Tag Archives: Is Jesus Christ God?

My Testimoy Part 6: The Prodigal Returns

There sitting on the couch in my living room I was truly born again after surrendering my life to Jesus Christ and confessing him as my Lord and my God. TWI’s rationalizations for why the many passages of Scripture which stated or alluded to Jesus being Divine in the fullest sense of the term couldn’t really mean that unraveled from there rather quickly as I continued to reexamine what I had come to believe so adamantly before.  Bear with me briefly as I get a little technical for a moment.

Hebrews 1 is one of those passages where Wierwille’s blithe dismissals couldn’t really stand up to scrutiny.  There the author of Hebrews, after saying that God created the worlds through the Son in verse 2 (Wierwille tried to argue that it should be “for” instead of “through” or “by”, as it is in the King James, but there is really no substantive reason to translate it as “for” with the particular Greek case that it occurs with, which is why no translation that I know of does so,including the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation and they also argue that Jesus is not fully Divine.  Compare John 1:3.) and speaking of the Son in other incredibly exalted ways in verse 3, has the Father referring to the Son as God in verses 8-9.  There he is using Psalm 45, which does initially refer to the human and very fallible king David as God in the sense that he is God’s vice regent and representative to carry out His justice on earth.  Wierwille rightly argued that this was originally referring to king David as God’s representative not as God in the flesh.  Moses similarly was referred to as being appointed as God to Pharaoh because his brother Aaron would serve as Moses’ spokesperson like a prophet would for God (Exodus 7:1).

Such is the way Wiewiile and TWI explains away God the Father referring to the Son as God in Hebrews 1:8-9.  Nevertheless, although Wierwille stopped there, the author of Hebrews does not.  The Father’s statement regarding the Son continues to the end of chapter 2.  Verse 10 has God the Father applying Psalm 102:25-27 to the Son as well; and that passage clearly is referring to the LORD God as creator of the heavens and the earth Who, unlike his creation, is unchanging and eternal.  This reiterates what is stated in verse 2 about the Son “through whom God created the worlds” and it echoes what is later clearly stated about Jesus himself in chapter 13:8; namely that he is “the same yesterday and today and forever.”

And it’s not a matter of pitting certain verses against others; it must be noted that all of the above mentioned verses occur within a context where the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus is far superior to the angels (v. 4) and that the angels should worship him (v. 6).  In chapter 2 he also reveals that for a while Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (v.9) when he took on flesh and blood (v. 14) and became like his human brothers and sisters with whom he shared humanity and the temptations that come with it (v. 17-18; also see 4:15).  He took on humanity and became something that he was not before, which is in harmony with what John 1 and Philippians 2 also reveal.  As John 1:14 puts it, the Word, which was God (v. 1), became flesh.  As Philippians 2 puts it the one who was in the form of God (i.e. “form” indicating the outer appearance that corresponds to one’s essence or nature, hence, the NIV’s translation “the very nature of God”) and equal with God who emptied himself and took on the form and likeness of a human slave.  This theologians have called the “incarnation.”  These along with many other passages, some of which I mentioned in my previous post, render TWI’s claim that Jesus did not exist in any real form prior to his conception in the womb of Mary untenable.

The reality is that the Bible does indeed say many things that made the doctrine of the Trinity necessary.  Although the word Trinity never occurs in the Bible, it was a word that was coined to capture a concept that one certainly encounters in the Bible.  The New Testament reveals that Jesus shares glory with God the Father, which Isaiah 42:8 indicates will not be shared with any other outside of God Himself.  The New Testament repeatedly indicates that Jesus shares this glory in various ways.  Phrases such as “every knee will bow …” from Isiah 45:23 are applied to Jesus (Philp 2), as are titles such as God and even the Divine name translated as Lord as seen in Hebrews 1:10.  Jesus isn’t a lord; he is the Lord!  The fact that Paul can split the title God and the name Yahweh (translated LORD) between the Father and the Son from the famous “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 indicates that Jesus was viewed by his earliest disciples as Lord in the highest sense of that term (see 1 Corinthians 8:6).  The basis of the name Yahweh is the name revealed to Moses at the burning bush, “I Am”, a name that John depicts Jesus claiming for himself in John 8:58 to the utter shock of his opponents.  According to Revelation (1:8; 22:13) Jesus also shares the title “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” with God as revealed in Isaiah 44:6.

