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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I don't go to Church


I don't go to church anymore...

I am part of Christ's Church.

Yes I'm discussing semantics again, but this has helped clarify things for myself personally as well as re-shaped my view of church unity.
"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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "John 17:20-23 (NIV)
An initial response to Christ's prayer for our unity was to pray for and seek to find some sort of unity between all the Christian denominations. I'm now not sure if this is going to happen, and maybe it isn't even required.

The change of view is this. I used to view Christ's Church as some sort of grouping of a bunch of 'Bible believing churches'. Then when I started looking at a variety of church traditions, I was struggling at first trying to picture how all these other organizations who called themselves 'Church' could all be part of Christ's Church, and in some united way.

Here is where I went wrong. Notice how the word 'Church' is used in our local phone book:
Bethesda Church, Christ The King Family Church, Riverwood Church Community, Berean Baptist Church , Holy Trinity Church , Faith Baptist Church, Oasis Community Church, All Saints' Church, Dakota Community Church, Faith Covenant Church, Glory & Peace International Church, Heritage Baptist Church, Maples Community Church, Saint James Lutheran Church, St Ignatius Church, Victory Baptist Church, Immanuel Pentecostal Church ...
Compare that to how the word 'Church' is used in the Bible.
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matt 16:18 NIV)

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." (Acts 8:1 NIV)

"But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." (Acts 8:3 NIV)

"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace." (Acts 9:31 NIV)

"News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch." (Acts 11:22 NIV)
I think we often use the word 'church' in a confusing way.
  • "What church do you go to?"
  • "I didn't see you at church on Sunday?"
  • "What time is church?"
  • "Do you want to get together after church?"
What are we talking about when we use the word church? Do we mean the name of the building? The name of the organization/institution? The name of a Sunday morning event?

There is likely no harm intended in the way we use the word 'church'. I admit it is easier than saying "What is the name and location of the community of Christ followers with whom you regularity fellowship with?"

But the way I see things now, I don't go to church, I am part of Christ's Church here locally and around the world. And in terms of unity of Christ's Church... it is easier to picture unity between all those who are truly Christ followers, regardless of where they spend their Sunday (or other) mornings.

Related Posts:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kingdom of God



I can't read the gospels without noticing the how frequently Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, or kingdom of heaven. From a simple search I counted 109 references to Jesus talking about His kingdom in the gospels. So lets take a look at a few of them.

The Kingdom of God is within His people:
"nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21 NIV)
The kingdom of God started in the days of Jesus:
"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 NIV)

"I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. "(Matt 21:32 NIV)
I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." (Matt 16:28 NIV)

The kingdom of God continues into eternity:
"I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 8:11 NIV)
(See also Parable of weeds Matt 13:24-43)
Understanding the greatest commandment (loving God and loving others) brings one near (but not quite into) the kingdom:

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:32-34)
It must be received like a child:

"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17 NIV)

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
We must have a second spiritual birth:

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)
We must do God's will:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:21 NIV)

A little goes a long way:

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matt 13:31-32 NIV)
Regarding wealth:

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 19:23 NIV)
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20 NIV)
Worries of this life and deceitfulness of wealth can choke our faith:

"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matt 13:18-23 NIV)
On keeping the 'Law':
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:17 - 20 NIV)
We should pray for the kingdom to come. Does this mean we are praying for a future heaven to come? Or are we praying for God's will to be done here on earth, in His current kingdom here?
"your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt 6:10 NIV)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Christian or Christ Follower





(Video made by Community Christian Church.)

What does the word 'Christian' mean these days?

I have heard some cross-cultural missionaries say they prefer avoiding the label 'Christian', since the label brings with it so many negative associations to some. Whenever there has been a war done under the 'Christian' banner, anyone sympathetic to the other side will naturally dislike Christians. Same goes here at home. If anyone has been hurt by someone who has used the label 'Christian', they likely won't want more of that.

