Are we really willing to be Protestants?
There are three basic paths in Christianity, as we have seen. The Roman Catholic path is the Bible PLUS tradition. The path we might best identify as Liberal Protestantism embraces the historical-critical method and elevates human reason above Scripture to reduce the authority of some parts of Scripture, so we can think of that position as the Bible MINUS. The authentic Protestant position makes Scripture alone the basis for all evaluation, and so is neither the Bible PLUS nor the Bible MINUS, but simply, going by the Bible.
Many will be ready to agree to this at first, but not realize what it might cost. We might, in the light of the clear teaching of Scripture, find that we have to give up certain teachings we had thought were endorsed by Scripture, or change certain practices we thought were biblical, or even change certain understandings and beliefs we have held, having assumed that those beliefs were Scriptural. What will I do, what will you do, when you come face to face with the fact that the Bible teaching on a point is different after all from what I have believed?
Are our beliefs solidly based upon the Bible, or do we believe many things that we believe because Hollywood uses certain ideas in movies, or because certain ideas have been taught in the church for centuries and we really believe them because of tradition? Are we near the beginning or near the middle of the conflict between good and evil? Or, are we somewhere down near the very end of it? There is something we want to realize in the New Testament. Please open your Bible to 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10. Consider what we read there:
"And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved."
At the end of time comes the man of sin and God will also destroy that power at the very end. But on the way to the end, notice what our passage says. It says that the action of this power is "after the working of Satan." And how so? The Bible replies, "With all power and signs and lying wonders." Friends, this is no less than a prophetic prediction that in the last times there will be powerful signs and lying wonders wrought to advance a Satanic agenda. These are not just random signs but lying wonders, that is, the exercise of supernatural power with a purpose, an agenda, an intent to deceive. In the last days things will be done by some with a satanic power, and will be misrepresented. They are lying wonders.
Satan has worked across long ages to introduce false ideas. There is one thing he hates above all, and you know what that is? It is the Bible. He hates the fact that God could and would speak to people by prophecy and tell the truth. Satan is a murderer and a liar and he hates the truth. His hatred for the Bible is unparalleled. We can count on that. He understands quite well what it is and how dangerous it is to his plans. It brings light where he has put darkness. It brings truth where he has brought error. It is an unbreakable source of authoritative knowledge for any person, rich or poor, lowly or highly educated, who wants to follow Jesus. He is working constantly to reduce the authority of this divinely-given book of revelations. He wants us to believe error, so he provides alternative sources of authority.
In fact, there is one source of authority in particular he brought back to the forefront just a century and a half ago. Do you know what it is? It is called spiritualism. That is, it is the idea that living humans can communicate with the disembodied spirits of people who have died. There was a remarkable movement embracing these ideas in the 1800s, also sometimes called spiritism. But it hasn't gone away. It has only assumed a more subtle disguise and I want you to know that it is still out there. Only now it is taught as much by movies and television programs as it is by religious teachers. In fact, I guarantee you that right this very minute there are DVD players spinning and internet connections humming and satellite television boxes streaming throughout Stevens County playing movies sustaining the belief that we can communicate with the dead.
But what does the Bible actually teach? Does it teach that we have immortal souls? Does it teach that when people die we can communicate with them because they are still alive, still conscious, somewhere, in some form?
What does the Bible teach?
God Alone has Immortality
Notice what 1 Timothy 1:16 says. Speaking of God we read of Him that "He alone hath immortality." That is, neither you nor I are naturally immortal. We do not have life in ourselves. Only God has that. God gives life to men. But there is life and there is eternal life. Both are given to us from God. But eternal life is limited to the believer. The unbeliever does not have eternal life in himself and he does not receive the gift of eternal life from God.
Again, 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54 tells us that to the believer, God will give at last immortality. But we do not start with immortality.
The Dead Know Not Anything
Well then, what do the dead know? What does your dead aunt or uncle, who died believing in Jesus know right now? And the Bible has an answer for us. In Ecclesiastes 9:5 we read "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun." And if we weren't clear, Solomon restates his point at 9:10: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
So if you read the broader context, what is Solomon saying? Whether people live godly or wickedly, everyone dies. Everyone goes to the grave. Everyone concludes a period of life and the moral record of that life cannot be changed. Everyone faces judgment, and there is nothing that you can do after your life has ended that will change that or that can mitigate that. So, says Solomon, live wisely and keep God's commandments. There is a God and He will judge each person. The interesting secondary point for us is that this passage also tells us that the dead are not conscious. They are not thinking. Their memory is non-functional. They neither experience love nor hate. Feelings of envy or pride or other interests they had while living, they do not have in the grave. Why? Because they have no brain function in the grave. Nor are they disembodied shades floating around, or ghosts, or anything like that. The dead know nothing at all.
