Archive for the ‘ Church ’ Category

Will You Go To Hell With Me?

Time for a mini-series (that always has the potential of growing, I suppose, but it currently seems definite in my mind!).

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Galatians 2:11-13

Do you like your church? Do you like the place you gather with others to worship? Do you feel you fit in with everyone (or at least most of them)?

Have you drawn away from other churches or denominations? Have you drawn away from society as a whole?

Peter had a calling to reach out to the Israelites, and Paul to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Peter could be seen eating with non-Jews, because all believers are seen as Israelites. It was only when those who have believed in God their whole lives showed up that he felt a need to draw away from the Gentile believers. Paul called him on that.

Pulling yourself out of society or away from those who “do not believe as you do” is selfish. (The exception would be for a brand new believer who needs to make the move to be able to grow in his/her faith without being pulled back to his/her old habits and sins)

The other way this can be seen is by inviting people to your church.

This is not usually a bad thing. In fact, we are supposed to bring others into fellowship with believers and God.

The bad thing is when a) you have cut yourself/selves off from society completely and/or b) your walk is less than righteous … to be overly polite and politically correct.

a) Look at Westboro Baptist as an example: It is almost exclusively made up of family members. They have essentially been cut off from the world, and they routinely condemn the world as being hated by God (which is arguably true to a point). They have become so focused on what they believe to be true that nothing else is allowed in, and their beliefs cannot be questioned ever. God hates people!

b) We will stick with Westboro Baptist here, too: They lack the one thing God has commanded us to have. That is love. They do way more harm than good. They spread hate and dissension instead of love and peace.

In other words, it is like we are saying to people, instead of “Will you go to church with me?”, “Will you go to Hell with me?”

Living and “worshiping” this way leads more people to Hell than to Christ.

Kind of a downer, eh?

This is not necessarily a rebuke (though it could certainly be seen as an indictment against many churches in the West), but it is a call to examine yourself. What are your motives? What are you doing? How much are you loving on people whom you do not know (that well) or whom you do not like?

Imitating Christ’s Humility

I know this is a little later in the day than I have been posting these, but here is my follow-up from last week’s post!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

There are not only denominational differences, regional differences, and even congregational differences, but it is very difficult to even find one or two other people who believe exactly the way we do as individuals on every little thing (theologically, biblically, socially, and habitually).

We need to stop assuming we are right about everything, or at least more right than everyone else. Unless someone is flat-out heretical and/or blasphemous, we can still get along with our differences.

Therefore, how can we fulfill what Paul (and God!) has commanded us here? How can we be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose?” With another quote:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Matthew 22:37-39

Seek out and love God, then seek out and love on people. Show God’s love. Indiscriminately.

I have friends who are Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, charismatic, fundamentalist, “free-thinking” (I honestly still have no idea what that is really supposed to mean!), non-denominational, denominational, institutional, etcetera …

We get along for one important reason: We love God so much that our differences seem like nothing.

We each reach out to others in God’s love for one important reason: We know that God loves us first.

I dare you to try it.

Liberation

I thought for fun I would post one of my papers from school. It is a little longer than what I usually do (about twice as long!), but maybe you can learn something … or help me in my education! I hope you enjoy!

Liberation

            “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (LASB, 2005, Romans 8:21). History is rife with subjugation, abuses, and oppression. In this post-Enlightenment world, Western society is beginning to overcome the evils of the past. The past 50 years has seen the rise of Liberation Theology. The black community in the United States produced Black Liberation Theology. The Latin American masses have produced their own form of Liberation Theology. Women are coming out of the shadow of men with Feminist Theology. Each theology has its strengths and weaknesses, and they all start with the focus of overcoming through Christ.

Black Theology

           Probably the biggest reason so many Africans came to the United States of America was the slave trade. Many were brought simply to be bought and sold as slaves. The American Civil War played a pivotal role in freeing the blacks, as they have been called due to the darkness of their skin, from slavery. However, they were not given full rights in most instances as compared to the predominant white people. Blacks were still considered second-class citizens, at best.

This came to a head in the decades after the Second World War. The 1960’s were a turbulent time of war and protests, and the greatest protest of all was the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Headed by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. – who fought from a Christian standpoint of equality of all men – and Malcolm X – who took a form of Islam and called it Black Power, the embracement of the black identity – the movement quickly shattered all of the segregation and inequality.

