Friday, 25 December 2015

Travelling to My Hometown

Merry Christmas everyone!

I am out of station and have only a limited time to write a blog post. So here goes nothing.

I was wondering about an appropriate, Christmas-related subject, and after much deliberation, I will comment briefly on a Christmas tradition that I participated in this year.

Luke 2:3 says on the very first Christmas, everyone went to their own hometown..... This year, I have also traveled to my ancestral city, Peshawar (in the Khyber Pakhtunwa Province of Pakistan). The trip wasn't primarily to celebrate Christmas away from home. One can call it a coincidence, but here I am.

Peshawar is my ancestral city from both sides of the family, although I wasn't born there. Its a 2-hour flight from where I live, but I chose to take the longer route, a 30 plus hour journey by road, crossing three provinces. The temperature had already gone from 16 degrees to 2 when I finally reached my destination. The reason I took the longer route was because I needed some mental relaxation, and the trip was nothing short of meditation for me. I also read the Book of Deuteronomy from start to finish on the way.

Now this is nothing compared to the trip Joseph and Mary took. Travelling 34 miles from Nazareth to Sychar, 31 miles from Sychar to Jerusalem, and then another 6 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, a total  distance of 71 miles on foot or horseback. Just imagine.

I had taken along with me a few books, but only managed to read one, The Easter Enigma by John Wenham. Everyone asked me why I was reading a book with 'Easter' in its title instead of Christmas! But it was a fascinating read any how. I am also bringing back half a dozen books on Reformed Theology, a generous gift from a cousin's in-laws.

A few days after my arrival, the country was observing the anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on Pakistani soil, the APS Massacre of December 2014, which took place right here in Peshawar. I asked my cousin to take me to the school on the 16th so we can pay our respects, but couldn't do so because of security reasons.

I was inspired to see that many schools of Peshawar have been renamed, and they now are called by the names of the students who were brutally murdered last year. But what was even more inspiring was the enthusiasm of the city's Christian population that celebrated Christmas with vigor and confidence in a city marred by extremism and terrorism. 

The St. John's Cathedral even hoisted a 30-foot Christmas star that can be seen from afar. Christmas celebrations also went as usual at the All Saint's Church, that was bombed in 2013.

With a few days left, I also plan to visit the Sikh Gurudwara  to see how the tiny Sikh population of Peshawar are getting on with their lives. 

Pictured here is me reading The Easter Enigma in front of the Mission Hospital Chapel in Dabgari Gardens, Peshawar.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

WWE and Christianity

I am a long-time fan of professional wrestling. Last year I wrote a blog for a wrestling website where I linked WWE and Christianity. The link to that article isn't working anymore. Hence, I am uploading the same article here. Hope you like it....

Ever since Stone Cold Steve Austin laced a pair of boots, he was destined for success.

We are talking about a man who was the highest revenue generator for the company, and the one who was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame by none other than the boss himself.

But there is one paradox in the story of the Texas Rattlesnake that often goes unnoticed.

It was King Of The Ring 1996, right around the time when WCW came up with the NWO storyline and officially started the Monday Night Wars. Bret Hart was to leave the company, and Shawn Michaels was to be injured. They needed a star to become the face of the brand, and they found it in Austin.

But he was unlike Hulk Hogan, Hart, or John Cena. He was not a clean-cut family guy. He drank beer, cursed people, and showed no respect for authority. Most of all, he committed sacrilege.

Yes, Austin committed sacrilege. I might go on as far to say the entire Austin brand is based on a mockery of religion. I fail to understand why people don't call it sacrilege.

First I quote SLAM! Sports to show that it’s not my analysis that the whole Austin 3:16 catchphrase was a catalyst to the success of Steve, and whatever happened in pro-wrestling after that:

…..Austin won the annual pay-per-view tournament. But the biggest step towards superstardom was still to come. As Doc Hendrix conducted a post-match promo with the new King of the Ring, Austin demeaned Roberts' "born again" gimmick stating that unlike the biblical verse John 3:16, "Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your *ss!" A catchphrase was born that soon appeared on T-shirts, hats and anything else the WWE could manufacture.

Wikipedia also says something similar.

Now read what a Christian website had to say on the matter:

Another icon among wrestling fans is known as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who revels in taunting and mocking the Christian faith.
Ted DiBiase… bemoans Austin’s standard performances of beer guzzling, bellowing profanity, and flashing obscene gestures …..He also notes that 6 million Austin 3:16 T-shirts have been sold in this country. Austin’s newest shirt states “‘DO UNTO OTHERS’ ” with a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike- and thus presents Jesus’ words as a perverse reason to initiate acts of aggression.
You get the point.

But there is another wrestler who could manage to pose nude and profane a country’s flag while still being a fan favorite. I am of course talking about Shawn Michaels. The Christian website didn’t mention HBK in their article criticizing the negative impact of WWE.

Why? Because Shawn Michaels is a Christian, and WWE let him portray this character on screen. As I noted in my article on sports:

His controversial career in the WWE almost came to end in 98’ when he suffered an injury that forced him to stay out of action. During this time, he professed faith in Christianity…..He made his comeback 2002, adorning a T-shirt with Philippians 4:13 on it: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’His return as a born-again Christian was also ‘received with delight as evidenced by the deafening screams of the entire stadium’.


