“Fundamental Truths” Response: The Soul

Soul Train - Dancers

I’m still looking to get a hold of The Mystery of God and the Spring of the Water of Life by Ahnsahnghong so I can meet with the Missionaries again and have something substantial to present to them, but in the mean time I thought I’d go ahead and start a series on basic doctrinal refutation.  On the World Mission Society Church of God’s official website there is a section entitled “Fundamental Truths” listed under the “Truth of Life” for the “Truth of the Church”.  These “Fundamental Truths” pertain to “Sabbath”, “Soul”, “Baptism”, and “Veil”.  Since the other three largely pertain to external rituals, I thought it would be good to go straight to the heart of the matter and consider what the WMSCOG (World Mission Society Church of God) has to say about the “Soul”…

The article in question (linked above) starts out in classic cult fashion by introducing common man-on-the-street theological questions and framing them into a false premise:

“What happens to a man when he dies?”…”Does a man really have a spirit?”… “Where does a man go when he dies?” Questions such as these have been a matter of great interest throughout history, but no one has been able to answer them. Men eager to find such answers wrote great philosophies, but mere philosophers could never realize how they had been created.

No one has been able to answer them?  Since when exactly?  Christianity (of which the WMSCOG claims to be a part) has long asserted that Jesus Christ gave clear answers to these questions nearly 2,000 years ago and has authority on the matter being One who came back from the dead, not to mention being God-Incarnate.  Perhaps I’m just jumping to conclusions, and the church here will bring up these facts.  So let’s read on, shall we?

Christ Ahnsahnghong came to the earth, established the Church of God, and taught us that all men are angels who have come to the earth after sinning in heaven. He let us know how valuable we are and revealed to us the true purpose of our lives.

Ahnsahnghong's Grave

Who?  What?  Where?  No mention of Jesus here at all, but rather this dead Korean man Ahnsahnghong.  So if Ahnsahnghong established the “Church of God” what happened to Jesus’ Church?  Is this new church ingrafted into the old as the gentiles were ingrafted into Israel?  Because, we really only have three ways to understand this new “church”…

1. This new church is really just an extension of the old one.
2. Jesus’ church was completely invalid in the first place.
3. Jesus’ original church was lost or destroyed.

Curiously enough, while #1 might be the most charitable interpretation as it would tentatively place the church within the realm of orthodoxy–as the Presbyterian church or the Protestant church as a whole are really just considered parts of the entire Church Catholic (a.k.a. the universal Christian Church)–this does not seem to be what the WMSCOG claims about itself at all.  Instead, if my personal discourse with missionaries from the WMSCOG is any indicator, it’s more like #3.  The WMSCOG holds to a kind of Resotoration Theology on par with the LDS and the Watchtower, wherein Orthodox Christianity is seen to have apostasized and the only True Christians (TM) are members of one particular organization–in this case the World Mission Society Church of God.  This, of course, calls into serious question what Christ meant when He said to Peter “the gates of Hades will not overpower [the Church]” in Matthew 16:18.  As explicitly stated on the WMSCOG’s “Greetings” page: “Our church is the only true church which God has established on this earth.”

This is quite a lofty claim and deserves careful scrutiny.  In one brief statement, the WMSCOG has completely disavowed itself of Christian fellowship with any of the nearly thousands of churches of Christendom, while simultaneously setting itself up as God’s sole group of people on Earth today.  The focus is immediately shifted from “Come to Jesus” to “Come to the WMSCOG” as it is “the only true church which God has established on this earth”.  I will get into the WMSCOG’s views on salvation later, but for now let’s consider another point made in the quote above.

Upon establishing the “Church of God”, Ahnsahnghong is said to have “taught that all men are angels who have come to the earth after sinning in heaven.”

Presumably by the use of “heaven” and “angels”, the article’s writer–who seems to be anonymous–is saying here that we were once spiritual beings before we were manifest physically.  Considering that “angel” literally means “messenger”, “envoy”, or “representative” (both in Hebrew and Greek), one has to ask “messengers to whom?”  I mean… was Adam a messenger to the animal kingdom or something?

