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In Case With Global Implications, Finland Puts Christians On Trial For Their Faith


Reported By Joy Pullmann | NOVEMBER 23, 2021

Read more at https://thefederalist.com/2021/11/23/in-case-with-global-implications-finland-puts-christians-on-trial-for-their-faith/

In Case With Global Implications, Finland Puts Christians On Trial For Their Faith
Photo Image courtesy International Lutheran Council

Meet the man who appears to be the first in the post-Soviet Union West to be brought up on criminal charges for publishing long-held Christian beliefs. Juhana Pohjola wouldn’t be cast to play his own part if Hollywood made a movie about a bishop put on trial for his faith. The Finnish pastor has inherited a place in the church of Martin Luther, but it appears none of Luther’s pugnacity or vitriol. In person, Pohjola, 49, is forthright but unassuming, and gentle. Stereotypically, the Finn is thin and tall. He often pauses while speaking to carefully consider his next words. He listens attentively to others with far less impressive resumes.

In more than two decades as a pastor, Pohjola has ministered to congregations as small as 30. He has spent his life building a network of faithful churches across Finland, many of which started with a few people gathered for prayer, Bible study, hymn-singing—and communion, if they can get a pastor. In an in-person interview with The Federalist, Pohjola urged fellow Christian leaders to be willing to seek out “one lost sheep” instead of crowds and acclaim.

This is the man who appears to be the first in the post-Soviet Union West to be brought up on criminal charges for preaching the Christian message as it has been established for thousands of years. Also charged in the case that goes to trial on January 24 is Pohjola’s fellow Lutheran and a Finnish member of Parliament, Paivi Rasanen. Rasanen’s alleged crimes in a country that claims to guarantee freedom of speech and religion include tweeting a picture of a Bible verse. Potential penalties if they are convicted include fines and up to two years in prison.

Finnish Authorities: The Bible Is Hate Speech

Rasanen and Pohjola are being charged with “hate speech” for respectively writing and publishing a 24-page 2004 booklet that explains basic Christian theology about sex and marriage, which reserves sex exclusively for within marriage, which can only consist of one man and one woman, for life. The Finnish prosecutor claims centuries-old Christian teachings about sex “incite hatred” and violate legal preferences for government-privileged identity groups.

Writer Rod Dreher pointed out the witch hunt nature of this prosecution: “Räsänen wrote that pamphlet seven years before LGBT was added to the national hate-speech law as a protected class. She was investigated once before for the pamphlet, and cleared — but now she’s going to undergo another interrogation.”

Rasanen and Pohjola both have adamantly affirmed “the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.” Christian theology teaches that all human beings are precious, as all are made in God’s image and offered eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In advance of the trial, Rasanen and Pohjola have been interrogated by police for hours about their theology. Pohjola told me in the interrogation police treated Christian beliefs as thought crimes. In a statement, Rasanen noted that the police publicly admitted their interpretation of Finland’s law would make publishing the Bible a hate crime.

“It is impossible for me to think that the classical Christian views and the doctrine of the majority of denominations would become illegal. The question here is about the core of Christian faith; how a person gets saved into unity with God and into everlasting life though the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, it is crucial to also talk about the nature of sin,” Rasanen told Dreher. “As we are living in a democratic country, we must be able to disagree and express our disagreement. We have to be able to cope with speech that we feel insults our feelings. Many questions are so debatable and contradictory that we have to have the possibility of discussing. Otherwise, the development is towards a totalitarian system, with only one correct view.”

Major International Implications

Humans rights lawyer Paul Coleman, who spoke to The Federalist from his Alliance Defending Freedom International office in Vienna, Austria, says Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases are a “canary in the coalmine” for freedom of speech across the West. ADF International is providing legal support for Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases.

“Although all European countries have these hate speech laws, and these hate speech laws are increasingly being used against citizens for things that they say, this is the first time we’ve really seen Christians face criminal prosecution for explaining their biblical views,” Coleman said. “…It’s unprecedented. We’ve not seen attacks on free speech on this level in Europe, and that’s why they are extremely important cases, not just for the people of Finland and Paivi Rasanen and the bishop themselves, but for all of Europe. If this is upheld in one jurisdiction, we will no doubt see it in other jurisdictions as well.”

