The Greatest Heresy…

2013-11-21_10-17-57Many pastors fear that if they were honest with their congregations about their doubts they would be fired, and the sad fact is: They probably would be. Not fired for some moral indiscretion mind you. But fired for being honest, fired for taking a stand of integrity. Those in the pews are no different. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from people who tell me stories of how they’ve been given the clear message that their questions are not welcome, and if they keep asking these questions they wont be welcome either. The same is true of seminary professors who are often reluctant to honestly pursue their studies, knowing that if they stick their neck out too far, it might get cut off. So while they should be pursuing truth, they can’t. Otherwise they put their livelihood and the well-being of their family in jeopardy.

So we are left with an isolating silence where we think we are the only ones with these thoughts. That’s indicative of a deeply unhealthy faith. Something is very wrong here…..

Stop for a moment and consider what it is we are defending when we focus on who is “orthodox” and who is a “heretic.” Consider the legacy we are upholding here: The history of heresy is one of people being tortured and killed. Is that really something to be proud of and uphold? Ask yourself what’s the bigger crime: Not getting the formulation of the Trinity quite right, or slaughtering those people by the sword? What’s a greater sin: Questioning a fundamentalist doctrine or working to destroy someone’s career and livelihood because they questioned it? The simple fact is, all the so-called “heresies” throughout history pale in comparison to the hurtful ways that people have been ostracized, threatened, and wounded by those who act as the champions of so-called orthodoxy.

The biggest heresy, the only real heresy, is the idea that trying to silence those by force, threat, and violence who disagree with you is a good and faithful thing to do. In fact it’s a sin. It’s wrong. And the fact that so many churches, seminaries, organizations and theological societies still do this is something we should be ashamed of.

SOURCE: Derek Flood: The Greatest Heresy | Red Letter Christians.

Another thought provoking article from my friends over at Red Letter Christians. To me the exclusiveness of so many very conservative evangelical denominations is the primary reason why the church of Christ has shrunk so dramatically in the past decades. When discussions and especially questions are so adamantly stifled that usually leads to a mass exodus by those who are above the intellect of a toad.

To do almost anything to prevent questions be asked is just plain wrong headed in any aspect of our lives but particularly so in our spiritual lives….

An Emergent Witness for Friends?

But there is also something else happening.  A growing number of Americans (nearly a third, according to one Gallop poll) describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  Books with titles like “Christianity After Religion,” “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” and “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” are gathering a growing audience.  And the Emerging Church movement, seeking to live, as Harvey Cox puts it, “in a new Age of Faith rather than the old Age of Belief,” is inspiring many young people (and not a few of us old folks!) with fresh winds of the Spirit.  It feels like once again, as in the old Buffy Ste. Marie song, “God is alive, magic is afoot.” And more and more people want to be a part of it.

SOURCE:  An Emergent Witness for Friends? – QuakerQuaker.

It is nice to see that my two favorite flavors of following Jesus blend together with the quote above. Quakers are more about making sure people see the light within them than they are about increased membership. The Emergent movement has a similar view. It is all about “being” a follower of Jesus than it is about spouting certain beliefs or creeds.  I must say that I am more inclined daily to include myself in the “spiritual but not religious” category. It is more about lifestyle than it is about believing the “right” things.

For the most part mainline churches today are about what you are supposed to believe instead of how you are supposed to live. Each has their own creeds that you must sign into in order to belong with them. If you cross that creed/belief line you are in jeopardy of losing your membership. Many people particularly the young just don’t align with that approach to spirituality. Instead of what to believe they want to know how they can help. Instead of getting a free ticket to heaven they want to know how to pay their debt to society.

Older generations, such as my own, have been very comfortable being told what to do. In that regard I want to bring in yet another post from a Quaker friend:

Then there are those who want an authority to tell them what to do, think, feel. That authority could be a priest, it could be a dogma, it could be a ritual, it could be a tradition. Whatever it is, it provides a kind of security that a whole lot of people find sorely lacking in their lives. If they can find it in religion, they grab it and don’t let go. Security is the second of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I have no argument with those who find it in this way. My heart goes out to them. I’m genuinely glad for them….

SOURCE:  Growth and the Society of Friends | Letters from the Street.

As in the previous post here, doing the “other gospel” of being rather than believing is just too hard for many. The something-for-nothing emphasis doesn’t require the day-to-day energy of the “being” version.

I find it amazing that so many young people today have already discovered what it took me year to find. They realize that to earn their place in humanity requires effort on their part. They see the “being” of the Emergent church as a driving part of their lives. Get-out-of-jail free cards are just not enough for them.

If grace is true, it is true for everyone. – Part 4 If Grace Is True….