Suffice it to say, the statement here seems to be echoing the pre-existence heresy of the LDS church and others.  This flatly contradicts the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:46–“the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.”  In teaching that “all men… come to earth after sinning in heaven” the entire account of the fall of Man in Genesis is directly contradicted.

Speaking of Genesis, we now read on to the main body of the article, with the first section entitled “The Spirit Revealed Through the Creation of Human Beings”…

Gen. 2:7 ?…The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.?

The dust is not the essence of life; God didn’t name the dust itself a “living being.” Only after God had breathed the breath of life into the dust, did He call it a “living being.” Therefore, the essence of life is not the flesh, but the breath of life, the spirit that God breathed into the dust. Man’s flesh is made from the dust, but his spirit is made by God, and is from God.

Solomon wrote, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7).

Ironically enough, this section illustrates the earlier point.  The model demonstrated in the Genesis account is that the body precedes the spirit, not the other way around.  What was Adam before God breathed into him?  Nothing.  Adam was not.  Adam only came to be a “living being” when God breathed into the “nostrils” of this thing He had “formed”.  It was only then that “the man became” anything at all.

The writer goes out of the way to note that “God didn’t name the dust itself a ‘living being'”, which is true, but we should not forget that neither did God name the breath a “living being” either.  It was only when the man had a form that was brought to life by the power of God that He became a “living being”.  This is in no way implies a pre-existence and in fact speaks against it.  For as Paul wrote in alluding to this passage in 1 Corinthians 15:45 “The first man Adam was made a living soul”.  It was at the point that God declared Adam “living” that Adam was “made”.  The spirit of Adam was not made beforehand and then transferred into Adam.  Adam’s soul, spirit, and body were brought to life at one time.

The next section is entitled “Jesus Taught Us About the ‘Spirit'”.  And that He did, so let’s see what the WMSCOG has to say about it…

The concept of “spirit” became clearer in the New Testament.

Matt. 10:28 ?”Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”?

In this verse, Jesus describes the same creation process as in Genesis chapter two, revealing the separation between the death of the body [the dust] and the death of the spirit.

The Greek word for soul in this verse is “pneuma,” which means “spirit.”

Psyche is not equal to PneumaYes, the concept of the spirit became clearer in the New Testament.  And Jesus did indeed setup a dichotomy between the soul and the body.  So far, so good.  And as we all know the Greek word for soul as used in Matthew 10:28 is “pneuma”–wait… What?!  No it’s not!

This is either a huge mistake or a flat out lie.  Considering that the writer is going out of his way to appeal to the original language, one would assume that he had actually read the passage in question, so I’m really starting to wonder if this isn’t intentional deception.  The fact of the matter is that the Greek word for “soul” in “this verse” is NOT “pneuma“.  It is psyche.

Here’s a couple resources if the reader doubts me: Greek Interlinear of Matthew 10 (PDF), Strong’s Concordance Search for Matthew 10:18.

Reading on…

John 4:24 ?”God is spirit [pneuma].” ?

2 Cor. 33:17 ?Now the Lord [Jesus] is the Spirit [pneuma].?

Heb. 1:14 ?Are not all angels ministering spirits [pneuma]…??

God is spirit and doesn’t belong in the flesh. Jesus is spirit and doesn’t belong in the flesh. Angels are also spirits who do not belong in the flesh. Thus, a man’s death can be separated into two events: the death of the flesh and the death of the spirit. The devil, or another man, can kill our body, but it is only God who can destroy our spirit.

The Apostle Paul, in a letter to the Church in Corinth, wrote as follows:

1 Cor. 2:11 ?For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit [pneuma] within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit [pneuma] of God.?

Jesus taught us that the true essence of our life is not our flesh, but our spirit.

