the wicked will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). With one notable exception in Exodus, in every instance throughout history, fire consumes. It consumes the wicked, for that is the only way they will have peace. Ellen White explains that the destruction of the wicked is an act of mercy, not of anger or hatred. Those who hate God and are beyond his grace (due to a little thing called free will) would find every day in the Kingdom of Heaven to be as torturous as the traditional definition of hellfire. They would want to be destroyed, and so God will give them what they want, that they would suffer no more.

Now let's get into the modern usage of the word "hell" in a more conversational setting. Often, people say, "to hell with it," which is essentially the same thing as saying, "damn it." A more kosher way of putting it is to say, "forget it," though more common is, "screw it." But the usual usage of "hell" is in an exclamation of confusion and surprise: "What the hell?" This is, of course, short for something along the lines of, "What in (the) Hell is that?" Similar utterances include, "What on Earth is that?" and "What in heaven's name is that?" They fulfill the same function while avoiding the usage of the undesirable word. "Hell" is not really a bad word; it's just something we don't like to think about, so we've ousted it from the "proper" speech.

Finally we come to the word "ass". This is an old English name for equus africanus asinus, the common domestic donkey. Never in the King James Bible would an ass be referred to as a donkey because the word simply hadn't been invented. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word "donkey" originated in 1785: "originally slang, perhaps a dim. from dun 'dull grey-brown,' the form perhaps influenced by monkey. Or possibly from a familiar form of Duncan (cf. dobbin)." I myself have used the word in my poetry, referring to myself as stubborn. And that's exactly what calling somebody an ass used to mean: stubborn. And they're not necessarily known for their intelligence, either. Again, this is not a bad word. Likening someone to an ass is no worse than saying they're stubborn, thickheaded, and so on.

There is, however, a text that advises us against doing such a thing, found in Matthew 5:22: "But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell" (CEV) Since asses weren't good for much more than being pack animals, calling somebody an ass is essentially calling them worthless.

I won't get into some of the less desirable language. Some of it was created as profanity, so naturally it doesn't fall into that which is good, pure, praiseworthy, etc. Let's instead have a look at what swearing used to be. Nowadays, it means anything that includes foul language. But in the past, when you swore, you made a promise. It was the equivalent of signing a contract nowadays. You would swear by something you cared about: a parent's grave, the Bible, the rising of the sun, etc. Taking that last example, you could say, "I swear by the rising of the sun that I will repay you," or you could say, "As surely as the sun rises, I will repay you." They meant the same thing. Jesus cautions us against these things, for if we make a promise that is as binding as the rising of the sun, then we are bound to it. Circumstances beyond our control could get in the way and prevent us from fulfilling the contract. It could keep on like that for years, for all we know. Instead, Jesus, in his usual habit of uncomplicating things, said, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes', and your 'No' be 'No'." If we were trustworthy, which we should be as Christians, then nobody would need proof of our word in the form of an oath. Our word would be enough for people to have the comfort that we would fulfill our end of the bargain.

That is not to say that all oaths are evil. I have sworn two oaths (other than contracts, license agreements, and so on) in my life: one of allegiance to the United States of America and the ideals of her Founding Fathers, and one to God. And my pledge to the USA has never been concrete. It's been contingent on whether or not I agree with her values, which are growing increasingly counter to my own in recent days. My oath to God, however, is simple: I will serve Him no matter what trials and hardships come my way. I didn't have to make any complicated promise held in place by some truth; it was a simple answer to a simple question. "Will you serve Me?" "Yes." My word is bond. And that's how it should be.

Your Brother in Christ,

04 February, 2011

My Thoughts Re: the King James Version

The King James Version. Many herald it as the only true and Divinely inspired English translation of the Bible, while others see it as antiquated. I myself find it as hard to read and understand as Chaucer, and I much prefer the Clear Word paraphrase, the New International Version, or the Contemporary English version. I still think it is viable, but I also see that changes in meaning and construction, as well as other vernacular idiosyncrasies, have made the KJV into what I believe is not the ideal Bible for today's English-speaking people.

Some Terminology
If I remember my classes correctly, a Version is a translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek by a group. Similarly, a Translation is a translation from the original manuscripts by an individual. Lastly, a Paraphrase is a re-jiggering, for lack of a better term, of an existing English version such as the King James Version.

