Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One body of Christ

Long before I ever came into my period of "questioning" my beliefs, throughout the years I never really understood why Christianity was divided into the thousands of denominations we have today. I suppose if we wanted to know how, we would have to look at church history and the reformation from the Roman Catholic Church and so on. But I just always thought the idea that we as Christians needing to "further define our beliefs" by creating sub-genres for ourselves (over petty issues like "I dont believe in baptizin' no babies!") was rather silly.

Thus in the past 8 or so years of being "saved" Ive never really considered myself any particular denomination (well when I was a little kid I called myself Catholic having no idea what that meant, but my dad was! And later in life I would sometimes call myself a Wesleyan if people asked since the church I was baptized in was Wesleyan). But I never really felt that urge to box my beliefs up and brand them with a label for all to see that Im "part of THAT group". I was saved, I was Christian, I believed in the Bible...and that was good enough for me. Even when I found myself becoming a Christian Universalist this past year, I was reluctant to embrace the label. Not because I was ashamed of it, but its easy for people to see "universalist" and equate that with "Unitarian"(which Im not going to get into the difference right now). So before I even get a chance to talk about my beliefs, already people will assume things about me and my beliefs that aren't necessarily true. Though I suppose that will happen no matter what I do or call myself, and even the "Christian" label itself has those general assumptions attached. Anyway, getting back to the point...

I suppose one could say that denominations and sub-groups exist, to keep groups of people happily worshiping God the way they want; which I would say is an important thing in essence. I mean, I wouldn't want to rattle the old folk with our "loud" worship music and make them squint at power point slides if they didnt want to (which is obviously why most churches have contemporary and traditional services). And I wouldn't want to force people to attend services where speaking in tongues and convulsing on the floor are regular activities, if they didn't feel comfortable with that brand of "holy spirit fun".

But the real problem ive begun to see is that denominations, whatever "pros" there may be to them, keep Christians very divided. Every denomination, or sub division we create for ourselves as believers in Christ, only creates more separation in what is supposed to be one body of Christ. And a body not really a fully functioning body the way it was designed to be. Paul talked about the subject a few different times I believe, but I think he really sumed it up in 1 Corinthians 12:17-19

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the nostrils be? But, as a matter of fact, God has arranged the parts in the body--every one of them--as He has seen fit. If they were all one part, where would the body be?

Every person, no matter what denomination, or how different their beliefs may be...functions in a certain way that another person cannot(or perhaps cannot yet). Each individual "member" has the ability to see and do things that maybe another person with another personality and perception cannot. For example, some people may be more equipped to do prison ministry because their background is that of an ex-felon. Or more related to what I'm talking about, some people may have been shown a side of "truth" that maybe another person isn't yet able to see. Just like the brain is unable to perceive smell without the use of the noise. Nor can it perceive sound, without the use of the ear. Certain body parts do certain things, but they're all pretty much needed to be connected as one, in order to be a healthy, working, full-fledged body.

One line in a lyric by ascitiesburn kindof attests to the absurdity of divided believers,

And if we are the Body, how'd the pretty man get so ugly?
How'd He get all these, spaces between each limb?

Anyway, this is an important reminder to me, because as my beliefs and perceptions drift further away from what I always call "mainstream Christianity", Ive really questioned my place in a system I no longer fully embrace. Ive found it increasingly hard for me to fellowship, participate in church and play the smiling "im okay everybody!" game, when I feel there are many lies about God and His plan being preached and largely unexamined. However, I'm coming to find that I should not let that in anyway hinder my fellowship with believers that ascribe to the mainstream(though many times its actually they who want nothing to do with me). And if anything, that should be all the more reason to participate in the mainstream Christian system(at least from time to time); to help people to think about what I feel God has been showing me, and in turn, learn some things that I don't yet see or understand.

Universalism and all the things Ive learned have been great, and I would love to attend a church(or perhaps even start a small group/house church) that believes in such things at some point. But on the other hand, the body of Christ does not need more division. It needs more unity, to fully function and perform the will of God on Earth. It needs tolerance to accept the fact that not everyone interprets the bible the same, and not everyone has the same perspective on things. Just because someone doesnt believe the same as you, doesnt necessarily mean that they're wrong; it just means that God perhaps has not yet revealed to them what hes revealed to you. Or maybe even Hes revealed some things to them, that you haven't been yet shown (and here you thought you had God all figured out? lol).

