It seems Norman Geisler is reduced to desperation these days' he's collected another "endorsement" from Mark Hanna that vaguely praises him for doing such a wonderful job; calls his arguments against Licona "compelling," praises him for doing everyone a service, and doesn't engage even one argument in the process.
Tell you what, all you Geisler-praisers....whether it be Farnell, or Hanna, or even Kaiser...how about you drop the vague back patting, get out from your hidey-holes, and actually take on some of the arguments? Hmm?
Anyway, today's main entry is from the December 2008 E-Block and it's about a cult called the World Mission Society of God. Maybe in a few years I can also write about the Geisler Kool-Aid Cult and all of these yappers and hangers-on as their high priests.
One of my favorite entries from the Christian satire magazine The Door is a parody advertisement challenging the reader to, "Join any 7 cults for one cent." Inevitably I was reminded of this parody when I was first asked about the World Mission Society Church of God (hereafter WMS). My pastor here in Central Florida had advised me that this group was proselytizing in our area, and further investigation showed that we here were just part of a larger effort by WMS to spread the word. And what is that word? Well, let's put it this way: The Latter-Day Saints just might want to sue WMS for plagiarism.
To begin, a little history. Despite impressions, WMS is not an upstart this century but is currently in its mid-life crisis. A summary of the history found here indicates that WMS began in 1964 by the efforts of one Ahn Sang-hong, whom WMS followers came to regard as Christ. Ahn apparently predicted the second coming to occur in 1967, and then again in 1988 (though without the influence of J. R. Church or Edgar Whisenant, I take it), but died three years too early to witness the latter failure, and these days the leadership consists in the main of two persons: Zahng Gil Jah, who is called the "Heavenly Mother," and Kim Joo-cheol, who is a lead pastor. The group is headquartered in Korea, but is making its presence known here.
Heavenly Mother? Yes, and this seems to be the group's distinctive teaching, albeit one not original to them. The Mormons do have an idea of such a being as well, though they are not so bold as to say that it is taught in Scripture, preferring to say at most that it can be obtained by inference. WMS does maintain that the Heavenly Mother is found in Scripture, and they are quite bold about the idea, even if higher on the scale for bark than bite when it comes to justification, as we shall see.
A look at WMS' own website (in English translation) reveals little in the way of substance. The Apologetics Index article linked above refers to witness testimony to the following beliefs:
According to the English-language version of the Church of God Website in Korea, followers believe "only the Bible as God's word"; the teachings of Ahn Sang-Hong are believed to be "those of the last Christ" and they instruct followers to lead a "sacrificial life with true faith according to the Bible" (n.d.). The visiting assistant professor remarked that Church of God followers interpret the Bible literally, deify the founder, and consider images of the crucifixion and the Virgin Mary to be objects of idolatry (1 Dec. 2004). The assistant professor also noted that women are expected to wear a veil during service and that strict observance of the Saturday Sabbath and the rites of the Old Testament, such as Passover, is considered necessary to achieve redemption and salvation (1 Dec. 2004).
The WMS website is notably insistent on two points: The Sabbath observance, and the concept of a Heavenly Mother. Beyond that, WMS naturally presents itself as a force of reform out to do good, and further, the only ones doing it, as noted in an article by Rev. Joo Cheol Kim:
The day is coming when we will see the glory of a new heaven and earth. And God has opened a new age for the Church of God and entrusted this church with the mission of the worldwide evangelization. We all church members are sensible of our responsibility for the mission. And we are trying to perform the mission that the Christ has given us (Matt. 28:18), doing good and practicing love.
Our church is the only true church which God has established on this earth (Acts 20:28). Through all ages and histories, there has constantly been good and evil and the two have been opposed to each other?truth has always hated falsehood, and falsehood truth.
In such history, truth has constantly been oppressed and persecuted. Even for an instant, however, falsehood has not been able to overcome truth, and darkness the light. For God has always been on the side of truth and in the light.
So is the Church of God. Even under severe persecution and false incrimination, our church has been keeping the faith and the spirit that the Early Church had, and has never bowed the knee to Baal. And now our church is taking the lead in the work of salvation, proclaiming the truth of God. The one and only reason our church exists on this earth is that it has the mission of doing the work of God. To fulfill the mission, we will preach the gospel and lead the world to eternal life, salvation and the kingdom of heaven with all our strength.
Inevitably, after the parade has passed, the question to be asked: "Is this merely the posturing of a deviant group trying to put a good face on things?" There are some interesting parallels here, as well: Mormonism also claimed to be the one true church, the reforming power, and did appeal to their persecution as a validation; yet one doubts that Rev. Kim would be much convinced to hand the torch to Joseph Smith on that basis. Either way, we need to discuss those distinctive beliefs instead, and see what sort of epistemology lies behind them.
