Friday, December 31, 2010

"It is finished!" ...and I am free...

What can I say?
I've been set free.
It's as simple as that.
It's been a long time coming,
but the simplest of truths has finally filled
my thick skull
with peace.

For nearly as long as I've been a Christian I've grappled with the subject of legalism and the Old Covenant Law. I've read so much and heard so many sermons on the subject and all the while the waters have only grown murkier and my confusion greater. I've heard there are those who disregard the Old Testament entirely, seeing it as useless, something we ought not even bother ourselves with. But, to be honest, in all my years in various church settings (from Pentecostal to Reformed Baptist) I've never, ever met anyone who believes that way. No, what I've encountered are a variety of Christians from a variety of traditions all claiming to be "Bible-believing" struggling, generally with all sincerity, to figure out what to do with the Old Testament in light of the New.

What seems to be the nearly universal practice is a combination of cutting and pasting portions or attitudes from the Old Covenant onto the New. The portions cut and locations pasted differ based upon the traditions and opinions of whoever is doing the editing. The messages I've gotten have been mixed and confusing. Some churches, like the Judaizers of old, require their members to incorporate all of the Old Testament regulations, excluding only the ceremonial portions (priesthood, animal sacrifices, festivals, etc.) Others exclude all portions of the Law save its moral prohibitions: the Ten Commandments along with whichever "secondary" restrictions they find they agree with, say, forbidding tattoos for instance. Others by and large disregard the regulations of the Law, with the exception of the Ten Commandments and then substitute their own system of "Christian" law restricting behaviors never restricted under the Old Covenant (drinking alcoholic beverages, social dancing, women wearing pants or working outside the home, and divorce in cases of adultery, to name a few) and converting the New Testament into a new system of super-spiritual laws by which to judge ourselves and one another. Many still teach that the Old Testament system of blessing and cursing applies to believers today. The blessings are for when they do right, the cursings for when they commit sin. Some believe that the Old Testament Law is God's way of governing men and that it should be replicated in civil government (though I've yet to hear anyone seeking to legislate against covetousness...we've got the economy to consider after all). Some believe that just as God sent the Law before He sent the Gospel, that we Christians must bring the Law to bear on people before we can proclaim the Gospel.

At various points in my life I've been subjected to, or even adhered to nearly every one of these teachings, and various combinations of them. Some of them have come very near to destroying my faith. If you've never experienced this confusion I hope you'll consider yourself blessed and forgive my thick-headedness as I reveal to you the simple truth that has transformed my life.



The simple fact is this:
The Old Covenant is not mine.
I am not now,
never have been,or ever will be
a party to it.

The God of the universe is a covenant making God. For reasons clear only to Himself He chose to create man and throughout human history has chosen to involve Himself personally with mankind, binding Himself to humanity, to individuals, and to groups of individuals by means of a variety of covenants. Throughout history it has been essential that God's people understand the nature and stipulations of the particular covenants which govern their relationship to Him.

Once upon a time, after the days of the Flood, God made a covenant with Noah, and presumably with the earth, that the seasons would commence predictably for as long as the earth remains and that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood. The rainbow was given as the sign of that covenant. I, as a resident of this earth and a descendant of Noah, am a beneficiary of that covenant, though it was not made with me personally, and I am not bound by it in any way. (See Genesis 8:20-22)

Once upon a later time God made a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15). God himself being the only party to walk between the cut animals of the offering, He accepted all the responsibility for the keeping of the covenant. In other words, as far as Abram was concerned it was unconditional. God, without requiring anything from Abram in return, promised to make Abram the father of a multitude and to give his descendants the land of Canaan. Abram "believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness." It would be more than a decade before God would return to Abram to renew and expand the earlier covenant and to give Abram a new name, Abraham - father of a multitude. Circumcision was given as the seal of that covenant.
image via World Mission Collection
"And God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.... Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.'" (Gen. 17:9-10,14)

I was not a participant of that very personal covenant between God and Abraham, but I am, according to the apostle Paul, part of the fulfillment of it, an heir, if you will.
"For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
"That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring - not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shared the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations'..." (Romans 4:13-17a)
Because I share the faith of Abraham, I am in God's eyes the offspring of Abraham who is "the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well." (Romans 4:11b) Through faith I am a spiritual child of Abraham and heir to the righteousness God added to him. I am one of the multitude of offspring God promised him. This covenant makes no demand upon me, yet through faith I am a product of it.

image via Wikipedia
Later still, in the days of Moses, God intervened yet again in the world of humans making a covenant with the Hebrews. This covenant is what has come to be known as the Old Covenant, or the Old Testament. Included in that covenant was what we've come to refer to as the Mosaic Law. In the centuries that passed between Moses and Christ there was no other way to enter into covenant relationship with God than through this Law. If anyone who was not a Jew wished to be included in God's people they could, but only by entering into this covenant and submitting to all of its regulations, including circumcision. The only way to God was through Judaism and the faithful keeping of the Old Testament Law with all its commands, regulations, observations, and sacrifices.


I am not a Jew.
God did not covenant with me through Moses.
God came to me through Christ. 

Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the completion of the Old Covenant. His death and resurrection has rendered that Old Covenant obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). Just as a widow is no longer bound by the covenant of marriage to her dead husband, so no one is bound any longer by the Old Covenant:
"Likewise my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in or members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." (Romans 7:4-6)

The scales have dropped from my eyes.

Like a marriage ended by death,
that Old Covenant is closed,
finished, obsolete.
There is no turning back.
God has brought it to its legal end in Christ.

What had seemed foggy is now crystal clear:

Why Paul reacted so violently to any attempts to bring the Law to the Gentiles:
"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.' But the law is not of faith..." (Gal. 3:10-12a)
"I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law." (Gal. 5:3)
Once we attempt to submit ourselves to the Law we find ourselves bound by the whole of it, with all its regulations, blessings, and cursings.

Why the veil in the temple in two when Jesus cried "It is finished!"

Why the temple was destroyed in the very lifetime of those who'd witnessed Christ's sacrifice. There would be no more sacrifices. That covenant is over.

Why Paul was so vehemently opposed to anyone who sought to bring the Law to the Gentiles.
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— " (Galatians 3:1-5)

It was not their covenant. It never was. God has authored a New Covenant in His blood. We don't need to subject Gentiles to the Law before we can introduce them to grace.
"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." Romans 2:14-16 (see also Romans 1:18-32)
Nor, we learn from Paul, is it necessary to farm the Old Covenant to learn to live in the New.
"Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Romans 7:4-6 (emphasis mine)
Now I can discern the use Jesus makes of the Law in his teachings. He came first to the Jews, those He was in covenant with, teaching them, showing them from the Law their need for a New Covenant. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He was not establishing a tougher law. He was teaching the people of the Law from the Law to lead them to Himself, the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and Sacrifice and High Priest of the New.

Now I can make sense of the differences in the approaches Paul takes between Jews and Gentiles. So much of his time addressing Jews is spent convincing them to let go of the Old, that it's work has been finished, that the Holy Spirit will direct them and the Gentiles in New Covenant living, that grace will not cause sin to abound, that His law is now written on the hearts of believers and that obedience to it will come from an internal loving response not following letters of laws, that the New Covenant is vastly different and infinitely better. (Oh, please, do hurry right now to read the book of Hebrews!)

Now I know what it means that there is no condemnation in Christ. Now I can discern the difference between a ministry of condemnation and one of reconciliation.
"...you show that you are a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
"Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
"Since we have such a hope, we are very bold...." (2 Cor. 3:7-11)

Reconciled to God!
No longer cringing,
free to love Him
His Spirit filling my heart
with hope.

