Sometimes a burst of questions comes into my mind. They usually come and go before I have time to even put them on a Post-It for further study. This time I was at my keyboard. Here is what I have been thinking of this afternoon.
In the past I have been a member of different Christian denominations who say we must go out and save the rest of the world by telling them about Jesus.
- Is it possible to be Spiritual without being religious? If being religious means going to church every Sunday (or Saturday) then I don’t know? But I believe I have found my path to the Lord. It is studying the red letters found in the Bible. All of the Bible contains some degree of inspiration from God. All of its many human authors believed they were speaking for Him. But if I really want to know from a firsthand account what God is all about then I must concentrate on those words that came directly from His lips. All the other words found in the Bible at best just reinforce those words. Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. He had enough time to personally tell us what God is all about. I believe he did just that. Study the red letters if you want to know the real messages of God.
- I know the words of Jesus known as the Great Commission tell us to go out and make disciples but he did not give us a laundry list of just how to do that? I think he chose to leave the details up to each of us individually. I chose a way that is best for me. That is to listen to the last half of that message which is to obey all that he has commanded. That part of the Great Commission seems to have been lost in much of today’s world. In order to know what he has commanded we need to study his words on a daily if not minute by minute basis and to make every attempt to obey them. We will lead people to Christ by our examples, not by our words. And no, I don’t obey his commands perfectly; that is just not possible for us human beings but that does not excuse us from even trying. Giving up even the attempt is a total cop out.
Why must some versions of Christianity pit scientific discovery against religious doctrine? It seems from my personal experiences that to some if you believe in God then you cannot believe in scientific discovery. Of course much of this goes back to the literal interpretation of Bible. Since those holding that view must believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old how do they reconcile that with all the scientific facts known today. The most prominent of these recent discoveries is carbon dating. I don’t pretend to know all the details of this branch of science but I do know that it has been shown to be accurate in every instance that it has been challenged.
Since it seems impossible to disprove carbon dating then those who dispute it on religious grounds must do so by saying that it is just God tricking us! But why would God need to do that? This is just one discovery of a long line of discoveries that God has presented us with through the ages. Of course the most remembered disputed discovery was made by Galileo when he publicly stated that the earth is not the center of the universe. The religious establishment at that time came down hard and mercilessly on him for that and they were the power to be reckoned with at the time. They were convinced from their interpretation of the Bible that God had to have made the earth the center of everything. They simply would not even conceive of the idea that the earth was simply a very minor and almost totally insignificant part of the universe. Fast forward five hundred years and the Catholic Church finally got around to admitting and then apologizing for this error. I guess by that time the scientific proof was just impossible to deny even for them.
Todays logic by some is that since carbon dating must be wrong then we must be skeptical of all scientific discovery. So to those who believe this they must also look with suspicion on anyone who is a proponent of science. If you believe in science you must not believe in God. Of course this small group (at least I hope they are small) could not be more wrong.
There are many scientist Christians around today who are just as much a Christian as anyone. I consider myself to be one of them. I think the group that has the most problems being accepted by the religious community are the scientists. For them it seems much harder to be a Christian than not as they don’t feel they are welcomed in many Christian communities. The most visible scientist and Christian today is probably Francis Collins. He was the leader of the genome project that mapped out DNA. His book entitled The Language of God does a very good job to point out how science and religious beliefs can be melded very nicely if only we let it. It does no good for any of us to put a high fence between religion and science. It only drives people away. I will close with a paragraph from the above mentioned book.
If you are a believer in God who picked up this book because of concerns that science is eroding faith by promoting an atheistic worldview, I hope you are reassured by the potential for harmony between science and faith. If God is the Creator of all the universe, if God had a specific plan for the arrival of humankind on the scene, and if He had a desire for personal fellowship with humans, into whom He had instilled the Moral Law as a signpost toward himself, then He can hardly be threatened by the efforts of our puny minds to understand the grandeur of His creation.
Soon I will be reviewing a small book written by another scientist Christian. He is an astronomer named Hugh Ross. His book entitled Genesis One – A Scientific Perspective reconciles the creation story with that account in Genesis. It is very interesting reading at least to those who are not locked into the literal interpretation of the Bible.
I don’t believe that the collection of documents put together in the fourth century by Emperor Constantine’s council which is known today as the Bible was one hundred percent dictated by God. Because I believe there is a human element to it some say that I surely must therefore deem it all worthless.
No! No! No!
I really tire of saying this but I must repeatedly explain to them that that is absolutely not the case!
I am unlike most of the inquisitors on this topic in that I am not an all-or-nothing person. I am instead like the most people in that I believe that almost everything, theology included, is shades of grey.
- Yes, I recognize that many of the documents that made it into the final version of the Bible were ancient texts probably go back the 400 years to Christ’s times on earth.