Now, perhaps the psyche/pneuma confusion before really was just some kind of big mistake as we also have here a quote from “2 Corinthians 33:17” when 2 Corinthians only has 13 chapters.  It seems the quote here is from 2 Corinthians 3:17 instead.  It’s easy to see how one could type a single extra character, but I’m still at a loss how one could sincerely build a whole argument on a premise that is patently false.  Whether it’s dishonesty or incompetence, these kind of fundamental errors don’t give a great argument for this being the only true “Church of God”, but I digress…

Suffice it to say, this whole little section ends with the statement “Jesus taught us that the true essence of our life is not our flesh, but our spirit” apparently alluding to their erroneous reading of Matthew 10:28.  If Matthew 10:28 is any indication (and I don’t disagree that it is), then ultimate essence of our personal existence is the soul (psyche) not the spirit (pneuma).  One that holds to a simple dichotomous view of the nature of man could argue that these are essentially the same things, but I don’t hold to that view (I believe scripture presents a trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit) and one has to admit they are completely different words.

Overall, there’s a disturbing undercurrent of animosity towards man’s physical nature in this article.  For instance, it would be agreeable to say that “God is spirit and is thus in His essence incorporeal”, but instead we read “God is spirit and doesn’t belong in the flesh.”  The same phraseology is also said of Jesus–who is the very Word made flesh (John 1:14)–as well as angels.  So… doesn’t belong?  What does that mean exactly?  Is there something wrong with inhabiting a body of flesh and bone as Jesus has?  In these curious choice of words we start to see a Gnostic subtext emerge in the article, which is not surprising coming from this cult.

We try to understand the apostles’ minds because their thoughts were established by Jesus’ teachings. The apostles understood that our flesh is merely the house of our spirit.

2 Cor. 5:1 ?Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed [if our flesh dies], we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.?

Our spirit lives in a temporary earthly tent?our flesh?now, but it will live in an eternal house that God has built for us.

2 Cor. 5:6 ?Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord….We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.?

In this letter, the Apostle Paul says that the Lord [Jesus] dwells in the world of spirit and that we dwell in the world of flesh. Thus we are away from the Lord as long as we are in the body. The Apostle Paul also reveals that he, and the rest of the saints, would prefer to be away from their bodies and at home with the Lord.

When taken on its surface, these statements are absolutely correct.  However, considering the developing theme of gnosticism in the article we can start to see a subtext in the words that contradicts the logic of the argument.  What do I mean specifically?

Well, the WMSCOG sets up a dichotomy between the body and the spirit–which is perfectly fine in itself.  The body is certainly distinct (at least conceptually) from the spirit.  However, it then starts to imply that we do not “belong” in the flesh and that God’s intention is for us to dwell bodiless in the spirit forever.

I previously already pointed out the curious statement that “Jesus… doesn’t belong in the flesh.”  This thought is further developed in the statement “our flesh is merely”, later in seeming to equate the flesh in general with Paul’s “tent”, and finally with the explicit statement “the Lord [Jesus] dwells in the world of spirit and that we dwell in the world of flesh.”  This blatantly denies the bodily resurrection and ascension of our Lord and thus precludes the possibility of Christ returning bodily as both Christ and the angel at His ascension stated He would (Acts 1:11, Matthew 24:26-27).  In doing so, the WMSCOG demonstrates itself to have the spirit of the antichrist about which the apostle John emphatically warned (2 John 1:7).

The rest of this essay continues in this same vein making the point that the spirit exists.  A point about which nearly everyone in Christendom agrees.  Yet, hidden amongst these orthodox (and rather mundane and obvious) arguments is an underlying theme of a false gnostic dichotomy between the “world of the flesh” and the “world of the spirit”.  In gnostic thought, matter is evil and illusory (a sentiment not dissimilar to Hindu understandings), while the immaterial nature of man (viz “the spirit”) is part of a higher “world” (viz the Pleroma).

Thus, while the WMSCOG outwardly shuns all practices and traditions supposedly rooted in paganism, it demonstrates its pagan roots in its heretical theology which can be traced back and related to Grecian mystery cults and Hinduism.

