January 2009

“but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”
2 Timothy: 4:3

This is a warning that we need to take seriously. However, I believe we often fall into this error from the other side. When we read this verse, we think of someone who runs after teachings they want to hear. I don’t know if I ever heard someone warn us from not listening to doctrines we know nothing about or that are even distasteful to us. So often, we have our itching ears satisfied by listening only to our current set of favorite teachers.

The people in Thessalonica drove out Paul because he brought a teaching that did not itch their ears. They were satisfied having their ears itched by their current teachers. The Bereans, on the other hand, allowed Paul to come into their status-quo synagogue service preaching a message that messed with their theological comfort. And yet they received this message with great eagerness.(Acts 17:1-15)

I don’t think we can truly understand what happened – just how radical the message was for them and just how much they had to yield. Not only did they listen with eagerness but received the message with eagerness. They didn’t just hear what Paul was saying and resist reacting to it, they embraced what was said and came into a believing knowledge of the message. Only then did they go to their scriptures to check it out.

They did not go to the scriptures to find arguments against Paul nor did they go to the scriptures to find arguments for Paul. They went to the scriptures to see if it was so. I know from experience how easy it is to go to the scriptures to quickly dismiss someone’s ideas or theology. I also know how easy it is – for me at least – to hear a new idea and run with it, using scripture superficially to justify this new idea or belief. The hardest thing to do is to come to the new belief in a real and honest way and then go to the scriptures to see if it is so.

I humbly say that I hold to, or at least strive at holding to the mindset of the Bereans, free-thinking and open-minded people not afraid to challenge their own preconceived opinions and beliefs. Laying aside my own beliefs to take up and embody new ones being proposed to me, I have willingly challenged many doctrines (trinity, deity of Jesus, women in leadership, end times, inerrancy/ role of the bible).

Sometimes I have returned to my original belief with as strong or stronger conviction; more often I find that this practice of open-mindedness refines and fine tunes my beliefs, like iron sharpening iron; and sometimes I walk away with a completely new belief.

For example, one doctrine that I have recently wrestled with is the doctrine of sin, the fall and the atoning work of Jesus and the Cross. After much deliberation and study I have left behind the traditional Protestant view of an atonement of substitution; of a fall that resulted in a vast and unbridgeable gap between us and God due to the inherited guilt and punishment resulting from a legal consequence of disobedience.

Instead, I now see the fall as resulting in a distortion of reality, a severance of communion with God and a very real sense of separation and disharmony with God and between one another. All this resulting from our sin [missing the mark] and the shame that it brings. Jesus’ obedience, even unto death on the cross, was not to appease a wrathful God. After all, how can forgiveness occur if it requires a payment? That would be like saying to someone who owes you money, “I’ll forgive you if you give me your new car”. This is not forgiveness and neither is God forgiving us only because Jesus paid for our dept.

God’s wrath was never aimed at us, His children, but at the sin that kept us from truly entering into a relationship. It was not an angry wrath but a cleansing wrath. Jesus did not die on the cross to appease an angry God but to appease our sense of shame. On the doctrine of atonement I have moved to an ‘eastern’ Orthodox position.

Anyway, the main reason I write this is not to discuss any particular doctrine, rather to bring light to what I believe is one of the greatest issues facing the church today. Our problem is our itching ears.

We have within our congregations today, the atmosphere of denominational-ism. Our little group gathers with others of like mind. We read books by those in our group, listen to podcasts or bring in speakers from within our own group. And heaven help the one who reads an author that is black-listed due to the fact he is an outsider. We are quite happy having our ears itched by our charismatic ear scratchers; or our New Apostolic ear scratchers; our evangelical, our reformed, our prophetic ear scratchers; or our liberal or emergent ear scratchers.

The great down fall of the Reformation is denominational-ism. Everyone could read the scriptures for themselves and were responsible for their own doctrines. The result? 30000+ protestant denominations! And we claim this diversity is a good thing. Diversity with unity is a good thing. But diversity with division is anti-Christ. And it is this anti-Christ spirit we are, for the most part, stuck with today as a result of the Reformation. I am tired of having my ears scratched by the same old charismatic, conservative, evangelical ear scratchers.

The printing press was the catalyst to a divisive diversity. Maybe the world wide web will be the catalyst to a unified diversity. It has become so much easier to hear other sides of the divisive issues. I do not need to wait for a Paul to come into my synagogue, I can now go to his blog and hear the word of God there. And together, in this world wide congregation, we can have a conversation and go to the scriptures to see if it is so. And it is this engaging fellowship that should not be forsaken.