This is the paradox I am talking about, where one wrestler mocks religion and the other one adorns it. But not only does the crowd accept both characters unconditionally, both go on to become Hall of Famers.

It is a paradox that when Jake Roberts is a Christian and makes reference to his faith, the crowd cheers Austin who makes fun of it. But when Michaels is a Christian and ‘God’ is on his side, the crowd cheers for him.

The ultimate irony is that a born again Christian launched Austin’s career in the WWE, while another one (kayfabe) ended his career! I am of course referring to Survivor Series 2003.

WWE writers chose to give the ‘responsibility of saving Austin’s job at Raw’ to the kind of person he mocked to become popular in 96’. The audience didn’t question the contradiction, just as they didn’t question Undertaker’s motorbike gimmick.

Why? Because Taker, Austin, and HBK are great wrestlers. Their in-ring abilities, and the willingness to bleed for the crowds overshadow the particular character they are playing at the moment.

For this precise reason, I do not share the views of Dibiase and the Good Fight Ministries and will continue to watch pro-wrestling, despite being a committed Christian. And that is precisely why Christians like Guerrero, Michaels, and Sting manage to reconcile their beliefs with what they did best.

Some Christian 'ministries' and 'scholars' try to look for satanism and conspiracy in popular media, but they just fail to see the big picture. Shawn Michaels gave his testimony on WWE television. That is as good as it gets. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Elijah Enigma

Elijah is one of the most inspiring characters in the Bible and one of my personal heroes of faith. Yet, the man continues to remain an enigma, and because of him, I have changed many interpretations of key Biblical texts during my research.

You see, most of us only have a surface-level understanding of the Bible. Or, to put it more accurately, the interpretations of many key passages affects the way we read them.

For example, was Elijah literally taken up to heaven, or is it just another way of saying that he died?

You may be surprised to discover that there is a mountain of Biblical evidence to support the latter assertion. Off the top of my head, I can think of the following reasons:

  • Jesus categorically said "No one has ever gone into heaven except" Him (John 3:13)   
  • Why was Elisha mourning if his master was being taken up alive?
  • Why is the same language used to denote the death of Elisha? (2 Kings 13:14)

Just when you think you have conclusively established Elijah's death, we also read of his return (Malachi 4:5-6). Now if the traditional Christian understanding is true, then we can reconcile the death of Elijah with the ministry of John the Baptist, as the latter fulfills the prophecy of Elijah's return.

But then, John's denial leaves us perplexed that he is not Elijah (John 1:21)!

Also note that Malachi says that Elijah is coming " before that great and dreadful day of the LORD". Is this the first coming or the second coming of the Messiah? The Bible is not clear. And then you find the 2 witnesses in Revelation 11, who look suspiciously like Elijah (stopping rain, defeating enemies with fire etc.)

Maybe the transfiguration was Elijah's coming before the Lord, which once again negate the traditional association with John the Baptist. But if Elijah and Moses both appear in the transfiguration, then are they both alive, or both dead??

None of these questions can be conclusively answered, IMHO. What we can say for sure is that Elijah was a mighty voice of God in tyrannical reign of Ahab and Jezebel, but the influence of his ministry, his legacy, extends far beyond his time and even shows its mark in the New Testament. And maybe, just maybe, he will also have to do something with the end times as well.

What a man, what a ministry!


Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Case for Church Membership

When you talk to fellow believers, especially the younger lot, they seem to be discontent with the church, and the reasons are all too many. Financial and moral corruption of the leadership, the hypocritical and often hostile attitude of the congregation members, a dry spirituality, and a lack of intellectual stimulation. 


Now I am not saying that these reasons are not genuine. I will be the first one to concede the problems of organized religion (including Christianity).

But the issue I want to raise is whether any problem in the Church is big enough to warrant departure from it. Many people have stopped going to church on Sunday, and they cite one or more of these reasons.

Others engage in church-hopping, switching from one church to another because the worship, preaching, or fellowship in their former congregation was not spiritually appealing.

In my humble opinion, neither of these actions are justified.  

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”.

The more we fret over people and events, the more we will feel disheartened with any church that we go to. What you should do instead is examine the underlying theology of church membership. This will help your think more positively about your respective parish, IMHO.

The theology of the Church is a vast topic, but we can make things simple by thinking it in terms of what we know about ourselves as Christian believers. The church, after all, is a collection of individual Christians. Hence, any church, in the ultimate analysis, will mirror the experience of the individual Christians that worship there.

So who is a Christian? In the most basic definition, a Christian is a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. In theological terms, she is a sinner who has been regenerated by faith in Jesus and by the work of the Holy Spirit. There is an ongoing battle inside her between sin and holiness, which continues till her last breath.  At no point can a Christian say “I have achieved perfection” (1 John 1:8), but with every passing moment, she continues her quest for holiness through the forgiveness offered by Jesus (1 John 1:9-10).


The same theology can be safely extrapolated to the Church. It is a corporate entity that is collectively being regenerated by a collective faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. And like the individual Christian, a church can never claim perfection at any point. 

In fact, the idea of a ‘perfect church’ (or a perfect denomination or even a perfect system of theology) is a false one. And we have enough examples to point that out.

Consider the implications of the use of ‘Church of God’ for the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:2), a congregation divided over charismatic gifts, politics, and sexual immorality. This means that existence of such vices doesn’t cause a congregation to lose its status as the ‘Church of God’. This is because Christ died to redeem this body of believers, and will continue to purify it through His sacrifice (Ephesians 5:26-27).