Now, full of joy, I can go forth as a minister, not of condemnation but of reconciliation to God. Oh, my friends, there is no condemnation in Christ. Run to Him and find peace with God who has bound Himself to mankind for all eternity in the person of His Son and by the New Covenant in His blood.

image via  stpatricksseminary.org

_______________________________


By way of a post-script I would like to mention, briefly, that I am in no way suggesting we remove the Old Testaments from our Bibles. That, too, is the inspired Word of God. There is much to be learned about God from those earlier books - His authority, His character, His priorities, His faithfulness to His people, His mercy even toward gentiles, His attitude toward sin. (God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.) There is much to be learned there about ourselves as well, about the ways of sin and it's deceitfulness, about the history of God with man, and about the meaning of our own blessed Covenant. Perhaps I'll write more on that another time.

56 comments:

Hydriotaphia said...

Thanks Laurie, you have just reinforced what i have felt for a long time about a sensible Christian relationship to the Old Testament, especially as regards the Covenant. The only book of the O.T. I ever read daily, is the Book of Psalms.

Disjecta Membra said...

An absolutely beautiful post, Laurie. Very well done!

Tuirgin said...

Let's just say you ain't the only one to struggle with the Old Testament.

I mean, what do you do with Psalm 137 (136 LXX) blessing those who dash the Babylonian infants heads against rocks? What of the total annihilation of entire villages including women and children?

There was, quite predictably, discussion of what to do with the Old Testament in the first 500 years of Christianity.

Apart from the disputes, however, whenever I come across references to the Old Testament in patristic writings, it is almost always in a prayerful and spiritualized sense, even to the extent of neglecting or ignoring the base level 1st meaning of the text. And of course there was great attention paid to the anticipation of the coming of Christ, which is more explicit in the LXX than in the later Masoretic texts.

I remember when I first started looking at how the Gospel writers and Paul interpreted Old Testament scripture in light of messianic prophecy and realizing how loose an interpretation they were applying. Neither Christ nor the apostles applied even a common sense literalness according to our modern notions of literary genre. The fact is, they weren't very systematic at all. I began to appreciate just how deeply modern Christian fundamentalism is influenced by Enlightenment notions of truth even as they battle with other outgrowths of the Enlightenment. It seems to me, at least, that Truth in Scripture is often metaphysical and mystical as opposed to rational. And I say "mystical" hoping that readers look beyond any kind of emotional, romantic mysticism to it's more immediate and plain meaning, even if this meaning has been largely obscured by snake oil vendors.

If you would like a view of delight in meditations on the Old Testament take a look at Saint Ephrem the Syrian's Hymns On Paradise. Saint Ephrem and Saint Isaac, both Syrian, hold a special place in traditional Christianity. Being Syrian (and therefore Semitic), they are the inheritors of a distinctly non-Hellenistic tradition of Christianity in a time when most of the theology is entirely dominated by Hellenists.

Laurie M. said...

Well, Christopher and Kevin, while what I had in mind as I wrote was not the full collection of books we refer to as "the Old Testament", but specifically the Mosaic Covenant and the legalism that came with it and that many desire to perpetuate, I would be dishonest not to agree that the history of God with His people Israel is at times distressing. It's right up there with the doctrine of hell as eternal torment in its repulsiveness to my human stomach. And yet it was put to paper by humans with stomachs....David, a "man after God's own heart" wrote those imprecatory Psalms. (If you wish to be further distressed, just do a Google image search for "animal sacrifices". You will never hear the Law of Moses the same way again.) Clearly God's nature is different than my own, as is His "stomach". I have little doubt that ,from His high vantage, idolatry and sin are far more repulsive than they are to me. And even knowing that I wince. I have many other thoughts on the matter that I won't go into here.

I, a literal-minded soul by nature, am well-suited to fundamentalism, which explains a lot of my history. Because of this I notice right away the "liberties" Paul seems to take in interpreting the Old Testament. (Of course, because of his position as an apostle, I am compelled to accept his interpretations.) I can also say, though, that even I, with my literal tendencies, am repeatedly struck by the wooden literalness of the Pharisees of Jesus' time. They possessed that very human tendency toward narrow-thinking fundamentalism which can be found making the worst of every religious tradition under the sun.

So, while I cannot altogether, or even mostly, understand the mind of God as He reveals Himself in the books we refer to as the Old Testament, I have always felt, as you alluded to that the key message is a spiritual one, as as if God enacted on the world stage a morality play of epic and real proportions which also represents the story of every individual human soul. This is why so many Christians through the ages have been blessed by the Psalms and the Prophets. The struggle of Israel with its sin and idolatry is the struggle and futility of every soul who would have fellowship with God. Ultimately each soul, like Israel, must find its redemption in the Christ of God.

In this sense the beauty of the overshadows the agony as the love of God washes over the ugliness of sin and death.

I have found, though, my ability to take heart and "delight", as you put it, Christopher, in the Old Testament books is directly related to my understanding that in Christ I am free from the looming dread of condemnation.

I will look at St. Ephrem. Thank you.

Laurie M. said...

Paul,
Your approval means the world to me. Thank you.

Tuirgin said...

It has been probably 10 years since I've read any C.S. Lewis, and now I find him coming back into my thought life almost constantly these last few months. Right now I'm reading A Preface to Paradise Lost and The Discarded Image—both are academic works—and he keeps popping back into my head as we discuss a variety of things to do with our Christian experience.

Lewis first scandalized me many years ago when I read his Reflections on the Psalms. In Chapter III, "Cursings," he writes:

"In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naîveté."

This paragraph opens the chapter and he proceeds to give examples of these two types of cursings. He eventually points out Psalm 23 (22 LXX):

"Worst of all in 'The Lord is my shepherd" (23), after the green pasture, the waters of comfort, the sure confidence in the valley of the shadow, we suddenly run across (5) 'Thou shalt prepare a table for me against them that trouble me'—or, as Dr. Moffat translates it, 'Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me while my enemies have to look on." The poet's enjoyment of his present prosperity would not be complete unless those horrid Joneses (who used to look down their noses at him) were watching it all and hating it. This may not be so diabolical as the passages I have quoted above; but the pettiness and vulgarity of it, especially in such surroundings, are hard to endure."

If that's not strong enough, in the very next sentence, he writes, "One way of dealing with these terrible or (dare we say?) contemptible Psalms is simply to leave them alone."

I still remember the shock, disappointment, and sorrow that my hero could write something so pointedly critical of sacred Scripture. At the time I was young and naive, and I was deeply rooted in a literalistic fundamentalism. And I was shattered. I think I even wondered for a time if Lewis weren't accomplishing the Devil's work by planting doubt.

Looking back I now realize that Lewis and a few others were gospel bearers serving to disassemble the biblio-idolatry in which I had been reared, relocating my faith to Christ, Himself. These Christians that gradually drew me away from the suffocating security of my upbringing weren't liberal Christians with a low view of Scripture. But they did dare to think.

"At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there—festering, gloating, undisguised—and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves. Only after these two admissions have been made can we safely proceed."

And he does proceed, quite usefully. Lewis was a gifted teacher, a thoughtful scholar, and a faithful Christian.

Tuirgin said...

In re-reading after the fact, I see I edited a quote poorly. When Lewis wrote that one way of dealing with the "contemptible Psalms is simply to leave them alone," he immediately follows with an argument not to leave them alone. My selection gives the wrong impression of where he was going with the thought.

Laurie M. said...

I am in complete agreement.

It behooves us to remember that though the Spirit led these words to be recorded, they are often the record of very human sentiments.

God stoops to us and, as we are patient with our children, is patient with us.

And, still since we can seldom do them justice we are often better off, as Lewis says, to "leave them alone".

Hydriotaphia said...

