Archives For April 2010

The 16th Chapter of the John comes to mind most frequently when we think of Jesus giving us the Holy Spirit. Here it is:

John 16:12-15 NIV

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

Jesus spoke these words just before he was turned over for crucifixion. This was probably the last time he had alone with the original eleven apostles. He clearly says that the apostles could not understand many of the things Jesus wants to tell them. The way these words are framed it appears that the “Spirit of truth” is very subservient to Jesus and not an equal member of the Trinity as commonly shown today. It sounds like the Holy Spirit is just a mouthpiece for Jesus. Putting that aside we come to another aspect of the Holy Spirit that needs to be addressed. Most think that the Holy Spirit is just that, a spirit and not a being. Of course being portrayed as a dove just re-enforces that idea. But Jesus, and the apostles in the book of Acts, clearly refers to the Holy Spirit as “him”. This would seem to indicate that he is a being.

To raise another basic question was the mission of the Holy Spirit only to come to the Apostles or is he meant to be our counselor as well? That is, is the Holy Spirit around today to guide us through our lives with the lessons that Jesus said we were not yet ready for? Could we still be learning things that we were not yet ready to learn even in the future?  Of course, we will investigate this much more in the coming posts when we study what the book of Acts says about him.

Let’s look at a couple of other places in the Gospel text that talk about the Holy Spirit.

Luke 12:8-12

“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Matt 12:30-32

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 

It looks like these two sets of verses probably reported the same incident but with some different words and possible meanings. Of course Matthew was there to hear these words from Jesus. Luke’s version was probably relayed to him via a third source so maybe that may be the cause of the variation. I can only guess whether Luke’s source was an eyewitness. But I am getting off track here. This reference to the Holy Spirit is much different than the first one I cited. Is Jesus talking about two different entities? I just don’t know. The only way I can reconcile these stories is to take where Jesus calls the spirit “the Spirit of Truth” and say he is talking about “truth” here then maybe this makes sense. But then “truth” is not a person as Jesus clearly stated in the first verse?  Taking that aside, he might be saying that if you deny the truth you are denying the Holy Spirit. One of the study Bibles I use refer to this as someone who would attribute to Satan the miracles done by Christ. In many of today’s Christian denominations we espouse that no matter what your sin is Jesus forgives you. These verses seem to say that at least for this sin you are not forgiven.

Having just finished up an extensive set of posts on Quakers, the Holy Spirit is on my mind. So I am now going to concentrate on what the Gospels and book of Acts say about the Holy Spirit. This is going to be a seven part post so please bear with me. I find myself tackling tough theological issues lately. I will try to get back to my regular shorter discussions after this one of complete. But no promises.
Except for a book by Billy Graham that I read years ago I have not studied any theologians’ views of the Holy Spirit so this round is going to pretty much just me and how I personally interpret the biblical words about the Holy Spirit. From my exposure to Christianity the Holy Spirit seems to be the much forgotten member of the Trinity. I know that any three legged stool will sit without rocking but it seems that the Christian stool of the Trinity is very unbalanced. Given the extreme emphasis on biblical text by many Christian sects, to the almost exclusion of messages from the Holy Spirit it seems that at least some Christians would like to rename the trinity as The Father, Son, and Holy Bible!  

The most often used icon related to the Holy Spirit is a bird. Yes, the dove does have biblical connotations but I think the image itself tends to diminish the Holy Spirit’s perceived status among Christians and others. While almost all of us love birds they just don’t have the stature of the “old bearded man” that usually depicts God the Father, or the stately European figures that we often see of Jesus. Another is the name given to him by some of the Bible versions around today which is the Holy Ghost. Ghosts have a much different context now than they probably did in biblical times. We have all watched movies like Ghost Busters; that is not what Jesus had in mind when he talked about his partner! Some of us even remember the cartoon Casper, the Friendly Ghost. While he had a more cuddly demeanor, that was also not what Jesus had in mind. So, to me the Holy Spirit is getting a bad rap by many people today. Let’s try and set the record straight 🙂 .  