The conclusion? Your church is the ‘Church of God’. Deal with it!

Instead of leaving the church, you should work towards improving it. The New Testament Epistles give us practical advice on how this can be done. For example, when both Jews and ‘pagans’ converted to Christianity in the 1st century, controversy arose over which dietary laws to follow.

We have clear indication from the Bible that the dietary laws found in the Torah were for the people of God who were living in one geographical location. But when the people of God were commanded to go to the ends of the earth, laws of such nature were relaxed (Acts 10:9-16).

But since old habits die hard, the former Jews who now entered the Church insisted that everyone should follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. To end the schism, the Apostles called the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).

There are important lessons for us today. For instance, the Jerusalem Council shows us that the greatest issues can be resolved through dialogue. However, we know that the solution wasn’t really successful in the long run, for the teachings of Judaizers existed in some form throughout Church history and even exist today. So, another lesson is that even with the best of leadership, there will always be black sheep in the church that will try to corrupt it. Don’t always blame the clergy.

Finally, avoid confrontation, especially with your pastor. Paul confronted and rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11), but only because he was an Apostle, i.e. he carried an official badge of authority recognized in the Church. Yet most of the people pointing out the flaws in their church will never join the clergy or the administration.

So, if you are having a hard time going to church every Sunday, here are few tips that will help you out:

1. Know your Reason
Why did you join the church in the first place? Was it because of your family, or your personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Remember that only a personal experience with God can help you live among and counsel immature believers. Just look at Moses!


2. Pray
Jesus prayed for the Church (John 17) and so should you.

3. Talk it Out
Talk to your pastor about any particular issues you are having. If you are not satisfied, ask other people in the clergy. Talk to the choir and youth leaders, and senior members of the congregation. Don’t base your eternal destiny on consultation with half a dozen people.

4. Be Humble
You may be the most mature and professional person in your church, but arguing with and looking down upon people hardly resolves anything. If you truly want your church to reform, you should work towards it in a spirit of humility (Read Psalm 131)

5. Join the Clergy
Last but not least, make things official and join the clergy. Try to get theological certification, and join the church hierarchy, even if in a limited capacity. Remember, some people will never listen to a layman on religious matters, so you might want to move to other side of the pulpit.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

مسیحی شکرگزاری کی بنیاد خدا کی دی ہوئی نجات ہے :خروج ١:١٧-٧

ہم  سب  اس  حوالے  سے  اچھی  طرح واقف ہیں جب خدا چٹان میں سے  پانی  مہیہ کرتا ہے. جب ہم پرانے عہد نامے کا مطالعہ کرتے ہیں  تو خدا  بارے  میں  دو   چیزیں  سامنے  آتی  ہیں: ١) کے وہ قادر مطلق ہے  اور  معجزات  کرتا ہے  اور ٢) وہ غضب سے بھرا ہے. تو جہاں اسنے سمندر  کے دوٹکڑے  کرکے  بنی اسرائیل  کو پار کیا ، وہیں  اسنے مصریوں  کی  لاشوں  کے ڈھیر  لگا دیے

بائبل کے ابتدائی  ابواب  میں خدا فورن سرگرم ہو جاتا ہے اور تورہ  خدا کے قہر  کے اظہار  سے بھری  پڑی  ہے. لیکن ان  تمام واقعات  میں بھی ہم خدا کے رحم  کی بہت  دلچسپ  تصویر  دیکھتے  ہیں.

 بنی اسرائیل خدا کو آزما  رہے  ہیں پانی کی شکایت  کرکے. لیکن یہ بہت عجیب بات ہے، کیونکہ بائبل میں درج معجزات کی ایک  اچھی تعداد  پانی کے معجزات ہیں. وہ خود پانی کو پار  کرکے مصر  سے نکل آے ، اور بحر قلزم کے دو  حصے  کرنے  والے  سے کہ رہے ہیں کے تو ہمیں پانی فراہم  نہیں کرسکتا! یہ صاف کفر ہے. 

لیکن بات یہاں ختم نہیں ہوتی. آیت  ٣ میں وہ کہتے ہیں کے ہمارے جانور مر جاینگے . کیا وہ تیسری آفت  کو  بھول  گئے ، جہاں خدا نے مصر  کے  جانور ماردیے  لیکن ان کے  بچالئے ؟ اور پھر یہ کہنا کے ہمارے بچے جاینگے ، جبکے  خدا نے مصر کے پہلوٹھے مارے اور انکے بچالئے . آپ سوچ رہے ہونگے یہ کیسے ناشکرے لوگ ہیں. پر کیا بھی ایسے نہیں؟ اپنی زندگی میں خدا کے بیشمار کام دیکھنے کے بعد بھی ہم روزمرہ کے حالات  دیکھ کر ہم نہ شکرے  ہو جاتے  ہیں.

