April 30, 2008

Christ Gospel Church on the Lord Jesus Christ: Part One

(Christ Gospel Church is an international sect with affiliate churches in half a dozen African countries and shortwave broadcasts to many others. You can read the previous posts in this series here: What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach?, Christ Gospel Church on Scripture, Christ Gospel Church on Mankind, Christ Gospel Church on God)

IV. The Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ was both Divine and Human. As the firstborn of every creature, Christ existed in Eternity-past (Colossians 1:15-19). Then, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary in present time (Luke 1:27-35), which was the fulfillment of Isaiah's Prophecy in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14). At the end of Jesus Christ's three-and-one-half years of Ministry on Earth, during which time he went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed, raising the dead, and preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ was delivered up to be crucified, not because He ever had sinned, but because He determinedly died for the sins of the whole world. On the third day, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Acts 10:38-40; Acts 10:38-40). He ever lives at God's Right Hand to make intercession for mankind (Hebrews 7:25; Acts 7:56).[1]
When seeking to comprehend CGC's doctrine of God, one's attention must move toward their understanding of Jesus Christ.

A. The Beginning of Jesus

Confirming Our Faith In the Lord Jesus ChristWhereas the Word is part of the eternal God, Jesus had a beginning. "The same Bible that teaches the existence of a God, known as Father, Word (Christ), and Holy Ghost, without a beginning or an end, also teaches us about the beginning of God's Only Begotten Son, Whose Name is Jesus. . . . Whereas the Christ had no beginning, the Scriptures plainly declare the Son's beginning in Eternity-Past."[2] Hicks also explains how the Son was brought forth:

Since God's Son was brought forth, it is evident from the meaning of this expression that the Father-Mother God travailed Him into being in Spirit and Soul Form. The Scriptures state clearly that the Son was brought into existence, and since the Son did not appear in a physical, terrestrial Body until untold ages later, when a special, terrestrial body was prepared for Him in the Virgin Mary's womb, it is evident that He existed as a Spirit and Soul in Eternity-Past. [3]
Even though Jesus did not begin with a physical body, as a tripartite being his spirit and soul were united with a spiritual and celestial body. "The Spiritual and Celestial Form that clothed the Only Begotten Son consisted of Christ the Word and the Lord of Glory from the Father."[4]

After Jesus was brought forth, he created all things. "Jesus was the firstborn of every creature. The Father brought forth His Only Begotten Son in His own glorious Image before any thing was made that was made. Then, through His Son, God created all things."[5] Besides his position as creator, how is Jesus different than other humans or angels? Hicks replies, "The Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is unique because His entire Being came forth out of God's own Procreative Loins. . . . The Son of God was begotten completely out of God's Loins. The bodies of men and Angels were made by God's Hands."[6] While Jesus had a beginning, as did other humans and angels, he also remains one-of-a-kind.

B. The Relationship of Jesus and the Word

Therefore, Jesus and the Word of God (also known as Christ) are not the same. Hicks compares the two: "The Name Jesus was given to the Man-Child born to the Virgin Mary through Immaculate Conception. Thus, the Man Jesus had a beginning; He was begotten by God and sent to earth in a human Body. . . . The Name Christ refers to the Son's eternal Divinity. The Christ has always existed, for He is the Word of God."[7] So then, how are the two related? "When God's Breath went forth, some of God's Word went forth with it, and this Word, the Christ, remained joined to the Son from the Son's birth out of God's Procreative Loins."[8] Elsewhere, she clearly explains the relationship between Jesus and the Word: "The Christ, the Word, was in Jesus in Person."[9] So, the Word is not Jesus, the Word is in Jesus.

