The Ambiguities of our Faith

It’s a strange but true fact that we are often held captive by our culture. For example, in the West, we believe truth is usually black or white.

I was sitting in a lecture hall at Yale University, scratching my head, trying to decipher Dr. “Freddy” Wang’s accent. “Chinese is wery ahm-big-oo-us.”  Forty of us were there to learn Mandarin, courtesy of the Air Force. NSA would then train us to spy on the Chinese mainland. Anyway, after his lecture, we were laughing at Freddy’s repeated attempts to say, “Very ambiguous.”

Years later it dawned on me. In that phrase, our professor was sharing with us the wisdom of his ancient culture. We johnny-come-lately westerners are clueless about the oriental insight into the dynamics of ambiguities such as yin and yang.  Webster’s defines ambiguous as” having two or more possible meanings. In the West, we keep trying to force reality into “‘either…or,” a rather static view of the world and the Word.

English has many synonyms for ambiguous. Paradox is one. Dialectic is another. The dialectic method holds that two contrasting ideas (dualities) may be in tension with each other, to reconcile the two into one new meaning, called synthesis.  In simple terms it means life is not always “either… or.” Sometimes it is “both…and. Our Christian faith has such ambiguities. Not convinced? How do you answer these questions?

  • Is Jesus man or God?
  • Is God one or three?
  • Are we saved by God’s grace or by our faith?
  • Are we going to be judged by our faith or our works?
  • Is salvation a present or future reality?
  • Which testament portrays God’s true nature, the Old or the New?
  • Does God judge us in our sins or extend forgiveness?

Congratulations if you answered “both” to all seven. Paradoxes like these have sadly been the cause for dividing Christians for centuries. Often it’s because the western mind fails to grasp what the eastern mind does–reality is not always a one-edged thing. Sometimes it has two-edges, as we see in this passage, “God’s word is living and active, as sharp as a two-edged sword, dividing asunder soul and spirit, where joints and marrow join, for God’s word judges a person’s thoughts and intentions.” –Heb. 4:12.

Did you notice the five underlined pairs? They are dualities. I believe the inspired writer put them there purposely, to help us see truth often has two edges—two contrasting ideas in harmony with each other.  This insight helps us resolve so-called discrepancies found in Scripture. It also may help us reconcile doctrinal controversies.

Consider two passages, quoted by opposing sides of one such controversy. “I have written these things that you may know you have eternal life – 1 John 5: 13. “How can those who abandon their faith be brought back to repent?”-Heb. 6:4. It’s tempting for one who is zealous for his doctrinal position, to twist a text to make it agree with his view, or to manipulate one to disprove the other. But why not let God’s Word be His Word? ”Let God be true and every man a liar– Romans 3.4. We can solve the dilemma when we hold these two truths in tension with each other. We are not forced to choose one over the other.

Once on a long car trip, I sat between two pastors. Each of them was as dogmatic as the other, heatedly arguing Calvinism vs. Arminianism, proof texting their positions from Scripture. After many miles of this, I finally spoke up. “You know, I believe you are actually both right. But is it “right” to let your doctrinal views come between you as brothers?”

Many church splits have been caused by these kinds of disputes. How sad, when the inspired Word clearly states,  “Be in harmony; show love for one another; be united in spirit and agree with one mind”– Phil, 2.2.  Brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah,[o] I urge all of you to be in agreement[p] and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions. –I Cor. 1.10

Paul is just following Jesus when he made this fervent prayer before his passion. ”Father, may they all be one, as you and I are one…may they have such perfect unity that the world will know you sent me.”–John 17.21-23.

Please add your comments. They keep us going. Thanks

 

What Can We Do About Our Divisions?

Previously we traced some root causes for the many divisions among Christians.     In this post we stress why unity is vital and offer some steps to implement  it. 

Part 1:  If Christianity is to recover from its malaise, our leaders  must find ways to cooperate and work together, not competitively. God’s ultimate plan for our broken world is “to bring all things  together in unity through Christ both in heaven and earth.” (Eph 1:12) . We can help heal our broken church to find  ways to model agreement and harmony, fulfilling God’s dream for us.

Why Is Unity So Important?

1. Jesus’ heart cries out for it “I pray for them Father…that they will all be one,…may they be one. May they be together in unitymay they be one. In this, his high-priestly prayer, urgency grips the Savior. Five times he pleads for us “to be one.” [BTW: Wesley wisely observed that the Bible’s most essential truths are the ones most repeated].