Reading through Colossians, yet again, I couldn’t help but fixate on Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

What does this mean for us today? Well, for starters, theology is nothing more than philosophy with a God-spin on it. Does this emphasis on God mean that we no longer need to worry about it being or becoming the tradition of men? Or does it mean that we can stop working out our theology to try and answer the questions arising in society today?

If we go back to Acts, we see that for the first 10 years or so, the people of ‘the Way’ were Jewish. If an outsider wanted to follow the Way, they needed to convert. Jesus and Christianity were for the Jews! Then, in Acts 15 we see where everything changed.

Some people came out of Jerusalem and started teaching the gentile believers in Antioch that they needed to convert – “Unless you are circumcised.” The context and questions in Antioch were different from the context and questions in Jerusalem. The body of believers in Antioch then rose up and sent representatives back the Jerusalem to settle the issue once and for all. The first Council.

James summed it up: “we do not want to trouble [harass/ make it hard for] those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles” Thus started the first contextualization of the Gospel. We are taught by this example that theology needs to be worked out in a specific culture and context.

For nearly 300 years these the two streams existed side by side and was being worked out with fear and trembling – the Greek church and the Hebrew church. Obviously the Greek version grew much larger with the influx of thousands of new Gentile believers being added.

Both these groups had their own ideas about God. The Hebrews believed in a God who dwelt in their midst. He dwelt in the Temple but ever since the first exile they realized that their God also dwelt with them without the Temple. The Greeks on the other hand believed in gods that lived apart from humanity in a state of divine purity. Theology needs to be an out-working in a specific culture and context.

The philosophers like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates have influenced our modern Christianity just as much or more than the Hebrew’s views. “The theology that guides the present-day church is in many ways a version of faith customized for the fifth-century Greco-Romans. And when that view was set in stone as the inarguable, unchanging, only way to explain faith, it created all kinds of trouble for those of us living today.”*

This is not to say that we need to go back to first century Judaism. After all, Acts 15 shows us that the Way is not for the Hebrews alone, nor is it to be purely Hebraic. But, we DO need to recognize that what we have today has been built upon Greek understanding and philosophy. A stale Greek understanding at that, one for a different age and a different time.

Our first step needs to be to recognize that when we read the bible we ARE reading it through a Greek philosophical vantage point and through the ancient traditions of men. There are many today that are trying to work out their/our salvation with fear and trembling for the context we are in today. In this process, very little is sacred. Our view of the atonement is a contextualized theology for a Greek concept of a God in heaven that needed to be appeased.

My conviction is that much of what we believe and do today is the result of being in captivity of Greek philosophy and traditions of men rather than according to Christ.

What is you conviction?

*. Doug Pagitt, A Christianity Worth Believing, Jossey-Bass 2008

“I was talking with someone on Friday and the topic turned toward the importance of community. Our context was a discussion about the reading of scripture,…” ~ The Margins

First, let me say that I attend a conventional ‘church’. Just keep that in mind.

You say: “In our age of church-less Jesus-followers”

I think this statement in it self is a true indication of a lack of understanding of some of the real issues that are currently being worked out in our time. Your statement should better read “In our age of institutional-church-less Jesus-followers”.

Remember, I am an institutional-church attender and I am in a lay leadership position of said ‘church’. That being said, I do not get fellowship with my church in the context of the church programs or church fellowships.

I do have real christian fellowship with both other attenders as well as others that are not from our institution [both believers from other churches and some that have left institutions altogether.] It is this fellowship that I believe – “do not forsake the assembling together” really talks about. After all, the assembling together that occurs at institutional churches tend to produce superficial fellowship that is driven by the agenda of programs and institutional needs.

I often feel on the verge of “separating from others”, however in my case, and I believe that this is the case more often than not, I feel the need to ‘separating towards another others’.

I fully believe with you and your prof that “Paul wrote those letters to communities of faith”. I just believe that the communities of faith that Paul wrote to did not look like or have the institutional baggage that the communities of faith alluded to have.

As a matter of fact, there is no reason that one expression of a community of faith could not be manifest on the blogosphere.

Anyway, this has been a comment from one whose walk with God leading him away from emphasis and the importance of [the institutional church].

Recently I changed my religion on facebook to:”Radical Reformer? or just a heretic”

Needless to say, it has sparked an interesting exchange of mail between my mother-in-law [MIL] and myself [ME]. So I thought I’d post the correspondence here.

MIL: “or just a heretic? What does this mean”

ME: “I don’t toe the evangelical/charismatic line.

