On Changing Life Forms (a reply to Jeff, 8/22/2023)
This is a quick reply to Jeff, who commented on my guest post entitled “Bill Watson's Doctrine of 'Changing Life Forms'” at the Banned by HWA blog.
I had taken issue with Bill (a Church of God International minister and proponent of “soul sleep”), who claims that people who believe in the immortality of the human soul don't really believe people die, but instead merely “change life forms.” (If you're interested in this reply, read the original post and his comments first.)
Jeff is also a minister with CGI, employed as their “Creative Director.”
Thanks for sharing your comments.
I'll intersperse my thoughts amongst yours:
Traditional Christians believe that the soul is immortal, so there must be a source for this belief. We do not think it is the Bible because of many scriptures.
To start off, the Bible does not have to be the plain, explicit source of all knowledge for all things. Otherwise it would teach that it is (and it doesn't).
You know Scripture itself says that “For what can be known about God is plain to them [pagan gentiles who haven't received the Law or divine public revelation], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).
If we can have true knowledge about the Creator based on his creation, then we can surely have true knowledge about creation itself. That would include the human soul.
Just like the law of gravity, the speed of light, the Pythagorean theorem, and so many other things that don't find their “source” in the Bible, we can know certain things about the spiritual soul (based on reason and observation) that are absolutely, reliably true.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20
I think we both agree, due to its plain context, that this use of the word soul refers to a person rather than his spiritual dimension (“spirit in man”), as distinct from his physical body.
“Soul” here means something different than what it means, for example, in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Since “soul” can mean different things in different contexts, we have to be sure always to define our terms and not fall into the trap of equivocating.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
”...that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Perish and everlasting life are opposites. Eternal life is presented throughout the Bible as the reward of the saved.
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matthew 26:6)
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6)
“But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Romans 6:22
God's gift of eternal life is a theme that runs through the Bible. I know that you know these scriptures. I am genuinely interested in the Catholic response.
“Eternal life” is not 100 percent synonymous with “everlasting existence.” Satan and the demons are given everlasting existence, but we would never say they have “eternal life,” which is based on eternal friendship with Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Bill's conclusion is that the idea of the immortal soul originating outside Christianity is accepted by many scholars outside the Church of God. There is actual legitimate evidence to be considered.
We don't want to commit the genetic fallacy — a logical fallacy that says the truthfulness of something depends on the source of that information.
Just because some pagans are guilty of damnable errors, it doesn't follow that every conclusion any pagan reaches is automatically wrong. With their God-given reasoning faculties, they can also deduce things that are true.
Pagans also came to a belief in deity, not just materialism. They saw fit that dedicated temples should be built (even before Solomon's Temple). Many believed in morality (remember Abimelech, king of Gerar, knowing that taking another man's wife was a “sin”; he didn't get this from Moses and the Law — Genesis 20).
There is truth in these things, though mixed with error. Likewise, it's true that man has a spiritual, immaterial dimension (a soul) that does not disintegrate with the body, but survives it; they are mistaken, however, to believe in any kind of reincarnation, or the idea that the soul must be “freed” from the shackles of the body in order to reach its full potential.
You wrote, “Christians believe explicitly in “the resurrection of the body,” which, for those who are saved, will be glorified and supernaturalized. It will “put on immortality.” And it will be reunited with the soul.”
“Either way, it is the COG position that most resemble paganism, presenting the “spirit in man” as something meant to escape the fleshly body, to be placed inside a “spirit body,” and to go on living apart from the physical body.
Which is to say, COGs believe the reward of the saved is to change life forms (with a nap in between).”
1 Corinthians 15
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
The Scriptures align with the traditional Christian view. What is it exactly that is “raised imperishable” according to 1 Corinthians 15:42? It is the perishable body that was sown.
Just this week during a road trip, my wife and I listened to a selection from an audio Bible and heard Romans 8. It makes the same point:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (verse 11).
It's these same mortal, dead bodies in the grave that will be given new life. Just like Jesus' body “also.” We're not talking about a transference of our spirits from one container into another.
I need to see how we differ from what you are saying when we say we will be transformed into immortal spiritual beings. That is a different “life form,” in a sense, though. The difference is we believe in what you call soul sleep. I like your analogy of a nap.
I recently received an email from Vance Stinson on the subject and I like the way he described the resurrected Christ:
“When He rose again, His human body—that same body that had been placed in the tomb—was revived and transformed into an immortal human body. His divine attributes and powers were fully restored, but He was now a glorified, deified Man... So He is still, today, the immortal God-Man. He is as human as He ever was, but He exercises His divine attributes and powers as fully as He ever did. This is why He is, not was, the New Adam, which means He is the New Humanity—a glorified, perfected, deified Humanity. And when we are joined to Him, we become a part of the New Humanity, and we look forward to the time when we will experience this new, deified Humanity in its fullness. “We will be made like Him, for we will see Him as He is.”
Vance's view, as stated, is absolutely correct and absolutely traditional. To the extent that you agree with what he wrote here, I agree with you. But most COGers would not say this, including CGI ministers and presenters, because it's not what you get from reading the Ambassador College Correspondence Course or hearing World Tomorrow broadcasts.
When we're talking about different “life forms,” as always we need to define our terms. Bill regularly defines what he means. He means we will no longer be human beings, but “spirit beings,” and that the “spirit in man” will be transferred to a body “composed of spirit.” That's clearly a different life form.
When Saint Paul says our bodies will be “spiritual,” he is not saying they will be composed of another kind of material called “spirit.”
Gifts and blessings can be spiritual, the law is spiritual, truths are spiritual, there is spiritual meat and drink — but that doesn't mean they are “made out of” spirit.
Even in the same letter, Saint Paul writes of human beings, then and there, being “spiritual” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 2:15, 3:1, 14:37), using the same word.
The “spiritual” body is one that the spirit fully enlivens and governs, imbuing it with immortality.
Our “life form” will be “different” in the sense that it will be improved, but not “different” in the sense of becoming a different kind or species of being. We will still be human, as Jesus is still human.
Catholics traditionally describe the glorified resurrection body with these four qualities:
Impassibility (We will no longer experience pain or death or physical evils.)
Brightness (We will literally radiate with glory as shiny, happy people.)
Agility (We will be able to go anywhere in the universe at the speed of thought, moving with sheer ease and swiftness.)
Subtility (Our souls will rule our bodies absolutely. Nothing — including walls, gravity, or any other force — will hinder us.)
I read the article you wrote about your change to Catholicism. I find your story intriguing. And although we have never met, I have had friends who knew you when you worked in Tyler and still say great things about you. My wife grew up Catholic and then converted to Church of God.
I like hearing the stories of Catholics who defected to become Protestants (but especially the other way around!). And who more interesting than those who left to join a COG, since that is my background?
When I talk with Lutherans or “nondenominational” friends of mine who were formerly Catholic, I find they generally don't want to face any pushback against their move because their mind is resolved and locked shut. To force a conversation with them feels like a personal attack. But I do like to hear their stories. It makes it easier for me to see how they went off track, and it helps me tailor my prayers for them personally.
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