Christianity 201

May 15, 2017

Focusing More on What Unites Us

NIV John 17:20-21 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…”

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. I think they do a better than average job of presenting that perspective and that’s why I’ve chosen them to return here today. Besides, to think otherwise would be to completely miss the spirit of today’s devotional!

Divisions in the Body of Christ Should Not Be

It is sad that Christianity is divided into so many different groups. We all have a little different interpretation of the bible and a little different understanding of doctrine. Obviously, we are not going to agree on everything but we certainly should be able to love one another and accept each other even when we differ on these things.

It is hard to understand why this is when God tells us we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one. Yet, we understand that we are human and it is easy to lose sight of our first love. If we could only stay focused on Christ, listening for his voice and the guidance of the Spirit, loving God and loving others as God intended, then we could begin to look past our differences.

The problem seems to be that we are unwilling to see any other viewpoint other than our own. There are those such as my wife and I that do not attend an organized church. There are those who attend a church every time the doors are open. Some attend a house church, some meet with fellow believers at cafés, parks or restaurants and others meet in their homes over dinner. We should accept these differences and love one another rather than argue over who is right and who is wrong.

There really is not a right or wrong way to assemble together and we need to stop expecting everyone to do things exactly the same way. We should respect others viewpoints and focus on loving them rather than expecting them to see things our way.

Things will not change until we start focusing on what is common in our lives rather than the differences. The common focus should be on Christ, the head of the body. After that we should focus on loving others rather than arguing about the differences in interpretation and doctrine.

We also need to keep in mind that we are all constantly changing as God brings new truth to us. We are all learning and changing as we are ready to accept new truths. The interpretations I had five years ago are completely different from some of the interpretations I have now. I am sure in another five years they will change again as God leads me into more truth.

Sometimes we are afraid to accept others interpretations because we feel if we do not hold to our way of thinking we are compromising and not standing up for what we believe. We do not have to give up how we interpret the bible, but neither should we think everyone else is wrong. Besides, we really are not responsible for convicting people of sin or leading them into truth or even saving them. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are told to love God and love others.

When we realize we are each equally important functioning parts of the body and Christ is the head, we can start to change how we feel about those who do not see things exactly the way we do. We can begin to accept the differences in our brothers and sisters in Christ as we realize we are all following after our Father and our goal is to show His love to all people.

 

August 5, 2015

Knowing Our History

Church History 2


Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

Today we pay a return visit to the website GCD (Gospel-Centered Discipleship) and this time around the featured writer is Dallas-Fort Worth pastor Zachary Lee. To read this at source, click the title below.

9 Basic Reasons to Study Church History

For many, just the word “history” brings up bad memories from high school.  When I hear the word “history,” I think of random things such as Charlemagne, carpet-baggers, Huguenots, dates, times, presidents, and a bunch of things I forgot until we studied WWII (which was actually interesting).

For most Christians, church history is the same way. We don’t really know much about it. We know a little about the Apostles in the book of Acts, then there is a bunch of stuff we think is weird and too “Catholic,” and then there is the Reformation, and here we are today with prosperity preachers and Joel Osteen.

So is church history important? Is it useful for discipleship? How much should we study it? My hope is to briefly sketch why I think church history is important for evangelicals today and is actually a gift from God to help us understand how to apply his Word. Why study church history?

1. Church history reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith.

We have a tendency to think the church really began in our lifetime with cool pastors, conferences, and podcasts. Or, we have a tendency to think the church really began at the Reformation. We forget that there has always been a remnant. There has always been a true church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church and the gates of Hades never have. People loved Jesus in the early church (Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, et. al.), in the middle ages (Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, et. al.), in the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, et. al.), in the early modern era (Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, et. al.), and in the modern era (Machen, Henry, Barth, et. al.). On the one hand, church history protects us from thinking our denomination is right and everyone else is wrong (most of our denominations are less than 400 years old), and, on the other hand, it reminds us that we are part of a larger family of faith dating back more than 2,000 years.

2. Church history helps us rightly interpret the Bible.

God’s Word is meant to be interpreted within the community of faith. When an individual just runs away from the church and doesn’t listen to instruction from others, he usually starts a cult. We must interpret the Bible as we bounce ideas and interpretations off one another. And we don’t just bounce ideas off of those around us. We use the larger community of faith including the writings of Christian brothers and sisters who have passed away.

