Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John Calvin

Some people still call themselves "Calvanist" or "new Calvanist". What do they mean by that? If it means they are in agreement with some of the teachings of John Calvin that's likely OK. But why can't they just say they are follower's of Christ? Are there some teachings of Calvin that are different than the teachings of Christ? If they are the same, why the need for another label?

We need to consider that whenever we hold to labels like "Calvinist" or "new Calvinist", we divide Christ's body. Striving for unity with all those who follow Christ must be an essential part of our faith. (See my previous post on why unity is essential.)

Here is some stuff I did not learn at Bible school about John Calvin. Maybe I was not paying attention in class... or maybe it was just omitted. However, I think it is worth knowing, since it was part of John Calvin's system of beliefs... the same system of beliefs that has been very influential in the Christian traditions I've been involved with.

John Calvin (and his church/political partners) had his opponents sentenced to death. One source states 58 death sentences.
The conduct of all citizens was examined and regulated by a consistory of 5 pastors and 12 lay elders elected by the council. The consistory had the right to visit every family annually and search its home; to summon any citizen before it; to excommunicate, which meant virtually automatic banishment from the city by the council; to force attendance at weekly sermons; to prohibit gambling, drunkenness, dancing, profane songs, and immodest dress; and to forbid all forms of the theater. The colors of clothing, hair styles, and amounts of food permissible at the table were regulated. It was forbidden to name children after saints, and it was a criminal offense to speak ill of Calvin or the rest of the clergy. The press was severely censored, with writings judged to be immoral and books devoted to Catholicism or other false teaching forbidden. Punishment for first offenses was usually a fine and for repetition of minor crimes, banishment. Fornication was punishable by exile, and adultery, blasphemy, and idolatry by death. Education, which Calvin regarded as inseparable from religion, was very carefully regulated, and new schools were established. Charity was placed under municipal administration to eliminate begging. Thus the whole life of Geneva was placed under a rigid discipline and a single Church from which no deviation was permitted.
Another man who accused Calvin of false doctrines was forced to parade around town begging God for forgiveness.

He may have had many great intellectual ideas for a better form of Christianity. But was this any better than the injustices done by the Catholic Church he was protesting in those days? From my brief readings it sounds like he helped form and lead a very authoritarian form of institutional church.

OK, Calvin probably can not take blame for all of this... it was likely partially due to how things worked in those days...

but you won't catch me saying I'm a Calvinist or "New Calvinist"!

Why can't we all simply follow Christ?
"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." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13 NIV)

Monday, April 27, 2009

I don't understand Hebrews 8

Wow, amazing passage here... not sure if I totally understand it tho.

Hebrews 8:7-13 (NIV)
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
"The time is coming, declares the Lord,when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

"No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest."

Huh? What do you mean we won't be teaching our neighbors and relatives about God? Yeah, I don't get this verse.

Does this verse say that all people know God? If so, I don't know what to do with the rest of the Bible... do we not have to share the good news with anyone?

Or is it saying that everybody who is part of this new covenant already knows God. Once someone joins this new covenant with God, they don't need to be taught more about God... that God will take care of the rest. "I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts."

Does this thinking match with these other passages?

John 14:26 (NIV)
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:13 (NIV)
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
1 John 2:27 (NIV)
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.
1 Cor 2:10-15 (NIV)
but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment:

Any thoughts? Why so much emphasis in Christian circles on teaching each other all truths? Are we letting others replace the role of the Holy Spirit?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Great little conversation between Evangelicals and Catholics

Just a short link to this little conversation between some 'Evangelicals' and some 'Catholics'.


I pray that more people would discover the potential for unity between Christ followers from various traditions. It's not about what membership we belong to, or what doctrines we agree with. If we truly love the same Jesus and make Him Lord of our lives - we are brothers and sisters - whether we like it or not. :)

When we recognize this same love for the same Jesus we start to recognize that we are united in Him.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Did Jesus pay our debt?

OK, I may be alone on these thoughts. And that's OK. I will still respect and fellowship with those who think differently.

I have heard and used phrases like the following all my life. They have become part of the Christian lingo, and are in many songs, sermons, and christian conversations:
  • "Jesus paid our debt"
  • "Jesus paid a debt that he did not owe"
  • "Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!"
  • "Jesus paid the penalty of man's sin"
From what I can tell this type of language may have started with John Calvin in the 1500's, and the theory of penal substitution.