2. Our unity conforms with and reflects the harmonious relationship within the Godhead. Jesus’ prayer shines light on  God’s perfect unity within himself.Father, as you and I are one…as you are in me… as you are  in me, Father, and I am in you.”

3. We are called to ”Imitate God and follow Christ’s example of love” –Eph. 5:1. If we imitate God and follow Christ. we will seek grace to resist temptations to argue and bicker over doctrines. Is my job as a believer to criticize you and correct your beliefs or  to love and encourage you? -Galatians 6: 1-5

4. Divided we fall and our witness is dead in the water.  Jesus prayed for unity so the world would know we are genuinely His “…then the world will believe you sent me” and “…so the world will know you sent me.

  • When we demonstrate unity and model Christ’s love among ourselves, unbelievers will be open to us and the gospel of love we preach.
  • .Competition, lack of cooperation, doctrinal quarrels, is a real turn-off. Divided, we lose our saltiness and hide our light. (Matt. 5:13-16).
  • Jesus calls us to “be” his witnesses,”—live the gospel, then “tell it.” -Acts 1:8

6. Our unity goes hand in hand with obeying Jesus’ new covenant command: “Love one another as I have loved you”—-John 13: 34.

  • He promises the same results in his command and prayer: “Your love for one another proves to the world you are my disciples
  • Lost, hungry souls need to see we are genuine before they accept our message.

 Part 2: Vital Ways To Restore Unity. 

1. Pray! Pray! Pray together and alone, fervently with expectation, that mutual love and unity will take root in our fellowships and spread across our divided church.

  • It shows our love for Jesus Christ“If you love me, you will obey me.”
  • Prayer changes things. Our prayers may help put “united” back in USA.
  • Pray for peace in our homes. Eph. 5 and 6 offer 365 wise words of counsel to families. When we follow them, God’s peace strengthens family ties.
  • Harmony in other relationships Charity (love) starts at home, but it mustn’t stay there:  “As far as possible, be at peace with everyone.” (Rom.  12:18) “Do good to all, especially to those of God’s family.”  (Gal 6:10)

2. Prayer Requires Actions. Ask God as if everything depended on Him. Act as though it all depends on you.     

Future posts will offer more strategies to implement His love and unity.  

Please, share your comments. It encourages us if we know folks read our stuff.

 P.S. Seven Words From Scripture To Help Confirm This Truth To Our Hearts. 

  1. Peace: (eirenei) Inner peace comes when we have peace with God & others.
  2. One accord: (homothumadon) In Acts whenever disciples are “of one mind and heart,” God blesses them with rapid growth and miracles.
  3. Agreement/harmony: (symphanos) Jesus promised His special presence when we agree. “How good it is when brethren dwell together”…like a symphony
  4. Reconciliation: (katalogei) God unites and restores us to himself, then calls us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation to unite others to God and one another.
  5. Love: (agape). “I show you a more excellent way.” Where I Cor. 13 love is practiced, unity follows. If we are in unity, expect miracles of grace.
  6. Friendship: (philei) “I now call you my friends. If you are my friends, you will obey my commandment to love one another as I have loved you.”
  7. Fellowship (koinonia) is our common love for Christ and one another.

Feedback encourage us to continue in this ministry until Christ’s dream for us to be “one” comes true.

 

 

We are the church, the bride of Christ

Years ago I received a mission from the Lord to pray for his church, his bride, his body–to pray for her unity and mutual love. This morning in prayer, God’s Spirit reminded me of a passage from Paul:

Ephesians 5: 35-37 (Paraphrase) Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, just as Christ did for us, his church. May your love be a matter of sacrifice and giving to her, not out of your need to receive.

Just as Christ’s love makes His church whole, your love will bring out the best in your wife. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in his bride, whom he dresses in a dazzling white gown, radiant with holiness and without fault. That is how you Christian husbands must love your wives. Love and cherish them as you do your own flesh. For a man who loves his wife actually loves himself, since “you are “one flesh.” When you do this, you both will benefit and God will be glorified.

The first thing about this text  is the Apostle uses the feminine pronoun “she.”(Greek: autei). The church is not an  “it.”  The church is the family of God’, a living entity, not an institution. We are Christ’s bride, his living, breathing body on earth. We are the church.

The second is the joy and mystery of the profound unity of man and woman–husband and wife– in the  sacred bond of marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and  mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2: 24)

My third response is perplexity. How can God Almighty transform this deeply flawed church of his so that she becomes his glorious bride, one without spot or wrinkle or any fault?  It stretches my faith to the limit.  Yet His Word is clear that he does do this and at his appearing will perform this great miracle of transformation. Or, perhaps the transformation will continue even beyond that. The Bible doesn’t say.

