08 February 2013

John Mark Comer Clarifies Charges of Polytheism

Amid the coverage and criticism of his recent sermon entitled, "Yahweh Elohim," John Mark Comer, pastor of Solid Rock Church in Portland, Oregon, has offered the following attempted clarification on his Facebook page:
Solid Rock family, 
Some of you have been asking some great questions about my recent teaching “Yahweh Elohim” and Solid Rock’s theology. To clarify, we are NOT polytheists. We ARE monotheists. We believe there is ONE real, true Creator God with NO equal or parallel. By using the language of “Creational Monotheism,” we are saying there are real spiritual beings in the universe UNDER the Creator God Yahweh. The demonic powers we read about in the scriptures are not “non-entities,” but are real. The New Testament calls them “demons,” “angels,” “spirits,” “powers,” “princes,” and “principalities,” but the primary Hebrew word used in the Old Testament is elohim or “gods.” These beings are “gods with a lowercase g.” They are not on par with the Creator God Yahweh. They are created, but have rebelled against their Creator to wreak havoc on the earth. This is the worldview of Jesus and of the Scriptures. 
By using the language of “Creational Monotheism vs. Modern Monotheism," we are challenging the post-enlightenment, Western European view of monotheism from the last 300 years that says there are no other spiritual beings in the universe. We don’t buy it, and we don’t think Jesus does either. At Solid Rock it is our deepest conviction to know and pursue the ways of King Jesus, to understand and adopt his way of thinking and his worldview. Stay rooted in the Scriptures, keep asking questions, and above all follow the Creator God in Jesus! 
John Mark and the teaching team of Solid Rock 
(Source)
Comer's initiative to respond to the confusion is commendable. Yet there still seems to be a game of words being played here. Above, Comer claims that what he has deemed as "modern monotheism" argues that "there are no other spiritual beings in the universe." Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find a Christian (a monotheist by necessity) who would argue with such verses as:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10-13)
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (Jas. 2:19)
These are just a few of many verses that affirm the reality of evil spiritual beings, namely Satan and his demons. The traditional understanding of monotheism—that there is one God, that there always has been one God and that there always will be one God (Isa. 43:10–11)—does not deny that other spiritual beings exist. It does deny that these beings exist as "lesser gods" or lesser deities.

Indeed, the pagan cultures of the Old Testament worshiped what they believed to be "gods." The Bible teaches, however, that they are not actually gods, but idols. Several verses come to mind in regard to this:
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good. (Jer. 10:5)
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4–8)
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:4–6)
In his sermon, Comer appeals often to open theist Greg Boyd and his book, God at War. To better understand the theological background and beliefs of Boyd, here is how Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) explains open theism:
Open Theism, also called openness and the open view, is a theological position dealing with human free will and its relationship to God and the nature of the future. It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. (Source)
Theopedia offers a similar definition:
Open theism, also called free will theism and openness theology, is the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe but leaves it "open" for humans to make significant choices (free will) that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future. Open Theists further believe that this would imply that God does not know the future exhaustively. Proponents affirm that God is omniscient, but deny that this means that God knows everything that will happen. (Source)
With that in mind, consider the following teaching about creational monotheism from Boyd's book, which is referenced by Comer throughout this sermon:
Unlike philosophical monotheism with its speculative conjecture about what "pure" monotheism entails, creational monotheism does not rule out the acknowledgement of the existence of lesser gods...Arising out of the biblical revelation, creational monotheism affirms that there are indeed a multiplicity of gods, but only one is eternal, only one is Creator, only one is Lord, and only one is omnipotent, while all others have their being and their power only by virtue of being given it by their Creator. Hence the Creator is in a class all by himself, and for this reason he and he alone is to be worshiped. 
(Gregory Boyd, God at War, [InterVarsity Press: 1997], 120–121.)
To close, it may be helpful to see how it is that John Mark Comer illustrates the difference between what he calls "modern monotheism" and "creational monotheism":