Just what does the New Testament say about the Holy Spirit? That is what I will be investigating. Quakers believe that the Holy Spirit gives each of us personal revelations including how to live our lives. They also believe that they are closer to the beliefs of the early Christians than most other sects around today. These posts will, among other things, concentrate on just how the Holy Spirit interacted with the apostles and other early Christians. 
 In my mind, the Holy Spirit is probably the least understood member of the Trinity especially among most Protestants and to a large degree even Catholics. As we begin this trek I have to give you the same caveat that I always do. I am not a theologian or a religious scholar. I am just an ordinary guy who wants to know more about the God that I truly love above all else. If you have any differing opinions about anything I say I welcome your input. As long as it is in line with Code of Conduct as indicated by the blog page above.

This will be an interesting study for me and I hope for you.

My wife and I watched a DVR copy of the recent TV movie entitled “Amish Grace” last night. This is the movie about the man who shot ten girls in an Amish school house a few years back and then took his own life. Six of the girls died. The main theme of the movie was about forgiveness and not letting hate overpower you. The Amish community in Pennsylvania where it happened quickly forgave the man who committed the act and even helped the family of the murderer cope with the tragedy. As I have mentioned in the past the commitment to God that the Amish have totally impresses me. Fortunately the movie did not focus on the brutal act itself but instead on the forgiveness. It would have been very easy for most people who experienced this kind of tragedy to be filled with hate for the perpetrator.

This movie got me to thinking about just where hate comes from. Many discount the works of Satan in this world. They say that he is not a real being but instead just a concept. But I do believe that Satan exists and that hate is his primary tool for ensnaring his victims. It seems that there is much hate in the U.S. today so I guess I would say that Satan might be getting a strangle hold on us as a society. Being a U.S. history buff I am well aware that political partisanship has been a constant in one degree or another throughout our history. But I believe that it is morphing into something much more dreadful in very recent years among some of us. This is evidenced by the recent decision of several well respected people in congress who have decided to not run for re-election this year. Most often one of the primary reasons for not running is the tainted atmosphere in Washington today.  

On a recent trip to Kansas I visited the high school that has been turned into a memorial to the Brown vs. the Board of Education lawsuit that started racial integration in the 1960’s. One picture on a wall is of a young girl, probably in the late teens, that is screaming at one of the black kids entering the segregated high school in Little Rock. I had seen this picture several times before but for some reason this time the pure hatred on the face of the girl totally struck me. I included a photo of it at the top of this post and as you can see it was a very scary thing. I often wonder about that young girl and how her life might be today. I have even said prayers for her even though I don’t know her. But that was not the last time I have seen that same look. It was also evident on several faces in the recent Tea Party rally in Washington that was protesting the healthcare reform law that recently passed. Their very antagonistic placards were also evidence of that hatred. Now I am not saying that all people in that rally were hateful but the ones shown in those pictures definitely were filled with hate. It was obvious from their faces and their signs. It was again a scary reminder of Satan’s presence in the world today.  

“Filled with hate” is a very appropriate term. Hate starts out grabbing a small corner of our minds but if we don’t let it go it then, much like an aggressive cancer, it quickly overtakes much of the person’s total being. That is why there are numerous places in the bible where God tells us to fill ourselves with love, even for our enemies. He wants us to never allow hate even start within us. If we allow hate into our minds we are giving Satan a grip into our very souls. I know, given some circumstance such as the Amish incident I started the post out with, it is very difficult to not hate someone or something. But we, especially us Christians, must be very aware of the deadly affects of hate and fight it back when it crops up in our minds. We can disagree with someone but still love them. Hate simply does not have any place in a Christian’s life.

The Bible is like….