Such “hate speech” laws exist in every European country and Western countries such as Canada and Australia, and descend from Soviet influence. Coleman called them “sleeper laws,” saying that in other countries “they could be used any time just like they are in Finland. People need to mobilize against these laws and overturn them.”

Legally privileging certain sexual behavior has thus broken western countries’ promises of equality before the law for all citizens, as well as enabling government discrimination against citizens who exercise their free speech and religious liberty, as in the Baronnelle Stutzman and Jack Phillips cases in the United States.

“Establishing standards of identity” also lets government meddle in theological controversies that are none of its business, said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw, who directs church relations for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and has known Pohjola for decades. Pohjola’s church is an international partner of the LCMS.

From a natural law and historic Western perspective, “the government isn’t supposed to get into people’s brains and tell them what’s right and wrong to believe and say,” Shaw noted in a phone interview. “That’s not their realm. Their realm is in externals, things like protect people in their bodies, go to war when necessary, and punish criminals… This is really what’s at stake [in the Pohjola case]. Government has lost its moorings and doesn’t know its purpose.”

From Part-Time Pastor to Bishop

After theological study in Finland and the United States, Pohjola’s first congregation in Helsinki started with about 30 members, he says. It was only able to support him part-time at first. He remembered his wife accompanying the congregation’s hymn-singing on a piano while their firstborn daughter, a baby at the time, laid on a blanket on the floor nearby.

Finland’s state church began openly disobeying Christian theology concerning sex differences amid the global sexual revolution of the 1960s. So, Christians alienated by the state church’s embrace of anti-Christian cultural demands sought faithful pastors like Pohjola, who are known as “confessional” for adhering to historic Christian confessions. The resulting growth of his tiny congregation gradually led to establishing a seminary, then dozens of mission churches, which grew as the theologically unfaithful state church shrank. In 2013, 25 of these new confessional congregations formed the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Finland. Today, that diocese oversees 45 congregations and missions and is training 64 pastors.

That growth has been accompanied by suffering, including persecution first from Pohjola’s own church.

First Persecuted By His Own Church

In 2009, Pohjola was awarded the theological journal Gottesdienst’s Sabre of Boldness Award, which is granted “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ, while engaged in the confession of His Pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces, and at the greatest personal risk.” The award honored Pohjola, with other faithful Finnish pastors, for standing firm as Finland’s state church sought civil charges against them for refusing to disobey the Bible’s commands that only men be sent to lead spiritual warfare as pastors.

Like Luther before him, Pohjola was expelled by his own church body in 2014 for adhering to God’s word on this matter. The notice of his discharge declared Pohjola was “obviously unfit to be a pastor.” At the time, he responded with grief but also by saying that he must obey God rather than men, lamenting: “Instead of the Church being purged with God’s Word, she is being purged from God’s Word.”

In the interview last week, Pohjola said being defrocked from “his baptismal church” grieves him to this day. On his mother’s side, Pohjola said, his family includes Lutheran pastors in that church going back to the 17th century Reformation. But he could not disobey God’s commands to retain his social status or employment.

Division or Unity? Yes

Pohjola’s separation from Finland’s state church also had the consequence of uniting him and his flock with other confessional Christians across the globe. The International Lutheran Council is a global network of theologically unified churches, and like the confessional churches in Finland, that network is growing.

Mathew Block, the ILC’s communications manager, noted that the heightened contradictions between increasingly unnatural pagan practices and historic Christian teachings are causing a global “confessional realignment.” It’s forcing people to make a real decision about where they stand rather than allowing them to inhabit the increasingly nonexistent, indecisive middle. This is affecting churches all over the world. While it means divisions in some areas, it also is leading to unity in others. For example, despite other important theological differences, all the world’s largest Christian bodies agree with the doctrines for which the Finnish government is persecuting Pohjola. That allows them to speak in chorus to government leaders.

Already many dozens of top religious leaders across the world have formally raised their concerns with Rasanen and Pohjola’s prosecution to the Finnish government and the United Nations. Several U.S. members of Congress have also asked U.S. agencies to take action against Finland for these human rights abuses.