However, Jesus does not manifest the Word alone. All three members of the Godhead are displayed in Jesus Christ. "Viewed in His Unity, God is One. Viewed in the outflow of His Working and Revelation to mankind, God is Three, and all Three are wonderfully manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ."[10] Hicks further develops this threefold manifestation: "the Word gives us God's portrait; the Holy Ghost leads us to God's portrait and gives Life and Love to it; the Father's Glory brings the Portrait forth and expresses it visibly to others through deeds of love and kindness that one man commits toward another, as he is motivated by Christ's Love that dwells in his heart."[11]

While Jesus the Son was begotten with Christ the Word and the Lord of Glory, he was not eternally joined to them until his resurrection. "On resurrection morning, God the Father deified the Man Jesus by giving Him an eternal Union with the Lord and Christ."[12] This was because of his humiliation when dwelling in a body of flesh:

. . .the Son's scope of human power and influence was limited as long as He dwelled in a Body of Flesh. Restrained to being in one place at one time, at any given moment, Jesus could minister to just a few people, comparatively speaking. But the Father removed these limitations when the Son arose from the dead because His human Name was then joined eternally to the Divine Names of Lord and Christ. . . .

Upon Jesus Christ's Resurrection, an eternal Union was established between God and man; Divinity and Humanity now dwelt together in a Oneness of Relationship. From His Resurrection onward, Jesus' Humanity was Deified or made Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient.[13]
Since the resurrection, Jesus is forever to be known as the Lord Jesus Christ.

[1]Articles of Faith, 4.
[2]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 6. Emphasis in original.
[3]Ibid, 10. Emphasis in original.
[4]Ibid, 11.
[5]Ibid, 38.
[6]Ibid, 9. Emphasis in original.
[7]Ibid, 70. Emphasis in original.
[8]Ibid, 89.
[9]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in God, 55.
[10]Ibid, 52. Emphasis in original.
[11]Ibid, 54.
[12]Ibid, 105.
[13]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 98. Emphasis in original.

April 28, 2008

Advancing Biblical Discernment in Uganda

What was it like to return to Uganda? It’s going to take an entire series of posts to work through my thoughts. I’m overwhelmed at how abundantly God blessed us—and how clearly He confirmed the urgency of our mission.

Lweza Conference Center One of the main ways we saw God at work was during my times of speaking and interacting with church leaders and other Christians. Right after arriving in Kampala, I went to the Lweza Conference Center to participate in a pastors’ conference on preaching. Dr. Solomon Nkesiga from the Kampala Evangelical School of Theology divided his platform time with me as he delivered a message from 1 Timothy 4:1–10. I focused on applying the first three verses, which warn us about deception and false teaching. Spending the night at Lweza gave me a great opportunity to talk frankly with pastors from across Uganda, learning more about the impact of the cults, false teaching, and other challenges they face.

John at Calvary Chapel KampalaOn Wednesday night, I spoke at Calvary Chapel Kampala about how to recognize error. Using the "Five Solas" of the Reformation as a guide, I offered five simple but powerful keys for discernment: Scripture Alone, Christ Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and the Glory of God Alone. It was wonderful to worship there again!

John at ABUThe next day I was asked to teach an evangelism class at African Bible University, focusing on the challenges we face when witnessing to cultists. ABU is an excellent school devoted to training and preparing church leaders to properly handle the Word of God. Spending time in discussion with the professor and students on evangelism and the cults was enjoyable and enriching.

John PreachingOn the day before we left, I had the privilege of preaching at a local Baptist church at their Sunday-morning service. This was the first time I’ve spoken with an interpreter (translating my message into Luganda), and I thank God for the chance to open His Word to them. Preaching from 1 John 4:1–6, I showed the importance of testing what we hear in light of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" as revealed in Scripture.

In the weeks ahead I hope to tell you much more about our time in Uganda and what it means for the future of ACFAR and our family. But one thing stood out as I was engaged in ministry: Everywhere we went, Christians spoke about the severe need for tools and training in countercult apologetics. The ABU students desperately wanted more information on the cults that I talked about, and I was literally swarmed with people asking questions for over an hour after speaking at Calvary Chapel Kampala.