The word Christian was first used in Antioch as recorded in Acts 11:12. They were disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian

One interesting point is that these disciples were called Christians. It does not say they started calling themselves Christian. Maybe we should avoid giving ourselves labels to identify ourselves. If people see our lives pointing to Christ great! If not, using the label 'Christian' likely won't help any.

Lately I've found myself drawn to using other terms than 'Christian' - Christ Follower, Child of God... And I have found it good to focus my perspective on what my faith is about. But if the label 'Christian' was used in Acts (a few times), there is obviously nothing wrong with that label either. Maybe overused - but the same could happen in time with the use of the label 'Christ Follower'.

But if the only way people know we are Christians is because we say we are... then there is a problem.

My prayer is that as we follow Jesus, others will see His love, and want more of Him. Whether the word Christian is used or not.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Judgemental Christians

“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be — a Christian.” — Mark Twain

“I'm not often so comfortable in church. It feels pious and so unlike the Christ that I read about in the Scriptures.” — Bono

“I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” — Gandhi

http://www.navpress.com/images/pdfs/9781600062131.pdf

Far too often the world views christians as judgmental and hypocritical. But if they look at the life of Christ, they see love, compasion, mercy, grace, hope...

As I examined the issues that have created 30,000+ christian denominations, I kept coming back to the question of our judgmental tenancies. It is one thing to agree to disagree on an issue, and continue dialog on it (we don't have to turn off our minds, or say both sides are right). It is another thing to say unloving things, invalidate each others faith, and be unwilling to fellowship/worship/support and serve together.

Consider some scripture:

"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)

Jesus was judgmental at the temple:

"Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. 46"It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'" (Luke 19:45-46)
However Jesus did not act judgmentally towards the woman caught in adultery in John 8, and told her accusers "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." And when all had left he could have condemned her but said "neither do I condemn you," ... "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Should we never make judgments?

  • We obviously need judges in our law systems to make judgments.
  • As a parent I feel it is my duty to make judgments on the behavior of my children.
  • In the workforce those in leadership roles must make judgments over those that are under their authority.
  • If someone is in a close relationship that seeks to keep each other accountable, it is safe to say that some judgments will be needed.
  • In a community of believers, those in leadership roles will at times need to make judgments.
  • I am responsible for judging what I believe to be truth, I can not let someone else decide what I believe.

Based on the above scriptures I believe we need to be very cautious before making any firm judgments about others.  If we are uncertain that God has placed us in a position of authority over someone else, we should leave judging of that person to God.

This is hard advice - I am challenged a lot by this. It is often too easy to slip into gossip, which is the same sin, and I am a critical thinker who often dwells on injustices.

Is this the result of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? We want to be like God?

I pray that God can help us recognize when he wants us to make judgments, and when he wants us to humbly offer love, mercy and grace.
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. " (Matt 18:4 NIV)

Authority of the Pope

I'm still continuing through that list of issues that triggered the protestant reformation. To some it may sound like my goal has been to defend the catholic positions, but it is not. I am aiming to understand their point of view with the goal of increased respect and brotherly love.

I'm going to skip ahead a few issues on this list and dig into one that I'm having a harder time seeing their viewpoint on - the authority of the Pope, another concern that triggered the protestant reformation.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=4319&CFID=23525365&CFTOKEN=38055432


The above link makes a decent argument for Peter's unique role in Christs church. However consider this part of the argument:
"There is no longer any question that Peter exercised his powers, in the last analysis, from Rome. It was there, at the center of the civilized world, that he discharged his pastoral responsibilities, and there that he died, in 64 A.D. The see (or diocese) of Rome, therefore, was a universal see, embracing the entire world, the entire flock of Christ."
One question:

By this time some Christ followers had already taken the good news to far away lands that the church in Rome would not be able to exercise any power over. I don't think there has ever been a time in history when all Christ followers have been under the authority of the Pope. It is said Thomas (one of the original 12 apostles) took the good news to India and a community of Christ followers were formed there (and possibly in Afghanistan). There were also early communities of Christ's people outside the Roman empire in areas of present-day Iran, Iraq, Syra, Armenia, Egypt, and Europe. Is there evidence that all these communities accepted Peter and future Popes as leaders of their communities?