Not only does Jesus share Divine titles, Revelation also reveals that he receives shared worship, “blessing and honor and glory and power” with God the Father (see Revelation 4-5).  Indeed the Son is clearly honored as the Father is honored (John 5:23) as they share the glory that only the One True God deserves.  Moreover, the Lord God and the Lamb make up the one temple and the one source of light in the new Jerusalem where they share the same throne (Rev 21-22).  There is much more that I could say, but a blog article isn’t the place to elaborate further as it would take a voluminous amount of space and much more time.  There are plenty of resources, however, as these issues have been debated throughout the history of the church.

I am well aware of the plethora of objections; I used to make them all very strenuously myself.  What I realized is that all of those objections were rooted more in what seemed to be logical inconsistencies more so than actual statements of the Bible in context.  Eventually I also realized that the arguments that TWI and I made against the Divinity of Jesus and the Trinity were really not even against the doctrine of the Trinity itself, but more against modalism and probably docetism, heretical teachings also rejected by Trinitarians.  I realized with God’s help the difference between illogical and incomprehensible, between contradiction and paradox.  The teaching of the Bible that Divinity and humanity were combined inextricably in one person in time and history, Jesus of Nazareth, is certainly paradoxical, beyond full human comprehension.  Nevertheless, this is the teaching of the Bible.

People in groups like TWI and Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) aren’t the only ones to reject the Trinity.  Doubtless, many others have rejected the Trinity, some like TWI have tried to argue that the Bible has simply been misinterpreted, others, however, have acknowledged that the Bible does indeed reveal God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet reject the Divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity on supposedly rational grounds.  That is, they recognize the Scriptural grounds for these doctrines, but see them as byproducts of an irrational bygone age when it was easier to believe in the supernatural.  Many scholars have argued that the view Jesus was Divine was a later development, a superstition that evolved not after the New Testament cannon was closed as groups like TWI and JW’s argue, but within the New Testament itself.  This line of thinking became very prevalent among scholars after the Enlightenment as reason was exalted above revelation.  Some form of official or unofficial unitarianism was the result.  Thomas Jefferson makes a good case in point whereas, as a “rational” Deist, he rejected references to miracles in the Bible along with references to the Divinity of Christ, both of which he rejected on “rational” grounds not Biblical grounds.  Jefferson literally cut those passages out of his Bible.  Many other scholars since have followed suit more so with rhetoric and an ink-pen than a pen-knife.

The point I am making is either way it is the supposed irrational, logical inconsistencies that drive the arguments.  In the case of groups like TWI and JW, as well as Islam, the supposed logic leads to conforming the witness of Scripture to the logic rather than allowing one’s logic to be transformed by the higher logic of the revelation of Scripture itself.

When I surrendered  my life to Christ that day my mind was transformed.  I knew, though, that people very close to me would think that I had lost my mind.  As a matter of fact some very near and dear to me, the many friends that I had made in TWI, would not only think I had lost my mind, but that I was possessed.  TWI taught that if anyone actually passionately believed in the Trinity that person had to be possessed with a devil spirit called the “spirit of whoredom.”

Indeed I had lost my mind; I lost my mind, but I believe I gained the mind of Christ that Philippians 2 speaks of and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I began to realize then and more and more thereafter that Jesus didn’t die so that I could get everything I want, but so I could be forgiven and empowered to follow him by giving everything that I have.  Slowly, but surely, “the law of believing” also dissipated from my heart and mind.  I clung to a increasingly more qualified version of it for a while, but soon realized that it was just a pagan teaching that had crept into many Christian circles, including the mainstream church, and had been imposed on Scripture.

After that day, I prayed and pondered what to do.  Christi was quite skeptical of my conversion.  Not that I was converted; that was obvious.  What she doubted most was the content of my new faith and how I could so quickly go from being a devout believer in the doctrine of TWI to being such a devout believer in that which was so antithetical to it.  She also doubted my belief that we needed to get into a church as soon as we could. For a couple of weeks I prayed and talked to a couple of Christians we knew about where we should go to church.  My mind kept going back to my home church, just a mile up the road.  So that’s where I went and Christi reluctantly came with me and the kids.

There I shared my conversion experience and apologized to my mother and others at the church for my hardheadedness and hardheartedness over the last decade.  I got involved with a men’s Bible study group.  I kept reading and studying and truly growing in the faith.  The most helpful thing was actually reading through the Bible, a practice that I have continued to do on a regular basis.  I also remember realizing the importance of testing one’s self and the freedom of not being afraid to put my own convictions to the test by examining them in light of others’ counterarguments,and especially in light of a careful and close reading of the Bible itself.

Christi remained quite skeptical for a while, but after getting involved with a women’s Bible study and attending a “Women of Faith” conference was born again not long after we started attending.  Later that fall of 2006 I reaffirmed my faith and Christi professed hers as well in front of the congregation.  It was a wonderful homecoming of a long lost prodigal son for sure.  I was, and still am, incredibly thankful for the people who had prayed for me and tried to reach me before.