The conflict as ever is whether literalism in close alliance with fundamentalism can accept the poetic dimension of the Book of Psalms. Sure Christopher there are some unpleasant sentiments voiced in Psalms.However, literalism seems potentially a dangerous way of reading and interpreting every word of scripture.

Tuirgin said...

Literalism makes for bad poetry, and I definitely agree, Kevin... "a dangerous way of reading and interpreting..."

As the chapter I referenced goes on, Lewis mentions (in passing) allegory (which is important, and the primary way many of the Fathers seemed to read), but has some particular insight into the difficult passages from a human and moral perspective -- "the record of very human sentiments," which you mention, Laurie.

Laurie M. said...

Thanks for the clarification, Christopher. Ironically, though, I didn't take Lewis' words all that literally anyway. I'm hard pressed to leave anything truly alone, but I do think we ought leave off making definitive assertions about things we can little understand....humility is in order.

It seems to me that poetry is the language of hearts' cries, the voice of emotions. Psalms, to me, are, among other things, a validation of human emotion. So often, particularly in fundamentalist circles, feelings are invalidated, labeled as lies. The truth is our feelings reveal so much about what we really are, when all are rational assertions are swept aside. They may or may not speak the truth about God, or even circumstances, but they do reveal the truth about ourselves....But I think I've drifted from the point of our discussion.

Laurie M. said...

That should read "when all our rational assertions are swept aside".

Apparently I type phonetically - an ongoing problem. I promise really do know how to spell.

Tuirgin said...

I remember what it felt like to be struggling amongst the cult of happy-happy joy-joy. To the happy-cult I offer Dostoevsky, master of redemption through suffering. In Orthodox circles I heard a different perspective -- if you aren't struggling, you aren't doing your job. That doesn't necessitate despair, despondency, or being morose, but rather a consciousness and participation in the joyful sorrow most reverberant during Great Lent. It's interesting that in Samuel Johnson's biography of Sir Thomas Browne, he includes the account of Whitefoot, a close friend of Browne's, who credited him as,

"He was never seen to be transported with mirth, or dejected with sadness; always chearful, but rarely merry, at any sensible rate; seldom heard to break a jest; and when he did, he would be apt to blush at the levity of it: his gravity was natural without affectation."

How very different from our cult of the bright shining teeth.

On another note, check this out:

146 Mary bore a mute Babe though in Him were hidden all our tongues.
147 Joseph carried Him, yet hidden in Him was a silent nature older than everything.
148 The Lofty One became like a little child, yet hidden in Him was a treasure of Wisdom that suffices for all.
149 He was lofty but he sucked Mary's milk, and from His blessings all creation sucks.
150 He is the Living Breast of living breath; by His life the dead were suckled and they revived.

—St. Ephrem's 4th Nativity Hymn

He involves the emotions, he also involves our imagination and our rational mind in a way that is celebratory and prayerful rather than formulating. His hymns are theological, but they dance. He is a master of opposing images held together at once, intimating that which is beyond our ability to logically conceive.

Laurie M. said...

Christopher, That is absolutely beautiful....as theology is meant to be.

Assertions, no matter how factual, without the blood of a living heart behind them are another kind of lie - hypocrisy. Our emotions reveal what truly matters to us, what we really believe. When someone can express the beauty of the incarnation with such loveliness I believe that it truly is lovely, and that he really, from his heart believes it to be so.

Before I trusted Christ, I would hear people gush about the Cross, or the Babe, or what have you and be left cold, though I assented to all the same beliefs. Part of the miracle of conversion is the opening of the eyes of the heart to see the beauty of Christ.

WhiteStone said...

Thank you, Laurie.
And thank you, to the commenters as well. When a post is long, as this one is, I leave it open on my puter until sometime, later in the day, I can read and savor. Thank you, again. Well written.

Anonymous said...

If God was always the God of Christ, then why would he change by making all of these different and oddball covenants with people? The short answer is that these books were not written by God or divinely inspired but were written by people and as such reflect their evolving understanding. We don't need a God in order to use our discernment. If God was God he would not be bloodthirsty and vengeful in the old testament and enlightened in the new testament. Its all the work of human beings, including Jesus. Hope this won't be viewed as unkind but it amazes me the amount of wrangling and struggling people go through in order to reconcile the Bible to their (evolving) world view. Your discernment is your own integrity. You don't need a God in order to exercise it. Happy New Year!

Laurie M. said...

It amazes me, too, Anonymous, and yet I believe. (And I do not find your respectful honesty unkind.)

It is difficult to explain such faith to one who doesn't have it. It is difficult to understand it oneself. In a sense, I would say, it is the inescapable ability to see the hints of a beautiful script in whatever comes to pass....in, for instance, that humans are inspired to persist in spite of the greatest horrors that even we ourselves create and continue to treasure life....Why life? Why does life matter that we struggle and suffer so to maintain it, even to perpetuate it? Why, when we explore the universe do we quiver in excitement at the hope of finding more life in it? Why can we hardly imagine there not being more life in it? Why are we not content with rocks and stones but pore over everything for signs of life?

As to God, if you will bear a bit longer with my belief in Him, I will briefly conjecture (because I am not God and cannot understand any more of Him that has been revealed to me) that God does not change in His character, but that He is also not static. As regards humans He deals with us as we are, in whatever state of our evolution, if you will, He finds us. He is forming relationships, stories, and individuals with their own moral volition, all very dynamic by definition.

As for the Holy Bible, I believe it is a very human book written by very human humans, led by God to record the information and tell the story of some of the ways God has interacted with mankind. I believe what it tells us is true. The wrangling you speak of comes, in part, because it won't change and we don't understand it entirely. In one sense it's not unlike how in science we encounter nature and grapple with its laws. We try this and that by way of experimentation to understand it in a way that makes it fit with what we already know. Sometimes we bang our head against it's unchangeableness until we come to see that it is our own presuppositions which will have to change. We can't move the rock. It is what it is, it is we who will have to change. And on and on the struggle continues, we odd mortal little beings, strangely bent on understanding it all....

So Anonymous, thanks for taking the time to read here and comment. You've happened upon a little watering hole where several of my friends, who would gladly be atheists were it not for the fact that they believe, like to visit from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie: I understand the feeling that you describe the “beautiful script”, however I do not feel the need to attribute this order to a deity. Life is very mysterious and beautiful in its evolution even without God. All of the ugliness and disorder were created by our own thinking and sadly, so much of it has been caused by our beliefs in things that are not true. Now I know that you would never advocate violence in defense of your God, that is obvious from your writings, but many have done so and continue to do so. So it seems obvious to me that “God”, which I think is only a sense that we can all have of the ineffable is only our own discernment of it. The Buddhists such as the Dalai Lama call it an emptiness and not a God who makes covenants and sends messengers. Why do we need to believe in such things regardless of which religion it is? A big part of it is that is what we have been taught. Would you be a Christian had you been born in Afghanistan or Israel or China? We don’t need to be anything but fully human.

I agree that it is our own presumptions about the Bible that have to change, and that is exactly what lead me to not believe that there is any divine hand in it. In your case I do not think that your belief is harming you, but only think that our discernments of mystery do not need to be personified into a deity. I think that it is probably more scary to be a non-believer than a believer because it makes you more responsible and more alone with the world’s beauty and the ugliness that mankind has wrought. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Laurie M. said...

Anonymous,

I think it's scary for us all. Accountability and Aloneness hold their own terrors. I'm less afraid of aloneness. I would prefer, I think, not to believe in God, to answer only to myself and whatever restrictions society sets. But, as it is I cannot not believe. And so I find myself accountable to a higher being for all my actions and will one day answer for them. Frightening. That is why the Gospel is really such good news to me.