Another Question:

What was Jesus view on leadership?
"Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (Luke 22:24-27 NIV)

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt 23:8-12 NIV)
I'm not sure what to do with these verses. How does it fit with the way Pope's or other church leaders have viewed their authority?

Compare these two verses:

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."
Heb 13:17 (NIV)
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
OK then... should I still protest the authority of the Pope? If this topic comes up with my catholic friends I may share my point of view. But I don't see myself going out of my way to protest this. I don't feel God has given me authority to be the judge on this matter. If for them obedience to Heb 13:17 means submitting to their Pope, I can see their point of view. I should primarily be concerned with encouraging my 'catholic' friends to follow Jesus example of loving God and all others.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sola fide

Sola fide ("by faith alone")

Let's see how wikipedia explains this one:

"Sola fide is the teaching that justification (interpreted in Protestant theology as, "being declared right by God"), is received by faith only, without any mixture of or need for good works, though in classical Protestant theology, saving faith is always evidenced by good works. Some Protestants see this doctrine as being summarized with the formula "Faith yields justification and good works" and as contrasted with the Roman Catholic formula "Faith and good works yield justification."

However, this is disputed by the Roman Catholic position as a misrepresentation; they claim it is better contrasted with a comparison of what is meant by the term "justification": both sides agree that the term invokes a communication of Christ's merits to sinners, where in Protestant theology this is seen as being a declaration of sinlessness (while not yet necessarily being objectively so — "simul justus et peccator"(simultaneously justified and yet a sinner) for Luther). Roman Catholicism sees justification as a communication of God's life to a human being, cleansing him of sin and transforming him truly into a son of God, so that it is not merely a declaration, but rather the soul is made actually objectively righteous. "
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solas
... and the debate goes further on and on ...

I can't help think we are mostly just splitting hairs here, debating only over the best way to put into words a concept that we all agree on.

To simplify it to something a child can understand.
We need to believe and follow Jesus.
Catholics and protestant children can agree to that - and aren't we to have child-like faith?

Let's look further at some verses.

Justified by Faith:

Gal 2:15-21

"We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (NIV)

Gal 3:24

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Rom 3:28

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (NIV)

Rom 5:1
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (NIV)
Justified by Works

James 2:24
"You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone."
James 2:17-18
"In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do."
Matt 7:21
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.".
Matt 25:34-35
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"
I find it interesting that the the words "faith alone" are only found in James 2:24, and are making the point that we can not be saved by faith alone. Supposedly Luther had added the word "alone" to his translation of Romans 3:28, but it does not show up in any current translations that I can find. So to be fair to all scripture I will not use that language in ways protestants have. I believe justification is through faith which leads to works. You can't have one without the other.

In practice there are likely many who call themselves catholic, who are hoping to get to heaven based on some steps they've taken, who shouldn't have that assurance. There are likely also many from protestant churches who have believed as a child and said a prayer, and have been told they are saved. But if they have gone on with their lives rejecting Christ, they also should not have that false assurance. Faith without works is not real faith.

Here is the wording that the lutheran church and catholic church now agree on in their 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification':

(3.15) "By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works."
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html
And more from that joint declaration:

(37) "We confess together that good works - a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love - follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit."
I can agree to these statements too! I see nothing here that I would personally protest.

I think we are not far off from their official doctrine on this. In practice there may be a large gap between these teachings and how many who call themselves Christians live their faith... but then we should be there to encourage them in their walk with Christ.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura (latin for: by scripture alone)

From Wikipedia:
Sola scriptura is the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all — that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting. That the Bible requires no interpretation outside of itself is an idea directly opposed to the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Coptic, Anglo-Catholic, and Roman Catholic traditions, which teach that the Bible can be authentically interpreted only by Apostolic Tradition
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_solas

2 Tim 3:16
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,"(NIV)
This is a verse that is often used to support the Sola Scriptura position. What was Paul saying as he was writing this letter to Timothy? Let's consider a few other translations:
"Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness." (ASV)
"every Writing [is] God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for setting aright, for instruction that [is] in righteousness,"(Youngs Literal Translation)
When some people hear this verse simply quoted, they may think the Bible is stating that the 66 books in our protestant bible are 100% God's spoken word.

