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

 

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 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.

When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em!

 “It’s Wrong to Compromise!” I’ve heard and understand this fish or cut bait sentiment among believers, but I tend to go along with Kenny Rogers —“You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Sometimes it takes more grit to fold em than sticking to our guns. It was was through the genius of folding ’em, i.e. compromise, that Lincoln preserved the union and emancipated the slaves. When faced with three intolerable options, he had the wit to find a fourth, knowing the murky, treacherous  waters of slavery were to be navigated the way bomb squads diffuse bombs–slowly, gently and carefully.

The framers of the constitution walked the same slippery slope.  The purists were horrified when the constitution didn’t abolish slavery. They preferred being right about the issue than bringing to birth this great nation. Can there be any doubt this great  document would have never been ratified if founding fathers hadn’t compromised?

Compromise and the law of Christ. In Luke’s account of the First Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15, we find the church was faced with intolerable options as well. The choices were to either obey God’s law to circumcise or disobey it. After listening to arguments on both sides, James decided the Jewish branch  of the church had no right to put intolerable burdens on non-Jewish believers. It would violate the law of Christ. Leaving aside the heavier doctrines of old covenant rituals of circumcision and sabbaths, he believed Christ’s law trumped Moses. “Only abstain from the pollution of idols, from fornication and from eating what is strangled and from blood.” Gentile believers were told. It was a compromise guided by Jesus great new covenant law, “Love one another as I have loved you.”. 

While this decision angered some, it advanced Christ’s gospel by leaving the door open to the great majority of people not of the Jewish covenant. This agape, new covenant decision saved the young movement which went on to shake the world.

Strong Leaders Understand When to “Fold em.” Paul did when faced with the tricky issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some were convicted that this was a sin. Others did not.  While agreeing with those who had no scruples about it, it was to them he wrote,  “While knowledge (i.e. being right) can produce arrogance, love builds up.” (I Cor 8:1) Paul concludes, “When you sin against brothers by wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ….so, I will not eat this meat, lest I cause my brother to stumble.” (8: 12,13). Thus we see, Christ’s law of love transcends what may be considered right and wrong. To hurt and divide Christ’s body is a far greater sin. Paul followed Jesus’ agape principle when he instructed the apostles that if they loved him and wished to abide in him, they must lay down their lives, souls, egos for each other (John 15. 12-17. In the synoptic gospels he laid down the same principle. “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Denying ourselves sometimes means denying our need to be right and fear of being wrong for the sake of the unity of Christ’s body.

When to Hold em” While Paul told believers to fold ‘em on that occassion, there are times when  compromise was dead wrong. He tells how once he had to correct Peter, the Rock–not  for incorrect beliefs, as we tend to do in the church, but for his actions.  “Before certain men came [to Antioch]…, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from them.” (Gal 2:12). Why did the Rock violate the Jerusalem Counsel and Christ’s own command.? Paul explains, “Because he feared those of the circumcision” i.e. the purists who clung to the past and their precious doctrines even if it meant blocking God’s plan to build a new future.

Culprits causing conflicts and divisions in the church Why do Christians fight over issues of predestination vs. free will but fail to fight for Christ’s law of love? Often it’s Peter’s issue–both the one in Antioch and earlier when he warmed his hands while denying his master—his fears! What’s so wonderful and amazing about Jesus’ unfailing love is, how he handled Peter’s failure by the Galilean Sea. He folded em, i.e. he never brought up Peter’s moral failure. Instead he challenged him Do you love me?  Are you my friend?  Then love, tend and feed those I give you to lead. (See John 21: 15-17). \

Other times the cause is not our strong convictions, it’s loving them more than one another which means loving Jesus less. When I put my need to be right and fear of being wrong ahead of my love for fellow believers, I must ask myself, am I denying him as well?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compromising the Truth

Should we wield the “sword of truth” against each other over doctrinal differences OR as a weapon to defeat the world, the flesh and the devil?

