Jan 27 2016

Things the Apostle Paul did not say

I think my favorite kinds of sermons are those that I can riff off of. Not audibly, of course, but I tend to think tangentially anyway, so I like a sermon that raises points that I can explore while I’m sitting in church. Even better if I continue to think about them afterwards. They don’t have to be great sermons, as long as they provide food for thought. (I do not, however, enjoy a sermon that causes me to mentally analyze every bit of tortured logic and twisted scripture. It may be a great exercise in critical thinking, but it’s neither edifying nor fun.)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard one of each. I will talk about the good one. The topic was love, and referenced a few good quotes by Paul that got me thinking about what Paul did not say, which leads me to my topic today.

THINGS PAUL DID NOT SAY

Let holiness be your highest goal. (1 Cor. 14:3)

And above all these put on correct doctrine, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)

Without our church I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)

Owe no one anything, except to judge each other, for the one who judges another has fulfilled the law.  (Romans 13:8)

The greatest of these is truth. (1 Cor. 13:13)

And there’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Paul was undoubtedly the master of proper doctrine and logic. He bragged about winning an argument with Peter and the rest of the church leadership. However, Paul was, at heart, a softie. He was concerned about widows and orphans, the poor and the weak of faith. In Paul’s mind, everyone had value, and had gifts to share. There were no favored classes, and no one had the right to judge anyone else (even themselves).

What has happened to Paul’s message that grace is a gift, and cannot be earned?  That God loves all of us unconditionally, and we should in turn love others unconditionally?

It seems that in today’s evangelical circles, putting love first makes you a liberal. Love is conditionalized, as it seems to be a scarce and finite resource, not to be thrown around indiscriminately. Or, perhaps the definition of love has been retooled in a type of Platonic dualism; we can love in a universal, ideal sense, but we must be careful who we love in a practical, earthy sense. We love sinners Platonically, but not incarnationally. We love refugees, just only where they can’t touch us. We love the GLBT community, but not as equals.  

And that’s what happens when you start to think about what Paul (and Jesus) really said.

 


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.


Oct 5 2015

Guns and Dodgeball

IMG_0180.PNGI, like many others, were saddened last week by the news of the shootings in Roseburg, Oregon.  It didn’t take long before I was also angered by the rush of extremist responses over guns.  It seems that for many people, the battle over gun control took precedence over grief and empathy.  And like many others, I have followed the news reports fairly closely as facts are revealed. While I have seen countless rants about gun control and the 2nd Amendment, I haven’t seen one person examine the issues at hand, to try to determine what, if any, types of gun control could have prevented a wacko from killing people.

What I saw was this: As soon as the news made the rounds, people all over the country rushed to their side of the gun control issue, like kids choosing sides at dodgeball, and began hurling meaningless slogans at each other. There has been no meaningful discussion, not that it would be of any help to the victims and families. I’ve not heard one thing that I haven’t heard since LBJ was in office. I remember, because when I was a kid I had a political ad hanging in my room that showed LBJ, LadyBird and Hubert dressed as gangsters, with the slogan, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

That’s as far as the discussion has gone in most circles.

Now, common sense tells you that taking away guns from the honest, sane people won’t stop the evil, crazy people.  It also will tell you that if crazy people don’t have guns, they can’t shoot anyone.  Common sense will also tell you that you can’t stop crazy people from doing crazy things. I did some research, and it seems that the claim that there is a knife attack in England (who has gun control) every 4 minutes, and the rate appears to be climging.  And as we’ve seen here and abroad, it’s incredibly easy to build a workable bomb. You can find plans online.

Laws will dissuade reasonable people from doing evil things. They won’t stop the unreasonable. I don’t have a firm position on gun control.  I believe in the 2nd Amendment, but I think background checks are an obvious necessity.  Do some gun control methods work?  Is it possible to enact some gun controls but still protect the 2nd Amendment?  I don’t know, because people are too busy yelling to really examine the issue. I’d like to find out, wouldn’t you, even if it doesn’t agree with your current belief?

Human beings need to pick sides, to join tribes. One of the aspects of tribalism is to adopt a position of “I’m right, and you’re wrong” (cue “For What It’s Worth.”).  Some call it “polarization,” but it’s simply resorting to a tribal mentality.

For a tribe, tribal identity is everything. This in itself prevents meaningful dialogue. For anyone to really get anything done, they have to be willing to risk their tribal identity and start thinking for themselves, entertaining new ideas, and going in new directions. This is the case with nearly every major issue in this country. Tribalism is preventing any meaningful work from getting done, and it’s costing the country in ways that can’t even be quantified.

And it makes me angry.  But then, I always hated dodgeball.


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.