First we have to note that the verse does not say that scripture is the only or even primary source of God's message to us. So it says nothing to support the wording "scripture alone" or "Sola Scriptura". Even though the use of these terms is still part of protestant "tradition".

But there is more to consider. In 100 - 150 AD when Paul was writing this letter to Timothy, what they would call scripture was our old testament and possibly many books we refer to as apocrypha. They also had access to some of the early christian writtings of various degrees of inspiration. The collection of books we now call scripture was put together over the next centuries by the same church leaders who were also part of the early catholic church.

The Bible as we have it was not handed to us by God in one package. We must rely on the credibility of God's people from many generations who have handed it down to us - both from Old Testament times, as well as the the early christian (catholic) church.

I believe great care has been taken by God's people to do this great task. The Bible is a credible historical document. We do have a great book containing God's message for the world, and it is foundational to our faith.

Catholics also have a high view of scripture. This is from their catechism:
"God is the author of Sacred Scripture. 'The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.'"
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm

Is it self-interpreting?

Yes, I believe it is self-interpreting, however I doubt if anyone has done this entirely.

Throughout my life, my understanding of the Bible has been influenced by many people. I have allowed a variety of church traditions to interpret scripture for me. If those interpretations are founded in scripture, there is no problem, but if they are not, then I believe God will hold them accountable for their teachings.

So I see the issue as not so much whether traditions interpret scripture, but whether or not those interpretations are clearly Biblical.

Most of the details that divide the different church traditions use a lot of terms that are not found in the Bible (like "sola scriptura", or "scripture alone"). All Christians place great value on the Bible. I pray that we can keep our main focus on the topics the Bible is clear on, and in doing so can discover our unity.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Intercession Of The Saints

Since I've been a protestant most of my life it's about time I examined what that means. Through my religious affiliation I have been taking a stand against the catholic belief in intercession of the saints. So it is wise that I personally examine the issue from both side and determine if this belief is something I wish to personally protest.

Let's take a look at a protestant explanation of this issue:
http://www.gotquestions.org/prayer-saints-Mary.html

I think this is helpful to our understanding on the issue.
"The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that asking saints for their prayers is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for you. However, the practice of many Catholics diverges from official Roman Catholic teaching. Many Catholics do in fact pray directly to saints and/or Mary, asking them for help – instead of asking the saints and/or Mary to intercede with God for help."
It may be true that many catholics don't follow all their teachings, that may be an issue, but I want to focus now on the question of what the catholic church teaches on this issue.

GotQuestions.org make the argument that
"The Bible nowhere instructs believers in Christ to pray to anyone other than God. The Bible nowhere encourages, or even mentions, believers asking individuals in Heaven for their prayers."
This in itself does not mean it is a sin to ask individuals in Heaven to intercede for us. If the Bible is silent on a topic, it does not mean it is necessary a sin.

GotQuestions.org then quotes Hebrews 4:16
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
I don't think catholics would disagree with this verse. Catholics don't think we can only gain access to God through the saints, but they believe they can ask saints to pray on their behalf.

GotQuestions.org then quotes 1 Timothy 2:5
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,"
Is this verse saying that we can not ask a friend to pray for us if we are struggling? I don't think so. We often ask others to pray for us, and we should be praying for each other's needs. Even a few verses earlier in 1 Tim. 2:1–5 we are told "that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone".