April 19, 2010 — 3 Comments

The last post I attempted to report the basic differences between the two major views of the Bible. This time I am going get a little artsy and make a meager attempt to try to compare these views to the concept of the “Bread of Life”.

  • The Literal and Inerrant View see the Bible as a completed loaf of bread coming directly from God. There is nothing to be added and every part is equally nutritious. No crumbs are any more valuable than any other. The bread is already baked and sliced so there is nothing left for them to do except sit back and enjoy its nourishment.  
     
  • The Inspired Writings View see the Bible as more of a wheat field. First it has to be harvested. To begin that they have to break off the stems which are the non essential words and stories around the messages to be received. Next we have to remove the chaff which is the words from the minds of man alone that were not inspired by God but instead were just relating current facts and sometime personal opinions. Since the chaff is very near the nourishing kernels this is often a difficult process. Then we get to the actually basket of wheat. The wheat must then be ground up and made into flour and then assembled with other ingredients then baked. This is comparable to studying the many words of the Bible to understand the overall messages and not fixate on any one kernel. Finally the finished loaf is the inerrant messages from God.  

The literalists just can’t conceive or at least refuse to think that bread needs to be made and that takes a harvester, miller and a baker to accomplish this. Instead they, somewhat like the Mormons, believe that the Bible basically fell down from heaven through the totally subservient pens of a handful of men.

The Inspired group can’t understand why the literalist can’t see that bread starts out as wheat in a field. Since each group comes at the Bible from a completely different perspective neither seem to be able to understand the other.

Biblical Views…

April 15, 2010 — Leave a comment

Given the recent blog discussions between myself and a person who takes the literal inerrant view of the Bible I want to spend a few minutes on that subject. There are basically two views on how to interpret Biblical text:

  • Literal and Inerrant Approach – People who espouse this view believe that absolutely every word in the Bible is written by God through human authors. Therefore everything in the Bible is absolutely and literally true as God is not capable of anything else. To those people, among other things, the earth is around 5,000 years old and was created in six 24 hour days and Jonah indeed spent three days in the belly of a whale.

      

  • The Inspired Writings Approach – These people believe that the Bible was written and assembled by human beings and that much of the writing was inspired by God. This group believe that although all of the Bible is useful for teachings it did not come totally from God but instead has a very human aspect. They believe that much of the Bible was gleaned from verbal accounts passed down from one generation to another. They also interpret some of the text to be stories, similar to the parables of Jesus, so they are not necessarily literally true except in the messages they convey.  

The proponents of these two Biblical approaches each treat the Bible as a holy document worthy of constant study throughout their lives. Those who believe in the Inspired Writings Approach seem to have tolerance for those in the other camp. But, in some cases those who believe in the literal and inerrant approach are much more defensive. To that end they think they must therefore attack anyone with a different viewpoint in an attempt to prove them wrong. They say that carbon dating and all the science that shows the world is millions of years old is just God tricking us. They believe that the creation text couldn’t possibly be just a story  used to relay a message; it has to be literal fact to them.

The literalists mostly believe that God quit giving revelations after the last book of the Bible was written. To them there is nothing that can be added or subtracted from the current biblical text. The inspired writing believers for the most part think that God continues to give us messages today that sometimes those messages are in addition to the Bible but they are most often a re-enforcement or personalization of current biblical messages. Some literalists seem to believe that most revelation that people think they get today is really from the devil  or other sources and not God.  The Catholic church, which makes up the majority of Christians, also believe that God gives us revelation through the Pope and church traditions.

It is sad to me to see the warring that goes on between these two groups. There is so much kingdom work to be done we shouldn’t be wasting our energy battling each other! But then this is not the only place were Christians battle each other over our human understanding of God. There are literally thousands of divisions in the Body of Christ over this and similar issues. This greatly saddens me.