I could give many more examples, but one thing is clear: the Africa Center for Apologetics Research is desperately needed, and it’s needed now. Please prayerfully consider how you can help us raise up a generation of Christian apologists in East Africa!

April 22, 2008

We're Back

Divitos in Uganda
By God's grace, my wife, my youngest daughter, and I have made it safely home from our trip to Uganda. While the rest of this week will be devoted to recovery, restoration, and reflection, starting next Monday I should begin posting again.

So stay tuned for more about what the Lord is doing in East Africa. We are simply amazed to see our Savior's many blessings!

April 9, 2008

Returning to Uganda

Airplane Taking Off
In just a couple of days, I will be briefly returning to Uganda. To explain further, I am posting an e-mail that I sent out to my prayer list earlier this week. Please pray for us while we are away! And if you would like, feel free to e-mail me and let me know that you would like to be added to my family's prayer list.


I know it's hard to believe, but my wife and I are leaving on our mission trip to Uganda this week! After many months of prayer and preparation, the time is almost here. We'll be away from April 11th through the 21st.

With this in mind, I'm going to make an audacious request. Will you commit to fast and pray for our ministry and my family during our trip? I have set aside next Monday (April 14th) as a day of fasting. This will be our first full day in Africa, and we would appreciate a day of special focus on our service to Christ.

Additionally, I'm asking for you to pray for us daily. Here are some of the many ways that you can intercede for us:

* Please pray for our continued health and safe travel. With such a short time in Uganda, we have a lot to accomplish! Good health and no difficulties or problems in our travel plans will help us to make the most of our time there.

* Please pray for our times of ministry. I'm already preparing to speak at least three times: at a preaching conference, at a Wednesday-night service, and Sunday-morning worship. By God's grace, I hope to help our brothers and sisters in Christ grow in biblical discernment.

* Please pray for our preparations. Imagine moving a family of six half-way around the world and starting a ministry there. This trip is our one shot to figure how to do it. We need to work through everything from living arrangements to some of the international red tape. Lord willing, this will be our final trip before moving over!

* Please pray for our family. Given the expense of our trip, we're having to leave our older children with friends while away. It will be hard for our family to be separated for so long. Additionally, while we trust our friends, I'm sure that they would appreciate your prayers in taking care of our kids.

* Please pray for Jesus Christ to be glorified! Above all, our desire is to build God's kingdom through defending His truth. When everything is said and done, this mission trip isn't about us or what we can accomplish in our own strength; it's about our Savior. May we all focus on Him daily!

Thank you again for your willingness to pray for my family. We're excited to see what the Lord has in store for us! Obviously, while we're away I can't promise that you'll hear from us. But rest assured that we'll send you updates as soon as we can.

Because of His grace,
John Divito
Director, Africa Center for Apologetics Research (ACFAR)

April 7, 2008

A Global Need: Biblical Discernment

Our brief study on 1 John 4:1-6 has proven fruitful. This series began by recognizing the ever present danger of false teaching. We must all strive to avoid the many falsehoods that surround us in today's world. With this in mind, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior. First, we must examine God’s messengers. Second, we must recognize opposing messages.

We cannot afford to make the mistake that the second-century theologian Tertullian made when he joined Montanism. We must practice biblical discernment!

As followers of Christ, we find ourselves involved in a raging war. Image yourself as a soldier in the front lines of battle. However, your enemies are not wearing military uniforms--they dress just like everybody else. You do not go out to fight at a distinct battleground, away from the civilian population. Your opposition could be anywhere. You have to go from house to house, not knowing if you'll find hostile enemies seeking to kill you or a regular family simply trying to stay out of harm's way. This is the difference between conventional warfare and guerrilla warfare. Whereas World War II was a conventional war, Vietnam was largely a guerrilla war. Obviously, fighting in these two kinds of wars is almost completely different.

What is my point? Practicing biblical discernment is like guerrilla warfare. False teachers do not easily distinguish themselves from your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They look, talk, and behave just like everybody else. They also do not attack from a distance. They seek to infiltrate from within. As a result, we cannot afford to simply trust anything that people who speak for God tell us. We must examine God’s messengers and recognize opposing messages. This may not be easy, but it is vital.

The Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote about the need for a double test of doctrine:
[T]here is a double test of doctrine—private and public. The private test is that by which everyone settles his own faith, relying wholly on the doctrine that is known to come from God; for consciences will never find a safe and tranquil haven other than in God. The public test is the common consent and polity of the church; for as there is a danger of fanatics arising who may presume to boast that they are endued with God’s Spirit, it is necessary for the faithful to meet together and seek a way by which they may agree in a holy and godly manner. The old proverb is too true: ‘So many heads, so many opinions’; and it is doubtless God’s unique task to subdue our perverseness and make us think the same thing and agree in a holy unity of faith.
Both we as individuals and as corporate churches have an obligation to practice biblical discernment.

This obligation extends to mission work. Individuals and churches around the world need to practice biblical discernment. Remember, false teaching is not limited to our shores. Today Africa is a prime target for opportunistic preachers and serious error. Let us work together to build Christ's kingdom around the world by defending his truth and equipping His global body to remain faithful in a world of falsehoods.

April 4, 2008

Weekly Round-Up: Christian Creeds, Mormon Growth, New Apologetics Resource, and Missionary Challenges

Here's this week's round-up:

1) R.C. Sproul, "Norma Normata -- A Rule that is Ruled" on the Ligonier Ministries blog. After writing about the importance of the historic Christian creeds to our faith earlier this week, I found Sproul's brief article to be an excellent introduction to the proper role of creeds in our churches and spiritual lives.

2) Russell D. Moore, "Beyond the Burning in the Bosom: Why Mormonism Spreads" on the Moore to the Point blog. Have you ever wondered why Mormonism is so successful? Moore provides some theological reflection on the growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

3) Classic Works of Apologetics. This is a new site devoted to providing answers for those investigating the Christian faith. In doing so, the editor has compiled an impressive list of resources throughout church history. This site is definitely worth remembering for research and spiritual growth.

4) "Are We Losing More Than We're Gaining?" Mission Frontiers, March - April 2008. While I have not been able to read over the whole issue yet, the latest edition of this missions magazine has some important articles. "Are We Proclaiming a Defective Gospel?" and "The Pursuit of Knowledge and Truth: The Key to a New Reformation" are both must-reads. Note: This issue also includes an excerpt from Greg Boyd's latest book. I in no way endorse or recommend Boyd's heretical view of God, usually called open theism. My recommendation would be to skip Boyd's article and check out the rest of this issue.

April 2, 2008

Christ Gospel Church on God

(Christ Gospel Church is an international sect with affiliate churches in half a dozen African countries and shortwave broadcasts to many others. You can read the previous posts in this series here: What Does Christ Gospel Church Teach?, Christ Gospel Church on Scripture, Christ Gospel Church on Mankind)

III. God

There is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and out of this one Fountainhead flows a threefold stream of revelation called the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost (I John 5:7; John 1:1,2; Isaiah 48:16,17; John 10:30).[1]
Another central area of doctrine for CGC is their theology proper. Hicks' teaching on the nature of God and the relationship between the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost contribute to their concept of God.

A. The Nature of God

Confirming Our Faith in GodThe key to understanding Hicks' conception of God is found in her application of Genesis 1:26. Here, she states, ". . .God, in His desire to reveal Himself to man, shaped and formed man until man bore the visible Likeness or similitude of the invisible God. Consequently, as we view man and see what he is like, we understand what God is like."[2] As a result, the nature of God is seen in light of the nature of mankind. "Since man is made in the Image and after the likeness of God and since God made man like a wheel, it is apparent that God's Being is also like a Wheel."[3] Moreover, God's being is also threefold, having a body, soul, and spirit (called "His Body realm, His Soul realm, and His Spirit realm"). He has five senses which are channeled through his three realms. The hub of God's wheel is his heart and the axle that turns the wheel of God's being is his will.[4]