If Grace is trueI didn’t consider this for many years. I actually thought my experiences rare. I was one of the chosen. I was special. Now I know the truth. God whispers his love in every ear. He isn’t interested in declaring his love to a select few. He doesn’t limit his presence to Vatican City, to the halls of seminaries, to the offices of preachers, or to church altars. God doesn’t restrict his communication to the Bible. He doesn’t confine his presence to any single denomination or religion. God speaks to all people, even when they’re not inclined to listen.

Fortunately, God looks for the slightest yielding, the smallest opening, to make his love known. God doesn’t stand with his back turned until we ask for him. God doesn’t hide and expect us to seek him. God doesn’t keep his distance and await our call. God said, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here I am, here I am’” (Isaiah 65:1). What God did for the children of Israel, God does for all. God stands at the door and knocks, and if we don’t answer, he looks for an open window.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 18-19). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The quote above is about the time that Philip Gulley first experienced God’s Grace.I too remember the specific time when I finally stubbornly admitted that I finally get it. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my soul. So you could say I was born again if that is your thing. God chose that particular moment and method to communicate with me maybe because my stubborn resistance was at a low point. It was a very emotional moment for me.   I felt like one of the chosen; one of the special ones. God found that smallest opening and made his love known to me. But what if it is really true that God does not choose among his children but has agape love for all of us and chooses us all?

I know there are places in the Bible that seem to say something contrary but if you really look at them with an eye toward universal salvation they also make sense in that venue.

  • What if we got this eternal damnation thing wrong?  After all it wasn’t really even formalized until the tenth century.
  • Are we wasting our time trying to get others to see Jesus when he already has a plan for revealing himself to each of us?  Could we be spending our time doing something that God has already worked out?
  • If grace is true then why isn’t it true for everyone?
  • Instead of trying to save souls maybe we should be teaching others about Jesus and how to follow his ways?
  • Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all concentrated on doing the work that Jesus told us to do?

These are the questions I have been asking myself lately.  God doesn’t turn his back to us until we ask for him. He doesn’t lay back waiting for us to call his name.  He patiently keeps coming to us until we set aside our stubbornness and pride and see him as he truly is. God loves us all; I will leave universal salvation up to him to make that happen. I know he can if he wants to and he told us he wants all of us to have his love.

Putting Conditions On Accepting God’s Love…..

I am going to jump off the series of posts about God’s grace for a quick aside.

It amazes me how God can have agape love for us humans. He puts no conditions on his love and he loves each and every one of us. Knowing that God’s love for me is not dependent on me is reassuring indeed. It also amazes me how we Christians seem to put so many conditions on accepting that love!

I was recently vegging out for a few minutes with TV and came across a series that documents a Hutterite community. I didn’t get much info about it so I went to Wikipedia to try to learn a little more. Hutterites are Anabaptist in nature. They are similar to the Amish and Mennonites in that regard. It was obvious from the TV show that the male is the dominant figure in the family; women are very secondary to them but I’m getting off topic here.

The scene I watched was of a young, probably twenty-something, girl trying to get permission from her mother to go to an out-of-town wedding. The mother went on and on about how she didn’t like that idea as the girl might do something to jeopardize her upcoming baptism. She wanted reassurances that the daughter would not do anything “crazy” while she was gone. She just didn’t seem to trust her daughter when she said she would “behave”. Eventually mom gave in and off the daughter went. That is all I saw so I don’t really know if the daughter “behaved” or not.

It seems strange to me to put some conditions on being baptized and given my Catholic roots it is also strange that a twenty year old is still unbaptized. I am not trying to judge the folks on the TV show or even the Hutterites in general.  Generally I am more aligned with Anabaptists than most other versions of church.  They, unlike many other churches try to live out their faith in very discrete ways.

To illustrate another story about conditions that are placed on God’s grace by the church we need only go to the first stories out about the new Pope Francis. It is said that he chastised priests under him for refusing to baptize children born out of wedlock brought to them. Thank heavens (literally) that a future pope set the priests straight in this instance.

The point of this discussion is more about us putting conditions on getting God’s love when he puts none on giving it. To me baptism is one of the most fundamental ways of accepting God’s love. To say that you have to earn God’s grace by behaving in a certain manner seems strange to me, especially when it comes to baptism.

God’s Wrath….

Many share my love for Jesus. We accepted him as Lord. We were baptized in his name. We became his disciples. We worshiped and adored him. Yet we’ve often divorced the words and actions of Jesus from the God he worshiped and adored. We’ve forgotten the very one Jesus came to reveal.

Those of us raised in the Church have a good excuse for this confusion. It’s what we were taught. The church of my childhood often glorified Jesus at God’s expense. Jesus was Savior. God was judge and executioner. Jesus was closer than a brother. God was distant—remote at best and hostile at worst. Many churches fail to emphasize that the love we experience in Jesus is the persistent grace of God.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 13-14). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I was raised for the first fourteen years in the Catholic church. Like most I was baptized in the first weeks of my life so by that act I guess I was accepted as a child of God. I was confirmed in the first grade and received my first communion. I later kneeled at the foot of the altar and spoke the latin words that was expected of an altar boy. I went to the first seven grades in a Catholic school. In school I was taught that only Catholic would be in heaven.  So , I was raised in the church so to speak.