Some Say…

April 13, 2010 — 2 Comments

Although the overwhelming majority of comments that come into this blog are words of encouragement some say I am too critical of current church establishments and are therefore actually doing harm to the Body of Christ. In some ways I take pride in those type of comments. They are telling me that I am doing what I intend to do and that is to make people uncomfortable about not paying enough attention to the words of Jesus especially in our daily actions. By my postings it is not my intent to judge any particular person or organization. I thoroughly understand that God will have the final say on what is right and proper.

But, in reality I probably should be doing some positive posts once in a while on people and organizations that are living by Christ’s words. Yes, there are many out there but even those can never do enough. So, I start here posts on Christians who are attempting to follow the words of Jesus. In order to give them some special meaning I will be doing these post outside my normal Monday/Thursday postings.  

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization started in 1917. Let’s look at some of the words from their website www.afsc.org 

  • AFSC’s work is based on the Quaker belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. The organization’s mission and achievements won worldwide recognition in 1947 when it accepted the Nobel Peace Prize with the British Friends Service Council on behalf of all Quakers. 

They collect about $50,000,000 per year to accomplish their efforts. This is quite an impressive amount given that The Society of Friends is one of the smallest Christian organization around. Less than 10% of the giving is used for administration. This is low when compared to other charity organization. Since service is one of Friends primary testaments it is not surprising that this percentage of giving is more than three times the normal per congregant giving of most other Christian organizations.

Here are is part of their mission statement:

  • We seek to understand and address the root causes of poverty, injustice, and war. We hope to act with courage and vision in taking initiatives that may not be popular.  
  • We are called to confront, nonviolently, powerful institutions of violence, evil, oppression, and injustice. Such actions may engage us in creative tumult and tension in the process of basic change. We seek opportunities to help reconcile enemies and to facilitate a peaceful and just resolution of conflict.  
  • We work to relieve and prevent suffering through both immediate aid and long-term development and seek to serve the needs of people on all sides of violent strife.  
  • We ground our work at the community level both at home and abroad in partnership with those who suffer the conditions we seek to change and informed by their strength and vision.
  • We work with all people, the poor and the materially comfortable, the disenfranchised and the powerful in pursuit of justice. We encourage collaboration in social transformation towards a society that recognizes the dignity of each person. We believe that the Spirit can move among all these groups, making great change possible.  

There is a large volunteer pool made up of primarily Friends to help them accomplish their mission. May God bless them in their efforts.

This is going to be one of my “ranting” posts so be hereby warned! I try not to do them often but….  

Some say institutional maintenance has become the prime work of the “church”. As a whole we Christians spend anywhere from 80% to 100% of our collections maintaining our buildings and paying our staff. The rest is either saved for a “rainy day” or dribbled out for other causes. After spending the last month blogging about the Quakers and their focus on simplicity I thought it would be appropriate to apply some lessons learned to other Christian organizations. Quakers very purposefully keep their worship facilities very sparse. Historically they spent very little money on staff but I think that has been changing recently. Like Saint Paul their ministers got their financial resources from their “outside” jobs. I can’t say that is generally the case today as I just don’t know.

Given the large number of exotic cathedrals loaded with icons the Catholic church has perhaps the largest institutional maintenance of any religious organization on this earth. They also have a very complicated and heavy vertical hierarchy than any other religious organization. Both are a very expensive undertakings. But that does not mean that Protestants are immune from the concept of spending their resources almost totally on themselves. Most Protestant ministers receive salaries very much in line with private sector counterparts and given that some of their buildings rival even the most elaborate of Catholic churches they spend much on their “clubhouses” as well.

I would propose that Jesus’ teachings indicated that the primary mission of using our resources was meeting human needs and seeking transformation of its members not building elaborate icons to God. I think we need to do a lot to discern between the institutional church and the spiritual church. Should they have the same priorities or different ones. It is nice to go to a very comfortable clubhouse each Sunday but is our members creature comfort really the kingdom work that Jesus had in mind?

So, to link this back to the previous posts, I think other Christian denominations have a lot to learn from their Quaker brothers in how to put priority on the use of their resources.