 ہم   پہلی ٤ آیات میں دکھتے ہیں کے  بنی اسرائیل موسیٰ کے  خلاف اکھٹے ہوجاتے ہیں اور ایسا لگتا ہے کے اسکو مار ہی ڈالینگے! تو اب غضب سے بھرا خدا کیا کرے گا؟

خدا موسیٰ  سے اسکی لاٹھی لانے کو کہتا ہے. لاٹھی بائبل میں سزا کی علامت ہے (زبور ٧:٢، امثال ٢٤:١٣ ). زبور ٣٢ کے چرواہے  کی لاٹھی بھیڑ کی تسلی کا باعس صرف اسلے ہے کیونکہ چرواہا  اس سے جنگلی جانوروں کو مارتا ہے. اور یہاں بھی لاٹھی سے مراد سزا ہے، کیونکہ ہم آیت ٥ دیکھتے ہیں کے خدا موسیٰ سے کہتا ہے کے بزرگوں کو بھی ساتھ لیجا. ایسا لگتا ہے کے کوئی عدالتی  کاروائی ہونے والی ہے. کسی کو سزا ملنے والی ہے. لیکن کسے؟

اصول تو بنی اسرائیل سزا کے حقدار ہیں. اور جب ہم یہی واقعہ  گنتی ٢٠: ١سے ١٣ میں پڑھتے ہیں تو وہاں سزا موسیٰ کو ملتی ہے. پر حیرت کی بات یہ ہے کے خدا یہاں سزا اپنے سر لیتا ہے!

 ، خدا خود اس چٹان پر کھڑا ہے (آیت ٦) جس پر لاٹھی ماری گیئ بلکہ وہ تو خود چٹان ہے (استشنا ٣: ٣٢). اسرائیل نے پانی کی شکایت کر کے خدا کے خلاف گناہ کیا، لیکن وہ سزا جو انکو ملنی چاہیے تھی خود پر لی/ اسے چھڑی ماری گیئ اور ایسے اسرائیل کو پانی میسر ہوا.

 یہ یسوع  کی قربانی کا جو اسنے اس جہاں گناہوں کیلئے دی کی بہت خبصورت تصویر ہے.

 یسوع ہی وہ چٹان ہے جس پر لاٹھی ماری گیئ (١ کرنتھیوں ٤:١٠). اور جب انہی اسرائلیوں کے بچے یسوع کے  خلاف ہوے اور اسے مراونے میں کامیاب ہوتے ، تو اسکی پسلی کو چھیدا گیا اور وہاں سے پانی نکلا ( یوحنا ٣٥:١٩). یہ  پانی صرف اسکی موت کو ظاہر  کرتا ہے.. اصلی پانی تو وہ ہے  جو ہمیں اس پر ایمان لانے کے  وسیلہ سے ملتا یعنی خدا کا پاک روح (یوحنا ٣٧:٧ سے ٣٩).

 یہی بات مسیحیت کو دنیا کے تمام سیاسی اور مذہبی فلسفوں سے ممتاز کرتی ہے. یسوع  صرف روٹی اور پانی کا وعدہ نہی کرتا بلکہ وہ آپ روٹی اور پانی ہے.  ہمارے تمام شخصی  اور سماجی مسائل کا حل صرف یسوع کی ذات ہے. ہماری ضروریات جسمانی ہوتی ہیں، پر وہ ہماری روحانی ضروریات بھی پوری کرنا ہے. اور جب ہم ہمیشہ کی زندگی میں داخل ہو جاینگے، تو کوئی ضرورت باقی ہیں رہے گی. اور یہی ہماری شکرگزاری کی اصل وجہ ہونی چاہیے 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Peculiarities in Pakistani Christian Theology II

This is a follow-up of a theme that I have picked up in the last couple of days of Christians by and large not thinking their theologies through, using the Pakistani Church as my case study. 

Now before moving on, it is important to state here that theological inconsistency isn't exclusive to Pakistani Christianity (or to Christianity in general). Hence, this post should not be seen as a critique of Christianity with the purpose of inspiring disbelief. In any case, criticisms of organized religion do not logically disprove belief in God. Those who think otherwise are not intellectually mature, IMHO.

Anyway, let's move forward with a few more examples that are very relevant in my culture.

Now one of the most unfortunate trends that I have observed is the fact that Christians are seen as alien race in Pakistan and are often thought  of, like other religious minorities, as non-natives, even though we have been living here for centuries.

I remember in primary school, many kids used to ask me where I am from, why do I sing the national anthem, and whether I only speak English at home etc. Strangely enough, my bank asked whether I also had a foreign account.

But keeping aside the racism and myopia exhibited by the majority community, we also cannot sideline the fact generations upon generations of Christians have not played their part in assimilating in the local culture. 

One can argue that Pakistan has no local culture but a mixture of diverse subcultures, local Christianity being one of them. That is true to a certain extent, but I have enough first-hand experience to know that the "us vs. them" mentality also prevails among Pakistani Christians as well.

In this respect, some linguistic examples can help shed light on the fact of how petty our theological controversies really are. 

Image source: PointIt

In Urdu we have many words for religious poetry set to music, qawali, hamd, naat etc.  

Hamd (حمد) simply means "praise" or "praise of God". And since the Hindu religion and the Sanskrit language have a great influence on our local cultures, there is yet another word for lyrical and musical  worship: Bhajan (भजन)

Both these words are very accurate translations of 'hymn'. But for some reason, Pakistan churches have not assimilated these words in their vocabulary. For the Psalms, we do use accurate transliterations (tehilim, zaboor, or mazmoor), but when it comes to contemporary  worship songs, we tend to use the rather vague گیت (geet).