During this time, there were some theologians who took the stances of King and Malcolm X and merged them. Black Liberation Theology sought equality for blacks with whites. This called for finding blacks’ unique identity and a view of the gospel tailored to this self-awareness. It was a call to take hold of one’s blackness and find freedom from the segregation and oppression of the dominant white society. God is found in these moments of liberation and is always fighting towards liberation for all people (Grenz & Olson, 1992).

The upside to Black Theology is that it strives to take the Christian message of freedom from bondage and make it applicable and understandable to a certain group of people. The entire Christian message is about freedom from sin and evil and all the ways in which it manifests itself. Sadly, many took this message and used it as justification for violence and a reverse-racism against whites and sometimes also other ethnicities. Joseph R. Washington, Jr. attempted to warn about separation as opposed to integration – the original intent of the Civil Rights Movement. He foresaw the growth in violence and lack of forgiveness that could grow. James H. Cone, the first recognized representative of Black Theology, also spoke of accepting one’s blackness but forgiving yourself and others. Blacks were seeking their freedom. Some chose violence and others peace (Grenz & Olson, 1992).

Latin American Liberation Theology

            Blacks had contemporaries who found violence and the gospel working together. In Latin American nations, poverty ran rampant. Most Latin American theologians saw the evil capitalist nations of the Northern Atlantic to blame for the condition of the masses. Because of the greed of these nations, leadership at home worked people ragged with minimal pay why taking most of the profits for themselves and using violence against anyone who dissented in any way. This led to a small wealthy class always getting richer and a large impoverished class always getting poorer (Grenz & Olson, 1992).

Theologians, like the blacks, turned to the liberating message of the Gospel. They argued that Christ is found only with the weak and impoverished. Therefore, the rich did not have Christ, and if violence was used by them to oppress the poor then violence is an acceptable response to find freedom. The only way to achieve true freedom, for both the poor and the rich, would be to do away with evil capitalism and turn to Christian Marxism. Only when people do not allow their possessions to own them but instead see all things as belonging to all people will they be liberated. Humanity will then be able to works toward a proper Christian society and wipe out poverty. This then leads to the teaching that good theology is dependent on right actions (orthopraxy) which help interpret theology, for God is only found with the poor. Helping the poor to be liberated reveals good theology (Grenz & Olson, 1992).

Liberation theology is great in that it reminds the Christian to have a heart for the poor and for transformation of society. The idea, however, that theology is dependent upon orthopraxy is flawed since only an understanding of what is right can lead to right action. The use of Marxism is dangerous since it has a tendency to deny sinful nature. History has shown that Marxism always leads to the exact outcome Liberation theologians seek to avoid. The acceptance of violence is also dangerous. It can help breed hatred for other people instead of the Christian call for loving our enemies.

Feminist Theology

            Women have felt this lack of love for millennia. Like the blacks and the poor, many women have felt subjugated and oppressed. Christianity should be the one place this is not true, but this has sadly not been the case. In the United States, blacks got the right to vote before women, and they could teach and preach in a church before women were allowed. All of this frustration built up to the point that Feminist Theology was born.

Feminist Theology arose at the same time as the others. Like the others there is the focus on freedom from oppression and right action. The differences arise in approach. Feminist theologians wish to redeem or remove the parts of the Bible that demonstrate (or seemingly demonstrate) oppression or abuse of women. They seek to remove the barrier between the sexes through interpreting the Bible through the feminist worldview. Feminists see Jesus as a feminist preacher, but His message has been twisted by the male-dominated worldview. Likewise, God is not a He but either genderless or a God/ess (Grenz & Olson, 1992).

Feminist Theology raises the awareness that women have not been given their proper place in Christianity or the world. However, in their attempt to fight sexism, feminists have made it too easy to reverse the sexism. In many ways, feminism has gone from seeking equality with men to superiority over men. Finally, it is always dangerous to remove or skip over parts of the Bible with which one is not comfortable. Doing so is almost like declaring oneself equal to God.