Horribly true that horrible things have been done in the name of religion, my own included. Like you I place all the responsibility for it on man (though, I would have to make a somewhat befuddled exception in the case of the Holy wars Israel engaged in as recorded in the O.T. referred to in earlier comments.) I would add, though, that horrible atrocities have been done in the name of atheistic ideologies as well. (I'm thinking of Mao and Stalin here.) Mankind can be a vicious lot, and yet we are never really content to be vicious. We know we ought not be. We condemn it when we perceive it in others and even, rightly or wrongly, in God.

As for belief harming me, I can honestly say that I have been battered aplenty by my own religion, its people, and some of their versions of its teachings. I've tried not to believe, but strangely through it all my faith has only grown deeper. It is my faith in God that has kept me from suicide and the utter hopelessness I have sometimes experienced.

I am an incurable Christian. I thank you for speaking with me so respectfully.

rachel said...

Laurie, this just blessed me SO MUCH. I don't have anything to add but that. :) Thank you.

Old Pete said...

I'm almost lost for words. I found a link to this on Facebook this morning. I walked away from an Anglican church nearly 40 years ago and later spent more than 20 years as a member of the Worldwide Church of God - a church that had at times been described not unreasonably, as both a cult and a sect. There was an emphasis on keeping the Sabbath and the biblical Holy Days because the OT was seen as a continuation of the Old Covenant (not a replacement). That all changed in 1995 when the leadership of the church announced that much of its theology was misguided.

I'm now 75 and I've recently 'finished' putting some of the story of my journey together.

Over the last 7-8 years I have been learning so much about why people believe what they believe, often as a result of denominational theology.

It was less than three years ago that I became aware that I have lived with Aspergers Syndrome all my life - that was an exciting discovery because it helped me to understand something of why I always felt the 'odd one out'.

I can relate to so much of what Laurie has written here. If anyone has time to look at even some of my blog I would love to be able to share some thoughts.

Laurie M. said...

Rachel, I've been so blessed by God, and am so glad to see the blessing spread!

Old Pete,
I'm glad to meet you. I will happily visit your blog.

Hydriotaphia said...

Laurie,

I really admire your replies and coolness as an 'incurable Christian' to your anonymous interlocutor. Of course humanity's relationship to God is not static but forever changing and growing.

Not quite sure I would have had the same depth of patience and politeness to anyone hiding behind anonymity, I would probably have just pressed the 'delete' button, but that of course would not testify to the power of Christ in one's life.

It's saner to acknowledge a higher power influencing one's life than to wear the lonely imitation 'God-like mask' of atheism!

Laurie M. said...

Kevin,

I take anonymous comments on a case by case basis. I don't think I've ever felt the need to delete one yet though I keep the option open. This Anonymous was respectful. As long as there is mutual respect there can be meaningful dialogue. I've visited a lot of Christian sites where any atheist who pops his/her head gets it immediately whacked. I can perfectly understand wanting to remain anonymous where a game of whack-a-mole might ensue.


That said, I'm really sympathetic (if that's the right word) to atheism, in the sense that there have been a few times in my life when I would have dearly loved to be able to embrace it.

Thankfully I never did, because I now I now have such peace with God and such joy and hope that I would not trade it for the world and believe it was worth every pain I endured to get to this place.

On a different note, I'm contemplating a blog entry or two interacting with Religio Medici

Anonymous said...

Hydropatia, I don't understand why you would want to delete my comment. This blog is open to comments. And all I am saying is that I do not understand the "vastness" that any can intuit as being a personal God, a la Buddhism. Yes, I suppose that could qualify as atheism but not as nihilism. I used to be a reader of the Christiam mystics and some are closer to my position than you might imagine. We don't need the Bible to have a direct experience. People from many traditions have direct experiences. You could even ask Laurie's husband: I believe that he would agree to that. Intolerance is a big problem with all religions. Laurie, thanks for the opportunity for me to participate here.

Anonymous said...

PS: I like Paul's blog too; that's why I mentioned it. Thanks.

Disjecta Membra said...

Anonymous,

You are absolutely correct! I do agree with your statement. If I may be so bold as to include a plug in my comment, as synchronicity would have it, I've actually just finished writing about the Buddha Nature in my New Year's blog post, which will be up on my blog later tonight.

I think the question may be along the lines of "why am I a Christian" in this case. I understand the reasoning behind the suggestion of my position in space/time may dictate the specific manifestation of my theism, however I'm not sure that remains as valid of a supposition to a modern, urban, Leftist intellectual, all of which are labels I am vain enough to don. Attempting to observe myself and my circumstances with a cold, objective eye, I think that those are more likely outpourings of my circumstance than Christianity.

You have actually hit upon a point which has been nagging at me tenaciously for some time now, especially in the extraordinarily trying year which has just passed. We have experienced just beastly behavior from fellow Christians in the past year and, to be candid, I have a strong desire to turn my back on Christianity entirely. However, distilling my spiritual beliefs down to the essential truths beyond my capacity to deny, I find myself with the Gospel and the Fall. The latter containing a whole .zip file of truth about existence and the former quite simply unshakable to me. I'm afraid I don't have a better answer than that and, honestly, it kind of bothers me too.

The "chicken or egg" question of faith is an entirely valid one. I've also heard the suggestion from people I've known of my spirituality being a psychological crutch. I will be completely honest with you, Anonymous, in that I am not entirely convinced at this point in my life that they are not correct in that accusation. Much like many people find themselves in very gray and difficult to encapsulate areas with politics, gender, and sexuality, I find myself in a gray area between theism and atheism. But I do find that the quality of truth in the words of Christ and the Apostles is not within my capacity to disregard and so I remain.

So, in short, yes, I absolutely believe that those in other traditions can and do have direct experiences. I think, for me, the acts and teachings of Christ and the Apostles compel me towards them in a way beyond my capacity to deny them in spite of how often I might wish to. Hopefully this will not be aggravating in its relativism, but for my own purposes I would amend one of your statements thusly:
You say, "We don't need the Bible to have a direct experience."
I would say, "Yes, however, for me, the truth in scripture is essential and unshakable, especially in regards to interpretation of said direct experiences."

I would also say, thank you for the kind words about my blog.

Laurie M. said...

Anonymous,

While we will likely find many areas of agreement, we will likely at other points reach impasse. For instance, while I believe God reveals Himself in many ways in this world, most especially in nature and even in human yearnings and morality, and that people can recognize Him in these ways and experience deep emotional responses, I cannot imagine not wishing to read a book He is widely believed to have inspired - and that is a matter for faith.

This then also raises that time-honored question of which "holy" book do we believe. And then we we find again ourselves in the territory of faith. Even though I find the story of the preservation of the Bible throughout the millenia to be a compelling one, it will not necessarily convince someone who is not inclined toward faith...although there are those for whom that story has been very compelling. It's worth reading even from the perspective of history and curiosity. It's rather a wonder of the world that such a persecuted work has managed to survive efforts to destroy and/or corrupt it for thousands of years.

And then, of course, there is the matter of the exclusivity of Christianity. It cannot be denied as it is stated repeatedly in the New Testament, and from the mouth of Christ Himself. I could scarcely call myself a Christian were I to deny the words of the man I believe to be God incarnate. And so, this is an area where our heads will butt.

As for my husband, he is a wonderful and an uncommon man, a man with deep compassion for people of all faiths or absence thereof, and also an "incurable Christian".

We welcome your acquaintance.

Anonymous said...

Paul, I'll be sure to read your new blog entry. I thank you and Laurie for your honest answers. I am sure that you are wonderful people.