GotQuestions.org says:
"The Bible nowhere describes anyone in Heaven praying for anyone on earth. (2) The Bible gives absolutely no indication that Mary or the saints can hear our prayers."
There is the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). It is actually not someone in Heaven, but Lazarus in Hades interceding on behalf of his brothers to Abraham - I'm not sure if this story defends either side well, but it is an example from the Bible of someone who is dead trying to intercede on behalf of family members still alive. Even without this example, just because the Bible does not describe it, does not mean it is necessarily false. The Bible does not say those in heaven do not pray for those on earth. There is also Revelation 5:8 to consider.
"the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."
Catholics use this verse to defend that the saints (elders) can at lease hear our prayers.

GotQuestions.org says:
"Whenever the Bible mentions praying to or speaking with the dead, it is in the context of sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, and divination."
What about Matt. 17:3? Jesus was speaking with the dead? Also catholics would argue there is a difference between speaking to dead saints who are with the Lord, and having a seance where one asks the dead to speak through you.

Again, I find myself at a point where I don't think the differences here are big enough for me to personally continue the protest.

Further reading:
http://www.gotquestions.org/prayer-saints-Mary.html
http://www.catholic.com/library/praying_to_the_saints.asp
http://www.catholic.com/library/Intercession_of_the_Saints.asp

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Devotion to Mary

Ok, I'll continue examining the issues that launched the protestant reformation. My second post listed the issues, and I have now taken a look at 4 of the 9 main points of initial debate. My goal here is not to promote the catholic position, but I want to try to understand the point of view of my brothers and sisters who hold strongly to a different position. I want to consider if the differences are big enough for me to continue to 'protest'. I don't want to continue the protest that was started 500 years ago, if I don't even fully understand the issues.

The first website I've found that clarifies their position some is this one:
http://www.chnetwork.org/journals/mary/mary_4.htm
It explains how the term latria in latin refers to worship that is rightly offered to God alone. The word dulia in latin, or veneration, refers to an honor due a created person - the type of honor given an athlete, musician, actor or student at an awards ceremony. This is the kind of devotion catholics feel is appropriate to give to Mary. Hmmm... I've never heard it explained that way before. If we have no issue honoring athletes, musicians etc, we should have no issue honoring all of our Bible 'heros' in the same way. Wikipedia has a similar explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration

I found another interesting article explaining Martin Luther's devotion to Mary. He defended the phrase "Mother of God", and defended the use of the "Hail Mary" prayer from the faithful. He also defended the idea of immaculate conception, that she was without sin, before it was official catholic doctrine, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=788

Wow, that was new info. I guess protestants are able to overlook Martin Luther's different view on this issue, and don't question his faith. If one of the founders of the protestant reformation held to this doctrine, how can it be one of the key concerns of the movement??? I'm confused.

I'll postpone comments about prayers to Mary for a future post "intercession of and devotion to the saints" - which is next on that list of issues that started the reformation.

One further concern I've had with devotion to Mary - and the saints. Sometimes I've wondered if by putting so much focus on Mary people miss out on seeing God? But if you consider a sports team - the team is likely happy if it has a superstar that is world renown - a superstar like that brings more fans to the whole team. In the same way God may be OK when we honor the superstars of our cherished Bible stories. ??

I think there are bigger issues facing the church today that we should work together on - and not let differences like this be a reason to keep two Christ followers from loving and supporting each other.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Brief Time Of Unity

Near the start of this journey I was blessed to witness a great moment of Christian unity. In Oct 2006 - yikes time has flown - Franklin Graham came to town for 3 days of meetings.

I was part of over 1000 volunteers who took 5 evenings of training to be councilors at the event. They dealt with all the important basic beliefs we all cherish. We were trained to share with people that came forward at the event how they could have peace with God, going through a booklet like this: http://www.billygraham.org/SH_StepsToPeace.asp They also provided other reading materials, and small group study material to work with people that made decisions to follow Christ.

I was pleased to discover that there was a catholic lady from my workplace that was also taking the training. A number of catholic churches were involved. We chatted a bit at work about how we were a bit nervous about doing this - a bit out of our comfort zone, but mostly it was obvious that we were both very excited about this opportunity.