A lot of times, we ask, "Which version of the Bible do you use?" Sometimes in the response, we don't think of which Bible is which, and we seem to treat them all as equals. While all of them are Scripture, not all of them are directly translated from the original manuscripts. For instance, The Message and The Clear Word are both paraphrases. They are reconstructions of older English versions that feature more modern English. Many take these with a grain or two (or in the case of the Clear Word, several tablespoons) of salt. Many accuse paraphrases of being twisted to fit a particular denomination's doctrines and message. This may appear true in some cases, but it's often baseless conjecture and conspiracy theory. I see paraphrases as no greater or lesser than direct translations, for, as the Scriptures say, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2Tim 3:16-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

Why the KJV is GOOD
The Authorized King James Version is the oldest commonly used English Bible, completed in 1611. Due to the Puritans' despair at a lack of good English translations (most of them had been translated from Jerome's Vulgate), King James commissioned this Bible for the Church of England. Almost fifty scholars took part in translating the Bible from the original languages, and painstaking care was taken that the translations were accurate.

The KJV was further edited in the 18th century, with its final edition being standardized and published in 1769. This is the version that we see today, wholly unchanged.

Why the KJV is BAD
As a publication of the Church of England, the KJV was translated, as ordered by King James, to conform to the ecclesiology of that denomination. The biggest criticism of the Clear Word is that Adventists have changed the wording of some texts to conform to their ecclesiology (despite the fact that the Clear Word is neither produced nor published by the GC, and that the GC does not endorse it specifically). This is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. To get the purest words of Scripture, one must go back to the original manuscripts, and not everybody is fluent in classic Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic.

Perversion concerns aside, the KJV is just plain hard to understand. Yes, you can take all the "thee"s, "thou"s and "thine"s and interpret them as "you"s and "your"s. But what may have been clear usage in the vernacular of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is confusing and obsolete in the vernacular of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The whole point of translating the Bible into English, German, French, Spanish, Italian (and I can go on for years) was to give the people the Word of God in the vernacular language, not some high and mighty Latin (or Early Modern English) that requires a college degree and a dictionary to understand. For that reason alone, I think the Authorized King James Version, which reigned as the chief English Bible until the 1970s, is outdated and is more useful as a history book than something "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness".

About Other Versions
While, in my experience, many concerns about versions other than the KJV are unfounded, illogical and alarmist, many of them make me raise an eyebrow to certain versions. For instance, the Revised Standard Version could be used by those who don't believe the literal six-day creation week as outlined in the KJV. In the poem that makes up Genesis 1 and the first few verses of Genesis 2, the RSV refers to "evening and morning, one day" and then to "evening and morning, a second day", and so on and so forth. This seems to have been adjusted to conform to the theory that the days of Creation Week were not necessarily one after another, and could have been millions of years apart. (In my belief, that theory is a major cop-out to seem more conforming to "science" being lorded over us. In reality, we have no hard number for the age of the Earth, but a young Earth makes much more sense. More on this later.)

My favorite versions are the NKJV, which takes the text in the KJV and makes it a little bit more contemporary; the NIV, which is a new translation that is slightly easier to understand than the NKJV at times; and the CEV, which is even easier to understand than the NIV, yet is closer to the KJV than the Clear Word. Not once have I found in any of these translations anything that seems to contradict what is said in the KJV.

About the Clear Word in Particular: answering criticism
This page, an article from the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchman Expositor, treats the Clear Word like a Bible put out by the GC. It is in reality the contrary: the CW is an interpretive paraphrase, a devotional exercise by Dr. Jack Blanco. It is not endorsed, not produced, and not published by any Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Similar to my embarkation on translating the Bible into Hra'anh, a language that I am in the process of creating for my science fiction stories, this takes an extant version, such as the KJV and records Dr. Blanco's interpretation. This alone answers for me any criticisms of the Clear Word paraphrase.

I love the Clear Word because it is Scripture. But I don't use it for my primary Bible; I much prefer the CEV or NKJV. I use the Clear Word for commentary's sake when I don't want to sift through the walls of information in the SDA Bible Commentaries or my NIV Study Bible, which has commentary in footnotes and countless cross-references in the margins. Yes, the accusation that the commentary is written into the text is true. But honestly, most of the condemnations are nothing but semantic arguments, which are some of the weakest arguments that aren't outright fallacious. And the others are countered by the CW's origins: an interpretive paraphrase by an individual and published through an Adventist publishing house.