I can’t say that I really remember much about what I was taught during those years. I knew that God and Jesus were two different things. God sat on a throne and passed judgements on everything I did and I was told he knew my every thought. That was kind of scary because I had some rather unusual thoughts.  So, to make sure I stayed a faithful member of his church I was to say my prayers every night before bed and confess all the “sins” I had committed during the week on Saturday morning.  I didn’t really have a good idea of what “sin” was so I usually used the same ones I had been taught over and over again.  It didn’t seem to matter to that mysterious person behind the screen. He forgave me every week and told me to say so many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” as punishment. That was just the way life was; I really didn’t question it much.

As I then understood it, when I grew up that all of this stuff  such as prayer and confession would no  longer apply. My parents seldom went to church on Sundays; they just dropped us off and went home for some additional sleep; or so I imagined. They did invite the priests over for dinner on occasion so I assumed that was the grown-up version of confession and punishment.  It would be several years later that I really came to see Jesus as something more than the guy that hung on the cross above the altar.  It would actually take me abandoning church entirely for almost fifteen years before I came to actually even begin to understand  what being a follower of Jesus was really supposed to be like.

When I went back to the church it was to a Protestant version and that is where I was primarily introduced to God the judge and executioner.  But even then I was told that even though God was very vengeful, Jesus appeased his wrath by dying on the cross so I was covered. It would be several years after that before I took up the Bible myself instead of just being fed very selected verses by the cleric leader. But more on that the next time.

Unclean Spirits….

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid….

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit.“You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

Mark 9:17 – 18,

There are many places in the Bible that talk about unclean spirits in people’s bodies. Are we to take these words literally? I think not.  To me this was just a way to give an explanation for something that was currently unexplainable. Listening to the symptoms above it seems pretty obvious to us in the twenty-first century that the boy had a severe case of epilepsy and some form of hearing impairment. We in no way associate them with some spiritual being invading the body. Those conditions were just not something that first century people understood.

Being deaf this story and one similar to it in a previous chapter of Mark gets my attention. I’m sure if I lived in these times they would be trying to drive out the evil spirit that was causing me to be deaf. I am also sure that in a couple of hundred years from now they will be startled to hear that I went through the last half of my life without being able to hear since curing my condition will be a simple procedure by then.

Those who insist on taking everything in the Bible as being literal are denying themselves the real messages contained within. They insist that an evil being was present in the above story. By doing that they have to explain how suddenly those spirits disappeared and then become merely health issues. They stubbornly insist on looking at these types of stories with first instead of twenty-first century eyes. God continues to give us revelations about the world daily. One of the most dramatic of current times is DNA.  The literalist are commonly known by their basic opposition to almost anything of science but by doing that they are ignoring God’s current messages .. How sad is that?????

Except God Alone….

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered.“No one is good—except God alone. 

Mark 10:17-18

These words have always troubled me to one extent or another. Let me explain why.  The story which they came from was about the rich man and the kingdom of God.  It is a well known and often cited story to indicate that God’s grace is a gift and impossible to earn but when the words above are isolated from that story they suggest a truth that goes counter to many current Christian beliefs. the primary belief being the concept of the Trinity.

Before I delve into why these words are troubling to me let’s look at the history of the concept of the Trinity. The concept of the Holy Trinity was made into Christian doctrine more than three hundred years after Jesus. Terms like “the father, the son, and the holy spirit” were used much before that time.  Ignatius of Antioch was perhaps one of the first theologians to coin this phrase. Jesus did of course mention God the father and the Holy Spirit but without a codifying statement about any relationship.

When we talk about things like the Trinity it is very easy to get bogged down in “church speak”. That is using special words to describe the varying conflicts that were present in the early church leaders. I try to avoid that as much as possible in this blog. Instead I will give you some simple words I found in Wikipedia that I think describes what went around the discussions of the trinity.

Although there is much debate as to whether the beliefs of the Apostles were merely articulated and explained in the Trinitarian Creeds, or were corrupted and replaced with new beliefs, all scholars recognize that the Creeds themselves were created in reaction to disagreements over the nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These controversies, however, were great and many, and took some centuries to be resolved.

When there has been conflict within the church a new creed was usually developed to exclude those who thought differently. The Nicene Creed is the predominant one today that attests to the concept of the Trinity. We are taught that basically the father, the son, and the holy spirit are three equal parts of the same God and cannot be divided but are three in one. This concept is often called “a mystery of christian faith” in that the very concept is difficult for human beings to understand.