However I can not find any verse or passage in our scriptures that describe what Jesus did on the cross in these terms.

One verse that is often used to support this theory is 1 Timothy 2:5-6:
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time." (NIV)
But does ransom mean the same as paying a debt? If my child was held hostage by some bad guys or evil force, and I payed a ransom to free my child... would you say I was paying a debt? No, I didn't owe the bad guys anything. I was choosing to give something to win back something that was mine. Paying a ransom is not squaring things up so they are fair or even again. Paying a ransom is redeeming, or recovering ownership of something that was taken from you.

Also with the ransom analogy, who is the 'payment' made to? Who was holding the child captive? The bad/evil force. How does this go with the idea that Jesus paid for my sins to appease God's wrath? Was God the bad/evil force holding me captive? Or was the debt to Satan? And Jesus was making the payment to appease Satan? I don't think either option is fits.

My point here is that I don't see this verse giving strong support to use of phrases like "Jesus paid our debt".

So, are there other verses that support this doctrine?

OK, how about this one?
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26 NIV)
OK, here is redemption again, or buying back, which I think this is different than paying a debt.

What about 'sacrifice of atonement'? Does sacrifice mean payment?

Jesus was a sacrificial lamb. However we are also called to offer our bodies as a sacrifice to God. But I don't think most would take this verse as a command that our sacrifice to God is payment for our sins in any way.   We shouldn't think we are paying off God when we make a sacrifice.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1 NIV)
The cross was a symbol of sacrifice (not payment), and we are called to sacrifice our lives to God as we follow the example of Jesus.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. "(Matt 16:24 NIV)
We wouldn't say that we are paying off God as we take up 'our cross' and follow God.

So if Jesus was the sacrifice of atonement, lets look at what that meant to the Jews:
"This is the interpretation given by all the Jewish commentators, ancient and modern, on the passage; compare also Yoma 5a; Zeb. 6a, (image) = "There is no Atonement except with blood," with the identical words in Heb. ix. 22, R. V.: "Apart from shedding of blood there is no remission [of sins]." The life of the victim was offered, not, as has been said, as a penalty in a juridical sense to avert Heaven's punishment, not to have man's sins laid upon it as upon the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement, and thus to have the animal die in his place, as Ewald thinks ("Alterthümer," p. 68), but as a typical ransom of "life by life"; the blood sprinkled by the priest upon the altar serving as the means of a renewal of man's covenant of life with God (see Trumbull, "The Blood Covenant," p. 247). In Mosaic ritualism the atoning blood thus actually meant the bringing about of a reunion with God, the restoration of peace between the soul and its Maker. Therefore, the expiatory sacrifice was accompanied by a confession of the sins for which it was designed to make Atonement (see Lev. v. 5, xvi. 21; Num. v. 7; compare Maimonides, "Yad," Teshubah, i. 1): "no atonement without confession of sin as the act of repentance," or as Philo ("De Victimis," xi.) says, "not without the sincerity of his repentance, not by words merely, but by works, the conviction of his soul which healed him from disease and restores him to good health."
(emphasis mine)
OK, lets look at how some other parts of scripture describe what happened on the cross.

John the Baptist called Jesus the lamb of God:
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29 NIV)
Jesus Sacrifice was pleasing to God
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV)
How does Jesus describe his death?
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:14-18 NIV)
In the days of Moses, the Israelites sinned by lacking trust in God. They were sent venomous snakes. God had Moses make a snake and put it on a pole. When the people were bitten by a snake and looked at the snake on the pole they would live (see Numbers 21:4-9). Jesus is saying that His death is similar to this. His body was raised up on a cross. Our lives are full of sin which will lead to death. But if we place our trust in Jesus on the cross we will live forever.

Jesus also played the role of high priest. It was the high priest who would make atonement for the people by making the sacrifice offering.
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17 NIV)
He took our sins away
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24 NIV)
He took our bondage to human regulations away
"He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. "(Col 2:13-14 NIV)
.... and there are likely many more passages that describe Christ's work on the cross. It can be described in many ways, and much of it we will likely not fully understand. However I don't see a need to stick to descriptions that do not have solid scriptural support.

What's wrong with focusing on Jesus work as mediator, redeemer, ransom giver, sacrificial lamb of God, high priest, fragrant offering, and the one who removes my sin and my bondage to human regulations?