- Yes, the four Gospels are valuable resources in learning the messages of Jesus as understood by his immediate followers.
- Yes, I believe that the authors were inspired by God to wrote down their accounts. I believe this is particularly true of the twelve apostles. Even though almost all of them were illiterate they managed to get their messages into written form. Some through Mark and Luke in particular
- No, I don’t believe that every word, letter, punctuation mark was directly dictated by God.
- No, I don’t believe that just because of the above that I must therefore throw out the Bible as worthless. To me that is the epitome of irrational thinking.
- No, I don’t believe that God quit giving us messages once these authors had completed their works. He told us that he was giving us the Holy Spirit to eventually learn things we were not ready to learn during those biblical times. I believe he continues to do that through others and from scientific knowledge of his kingdom on earth. He told us to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Some have chosen to substitute the “Bible” in place of the “Spirit”. I am certainly not one of those.
- No I don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God, that title is reserved solely for Jesus. But I do believe that the Bible contains many inspired words from God.
- No I DO NOT believe that the Bible is full of errors! The vast majority of what I read in the Bible I will take as truth. What I do believe is that some people’s interpretations of the Biblical messages are full of errors. They take fables which are only meant to teach us lessons and turn them into literal events. They then wrongly take that literal interpretation and use it as a corner post for their stands on institutional purity. This same group would have very likely turned Jesus’ parables into literal events if Jesus had not directly told them that they were just stories to relay his message. Too bad the other stories were not as clearly labeled.
So, do I think the Bible is a useful document? I can give you an emphatic YES to that query. In fact it is a totally awesome collection of works! It would have been wonderful beyond belief to have been one of those who actually sat at Jesus’ feet for the three years of his public ministry. The closest we can come to that now is to read the words of those who did. And many of those words are recorded in the Bible. Maybe someday some more Dead Sea type Scrolls will show up giving us more insight into those early accounts. But, until that time the Gospel text are the best we have. They are in my study on a weekly if not daily basis.
This post will close out my current thoughts on institutional purity. I have made it a point that institutional purity has done some grievous harm to the Body of Christ. I am therefore saying that we cannot insist that there are certain things you must believe in order to call yourself a Christian? In my mind yes there are some things that are fundamental but they are very few in number. Everything outside of this short list is small stuff.
Here is a list of those essential things that I personally am very much attuned to. It is from a book by Jack L. Willcuts .
- We come to Jesus in faith for forgiveness of sins to be made new persons. Christ becomes our Savior, our Lord.
- We are baptized in Christ with the Holy Spirit and are cleansed, sanctified, directed, and empowered.
The process starts of learning, of nurture, witnessing, teaching others (beginning with ourselves), our loved ones, our neighbors, and our world the word of peace and truth as revealed by Scripture and the Spirit.
I am not going to pretend that is list is all inclusive to everyone who reads it. I realize there are differences of opinion on this topic. But we must all remember that our lists of the foundational things of God should be as limited as possible. None of us has excusive rights to claim what is absolutely on this list. But we should all realize that our current lists that we use to enforce our idea of institutional purity are certainly bloated with items that should not be there.
All glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The idea of institutional purity is noble in purpose but very faulty in delivery. The idea goes something like this:
“Since we are the only ones to really understand the true nature of God we must protect our ideas from getting polluted by the rest of the world and in particular other Christians who think differently but are wrong. In other words we must fight the barbarians at the gate to insure God’s truths are kept pure. “
The main fallacy of this idea is that we, and we alone, know the true nature of God! When we are convinced of that false assumption then we end up judging ourselves as somehow superior to all others who are seeking God. Isn’t judging others something the Bible has a lot to say about?
I want to bring up the quote I have recently used by Phillip Gulley on this topic:
Indeed, when Jesus did speak of institutional religion, he was often scathing, saying at one point that those who were religiously pure on the outside were inwardly deceitful and rapacious. This serves as a caution to those of us who’ve convinced ourselves that the goal of the church is institutional purity. To be a follower of Jesus is to choose, at every ethical crossroads, to serve people above structures.
Is the goal of the church institutional purity or is it to serve others as Christ served us and to point them to Him as our Lord and Savior. During the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity the Catholic church many times enforced the concept of institutional purity by torturing “heretics”. After the Reformation the Protestant churches have continued that practice although with less physical methods. Today many churches use this concept to purge themselves of people who might be asking the “wrong” questions or having the “wrong” ideas about God and the world. In one respect Christianity is like Democracy in that diversity is a good thing; it keeps us from getting lazy with our thoughts and actions. A lazy Christian is not a good thing.
The main reason there are 39,000 different denominations of Christianity is due to this concept that “I am the only one who has it right and I must preserve my institution against all those heretic who believe differently than me”. When you espouse this belief aren’t you really putting yourself on the same level at God? You are saying “I know God because I am most like him”. Isn’t this a very pompous thought?