“I encourage Roman Catholic ecclesiastical leaders and all those who care for souls to speak up and join hands and lock arms with us as we talk about the absolute necessity of our historic Christian values of one man, one woman, marriage, and the freedom to be able to believe it, to say it, to publish books about it, and find practical ways through hospitality, education, and other social engagement to make society strong that way,” Shaw said. “All churches—one could even say all religions but in particular the Roman Catholic faith—this reflects their historic commitments as well.”

The Shepherd Faces Wolf Attacks for the Sheep

In August 2021, the international Lutheran church recognized Pohjola’s steadfast leadership amid persecution by supporting his election to bishop of Finland’s confessional diocese. The ILC hosted Pohjola’s November 2021 speaking tour in the United States, and is raising funds across the world to raise awareness of his case.

“Our mission has been that, if the shepherd sees that one sheep is missing, he knows,” Pohjola said of the churches he oversees. He noted that many people coming to faithful Finnish churches are seeking love and connection from a church family as the secular world becomes increasingly isolated and family-less, in no small part because of pagan sexual behavior and beliefs.

“People don’t go to church for social capital now. This is a serious life and they want to be serious with God. So, churches have to build communities that stand on solid Lutheran, biblical doctrine,” Pohjola says.

While he may not share Luther’s temperament, Pohjola’s response to his own persecution by church and civil authorities does mirror Luther’s simplicity four centuries ago: “Here I stand. I can do no other.” He adds a pastoral message to Christians watching governments turn on them today.

“We have to learn from the past, Christians who have suffered under persecution, and be prepared,” Pohjola said. “But it’s not something to be worried about, because Christ remains faithful to His church and wherever he is leading us, He will come with us. He will provide everything that is needed for the future of His Christians and His church.”

You can hear Pohjola talk about his case and its implications during his November visit to the United States here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=413205860293995

And watch a Federalist Radio Hour interview with Pohjola here:

Loving Your Neighbor Is More Important Than Winning An Election


Written by John Patton  DECEMBER 1, 2020

In the aftermath of a tight election outcome, it seems that while many matters are important to consider, one is more pressing: We are struggling to love our neighbors.

We are not any more or less fallible than human beings in past generations. Humans are humans, capable of profound works of love, compassion, and ingenuity as well as malice, destruction, and banality. Yet in our current milieu, it appears our political divisions are as rancorous as they have ever been.

The problem could be the particular messages themselves — Lower marginal tax rates! Higher marginal tax rates! The Iran deal was bad! The Iran deal was good! Build the wall! Don’t build the wall! — and sometimes it is. More often, though, the issue is that the medium has become the message.

Interacting digitally is as consequential as the messages we are sharing. Our social media and meme-based interactions generally do not promote understanding. Rather, they facilitate misunderstanding and division because they are disembodied.

We all know the poison of online comments sections and the Twitter trolls and random Facebookers who say outrageous things. I am not the first and will not be the last to lament our digital connectedness ripping the national fabric.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

What can repair this breach? The answer is simple: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As recorded in the gospels, Jesus gave this commandment to love others second only to the greatest commandment: to love God.

You might ask, what does it mean to love my neighbor? Are my neighbors only the people who live geographically proximate to me? Certainly not. A lawyer in the first-century world asked the itinerant teacher Jesus of Nazareth, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story many of us know as the Good Samaritan.

In the story, robbers severely beat and rob a Jewish man and leave him half dead on the side of the road. Two different members of the clergy walk by, indifferent to the man’s suffering. They choose not to see him. Eventually, a Samaritan, a rival ethnic group from the Israelites, stops to help the man. The Samaritan goes above and beyond to alleviate the man’s suffering by nursing his wounds and paying for his stay at a local inn.

People often understand the Good Samaritan story as a one-off “help a stranger in need” parable, but this view completely misses the point. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must be able to see them. Usually, our neighbors won’t be literally beaten, lying by the roadside, and they usually will not be complete strangers. They will instead be all around us, daily intruding into our lives with their needs. They also will often be quite different from us, perhaps even offensively different, as the Israelite man was to the Samaritan and vice versa.