I thought it was great that so many Churches could put aside their differences for this, and work together to help others find peace with God.

Well, the Franklin Graham Festival was great. God was there, and the Holy Spirit was at work. We had an an amazing time singing praises to our Lord, together as 14000 Christians each of the 3 nights, from over 200 participating church communities. Too bad our city didn't have a bigger arena as people were turned away. I don't know the official numbers, but there were hundreds of commitments each night. I had the privilege of sharing and praying with two 12 year old boys who made 1st time commitments to Jesus, and with a mid-40's man who made a re-commitment to renew his faith. Glory to God!

What I still find amazing about that event was that somehow most churches are willing to put aside their differences and work side by side during a Graham event. They are even able to agree to use the text of a booklet that shows steps on how to have peace with God. If we can agree to what is necessary to have peace with God... what other topic can trump that? Isn't that message what it is all about. The little details that divide seem small when compared to that.

The other memory I have is being in the arena with 14000 others singing "All God's Children Singing Glory Glory He Reigns" (with the Newsboys). And it really felt like that we were singing praises to God as all of His children.... I can't wait till heaven so I can sing like that again with all my brothers and sisters again!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Irony of works vs faith divide

I grew up hearing stories of the scales used in the catholic church - if the good outweighed the bad they'd make it to heaven. We were told that catholic's were legalistic and believe they get to heaven based on good works.

Catholics on the other hand grow up believing that protestant believe all you need to do is say a prayer. Once saved always saved. And some compare it to a fast food message - a little to simplistic. They think once we said that prayer we think we can live however we please and still get to heaven.

The irony is this:

In practice some are skeptical of how worldly some catholic's often are, and no matter how sinful they seem to live they all get the ticket to heaven at the catholic funerals.

In practice evangelical protestants are often the ones who seem very legalistic. Don’t smoke, drink, dance or chew, or go with those who do. And if someone does break these rules, yet said the prayer, we say they likely were not really saved before - maybe they said it but didn't mean it?

So in practice which (stereotyped) group seems to practice "once saved always saved", and which group is legalistic and placing a larger emphasis on works?

My point here is that we've used words to create a division, yet in practice we all agree that faith and works are required.

Some related links:
Catholics on - Aren’t We Saved by Faith Alone?
Catholics on - Once Saved, Always Saved?
Catholics on - Assurance of Salvation
GotQuestions.org - Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works?

Aside note: I find it interesting that the only occurrence of the phrase "faith alone" in the Bible is in James 2:24 "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. "

Step back at big picture

OK, I started this blog to try to organize some of my thoughts on the journey I've been on in the past few years. So I started at the beginning, thinking that was a good place to start. I was stuck in a bit of a cloud for a good year as I grappled with some of the details that have divided Christ's church.

But since I realize some people are reading this, and it is going to take me some time to get through my thoughts on some of these details. I should give some of my current thoughts.

I don't want to sound like I am defending any particular institutional church. I have just come to a place where I believe we should not judge a persons standing with God based on where they spend their Sunday mornings. There have been many divisions created by differences in doctrinal details. I think there is a place for debating doctrinal points, but I don't believe there will be a doctrinal entrance exam to heaven. I don't believe I have to figure out all the correct answers to gain God's favor.

I believe the world needs to see Christ's church as we see Christ - firstly a place of love, mercy and grace. The judging should be left to God.

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)


A few other things I've discovered:
  • praying for unity is a good thing - Christ did it so we should too.
  • it is easy to question one's faith when we focus on differences in doctrine
  • it is harder to question ones faith when we see signs of the fruit of the spirit, and signs of love and devotion to the same Jesus that we love and serve
  • most of the time when I researched doctrinal differences that I disagreed with, I found that the opposing argument usually had some sound logic and biblical reasoning backing it. I still may not agree with it, and I can still think it is wrong - but I have to respect that they are picking their side for some good reasons, and not just because they want to be wrong. :)
  • Christ's church is not composed of any one denomination or label that we've made. Christ's Church is composed of those who love and follow Him - regardless of where they spend their Sunday mornings. (P.S. I like my local church - I believe it is a good place to meet with many from Christ's Church - and point others to joining Christ's Church)
OK... that's a bit on my current views... if anyone is reading this thanks, and God bless!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Particular judgment