In Conclusion
Never have I seen a Bible, KJV or otherwise, that preaches that the wicked will burn forever. Never have I seen a Bible that preaches the deprecation of Saturday Sabbath. All of these concerns about versions other than the KJV are baseless. And when I don't understand a text, I read it over several times, cross-check with multiple versions, and even dissect and diagram the sentences! The Bible is made to be understood by everybody, and English has changed so much in the last 300 years that it can be almost impossible to understand the KJV.

The position that the KJV is the only true English Bible is more a matter of taste than theology, especially since the KJV was translated carefully enough that it conformed to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. In that light, I would almost rather trust the NIV or CEV since both are new translations! Just as I use the Clear Word primarily for commentary purposes or pleasure reading, I use the KJV only when I want to have a look at the older translation. I own three physical Bibles, and none of them are KJV, which shows how often I use it. The bottom line is that I think this generation deserves a much clearer translation than this three hundred year old relic.

Your Brother in Christ,

28 January, 2011

Unpacking Galatians 3

When asked for Biblical evidence of the sacredness of Sunday as opposed to Saturday, many Christians come up dry, and the Catholic Church acknowledges that there is no Scriptural evidence for the change. But the one verse I hear cited most often is Galatians 3:23-25, which states that the Law was as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. In verse 25, it states that since Christ fulfilled the Law, it is unnecessary. This is, however, a passage that is very frequently taken out of context. In order to truly understand it, one must read the entire chapter of Galatians 3.

Paul begins this section of the epistle by admonishing the Galatians' thinking that salvation was by works and not by faith (also one of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses). He asks repeatedly whether they had received the Spirit by "the works of the law" or by "the hearing of the faith". He then goes into a complicated series of explanations about how the Law is impossible to follow, and yet must be followed perfectly in order to receive eternal life:
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” (NKJV)
To paraphrase, because the Scriptures say that everyone who does not follow the Law is under a curse, then everyone is under a curse (cf Deut 27:26). But because the just shall live by faith, nobody can please God simply by keeping the Law (cf Hab 2:4). Then, as the CEV states in v12, "The Law isn't based on faith. It promises life only to people who obey its commands" (cf Lev 18:5). This duality between the requirement to fulfill the law and the impossibility to please God by following it can be quite discouraging and frustrating if taken out of context, but v13 brings encouragement:
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Yet another example in the Bible of Christ, perfect and sinless, dying for us and taking our place so that we could be saved. There are those that would argue that Christ came as an example, to show us that we could live sinless lives, but that negates the need for a Savior and highly emphasizes what Paul has said here is patently wrong: that the Law can grant salvation. In fact, because it is impossible for us to keep the Law perfectly, it required the Lamb's sacrifice. In order for us to receive redemptive grace, Perfection had to take our place.

In v15-18, Paul explains even more how the Law does not beget blessings; it is instead our unchangeable covenant with God, the original promise to Abraham.
15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Verses 17 and 18 especially important; they reinforce that Abraham's blessings ("inheritance") came over four hundred years before the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai. And if the blessings come from the Law, then what good is the blessed Promise that God would deliver the land unto Abraham's Seed (cf Gen 12:7; 13:15; 24:7).

So if the Law does not beget salvation, then what, exactly is it? This us brings us back to the passage many misquote, starting in v19:
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Especially because of the corruption of Egypt, the Israelites needed the Law to teach them what was right and what was wrong. They needed all those little nitpicking guidelines laid out in the Pentateuch so that they could have a structured life. They didn't have committees, juries or judges (at least, not in the modern sense). They had the Word of God and that was it. Since the shedding Christ's innocent, perfect blood eliminated the need for this tutor, this reminder of what was right and what was wrong, the Law was fulfilled. And that means all of it. Oftentimes we Adventists look at two "parts", and see the one fulfilled as being the sacrificial system. But the Ten Commandments are indeed a part of the greater Mosaic Law that was fulfilled. Before you scream, "blasphemy!", I want to point out that the Ten Commandments, the guidelines for right and wrong, have not changed. What is right in the eyes of God will always be right, and what is wrong in the eyes of God will always be wrong.

This brings me all the way back to the issue of the Ten Commandments and their fulfilled nature being cause for justifying Sunday sacredness and non-observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath. The Ten Commandments were a set broad and specific statements from God's own hand of what is right--honoring one's parents and keeping the Sabbath holy--and what is wrong--murder, sexual immorality (under the umbrella word "adultery"), theft, perjury, idolatry, the cursing of God (and I might add falsifying claims in His name, which is also a form using His name in vain), and the wrongful or inordinate desire for another's property (which could fall along the lines of theft as well as coveting). Due to this fact alone, they cannot change.

