Friday, May 05, 2006

I'm loving angels instead... or so it seems.

I don't buy the Sunday papers. I don't buy things on a Sunday, period, because I don't want to break the Lord's Day/Sabbath. But the Sunday papers come into our house, so that occasionally I have a glance at them if I get a moment or there's something of interest later in the week - because, in my mind anyway, they could have been got after Sunday by then, so I can read them. However, this posting isn't about my strange notion on Sunday papers, but rather about something I noticed in the Sunday World these past two weeks.

In their centre pages, they ran a 2 week 8-page per week special report on 'Ulster's fast growing religion' - Angelology. Rather interesting reading. The reports contained within suggest that by getting on contact with your guardian angel, you can harness their positive energy for your spiritual life. A particular talent of the angels appears to be finding parking spaces when it's raining and you need to stop outside a shop - that could turn out handy enough.

You're also encouraged to get in touch with your guardian angel, to learn their name, because they will provide guidance in your life, and let them bear burdens for you. There then follows reports on the four main archangels, and their particular specialities.

So, am I now loving angels instead? Am I believer? Not at all!

As the Bible says, 'there is nothing new under the sun.' (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This twisted interest in angels is not new - we find similar things going on with the false teaching being countered in Colossae - as Paul writes 'Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in details about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head.' (Colossians 2:18-19).

You see, I'm not having a go at the whole thing about angels because I think they don't exist. Angels do exist. Fact. Check out Luke chapter one if you don't believe me - Gabriel was a busy angel, visiting first Zechariah and then Mary with messages from God. But rather, my problem with the 'angel religion' is that it misses the whole point of what angels are here to do.

The very word 'angel' comes from the Greek word which can mean both 'angel' and 'messenger'. Angels are the messengers of God, who serve him day and night in heaven. So in one sense, they are just servants of God, as we are. Now, it does seem that there are such things as guardian angels - those specifically tasked to look out for people. I'm thinking particularly of the incident when Peter was miraculously released from prison by an angel (Acts 12). When Peter goes to the door of Mary's house, and Rhoda goes to the door and tells them that Peter is standing at the door, they don't believe her, saying 'It is his angel!' (Acts 12:15). Now perhaps they meant that a messenger from Peter was standing there, but if they meant angel, then it is interesting to note their response. They didn't go out to worship the angel, or to invite their guidance and help.

However, my main problem with the angel worshippers is that they get the wrong end of the stick entirely. Angels, the messengers of God, never proclaimed themselves. They only served God, proclaiming His word, and their focus was always to point the people they meet towards God. And do you know what? Those preaching angels should have a wee read at Hebrews 1 and 2. There, the writer clearly demonstrates how much Jesus is superior to the angels. 'After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs' (Heb 1:3-4).

Jesus is superior because he is the Son of God (Heb 1:5 cf Ps 2:7, 2 Sam 7:14), worshipped by the angels (Heb 1:6 cf Deut 32:43), given the throne (Heb 1:8-12 cf Ps 45:6,7; Ps 102:25-27), and told to sit at God's right hand until his enemies are his footstool (Heb 1:13 cf Ps 110:1). Not to denigrate angels, but Heb 1:14 show their purpose and role in the cosmos - not to be worshipped, but rather: 'Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?' But angels only serve the elect when they are pointing towards Christ, not themselves.

So how do we react to this trend in society? Do we see it as a great opportunity to reach out to these people who are obviously hungering spiritually for something, but have grasped the wrong end of the stick? Let's hope, though, that we don't get caught up in it, and get led astray from the true focus of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ - who alone bears our burdens, is our guide, and provides all that we need in life.

Two words of warning remain for us. The first is to watchfulness, because 'even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light' (2 Corinthians 11:14), and so we must watch to not be deceived. But even more important is the guiding principle of accepting the true gospel, as we have received from the apostles and their successors - 'But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.' (Galatians 1:8)

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