But for me, now, and for many men I know, the main point of this passage is, while, like me, my wife is deeply flawed, I am to love her unconditionally, as Christ loves his own bride. I can do this if I choose to do it AND if I trust Him to give me His agape Spirit to accomplish it.

Recently, I’ve been finding God’s grace to take a few faltering steps in this direction, answering her negatives with soft positives, not feisty arguments. Funny thing is, when I do, she changes and answers me with a softer, kinder spirit.

As a result, we have been having much fewer conflicts. But that’s not the best part. As  I overlook her flaws  to focus on her good qualities, our relationship blossoms. When she receives from me the positive attention and love she craves, I find pleasure just being with her.  Yes, it’s great! Little by little we are helping each other become better than we were.  And through all this, God is glorified.

Thanks for sharing your insights. We will answer all comments and responses to our posts.

 

What Do You Think?

Argument or Agreement? I am alarmed at how the church of Jesus and our United States nation are becoming more and more divided. I wonder if those who devote themselves to arguing for or against right or left in faith and/or politics are considering the damage they do. It saddens me to see how they limit themselves to dwelling in their blind spots. Does fighting for their views really change anything for the better? It saddens me how constant, unremitting debate, fails to reverence the larger landscape–the beauty of God’s enormous love in Christ and the profound harmony of His universe. After all, the Apostle is clear that God’s ultimate objective is unity and harmony, not disagreement and argument. When I consider the many ways we do agree, I am at peace. When I focus on our differences, or worse, argue for mine against yours, I add to the boiling crisis dividing us and get irritable bowel syndrome in the bargain.

What do You Think?

Uncle Sam or Jesus? My obedience to Christ includes bearing witness to Him by my conduct of life and my words. If I resort to using politics to realize Christ’s agenda, I fall into a quagmire. When I hope to see His purposes achieved through government, do I head towards Him or away from Him? Didn’t he say, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s?” Isn’t it clear that the issue is “not serving two masters?” I love my country, but to whom do I pledge my obedience and loyalty—Uncle Sam or Jesus? It’s got to be one or the other.

What do You Think?

 

“My Friend Irma”…

was a radio show back in the day. This Irma’s not so friendly though. As my wife and I wait her arrival in SW Florida, we have undergone all the vicissitudes of the weather–from anxiety, to calm, to terror and even laughter. Last night my son in Houston, called. Since our prayers for his family’s safety from Harvey were answered, I prayed with faith, “Oh, Lord, calm this vicious storm. Reduce its winds and floods to a category three or even two.” My son, Wade replied, “Look, Dad, if I’m going to ask for a miracle, I’m going all the way, “Lord, reduce the winds to a tropical depression.” “Never mind,” I told him, “I was at Walmart last night and believe me, there’s lots of depression here already.”

Slow and steady, Charlene and I are praying as though it all depends on God and working as though it all depends on us.  We have done pretty much all we can do to secure our stuff. At this writing, I not only feel physically strong for my 77 years, but even better, the storm in my heart has died down, leaving me with an odd sense of well-being.  You might be thinking, “The old man has really flipped his lid this time!”” Be assured. I have never felt so sane.

When I had Stage IV cancer, my son advised me to praise God, which I did, on long walks and found  victory. I’m finding it easier this time around. So, while Charlene naps with her cat, I’m in my room with my wonder dog Quincy, (Did you know dog is God spelled backwards?). I’m offering these words of hope and comfort as assurances of our well-being as we face the storm within and without.

 Fear has fled in the face of joy. Psalms, hymns, songs and promises like, “Rejoice in the Lord always. andMy peace I give you,” have taken on new meaning. While many have fled the area, Charlene and I have God’s assurance we are to remain in our home. Some may say, “Flee like a bird to the mountain, but we have already fled– straight into the arms of God.  Psalm 11.1. Well, not many mountains in Florida, anyway and if we went to a shelter, Charlene couldn’t take her special recliner needed as she recovers from recent shoulder surgery. Besides, we would have to leave our children, Quincy and Annabelle behind. Not happening.

And so my heart is glad. My soul is full of joy. My body also dwells in safety, without fear.” The words of of the Psalmist kind of reflects my present mood, but it could change in a moment. This 2nd verse from the Finlandia hymn has always been special to me. Now it’s much more so.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

This song has also been helpful, especially when I sing them out loud.