Furthermore, there is a masculine and a feminine side of God. "[O]ne of our first concepts of God is that, very basically, the Wheel of His Being has two sides: a Male side and a Female side."[5] This truth can also be seen in God's creation. Hicks says, "Genesis, chapter one, verse one, reveals God's plural Form of being both Male and Female; it says that 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.' God (the Father-Mother) brought forth all Creation, which consisted of male and female, and, finally, He created man (male and female) in His own Image (Male and Female)."[6] Therefore, there are two sides of the wheel of God's being-He is both Father and Mother.

B. The Relationship of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost

In describing what the Bible says about God, Hicks continues, "The Bible clearly declares that God is One. Nevertheless, within the One Godhead, there is a Father-realm, a Word-realm, and a Holy-Ghost-realm that work together in perfect Unity, Harmony, and Oneness of Purpose and Mind."[7] The Father-realm of God (also called the Glory-realm) is the power that brings his invisible designs, plans, and knowledge into visibility. The Word-realm of God is the eternal Christ who was humbled and made flesh. The Holy-Ghost-realm is God's Spirit. Together, these three realms make up one God.[8] Hicks summarizes their relationship:

The One Godhead is a compound unity that is comprised of Father, Word, and Holy Ghost. The same Bible that teaches God's Oneness also teaches that the One God makes Himself known to mankind through three streams of revelation. The outflow of the invisible Godhead is manifested as Father, Word (Son), and Holy Ghost. The One God operates through three separate and distinct Personalities.[9]
To synthesize Hick's development of this relationship proves difficult. On the one hand, she seems to advocate some kind of Monarchianism. She writes, "God's infinite Mind is ONE WHEEL, as it were. Yet because God knows that finite creatures cannot readily comprehend Infinity, He mercifully separates His Wheel into three distinct identities, known as Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, which is how He reveals Himself and how He works with mankind."[10] Additionally, her connection between God and humanity leans toward seeing God in this way. As Hicks maintains, "As we continue the comparison of man's being with God's Being (man having been made in God's Image and Likeness), we see that God, as well as man, is a triune Being."[11] It is unclear, however, how she associates God's Father-realm, Word-realm, and Holy-Ghost-realm with God's Body realm, Soul realm, and Spirit realm. No plain connections are made between the two sets of three.

On the other hand, Hicks also has statements that sound comparably closer to orthodox Trinitarianism. First, she uses the word "Trinity." "The word trinity is not found in the Bible, but the Truth of this doctrine is evident. Many Scriptures support the Truth of God's Trinitarian outflow to man."[12] Second, Hicks will also occasionally refer to members of the Godhead as persons.[13] Furthermore, she differentiates the three. "When Jesus promised to pray for the Father to send the Comforter, He confirmed the fact that He, Jesus Christ, was neither the Father nor the Holy Ghost Comforter Who was to come."[14] Ultimately, a firm conclusion is hard to reach. Sometimes her writing seems similar to a form of Monarchianism, while other times it sounds somewhat closer to orthodox Trinitarianism.

[1]Articles of Faith, 3.
[2]B. R. Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in God, 2003 ed. (Jeffersonville, IN: Christ Gospel Press, 2003), 20.
[3]Ibid, 21.
[4]Ibid, 21-42.
[5]B. R. Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 7. Interestingly, this basic point was never made in her earlier work, Confirming Our Faith in God.
[6]Ibid, 6-7.
[7]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in God, 47. Emphasis in original.
[8]Ibid, 47-52.
[9]Ibid, 52. Emphasis in original.
[10]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in what the Bible Teaches about Mankind, 45.
[11]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in God, 43.
[12]Ibid, 55. Emphasis in original. Of course, one could question connecting the Trinity with an "outflow to man."
[13]One example is when she refers to the Holy Ghost as "The third Person in the Godhead." Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 5.
[14]Hicks, Confirming Our Faith in God, 56.