What bothers me about direct experiences is precisely what you have touched upon Paul: I deeply suspect that it is WE who are determining the interpretation and fitting them into our religious conditioning. This conditioning is mostly a matter of geography and circumstance. Yes, I admit that for me, there lies Buddhism's appeal, at least the Buddhism that I have studied, because there is no assertion of a deity behind it all. I also feel that we can arrive at the same place from many different directions. Some Christians have a very literal concept of Jesus Christ and some have a much broader understanding even going so far as not to believe in a literal resurrection. Rather their understanding is more allegorical. In the area of allegory there are many commonalities across traditions. What counts is the meaning that we glean from our experiences of the ineffable is what I'm trying to say. I think, for example that the "fall" was an actual event in some way, shape or form, so maybe we do have a lot of common ground. Thank you.

Deb said...

Wow Girl, I'm so glad you are writing again. You really got people thinking and talking, too! Nice work!

I must agree you have handled this discussion beautifully, defending your faith with gentleness and respect. So glad to be your blogging buddy!!

Simple Mann said...

Hi Laurie,

I really enjoyed reading this, and the comments as well. As I have pondered and reflected on what you wrote, the Spirit brought this passage to my mind:

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)


Since I don't like taking single verses out of the context in which they are written, here is the section in John 8 where Jesus speaks these wonderful words:

30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
33 They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
34 Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.
38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father."


Here Jesus is speaking to those Jews "who believed in Him". Continuing on, Jesus issues a harsh rebuke--shocking actually. And this seems to be where my attention always falls when I read this passage, when Jesus says, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

For some reason, I have overlooked a critical element in what is taking place here: these are "the Jews who had believed in Him". These weren't the "religious right" that I am so accustomed to in the gospels... you know, the ones who refuse to believe, and who are seeking to ensnare him all the time. No, these are the ones who believed!

I wish I had some great, grand truth to share from this passage, but in all truth right now I am wrestling with it like Jacob in the desert, begging God for a blessing. However, I think the gyst of what Jesus is saying here is basically what you have said--and what the Apostle Paul said so many times. The law makes us a slave, indeed no less than sin! Of course, to be a true disciple of Christ, we must become a slave to Him as well, but not only does He set us free from the bondage and sentence of sin, but in a radical sense He also frees us from the bondage of the Law!

What is the consequence? Certainly there are many in the religious establishment today who fear (and in some understandable ways I would say) that the removal of the "law" will only lead to "lawlessness". And for the unregenerate, this is undoubtedly true. I think this is why Paul writes to Timothy, saying, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)"

(to be continued...)

Simple Mann said...

The Law is necessary in a fallen world to maintain social order. There are many who will be kept from *some* sins because of its application, but none will be kept from *all* sin because of it. As Paul writes in Romans, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." He also says, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." Later on he talks about how the Law exposed his own sinful heart by the commandment forbidding covetousness.

To put it in a poor analogy, how would anyone know that speeding is law-breaking if there were no laws, no signs, and no fines to impress the limits imposed on us by the law? But because we have been taught in order to obtain our license (our legal right to drive), and because signs have been posted in plain view, and all of our vehicles are equipped with odometers, we cannot claim ignorance when we are found to be guilty of disregarding and breaking this law. The signs point to that which we have been taught--they are not the law itself, but they serve to draw our attention to it. The odometer is like our conscience--we can see clearly if we are being obedient or disobedient to the law that is referred to by the signs that are posted. The policeman and the ticket is the "external" (or objective) enforcer; since often times we just disregard the law and our conscience ("this doesn't apply to me or to this situation right now"), the outside enforcement is necessary for those who are prone to disobey. How often do people persist in sin until they get "caught" because their conscience is seared? And then there is the judge, who has the final word on those who break the law?

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)

How glorious is this good news, the gospel? There is "now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"! Paul writes in Romans 8:1-4:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,
4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.

Here's the Catch-22. The law is *good*! It was given by God, it was given for our good and for His glory. But it is not the ultimate good. It cannot save us. It can help us to understand God's character, His holiness, His worthiness, and His absolute perfection. And although we are called to be holy as He is holy, we cannot seek our own justification by our adherence to the law, because we are the ones who weaken the law with our own flesh. We must look to the one who can save us not only from the corruption of our own sin, but from the justice and the demands of the legal system that exposes it. The only way to be made free is IN Jesus Christ. Reliance on our own moral performance within our own interpretation of the legal system as we have chosen to apply it will not do. It is Christ and Christ alone that saves. And "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

Blessings,
Simple Mann

Laurie M. said...

Simple Mann,

Thanks for your thoughts, as always. Most of what you've written falls under the heading of my little post-script, as well as previous articles I've written about the Law. Although I would mention that you've done some interchanging of "the Law" with "laws" in the more general sense. I'm quite sure you aren't suggesting that we impose the Law of Moses as the rule of law for secular civil society.

My main point here is that the New Covenant is truly new. It is an entirely different way to live. Under Christ we do not seek to live by externally imposed commands but by love from a transformed heart full of the Holy Spirit of Christ - ever transforming us into His image. Love does from the heart what no law could ever do. We no longer live by law but by grace and take our cues for Christian living not from Moses but from Christ.

Generations living under the Law of Moses can also teach us that law does not necessarily predispose people to grace. Jesus was overwhelmingly rejected by most of those most devoted to the Law. My point in saying this is that formulas of beating people down with the Law so that they can lift them up with grace are not to be relied upon. (I am not criticizing here the method of evangelism some use which begins with the 10 Commandments. I think this can be helpful in the right circumstance. But we live by the Spirit, not by formulas.) This is not the method Paul used with the Gentiles, and he sought to protect them from being battered by the Law, which so many love to do.

I think of Christ's rejection by the people under the Law and acceptance by sinners, publicans, Samaritans, and Canaanites. Even those not under the Law knew they needed mercy from God and recognized love and grace when it came to them.

So, as we both agree, there are places for rule of law, in general - and a richness from understanding the way God has worked among people for all time. But it is important to be a part of the way He is working in our lives in this time, to remember, as Christians which covenant we are a part of, and what covenant we are seeking to draw the lost sheep into.

Hydriotaphia said...

Don't forget 'simple Mann' that Jesus was himself of the Jewish Faith! John's Gospel of all 4 gospels at times reads almost as if anti-Semitic.

Simple Mann said...

"... the New Covenant is truly new. It is an entirely different way to live. Under Christ we do not seek to live by externally imposed commands but by love from a transformed heart full of the Holy Spirit of Christ - ever transforming us into His image. Love does from the heart what no law could ever do. We no longer live by law but by grace and take our cues for Christian living not from Moses but from Christ."

I agree completely. I wasn't trying to argue against anything you said at all, or even amend it, so please forgive me if you took it that way. I was greatly blessed by this post, and was just sharing some thoughts that were inspired by it. What you wrote really challenged me to think about the Law in the Covenant of Grace, as well as the tendency so many of us "Gentile believers" have to enslave ourselves to the Law instead of to sin when the Son has set us free. I haven't gotten much sleep this week and didn't really deliberate over what I said this morning. It just sort of spilled out and I was already feeling like I was saying too much.

You are spot-on, by the way, about our motivation. When we receive a new heart through God's gift of grace, when we are grafted into the vine that is Christ, what flows out of us is no longer rooted in compunction (for and from the fear of the Law), but in compassion (for and from the love of Christ). I realize that this was the important--the essential--piece I left out of my comments earlier. Under grace, our actions are no longer shaped by conforming to the Law, but we ourselves are conformed to the very image of love. Our motivation no longer begins and ends with what is good or desirable for me, but through grace and in Christ our focus shifts to what is good and needful for someone else. The sacrificial law is done away with because Christ is our perfect sacrifice, and when we are in Him, our hearts begin to be transformed to love sacrificially, too.

Simple Mann said...