Here’s the rest of “The Apostle’s Paul’s Thoughts About the ‘Spirit'”:

In the above verses, what is the entity that dwells in the body and then leaves the body? Paul’s spirit, the very essence of Paul, is the one who wants to leave the body. The body he wore was not the essence of his life, but instead, Paul’s spirit?dwelling within his body?was his true self. To say it again, the Apostle Paul lived not for the temporary life in his earthly tent [his flesh], but he longed for the life that he would live in the eternal house. God would give him this everlasting home only after his spirit left its earthly tent.

The Apostle Paul wrote similarly in a letter to the saints in Philippi.

Phil. 1:21-24 ?For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.?

Paul’s words, “We…would prefer to be away from the body,” in the book of 2 Corinthians 5:6 and the words, “I desire to depart,” in the book of Philippians chapter one, have the same meanings. “To be away,” or “to depart,” means to leave the body. What is the entity that dwells in the body or leaves it? It is Paul’s spirit, the true essence of Paul.

Paul revealed that it was more necessary for the saints that he remained in his body. If Paul were to leave his body [if he were to die], he would go to Christ; thus it was good for him to leave the body. If he remained in the body, however, it was good for the saints because then he could teach them the truth of God and guide them down the right path.

Paul also uttered a revelation that God had shown him in another letter to the Church in Corinth.

2 Cor. 12:1 ?I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know?God knows. And I know that this man?whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows.?

When Paul saw this revelation, he said twice, “…whether I [my spirit] was in the body or out of the body I do not know?God knows.”

According to this verse, did the Apostle Paul think that the spirit existed as a separate entity from the body, or did he believe that the spirit did not exist?

If the Apostle Paul believed that the spirit did not exist, could he have said, “Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know?God knows”…? When Paul saw this revelation?describing himself as “a man” he knew (speaking in the third person)?he didn’t know whether his spirit had traveled out of the body, or if he had gone to such a paradise in his flesh.

And here’s the second to last section for good measure…

The Apostle Peter always remembered what Jesus had told him before His ascension.

John 21:18-19 ?”I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.?

When Peter’s life of the gospel was about to come to an end, he worried about the saints, remembering what Jesus had told him.

2 Pet. 1:13-14 ?I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.?

Peter described his death as “putting aside” the tent of the body, and as his “departure.” It is clear that it is Peter’s spirit that would leave his body. While his spirit was in a fleshly body, the body itself became his spirit’s house; after his spirit’s departure, the body would return to the ground.

We study the apostles’ thoughts to know the teachings that they learned from Jesus. Through the apostles’ explanations of the spirit, we can clearly understand that Jesus Christ had taught and revealed that the spirit exists within men.

So men have a spirit.  To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.  Two rather orthodox statements (and stated much more concisely than the rather verbose article).  This orthodoxy, however, is sprinkled throughout with error in the implied subtext of a false gnostic contest between “the world of the flesh” and the “world of the spirit”.  There might be some bread here, but as we know “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (Galatians 5:9).

Finally, the last section is entitled “My True Life”:

We often wonder, “Who am I?” Some say, “Man eats to live,” while others argue that, “Man lives to eat.” Neither of these opinions is correct.

Our main essence is not our physical body, but the spirit inside our body. Our spirit lives in the tent we call our “body.” When we go camping, we only stay in a tent for a few days, don’t we? The time we spend in the tent is temporary. Likewise, our life within the body?our tent?is only a temporary life.

If we live for our physical body, it means that we are living for our house. Life is to live for ourselves, not for the houses we dwell in.

In our life of faith, we sometimes focus on our physical life more than our spiritual life. Of course, as long as we are in the body, we can’t deny the physical life; however, if we live only for a temporary tent which will soon disappear, how pitiful will our life be?

We live in these tents because of our sin, but after we receive the forgiveness of our sins, redemption?under the grace of Christ, the Passover Lamb?our eternal houses wait for us. Let’s reconsider what we should focus on while we live on this earth.

2 Cor. 4:18 ?So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.?

“What’s passover, mommy? Am I going to die?”