You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart
With songs of deliverance, whenever I am afraid
I will trust in You. I will trust in You.
Let the weak say I am strong in the strength of the Lord

Finally, because “It is well with my soul,” I believe Charlene, sensing my well-being, is finding it as well .

Be safe out there.

What Can We Do About Our Divisions?

Our last post traced some root causes for our many divisions among Christians.  In this post we show why unity is necessary and offer ways to restore it. 

  Part 1:  If Christianity is to recover from its malaise, we believers must lay down our swords and move towards each other in peace. God’s ultimate plan for our broken world is “to bring all things  together in unity through Christ both in heaven and earth.” (Eph 1:10-12) . In the meantime, may we help heal our broken church that she may find  ways to model agreement and harmony, fulfilling God’s dream for His church.

WHY IS UNITY SO IMPORTANT?

  1. 1. Jesus’ heart cries out for it “I pray for them Father…that they will all be one,…may they be one. May they be together in unitymay they be one. In this, his high-priestly prayer, urgency grips the Saviour. Over and over he repeats his plea to the Father for us “to be one.” [BTW: Wesley wisely observed that the Bible’s most essential truths are the ones most repeated].
  2. Unity reflects the nature of the Tri-une God. Other words in his prayer shine a light on the doctrine of the trinity–God’s unity within himself.Father, as you and I are one— as you are in me– as you are  in me, Father, and I am in you.”
  3. We are called to ”Imitate God and follow Christ’s example of love” (Eph. 5:1), If we imitate God and follow Christ we will find grace to resist temptations to argue and disagree with each other.  After all, if you are a believer, is it my job to criticize or correct your beliefs or is it to love and encourage you? [see Galatians 6: 1-5]
  4. Without unity our witness to the world is stymied. Jesus emphasizes how  Christians in harmony authenticate their mission. “…then the world will BELIEVE you sent me”  and “…the world will KNOW you sent me.
  5. When we demonstrate God’s unity among ourselves, outsiders will notice and be impressed. The gospel of love we preach will become visible to them when we imitate God’s unity and model Christ’s love among ourselves.
  6. When we quarrel and disagree, compete but don’t cooperate, we lose our saltiness and hide our light. (Matt. 5:13-16). Jesus called us to “be” his  witnesses,” living the gospel before we “tell” a broken world God’s good news. (Acts 1:8)
  7. Unity goes hand in hand with Jesus’ new covenant love command to: 1] Love one another” as I have loved you—that’s how you should  2] “love and treat each other” 3] “your love for one another will be proof to the world that you are my disciples. (John 3: 34, 35). In John 15; 12, 17, We read: 4] “Love one another as I have loved you” 5]“love one another. Five times he pleads for this so we see how urgent is this for Him and vital to us!
  8. The promised results for obeying his command is the same as the one in his prayer: Brotherly love offers proof to lost, hungry souls we are genuine and our message is true.

 Part 2: Vital Ways To Restore Unity.  DWJD:  We can pray corporately and privately as Jesus did, with fervent expectation ti the Father for….

  •  Mutual love and harmony to take root in our fellowships and for that spirit spread across our divided church and  land. Who knows? Our prayers may help put “united” back in the USA. Pray we will put aside differences, focusing on our common faith and love for Jesus –obeying his command to “love one another.”
  • Peace in our homes. Paul offers 365 words of good counsel to families In Eph. 5,6. When family members follow them, God’s peace will strengthen our family ties.
  • Harmony in other relationships Charity (love) starts at home, but it mustn’t stay there:  “As far as possible, be at peace with everyone.” (Rom.  12:18) “Do good to all, especially to those of God’s family.”  (Gal 6:10)
  • Prayer Requires Actions. Ask God as if everything depended on Him. Act as though it all depends on you.     
  • Our next few posts will explore Biblical nuts and bolts strategies to implement Christ’s law of love and fulfill his plea for unity. Please, share your comments. It encourages us if we know folks read our stuff.

P.S. Seven Words From Scripture To Help Confirm This Truth To Our Hearts. 