So why am I writing a blog post on particular judgment? I've never spent much time thinking about this. But I want to take a look at the issues that fueled the protestant reformation. In the 1500's this was one of these hot topics. If the climate has changed and these issues are no longer as divisive as they were, maybe the protestants don't need to continue the 'protest'. :)

The Catholic doctrine of the particular judgment is this: that immediately after death the eternal destiny of each separated soul is decided by the just judgment of God.
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08550a.htm

I guess this topic is linked with my previous post on purgatory. If someone believes we enter a state of soul slumber when we die, and do not believe in some temporal purification process, then it would follow that there is not two judgments after death.

It seems to me that protestants also have a range of positions on this topic. When we die do we go to heaven immediately, sleep for awhile, or have a temporal purification? In my opinion I don't think differences on this topic is worth questioning the validity of someone's standing with God.

I don't see this as being a big divisive topic now... let me know if I'm wrong.

The next one - devotion to Mary - still gets plenty of airtime though.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Purgatory

OK, purgatory is another topic I haven't really dug too deep into. I understand it was another topic that fueled the protestant reformation movement. So what are some of the different beliefs on this topic?

Roman Catholics define purgatory as:
Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.
Some Eastern Catholics do not use the word purgatory, but believe there is a "final purification" for souls destined for heaven, and that prayers can help the dead who are in that state of "final purification".

The Eastern Orthodox church believes in an intermediate state after death, but also does not use the word purgatory. They believe that this intermediate state is a good place of light and rest for the righteous, and not a pleasant place for the wicked.

Judaism believes there is a place of purification, and some believe sinners spend up to a year there before their release.

C.S. Lewis, the protestant writer who wrote Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, said:
Of course I pray for the dead. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him? I believe in purgatory. Our souls demand purgatory, don't they? My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn, a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be purgatory. (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 107-109)
Moody institute (an evangelical Bible university) has been quoted as saying: "...not all the dwelling places in heaven will be the same size.. it will depend on how well each person lives out their faith..."

A quote from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren:
One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity... he will ask us two crucial questions ...First, 'What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?' ...Second, 'What did you do with what I gave you' ... the second question will determine what you do in eternity...(The Purpose Driven Life, pg. 34)
At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do...has eternal consequences...you will receive a promotion and be given greater responsibility in eternity ..." (The Purpose Driven Life, pg. 45)
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:
For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man’s work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
St. Augustine:
Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by ’some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment”
Pope Benedict XVI :
Purgatory is not some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where one is forced to undergo punishments in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God [i.e. capable of full unity with Christ and God] and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints… Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy. [Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994).]
OK, so it looks like most Christ followers (and even Judaisim) believe there is some form of purification that occurs after death. There are likely other points of view that I did not come across yet. I see this as a topic that is great for discussion. I don't believe our differences on this topic are big enough that Christ's body, His Church, should be divided over.

Further reading:
http://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/purgatory.htm
http://benjiovercash.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/why-i-believe-protestants-should-reconsider-purgatory/

Buying and selling church positions

I find this one hard to imagine. I know men are driven to get into positions of power, but would a church go so far as to allow people a position of power based on financial contributions...

Hmm... on second thought, I wouldn't be surprised if this happens in many church's today. How many poor people hold positions of leadership and power in your church? It is probably common that the ones who give the most financially find themselves in positions of leadership and power in most church congregations today.... I'm not saying this is necessarily bad, but it may be helpful to consider this as we consider this topic.

The leaders of the protestant reformation took issue with the practice of buying and selling church positions. In the middle ages church leadership not only gave someone power within the church, but also political power in their community. The church leaders were often the most educated, and they had great influence over the uneducated masses, so it made sense that the political leaders wanted to keep close ties with the church leaders.