I am enough of a realist to know that most religious institutions today are much too entrenched in their personal forms of institutional purity to change anything now. That saddens me greatly but I know short of direct intervention by God himself that will not likely change. I just wish that somehow God would give us the knowledge to know who he truly is. I know manyof you out there are saying he already has with the Bible. But in reality almost everyone cites their favorite Bible verses as the reason for their form of institutional purity. Someday I hope we Christians will quit judging each other and realize that no one has a lock on who God really is. To believe otherwise is pompous and arrogant at best and sinful, self-centered and evil at worst. Until God tells us very directly we must assume that none of us have it all totally right. Sometimes we Christians act like little children in the world’s school yard who never learned to play with others. I just wish God would smack us across our knuckles and tell us to get along with our playmates.
I know some of you might be confused by the title of this post. Let me assure you up front that it is not about how you make your body pure by eating worms 🙂 . This topic is much too heavy to settle well in your stomach even if it were steak.
The theme of the next three posts is really about is that we have done a great disservice to the Body of Christ by believing that we are the only ones who totally understand what being a Christian is really about. The belief is that since we are the only ones who have it right we must keep our institution pure no matter what is required. We must not let the heretic get a foot in the door. In my mind this grossly inflated belief is one on the primary reasons we have more than 35,000 different flavors of Christianity today. So let’s get on to the first round of this idea. More posts will follow this one on this topic.
For the first fifteen hundred years or so the Catholic Church had pretty much the sole authority and power when it came to being a Christian in the western world (no I am not forgetting about the Eastern Church; I just choose to not address that here). They decided what the heart and soul of God was about. Not many, at least successfully, challenged that authority. Then along came a lowly monk by the name of Martin Luther. He was a person who was totally obsessed with his sinful nature. To try to find some relief he studied the Bible and discovered a small verse in the Epistle of Ephesians where it is told that we only saved by the grace of God and absolutely nothing else. He clung desperately to this tiny verse for relief of his long time suffering of inadequacy. Using that verse he studied the Bible to find other possible confirming words. He was convinced that this small verse was at the very heart of what it meant to be a Christian and the Catholic church just had it wrong. The Catholic Church at the time did not put much credence to that particular sentence. Since “they” were to sole authority when it came to being a Christian they insisted that Luther recant his words. They insisted that he publicly admit that he was wrong and to therefore return to the true Christian fold. The Diet of Worms was an edict put out by the Catholic Church to admonish Luther. Here are some of the words:
For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.
Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diet_of_worms>
Of course this was not the first time for the Catholic Church deemed someone a heretic. They had done it many times before. The most notable instances were the Inquisitions of the 13th century. There they tortured thousands and thousands of people in some of the most grievous ways possible in order to get them to “admit” that they were wrong and the church was right about this or that.
After more than a millennium of autocratic authority the Catholic Church had some pretty serious problems. It was time to take them down a notch or two and that is what Luther ended up doing. He challenged the institutional purity concept of the Church and to a certain degree won out.
Next time we will delve further into this topic of institution purity. Did this idea disappear after Luther successfully challenged it? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact as a result of his actions it then grew exponentially! More on that the next time.
Here I am a senior citizen so I thought I had completed all of life’s rights-of-passage. But I was recently proven wrong. Because of my stand, here and elsewhere, that I believe that the earth is more than 6,000 years old I have been asked to refrain from some worship activities at my current church! It seems I am not allowed to believe the age of the earth according to God’s laws of nature; instead I must believe that the Bible is literal and absolutely true in every respect. I am not allowed to believe that the story of Jonah and the whale was a fable to teach us a lesson; instead I must believe that he did indeed spend three days in the intestines of a whale.
The church pastor has basically said because I believe things I am not allowed to believe that I am now only welcomed as a guest in the church as I am no longer a member of that club. Obviously my beliefs in the validity of God given science confirming that the earth is millions of years old and that dinosaurs are not a myth but reality go contrary to what I am allowed to believe. I guess if I had not made such a public stand by saying so on this blog maybe they could have continued to ignore our differences but I chose to go public with this belief and I am glad that I did. More on that later.
The threat of being expelled from my church was probably intended to shock me in to refuting these “faulty” science based beliefs but in reality it came as more of a relief. It will allow me to no longer have to publicly pit God given scientific discoveries like DNA and carbon dating against their view on an inerrant and literal bible. The all or nothing attitude of this church when it came to be Bible has been something I have been struggling with for a number of years. I thought that since we are in total agreement on the foundations issues such as the means of grace, salvation, and the deity of Jesus that would be enough. But I guess this secondary stuff is just as important to them. As I mentioned many times before I am just naturally a person who has questions. I am just a person constantly seeking the truth. I have always known that this church is not one that willing accepts many questions, especially about their traditions. I should have seen this coming before now.