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One God alone, or one God among many? There's only one place to go to find the answer, and it is neither to a pastor nor to a blog, but to the Word of God.
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isa. 43:10–11)
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isa. 45:5-6)
Here, Chris Rosebrough responds to Comer's clarification:


Further Reading
Seeker-Driven Pastor Brings Polytheism Into the Mainstream
Thank You, Lord. Reader Is Led "to the Truth I Tried to Reject"
Doctrine Matters

18 comments:

  1. What is the purpose of this teaching?
    How does it edify the Body of Christ?
    Why are several verses ignored in favor of those that "prove" this theory?
    Lucifer was a created being who fell from heaven because of his rebellion and now you want us to believe that when he fell he became a "god." It is commonly held that Gabriel and Michael were created beings of the same "power and authority" as that of Lucifer yet there is no mention of either of these becoming a "god." Why is that? Does a spiritual being only become a "god" when he sins? Does greater sin make such a one a more powerful "god?" It would seem so.

    This all seems like an introductory course to open theism. JMC is coming in the back door as a 'friendly' whose end game is to teach that the Trinity is really not as soveriegn as has been the teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. He is one of those who 'come in by stealth.' He is likeable and knowledgeable with a listening and unquestioning audience-a dangerous combination. This false teaching is step one in diminshing the character of God Himself be saying that He did create other "gods" when He has stated the precise opposite. Step two will be a little more bold and a lot more insidious and will call into further question the character of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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    1. John Mark said in his sermon that there are also good "gods" who love God...

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    2. The scary thing is, this teaching proves that no matter what John Mark says, and no matter what the Bible says about it, all 7,000+ followers of John Mark will believe it and blindly continue to follow him. John Mark could even teach that he is "god," next, like Hitler. And then what? I don't know John Mark's ultimate intentions, but the possibilities are endless when you have an errant teacher and a blissfully blind mass of followers. And anyone who would risk the souls of their followers by straying from Scripture wouldn't flinch at lesser atrocities.

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    3. Darrel, in response to the claims in your first paragraph, what then would you do with 2 Cor. 4?

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    4. I don't "DO" anything with 2 Cor. 4 but believe it along with all of the Scriptures. If you seek to have me say that Paul was refering to a lesser "god" as decribed by JMC you'll have a long wait. If you really want to have a conversation, imbrex, try answering a few questions before you ask one. One more for the road: does JMC also teach that there are "good" "gods?"

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  2. Also read his response to Sherry Smith on his facebook page (facebook.com/johnmarkcomer — the status that begins with "Solid Rock family..."):

    John Mark Comer:
    "Great thoughts! Read God at War by Greg Boyd for an in depth answer to the scriptures that seem to be saying there are no gods. I can chat with you anytime after a gathering. The Isaiah scriptures are a blast to talk about. And you're misunderstanding me a bit. "gods" and "demons" are two differt biblical words saying there are real spiritual beings in the universe who are not on God's side. My opinion is that there are categories in the demonic realm. I think the scriptures push you to that (the prince of Persia in Dan. is clearly in a different category than "evil spirits" in Mark's gospel), but it's not crystal clear. Alright, I'm off Facebook for the day!"

    Also, he is only saying, "Come speak with me after a service!" to people who do not live locally. Those of us who live locally and are questioning, hoping to receive some biblical answers from him, are still being blocked from twitter/facebook/blogs/youtube/etc., having their comments deleted, and have been threatened with arrest (by Pastors Dave Hughes and Jose Zayas) if we show up at church or try to talk to the pastors again regarding the teachings/practices of the church. Jose even told me that if I try to talk to John Mark, Dave Hughes will interfere again (by calling the police?). Ask John Mark about letting me, and others who live locally, talk to him about this after a service. Ask him to truly handle those he disagrees with biblically. Ask him to pursue reconciliation — and allow others to who desire to forgive the church for threatening and wronging them.