I guess I'll close by saying this: If we are supposed to be a body, then we should treat each other as invaluable, and irreplaceable parts of Gods will. That doesn't mean everyone has to believe like you, or you have to believe like them. It doesn't mean even that you have to go to church every Sunday or listen to Christian music or attend the same Christian events. What I think it does mean though, is that we should cast off this "us against them" mentality, and realize that we could learn alot from one another. Most importantly, we should help each other, in reaching the rest of human kind with the love and teachings of Christ and His salvation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grace THROUGH faith

What is it that really saves us? My entire life I've been told that we are not saved by anything we do, but by what Jesus has done. The key verse that people back this up with is Ephesians 2:8-9,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

People use this verse to say that grace is not of ourselves, but yet seem to think that faith is of ourselves entirely. This is perhaps why many Christians "blame" non-believers themselves(rather than God) for not having faith before they died. But if faith is of ourselves entirely, and is not a gift of God, then wouldnt we have something to "boast" in as believers? If us mustering up the faith to believe, is what makes salvation applicable, then we are doing something to save ourselves; we are in effect, saved by a work of ourselves!

That seems to be against everything Paul is saying here though. He says,
for by grace you have been saved through faith. and this...
This what? This grace? No...this grace through faith. And so what about it? It is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God. Grace comes with faith, and vice versa...Paul doesnt seperate the two components to salvation and say that one is of ourselves, and the other is not. So perhaps faith is like the vehicle, by which grace comes to us FROM God to execute salvation within us.


some might object however and say,
Well you have to accept that gift

And I think thats true to an extent, but again if that ability to accept something is entirely of ourselves, it is us that is doing a "work" to be saved...not God and His grace. So I think God has to make someone able to accept grace through faith, if it is truly not of themselves. Simon Peter didnt believe that Jesus was the Son of God all on his own, he believed because God revealed it to him. In Matthew 16:15-17, Jesus says
"But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

If you get nothing else out of this blog, get this: Grace is what enables us TO have faith!

I think this more or less blows a hole in the mainstream christian theology that says that faith is up to us and our "free" will. Because these verses seem to say that it is not up to us to save ourselves or give ourselves faith; it is of God and his dispensation of revelation to people individually. And if that is so, then it is logical to say that if someone dies without having received said grace through faith, that it is not they that are ultimately responsible...but God.

But wait, God cant be to blame for the sinner that rejects Him! you may reply.

Yes, God is totally responsible for our salvation, if it is truly not by our own works. That includes our acceptance and rejection of it. Paul testified to this too in a sense, in Romans 9:18,
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills

Did you catch that? He wills, not our wills. It is His will that some(probably most) will be hardened from the gospel this side of the grave.
But this is only disturbing though, if we think that Gods title as "Savior of All Men" will never truly be fulfilled. This is only disturbing, if we constantly beat every bible verse and thought against the doctrine of "free" will. We need to realize that God has a plan that wont fail.

The end result of those people that are hardened, will not be eternal separation(which according to what we've examined, would be Gods fault basically). They too will come to God, when He allows them to. Because it is true that no one can come to faith in God, unless God draw him (John 6:44). But it is also true that God will draw all men to himself (John 12:32). What time table God decides to do that under I will not limit him, but I will say that it is not limited merely to this short human existence we have been granted.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"If everyone goes to heaven, whats the point?"

*(the picture of Bush has nothing to do with anything...I just thought his confused look was hilarious)

This is a question that seems to turn up in every objection to universalism Ive seen thus far, so I thought maybe id blog about it finally

If Hell is not eternal, and everyone eventually gets to be with God...whats the point of doing good or following God? Shouldn't we just do what we want now, since it doesn't matter anyway?

I think people ask this question (as I did too once) because the idea of Ultimate Reconciliation really causes us to reassess the foundations of the Christian faith. And in this case, it reassess our motivation to serve God. That motivation, I think, is often clouded by our evangelical conception; that following God in this life yields the "treat" of heaven, while failing to do so yields the "spanking" of eternal hell. So when universalism takes out eternal hell and replaces it with age-long chastisement, I suppose one could justify that they dont need to serve God, since the punishments are only temporary anyway.

But if a husband continually cheats on his wife, and justifies it by saying,"well, she wont leave me forever, she'll love me no matter what", is it fair to say that that man probably doesnt really love his wife?
In the same way, if the sole reason we serve God is because we are terrified of the idea of eternal punishments, is it fair to say that we dont genuinely love God at all? In that case, we would only be serving God out of fear...fear of punishment or abandonment, not out of love or willful obedience. The same can be said if we serve God only because of the reward of an eternal paradise, except that its not out of fear that we would be serving God, but out of lust for the reward itself. Its kind of like a dog standing on his hind legs at command, simply because he knows his master will give him a doggie treat for it. The dog probably doesnt do it out of love for the master, but rather a love for the taste of bacon-flavored bites.


Because of Jesus, all of the worlds offenses have been forgiven (1 john 2:2) and we are now under grace, not a system of rules in which we have to perform. But just because God loves us no matter what we do, doesn't mean we should just "party it up" and sin our lives away. I have never endorsed that view, nor do the scriptures appear to.
In fact, Paul talked about that very thing in Romans 6:15-17,
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means![...]
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.
Paul makes it a point to say that our obedience is from the heart, thusly I think that is the real underlining reason to serve God...because we want to do so, from the bottom of our hearts.