If you had money, and wanted more money, you would obviously want to gain some political power, and the buying and selling of church positions was the way to achieve that.

Pope Gregory VII of the catholic church actually fought the buying and selling of church positions 400 years before the reformers. So the reformers can not take all the credit for recognizing this as a problem. But it was a serious problem during the 1500's.  

This is sad part of the history of Christ's church, however if the reformers were alive today, I don't think they would see the catholic church having this problem - at least no larger an issue with it than other church denominations today.


Sales of Indulgences

The reformers took issue with the sale of indulgences. According to wikipedia indulgences are the full or partial remission of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven. The indulgence is granted by the church after the sinner has confessed and received absolution. The belief is that indulgences draw on the storehouse of merit acquired by Jesus' sacrifice and the virtues and penances of the saints. They are granted for specific good works and prayers.

The abuses with indulgences occurred when the church used this belief to raise money for various causes. The reformers saw the church selling forgiveness for cash.

As far as I know most abuses of selling indulgences ended in the later 1500's. There is still some noteworthy debate over the issue, but I don't think it's the kind of debate that should cause one member to reject the faith of a brother or sister in Christ.

Understanding Indulgences: http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GLOSSARY/INDULGE.HTM

A Catholic Position on Indulgences: http://www.catholic.com/library/Myths_About_Indulgences.asp

Protestant Reformation

A few years ago we watched a movie on the life of Martin Luther, and last night we watched one on the life of William Tyndale. The Catholic church of the 1400's and early 1500's had much political power and chose to kill other Christ followers who had viewpoints that challenged their position of power. The protestant reformation was started during this period, and I believe for many good reasons.

However I wonder what would happen if the likes of Martin Luther and William Tyndale lived today. Do the same conditions exist today that would warrant splitting up Christ's church? The catholic church has become more tolerant of dissenting views. Tyndale would not have been burned at the stake, and Luther may not have even been excommunicated for his views.

So what were the issues that started the divisions 500 years ago?

The reformers took issue with

Hmm... I've got some more readings to do... I'll try to do some follow-up posts on each of these topics. Are these issues still reason enough to reject the faith of another Christ follower who holds a different view on them?

(Edit: Feb 9, 2009)

I still haven't looked in detail at all the points above, but a few additional issues were looked into:

(Edit: Feb 22, 2009)

I still haven't looked into all the details, but I'm pretty confident I am no longer protestant. I am not Catholic, but I am not protesting the Catholics either. I'm just going to follow Christ and try to avoid using labels that divide.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Faith Journey course change

God has taken me on a bit of a journey in the past few years... not sure where it is all going, but I'll try recording some of it here.

I've identified myself as a Christian since I was a young child. I grew up a pastor's kid. My parents worked with Village Missions, which placed us in small interdenominational churches in very small villages in northern Manitoba and Alberta. Until the past few years my view of Christ's Church was limited to conservative protestant evangelical churches like Baptists, Alliance, and other congregations who refer to themselves as 'Bible believing'. I didn't have much exposure to people following Christ from other church traditions, so I assumed that my limited view was the best and only view.

My journey started changing course with a read of "Exploring Church History" by Perry Thomas.  It explored 20 centuries of Christ's people - highlighting the good and bad that have been done in the name of Christ during each era. I recognized that Christ's church was alive and well long before any current trends in christianity. Throughout history Christ followers have been part of many different traditions and denominations, and much good has been done by the different groups. Perry Thomas also highlighted the current movement that God has been placing on the hearts of many to bring His fragmented Church back into fellowship with each other. 

My journey then continued by trying to gain respect and understanding of some of the other major denominations that I had previously had little understanding of. During these years we struggled with questions like: 

  • "which church is best?" 
  •  "How can there be 30,000 denominations that share the same core message of Jesus, yet have differences that keep them apart." 
  • What can be done in response to Christ’s Prayer for His followers in John 17:20-23 (NIV) "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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "

OK... I can see this blogging thing is going to take some time. I'll post more later...