Nov 24 2015

A BEHAVIORAL CREED – or why I can sometimes be such an annoying pain in the ass on Facebook

I adhere to a confessional or creedal form of Christianity, which means that I hold that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds set forth the basics of orthodox Christianity. Most of the traditional churches, such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and of course the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, are creedal. As for the others, theology is more up for grabs, it seems. And, a lot of contemporary evangelicalism seems more behavioral than creedal; that is, what you do is often emphasized more than what you believe.

Now, creedal churches also emphasize some aspect of “right living,” but what they believe about right living differs considerably, from having no relevance whatsoever to gaining holiness or salvation (my view) to believing that works is essential to righteousness or salvation.

This is not to say that I don’t believe that behavior matters; I believe it matters a lot. It matters to others, it matters to the church, and I believe it matters to the world. It just doesn’t provide us with any “grace points” because I believe we’ve already received everything we need; we just need to spread good works around to those who need them the most.

So, I thought I would start to set out why I will call my Behavioral Creed, until I come up with a better name. It’s in the same “I Believe” format, because it’s what I believe is important in determining how I should act toward others. It’s not a set of strict rules or standards, but perhaps more of a “Best Practices” for Christians. It’s an ideal that I don’t claim to meet, but hope to get better at, for the sake of the world.

A Behavioral Creed

First and foremost, I believe in Grace—in the powerful presence of God that saves me and empowers me to live for others. This means setting aside judgment and seeing the imprint of God in people.

I believe in Mercy and Forgiveness—that I have been forgiven and have no alternative but to forgive even those people who don’t deserve forgiveness. Mercy and Forgiveness eradicate the need for justice.

I believe in the Golden Rule—to treat others how I would hope to be treated.

I believe in Generosity and Hospitality—not “tithing,” but giving to others responsibly and extravagantly.

I believe in Humility—in taking the lowest seat, giving credit to others, being a servant, and empowering all those around me.

I believe in Peace—both external and internal, and strive to spread it wherever I am.

I believe in the other Fruit—joy, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.

I believe in Loving others as I love myself—impossible, it seems, as I am incredibly self-centered and sometimes misanthropic; but I believe it.

I believe in Truth—being truthful about who I am, and in what I believe (which includes the theological creeds). I believe in proclaiming truth, to bring freedom to the unfree, and bringing life to the unliving.

I believe that all humans were created in God’s image and have great potential, and that God truly desires all to be saved.

I believe that the Church is called to be the light set on a hill, a beacon of hope, and a source of healing for the nations.


Aug 16 2015

A Look at the Progressive Nature of Western Christianity

I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of Progressive Christianity; not necessarily about any current person or group using the designation, but just about the concept. There are some Christians who proudly refer to themselves as Progressives, to distinguish themselves from the staid, Evangelical Status Quo. There are others, such as the aforementioned evangelical Status Quo, who use the word perjoratively in reference to the liberals who would destroy the SQ (Status Quo) and Christianity As We Know It.  

The truth of the matter is, western Christianity is progressive. Evangelicals, today’s SQ,  were once the progressives. Today’s progressives may be tomorrow’s SQ.  The fundamentalists, believe it or not, were once the progressives. Calvinists were progressives, Lutherans were progressives, and Roman Catholics were once progressives.

What this means is that Christianity As We Know It in the West includes many beliefs that are later inventions. I think it safe to say that the New Testament Christians would not recognize today’s church or it’s teachings. And, ironically, many contemporary progressives are merely rejecting many of these relatively late-breaking beliefs which were at one time rejected by the existing church. 

Here are a few examples of commonly-held beliefs which are later inventions & additions, which much of the contemporary evangelical church accepts as “orthodox”:

  1. Dispensationalism and the Rapture
  2. Biblical Innerancy
  3. Literal readings of Genesis, Revelation, and other passages
  4. Rejection of infant baptism
  5. Predestination
  6. Original sin & total depravity
  7. Penal Substitution theory of atonement
  8. Accepting Jesus as your personal savior

There are more, but as you can see, these represent many of the key tenets of contemporary Evangelicalism.  And yes, they can all be traced to a specific point in church history, although attempts are made to support some of these from snippets of writngs from the church fathers.  

Original sin, for example, was a concept developed by Augustine, who also laid the foundation for total depravity and predestination.  Augustine’s teachings were not accepted by the majority of the church at that time, and he is only considered to be a “saint” by the Roman Catholic church (which split from the Eastern church in 1054).  The Eastern church doesn’t consider him a heretic, but many of his new ideas were rejected.