The biggest problem with each of these theologies is that of ethno- or gender-centrism. The focus shifts too much from Christ to humans. To say God is the God of only the poor or a certain ethnicity or a certain gender denies so many other attributes of God. Theology becomes pushing personal assertions and ideals onto God and declaring it truth instead of seeking truth and allowing God to properly shape one’s worldview and understanding of Him. When the focus moves to humanity, pride and sin and all that accompanies them – hatred, violence, selfishness, etcetera – easily takes hold. The gospel is about liberation, but liberation must never take control of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Grenz, Stanley J., & Olson, Roger E. (1992). 20th century theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. & Zondervan. (2005). Life Application Study Bible – NIV. Carol Stream, IL: Author.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It … Again …

Perhaps you remember five months ago all of the hype over Harold Camping and the impending rapture he calculated from the evidence in the Bible would occur on May 21. I made some comments on the whole affair here, here (tongue-in-cheek) and here.

Well, this week brings about part two of his prediction. You see, Harold explained that on May 21st God’s work of salvation came to an end, that the Holy Spirit was pulled from world (except believers, of course). No one else can be saved (be led to Christ). Instead, the final rapture in which the Elect (those who are saved) are taken up to meet Christ is the air takes place at the exact same time as the final judgement and destruction of Creation. This is all to happen …

This Friday, October 21st (2011, if you are confused on which “this Friday” I mean).

I have covered this topic before, as referenced above.

You know, if he is right about this date, amillenniallists have it all right (except the date. That is Harold Camping). On the other hand, if Harold has been right all along, then premillennialists are more right. I personally do not think postmillennialism has any basis in truth at all, but I will be friends with you even if you do think it has any basis in truth at all.

After that little rabbit-trail …

Can I get any comments? What do you think: Is the world coming to an end this weekend, or do we have more time? Or are we possibly disappearing before Friday?

Or do you think God has a rather hilarious sense of humor and will use this Friday to end everything as we know it to really shock Harry Camping … and everyone else?

Polluted Dreamers

Last week I looked at differences of beliefs between churches, denominations, cities, and what have you, and how it is our pride and misunderstanding which gets in the way of unity.

I may “get in trouble” with some those who come across my blog or with whom I regularly associate, but this week I am continuing the topic by looking at those who cause the trouble.

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written aboutlong ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

Jude 3-10

 As I mentioned last week, it is pride and misunderstandings which get in the way, but it is in individuals where it starts and then spreads. As Jude remarked, we were warned that people would infiltrate the Church. These people “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

What does this look like?

Jude mentions sexual immorality. We definitely see this with all of the Catholic priests in trouble for abusing children, pastors having affairs, and the Church approving of the homosexual lifestyle. But this is not all there is.

We also see the change of grace through moral preaching. This also has a tendency to deny Jesus, but it is not universal. These teachings are based on “You can do anything and live a good life. Just try really hard. Do not worry about failing! After all, we are sinners!” I wish I could say this is a paraphrase to get the point across, but this is almost a direct quote from many different pulpits.

This carries over to the next point that “It does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” This sounds great. There may even be truth in it, to a point (read C. S. Lewis’s works to see what I mean. I am not saying I agree, just pointing out a reference). However, Hitler sincerely believed the Germans were the new Arian race and far superior to all people. Stalin and Mao sincerely believed atheism was the way to go. Most people agree that they were sincerely wrong. Ask the dozens of millions of people who died under just the three men living out their sincere beliefs. According to this teaching, these three men are still on their way to heaven.

What about Jude’s line “those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire”? Many today are teaching “eternal does not always mean ‘forever’. Just look at some of God’s warnings in the Old Testament that His wrath would burn against Israel forever!” For starters, look at the context. Secondly, how come this may or may not apply to “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life“? We all must be wary of reading the Bible this way. There are people who will be FOREVER condemned to the Lake of Fire. I do not like. No one should, but it is there. It is true.

Many of the people who lead others astray make a fatal error.

They misunderstand how God works. This is not to say anyone can understand precisely how God works, but they tend to assume God does everything in ways we can and should understand. Therefore, miracles cannot work, because they go against the laws of nature. Jesus cannot be the only way to Heaven, because there is so much truth in the world. No one goes to or stays in Hell, because God could never harm His own Creation.

This is dangerous. This is prideful. This is eternally deadly.