It’s in the memo…

April 8, 2010 — 5 Comments

There are a significant portion, perhaps as much at 15%, of the world’s Christians who believe in the concept of Sola Scriptura. That is that the Bible alone is all they need to understand and relate to God and that it is literally and absolutely totally true in every aspect. Although he personally did not believe in biblical inerrancy the ones who currently follow the teaching of Martin Luther are the most prominent in this group. They believe that God put everything he ever wanted us to know in the assembly of documents that were put together under the leadership of the Roman emperor Constantine about 1700 years ago. For them there is absolutely nothing else that can be added to God’s message either personally or globally by themselves or even seemingly by God himself.

It may seem like I am getting off track here but please bear with me. Many years ago when I was a fairly young engineer I had a terrific boss and mentor. He seemed to know absolutely everything about the products we were designing! Even before I signed up for this particular assignment I was given a basic job description of what my responsibilities would be. But of course they were not specific enough to cover any of the particular circumstance I often found myself in. But that was not problem because my boss/mentor was just a couple of doors away and his door was always open. So when I was confused about something I could “pop in” with a quick question. Not long after I had been there he decided to take a rather long vacation with his family. Before he left he wrote memos to each of us telling us what he expected us to accomplish while he was gone. In the 1970’s when this occurred the concept of a 24 hour job was fortunately not even conceived. There were no cell phones during that time and even trying to contact someone on vacation was almost never done. So, while he was gone I did my best but was certainly relieved the day he returned and I soon found myself in his office with many novice questions. He patiently answered them. I enjoyed this boss/mentor relationship for about four years and then moved on to a different organization. But I always looked back at that special relationship I had with my first boss.

Now getting back to the topic at hand, while I certainly respect others right to believe in Sola Scriptura and total and literal biblical inerrancy it does bring to my mind that, to them, God must be on vacation and has only left us a memo (the Bible) on how to do our jobs while he is gone. He doesn’t carry a cell phone so just read the memo.

Instead of just reading the memo I want a relationship with God that is on a more personal level. To know that he can give me personal advice through the Holy Spirit whenever I come across something that I don’t know quite how to handle is certainly a relieving thing. I enjoy my personal relationship with God and know that he can communicate directly to me, even outside the Bible (memo), when I need it. To me communication with God is a two way street; it is not “I talk to him” and he tells me “read the memo”. I feel sorry for those who think they have to always find the answers to life’s questions in the memo. While the memo contains a lot of valuable information and insight it just doesn’t cover every circumstance and even those that it seems to cover it is often quite difficult to discern the message as many possible answers seem to exist within its pages depending on where you look.

I thought the last post was going to be the end of this round on Quakers but thanks to eriu49’s comments on my previous post I came across the following at  http://firstfriendswhittier.org I think I can say I agree with every item on this list.

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You Might Be a Quaker if:

  • You think listening is at least as important as talking.
  • You think justice means more than just locking up criminals.
  • You are more interested in being like Christ than in being like Christians.
  • You want to read the Bible but you don’t want to be beaten with it.
  • You think the contents of a person’s heart is more important than the contents of their house.
  • You are more worried about the Hell that people live in here and now than any Hell they might occupy after death.
  • You think war makes more problems than it solves.
  • You don’t feel a ritual is necessary to be saved.
  • You think mandatory creeds and dogma fit like a strait-jacket.
  • You have found the best ministers are often found sitting in the pews.
  • You think investing leaders with great power is dangerous.
  • You think equality is not so much a goal to be sought, but a fact that is often ignored.
  • You think honesty is not just the best policy, but that it ought to be the only policy.

The following is actually a comment attached to my April 5 concluding post on Quakerism.  I think it is important enough to pull it out and include it as a separate post.  Thanks eriu49 for sending it.

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I am very interested in your thoughts about Quakerism. I have been attending Meeting since 1995 and find it meets my needs very well.