The old answers are not necessarily the right ones for the current set of questions. So, for instance, I lean more towards eastern orthodox in my thinking of original sin and the atonement than the idea of a legal consequence in need of a substitutionary atonement.”

MIL: “I have no idea what this means you scare me, eastern orthodox,”

ME: The evangelical/charismatic doctrine is that Jesus had to die in my place to pay the price to appease the wrath of God. He had to so this because the fall resulted in the guilt of mankind do to the moral/spiritual stain upon our soul.

My belief (resembling eastern orthodox) is that the result of the fall is not a prescription of punishment but a description of the severance of communion with God. God’s wrath is not directed on us due to our despicable state, but God’s cleansing wrath is directed at the sin that causes the shame that keeps us hiding from God.

The evangelical/charismatic doctrine has God saying to us: “Do as I say not as I do! I expect you to love your enemies … but I get to dish out the punishment on my enemies that they rightly deserve.” We do not respect the person that portrays the characteristics that we admire when we see it in God. This vengeful God is not the image that Jesus portrays to us, nor is it a God that I could call dada.

Anyway this is just one of the many ~heretical~ beliefs that I hold. (I am also an Evolutionary Creationist- Genesis 1 – 11 does not describe our origins but rather it describes our condition. So the fall is not an actual event but a mythological image that explains our current state.)

So, did I ease your concern or amplify it?

ME: Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism have a substantively different soteriology [the branch of theology that deals with salvation]; this is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word “expiation” with regard to what is accomplished in the sacrificial act. In Orthodox the ology, expiation is an act of offering that seeks to change the one making the offering. The Greek word that is translated both into propitiation and expiation is “hilasmos” which means “to make acceptable and enable one to draw close to God”. Thus the Orthodox emphasis would be that Christ died, not to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, but to change people so that they may become more like God.”

MIL: I don’t know, I have to study this and pray about it.

I just feel very uneasy in my spirit about this. I love and respect you as a scholar of the Word but…….

I don’t see how you can be both an Evolutionary & a Creationist I don’t understand.

What difference does it make why Jesus came He came.

His heart was broken mine was mended,
He became sin now I am clean,
The Cross He carried bore my burden
The nails that held Him set me free

His scars of suffering brought me healing,
He spilled His blood to fill my soul,
His crown of thorns made me royalty,
His sorrow gave me joy untold.

He was despised and rejected
Stripped of His garment and oppressed
I am loved and accepted
And I wear a robe of righteousness

His Life for Mine,
His Life for Mine,
How could it ever be?
That He would die,
God’s Son would die,
To save a wretch like me,
What love divine,
He gave His life for Mine

You will find this song emotional and very simple, probably corny but that is what Jesus did for me when He came, Isn’t that what really matters.

ME: “What difference does it make why Jesus came, He came.”

The difference is that the traditional doctrines of an appeasing of an angry and vindictive Father is not who I believe daddy is and we live out what we really believe. If we believe that God is a God of love but that love is conditional, then even as believers we struggle to stay on the good side of His favour. If something in our life goes wrong we try to figure out what it is that ticked God off. Now I realize we would never say this, however, when you look at so much of our actions you see us looking to get into or say in God’s good favour.

We become slaves to our belief of who we think God is.

Regarding an evolutionary creation, the way I see it is that God impregnated the natural world with a spiritual DNA that led the process of evolution much like the natural DNA in the single cell egg can evolve into a fully functional being.

The issue for me is that most of the people that leave the christian faith or who never enter it to begin with, do so for a handful of reasons. These issues are not dealt with in our traditional doctrines.

The issues:
1) A resistance to inelegance. The overwhelming weight of science proves that the earth is not flat, but Christians are resisting this because the bible – at least how we interpret it says that the earth is indeed flat.

2) The God that is portrayed to outsiders is an immoral God who should be held culpable. What kind of God is he who creates humanity with freewill, limited knowledge and understanding and place before them a fruit that was good for food and delightful to the eyes and then tells them that it is off limits and if they do ‘fall’ they will die – neglecting to show them the eternal torment in the flames of hell.

3) Which brings us to the Flames of Hell. (see #2)

Doug Pagitt in ‘A Christianity Worth Believing‘ says it this way:

‘Christianity is a stagnant, exclusive club for those who are satisfied with ill fitting answers meant for issues of a different age..’

Our current theology is from another age where they were wrestling with issues we no longer deal with and questions we no longer are asking.