3. Church history helps us hold to correct doctrine.

Though God’s people may err in certain doctrinal matters, certain teachings like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, and the second coming are always held as truth by all true Christians. Church history helps us see what God’s people have always believed and what doctrines the majority of Christians have seen as essential. It helps us continue to pass on the “once-for-all-delivered-to-the-saints” gospel (Jude 1:3). There is a saying that, “new kinds of ‘christians’ are really just old kinds of heretics.” Knowing correct doctrine helps us guard against false teachers and religious sects today.

4. Church history helps us guard against reading our culture onto the biblical text.

Church history helps us see how other cultures have interpreted the Bible and see where some of our biases and prejudices pop up. For example, the topics of homosexuality and gender roles are rather controversial subjects today but almost completely agreed upon throughout most of church history. If we are teaching about these subjects in new ways, this should cause us to ask if we are reading our culture onto the Bible and making it say what we think is important today instead of what it actually says. Another example is that in America many Evangelicals think drinking alcohol is sinful. Seeing that this is a unique idea in post-prohibition America (and is not thought to be sinful in almost all other times and countries in church history) helps us put this issue in perspective.

5. Church history helps us see where we might be defending our traditions instead of the teachings of Scripture.

It is vitally important to know what the church has believed at each point in our history and why. That keeps us from “drinking the Kool-aid” and just doing what our denomination says. It is important for a Lutheran to know what Luther thought. It is important for a Presbyterian to know what Calvin thought. It is important for a Baptist to know about the radical reformation and English separatism. It is important for a Pentecostal to know about the Wesleyan holiness movement. It is important for an Episcopalian to know about the Anglican Church, the Reformation, and Thomas Cranmer. The list could go on and on. Knowing which historical actions caused certain beliefs is essential for challenging our views according to the Bible.

6. Church history helps us know how to address situations today.

I can’t think of any issues today that the church has not already dealt with in its past whether that be grace, politics, denominations, ethics, pastoral ministry, etc. The old adage, “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it” is true of church history as well. By studying church history we can avoid stepping on landmines by seeing who has stepped on them before. We can copy what the past has done well and avoid some of the mistakes they made.

7. Church history brings humility.

If you hold a theological view or an interpretation of Scripture that almost nobody has ever held then you can know that 99% of the time you will almost certainly be wrong. The burden of proof is on the person who is holding a “new” view. This should humble us and keep us from thinking that everyone else was just too silly to see things like we see them today.

8. Church history helps us minister to others.

If I know the history of someone else’s ideas, denomination, or theology, it allows me to know how best to minister to them. It lets me know where they might be off and what issues they may misunderstand.

9. Church history is a reminder of God’s grace

Instead of looking like a bride we as God’s people have a history of looking more like a harlot. What is interesting to me is just how un-Christian so much of church history is. We have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot. However, just like Israel in the Old Testament, God loves his beautiful, messy, disobedient, lovely bride . . . the church. It is a reminder of how kind God has been to keep his promises despite our failures to be faithful to him. It is true that “if we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13).

In all this we know that only God’s Word is perfect and history is our imperfect attempt to play that out. However, church history is a helpful guide and companion on our journey in the Christian life and it is God’s gift to help us be faithful.

 


Church History


 

I was impressed again with the thought-provoking articles at GCD, so tomorrow we’ll spend an extra day there, this time hearing from a different writer.

April 13, 2015

If You’re a Christ-Follower, It’s Impossible to ‘Join’ a Church

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Jim Thomber writes at the other Thinking Out Loud blog. Click the link below to read this at source, and then click around his site for other great articles.

One Body Many MembersWhy It Is Impossible To Join A Church

“In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:5

 

After reading this passage in Romans, I’m starting to question the whole idea of church membership. How can I join a church, that is, a local assembly of believers, when I already belong to the Church, the one Body of Christ?

Like you, I live in a town with many churches. Large and small, independent and mainline, the body of Christ is widely represented. However, my understanding of Romans 12:5 tells me there is only one Church in my city; we just happen to meet in different locations.

So the question is: “How can I join a particular assembly of believers and become a member of their church when I already belong to all the others?” My gifts and my life are not my own. I belong to the body of Christ, not just to the assembly that gathers under the banner of my particular denomination. Even though I am an ordained minister of a large denomination, I don’t limit myself or my fellowship solely to this organization. Furthermore, I don’t exist to promote my denomination; rather, my denomination exists to give me what I need to do the work in the “white and ready to harvest” field of the world. In other words, my denomination exists to help me promote Jesus. I don’t exist to promote my denomination.