The two men who passed by the beaten man chose willful blindness, pretending to be oblivious to his needs. The Samaritan saw the beaten man as an embodied, physical presence whom he had means and opportunity to help. He chose to see the victim’s need and have compassion on him, someone toward whom the Samaritan was supposed to be indifferent.

Get Offline

Many of us have not learned or have forgotten the muscle memory of loving our neighbor. We have chosen the disembodied, emotive frenzy of cable news, Facebook, and Twitter to try to connect with the world around us. We choose to ride the vagaries of tragedy and controversy concerning events that are happening 100, 1,000, or 10,000 miles away that in most cases will have no discernible effect on our daily lives.

In doing so, we choose to look away from the people around us: the obnoxious co-worker who is desperately lonely, the single mom who could use a night off, or the materially wealthy person who, although he “has it all,” is starved for real human connection. Human beings already have a prodigious capacity for self-deceit. The added layers of self-righteousness that arise from spending countless hours in the self-referential algorithmic vortex of social media positively blind us.

If we were to focus on the needs of those around us and eschew our devices and the news cycle more and more, the world would shift under our feet in the best way. At the risk of sounding like a facile high school graduation speech, we could “change the world.”

Part of the problem in news and media consumption is that we have, to borrow a phrase from Minneapolis-based writer James Lileks, non-contiguous information streams.” We are essentially able to consume the news that fits our worldview to such a degree that, after a while, the broad political camps in the United States only talk past one another and not to each other.

To combat this, we should spend less time on our devices because we are so focused on those around us and their needs that the emotional and psychic vacuum of the news cycle simply cannot get traction in our lives. This will do two things. First, it will make us more pleasant and happy.

Second, it will have the salutary market effect of winnowing the least skilled and worst motivated actors in news and media, forcing them out. As a result, we will be pushed toward increased consolidation in media, making it more difficult to retain an audience when alarmism or salacious pandering to partisans is the modus operandi. It is hardly a perfect solution, but is it worse than our current setup? I think not.

Be a Friend

Elections have consequences, to be sure. The result of a Biden administration or a parallel universe where Donald Trump won a second term, however, pales in comparison with the would-be effect of tens of millions of Americans choosing to reduce substantially their engagement with their mobile devices, social media, and the news cycle more generally.

Tens of millions of Americans choosing instead to focus their attention on the needs of those around them, even those we find distasteful? That is a country of which I want to be a part.

If you feel the particular burden of public engagement, start first and foremost with your local municipality or town, your local councilman or alderwoman, or your local school board. The needs of so many people are all around us if we choose to open our eyes and embrace the discomfort of engaging real people with real problems, a discomfort that can lead to deep contentment as we see and love our neighbors. Let us choose this discomfort over the dopamine hit of social media, and over the false god of memes, the news cycle, and an outrage machine that exists to stoke our fears.

When my children get on the school bus every day, my wife says to them, “Find a friend who needs a friend.” Absolutely no election result, from now until forever, changes the fact that people around you need a friend. Find a friend who needs a friend, and choose to love that neighbor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
John lives in St. Louis, writes in his free time, and has almost four children.

Video: Bro Hands Out Bibles In Public – Then The MUSLIMS Show Up


Published by ClashDaily.com | on December 28, 2017

URL of the original posting site: https://clashamerica.com/video-bro-hands-bibles-public-muslims-show/

 

The Muslim guy is bold enough to openly threaten the life the man handing out Bibles publicly.

Un-freaking-believable.

Just a few minutes later, the man had the table overturned and was attacked by several men.

Coincidence?

Probably not. 

It’s so strange to me that the ‘tolerant’ leftists are so keen to jump to the defense of the intolerant Muslims. Come to think of it, it’s not really a surprise. Leftists aren’t tolerant either.

People Are Mad The Bible Museum Represents ‘Only A Judeo-Christian Perspective’


Reported by Photo of Amber Randall Amber Randall | Civil Rights Reporter | 10:54 AM 11/19/2017

Some people have voiced frustration with the fact that the Museum of the Bible only represents a “Judeo-Christian” perspective and leaves out other religions Friday.