Hydriotaphia - I did not forget that Jesus was a Jew, nor that all of His disciples were as well. I am not and hope I did not come off as anti-Semitic. I believe God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son to all who would believe. And how much must God love the Jewish people to become the Word incarnate--Immanuel, "God with us"--as a Jew... bringing "salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." I think that (quite understandably) all of the apostles and early disciples, just like Jesus, greatly desired to see their fellow Jewish brothers and sisters receive the gift of God's grace by believing in Him. Indeed Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem and later asked His heavenly Father to forgive them as He hung on the cross. Stephen spoke similar words when he was stoned to death.

As for the gospels and the epistles, I do not mistake the tactics of these faithful disciples as they sought to press upon their fellow Jews--especially the more religious and ostentatious among them--their own great need for Christ and not the Law. I do not see the New Testmaent as anti-Semitic; indeed with the exception of Luke, all of the New Testament canon was written by Jews! I know that, especially in the gospels, there were often times when Jesus own words were shocking and seemingly harsh. However, I can also attest from my own experience that attempting to share the great news of Jesus Christ with "lost legalists" in our own culture are the most challenging people to reach with the gospel. They tend to be hardest to convince of their need for the grace that is only found in Him. Convicted sinners, the diseased and wounded, the weak and needy come so much more quickly and easily to Christ than the convinced moralist who trusts in his (or her) own goodness. And that is true as much today as it was two thousand years ago.

We do need to be able to see our own ugliness of our own sin and our desperate need for a Savior before we will repent and believe, but we also need to see the beauty and glory of Christ. And how gracious that our Lord not only saves Jewish tax-collectors like Matthew and Samaritan prostitutes from their sin, but religious zealots like Paul from the Law. Incredibly, he even saved me! His grace is truly amazing!

Laurie M. said...

Simple Mann,

You are such a dear brother to me. Thank you for your clarification. I'm relieved to know that my points were comprehensible. I always put the best construct on your words because I have so much respect for you and because you are my friend. That said, I fear I may have responded a tad defensively, based not upon my regard for you, but on how accustomed I've become to being disputed with on this matter - not that I felt particularly disputed with by you just now - and not that you and I have any history of disagreements, which, thank God we don't. I mostly just had the sense that we weren't understanding one another fully, which was apparently the case only on my part. I apologize. Kitchen tables over cups of coffee are decidedly better venues for conversations of this nature - but we don't have that luxury. And so we bumble all around each other, hopefully showing grace every step of the way.

Hydriotaphia said...

'Simple Mann' my sincere apologies to you. I was simply suggesting that certain verses in John's gospel have been a source of a gross misinterpretation of God's word as regards antisemitism throughout history, especially in the 20th century.

Christ dying on the cross though a very important part of Christian faith is not the whole story of the Ministry and teaching of Jesus. Maybe the present age needs a stronger emphasis on His Miracles, such as the feeding of the five thousand and calming of the storm as well to convert unbelievers.

Simple Mann said...

No offense. No worries! ALL grace. And full agreement about the coffee and the kitchen table... misunderstandings in these Comment tables are way too common, but rare face to face. I think there are many that participate in the blogosphere who could echo the words of Paul, saying "I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away! (2 Cor 10:1b)"

Or perhaps, for those of us who bumble around each other in this world striving for grace each step of the way: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Cor 13:12)"

Peace, dear sister. It's all good!

Grace and peace in Christ our King,

Simple Mann

Simple Mann said...

Hydriotaphia - Everything I just said to Laurie I can also say to you. No offense, no worries. Apology not necessary, but certainly accepted!

I agree with you; I think the miracles are so important to understand who Jesus was and should probably be emphasized much more. I remember when I first read through the gospels as a new believer and reading about Jesus calming the wind and the waves. Who can do such a thing but God? The feeding of the five thousand also demonstrates His divine nature, and for me it also underscores the value of the Old Testament. Although we are not bound by its covenants, the New Covenant we enjoy is with the same God.

I appreciated this miracle so much more when I read about how God fed His people with manna (bread from heaven) in the wilderness (and also the foreshadowing of Christ with Elisha). And I understood so much better Jesus own words, that these people were not seeking him because they saw the signs (i.e., they witnessed the miracle), but because their bellies were filled. Their immediate, temporal needs were satisfied by the miracle He had performed, and they were seeking after Him for temporal things; they did not worship Him because of who He was, but instead sought after Him for what He could do. The parallels to the Israelites in the wilderness are unmistakable. At first, they were happy to receive the manna God miraculously provided them to feed them, to meet their temporal needs. But how quick they were to turn back to complaining and ingratitude even while He continued to provide for their needs.

What I have found is that people in the Old Testament are really not so different from people today. The human heart is basically the same. And the God of the Old Testament IS the same God of the New Testament. I have really grown in my appreciation and understanding of God over just the last couple of years as I have studied through some of the historical literature in the Old Testament. I would recommend a set of commentaries written by Dale Ralph Davis to anyone interested in studying the Old Testament history books from Joshua through Kings. He is a great commentator and not only breathes life into those stories, but also does a fantastic job (when appropriate) of showing how they point to Christ.

Blessings, brother ~

Simple Mann

Laurie M. said...

You know Simple Mann, your last comment, and Kevin's, have gotten me thinking all day, and may, assuming I ever find time, lead to any number of posts here. What you got me thinking about is how often the divisions, difficulties, and horrible dangers the Church of Jesus Christ often finds herself in stem from an unhealthy emphasis of one doctrine or set of doctrines over others. It seems like each "denomination" or sect has its own pet doctrines which they gather together to admire and in excluding others they begin to inflate these pet teachings up into distortions. They lose the sense of beauty and balance that comes from holding on to all the Scripture's truths dear, even the ones that feel like they cannot possibly both be true - the paradoxes. We need to accept whatever God reveals about Himself, even if we can't reconcile it all to our sense of reason. (This coming from a natural-born rationalist.) And so, we accept His miracles, His message, His death, His resurrection (in my opinion another highly neglected emphasis!), His life, His ministry, His Church/Body, His sacraments, His Holy Spirit, etc.

This is one of the reasons I appreciate the old custom among many Christiantraditions of observing the Church calendar. This ensures that all the significant events and doctrines of the Church are covered yearly. I don't attend such a church, but that can't stop me from respecting the heart behind the traditions.

Old Pete said...

As I was reading through the comments of Simple Mann I found myself wanting to suggest that if we can put aside what we have always been taught about the meaning of sin, and think "missing the mark of what we were created to be", we end up with a very different picture. But I knew that such a comment in isolation would not be helpful.

Then I read Laurie's comment about denominations having their own pet doctrines that distort the truth. This is something that I have become very aware of over the last 7-8 years. It's always interesting when people suggest that one of the most important verses in the Bible is ... They always build a theology around that, and ignore any paradox that might come from reading other scriptures.

After observing the Anglican Church calendar for several years and then the Old Testament biblical Holy Days and the Sabbath for nearly 20 years, I can see great value in them, BUT there is something deeper that cannot be reached within a denominational environment with it's doctrines, rituals, beliefs and traditions.

I have what I consider to be an uneducated faith and I enjoy asking questions. Why for example is so much theology based on the Fall of Adam? If Jesus is described as the Redeemer before creation, doesn't this suggest that God knew that Adam would miss the mark of what he had created to be?

[I'm not suggesting that missing the mark is always an appropriate meaning of sin].

Laurie M. said...

Old Pete,

In response to your question, I think we need to do our best to place the same importance on particular doctrines that Scripture does. So, if there is a heavy emphasis on idolatry, for instance, we must acknowledge the importance of this.

You ask, "Why for example is so much theology based on the Fall of Adam? If Jesus is described as the Redeemer before creation, doesn't this suggest that God knew that Adam would miss the mark of what he had created to be?"

I don't think this is an either/or proposition.