Right about now, some of you are saying, "What?" Don't you believe there is a heaven and a hell, that when the wicked die they go to hell and when the Christian dies he goes to heaven? The wicked will burn, yes; the believer in Jesus will walk heaven's streets, yes. But we have to get the timing right. The Bible is our authority. Not Hollywood, not long traditions.
The Christian's hope is not being a disembodied spirit floating here and there. The Christian's hope is the hope of bodily resurrection. God will give the believer a new body, healthy, strong, as always intended. First Corinthians 15:51-55:
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
The dead are dead. Then God raises them. When the dead are raised, they are made incorruptible. Then their mortality is ended and they are given immortality. Their corruptibility is ended and they are made incorruptible. Death is no more.
The First Almost Resurrection
But some might not be sure. This is a lot to think about on such short notice. Consider how God made the first person. Turn to Genesis two.
When God made Adam He took two components. Genesis 2:7 explains.
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Notice, God takes the dust, the material, or physical component. He forms a human male. Then, He adds the breath. He breathes into His nostrils the breath of life. And at that point, the man becomes a living soul. God does not make a material shell and then put a soul into it, like a ship in a bottle. Rather, He adds the two constituent parts together and the man become a living soul. Notice also that until the two component parts are united, there is no living soul. The body without the breath is just a corpse.
But there is more. Back again to Ecclesiastes 12:7 and we will see how you take a living soul apart. When a person dies, we learn
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
The dust returns to the earth. That is, the body decays away. The spirit, or breath, returns to God who gave it. Notice, the soul doesn't go back. The dirt returns to the earth. Only the breath component goes back to God. Only when there are both components is there a living, conscious person. The two components, body and breath are apart, separate. So the breath that goes back has no consciousness, it is not a whole person, it is not a living soul. It is just breath.
The Bible tells a consistent story on this point. It portrays the situation of death again and again as effectively being like sleep. When a person dies, it is like they are sleeping until the resurrection.
The Danger of Spiritualism
But if the dead are unconscious, sleeping if you will, then who or what is being communicated with by people who are convinced that they are communicating with deceased loved ones?
"And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:13, 14).
In the last days when everything is gathered together for the final climax in the battle between good and evil, the devil launches his agents, unclean spirits. And we are told exactly what these spirits are: the spirits of devils. These are very simply fallen angels who go out to the human leaders of nations and governments to deceive them and gather them together to fight against God and those who believe in Jesus. In fact, this is a prophecy that in the last days there will be a special manifestation of demons. How better to deceive people than to influence them through these super intelligent, fallen beings? Again, some of this will be very direct, some of it it no doubt will be more subtle. But we would expect that right before the end Satan would attempt to influence people through the agency of spiritualism. It is an influence, an authority, entirely under his control. Why wouldn't he use it?
And so God warns His people, over and over not to attempt communication with the dead. He's not trying to protect us from true information, but from lying spirits who will masquerade as deceased loved ones in order to lead us away from the safety of Scripture. And so we are given the warning in Isaiah 8:19, 20:
"And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
The Bible does not teach that we are naturally immortal; immortality is something that only God has and He gifts it to believers, who only receive it at the end, at the resurrection. The dead are not conscious. "The dead know not anything." They see, hear, and feel nothing. It is like a sleep to them. The Christian hope is not to become a ghost or a shade, but to be resurrected and receive a new body. Since the dead are asleep, no one is in communication with dead humans. Rather, fallen angels, demons, masquerade as our deceased dead and through supernatural manifestations lie to those who accept their revelations. In the last days especially, the leaders of the nations the world over will be decidedly influenced by these demons, and combine their powers against those who are seeking to be faithful to Jesus.
Satan works with sly approaches tailored to your attitudes. To those who fancy themselves intellectual, he comes with attempts to either merge tradition and Scripture, or to subtract from Scripture, to make the Bible only part of the story so He can bring in other ideas. To some he comes with superstitions handed down over long ages. The idea of the natural immortality of the soul has been one of his favorite lies, and was first told to humans in Eden. The lie is still spoken to us. But we should embrace the Bible itself as our standard of all truth. Not the Bible PLUS or the Bible MINUS, but the Bible itself. The Bible is the Christian's authority. The Bible tells me what to believe. God communicates to you and to me through His Word. On the basis of the teaching of Scripture, we know that the dead are asleep in the grave awaiting resurrection. Lying spirits gleefully seek to provoke uninformed persons to communicate with them and receive their lies. But the Bible is a shield for us. May God help us be true Christians and base our beliefs about the dead on Scripture truth.
Chewelah WA SDA 2016-02-27