Geet simply means song, a synonym for گانا (gaana). This is how the dictionary defines it, with no connotations of religious music. But trying calling any worship song گانا , and you will be rebuked, even by the most educated of Christians, that it is a گیت , not a گانا .

How weird is that! But let's move on to a more serious example. 

In Pakistan, people use 2 transliterations of Jesus' name: یسوع (yesu) and عیسیٰ (Isa). عیسیٰ comes to us from the Holy Qur'an, whereas the former comes from the Urdu translations of the Holy Bible. So Muslims commonly use  عیسیٰ  to talk about Jesus, while Christians commonly use یسوع .

Both use the same word for Messiah (مسیح). So Christians refer to themselves (مسیحی ) whereas Muslims refer to us as عسا ئی. Now one would ask Muslims why they don't use the term used for Christians in Holy Qur'an: نصاریٰ (nasara), but that is something they will answer.

In the last couple of years, government officials and media personnel are using مسیحی  instead of عیسا ئی when addressing the Christian population.

Why is that?

Because the Christian community "strongly protests" against the use of عیسا ئی. We are مسیحی  after all, right?

The origin of the controversy lies in 2 Semitic and 1 Hamitic language. The Bible is Hebrew and Greek, while the Qur'an is in Arabic. 

Jesus, being a Jew, had a Hebrew name  יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yĕhôshúa). When this came in the Greek New Testament, it became  Ἰησοῦς (Iesous). It is the latter Greek term that we find in the Arabic Qur'an, Isa.

So the word Christians use  yesu is closer to the Hebrew while isa is closer to the Greek. But they both mean the same thing and refer to the same person!

Of course, this is a tough pill to swallow for Muslims as well.This is because the Quran adopts Greek terms (even Injeel is a derivation from Greek) even though Islamic scholars like to argue that the Greek Bible is a corrupt form of the Aramaic/Hebrew original. 

That's the problem of not thinking about what you believe. That is why absolutely love Jesus when He says:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Peculiarities in Pakistani Christian Theology

I was tempted to write 'Punjabi' Christian Theology, but that would have been racist.

My last blog post talked about general issues of theology and why it is necessary to think about our beliefs and revisit them time and again to see how tenable they actually are. 

Along with universal Christian doctrines (like sin, salvation, rapture, the Lordship of Christ etc.), their are some idiosyncratic interpretations of Bible verses and peculiar understandings of historical Christian beliefs that vary from country to country. 

In the US, for instance, the interpretation of the Bible and formulation of Christian theology would be very different from many other countries of the world because of the prevalence of issues like gun control, homosexual marriages, and legalization of abortion.

In this post, I will talk about peculiarities in Pakistani Christian theology. This is by no means a report on how the Church in Pakistan is divided theologically and denomination-ally. 

These are just my observations made while attending different parishes of varying denominations as I was growing up and also being affiliated with some para-church organizations. 

Religious sentiments in this part of the world are easy to understand. Modern education has still not permeated the East as it has in the West, and so people in countries like Pakistan tend to be highly conservative as far as faith is concerned. While subsequent generations are becoming more global in their outlook, they are still heavily influenced by the previous generations.

So now even the most educated of Christians are debating over whether one should wear shoes inside the Church or not. The Bible tells us that it is OK for Christians to get accustomed to local culture (1 Corinthians 9:20). 

However, since Christianity has spread in Pakistan due to missionary activity, many Christians still follow the practice of those western Christians, including wearing shoes inside the church. 

Now ideally, the debate can be resolved if the party in favor of wearing the shoes understands what the Bible says about culture. However, the other party doesn't appeal to culture at all, and this is wear the discussion turns sour.

The more traditional Christians say that it is actually sinful to wear shoes inside the church. They then cite Exodus 3:5 where God says to Moses "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground". 

So they think that wearing shoes inside the church is not honoring God. But this is not a strong argument, and I will demonstrate why.

In English, the pronoun "you" (and in religious context "thou") is used across the broad to address everyone, from a child to God Himself, with no connotations of respect or disrespect. However, in our national language Urdu, we have a range of pronouns, all of which are translated as "you", but they do convey different meanings, e.g. تو ,تم ,آپ etc.

In old Urdu, تو (tu) could be used to address elders of the house as well for it conveyed both love and respect. But in modern usage, respect is denoted by آپ (Aap) whereas تو  is considered informal and casual, sometimes even rude and disrespectful.

Now the problem is that local Bible translations (which are hardly ever updated) use تو  to address God and subsequently, Pakistani Christians also address God in their prayers with تو .

One would expect that people strongly opposing shoes in the church will favor using آپ in their prayers and also encourage the Bible Society to update the translation as such. 

But no!

They will fight with you to justify the use of تو !

They say we should address God with this pronoun (even when a respectable alternative is available) because God is our friend, and we have liberty to address Him casually.

Wait. Wasn't this the very reason why you were fighting the shoe-Christians, namely, that they are treating God casually?

In fact, entire sermons are preached on why we should use تو  instead of آپ when praying. The speakers and writers, however, forget that there is no such distinction in the original language of the Bible. For instance, the same Greek word "Ὑμεῖς (Hymeis)" is used to address both God (Matthew 6:9) and human beings as well (Matthew 5:13) and translated as 'you' both times. 