Getting back to the original purpose of this post, when I read the words  “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.”  Jesus seems to be telling us that he is not the equivalent of God and that he was shocked that someone would even make the comparison. Of course the concept of the trinity had no meaning in Jesus’ day among Jews and Jesus was a Jew.

The questioning about the validity of the Holy Trinity is not accepted in many Christian churches. We are told to just accept it on blind faith.  We are told we must pledge our allegiance to that concept. To do otherwise is to risk our membership. To me that is the sad part of the  church today; many seem to unwilling to admit that maybe those involved in the past church history my have developed a man-made concept that is really not critical to being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Merely Human Rules….

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’  You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.  You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

Mark 7:6-9

Jesus spoke these words to the religious establishment of his times. The Pharisees asked him “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”  I don’t think they expected Jesus to call them hypocrites!  I wonder what Jesus would say today to the current religious establishments? I kind of thing it would be in the same vain.

Not only have we now split into 39,000 different versions of Christianity but we probably also have that many or more different “human rules” for being Christians. Being that is the case I’m pretty sure that Jesus would once again say You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 

When asked to sum up what it means to be a follower of Jesus he gave us two simple commands. He knew that we get distracted easily and run off on tangents so he kept it simple.  He said it all boils down to two simple things. Love God and love each other. How did we screw up such a simple command.? How did we end up with so many different versions of his church?

I would also include all the creeds and doctrines generated after Jesus’ death and resurrection as being human rules and traditions.  The church leaders throughout history just can’t seem to see how simple he meant the church to be. They insisted that we also believe hundreds of other things. Just look at the creeds and such they invented. The Nicene Creed is a perfect example.  While I am attuned to many of the statements in that document I  know it is made up of “beliefs” that have little to do with actually being a follower of Jesus is about.

When creeds and such are used as a way to separate the church into different factions, as they often are, they are more destructive than they are helpful. Let’s just concentrate on what Jesus told us to do and love him and each other.  When we honor Jesus with only our words (lips) but not in our hearts (action) then we are worshiping in vain.

I’m not saying that human traditions and belief have no value to us. They help us understand the history of the church and what some of the previous followers thought about God and that is very helpful. But when those traditions and beliefs get in the way of the two loves we must understand that they are not from God but are someone’s meager attempts to describe an indescribable being.

Religious Superiority….

Here are some thoughts from Randy Oftedahl over at QuakerQuaker:

Now I believe there are many paths, and God in His love for human variety has given us an infinate number of ways to follow the Spirit, depending on what best speaks to our condition. But sometimes I think Quakers, perhaps because we have a particular history as a “peculiar people” or more distinctive worship and organizational forms, of for whatever reason, may be prone to a kind of spiritual pride or elitism we would reject if we found it in a fundamentalist or charismatic sect. Have other Friends ever wondered this?….. Can Quakerism become an idol? I suppose as a created thing, it could become an idol as much as any other created thing if we let it. Can we focus too much attention on the path and lose focus of the destination? (I may know this experientially). Since the Spirit of Christ can be just as truly heard in all churches/sects/creeds – or in none – might it be more in keeping with that Spirit to speak of small ‘q’ quakerism and not let our path get out ahead of our Guide?

It seems a given in our current spiritual world for each group to lord it over all the others. Each group/sect/denomination (however you want to split it up) thinks they are superior to all the others. They all have some reason or proof of their claim of superiority. Many use the circular logic of saying their religious documents prove that they are the really spiritualists of the world. Quakers, who I have a personal affinity toward are no exception.

The quote above brings up a serious question within the church of Christ. Can your religious institution become an idol that actually gets in the way of your understanding God and his nature? When we lord it over others because we think we have it right and they are wrong we are indeed doing harm to the body of Christ. When we split over our superior attitudes we do harm.  I see that the Indiana Meeting of Quakers are about to split over differences mostly involving pelvic issues. It saddens me to see even Quakers driving “superior” stakes in the sand. I was hoping that they were somehow above thinking they have religious superiority.

Randy asked the question “can Quakerism become an idol?” I think he really answered his own question and in my mind all religious institutions to one degree or another exhibit this trait. The secret to escaping this superiority condition is to admit that each of us are likely wrong about many things dealing with the nature of God. That is one of the characteristics that has drawn me to the emergent movement.

The emergent movement is not a new denomination threatening to take over but instead a new way to thinking. Here is how Wikipedia describes that concept:

Emergents can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic…. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature…

When all of us finally admit that we are just as likely to be wrong about some of the things we believe about the “truths of God” as anyone else, that is a first step to bringing the church back together as Jesus intends.

About Those Creeds….

Source: Deal Or No Deal? Creed Or No Creed? – QuakerQuaker.

“Friends have no creeds.”  We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.

Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.

The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds.  I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.

I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before.  The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.

Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.

I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some  redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.

One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.