Me and Moma
Mom and I at a Chestnut Grove UMC Homecoming last year.

My mother stood up in front of the congregation – something that was incredibly courageous for her to do as she is also naturally very shy and terrified of public speaking – and shared how she had prayed for me for over a decade, and how thankful she was that I had come back to the faith that I had professed as a 9 year old, painfully shy boy who had felt called to be a minister even then.  Many others, more than I know, had prayed for me as well.  I also didn’t forget that pastor who I had talked with over a decade before, before I took the plunge into TWI, who was then pastoring a much larger church.  I wrote him a note of apology and thanks.

It wasn’t long before I was leading that men’s group that I had joined; and it wasn’t long after that I was going through the inquiry process about becoming a pastor.  By January of 2008 I was preaching every Sunday as an assistant to a pastor on a three point charge; by July I was the pastor of a congregation of about 75 people near Oxford, North Carolina; and by the end of August I was a full-time student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, fulfilling the vision that I had while mowing my parent’s yard shortly after I had taken the first PFAL class with TWI over 13 years before.  I’ve served as a United Methodist preacher and pastor ever since.

It also wasn’t long before I realized that you don’t have to get involved with a cult to wander from “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), and that wandering from the faith doesn’t just happen to individuals but can also happen to entire denominations, as it had happened with the entire nation of Israel.

Earlier this year I was sent to a conference with several other newer United Methodist clergy, recent seminary graduates.  There we listened to a Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who in her book “Pastrix” says that she believes the Wiccan goddess to be the same being as the God of the Bible and writes about using the baptismal covenant to bless and rename a woman who was “transitioning” into a man, an event which she compares to the conversion of the apostle Paul and Martin Luther.  She was held up as someone we should emulate.  At the conference she also bragged about using the baptismal font as a chocolate fountain for a party after a worship service as an act of “holy irreverence”.  She, along with countless other “progressive” Christians in mainline denominations, promotes the full acceptance of sex outside of the traditional Christian parameters between one man and one woman in holy matrimony, and bashes and mocks those who insist that we hold to the traditional teaching of the historic orthodox universal Church.  Some have relentlessly argued that the Church has simply misinterpreted the Bible on these matters; others, some of the leading liberal scholars, have admitted that the Bible really is clear on these issues, but have insisted that it has been proven wrong and, therefore, should be rejected in light of contemporary reason and experience.

In the summer of 1995 I stood at a crossroads and I took a path that lead me away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”.  I chose the wrong path and ended up in a desperate state, but thankfully by God’s grace and a miracle of mercy I came to my senses and made my way back home (see Luke 15).  I pray that the United Methodist Church doesn’t follow the path of the other mainline denominations and officially reject the straightforward commandments of God regarding sexual holiness and the new covenant of which they are a part.  I pray that the many who already have and who continue to push the denomination in that direction will humble themselves, repent, and submit to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.  I have been a member of one cult; I do not wish to be a part of another.

I pray for all who have wandered from the faith, away from the Good Shepherd who leads us to true abundant life on a narrow path often marked by suffering.  Thankfully God is merciful and relentless in his pursuit of that which is lost; and He will never turn any returning prodigal away.

Zechariah 1:3 “… Return to me, says the Lord of Hosts, and I will return to you …”  (ESV)

My Testimony Part 3: The Plunge Before the Fall

“Well, Clifford, I can’t really tell you that this is wrong?”

After exchanging the normal greetings and pleasantries, this is what my United Methodist pastor said to me regarding The Way International (TWI), the anti-Trinitarian ministry to which I was on the verge of committing my allegiance and support.

This wonderful man had been my pastor since I was in Jr. High School.  He was a very talented, creative, and passionate preacher, a very bright and capable leader.  He led our church in a much needed building project aptly called, “An Endeavor in Faith.”  As a result, it seems, this little rural church with one of the most beautiful views of Pilot Mountain grew from being on a charge with another church into a single station appointment (for those unfamiliar with Methodistese this means the church went from sharing a pastor with another church to supporting it’s own full-time pastor).  It also eventually started an after school program in the new building and has been one of the strongest rural Methodist congregations ever since.  It has certainly changed a lot since I was in elementary school, when it was on a three point charge with two little churches in Pinnacle.   At any rate, this pastor was one of the brightest young Methodist preachers, who would go on to pastor some of the largest churches in the Western NC conference.