I’m starting to think that becoming a member of a local church is like saying my arm can choose to join my shoulder. When we see ourselves as only a member of one local church, we limit our gifts and talents to that one part of the body at the exclusion of all the others. But this doesn’t make sense. For instance, if I stub my big toe, my entire body walks differently until the toe is healed. However, if a local church goes through a split or a painful episode with its pastor, none of the other churches seem to be affected. The most we can offer our hurting brethren is a quick, “Oh, I’ll pray for you.” Rarely are we given permission to be part of the healing process. I think this tells us that in most cities the churches do not see themselves as part of the same body, where each member belongs to all the others. Instead, we act as disjointed members, eyeing one another as competitive stepchildren of the same parent, vying for attention and a larger share of the inheritance.

If we see ourselves as just members of one particular church, we are mostly in competition with other churches in town. However, when we ARE the Church, we then find the other churches are companions along the way. I want to learn to work in conjunction and connection with the rest of the Body. I pray you do too. “Lord, hear our prayer.”

Yes, I understand the argument for church membership, for the need to have order in the organization. This is why I submit to my denominational authorities, pastor a church, and teach a class for new members. Still, the body of Christ is NOT an organization; it is a living organism. What I do in my fellowship should have a reverberating effect upon the rest of the Body in my town. But for the most part it doesn’t, and I’m not sure where the problem lies. Maybe it’s with me.

Therefore, I’ve decided to feel free to be myself with whatever group of Christians I happen to be hanging around with. I’ve noticed that if my finger scratches my ear, it doesn’t have to become an ear to be an effective itch reliever. Likewise, I’m going to worship wherever I find myself, associate with whomever I chose, and be an honest ambassador of Christ wherever God leads me. By thinking this way, I won’t have to join any particular group in order be a part of the Body of Christ. I already am.

August 16, 2014

“Perfectly” United?

Christian unity

1 Corinthians 1:10:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

One of the wonderful things that can take place online is when people who might normally disagree over certain issues are willing to set those differences aside and come together over a specific cause or concern. It shows that unity is possible even on days we don’t feel it’s very probable.

Even in my own writing, I often find myself disagreeing violently with some Christian authors or bloggers on certain things, and then a few days later, I will use one of their articles here at C201. I know that people who read both blogs must find this confusing; either that or think I’m schizophrenic.

But the verse in I Corinthians one is talking about perfect unity; the implication is that this would mean unity on all things.

But wait; there’s more! If we believe that Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then it is God Himself who desires that we be “perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Surely there is some context to this verse (see yesterday’s post) that gives us some ‘wiggle room’ on this unity thing, right?

For A to agree with B on an issue, what personal preferences or doctrinal convictions might A have to concede on?

If I believe I am correct about a certain issue, would I be willing to lay that aside in order to be united with the “brothers and sisters” Paul mentions?

Think carefully before you answer those questions. It’s very noble to say, yes I’ll compromise on [substitutionary atonement, baptism of infants, post-Tribulation rapture] in order for us to attain unity, but you’re not truly going to do that with things you feel are part of core doctrine, or things you’ve spent the better part of a lifetime arguing in favor of.

Some would argue that the goal here is merely perfunctory, that Paul is trying to calm down certain quarreling that has erupted (see the next verse, v. 11) but it is interesting that two verses later, the picture he presents is so very similar to our present denominational structure:

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

We get this today. Doctrinal identity often overshadows our Christian identity.

I don’t believe that denominations in and of themselves are a bad thing. Accountability is a good thing. There is strength in numbers. John Stumbo, president of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination recently said this on the Phil Vischer podcast:

“With mounting pressure against the church of Jesus Christ in North America, it’s a great time to be part of a team”

Furthermore, we see certain distinctions very early on in the first century church. Some believe that in addition to the sects that Paul names in verse 12 above, that there was a group which followed the teachings of the Apostle John. And Paul himself, through his writings no doubt had his ‘Pauline’ followers; to this very day discussions exist as to distinctions between the message of the gospels (what Jesus taught) and the large percentage of the New Testament canon that bears Paul’s name (what Paul taught, that some imply as not necessarily having the inspiration of the Holy Spirit because of its different tenor from Jesus’ teachings.)

So this does get complicated, doesn’t it.

Perfect unity.

The words seem so easy.  Putting it into practice is much more difficult.