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    1. This sounds like this is on another level completely. Comer is open for people who disagree to come talk through things after his services. He may not have time to research exactly where someone is from; that is a very petty accusation.

      With a church as large as is claimed, I highly doubt they "threaten arrest" at anyone who disagrees. Your name-dropping makes me think that your problem isn't as simple as "wanting to ask a question."

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    2. Yes, open if you live at least 100 miles away.

      It's not a petty accusation. All John Mark had to do was click on the person's picture on Facebook and check their location. It takes about 10 seconds with a slow internet connection.

      Oh? Try attending Solid Rock and intelligently disagreeing with the pastors.

      Correct. Our problem isn't wanting to ask a question. It's the 10+ calls from the police we get the day after simply asking a question or requesting a meeting with a pastor and/or elder to pursue truth, love, reconciliation Biblically as fellow members of a church.

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  3. Okay so basically according to Comer the dividing line between monotheism and polytheism isn't the presence or absence of "many gods", but rather, that the "many" are in subjection to "One". <>

    The statement in Genesis 1:1a "In the beginning GOD,,"-- is an axiomatic statement!! This opening verse does not leave any room for little "g's"-NONE. zilch, zero

    History: In the 1st Century it was the Greeks who were polytheists not monotheists. In fact since there were no images of gods in the houses of worship of Christians in the 1st century, the heathen (rightly concluded) that the Christians did not believe in the existence of (the gods)-polytheism. So they accused Christians of being ATHIESTS- People who believe there is no God. But Christians believed in One God Monotheism who made everything in the world

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  4. "By using the language of “Creational Monotheism vs. Modern Monotheism," we are challenging the post-enlightenment, Western European view of monotheism from the last 300 years that says there are no other spiritual beings in the universe. We don’t buy it, and we don’t think Jesus does either," writes John Mark Comer.

    Yeah, the ever present problem of "the post-enlightenment, Western European view of monotheism from the last 300 years..."

    Keeps us all up at night, I'm sure.

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  5. I wonder if Comer's position might be more technically termed "henotheism," the belief in one central God while not denying the existence of others. This is basically the belief of Hinduism, with its own "trinity" of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva (and a million other deities).

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  6. Out of curiosity I visited Solid Rock Churcu website and listened (partly) to another 'sermon' by JMC. Things are a lot worse than meets the eye. Comer, among other things, is a dominionist. The title of his 'sermon' was: "Resurrection, Life after Heaven (7-31-11)." Provocative title laced with quotes like "prayer is how you partner with Jesus to bring His kingdom on the earth". His kingdom will fully come on the earth for sure, but our "help" is not required on any level. The entire 'sermon' was an attempt to dismantle the orthodox and Biblical view of heaven and replace it with an exceedingly humanized version.

    It may well be that Comer's entire "ministry" is devoted to bringing into question time-honored Biblical interpretation and replace that with doctrines of fantasy and wishful thinking so as to make himself a new rising star to the evangelical community. The big problem is that he is very appealing and yet subtle in his "preaching" to not directly attack the Person of Christ, but to question those things that are not easily discerned-most especially by new and immature believers. His overall view of the Gospel is humanistic, eventhough he uses words like Lord, holy, praise for the Lord and others his main emphasis is not Jesus Christ but rather his latest fantasy doctrine. Luke 6:45 speaks to such men: "...For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

    If all of this isn't bad enough, he treats those who question him and his teaching with utter contempt by ignoring their questions, dismising them from his "church" and threatening some with police action if they should dare to show their face at one of his "church's" sites. I remember well the bullies of my school days, not a whole lot of difference here. His threats and intimidation tactics are NOT chacteristic of a born-again believer. His threats and intimidation tactics ARE chacteristic of the unbelieving and the demons he would have us believe are somehow a "god." His endgame is to deceive, not to enlighten and edify the Body of Christ. With that in mind EVERYTHING he says should be questioned.