Distinctive #1: Sabbath Observance. WMS' founder reportedly left the 7th Day Adventist Church, but he kept their idea of Saturday Sabbath observance. In their defense of the practice, I found little that touched upon arguments or points I previously discussed in an article on the subject done long ago. WMS appeals to the threat implied in Rev. 22:18-19 ("I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.") to foster Sabbath observance; this passage of course is a lynchpin for many theological deviancies, but the evidence would indicate, as noted in an Ask the Perfesser question in the last issue, that this is a misplaced appeal:
I believe your skeptic friend is committing an error similar to that of both Christians and skeptics who use Revelation 22:18-19 to address changes to any part of the Bible (not just Revelation). Many have pointed out that Rev, 22:18-19 is only meant to apply to Revelation itself, and this is true, but I think it goes deeper than that.
Revelation seems to be a sort of legal document -- part of what could be called a "covenant lawsuit" against those who have failed in their adherence to God's covenant. In that sense, the warning would therefore apply only to the original document penned by John, not to unofficial copies. In other words, it is just as it is in modern courts, which will not tolerate anyone tampering with official filings (which lawsuit parties might be tempted to do!), but would hardly care if someone took a copy of a legal document home and defaced it.
WMS' case for a Saturday Sabbath leans heavily thereafter on Old Testament commands; when it gets to the New Testament, however, they can only point out that:
Jesus and the Apostles worshipped on the Sabbath. This is true, but some of these events occurred prior to the Resurrection and the institution of the new covenant, while others were a case of someone like Paul simply going where the Jews were (Saturday worship) in order to preach to them. These are points I have addressed in more depth in the linked article.
"The Lord's day" is the same thing as the Sabbath, because "the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath." But one must ask, does WMS not also think that Jesus is Lord of all days of the week? Jesus' reply was to Pharisees who denied his ability to work on the Sabbath; thus it was an assertion that all days, not just the other six, were the Lord's to do as he pleased. Therefore, this phrase does not assist in a case for Saturday Sabbath.
WMS maintains the fiction that the use of Sunday "originated from pagan sun-god worship" and that Constantine was responsible for this error; but like much else that hearkens back to The Da Vinci Code, this is historically incorrect, as attestations offered in my article referring to patristic practice indicates. Constantine did place Sunday under the protection of the state, but was not the originator of the practice of Sunday worship.
Distinctive #2: Momma God. "In the Bible, God the Mother as well as God the Father is recorded as God, who will save mankind. Isn't this shocking?" So asks the WMS website; but arguably, the exegetical practices required to arrive at this conclusion are more shocking than the idea itself. Here are the arguments WMS offers, and the first one might look familiar:
Male and female are created in God's image. (Gen. 1:26) Yes indeed - a key verse for the Mormon concept of God as a human is once again put to use by WMS. The error, therefore, is the same, as more thoroughly documented in my book The Mormon Defenders: The language of "image and likeness" does not refer to any sort of physical resemblance, but to representational authority. Put another way, it means we are designated to act as stewards of the creation.
Jesus' disciples testified that Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament represented God the Father and God the Mother (Luke 16:19, Galatians 4:26). It's not clear what Luke 16:19 has to do with such an idea: Jesus said, "There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury." Galatians 4:26 at least has the right name, but WMS has the identities confused:
But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother.
There is nothing in Galatians (or anywhere else) that identifies Abraham and Sarah with God in any sense; at most it can be said from Galatians that Abraham and Sarah are seen as our "parents" in faith. At the same time, Gal. 4:26 identifies Sarah more directly with the heavenly Jerusalem - the home of the bride of Christ (the church) in Revelation. So by the WMS equation, the heavenly Jerusalem is therefore God as well.
It is not entirely clear, in any event, how WMS arrives at this exegesis, although if we may guess, it may run in a chain rather like this:
At best, this logic would be like the old ditty that manages to equate Ray Charles with God by pointing out that God is love; love is blind, and Ray Charles is blind. But indeed, the equation made based on Gal. 4:26 is never explained in so many words, so nothing more can be said.
In the Bible, there are so many testimonies not only about God the Father, whom Christians have been calling for thousands of years, but also about the existence of God the Mother and Her role, mission and prophecies She has to fulfill for the salvation of mankind. So the WMS website claims, but "so many" of these testimonies apparently do not put in an appearance whatsoever. The above is it.
So what may we say in conclusion? WMS might be called Mormonism Lite. Their ideas weren't new even in the 1960s, when the founder went on his way. I expect that since WMS is starting to evangelize like the Mormons, our best bet when they ring the doorbell is to not answer, then wait until Mormon missionaries come along too. Who knows? Maybe they'll convert each other!