Finally we come to the end of the chapter. And I think I should let Paul finish out this article.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Your Brother in Christ,

21 January, 2011

A message to the Antichrist

It would seem that in today's world, so many are adamant about replacing God with science. They seem to argue that one cannot serve two masters: one cannot serve Science and Religion. But it would seem that these are just lies perpetuated by the Father of Lies himself, Satan the Great Deceiver. I have heard numerous avowed atheists and science worshipers profess that religion is outdated, archaic, defunct. They posit that Christians are lying to themselves and wasting their lives. But ask yourself this question, ideology of the Antichrist: If it's about openness and freedom, why won't you accept Christianity as viable? If it harms neither you nor its followers, then is it bad by your standards? And if we are lying to ourselves and wasting our lives for a false hope, then why should you care? What are we missing? STDs? Cirrhosis? Emphysema or COPD? Diets with too much protein and not enough carbs?

The Bible tells us how to eat: healthfully. The Bible tells us to live pure lives and take care of our bodies. The Bible tells us to love people, so why must you denounce it? Face it, you're never going to kill us. You couldn't do it physically during the Dark Ages. You can't do it mentally in the 21st century. When something has survived for thousands of years like this, there's really no hope in destroying it; it's far too powerful. We know that good will triumph and the world's problems will be solved, but until then we do what we can to make others' lives better. It's rather pathetic of you to try and crush us by calling us Fundies, by calling us closed-minded, by spreading anti-religious Marxist philosophies. Sticks and stones may break our bones. And you may crucify us. But the truth is that we're too strong to fall because all the host of heaven is encamped around us.

Try as you may, this is as wall that you cannot breach. It is a fight you cannot win. We have the victory, and every second we endure puts us one step closer to hearing those words: "Well done, good and faithful one." As it was in the days on Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. And as we trek further into the 21st century, the days of Noah are making a comeback. The knowledge of man is increasing exponentially, and so is man's wickedness. There are wars and rumors of wars. It won't be long at all before the trumpet sounds and the mountains crumble. Until then, the faithful among us are going to hold against your attacks, Antichrist. The harder you try, the stronger we get. You can do nothing to stop us.

A Man Following Christ,

14 January, 2011

09 January, 2011

Sunday blurb: Time Taken

This is an age of noise. From the hustle and bustle of the streets to the constant din of our iPods, TVs, computers and cell phones. In this day and age, it is hard to take time to spend with God every day. It's all we can do to finish our studies, make enough money to squeak by, and get enough rest to fend off illness. Because of all this busyness in our lives, it is crucial to take time every day to spend with God. Look at me, telling you to spend time with God every day when I can't even find five minutes to do so myself. You see, this is why it's so important. Time spent with God is always a good investment and the more time you spend with God the better you will feel. And I know that from experience.

Tonight instead of playing computer games until it's time to go to bed, I'm going to spend half an hour or so reading in Patriarchs and Prophets, and then I'm going to spend a few minutes in prayer. Then tomorrow morning I'm going to start the day with prayer, which I haven't done once in the entire span of my memory. I'm going to do this every day. Let's see where this road takes me, shall we?

Your Brother in Christ,

05 January, 2011

Update/More Like Falling in Love?

As I was home for two weeks over Christmas Break, I found it hard to get into the swing of things. Having just touched down from a particularly stressful quarter (which explains my lack of regularity in posting entries), I was expecting to relax, to have two weeks to spend with myself and my family. What I got was the most hectic and stressful break of all time. In short, both my parents were gone most of the day attending to essential business and family matters, and I was left without a car or really the time to go and relax.

We did, however, get to spend Christmas Eve together. We opened gifts, as is our tradition, and then went to bed in preparation for the rather unique church service the next day. When all was said and done, at least the Christmas weekend was restful in some respects.

Speaking of Christmas Day, I got to drive my aunt to the airport on Christmas morning. On the way back to collect my tie, I listened to Air 1, my favorite radio station (and almost the only one I listen to). As per the holiday at hand, the station was playing a marathon of Christmas music. I rejoiced as the obligatory Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was played, and enjoyed hearing arrangements of my favorite carols and songs by my favorite bands, as well as hearing some of the "less favorable" songs. But I listened anyway.