Funny, isn't it? But our people don't realize the blatant contradictions in what they practice and preach. I can cite more examples, but maybe in the next blog post. Meanwhile, think about the religious traditions you hold dear and honestly evaluate them using your intellectual faculties. 

This is, perhaps, what Jesus meant when he said 'love your God with all your mind. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thinking Theologically

For the past couple of days, I have been scanning books on Christian theology by known authors like Grudem and Packer to complete a seminary assignment . Last night, I also listened to a video lecture by Dr. J.I. Packer titled 'Theology is for Everyone'

While I am theology student myself and an advocate of the discipline, I am strongly against the practice of splitting hairs. What I mean is that while two opposing camps are virtually saying the same thing, but since they are not using the same phraseology, they deem each other heretics. 

Let me give you an example: What happens to children who die in infancy, i.e. do they go to heaven or hell?

There are 2 traditional approaches. Firstly, there is the orthodox concept of original sin or inherited sin in that all humans share in the sinful nature of Adam, or even in his very sin itself. Secondly there is the not so commonly-held notion of babies being free from original sin and having a free will to sin or not sin as they grow up. 

Now on the second view, it is easy to answer the question of an infant's eternal destiny. The baby who dies at birth is going straight to heaven because she did not commit any sin. 

However, proponents of inherited sin also believe that infants do (or at least can) go to heaven! After affirming that we have a 'sinful nature before the time of birth', Wayne Grudem writes:

" Yet it is certainly possible for God to bring regeneration (that is, new spiritual life) to an infant before he or she was born" Systematic Theology pg 500.

He goes on to write that even children of unbelievers can be saved, using the following words: "If they are will be on the basis of Christ's redeeming work" pg 501. 

To sum up, even though children are born with sin, yet we cannot say for sure that they are going to hell, which means, in other words, that they are going to heaven when they die. 

So what's the difference then? Nothing! Both the camps are in virtual agreement on the eternal destiny of infants, yet they will continue to oppose each other. 

One asks, what difference does it make if in both cases, the theology is allowing the idea that infants who die at birth will go to heaven, even if they were children of unbelievers. What then is the need to split hairs and emphasize the 'fine points of theology' when the end result is the same?

Why don't we make our lives simple? And this is what theology (being the science of God) is supposed to do, namely to make matters of faith understandable for the laity so that they can take positive action. A theology that causes people to sit at their baby's funeral and contemplating what Augustine, Luther or Calvin said is not the best application of this field of study, IMHO. 

However, these demerits do not take away the usefulness and necessity of theology. St. Paul writes:

For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge1 Corinthians 1:5
However, the focus of this discipline should go beyond proof texts and the historic beliefs of our respected denominations. Theological thinking needs to be adopted so that we can enrich ourselves with the knowledge of God and watch out for erroneous teaching. 

Theological thinking with also ensure that we do not blindly succumb to authority or to follow a certain interpretation of the Bible just because our church has been holding to it for centuries.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Retaining your Faith After Sunday School

Sunday School is one of the hallmarks of organized Christianity. Children born to Christian couples who belong to a local church are blessed in the sense they get that early exposure to the truth of God in a loving and nurturing environment. 

However, what happens once these children outgrow Sunday School is an entirely different matter.

Just the other day I came across an interesting quotation on Facebook. I only remember the gist of it. It went something like this "When kids turn 18, they are called 'adults', ready for college or taking apprenticeships or travelling the globe on their own. However, even up to their last day as a 17-year-old, they had to ask permission to use the bathroom"!

The idea is very interesting, for it represents one of the greatest ironies of our time, namely that the transition to adulthood is so sudden, many youngsters find it hard to adjust to the new realities of life impinged upon them.

In this blog post, I will argue that the same happens to kids who outgrow Sunday School. They are given a pretty basic understanding of the Christian faith, which is quite alright for children. 

However, the moment they leave Sunday School to become choir leaders, youth ministers, evangelists, theology students, or Sunday School teachers themselves, they are not always ready for these new roles. 

I have hardly seen a progressive religious curriculum in any church that explains adults the detailed versions of the doctrines taught to kids.

For example:

'You learned in Sunday school how God created the world. Let us now study how Genesis relates to modern science'

'You learned how God destroyed the Walls of Jericho, let us now learn how that reconciles with his justice and mercy'

'You learned how God saved the world through Jesus. Let us now learn what sin really is and why the death of Jesus was necessary to eliminate it'

What about my religious journey? Well, I also sat in my church's Sunday school till the time came for what is known as 'confirmation'. Now we had to attend confirmation classes. 

What we studied in these confirmation classes was nothing more than memorization of the Lord's prayer, the Nicene Creed, and a few Bible facts.

That was it.

I was baptized and confirmed around 13 years of age. But I would go on to believe in Jesus and give my life to Him at 15. Some never do.

They never do because the Gospel is never presented to them. There is no emphasis on young men and women to accept Jesus as their personal savior, to welcome the Holy Spirit in their lives, to become holy, and to be truly regenerate.

It is as if each church is manufacturing believers. Against the sound teaching of scripture, most people are led to believe that being born in a Christian household and affiliation to a local congregation is all it takes to be Jesus' disciple and  go to heaven.

This just breaks my heart.

I am not saying that sound theological education and adult baptisms guarantee salvation (nothing does), but that is as good at it gets. And denominations that promote this are doing a good job, IMHO. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Checking the New Testament for Plagiarism

Critics of Christianity often say that the life of Jesus is not based on inspiration but on plagiarism. Indeed, it is a commonly held view among skeptics and polemicists that the story of Jesus was borrowed from pagan mythology that predates Christianity.