Another common question along the same lines is,
So whats the point in spreading the gospel, if everyone is just going to be saved anyway?

I think the first point to make here is that Jesus tells us to "go and make disciples of all the nations"(Matthew 28:19), so apparently God wants us to be apart of his truth-revealing process to the world. Secondly, but perhaps of equal importance, is the fact that it doesn't take a PhD to see that we live in a very broken world, in need of the knowledge that God loves them and died for their sins. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus's compassion for the lost was evident, Matthew 9:36-38 is a good example,
When he saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepard. Then He said, "The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord to send out laborers into His harvest".

Christ made "the harvest" possible through His blood shed, so as followers of Him (of which His spirit lives inside) we should be laboring in His name, and in the same vein of compassion He had for people. We shouldn't let people suffer their whole lifes, and through whatever "hell" is, before having a joyful and fulfilling relationship with Jesus. God revealed His goodness and grace to us, so why wouldn't we want to share that with others so that they too can experience it? The notion of Hell not being eternal, and being for a good and remedial purpose...doesn't discredit our faith, or our reason to share it. If anything, it should allow us to truly lay our hopes in Him...that its not up to us to save people, or always live perfect lives. God loves us no matter what and has a good purpose for us from now, til forever.

That's good news I feel like sharing, how bout you?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Does orthodoxy always = truth?

Many times, people say that I am wrong in my beliefs because they dont strictly adhere to what Christian orthodoxy says(orthodoxy being the long established, and "approved" doctrines). And while I can respect such beliefs and their place in the church, I cant help but wonder why something should be deemed true, simply because it is orthodox or traditional?

After all, many things have been "traditional" or accepted throughout human history, that we now (generally speaking) deem evil or incorrect. Slavery is a good example of something that was accepted and practiced for hundreds of years, but now most would consider vile and disgusting(at least in our European countries). It was once traditional or orthodox to say that the earth was flat, even though we now know it not to be(though I guess thats not a perfect analogy, since thats something a little more observable and thus provable). But maybe on a more related note, many times in church history have we found things to be incorrect or untrue. The most famous of those being in the Reformation, when Martin Luther proposed that salvation comes to us via Gods grace, and not by paying clergy men or any other "work" we could do. If the so called "orthodox" opinion could be rightly challenged back then, why can it not be now? If traditional church opinions were prone to error even in its earliest of days, what makes it free from any error here in more modern times?

The consensus in Christianity seems to be that orthodoxy should be accepted on the merits that those who created it did so with "tried and true methods"(none of which, people seem to elaborate much on). But what began to disturb me about that, is that we are told to accept those orthodox traditions and ideas even when they appear to make the Bible seem contradictory.
If anything is "dangerous" I think it may be this line of thinking; that we cannot scrutinize the theories or interpretations of those who first proposed our core Christian doctrines. Almost as if our allegiance should be to the Church and its doctrines first, and then to God(if He falls in line with the established theology, of course).

But this seems ridiculous to me, first of all because our allegiance should first be to what we feel God is trying to show us personally. And secondly because the church has always had varying doctrines and positions on every conceivable matter since its birth. So just because a certain set of beliefs have been deemed "orthodox", it is only so because of a consensus at some point in history...not necessarily because it is an irrefutable fact. I like the way John Shelby Spong puts it,
"To be called Orthodox Christian does not mean that one's point of view is right. It only means that this point of view won out in the ancient debate."

With that said, our belief in what is true shouldn't be based upon a consensus or tradition, or even what any religious teacher says...but rather on the conviction that God gives us through the Christian scriptures and even just through everyday life. We dont have to have all of our theology spoon-fed to us, we have the ability to discern for ourselves, and I think that is what is meant by 1 John 2:27(WNT),
And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him remains within you, and there is no need for any one to teach you. But since His anointing gives you instruction in all things--and is true and is no falsehood--you are continuing in union with Him even as it has taught you to do

Even Jesus posed the question,
"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" Luke 12:57
Jesus wasnt talking to the religious "orthodox" teachers of the day, he was talking to everyday people. So whatever is truly "right", Im not sure that it neccesarily needs to pass through the hands of teachers and orthodox doctrines, to be interpreted as such. We can "judge for ourselves"

This is not to say, that I or anyone, should place ourselves as "wiser" than orthodoxy and its established conclusions. There is alot of value to be had in tradition and its ideas, but that doesnt mean we should negate our own abilities to interpret and study the evidence, Biblical or extra-biblical. We should consider what others have to say on such matters, but the ultimate conclusion, I believe, should be left to the Holy Spirit within...not man and its varying and conflicting doctrines.