R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT


words and words and words
26.May.2007, 11.08 am
Filed under: faith

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs… I blame my friend Derek for this. There’s lots of interesting discussion going on all over the place… communication has changed entirely from what it was five years ago, and now anyone with an Internet connection has a platform with the potential to reach the world. Whether or not that’s a good thing… well, let’s just move on.

It turns out that a lot of the blogs I’ve been reading today—on the back porch with a cup of coffee, while Shelley shops and Lewis sleeps—have been focused in one way or the other on “the church.” Some friends are headlong into Orthodoxy (which, honestly, I had no idea was really practiced in America), others are deep in discussion about the “emerging” church (as dumb a name as I’ve ever heard, as if “the church” has been hiding in a cave for the past 2,000 years). As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the “emergent” church—seriously, two schools of thought which, though linked in origin, are different in scope and system. And there’s all this talk, too, of being “missional,” meaning (I think) that we’re to step outside our local church bodies and get involved in other people’s lives. Which, no offense, shouldn’t be news to anyone with half a brain.

After an hour or so of this, my head hurts. My soul, too… why must we complicate things so? What is it about modern man that makes us so eager to devise new systems, new names? What makes us want to complicate what is a rather simple (in comparison to others) faith? What shoves our spiritual focus off of the primary point—Christ died for our sins, and through relationship with him we enter communion with God—onto eating habits and justice walks and “postmodern” this and “recapturing” that?

There’s nothing wrong with nuance, per se, and as I was telling a friend just the other day, I think the diverse quilt that is modern American Christianity serves an important purpose: namely, to address the peculiar, God-given gifts of very different Christians in order to ultimately glorify him in particular ways. But it’s very tiresome, all this rethinking and rehashing and nit-picking.

When the church I’d belonged to since I became a Christian was in between pastors, a fine man named Larry led our congregation for a time. He was absolutely Christ-centered… at times, almost mind-numbingly so. Three points to every sermon, and the answer to each point was Jesus. “How quaint,” I thought at the time. But I find myself longing for that kind of community now… a place where real human stuff is discussed, where people inquire as to one another’s prayer lives and Bible study and sick relatives and struggles with pride and doubt and attention span.

When I was in college, it seemed lots of fun to get sucked into endless discussions pitting Calvinism against Armenianism, or prayer vs. praise, or debating the merits of every segment of the church in general. Now it’s just tiresome.

Can we agree: God created the heavens and earth and all that are in them. Christ died for sinful man. His Spirit gives us passage back into relationship with God. And that Spirit enables and urges us to share that faith with others. Too many Christians are spending too little time exploring the deep truth in those simple statements, too little time sharing those truths with others… and too much time distracted by form and unconcerned with function.

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10 Comments so far
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Justin,

I won’t say much…I fear I may have frustrated you already (though I didn’t mean to, but understand how I might have, if in fact I did).

I understand your desire to “just focus on the important things.” To a degree, I agree. There have been many Orthodox Saints who said things like you have said.

All I would add is that my “eating habits,” by which I assume you might mean fasting and associated “rules,” ARE about Christ and having a relationship with him. If I ever do them as “mere ritual,” then they are worthless, or at least worth little.

All this talk about the Church, fasting, etc., is part of “having a relationship with Christ.” If I want a relationship with my wife, I can’t say, “Honey, I just want a relationship with you. Why must we do all this premarital counselling, make all this effort to talk and listen, spend so much time together, sacrifice my hobbies so as to have that time, etc.? Can’t we just have a relationship?”

Over 2,000 years have passed, and the cumulative wisdom of many martyrs, saints, and theologians have been passed to us. Some of the greatest saints, like Paul, Basil, Justin, etc., have seen the benefits of fasting, discipline, bishops, etc. These things are there to foster our relationship with God, to keep it safe, and to make it thrive. Sometimes we humans forget that (me included), and then those things become “rules” instead of “tips for staying alive.”

I agree with you wholeheartedly about not “making up new names” and the such. It’s why I also detest the whole “Emergent” thing. For me, I have found the cumulative wisdom of the historical church to be capable of transforming me to be more like Christ, and less like the old me. I hope I haven’t conveyed the idea that the rules are the end goal. Jesus valued fasting, and expected us to continue it, because it is good for us, it fosters our relationship with him. Pray for me, that I will see it only in the same light.