Later the next week, as I was driving back from the grocery store after picking up some cottage cheese for an Adventist staple, Special K Loaf, I heard a song that I've heard on occasion. The chorus philosophizes, "It's gotta be more like falling in love / than something to believe in / more like losing my heart / than giving my allegiance." Of course, it is referring to the nature of the Christian's relationship with Christ. And it is, of course, wrong...or at least, partly wrong.

When I heard this song the most recent time, it gave me a mixed feeling. Part of me was disappointed and part of me was cynical. As somebody who has "fallen in love" before but whose affections haven't really ever been returned more than a little bit, I'm very cautious when people talk or sing about loving Jesus like loving a significant other. Because love is such a complicated thing when it is brought outside the safety and security of something like a familial relationship (and even then it can be complex and nuanced), it feels like sometimes these songs or sermons idealize the relationship with God. Instead of bringing it down to simplest terms--Jesus died for us so that we could go to heaven--they complicate things. In addition, this "falling in love" and the losing of one's heart generally suggests infatuation, which (as I have much experience) is rarely a genuine, enduring love. If it needs to be more like an infatuation with Christ, than an unquestioning obedience, then I want out.

The reason I would want out is a product of my present relationship with God. It was forged in the throes of a deep depression (also the source of my caution against falling in love); all the heat and pressure crystallized it from an amorphous blob of coal to a diamond. No, the stone isn't perfect, but it is harder and stronger than anything the Devil can throw at me. Why should I make capricious something that is founded on bedrock?

The last line of the chorus finishes the contrast: "...than giving my allegiance". All right, let's look at this for a second. To give one's allegiance is to vow loyalty and devotion. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Now there's something you probably haven't said in a long time. I haven't said it in years, not since eighth grade. And yet it is something I mean every time I say. I love my country and would gladly die for its (original) ideals. Likewise, I am a soldier for Christ. I love Him such that I would sooner die than recant my beliefs. And it appalls me that this song seems to suggest that allegiance comes from dogmatism or being proselytized. That's what the anti-Christian world thinks, those militant atheists who openly mock us. But I know better. My allegiance comes from the same place my love does: trial by fire.

This "something to believe in" is my lifeblood. This giving of my allegiance is everything I care about. If the world were to end today, I would be confident that my struggles have brought me closer to God. But if I were to make it more of a turbulent roller coaster of emotions, such as the feeling of falling in love, then I know I wouldn't stand.

The wise man built his house upon the rock (and was as gold refined in the fire)
The wise man built his house upon the rock (sing it with me)
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came a-tumbling down.

And the rains came down and the floods came up (more trials and tribulations)
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand (flighty nature of falling in love, a mere emotion)

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came a-tumbling down.

And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went SMASH!

Yes, we need to love God. But it needs to be strong and rooted. A tree whose roots go deep will fall, but if it is rooted in shallow soil, a strong wind can topple it. It needs to be devotion, not infatuation. It needs to be a diamond, not cubic zirconia.

Your Brother in Christ,

Modern-day Tropes: dredging up ancient history

It was the ninth century AD before Gregorian Chant was standardized in the Catholic Church. But the addition of new feast days and other occasions called for the addition of new music to the repertoire. Old texts and melodies were reworked and expanded, forming tropes. New sacred but nonbiblical texts were added to the liturgy, and melodies were written for them, making what are called sequences. Dramatic retellings of stories and allegories used melody to form liturgical dramas. All of these are ways to take the existing liturgical music and make it new and fresh. All of these are things we could use to revitalize music in the Adventist Church.

No, I'm not saying we should rewrite all the hymns in the book or throw some out (though some of them we might as well since nobody ever sings them). I'm saying that if the more traditional half of the Church--and I absolutely hate to think of our denomination as divided--would accept a reboot, if you will, of some of the classic hymns, things won't be so uninteresting (I'm going to address lack of interest and why interest matters in a future article).


The "Praise and Worship" repertoire in modern Christian music consists of original songs by artists such as Delirious?, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong United and many others. Many of the songs are less recent, traveling all the way back to the founding of CCM and before. Still others trace their roots to Christian hymnody, but they all share a characteristic style and instrumental color. Many of them have been simplified to remove pesky things like syncopation, much to the detriment of the song itself. (If there is one thing I hate about amateur and hobbyist praise teams, it's when they take syncopation out of songs that must be syncopated.) It seems, though, that much of the CCM Praise and Worship repertoire is standard, and the number of songs is small compared to something as encompassing as the SDA Hymnal.