June 11, 2012

Yeah? Well Your Church is a Cult

So there.

That shut him up, right?

Unfortunately, we play the word “cult” like a trump card when in fact the word doesn’t always mean what we think. Jarod Hinton guest posted here back in February and returns today with a post that he titled, A Generic Weapon. (Click the link to read on his blog.)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;” (Eph. 4:2)

My mentor in college, Mike Davis, used to emphasize the importance of defining terms. “Define your terms” he would say multiple times a week. There is a term used often among Christendom which I think is being improperly, or at the very least generically, defined. This is important because when a word is used improperly on a broad scale it can be very dangerous and is usually damaging to the body of Christ.

The word is “cult”.

That word seems to be applied to groups so quickly these days. Even ministries as solidly evangelical as “Answers in Genesis” have been refered to as cults. Why? It seems that we Christians throw that accusation out against any group or teaching with which we disagree if a) we can’t think of anything substantive to say, or b) we want to cause our listeners to know we are serious.

So I looked up the definition, just so I could understand what it really means. Here you go, with my commentary in red:

“Cult”

  1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.  (Particular…like…..all Christianity?)
  2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.  (Yeah, or Jesus. How many of you admire Jesus? Congratulations! You are now a cult member.)
  3. the object of such devotion.
  4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
  5. 5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.  (So far, we are extremely generic. These things could describe anyone from Branch Davidians to Baptists.)
  6.  a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.  (Ok, this one seems a little more specific, but “considered to be false” by whom? Who is it that decides what is “false”, “unorthodox”, or “extremist”? This is again a very subjective statement. It strikes me that the Yankees would have considered the Confederates a cult by this definition, complete with charismatic leader in Robert E. Lee!)
  7. the members of such a religion or sect.
  8. any system for treating human sickness that originated by a person usually claiming to have sole insight into the nature of disease, and that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific. (Yeah, this would be weird. That is the best one so far. And see how much more specific this one is?)

These definitions are so general and unspecific that the accusation “cult” can be used in almost any imaginable disagreement. Those that admire Larry Bird dislike the “cult” of Michael Jordan. People who like wheat bread never let their children read the cultish propaganda on the white bread labels. “That is cult bread honey. Put it down.”

So then, should we be so free to use this accusation against fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Should we throw it around so lightly? Doesn’t it bring damage to those we should be loving, even if we disagree with them, that is neither helpful nor correct? This behavior does not comply with the instruction of Eph. 4:2 (referenced above) and a miriad of other passages that exhort us to “forbear” and show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If correction or revelation of error is required for the overall health of the body of Christ, it should be done more specifically. Mention the error or false doctrine precisely, but don’t throw out generalizations like “They are a cult.” Why? Why are they a cult? Because they disagree with you? Nope. Try again Skippy.

Finish this sentence: A group becomes a cult when…

Or this one: “Cult” is an accusation that should be used when…

~Jarod Hinton

Looking for more?  Last week, due to a glitch there was a double post on June 7th.  Be sure to read Redemptive Non Conformity (how to stand out in the world) and God Keeps on Putting Up With Us(about God’s patience).

 

…Want to write a guest post here at C201? Click the page link marked “submissions.”

February 16, 2011

Diverse in Doctrines, But Joined in Seeking

This week we’re catching up with devotional bloggers we visited last summer, which brings us back to Scott Shirley’s blog.  This is a piece worthy of much consideration and although it’s a bit longer, I hope you’ll take the time.  It appeared this week at his blog under the title The Divisiveness of Truth.


“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” – Psalms 133:1

Should everybody be allowed to read the Bible? (Spoiler alert: I think the answer is yes, but don’t stop reading yet.)

In the later part of the 14th century, John Wycliffe became the first person to translate the Bible into English. His aim was to get the Bible into the everyday language of the people. His story is complicated and full of twists but suffice it to say, his actions did not engender him to the hierarchy of the Church.

The translating of the Latin Bible into the “vulgar” English language worried Church authorities enough that by 1407 the English translation was denounced as unauthorized and translating or using translated Bibles was defined as heresy — a crime for which the punishment was death by burning. In 1415 Wycliffe himself was denounced, posthumously, as a heretic. His remains were exhumed in 1428 and burned. His ashes were spread over the Swift River.

