Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Weight of Evidence, Numbers, and History

In some discussions I’ve been in, I frequently hear of the “weight of evidence,” “the weight of numbers,” and “the weight of history.” Admittedly I have used these reasoning points myself. But it is also necessary (for believers) to weigh what God says/directs on a matter. I bring this up because of those who challenge points of reason I write about. For example, evolutionists would argue that their weight of evidence is much stronger than a believer’s. A Trinitarian would argue their weight of numbers (in adherents) is much greater than the “measly” numbers of those who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a recent discussion, I cited the account in the book of Acts where, amongst the toddler-stage early congregation of Christians, there was a large dispute regarding circumcision.

The issue came up shortly after Peter was directed to Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter himself had to be given an illustration (a vision) by God before he could accept what God was directing him to do (vss 9-16). But afterwards he arrived at the conclusion that God wanted him to reach (vss. 34, 35). But the icing on the cake, so to speak, was what happened in verse 44. God’s holy spirit was given to those uncircumcised new converts. With that weight of God’s approval (weight of evidence from God), Peter rightly concluded that those people should be baptized as believers. (vss. 47, 48) But that was not the end of the matter. When Peter returned to “the brothers” he probably expected to be warmly greeted. Instead, chapter 11 starts out with severe criticism being leveled at Peter for taking an action they thought was wrong. Verse 2 reads: “So when Peter came up to Jerusalem, the supporters of circumcision began to criticize him.” Perhaps they knew how impetuous Peter could be. But after Peter recounts the events and evidence of God’s approval, Acts 11:18 states: “When they heard these things, they stopped objecting, and they glorified God, saying: 'So, then, God has also granted to people of the nations repentance leading to life.'” But that also was not the end of the matter. In chapter 15 some hardliners show up and cause a scene. Verses one and two reveal how their stand caused at least Paul and Barnabas to have to leave the ministry of the word in order to handle this interruption. You can read the situation and the conclusion that was reached here. (As the commercial says, “But wait, there’s more!” even after this we find in Paul’s writings that he continued having to defend the decision to accept uncircumcised men of the nations. Here are two such instances.)

So we know what proponents of this new teaching had for their reasoning point – strong evidence of God’s direction and God’s approval. But what of the proponents of circumcision? Perhaps they argued that circumcision was a directive given to Abraham, which preceded the Mosaic Law. They could have reasoned: “Therefore, since it preceded the Law, it is obvious what God wants of his people.” They may have also argued for the health benefits; for the sheer number of Jews compared to Christians; for the “custom” that had been practiced for centuries; for the Israelites being God’s chosen people thus excluding non-Jews. But their strongest argument was probably God’s past direction (historical evidence).

So who was right? Knowing how to this very day the Jews view Jesus as the greatest apostate to have ever lived and deceived so many, it appears that even this argument from the first century is still argued today. Then when you realize that in spite of direction from the apostles and God’s approval of the uncircumcised that even today in Catholicism and other major denominations of Christendom circumcision is still practiced, it appears the proponents of circumcision may have won. But at the start of the paragraph, I didn’t ask “who won?” I asked “who was right?” One problem people seem to have is that God does change how he deals with mankind. This in no way negates the truthful claim in scriptures that God doesn’t change. The fact is, the context is different. So in the case “who was right?” comes down to who is listening to God’s current direction. In the first century, God demonstrated who he considered to be right by richly blessing the newly founded Christian congregation. In contrast, just before Jesus was put to death, he stated of the Jewish system of worship “your house is abandoned to you.

Back then, the early Christian group, being new, was much smaller than Judaism. Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are much smaller than the sum of “mainstream Christianity.” Does the weight of numbers mean anything to God? From the foregoing, obviously not. Back then, the centuries of the practice of circumcision outweighed this “new teaching” that circumcision was not necessary. In our time, in my personal experience, I’ve had people argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a relatively new religion whereas theirs have been around for centuries. Did centuries of time matter to God when he changed from approving Israelites to approving Christianity? Again, no. And even then, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not claim to be teaching something new, they claim to be restoring what scripture originally taught. How can we tell who is listening to God’s direction? Today, churches of mainstream Christianity seem to be veering away from teaching the Bible and instead feature social issues in a modern world, or they just sing their way through their services; or they merely read the Bible with little or no application and understanding. How can I make such broad claims? Because I’ve been in my ministry for over 40 years and met people from other religions. I’ve actually asked them to describe for me a typical session at their church. None have mentioned the way Jehovah’s Witnesses run their meetings. When I describe how our meetings are educational sessions, they react as if such would be boring. They really don’t want to learn.

So the weight of evidence, the weight of numbers, and the weight of history are all fine and good as long as they take a backseat to the weight of God’s current direction and evident approval.

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