I found a piece that spoke to your question about why Quakers do not perform Baptism, and it makes a lot of sense to me, so I hope you will find something in it. It is from whittierfirstfriend.org:
Meaning of Sacrament

One of the distinguishing features of the Society of Friends from most other Christian bodies is the absence of the observance of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from its religious practices. To many of our fellow Christians, the Quaker understanding of the Sacraments is worrisome and appears to disregard what has long been perceived as the plain command of Christ to “do this in remembrance of Me”.

Our purpose here is to briefly interpret the Quaker vision with regard to the sacraments not only for the benefit of the visitor or seeker, but to remind Friends in this generation of the historic roots of the testimony and to inquire if the testimony rings true to our own experience today.

A Sacrament has been described as the intersection where God and human beings meet. Sacrament has to do with the sacred. Through the centuries, even in the mystery religions, primitive peoples believed in the possibility of participating in the life of the divine by eating or drinking something clearly associated with or representing their god in likeness or symbol. The extent to which pagan religions had a direct influence on the development of Christian sacraments during the early stages of the Christian era, is unclear. However, there is historical evidence that the sacramental idea was practically universal in the religious habits and practices of those who became Christians from pagan religions represented throughout the extensive Roman Empire.

The Quaker Emphasis

The Quaker movement was founded on the conviction that the whole of life is sacramental. The founders refused to designate any particular observance or practice as being more sacred than another. They assumed the same position with respect to time or to special days. Sunday was regarded as no more holy than Saturday or Monday. All days are the Lord’s days, all are holy. In this sense, it was a positive witness, emphasizing what Friends were for rather than what they were against.

While both Catholic and Protestant traditions in mid-seventeenth century required the observance of certain rites as a prerequisite for membership, Friends were persuaded that although to be a member of Christ’s body involved no outward rite, it does inescapably require an inward transformation of one’s whole life.

Friends do not consider the observance of the sacraments to be wrong, but they do regard participation in such an outward rite as unnecessary to genuine Christian discipleship or entry into the community of Christ’s people.

Friends use the words “baptism” and “communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship. John the Baptist was pointing to this when he said: “I have baptized with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit. Communion occurs when the worshiper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name.

The presence of Christ with his church does not occur by symbol or representation, but in the real communication of his Spirit: “I will pray the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, who shall abide with you forever.” John 14:18. Christ needs no rite or priestly intervention to make that real communion or baptism possible.

We believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in communion with that Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary; whereas, if the rite or ritual is observed without the inward transformation which these outward sacraments are intended to symbolize, then the observances become meaningless and hypocritical.

Communion after the Manner of Friends

The Quaker ideal is to make every meal at every table a Lord’s Supper. Again, the reality lies, not in the nature of the material substance, but in the way it stirs the heart of every partaker. The Quakers, and all Christians, are called upon to remember Christ every time bread is broken.

Friends understand and appreciate the fact that other Christians feel the need of ceremonial observances. In fact, we may share this with them, when invited to do so. However, the life to which we are called is one which is deeper than all ceremonies and outward observance.

Friends use the words “baptism” and “communion” to describe the experience of Christ’s presence and his ministry in worship. John the Baptist was pointing to this when he said: “I have baptized with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Worship reaches its goal when those who worship feel the baptism of the Spirit. Communion occurs when the worshiper communes with God and with those who are gathered in the Lord’s name.

The presence of Christ with his church does not occur by symbol or representation, but in the real communication of his Spirit. If the believer experiences such spiritual baptism and communion, then no rite or ritual is necessary; whereas, if the rite or ritual is observed without the inward transformation which these outward sacraments are intended to symbolize, then the observances become meaningless and hypocritical.

For Further Information Read

An Introduction to Quakers by D. Elton Trueblood
Friends View of the Sacraments by Jack Kirk
The People Called Quakers by D. Elton Trueblood