The lens of history does not reflect well on the way the Catholic Church handled this issue. However, the Catholic Church may have been correct about one thing. They desperately feared a scriptural translation that could be read by king and commoner alike because they believed the commoner was not capable of “rightly dividing” the word of God. Putting the Bible into the hands of people not professionally trained to interpret it would result, they predicted, in rampant divisions within the Church and loss of the unity so often implored by the New Testament.

And that is exactly what happened!

By the end of the following century a German priest named Martin Luther, influenced by the work of Wycliffe, nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, thus setting the stage for the Protestant Reformation and the results that followed. Up through the time of Luther, the Church was mainly comprised of two sects or branches, the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic (the result of the first Church split right after the beginning of the second millennium). Since Luther, the church has splintered so many times it is difficult for scholars to accurately assess how many differing branches exist. But we have gone from two branches at the time of Luther to, according to many estimates, over 40,000 branches today.

Why? Because we started reading the Bible.

What Wycliffe, Luther, and all the reformers started was a needed and necessary work. The desire of the Reformation Movement was to rid the Church of the power to dictate the truths of the Bible and put this power squarely into the hands of the people. And despite the results of countless divisions, none of us really wants to go back to a situation where clergy dispenses truth to us. However, swirling beneath the surface of our everybody-should-study-the-Bible-for-themselves attitude is the same fear that fostered the Catholic Church’s resistance to an English Bible translation.  We are scared people will reach different conclusions.

And reach different conclusions we do. No theological position or doctrinal belief has been immune to human interpretive difference. Well intentioned Bible-believing Christians disagree about everything from issues as small as the order of a worship service to much bigger issues such as the nature of God, the incarnation, soteriology, or the theory of atonement.

The fallout of a disagreement over any Biblical issue considered foundational has usually resulted in Church division. One may wonder how it rightly could be otherwise. Whenever we disagree on a Biblical doctrine or teaching, we seem to think the only justifiable solution is to separate. After all, if two people hold opposing views, somebody must be wrong and they are, therefore, guilty of teaching false doctrine.  We dare not stay in fellowship with them for fear of appearing supportive of their views.

Our natural response when differences arise is to assume our position (or our Church’s position) is the correct one, or, at the very least, the most likely to be correct. There are very few individuals capable of viewing the religious opinions of others as having the potential of being as valid as their own opinions. Fewer still are the Churches who can pull off this bit of intellectual honesty. We all believe ourselves to be right. 40,000+ differing divisions all chirping the same song… come to us, we’ve got the Truth.

How can that be? How can we all be so confident yet differ so much? The main problem, as I see it, is that Churches and individuals alike rarely distinguish between Truth and truth. We are all after a perfect and certain understanding of God’s absolute Truth. We go to Church, listen to sermons, attend Sunday school classes and Bible studies, all in the pursuit of the Big T. Yet we vastly overestimate the results of our chase. We fail to realize that just having God’s Truth in a book doesn’t mean we are capable of understanding it perfectly. What we get, despite our sincerest efforts, isn’t Truth. We get our best approximation of “T”ruth — we get “t”ruth.

To gain meaning from the words of the Bible we are forced to interpret them through the filter of our own mind. Meaning requires interpretation and, unfortunately, our interpretive machinery is all too fallible. There’s a fundamental difference between Truth and our interpretations of Truth, and while we search for the former, our imperfections bring us only the latter. If we only recognized this imperfection within ourselves we could more easily understand why our Christian brother down the street suffers from the same condition.

As long as we are going to read the Bible ourselves and not allow Truth to be dictated to us from any earthly authority, we are going to have to deal with differences of opinion. This is unavoidable. It is possible, however, to maintain a unity of brotherhood without unanimity of opinion. But our unity cannot rest on our interpretive abilities and opinions of scripture because it is a fight our finite humanity cannot win. We will never all agree. Our unity must come from “faith in” Truth, not “beliefs about” Truth. We can, I believe, humbly unite through our constant desire to “diligently seek” after Him. It is our search that binds us, not our answers along the way.

Alexander Campbell said it very well…

“Dear Brother, for such I recognize you, notwithstanding the varieties of opinion which you express on some topics, on which we might NEVER agree. But if we should not, as not unity of opinion, but unity of faith, is the only true bond of Christian union, I will esteem and love you as I do every man, of whatever name, who believes sincerely that Jesus is the Messiah, and hope in his salvation.”- Alexander Campbell, A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things

Along this theme, check out this original parable by Scott Shirley, which appeared at his blog the next day.