Pilot Mountain

As we sat there in his study in the lower level of that beautiful new building, his statement, that he couldn’t really say TWI was wrong disarmed me and relaxed much of the anxiety I was feeling, not only about having that conversation with him, but also about the potential imprudence of getting further involved in this group I didn’t really know all that much about .  As I said, I intuitively sensed the enormity of the decision about which, by this time, I had become more aware of just how drastic it would be.  The folks withTWI made no bones about how drastic and stark the difference was between them and mainstream “Trinitarian” churches; yet my Methodist pastor didn’t seem to see the difference as starkly, perhaps due to the influences of ethical relativism and religious pluralism, and a commitment to “theological diversity” present in mainline denominations and seminaries.  Who knows?

Nevertheless, in spite of his initial charitable statement, to his credit, he did go on to try to explain to me why the doctrine of the Trinity was so important to the Christian faith, and even how it was heresy to deny it.  My almost 20 year old, not well-read mind wasn’t quite sure what the word “heresy” meant, but I knew it wasn’t good.

By this time, however, through conversations with folks in TWI and by reading Wierwille’s book with the not-so-subtle title, “Jesus Christ is Not God,” I had been quite effectively inoculated against Trinitarian arguments:  The word Trinity never occurs in the Bible; if Jesus was God then who did he pray to?; the Bible says no one has seen God at any time (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12), yet plenty of people saw Jesus, etc.  I had already memorized many of the TWI prooftexts.  As I voiced those objections, my pastor seemed unsure how to reply.

He did mention that in John 17:1-5 Jesus speaks of the glory that he had with the Father before the world began; but I had bought into TWI’s argument that Jesus as the Word, only existed in the foreknowledge of God rather than in reality.  When he questioned whether someone could be saved who didn’t believe that Jesus is God, I insisted that Romans 10:9 doesn’t say that someone has to believe Jesus is God in order to be saved; it just says that you have to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, which seems to make a clear distinction between Jesus and God.  I had also bought into the TWI argument that for Jesus the title Lord was not a title of Divinity but only a title of respect for one who is superior in rank.  In short, these arguments were compelling to me because of the apparent logical contradictions that result when you pit the humanity of Christ against the Divinity of Christ, and conflate the persons of the Trinity with the Being of the Trinity.  Besides if the Trinity really wasn’t Biblical then why bother with it in the first place?

As our conversation began to wind down, my Methodist pastor gave me a book on “Christian Doctrine” of the same title by Shirley C. Guthrie (1994).  Later at home I zeroed in on a passage in chapter five under the subheading, “Biblical Roots of the Doctrine of the Trinity.”  There I read on page 76: “The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Neither the word “trinity” itself no such language as ‘one-in-three,’ ‘three-in-one,’ one ‘essence’ (or ‘substance’, and three ‘persons’ is biblical language.”  These two sentences played right into the hands of TWI whose own narrative of church history insisted that the Trinity was of pagan influence and imposed on the church via a former pagan emperor, Constantine, by force.  Although I read the rest of the section in which Guthrie goes on to say that the church didn’t simply invent the doctrine but used the available language and philosophical concepts to interpret what the Bible actually does say about God and Jesus, and that the Bible does indeed say some things about God that make the doctrine of the Trinity necessary, I rashly concluded that TWI was right; and I wanted to be right too; I wanted to be “Biblical”!  And I probably just wanted some relief from the tension and confusion I was trying to work through.

What I would like to think began as a desire to know God and be right with God, had already begun to morph into a desire to just be right over others.  The former is a recipe for humility; the later a recipe for pride and its ugly cousin contempt.  I took the plunge; I committed my self to the teachings and ministry of TWI.

The next day I drove over to the home of the TWI leader in King and excitedly debriefed with him and his wife about the conversation I had had with my Methodist pastor.  We all discussed just how silly and spiritually blind people who believed in the Trinity are; and of course just how enlightened we were to just simply believe the “plain teaching of the Word.”  I was in.  All in.  And that meant, to the angst of my parents, Methodist pastor, and some church members who had known me since I was a baby, I was out of the mainstream church.

Sometime later that summer, a wonderful man – one of the most devout Christians I know –  who had been my Sunday school teacher, the lay leader of my home church, and even my driver’s education teacher in high school came to talk with me.  By this time it was too late though.  I was already a better apologist for TWI than most regular church members, and perhaps some pastors, are for orthodoxy.  I popped off prooftexts left and right and blithely dismissed his own explanations of Scripture, which he insisted confirmed the deity of Christ.  But I was already beyond reach.

At another point that summer of 1995 the laid-back fellow, whom I had meet in the room in the basement of ECU at the public explanation of the PFAL class, called me up and invited me to go to a week-long festival and teaching conference at the headquarters of TWI in New Knoxville, Ohio called “The Rock of Ages.”  At first, I declined because that would cause me to miss a week of my summer job, on which I depended to make a little extra money for college expenses.  Again, for the second time I was challenged to believe God that it would all work out and that He would make up for the week of missed income.