I really don’t know why I have stayed there as long as I have. I think mainly it is because my wife, even though she like me was not attending church during her middle thirty years, considers herself a life long member of that strain of Christianity. For her sake I have tried to downplay my differences with them. Stepping back now,I am amazed I lasted as long as I did there.
It is refreshing to finally not have to pretend to anyone that the Bible is the say-all and end-all for God. Jesus clearly told us that the Holy Spirit would give us more info when we were ready for it. I can now say that loud and clear without facing any further retribution! God’s revelations did not abruptly end when Constantine assembled our Bible. God continues to this day to give us both general and personal revelations. They can come to some at a personal level as I have witnessed a few times or they can come through things like scientific discoveries he allow us to make. For instance, while knowledge of DNA would have been totally worthless to the first century inhabitants it will soon prove to be life changing for us in the twenty-first century. Thank you Lord for giving us this revelation.
So, here I am churchless. But I must admit that I am the second one in recent weeks to be excluded. I don’t know if or how many others are on the list for this action. Maybe they are trying to purge the perceived dissidents from the congregation. Things go much easier if no one is asking any serious questions.
I will probably stay away from doing church for a while. I need to decompress some. I need to listen for the Holy Spirit and consider my options. I probably should have moved on myself some time ago but I was just too comfortable where I was. Good friends made over an eight year period are hard to leave. Especially at this point in my life. I also know that my wife will probably suffer the brunt of the consequences as a result of this action. She was much more embedded there than I was. I sincerely apologize to her for that fact.
Instead of treating this event as a negative one I choose to treat it as a right of passage to the next level of my journey with Christ.
With the previous post about works being on my mind I am thinking of my Christian friend who, at least in my mind, is a “No Assembly Required” Christian. Whenever I mention works he immediately says that I must be doing works in order to gain heaven. No matter how many times I have to told him that is not the case he continues to bring it up.
So, once again for my friend no, I don’t do good works in order to earn my way into heaven or certainly not to obey some ancient Old Testament laws. As anyone who has been following my blog for any amount of time knows I don’t put much effort into studying the Old Testament especially the traditions and laws. Jesus made it clear that we cannot gain heaven by fulfilling those ancient laws. I take him at his word to that. I know the Jewish faith continues to believe they can but I rejected that many years ago. Too bad I just can’t convince my “No Assembly” friend of that fact. Most Christians, but I’m sure not all, believe that the sole purpose of the Old Testament was to point to Jesus. Jesus himself said that not one iota of the law and Old Testament prophets would be abolished until it was all fulfilled. I am one to believe that Jesus by his life, death and resurrection did indeed fulfill it so it therefore becomes not very important to me now. I am totally into the new covenant brought by Jesus not the old one that it replaced.
Then why do I seem to constantly emphasize good works? I do it because Jesus told me to obey him and do good works in his name. I do it because he is my Lord and Savior. I choose to not worry about Old Testament laws and traditions. I choose to not base my entire spiritual self on the Bible being inerrant. Instead choose to just follow Christ. Everything else is just small stuff.
Since we are into the beginning of the Christmas season the above title came to mind. Although I was not fortunate enough to be a parent I certainly sympathize with those who are when it comes to having to assemble things like bicycles and such for their kids for Christmas. I imagine to many parents the words “No Assembly Required” is a much sought after feature when it comes to Christmas presents.
Ok, so now what does all this have to do with Red Letter Living? In my mind there are two basic types of Christians: 1) the Assembly Required Christian and 2) the No Assembly Required variety. Let’s start with the last type first. The No Assembly Christians are those who believe that due to our totally sinful nature we are incapable of pleasing God with absolutely ANYTHING we might be able to do. Many of these Christians believe that all that is required of them is, depending on their denomination, baptism, an alter call, or a maybe another type of proclamation of faith. God expects nothing else from them as any effort they might expend is totally worthless in God’s eyes. I.E. one-size-fits-all or “No Assembly Required”. Once they make the original leap of faith they only need to sit back and wait for the end.
The other type of Christian is the “Assembly Required” type. They like the first group believe that they need to make a leap of faith but to them that is a starting point not the end point of their Christianity. Strangely in some ways this type of Christian is more of a literalist than the first type. They take Jesus’ words to heart when as he tells us in his Great Commission to obey what he has commanded. They realize that Jesus meant for us to be active in our faith as faith without works is dead and really no faith at all. They truly understand that Jesus loves each and every one of us and is joyful with our acts of kindness to others in his name. To them coming to faith is just a starting point. Yes, Assembly is indeed required throughout our Christian lives.
Which type of Christian are you? Are you a “No Assembly Required” or an “Assembly Required” Christian? As for me I am without any doubt whatsoever an “Assembly Required” one. Yes it does require more work on my part but that is just what it means to be a Christian. In my mind words without actions are totally meaningless.