It's clear that God knew man would fall and had made provision before he ever did, but it's also clear in the reading of Scripture that the fall of man is a foundational teaching that is referred to again and again, most particularly in the New Testament.

God certainly intended to redeem sinners from the outset of creation. I can give at least one clearly Scriptural explanation as to why He would create a world in which to die...a tree on which to be tortured to death for the sake of many who would reject Him and with the reward of saving some. The Scripture is clear that God wished to "bring many sons to glory". His love for His Son is such that He wishes to have more sons with the self-sacrificial heart of Christ Himself. He apparently also desires to bestow His glory on others. This is why the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Adoption.

What a thought, to be sons of God and recipients of His glory, so like Christ that we are considered His Body!

But I think I've gotten carried away from the point.

It's a constant struggle not to be batted about like a pinball by doctrines, attracted by them on the one hand, repelled by abuses of them on the other, bouncing as far as possible in the other direction, only to be battered yet again. It's happened to me time and again and I'm determined, by the grace of God to accept all of what God says about Himself and about life (what I find easy to swallow as well as what I find difficult), and place the same degree of importance on teachings as He does.

That is my heart's desire and goal, to be sure-footed, anchored in Christ, not batted about by every wind of doctrine.

As far as reaching "something deeper that cannot be reached within a denominational environment with it's doctrines, rituals, beliefs and traditions...." I would say that "something deeper" is Christ Himself. There is no perfect Christian tradition, just as there is no perfect Christian. Each is only a part of the body of Christ. We will only be completely whole when we are together with him.

For now, you will find deeply devoted followers of Christ within every tradition, as well as Christians in name only and wolves in sheep's clothing. This is as Christ foretold in the parables of the tares and the drag net. The true and false will all ultimately not be separated out until judgment day.

Simple Mann said...

Just a quick thought on "pet doctrines"... the problem is not that we take them out on a leash to do their business so much as make them the leash with which we take out others.

That is not to imply that doctrine is bad; it was vitally important to the apostles, the church fathers, and indeed to every believer (whether they realize it or not). But I agree, that over-emphasizing one to the demise of others is not beneficial to the body (or to the individual believer). In that regard, I would say it's very similar to the way the Corinthian church was over-emphasizing the spiritual gifts. The core essence of Christian doctrine (i.e., the gospel) should always be faith, hope, and love, these three...

Oh that it were only so.

Peace and grace,
Simple Mann

Laurie M. said...

Good point Simple Mann. You know what a lover of doctrine I am, but I would say there are at least two dangers associated with it: not handling it rightly (as we've been discussing), or not handling it all. Well, let's make that three great dangers, perhaps the worst danger of all is the pride that can grow in the human heart when it becomes convinced it has it all figured out.

Thank you for bringing in love. I meant bring that up in my remark to Old Pete, but it was late and I was tired of writing.

I had a friend recently mention in passing the immaturity of the Corinthian church and how it was because of their emphasis on spiritual gifts. (I know you weren't making this point, but your comment reminded me of it.) Anyway, as I reflected on the comment later I thought, "Wait a minute, that's not what Paul called immature." No, the reason Paul gave for calling them immature was not that they were too focused on gifts (that was a different discussion). It was because they were factious and lining up behind their favorite teachers and puffing up with pride in their choice. Divisiveness was the evidence of immaturity.

Ok, Paul's awaiting....gotta run!

Old Pete said...

Laurie
You said, “I don’t think this is an either / or proposition” and I agree entirely. Life is full of mystery and paradox!

I knew nothing of the story of Simple Mann when I suggested that one meaning of sin could be “missing the mark of what we were created to be” (but I had also sensed that this comment would not have been helpful in isolation).

I have just been reading Simple Mann’s story. I have read a number of similar stories and I have no problem relating to what are obviously genuine experiences. But my story is so VERY different! I cannot recall ever doubting the existence of ‘God’ although I rejected the explanation of the trinity that I was given at the age of 14. I had nothing to do with ‘church’ until I was 24 and 4 years later I was treasurer of an Anglican Church. Later I was a member of a church for nearly 20 years that just KNEW it was the one and only TRUE CHURCH – how wrong can you be?

Old Pete said...

With hindsight I can see that my ‘faith’ was based on a lot of ‘head knowledge’ and very little ‘heart awareness’ (I now know that Aspergers Syndrome may have some part in this).

It was in 2003 that I was first led to really question the real meaning of ‘church’ or the ‘ekklesia’. Over the last 7-8 years (and bear in mind I am retired) I have been drawn to the emerging / emergent / house church scene without being part of it. I have been learning so much about why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive, denominational theology.

I was gradually becoming aware of two very different groups of committed Christians. I know this is a real over simplification but there are the WARRIORS who want to preach the gospel from the roof tops who see the BIBLE as the Word of God and there are the GARDENERS who want to share the love of God who see JESUS as the Word of God.

Simple Mann says on his blog that he is one of those people who wrote a critique of “The Shack” on Amazon without even reading the book – obviously because he felt it contradicted his own beliefs – his own doctrines – his own understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

I am one of those people whose understanding of the Christian faith was finally confirmed when I read the book a second time within two weeks – and the second time really lived that weekend with Mack. It was shortly after this experience that I found myself wondering why it had taken 57 years for someone to give me a picture of the ‘trinity’ that BEGAN to make sense.

I consider myself to have been very privileged to have read the book when it was first published (just 11,000 copies). I had known about the book for some time before – and knew quite a lot of the background of the author and why he had written the book. Even while reading the book I found myself disagreeing with some of the ‘implied’ theology – and I have since learned something of how his beliefs had changed somewhat over the preceding years.

All of this to say that when the book was published nationally I had the time to read many of the reviews of the book (maybe as many as 500), both positive and negative. I learned so much especially from the negative ones – which convinced me that I was not an evangelical Christian – I was not a warrior. But at the same time, as a Brit with a reasonable knowledge of the history of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, I couldn’t get away from the incredible work that the Salvation Army and other evangelical groups had done in the work houses and hospitals and other institutions at that time.

I know what it is like to have commented on “The Shack” on the web and to have had a response from an evangelical Christian to the effect that “if you believe that rubbish, you can’t possibly be a Christian”. I would never have said that when I was a member of the Worldwide Church of God – but I did believe that other Christians had a limited understanding because they were not keeping the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days.

I have expressed just a few of my thoughts on Laurie’s blog – I’d be very interested in any comments you might both have (and anyone else of course).

Hydriotaphia said...

In essence I completly agree with Rob Bell author of 'Velvet Elvis' on repainting the christian faith that-

'Doctrine is a good servant but a poor master.'

It is centuries of man-made doctrine which sadly divides Christians from each other. Where would the world be with one Church, one Faith, one belief!

Laurie M. said...

Well, this discussion certainly has taken on a life of its own.

Let me begin by saying I'm not sure whether I can agree with Bell's statement or not, removed as it is from the context of a book I've not read. My first reaction is that true Christian doctrine will, like Christ, be both servant and leader.

Doctrine merely means "teaching" and Bell and as such the Author of the Shack (sorry,I can't recall his name off the top of my head) are doing their share of doctrine formulation. As I've said elsewhere, I've not read either book and so it would not be fair of me to comment on their merits or demerits. My rule has become not to rate books automatically based on their proponents or detractors, but to measure it myself carefully against the plumb-line of Scripture, trying to factor in as I can what the authors themselves relate to be their influences and motivating factors. I've been blown about so often in the past that I will never again place too much weight on any one book, or teacher, or movement, but rather on a prayerful comparison with the authoritative writings of the Apostles (Scripture).