The description of a Jesus who paid our debt looks fine on Jesus. But it also makes God the Father out to be a God who requires human sacrifices to appease him (either ours or Christ's). If scripture isn't clear on wording it this way, I think it's best to avoid this type of language.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Saturday, April 18, 2009

He Loves Me

I've been enjoying slowly making my way through "He Loves Me" by Wayne Jacobsen.
There's a free pdf download of the book here
or you can buy a paper copy for under $10 at amazon.com.

Today I liked this quote from Brennan Manning (yes I'm quoting a quote).
You will trust God only as much as you love him. And you will love him not because you have studied him; you will love him because you have touched him—in response to his touch…Only if you love will you make that final leap into darkness. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Brennan Manning in Lion and Lamb

And this paragraph challenged me:
"Not only does the cross demonstrate God’s willingness to love us at the ultimate personal cost, but Jesus also modeled for us how we can live in that trust—“…into your hands I commit my spirit.” When I can’t figure out what God is doing; when I’ve just messed up to the greatest degree; when I’m lonely and empty, the answer is still the same, “…into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus was able to say "into your hands I commit my spirit" at the toughest moment in His earthly life. Those were words of trust.

If I truly understand God's love for me, I will truly love in return. And I will also be able to trust God with everything, and trust that all His ways are best.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't be judgemental Jon

I'm needing to remind myself these days of my own view about Judgmental Christians. I'm recognizing how often I am disagreeing with all sorts of people (both near and far, in the present and throughout history). And this is inevitable, and probably good. People who agree with everyone must have their brain turned off (oh - there I go judging again). The challenge is, when I disagree can I do it with love and respect. And when I'm disagreeing with a brother in Christ, can I do it in a way that does not harm my fellowship with him/her, and acknowledge our shared love for the same Jesus.

Can I disagree without judging?

So I'm reading these verses a few more times today:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. "(Matt 7:1-5 NIV)

"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord."(Rom 14:1-8)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Luke 6:37-38 NIV)

“It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1 Cor 4:4-5 NIV)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Penal substitution

I've been questioning some of the theory of penal substitution. Then I came across this great discussion at: http://kingdomgrace.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/penal-substitionary-atonement/

Was God's wrath directed towards Jesus instead of towards us? Did God the Father punish Jesus instead of me?

Does God ever quit loving us? Did God stop loving Jesus when he was on the cross?

I'm OK with a loving father disciplining his children - but can killing ever be done in love?

Or is God's wrath only ever directed towards sin? Jesus chose to be the sacrificial lamb that would take our sins to the cross. The wages of my sin is death, and Jesus has taken that upon himself so that I may live.

It may seem like a slight difference, but this is making more and more sense to me. Throughout history there have been many people groups who have believed god (or the gods) required sacrifices to appease their angry god(s). Many of these people groups took it to the extreme of offering human sacrifices to appease the wrath of their gods. I'm having a hard time viewing my God that way. I don't see the gospel message as being a message of appeasing God's wrath. I see it as a message of a God who wants to a relationship with us, and is seeking to win that relationship through love - not fear.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Do you believe in Love?

No this is not a post about songs by Huey Lewis or Cher. :)

Do you really believe love is the main point?

Is the big question going to revolve around our belief in love?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Passover Haggadah

I've recently discovered that Passover was observed by Christians for a few centuries after Christ. I knew that Jesus celebrated Passover, but had never considered that it would be a good thing for us to do as well.

So without much planning, I started doing some research on wikipedia and this website this morning:

I felt very overwhelmed by the amount of new information, but we decided to jump right into it and try to do something with our family of this nature.

I've always found it unfortunate that for such an important time of year (Good Friday and Easter), there isn't a lot of Christian symbolism for children. The easter bunny, eggs, and chocolates dominate. How much fun can be had with of crosses, nails, and grave stones?

Well, the passover meal or Haggadah is full of great symbolism. The above link is a Christian version of the event.

The only down side was that it was a bit long. It took a bit to prepare, and then an hour and a half of readings and our small meal together. I wonder if there is a video version that would keep the kids attention better. :)

I think we all got something out of it though. Maybe next year we'll be better prepared and organized and it may run smoother.

"This cup reminds us of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that was spilled because of us and on our behalf. Drink this, remembering that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and in so doing accept the grace that transforms us and brings us from darkness into His marvelous light, and allows us to be people of God."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Big Story

I just found these videos. I'm not clear what all the little scribbles are, but it does sound like a good explanation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.