Now the nature of this blog doesn't allow us to discuss each and every (alleged) parallel between the life of Jesus and it's (supposed) pagan origins. Hence, I will look at one example and try to draw some general principles that will help you in further examining this subject.

The example I will take up today is the virgin-birth of the Greek god Dionysus. The argument is that since we already have gods being born of virgin mothers like Dionysus, then what is so unique about Jesus, and more importantly, doesn't this prove that the story of Jesus is a fabrication based on borrowed myths?

To answer these questions, we will have to look at:

i) The evidence of the alleged parallels
ii) The implication of the alleged parallels

The Evidence

To cut the long story short, there is no evidence to prove that the virgin-birth story found in the Gospel has been plagiarized from the myth of Dionysus (or any myth for that matter).

First, let us look at what the sources tell us:

'The most common story runs as follows: Zeus disguised as a mortal, had a secret love affair with Semele,........ jealous Hera disguised herself as an old neighbour, advised make her mystery lover that he.....reveal himself in his true nature and form........., when Zeus refused her plea, denied him further access to her bed. Then, in anger, he appeared as thunder and lightning, and she was consumed. But Hermes saved her six-months son; sewed him up inside Zeus's thigh, to mature there for three months longer, and, in due course, of time, delivered him. Thus Dionysus is called 'twice-born'. The Greek Myths pg 56

The story of Jesus runs as follows:

  • Mary is engaged to Joseph
  • An angel visits Mary and tell her that she will conceive a son miraculously 
  • Joseph weds Mary knowing that he is pregnant as he is also visited by an angel
  • Joseph and Mary abstain from physical intimacy until the son is born (Matthew 1:25)

So where is the parallel? 

But more interesting is the fact that the documentary evidence is found wanting when compared with the New Testament. For example, a major source of the Dionysus myth is Plutarch, but he was writing in the late first century, after the time of Jesus.

Of course, some mythographers did write before the time of Jesus, but the existing manuscripts of the New Testament predate the existing manuscripts of their works. In other words, we can make the case that they borrowed from Christianity!

The Implication
Despite the lack of evidence, most Christian scholars have chosen not split hairs and argue needlessly about the historical credibility of these myths from which the Gospel was "plagiarized".

This is because even the parallels exist, they do not discredit the truth of Christianity. John Stott writes:

We know very well that there is a literary genre called 'myth' which sets out  to present truth in historical form without claiming that it is historical. That is not in dispute between us. Many pagan myths were current in the first century, including one of Greek and Egyptian origin, about a saviour-god born of a virgin mother who ruled both sky and sea. But these stories were self-evidently myths. People did not believe they were historical. The question is whether the evangelists where deliberately writing myth, when they told the story of the virgin birth, and whether they intended us to understand it as such. My answer is 'definitely not'. The Authentic Jesus pg 50-51
In other words, while the writers of the Dionysus myth (and their audience) knew that what they conveying was not historical truth, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not claim allegorize anything (Luke 1:1-4, John 1:14, John 20:30-31 etc).

As Peter (narrator of Mark's Gospel account) says:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 2 Peter 1:16
To sum up:

  • Any parallels between pagan myths and the Gospel are superficial if not non-existent
  • It is difficult to establish which came first, the myth or it's 'borrowed' form
  • There is a difference of genre which should not be ignored

Sunday, 6 September 2015

You are 666: The Folly of 'Exposing' Celebrities, Church Leaders, and Politicians

We all have that one Christian friend who talks about certain celebrities, church leaders, or politicians 'selling their soul to the devil', or something like that.

For a greater part of 2010-2011, I was that friend in my social circle!

So I had seen all these 'documentaries' on YouTube about how making certain hand gestures makes you part of the 'illuminati', how playing a song backwards (why would someone even do that is still beyond me) initiates you in the cult of satan, and how Bible prophecy applies to our modern geo-political events with no relevance to the original hearers.

In short, I had it all figured out. Of course, conspiracy theory is a great way to look at the world, in that you can fit any recent event in the grand scheme of things. 

However, it didn't take long for me to figure out the flaws in this system.

Firstly, conspiracy theory can be used by anyone to prove their point. For example, who brought down the Berlin Wall? 

Was it the US, the Vatican, or the Muslims? You can use the same arguments (and video editing software) to prove any of the 3. That's how this system works. 

But secondly and more importantly, the ministry of 'exposing' individuals, governments, or organizations is a dangerous one because it is free-for-all.

There are no rules as to how you prove someone to be a member of the illuminati or to be Antichrist himself.  All you have are assumptions and an arbitrary selection of images (some real, some photoshopped), but there is no real evidence.

In other words, you can literally prove anyone to be 666, all you need is an internet connection and some free time on your hands!

And this is what ticked me off and got me thinking. There are some usual suspects who are considered by all to be 'satanists', including but not restricted to:

  • The Beatles
  • Elvis Presley
  • George Bush
  • Obama 
  • Led Zeppelin
However, the internet crusaders who preach these theories were sparing no one, so I realized that even Christians celebrities like the U2 are also satanists. However, they didn't stop there. 