Penal Substitution was developed by Anselm (11th Century).  John Calvin further developed Augustine’s ideas of total depravity and predestination, and also affirmed Anselm’s penal substitution theory.  Doctrines such as Dispensationalism and the Rapture originated sometime in the mid-1800’s and were popularized by Scofield who included the teaching in notes in his study Bible. (The concept that Revelation was about the future was first taught by a Jesuit priest in the 16th Century.) Biblical inerrancy and literalism are also later developments, being positions adopted by fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 19th and 20th centuries.

With Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity) being progressive in nature, it’s interesting to note the various time periods where certain groups have stopped progressing and become vaious “status quos.” My wife uses the phrase “leaving the conversation.”  The Amish, for example, left the conversation at some point in the 1800’s, both culturally and theologically.  There are some Lutheran groups who left the conversation theologically at the creation of the Book of Concord, the collection of early Lutheran works that establish Lutheran doctrine. 

Some fundamentalist groups and Pentecostal groups left the conversation theologically in the early 1900’s, and culturally about 1946.  And, contemporary Evangelical churches that I’ve been visiting seem to have left the conversation in the 1980’s, and culturally and musically in the 90’s.

Many contemporary “progressives” may only be progressive in that they are casting off dead conversations, rediscovering things like the christus victor concept of atonement, creedal statements, and reading the Bible like the 1st Century Jews read the Old Testament. The voices of the past – the “great cloud of witnesses” – are still a part of the conversation.  

When you look at how Christianity has evolved over the years (to me, a more accurate word than “progressed,” which implies getting better), you have to ask yourself who the real progressives are.  Perhaps the progressives are really the ones who simply refuse to leave the conversation.


Feb 23 2014

10 Things About My Opinions

I have a plethora of opinions

I think opinions are good. Without them, we’d be like the 2 guys in the old Army commercial:

“What do you want to do?”

“I dunno, what do you want to do?”

“I dunno… what do you want to do?”

Seriously, don’t you hate people with no opinions?  But at the same time, when you have opinions, you kind of like others to just accept yours. That kind of dynamic works for the short term, but in the end, no one grows. To grow, our opinions must be challenged and tested, and at least some of the time, they should change, because let’s face it, no one is right all of the time. In fact, most of us are not right most of the time—at least 100% right. We all have room to grow, and that’s what opinions are all about.

But, not everyone views opinions in the same way, and those who are not use to others having strong opinions can be offended by them. (And, it seems like it’s become America’s national pastime to be offended.)  Having an opinion has the necessary effect of suggesting (or stating outright) that someone else is wrong.

Considering that I tend to be fairly vocal about my opinion (although in a politish sort of way), I thought I would outline a few things about how I feel about opinions—and mine in particular—so I could refer people back here from time to time rather than explaining myself over and over.  So, here goes.

10 things to know about my opinions

  1. I have no shortage of opinions, and I don’t apologize for that.  I have opinions on all kinds of things, including politics, religion, philosophy, music, social issues, and banjos. If I don’t have an opinion about something, my presumed opinion is that it is not important.
  2. I expect you to have—or at least start to develop—opinions of your own.  If you don’t want to have opinions, feel free to borrow mine, but keep in mind that there are no express or implied warranties connected with my opinions.
  3. My opinions are usually resulting from a fair amount of thought, reading, analysis but at times are completely off the cuff. I won’t usually tell you which is which.  Caveat emptor.
  4. If I have an opinion, it’s because I think it’s right, and I will continue to think so until proven wrong.  Then, logically, I will consider my new opinion to be right, and my old one will be wrong.
  5. If my opinion differs from yours, my presumption is that you are wrong. Otherwise, you see, I would have your opinion…
  6. I believe I am wrong—at least partially—about everything I believe.  And I believe the same about you, perhaps even more so…
  7. I do change my opinions, sometimes quite drastically.  I have changed my opinion—often many times—about major theological issues, politics, etc.  I have even come to embrace the “Oxford comma.” However, my favorite color has always been blue.
  8. I do consider the opinions of others, even when I am arguing against them.  Opinions must be tested, and the best way to test them is through confrontation and challenge, in a friendly sort of way.
  9. Being proven wrong—i.e. changing opinions—is not failure, it’s growth.  And I will do my best to help you to grow.
  10. In the rare instance that I have no carefully crafted opinion on a topic, I reserve the right to make up an opinion on the spot and argue vehemently that you are wrong. Because that’s just who I am.

 


Jan 19 2014

Learn what this means.

Twice

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:10-13, ESV)

5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:5-8, ESV)

Matthew records Jesus as quoting from Hosea 6:6 on 2 different occasions.  For reference, the passage in Hosea reads:

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6, ESV)

So, assuming this is important, perhaps it’s time we figured out what it means?