Christianity 201

February 4, 2011

Salad Bar Theology

Today, I want to continue the discussion I alluded to yesterday, which centers around the much longer item I blogged at Thinking Out Loud today, in reference to high profile ministers and musicians who don’t subscribe to key doctrines, and as to the question of whether or not they can be considered “Christian” in the sense the rest of us use that word.

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.  (Acts 17:11 NIV)

There is a general agreement today that younger generations of Christ-followers are not as attached to the name on the front door of the place they happen to worship.  Many churches have themselves gone out of their way to lose the denominational tag and have adopted generic names like “Community Church” or “Neighborhood Church” instead of wearing their affiliation more proudly.

Don’t get me wrong; there are things about this I like.  I also like the fact that many of our churches are singing out of the same songbook; there are common worship anthems and choruses with which we can all join together in one powerful voice.  Of course, there are also distinctives that each group has that we can learn from, just as there are some hymns and modern worship songs that remain somewhat unique to each group.

But in the process, we’ve become like consumers at the proverbial salad bar.   We take a bit of this and a bit of that, and we pass on chick peas because we don’t like the texture, but load up on the bacon bits because we love the flavor.   So we love grace and forgiveness, but we’re not so passionate about judgment or the wrath of God.   We’re quick to tell our relatives and c0-workers that we’re living in the end times, but don’t believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the 21st century.  There are over 100 references to gluttony in scripture, but we ignore the chronic obesity that dogs many believers but are quick to give our views on the question of homosexuality.

We pick and choose.

Many of us make the choices based on careful study of the scriptures, such as the above-mentioned Bereans in Acts 17.   Some choose on the basis of preferences; rejecting certain doctrinal elements that might actually affect the way we live, not unlike atheists who reject the stories of Noah or Jonah because if they are true, so are other parts of the Bible and that would having to engage and respond.

But many of us make our decisions based entirely on what (a) our friends, (b) a TV preacher, (c) a favorite author, or (d) our church or pastor tells us.  But what if a Berean study of scripture led you to a different conclusion?

So here’s the question:  Would you be willing to confront your friends or church and/or change churches if your study of scripture led you to something different from what you’ve heretofore believed.

Many of the people in the current crisis in Egypt have been heard to say, “For the first time ever, I am starting to think for myself.”  This is a breakthrough moment for them.

The problem in some churches is not strictly salad bar theology, but the numbers of people who have been eating a prepared salad.

It’s time to take your church’s statement of faith and examine it, and make sure that you have a personal statement of faith; time to take ownership of a personal theology.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… (I Peter 3:15 NIV)

October 23, 2010

Coming to the Realization of Your Guilt Before God

This week in Canada, the top news story all week has been the trial of Russell Williams, a former colonel in the Canadian armed forces, who was in charge of the CFB Trenton , one of the largest bases, and was convicted of the murder of two young women and over eighty “fetish” break and enter crimes. The account of his actions has been unlike anything seen on television or reported in newspapers here, and we’re told that the media spared us many of the pictures and narrative details.

In the middle of the week, I was a few minutes late in turning on the evening National news and figured that the short report I was seeing would end, only to realize that the CBC network had suspended regular news in order to bring coverage of the release of the video of Williams’ confession. (Here in Canada, the network news comes after prime time, so this would be like your 6:30 PM newscasts in the U.S.)

The entire video runs about 9.5 hours; and the report fast-forwarded through it until about the 4.5 hour mark where Williams realizes that his guilt has been established. There is a very long interrogation period leading up to that point, and knowing how the story ends, you see the strain on Williams as he realizes there is no escape; his guilt is a foregone conclusion. The interrogator is very skillful in bringing Williams from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

It’s video unlike anything else we’ve ever seen before.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women. One of the more simplistic devices — and I’ve dealt the danger of devices just a few days ago at Thinking Out Loud — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people.

I wondered this week how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. But as in the case of the televised confession this week, the evidence has been weighed and the guilt has already been established.

All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

Williams will not get a pardon for his crimes. But today, everyone can receive forgiveness and grace from a God of mercy.