They base their knowledge not primarily on what the Bible says, and many times not even tradition, but what “feels right” by their conscience. This is dangerous in that we do have a fallen nature. Just remember, Jonah did not think it felt right to save 100,000 people at Nineveh, but God still sent him to preach to and save them. Peter did not think it felt right that Jesus should die to save everyone, but Jesus still went and saved us.

Just so everyone knows, I am not calling all liberals or all Catholics or all Baptists or all Episcopalians or all whoevers bad Christians on their way to Hell. I would be just as guilty as those about whom this posting refers. I do not fully understand God’s grace, and He is more than capable of saving all those with whom I disagree and especially me.

These perversions and immorality Jude mentions are not necessarily sexual, but they can also include many of the things listed above.

What do you think? Am I way off base, or are many of the dissenters and distractors our leaders who allow pride and their own personal feelings to get in the way?

Denominational Cities

There are a lot of disagreements between the various denomination in the Church, and even between various congregations within those denominations. Some congregations are non-denominational, yet they can still be as unfriendly toward other churches.

During the Reformation, countries were divided by regions. Each region could choose to be Catholic, Lutheran, or whatever else was springing up at the time (predominantly Catholic or Lutheran). About a thousand years ago, during “The Great Schism” of the Church, Eastern Orthodox churches usually were not allowed in the Western part of what was left of the Roman Empire, and Roman Catholic churches usually were not allowed in the Eastern part.

It makes one wonder: Did the various cities squabble between each other during the time of the Apostles?

Did the Roman believers say to the Corinthian or Ephesian believers “You have too much focus on sex!”

Did the Galatians say to the Colossians “You follow too many rules!”

Did the Colossians reply to the Galatians “You are changing the gospel!”

It is a historical fact that all of the major Church Councils in the first millennium A.D. came together to resolve disputes between believers, with many disagreements based in different cities.

So, did the cities and regions bicker between each other while remaining somewhat united within each city (because we know many Jews attempted to disrupt the believers)?

I read an article a few months back about Buenos Aires pastors from across the denominational spectrum finding the need for city-wide unity between churches. There are still issues, but it does demonstrate that it is possible for a city to be unified in Christ.

The real issue, I think, is that there is a lack of proper communication. When two sides come together and each is certain of its own rightness and the wrongness of the other, that is not communication. That is two sides yelling at each other. With everyone yelling, nothing can be heard.

We need to get back to patience and active listening. We need to remember how to investigate and learn. We need a paradigm shift (change our thinking).

Instead of focusing on what is wrong with other denominations and churches, we should focus on what is right, where we agree. Should we try to preserve sound doctrine? Of course! However, we should not get up in arms over something as simple as a piano bench, nor should we write off others has heretics because some believe in infant baptism or only adult baptism. I will not tell you where I stand on the baptism issue (at least not now). However, if you cannot even associate with someone because of this belief while at the same time they disagree with your definition of speaking in tongues, get over yourself. If you cannot stand to be near someone who believes human free-will plays a bigger role than you think it does, get over yourself. If you think everyone who believes in pre-destination and election is too legalistic, but you yourself refuse to listen to secular music, get over yourself. All of these go both ways!

Our problem is not disagreements over doctrine or benches or paint or friendships. Our problem is actually two-fold:

1) Pride. We get in our own way.

2) Assumptions and misunderstandings. If a man has beer cans and bottles all around his house, you might assume he is a drunkard or partier. Later, you find out he goes around collecting cans and bottles for recycling and keeps one or two from each location. See how simple it can be to misjudge a situation? We often do this within the Church.

Remember, Jesus said “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

No wonder the church suffers! We do not even show ourselves love!

To be fair, though, too many people both in and out of the Church (at least in our Western culture) rarely take the time to learn why someone thinks a certain way or acts the way they do. People in and out of the Church want things their own way.

Perhaps we could be unified cities again if we could learn patience and how to get over ourselves …

“Body Ritual Among the Nacirema”

The topic I am approaching this week happens to also be along the same lines of what is being discussed in my theology class this week! Therefore, I humbly request you follow the link below to read an article I read for this class. I personally find it to be AMAZING! It relates whether you are aware of it or not when you read my second post this week.

The topic this week is loving the entire Body of Christ, irrespective of what we think others wrongly believe or practice.

Enjoy!

(If you cannot link, copy and paste this: https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html )