These critics say the Museum of the Bible, within walking distance from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., doesn’t reflect other religious points of view, such as an Islamic one, and also singularly focuses on American Protestantism, reports The New York Times. One professor also critiqued the museum for not telling viewers which areas in the Bible are historically accurate or not.

“There are a number of prominent omissions that make it clear that it’s not a museum of the Bible as one might imagine it from a secular perspective. They don’t do a good job of talking about whether parts of the Bible are historically accurate,” Joel S. Baden, Yale University’s professor of the Hebrew Bible, told the outlet. Baden also disagreed with the lack of representation of Islam and Mormonism in the Museum of the Bible.

The Museum of the Bible, with six floors of religious pieces, opened Saturday to the public. Described as a “must see” museum of 2017 by the Smithsonian Institution, the museum offers viewers the opportunity to see some of the earliest Bibles made in the United States, an Israeli scribe working on a Torah and parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hobby Lobby CEO Steven Green founded the museum and set up the foundation that would fund the $500 million project. 

Museum executive director Tony Zeiss said the museum was trying to educate people about an influential historical text, noting that 100 scholars added their input during the museum’s creation.

“Things are divisive, but we will not get into any of the cultural or social debates if possible. We just want to present the Bible as it is, and let people make up their own minds,” Zeiss told TheNYT.

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Humanist to Church: Drop Bible as Moral Guide


Authored by Dr. Michael Brown Guest Blogger | Tuesday, May 2, 2017 @ 11:50 AM

Humanist to Church: Drop Bible as Moral Guide / Humanist stumbles in his defense of openly gay United Methodist bishop Karen Oliveto.

What is lacking is the understanding of human beings (including Naff), which is exactly why we need God’s Word.- Dr. Michael Brown

A Huffington Post Humanist Urges the Church to Stop Using the Bible as a Moral Guide. It’s one thing when a humanist attacks the Bible. That’s expected. It’s another thing when a humanist attacks a Christian denomination for using the Bible as a moral guide. But that’s exactly what humanist author Clay Farris Naff did on the Huffington Post on April 29th.

Naff was upset that the highest court of the Methodist Church struck down the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto, since her only infraction was being married to another woman. How, he wondered, could the church punish her for love?

He writes, “To anyone free of ancient prejudices, the injustice of condemning Oliveto is plain. How can love be wrong? How can love enfolded in commitment and fidelity be wrong?”

The answers are simple and self-evident. Love is not always right, even when it’s “enfolded in commitment and fidelity.”

A father may love his adult daughter in a romantic way, but that doesn’t make the relationship right. Twin brothers in their 30s may love each other in a sexual way, but that doesn’t make their sexual activity right. A man who no longer loves his wife may now love his female co-worker, but that doesn’t make his adultery right.

It’s possible, of course, that Naff has no problem with consensual adult incest or with adultery. And maybe he has no issue with polygamy or polyamory. But as a thinking man (which he clearly is), he should be able to understand that conservatives have reasons other than “ancient prejudices” for opposing gay marriage. After all, there were ancient cultures that celebrated homosexuality, yet they still recognized marriage as male-female only.

That’s because marriage has had a specific function and purpose through the millennia, and it’s not just “ancient prejudices” that cause many of us to reject its redefinition. Or is it only prejudice that believes God designed men for women and women for men? Or is it only bigotry that believes it’s best for a child to have a mom and dad?

Naff asks, “What possible harm can her marriage cause? Not even the claim of setting a ‘bad’ example holds water. People do not choose their spouses on the example set by clergy. If they did, there’d be no Catholic children, and poor, sultry Elizabeth Taylor could never have married even once.”

Actually, many people do follow the examples set by their leaders (including clergy). As for Naff’s argument regarding Catholicism, wouldn’t he argue that the sins of some pedophile priests have been especially heinous, because they are looked to as religious leaders?

Of course, I’m not comparing Oliveto’s “marriage” to her partner to a priest abusing boys. I’m simply saying that clergy have a special responsibility to set good examples. Their bad examples have a wider, ripple effect.

Naff then focuses on the Bible itself, using the same hackneyed, pro-gay arguments that have been refuted time and again. (For example, he claims that Paul’s categorical prohibition against male and female homosexual practice in Romans 1 is merely “a tirade about some unnamed people who turned their backs on God and indulged in, er, Roman-style orgies”).