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  7. "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God"

    The first time I read this (as a Christian)it hit me like a ton of bricks!! I had been going towards agnosticism and atheism so to read GOD HIMSELF declaring this made me get on my knees.

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  8. John Mark gave almost the same polytheistic sermon (plus and minus some details of his beliefs) nearly a year ago. The sermon page has all the same slides as the new sermon from 1/13/13 available for download as a pdf.

    From March 20, 2011, a sermon entitled "the gods":

    http://www.ajesuschurch.org/teaching-various/?sermon_id=821

    At 37:32, 
John Mark says:

    Here's what I think the Bible actually teaches. The technical term in theology is Creational Monotheism. If you want to sound, like, really stuck up and smart tomorrow, like, "What did you learn in church last night?" "You wouldn't understand... Creational Monotheism." It is, there's not one mountain, there are many mountains, there are many religions, many faith systems, there are many forms of spirituality and (next slide) there are real gods on top of all of those mountains. Meaning that there are real spiritual beings in those temples, answering those prayers, wreaking evil or doing good. There are actual, real spiritual beings who are with all of those people at the top of all of those mountains.

    And right after that, he says that Jesus is not a/the "way" or "way to God"... THEN what about the verse, quoting Jesus, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"?

    WHAT is going on? I used to respect this guy for his sermons...

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  9. Oops... I should have said almost TWO years ago — not just ONE. Who else still thinks it's 2012 even though it's February? Probably no one...

    Yet nearly 7,000 people apparently believe John Mark's polytheistic sermon, while claiming to base their lives off of God's Word, in spite of the facts God tells us about Himself in Isaiah 44-45.

    What a crazy world.

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  10. I listened to this sermon "the gods' from march 20 2011.

    (JM) said...Here's what I "think" the bible actually teaches.

    John Mark Comer "thinks" to much. This man is a wolf. He is preaching another gospel and another Jesus. He is not only deceived himself but he is deceiving other's as well.


    I do not need a master's degree to figure that out either.

    TERESA

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  11. I think that JMC is trying too hard to be cutting-edge. Unfortunately, he may have gotten wrapped up in the teachings of some well-known people and lost sight of what the Scripture really says. Also, unfortunately, the other pastors at the church are being sucked in also and backing him up. This is truly a sad day for this church. They used to teach truth. Sadly, they seem to have taken a wrong turn. No church should be saying....Here's what I think the bible actually teaches. Arrogant to say the least to suppose you know more than what God inspired the writer's of the bible to write. JMC and his staff need to repent and right this wrong. Quickly.

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  12. Deut 6:14, 32:17, Josh 24:2, etc...

    For those who don't know John Mark, he's been my friend and become a mentor for nearly ten years. His dad has been like a father to me. His younger brother a great friend. His sisters a lovely example of God's gentleness and character. The Comer family is one of the primary tools God is using in the 600,000 person, liberal, homosexual, coffee-fied, bearded city of Portland.

    Rather than posting another comment that borderlines slander and gossip I exhort you all to pray with gratitude for his faithful commitment to seeking, heeding and teaching truth in a city that simply ignores it. I've witnessed *almost the entire cities* of Beaverton, Sherwood, Wilsonville, parts of Hillsboro, Aloha, Forest Grove and many others become high concentration areas of people who have placed their faith in Jesus because of God's work through the Comer's and leadership at Solid Rock.

    Even if you were right that John Mark and Solid Rock believed that our creator is on par with the other god's that the verses I mentioned above the work of God is still being accomplished.

    But, neither this article, nor those who've commented have accurately cited or assessed this topic and now we have a thread of discord and confusion.

    I appreciate a good debate, and agree that we must exhort false teachers. But, boy, this one sure is off.

    One last thing; if you pray with gratitude for the work God has done through JM: also pray for wisdom and truth to guard him. I've witnessed him teach something false, and also humbly repent for it. If you pray for him about this now, I am confident that - if you're right - he will.

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