  1. Peace: (eirenei) Inner peace comes when we have peace with God & others.
  2. One accord: (homothumadon) In Acts whenever disciples are “of one mind and heart,” God blesses them with rapid growth and miracles.
  3. Agreement/harmony: (symphanos) Jesus promised His special presence when we agree. “How good it is when brethren dwell together”…like a symphony
  4. Reconciliation: (katalogei) God unites and restores us to himself, then calls us to be his ambassadors of reconciliation to unite others to God and one another.
  5. Love: (agape). “I show you a more excellent way.” Where I Cor. 13 love is practiced, unity follows. If we are in unity, expect miracles of grace.
  6. Friendship: (philei) “I now call you my friends. If you are my friends, you will obey my commandment to love one another as I have loved you.”
  7. Fellowship (koinonia) is our common love for Christ and one another.

    Feedback encourage us to continue in this ministry until Christ’s dream for us to be “ONE” comes true.

Why Are We So Divided? What Can We Do About it?

A Reader Asks: I’m confused. Why are there so many churches, all with different  labels such as, Denominational. Non-denominational, Catholic, Independent, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Charismatic, Baptist, Orthodox, on and on?  Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there such a thing as one true church?

What did Jesus intend for his church? If we can get a hold of this single idea, we may be able to untangle this webWhen Jesus declared to Peter, “I will build my church,” did he have a non-profit institution in mind or was his intent to build a community of faithful, active disciples?  Well, let’s look at what a non-profit requires: (1) A name (label); (2) By-laws (Polity–how it’s run); (3) Articles of Incorporation (Statements of  Faith); (4) Money; (tithes and offerings); (5) Leadership (professional clergy to run it) and a Constituency (laity). Does this sound like the community of faith Jesus had in mind? In other words…

Is the church an institution?  A wag once said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to be in an institution?”  Indeed! We realize marriage isn’t an institution, but  a committed relationship between two individuals—a “we” not an “it.”  Is the church more like marriage or more like a non profit?  

Did Jesus love and die for a people or an institution? What does the Bible say? When we gather or dispersed, are we called to be a living community or an organization? Notice how biblical synonyms for Christ’s church stress the personal over the impersonal.

  • Bride of Christ ”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved [agape] the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the word, to present her to himself as a radiant church. Eph. 5:25- 26 (FYI: NIV accurately uses “her.”  Many translations mistakenly refer to the bride as “it.”
  • Eklesia, the Greek word Jesus uses for church, means “a gathering of people.” Certainly a community not an  “it.” (BTW: Synagogue has exactly the same meaning.)
  • Body of Christ. ”so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one of us members of one another. (Romans 5: 12). (BTW: When Jesus asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me, he meant, his church body. Is this where Paul arrived at the revelation of the church being Christ’s body on earth?)
  • God’s Temple isn’t a thing either, as Paul explains, ”Don’t you know you all (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (Romans 3:16)

These are the Questions we must ask: Is God’s house a building or the people inside? Does He live in things or believers? Does He inhabit institutions or does he dwell and empower the believing community within [and sometimes without] those institutions?

How did the living Church become Institutional? In the third century, church leaders began to assume special titles of rank and position for themselves. Today we call them  “clergy.” Over time they expanded their role to one of authority and learning above and apart from rank and file believers— called “laity.” (BTW: The terms laity and clergy are not found in the Bible)

Today many so called laity find they are relegated to the role of pew sitters. Like fans at a football game, they are spectators who support the team, but unlike clergy professionals, are not active participants. Was this Jesus’ dream for his church? Was this how early Christians were regarded?

Just the Opposite: Paul stressed, ”faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other.” (Col. 3: 11. See also Eph. 4)  Ironically Peter, who was promoted to a Roman pope posthumously, wrote that all believers are “royal, holy priests (1 Peter 2: 5, 9). Moreover, in the Bible. we find every member had an important function in the body. (I Cor 12 and Romans 12) True, certain individuals were gifted by the Spirit to lead as prophets, apostles, pastors, episcopoi (bishops), and presbyteroi (elders). But these gifts were not seen in any way as creating a superior class of Christian.

Over the years the church became more and more identified with her leaders not the people. An extensive hierarchy developed. To accommodate elaborate and often extravagant systems, measures were required to organize into complex and well-funded institutions. Massive building projects followed. Today tourists are wowed by these hundreds of spectacular cathedrals all over Europe, but with hardly any worshippers.

The Reformation was supposed to cure this, but sadly did not. The same division between “clergy” and “laity” prevailed. Moreover, there was a strong emphasis on the  doctrine of “freedom of conscience.” This justified various leaders who had differing ideas, often about Communion and Baptism, to form denominations and sects, following their own doctrines and ethnicity. In America, those division have multiplied exponentially far beyond anything we find in Europe.

Our next post will address the difficult question” What can we do about it?

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