Not only so, but he seems oblivious to the idea that, when Methodist leaders speak about “Christian teaching” on homosexuality, they do not refer exclusively to the Bible. They’re speaking in general about the unanimous teaching of virtually all branches of Christianity for nearly 2,000 years. And they’re speaking in particular about the clear teachings of the Methodist Church throughout its history.

But this is not important for Naff, since he feels there’s a much deeper problem with the Methodist Church: hypocrisy. Why, he wonders, does the Church not ban divorce the way it bans homosexual practice?

The answer is that, according to Scripture, there are some legitimate causes for divorce, and these are recognized by the Methodist Church. It is the question of remarriage that is in question, but that’s a question he fails to ask. (He could have made a better argument had he addressed that question.)

Either way, Naff isn’t calling for a church ban on divorce. Instead, he explains, “I am trying to help you see that the Bible may be many things — historical treasure, poetical comfort, and sacred scripture — but as a moral guide, it is hopeless. Some claim to follow its commands literally, but they deceive themselves. No one can do so, for the Bible is a hodgepodge of contradictions and morally obscure or outrageous injunctions.”

So, it’s fine if we take the Bible to be “sacred scripture,” as long as we realize that it’s “a hodgepodge of contradictions and morally obscure or outrageous injunctions,” not to mention “hopeless” as “a moral guide.”

Thanks but no thanks.

That kind of “sacred scripture” is neither sacred nor scripture. Why anyone would take comfort in its words and find guidance for life if, in fact, the Bible is what Naff describes it to be?

After launching a few more (weak) salvos against the Scriptures, Naff writes, “Look at the Bible with fresh eyes, and you’ll find the record of ancient peoples who, lacking any police force, detectives, or proper jails, did their best to construct rules for getting along with each other and used the fear of God to enforce them. Look even closer and you’ll find that those in power often bent the rules in their favor. I suppose God might have wanted the people to heap silver, gold, and fatted calves on their priests, exempt them from any real work, and give them a retirement plan (Numbers 7 – 8), but I find it more likely that the priests themselves heard the Word of God that way.”

Put another way, this is not the Word of God, so don’t treat it as the Word of God.

Instead, Naff states, “I’ve shown that the United Methodist Church is interpreting the Bible to privilege the heterosexual majority while sanctimoniously applying ancient ‘laws’ in a questionable way to Bishop Oliveto. But more important, I hope I’ve shown that Methodists, and all other religionists, would do well abandon the effort to apply scriptural codes to contemporary life. Draw inspiration, by all means, but recognize that the hard work of thinking through right and wrong remains a moral duty for us all.”

In truth, Naff did not prove his points at all, let alone demonstrate them in such fashion that Methodist leaders should feel beholden to follow his counsel. But it is not merely Naff’s attack on the Bible that falls short. It’s his logic that falls short as well, since, if he is right in his description of the Bible, there’s no reason for the Methodist Church (or any church) to exist. There’s not even a reason for a single synagogue to be found on the planet if what we call sacred Scripture is merely a compendium of human ideas, many of them flawed, and none of them perfectly inspired.

In short, if Jesus is not the Son of God who died for our sins and rose from the dead, Christians are believing lies. End of subject. And if the Torah was not given by God through Moses, Jews are believing lies. That’s all that needs to be said.

Not only so, but if the Bible is not a moral guide, it cannot be a spiritual guide, since it purports to tell us who God is and what He requires from us, His creation.

I do understand Naff’s concerns about religious fundamentalism, which he has articulated elsewhere. But he fails to understand that:

1) the Bible’s moral witness is quite coherent when studied holistically and in-depth;

2) scholars have answers for the questions he has raised, along with many more; and

3) there are solid reasons, both practical and moral, to stand against homosexual “marriage.”

What is lacking, then, is not the inspiration of Scripture or the wisdom of Scripture or the moral authority of Scripture. What is lacking is the understanding of human beings (including Naff), which is exactly why we need God’s Word.

Human reasoning alone will always fail us. God’s Word will never fail. 

Dr. Michael Brown Guest Blogger, Distinguished Author, Speaker and Christian Apologist More Articles

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