By this time, I had been taught full-well TWI’s doctrine called the “law of believing.”  This, Wierwille taught, was a principle written into the laws of the universe that if we believe positively and confess with our lips positively according to what is available from God’s Word then we shall absolutely receive whatever it is that we are believing for and confessing (prooftext Matt. 21:22).  According to TWI, the law part of it also has a dark side because if you think and speak negatively and begin to worry an become fearful then you will reap negative consequences (prooftext Job 3:25).  It’s a law, he said, that works for Christian and non-Christian alike.  This was the second time I was challenged to “believe for” something like this, but it wouldn’t be the last.  Eventually, I would do my fair share of challenging others like this as well.

So I went with this fellow and his wife and son to “The Rock of Ages” at TWI headquarters, the longest trip this poor country boy had been on since me and my folks visited my father’s buddy from the Korean War in Palm Beach Florida in our 1967 white, four-door, Chrysler Newport when I was in the fourth grade.

Me in front of the big top tent at TWI headquarters
Me in front of the big top tent at TWI headquarters

There in New Knoxville I heard the president of TWI, Rev. L Craig Martindale, who had been installed by Wierwille himself in the mid 1980’s, rail against the rampant “idolatry” of the Trinitarianism that was being promoted in “stained glass whore houses” (i.e. churches), as he called them.  The bluntness of his rhetoric matched the intensity of his convictions.  He pulled no punches.  What a difference just a few months made since I had been slightly perplexed by the offhand remark of Wierwille in the PFAL class?

I listened intently to the blazing rhetoric, increasingly impressed with the Greek and Hebrew words that were expounded upon along with the other seemingly razor sharp “principles of Biblical research” propounded by TWI that – as Wierwille would say –  make the Word fit like a hand in a glove when “rightly divided” as it says in 2 Timothy 2:15.  I was being built up in my knowledge and appreciation of the Word according to TWI and I was loving it.  I was enamored with my new found knowledge, a knowledge that set me and others in TWI apart from the vast majority of Christians, not to mention the rest of the world.  It felt really good to be right!  But feeling right does not necessarily mean truly being right with God.

Nonetheless, I continued to grow in my knowledge of “the Word” according to TWI.  Over the next couple of years I quickly advanced through their multiple classes and seminars and devoured all of their books along with countless other weekly teachings from Martindale, which were recorded on little white cassette tapes.  I also faithfully read the current articles from their bi-monthly, “The Way Magazine.”  During the time that I got involved I actually got to take the PFAL advanced class taught by Martindale before it was faded out along with the PFAL video class taught by Wierwille.  Not long at all after I got involved the entire PFAL series was replaced with a new series called “The Way of Abundance and Power.”  TWI has a foundational, intermediate, and advanced class, along with some other special topics classes.  I quickly gained a reputation as one of the red-hottest and most committed TWI believers.

I excelled through everything they had to offer in the first few years; and I quickly reestablished an official TWI campus organization on the ECU campus.  I also served as an assistant coordinator of a couple of different TWI home groups eventually becoming a home group leader (once called Twig coordinators but by the time I was in the position it was called “household fellowship coordinator”) for a while.  I even had definite aspirations of eventually going into TWI’s minister training program called “The Way Corp.”  It seemed to be the way that I would fulfill a call to ministry that I sensed was on my life since the time I was a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden elementary school student.

This was the most exciting time in my life up to that point.  I was filled with a incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm, directed by the all important purpose of “moving the Word” (i.e. spreading the message and ministry of TWI).  I made some wonderful friends and meet some truly accomplished and quite remarkable people, licensed psychotherapists, a PHD from MIT, small business owners, former college and pro football players, a PHD in child psychology, public school educators and counselors, police officers, a former Marine Corp helicopter pilot, many smart people from all walks of life.  I share this to answer the oft asked question of what kind of people would get involved in such an organization.  I was one of them.

I was in and I was growing by leaps and bounds, but as I would eventually discover, I was growing in a special kind of knowledge that builds one up in pride with the corresponding fruit of contempt for others.  And you know what the word says about pride?

It’s really quite amazing to think about how much of this part of my life hung on that one conversation with my United Methodist pastor.  Who would ever think that a theological conversation could impact the life of a poor country boy who grew up in a junk yard so much?!

I took the plunge; I chose The Way, The Way International that is; and I was being steeped in pride.  It would take a miracle to save me from the fall.  Stay tuned …

Proverbs 16:18 (KJV) “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”