As for the Trinity, I hold carefully to the historic orthodox understanding. I am not troubled by my inability to comprehend it any more than I am troubled by my inability to really understand what it is to live as an eternal being, perfect and without beginning or end. I believe it is supported by Scripture and I've seen what tampering with it can lead to in practice. A brief for-instance is the fairly recent tweaking which states that it is Christ's role always to obey the Father - that there is an eternal functional hierarchy. This little twist was trotted out to support the teaching that women are by nature and from creation to be subject to men.

I adore the Trinity and find it a source of frequent rich contemplation partly because it is so unfathomable. This is not to say that trying to picture it this way or that, by way of thought experiment, cannot be helpful, but this sort of thing has also led to great disservice. My favorite picture thus far has come from Jonathan Edwards who likens the Trinity to the Father looking at His reflection in the mirror, but this reflection is so REAL that it is truly it's own person, and that the Holy Spirit is the love which flows between these two, a love that is so REAL that it is its own person. Now, lovely, but, really, I can't understand this either and wouldn't run too far from it. I would say that it is the most helpful and Scripturally- based model I've come across. But it is still just that - a model.

Laurie M. said...

Now to the matter of doctrine dividing....well, first I'll say that doctrine is necessary. Doctrine means teaching, and we must be taught. The apostles taught and they taught much of what we call "doctrine". It becomes a matter for us to determine what teachings we will accept. This requires discernment and Christian discernment must ultimately rely on the teaching of Christ and his apostles. Now, all that said, I can say that it is not ultimately doctrine which divides, sometimes it is false doctrine which divides, and sometimes it is people who divide over false applications of what it true...and often it is from lack of charity and humility.

There are also different kinds of division. Not all are bad. It is not, per se, wrong to prefer to worship in the Anglican tradition (assuming you agree that they are of the Christian faith) so long as you understand many of the other traditions which exist also contain sincere Christians. We can't all go to all churches of all traditions. There are vibrant and true, living Christian churches in many different cultures who honor God in ways which seem foreign to us, because they are. Yet they, too, or, I should say, the true Christians that are in them are also part of Christ's body. We all need one another, and will need to understand and bear with some differences, in love, if we are reveal Christ rightly in this world. As Christ prayed on the eve of His betrayal:

"I do not ask for these only, but for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and love them even as you loved me." John 17:20-23

Our clear and obvious love for one another is necessary to the furtherance of the Gospel.

What we all have in common is Christ and His doctrine, as put forth by Himself and His apostles. Just as we cannot know another person unless we listen to the thoughts of their hearts, we would not and can not know Christ without the Word He has left us. It is through the Scriptures and the direction and gifts of His Holy Spirit that we know Him. (By gifts I do not only mean "spiritual gifts", but also pastors, teachers, deacons, and the like, which are also given to the Church for her edification.

Now, it's time to see if I entered my html codes correctly....

Laurie M. said...

Where above I discussed Jonathan Edwards' picture of the Trinity I stated "wouldn't run too far from it," it should be read "wouldn't run too far with it. Sorry.

Hydriotaphia said...

That's scrupulous attentiveness to correct a small detail for the reader!

Still reading, still thinking trying to find a Sir T.B. response . As for theological 'models' well that is the whole world of archetypal, Platonic 'eternal forms' analogies so many mystically-inclined theologians were so fond of i.e. 'God is a circle whose centre is nowhere and circumference everywhere' .

Laurie M. said...

Well, I did think of Sir Thomas Browne as I penned that comment. But it was already plenty long so I restrained myself!

What I thought of was this passage in particular where he discusses his relationship (as an Anglican) to the Roman Catholic Church:

"We have reformed from them, not against them: for, ommitting those improperations and terms of scurrility betwixt us, which only difference our affections, and not our cause, there is between us one common name and apellation, one faith and necessary body of principles common to us both; and therefore I am not scrupulous to converse and live with them, to enter their churches in defect of ours, and either pray with them or for them..."

And on he continues in like manner expressing regard, understanding and some compassion for fellow Christians with which he disagrees on several matters.

Hydriotaphia said...

Yes Laurie, it's for his tolerance if occasionally contradictory, along with his meditations on Faith and Hope and Charity that makes R.M. a perennial spiritual classic.

I like' I borrow not the rules of my Religion from Rome or Geneva but the rules of my reason'. -1:5

To my horror i realise i too have misquoted.

Browne says of it - That allegorical description of Hermes, pleaseth me beyond all the Metaphysicall definitions of Divines; R.M. 1:10


but also the imaginative dreaming artist in him peeps out with the following line-

...Divines; where I cannot satisfy my reason , I love to humour my fancy; -R'M.1:10


Browne is referring to the now corrected description which C.A.Patrides says is a time-honoured commonplace frequently quoted during the Renaissance and certainly much favoured by Browne -

God as a sphere whose centre is everyhere, and circumference nowhere.

Kaitiaki said...

Laura, and others,
It is interesting to see how others have dealt with the problem of the role of the Old Testament in the New. It is interesting to me that most who do make no reference to the gathering in Acts 15 which was called to deal with the abusive use of the old Testament Law ((15:1,2,5).

The key words here are the "it is necessary" - to circumcise and command them to keep the Law of Moses. That was the crux of argument which led to Paul's letter to Galatia. As you rightly pointed out, Laura, denominational traditions tend to add all sorts of things to the Gospel as if they are required in order to be saved. True, in many cases it is not said that way (more often it's "in order to be a good Christian").

So, your post was a refreshing argument for learning to live in the freedom with which Christ has made us free. Nothing said from here on is intended to take away from that truth.

Yet, like one of your respondents I felt a lack. While we are not obliged to keep the Law in order to be saved, how do we show our love for God - in our detailed day-by-day living. You see though the "council at Jerusalem" said they had not given commandment to those Judaizers (15:24) they did include some necessary things. "abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled and sexual immorality," (15:28,29).

It may be argued that these are the spiritual/moral aspects of the ten commandments - but, in order to understand them in the way the 1st Century Christians did, we have to remember the Old Testament teaching on these matters. The Old Testament Law was not done away with, it was fulfilled.

Which brings me to my main point. We are not ever going to be judged by the Old Testament Law - in Christ, we have fulfilled it. But, where shall I find guidance as to what is meant by "loving my neighbor as myself" (in detail) if I neglect the Old Testament? That Jesus used it to inform his teaching means we should be allowed to do so as well. So far I have gone no further than one of your previous writers.

Then, let us put ourselves back into the shoes of the Pilgrims who arrived on these shores in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Were they wrong to go to the Old Testament for guidance in law making when they were setting up a new society? I understand the difficulty of trying to sort through what is applicable and what not but should we throw the principle out altogether?

Do we (for example) require restitution of those found guilty of theft? And how do we decide how much. Do we cut off their hand (as was common in some societies) or physically mark them so all may know forever they are thieves? Are these things irrelevant for us today? How do we decide who to support in elections? Do we choose because we like them or because they are trying to make laws which produce a fairer society?

One thing for you to ponder (in the detail). Do our present laws reflect a Biblical view of law or a humanist one? If there are only two verdicts (guilty or not-guilty) do we not give the impression we can know for certain in all cases? Should we not follow Scotland (for example) and include a "not proven" verdict as well?

Laurie M. said...

Thanks for your comment Kaitiaki.

As you've pointed out, and I indicated in my post-script, there are uses for the Old Testament books and understanding of the Law of Moses that I have not mentioned here. This is not a book. It is only one blog post, emphasizing one important truth that has brought great clarity into my understanding of the Gospel and its relationship to the Law of Moses and legalism. As I pointed out in a previous comment, I have dealt with many of the points you bring up in other blog entries on the subject of the Law.

As to our government, I am not here to criticize for good or ill our form of government, or how, by whom, or with what motives it was established. It is what it is and I do not discuss politics on this blog.