Doctrinal Truth. In a discussion I had with a brother about our need to love one another, he replied with a big, “Yes, but we should never compromise the truth.”  Have you heard that one before? Here’s Webster’s third definition of compromise: “to weaken or give up one’s principles or ideals for reasons of expediency.”  But the spin I hear from well meaning brothers is more often about doctrines than ideals or values. These doctrines or “biblical truths,” have divided Christians since the 3rd century and given great comfort and delight to our enemy, whose major strategy against God’s Kingdom is “divide and conquer.”

Webster’s First Definition of Compromise “When two opposing sides, for the sake of peace and agreement, each give in and meet in the middle.” The U.S. Constitution, probably the second most important document, after the Bible, is an example of brilliant compromising. Without willingness for opposing parties to meet in the middle,, we would be a divided nation, not a united one.  But should Christians compromise? The answer is not only that we should, but God has given us a model for it in His Word.

The Jerusalem Compromise In Acts 15, we read how early church leaders met in Jerusalem to resolve a huge problem. The issue was a vast cultural divide between Jewish believers, who held to Jewish practices, such as kosher meals, and non-Jewish believers. Jews who truly loved Jesus, felt they could not fellowship with Gentiles who loved Jesus, unless they adopted their kosher doctrine. Breaking bread together was at the heart of Christian fellowship (See Acts 2: 42-47). Peter testified that God truly was at work among Gentiles bringing them to Christ. But how could Christ’s “love one another” mandate be met, if these two groups couldn’t even sit down together for a meal?

Under the influence of the Spirit’s work—the council decided that the their relationship with Christ and one another and Christ’s ongoing mission to the world, trumped their doctrines. In a Spirit of humility, Jews made a loving compromise by agreeing non-Jews could share at Christ’s table without adopting Jewish beliefs. Non-Jews compromised by respecting their Jewish brothers’ consciences. They agreed to abstain from (a) food offered to idols, (b) sexual immorality, (c) eating meat of strangled animals and blood. This summit is a model of how believers with different views can come together by meeting in the middle. It follows Jesus principle, “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their lives [Gr: psyche], i.e. egos, for one another.” True Christian love involves laying down our holy cows for the sake of love for Christ. our brethren and our mission.

What is Truth? Jesus said, “I am truth.” (John 14:6). Doesn’t this mean that truth, at its highest level is personal, involving right relationship with God and others? But what about our statements of faiths, our creeds and our doctrines? What does the Bible say? At the judgment, will Jesus greet us with a doctrinal quiz that we must pass before we can enter His kingdom? Or, as we learn In the parable of the sheep and goats, will he simply recognize us as his own by how we have loved… or how we have withhold it?

But there must be bedrock truths, without which, we can have no unity, right?

“Trust and Obey Can we find any higher truth than the words of  the old hymn, “Trust and obey; there’s no other way…” These words rightly divide the word of truth because they stress Jesus’ two core commands. The first is basic, found in John 3:16–“believe.” To have a relationship with Christ, we must first put our faith and trust in Him. (See John 6: 28,29).  Second, we must obey Christ’s new order for a new order–his great commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13: 34, 35).

“Trust and obey!” These two words,  trump all others.

The Sword of Truth. Those who wish to serve Christ’s cause by wielding the sword to defend their versions of the truth “once delivered to the saints,” should remember: the bedrock of all truth is to trust God, to love God and to love one another.

Please make a comment and join the conversation. Thanks.

To Reconcile or Exclude, A Dilemma.

All nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. [Matthew 25: 32]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   “…the mystery of Christ is this: to unite all things in him in heaven and earth.”(Ephesians 1, 9, 10)

Recently I spoke with a friend about God’s mystery, i.e. his ultimate plan to unite all things in Christ. He countered with the sheep and goats parable, implying God’s plan is to divide rather than unite.  He has a point. How do we reconcile this parable that excludes people with His intention to unite all things?   Continue reading

Unveiling the Mystery of God

We puzzle over those well-known mysteries such as UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, lost Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and the identity of Jack the Ripper. They are still unsolved, but there is one mystery that isn’t. St. Paul cited “the mystery of God [Gk: mysterium o Theos] 19 times in his writings, six times in Ephesians alone. But what is this secret of God? Continue reading