This repertoire is so small, in fact, that many of our younger churchgoers have hardly ever used a hymnal. I grew up singing out of the hymnal. It taught me an invaluable skill, sight-singing. And it taught me songs that I remember to this day, songs that are well written and have fantastic lyrical content. Without singing from the hymnal, or at least singing hymns, the old ones will die, replaced my the simpler, more--dare I say it--trite hymns of modern Christian hymnody. Just a little housekeeping: I call contemporary songs hymns because they are used as hymns; many Adventists distinguish hymns in our hymnal from more contemporary music and I feel it improper to do so. All of them praise God, so why not call them what they are? (Hymn, being defined by the Greek hymnos, and by Thomas Aquinas as a song of praise to God.)

So this brings us to a the ultimate question regarding repertoire: should we abandon traditional hymns for modern style and compositional methods, or should we abandon modern music to save the only divinely ordained manner of singing? An affirmative answer to either option is, in my personal yet educated opinion, completely and utterly wrong. Not only is calling traditional hymnody the only divinely ordained form of song, as the Catholic Church did in their following of Greek music theory, but modern compositions deserve as much status as hymns as the older compositions do. On top of this, calling the older hymns hackneyed and stale is using the same prejudice that is used to justify alienating and condemning newer compositions.

The answer to the question is simple to say the least: instead of alienating one genre of hymn in favor of the other, we should take both and use both. We should teach the older hymns to those who don't know them, and teach the new ones likewise. They are all viable songs. They are all songs to God. The only difference is in the style of composition and performance. To merge the styles, we have to rely on something that sounds easy but is far from: arranging.


Arrangement is an art. It's not something you can sit down and do. In order to do so, you have to have enough command of your internal ear that you can hear in your head what you put down on paper. On top of that, you have to have a broad enough knowledge of music theory and arranging techniques that you can know what chord progressions to stay away from, what functions the original chords have, what implied harmony may be present in a monophonic, unaccompanied piece, and so on and so forth. Only after you are competent in these things can you use more unorthodox methods; only an extremely gifted composer can throw notes at a page and create gold.

Fortunately for the average musician, arranging isn't quite rocket science. All it takes is a basic knowledge of music theory and a good ear to take a song and spice it up. For instance, if your ear tells you to put in a few color chords or a different progression, as long as you can communicate that on paper, you're good. But it usually boils down to a glorified transcription that oftentimes doesn't quite match the original song. Sometimes the "avant-garde" arrangement is stylistically opposite of the original song and does more harm than good. Other times still, it's just a bland take on an otherwise great song.

Successful arrangements are impossible without practice and patience. Nobody is going to arrange something overnight (unless it's Gioachino Rossini; he wrote the entire opera The Barber of Seville in only 12 days, or so he claimed). And the lack of talented arrangers in today's age (and throughout history) has led us back to our traditional roots of singing and playing verbatim from the hymnal. While many of the arrangements in there are great, the Lutheran style just lacks some of the modern colors we're used to. Rarely do hymns in our hymnal use anything but the standard major, minor, dominant and leading-tone chords. Great is Thy Faithfulness is an excellent example of "non-standard" arranging: it uses numerous predominants, a IV/ii, and even an emb: a #ii°7/I. They add a certain amount of intrigue, making the song not just another well-worn melody; they instead make it an unforgettable gem of Christian hymnody. These techniques and others are as important of tools in the arsenal of the arranger as an armada of brushes and paints in the hands of a painter. And without the skills to use them properly, all the color chords in the universe aren't going to do a lick of good.


Unfortunately, a perfect arrangement is an idealistic fantasy that is far from possible, except in the Divine courts. But we can get something that sounds good enough to be interesting, yet isn't so dolled up that it's unlistenable. Again we come to a balance between the old and the new, a synergy of artistry and liturgy. That, my friends, is how it should be done. Instead of our traditional hymnody being a bitter pill for some and a sweet elixir for others, or the same with more contemporary hymns, we should be using the entire repertoire. It's saddened me that in my experience, it's been one extreme or the other. Either a congregation refuses the contemporary style in favor of the Church Hymnal, or the old one is thrown out for a new set of hymns that have themselves become trite. This ecumenical division will kill our Church if we let it. And that is something that we simply cannot do.

Your Brother in Christ,

*This is the fifth and final of a series of articles about music in the SDA Church and other denominations.*

All Scripture references, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the New King James Version, © Thomas Nelson, Inc.