The theses of his book is that Christianity for the first ten years was strictly Jewish. Then entered the gentiles [Greeks] and for the next 300 years there was a balancing act between the two groups. The Jewish believers Looked to  Joshua the Messiah who was the fulfillment of the promises given to their ancestors. They believed in a God who was close and mingled in their lives even if sin got in the way. Their God was not distant up in Heaven – He lived in the temple right in their midst.

The Greeks, on the other hand, held to a belief in the gods up in the heavens who related to humanity at a distance and required appeasements in order for their good favour on their followers. It is in this context that the gospel was translated that Jesus Christ is the ultimate appeasement for the one true God.

Then came Constantine and his institutionalization of the things of God. He all but crushed the eastern and Jewish flavours of our one faith. Today we are still riding on the coattails of the theologians who struggled with the issues and questions of their day.

We need to start listening to the questions being ask today and come up with new answers that address them.

Anyway, I’m glad I only gave you the ‘safe’ heretical thoughts that I am wrestling with.

As I started putting together a list, I realized that many of the issues fell into categories. For instance, the first four points in my theses all relate to leadership and the relationship we are to have with one another and towards those God calls to have the role of leadership in our midst.

So the way I see this working is that I will post items that fit into a category then maybe do a little write-up to clarify and state my reasons for including them on the list. So here is the next two on the list:

3. Covering and accountability is un-scriptural and abusive.
4. Relationship and mutual submission is the scriptural path to a mutual accountability. Authority is given not taken. I can give you the authority to speak in to my life and I can take it away.

I will do a follow up post introducing my views on these issues in the near future. For now, please read this post that actually points to another post. At the time of my writing this the links to Steve Hill’s blog seem to be broken so I have not actually read any of his blog, though from the quotes in A Former Leader’s Journey’s post have definitely tweaked my interest.

Reformed and Always Reforming

How popular is the last half of this famous saying coming out of the age of reformation? Always Reforming! Many of the reformation denominations cling to the traditions of their elders. Traditions have their place, however, when they hinder the reforming attempts of a current generation they become traditions of Pharisees.

Luther did not mean to start a new movement, he meant to start conversation. What he did by nailing the 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany was not a unique action. Some say that the doors were regularly used to post news and events. The doors were used as a bulletin board.

So, in the spirit of the reformation and the call to always reform, I am starting a series: A New Theses for Reforming. My posts are some of the topics that I feel the church as a whole needs to be in conversation about.

So lets get started:

1. Kingdom leadership is walked out by those without authority. Persuasive leadership as opposed to authoritative leadership.
Luke 22:25,26; 1Peter 5:1-3

2. The Clergy/ Laity split in the kingdom must be dissolved. There was never meant to be offices set up within the body of Christ, just different roles. We are brothers and sisters. Titles are a thing of the past.
See #1; Matt 23:8-12; Hos 8:4; Ex20:19; 1 Sam 8:19

There we go. My first New Theses for Reforming post.

Am I a Universalist?

This is one question I am currently wrestling with God.

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
1 Corinthians 15

“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous.”
Romans 5:18,19

“For it was the good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Colossians 1:19,20

So the question is:

Do we interpret away the ALL in these passages to be SOME – only those who make a decision?

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9

Or do we interpret the opposing scripture through these universalism ones?

“so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of the Father.”
Philippians 2:10,11

“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that  though they were judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to God”
1 Peter 4:6

I don’t think that the manipulation of scripture for either side can totally convince me one way or the other. So I must rely on whom I see God to be. Is he the vengeful God who needs to be appeased through a blood sacrifice and only those who, while alive, call out to him are relieved from an eternity of torture and damnation. Or is he a God of Love that is not willing that any should perish?

I am not as of yet committed to the doctrine of universalism though I hope it’s true, and even pray that it’s true. I cannot imagine any one hoping or praying that the reverse is true. And if I, and evil human that I am, could not wish the modern concept of hell even on one such as Hitler, how much more so a loving Father in heaven? (Luke 11:13)

I do believe that regardless of which version is the TRUTH, all will be judged and some will be punished. The question is what is the extent of the punishment? Eternal? Or pertaining to an age? (both of which is valid interpretations for the greek word AIÓNIOS). I also believe that universalism does not diminish the need of preching the gospel of Christ and of the Kingdom of God. For too long the emphasis of our preching has been of “a kingdom to come” not “thy kingdom come”. We are to join with Christ to proclaim release to the captives, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. The gospel of Christ is not a personal gospel nor is it a social gospel. It is both and more. We need to care less for the after life and care more for peace and justise for the here and now.