If the leaven wasn’t bad enough, this very last paragraph throws in a pinch of arsenic!  According to the WMSCOG, we currently occupy bodies “because of our sin” and it seems to imply that “we receive the forgiveness of sins” finally only at death for it is then that “our eternal houses [await].”  This alludes to one of the most horrendous teachings of the WMSCOG: works-based salvation.  A false teaching that is sadly ubiquitous amongst cults.  Consider the following quote: “Unless we keep the Passover, our names cannot be written in the book of life. We must be baptized, and then keep the Passover, so that we can escape the last plagues and enter the eternal kingdom of heaven.” (http://english.watv.org/truth/truth_life/content_baptism.asp#04)

This directly contradicts the entire theology of the New Testament in regards to salvation, as neatly summarized in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So what is the nature of the soul?  And what is our eternal destiny according to scripture?

Well, there is something I have neglected to point out in my review just yet…  This entire article thus far has said much about the spirit, but only one verse about the soul.  Its entire thesis has rested upon an absolutely false correlation between “soul” and “spirit” by erroneously claiming that the words are the same in Greek when they absolutely are NOT!

The WMSCOG is right in pointing out that the “soul” is the “essence” of a person’s being, for it is their “psyche”–a Greek word not too far from its English usage in psychological parlance.  The difference being, perhaps, is that to some extent in English we understand a person’s “psyche” to relate more to a person’s mental processes than their concrete immaterial existence.  But, to the Greek the “psyche” was not merely a function of “mind” (which is something that is not even necessarily personal in nature).  That concept was already present with the word “nous” (which bears curious resemblance to the word “naos“, but that’s a subject for another article perhaps).

We translate this word “psyche” with the English “soul” which bears some resemblance the Old English etymon for “self” in “seolf” although besides the usage of the consonants “s” and “l” the words are otherwise unrelated.  Etymology aside, “self” is a good understanding of “soul” nonetheless.  And thus I agree with the article’s thesis that the soul is immaterial and differentiated from the body (“soma“) in scripture.  However, the soul is ALSO differentiated from the “spirit”, at very least linguistically–if not contextually (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

So what about our body?

Many cults are fond of quoting 1 Corinthians 15:50 where it reads (in part) “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  The missionary with whom I conversed weeks ago (from the WMSCOG) quoted these words to me when he argued that Jesus Christ was turned into a spirit upon His ascension so that He might enter the kingdom.

The quote itself ignores the very next clause in this same verse that starts to shed light on the matter, wherein we read: “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  Paul’s usage of “flesh and blood” was a singular composite term used to refer to our current corrupted nature.  Metaphorically speaking, sin is embedded in our nature one might say “it’s in our blood”.  We inherit it through our common bloodline back to Adam.  When Jesus poured out His blood on our behalf, He was raised in the same body in which He died–a body of “flesh and bone” (the mention of blood notably absent–Luke 24:39).

So what of our eternal destiny?

We have hints of the truth in the words of the WMSCOG’s article itself.  Compare this statement “While [Paul’s] spirit was in a fleshly body, the body itself became his spirit’s house; after his spirit’s departure, the body would return to the ground” with this “We live in these tents because of our sin, but… our eternal houses wait for us.”

If our current body is what “houses” the spirit temporarily, our “eternal houses” which we receive at the return of the Lord in the Resurrection would be no different than Christ’s resurrected body of “flesh and bone.”  The difference being that in the Resurrection we shall have immortal bodies.  These are bodies that are not subject to sin and decay, they do not succumb to entropy.  For rather than being fueled by blood–for our present “life… is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11)–our new life will be sustained by the spirit of God who even now indwells our souls (1 Corinthians 3:16).  Thus these are “spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:39-44).  Yes, bodies.  Not spirits.  Fueled by the spirit.  But bodies nonetheless.

This basic witness of scripture is mangled by the WMSCOG cult.  The article isn’t even about the right word, but like any stage magician that fact is hidden away through distraction–through the verbosity of the article’s arguments.  Its basic premise is built upon a blatant factual fallacy, and sprinkled throughout is error and darkness.  And so, as the article in question does, so will I close my thoughts with a couple scriptures of my own…

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.  Behold, I have told you in advance.  So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

– Matthew 24:26-27

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

– 1 John 4:1-3