Soon they 'proved' that Harry Potter is also satanic. And so was WWE. Even The Lion King apparently had illuminati symbolism in it. Childhood ruined. 

Even up to this point, I was hooked on these videos. You have to admit that they have entertainment value; you don't have to think much, and you get a kick out of demonizing the rich and the famous!

But what snapped me out of this dangerous addiction was a video series entitled: 'Billy Graham: Forerunner to Antichrist'

Yes, Billy Graham, the world's most famous evangelist is not preaching the Gospel. According to this video series, he is doing satan's bidding. And all those who step forward to receive Christ at his rallies are actually going to hell. The proof, Billy does not use the King James Version

Now, let me make it clear that I am all for freedom of speech. You can have your opinions and no one can stop you from expressing them.

Nor do I think that church leaders are above criticism. And I certainly believe that some of the most dangerous heresies are preached from the pulpit. 

The point I am trying to make is that when you call out individuals and say they are 666, you make your audience hate these people. What really needs to be done is educating people so that they can think for themselves. 

But the greatest danger of this approach once again is that no one is spared. When Martin Luther called the Pope  666, the RCC came back and demonstrated how Luther's own name spelled the Number of the Beast:

The suggestions as to the meaning of 666 are endless. Since it is the number of the beast, everyone has twisted it to fit his own arch-enemy; and so 666 has been taken to mean the Pope, John Knox, Martin Luther, Napoleon and many another. Dr. Kepler provides us with an example of what ingenuity produced during the Second World War. Let A = 100; B = 101; C = 102; D = 103 and so on. Then we can make this addition:

H = 107
I = 108
T = 119
L = 111
E = 104
R = 117
and the sum is 666!
William Barclay 

You see the problem of projecting your theology on individuals? Just think about your favorite church leader that brought you to faith and helped you grow in the Lord. Then just type his name on Google with words "exposed" or "satanist", and you will see that this conspiracy mafia spares no one. 

John the Baptist called out Herod, but to prove his point he did not use Photoshop or allude to a secret society that is controlling the world. Herod's sin was public knowledge, and the Baptist just pointed it out. Jesus also called out the Pharisees, but he gave up His life to prove his point. But these internet crusaders are hiding behind an IP, demonizing the people who educate and entertain us.

I am going through one of the roughest patches in my life. My mood as at an all-time low, and nothing seems to uplift my spirits. But I thank God that even when I am depressed, I still possess the common sense of looking at the world as it is and not how I think it is. 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

5 Things That Make Christianity Unique

In the last blog post I talked about how Christianity is often singled out and criticized more than other religions. Today, I will talk about 5 things which in my opinion make Christianity stand out among the religions of the world:

#5 Christianity Offers A Personal Choice 

Most religions embrace the idea of inheriting religion from ancestors or adopting the faith of the community. This is especially true of Judaism and Islam. Now it is true that many Christians also think that believing parents give birth to believing children, arguing that Christianity was born out of the Jewish religion, and hence the same concept follows.

However, the New Testament clearly cuts across this theology. In Matthew 3, we read how John the Baptist warns his fellow Jews: '
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’'

But what John the Apostle writes is even more profound:
'He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God
You can become a child of God (see point #2) if you want to. Ancestry plays no part in putting you right with God.

#4 Christianity Talks About Man's True Nature

Unlike the sacred personalities of other world religions, the major figures of Christianity are shown in the Bible not as supermen, but normal human beings vulnerable to all frailties of this species. The Bible candidly talks about the misdeeds of the patriarchs and the prophets instead of resorting to hero worship. Even Jesus had his moments of doubt. 

Christianity talks about human nature as it is. It doesn't shy away from telling its readers about their sins. The Bible claims that if there is a universal human trait, it is sin, and when given the choice, a human being will choose evil over good.

This is why Christianity stresses spiritual purity rather than ritual purity, and talks more about inner change (being 'born-again') as opposed to faith being adopted from external elements. Christianity also doesn't see sin as a product of poverty and illiteracy.

Jesus said:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them

#3 Christianity Puts Faith in a Once-and-for-All Sacrifice

Every religion has rituals and practices for purifying the soul and pleasing God. Blood sacrifice is one of them. But unlike sacrifices of other religions that are perpetual, Christianity teaches that the death of Jesus is once-and-for-all. Any one who professes faith in his death regardless of the era s/he is living in will find salvation, and there is no need for continued sacrifices. 

#2 Christianity is a Relationship with God

As stated in point #5, becoming a Christian means that you become a child of God. The Bible talks about God in relational terms. He is our father (Matthew 6:9), husband (Revelation 22:17), sibling (Roman 8:29), shepherd (Psalm 23), and in case you are a feminist, also our mother (Matthew 23:27, Deuteronomy 32:11, and Isaiah 49:15).

In fact, the New Testament teaches that all human relationships emanate from God, so that individual Christians are like a family. The greatest expression of this relational aspect of Christianity comes in the bond of marriage:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  

#1 Christianity Follows a Unique Scripture 

Finally, while most religions have their sacred scriptures, the Bible can be distinguished on many fronts:

  • It has the greatest number of fulfilled prophecies
  • It has the greatest number of manuscripts
  • It has been translated into more languages than any other book (and also the most widely read)
  • It has an impressive unity considering that it was written over a span 1500 years
These were a few points that I could think off the top of my head that prove the uniqueness of Christianity, IMHO. 
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