May our common Lord bless you and draw you into his light, brother.
Pray for me, a sinner,
Kevin

Comment by kevinburt

Regardless of possibly meddling in my husband’s affairs, I’m going to post a few thoughts on these issues since my many words at home tend to stir us both up! It seems that my missionary background tends to shape so much of my doctrine and ours collectively as 1/3 of the Shepherd family. My experience in Belarus (former Soviet Union, still basically communist and ruled by a dictator at present) really solidified my faith and allowed me to see God in a way that I could not have experienced him in the U.S. Belarus is an atheistic society, thanks to communism. The only church that is approved of by the government is the Orthodox Church. Granted, it may be quite different than it is here or in other parts of the world. Still, the Orthodox Church in Minsk has shaped the image of God for so many of the people we encountered.

Our focus as missionaries was on our own relationship with God first, which was great because we needed to be connected to the Vine for the Spirit to work through us. Our ministry focused on students and sharing God’s love and the gospel with them. Ministry there was wonderful because it was simple. We made friends with students, got involved in their lives and explained that God saves us by grace, through Christ’s death, and that works are not the basis for salvation (though very important). Most of them had an extremely hard time grasping this idea. “Aren’t we saved based on how good we are?” they’d ask. Many of them were afraid of us at first because we prayed in our homes and studied the Bible without a priest. We were encouraging them to study the Bible on their own and pray for God’s guidance in their lives. These were things absolutely foreign to them, even those from an Orthodox background. Still, we knew that only the Spirit could draw them, so we did what we could and then asked God to do His work.

What exists in Belarus (and much of the former Soviet Union today) is a dead body where the church used to be. There are believers, but most of them are meeting in underground churches due to governmental pressure. The recognized church is mostly ritual and superstition. People go to light candles and give some of the little money they have so that God will hear their prayers (that is how they described it to me). And while there is nothing wrong with these traditions, if you are engaging with the living God, what those outside (and many of those inside) end up seeing is a list of rules to keep, in order to stay right with God—which is the very distortion that Jesus came to do away with in Judaism. It drives many seekers away.

There are true believers in almost every denomination on the planet—only God knows someone’s heart. The scriptures are clear that God looks at our hearts and is most concerned with what is going on inside of us. One can be vigorous outwardly, and dead inwardly. And that is what is most alarming about the emerging/emergent church movement. A return to various types of worship and liturgy can be very refreshing. But if we are not careful, these things can distract us from what our priority should be—our relationship with Christ, and introducing him to others. Good works are wonderful, serving the poor is wonderful, rigorous discipline is wonderful… but if we do not make the gospel clear and do not love our brothers, what value is there in those works? Are we not merely clanging cymbals? Can’t pagans do the exact same things with the same result?

Kevin, I like your example of marriage and working on that relationship. Still, I find that there is great freedom in exercising the disciplines in genuine Christianity. It is like reading the Bible through in a year (the lectionary would be similar). When I start out, I’m all excited, and for the first month I really enjoy the practice of it, and it helps connect me to God. After a while it becomes mundane and stale, though, and I find myself less and less enthused about reading a chunk of the Bible every day. I start to feel guilty for not looking forward to that time. I’m supposed to enjoy God, right? In this case, it is not God that has become boring, it is my practice and the ritual. So do I continue to follow through out of obedience? At times, I have. At other times, I have asked God for direction and have changed things up—maybe reading the same book for a whole month, or reading smaller sections for a while. I might even go online and listen to some sermons and let the Word sink in that way. Most of us like spontaneity in relationships to keep things fresh. God is so much bigger than we can imagine, and he desires our genuine worship and certainly obedience to his commands, which are found in scripture.

This is what the world is longing for—genuine people and an authentic faith. Showy church services and emotion-driven altar calls are very frustrating! How can we reach and spiritually care for people, without tearing the body of Christ apart with our debates? This is the issue that Justin and I are pained by right now. It makes me want to run back to Belarus, where Christians are persecuted, but they love the Lord and takes risks to serve Him because he has taken away their sin and given them new life.

Comment by Shelley

Shelley,

I couldn’t agree more that the world is looking for genuine people and authentic faith. Of course, you would agree that “authentic” includes “truthful,” and unfortunately, as long as the Church is comprised of people, there will be disagreements over what constitutes “truth” on any number of issues, and over which issues are important enough to “debate.” Jesus and St. Paul even went so far as to say that heresies “must come” so that truth would be able to rise to the surface.

I wish you two nothing but the best. I hope you can find a group in Bowling Green that will help you to engage your zeal for Christ and his sheep. Shelley, I would just encourage you to consider that the situation in Belarus is not a good ruler with which to judge the historical Church. In any country, if a dictator takes over and forces the “Church” to submit, and installs puppet bishops while killing out the faithful laity and clergy over many years, what happened in Belarus is bound to happen. It would happen to the Baptist or Presbyterians here in American under similar circumstances. In Russia, e.g., the stories of martyrs and saints are untold. More Orthodox martyrs gave their lives for Christ during Stalin’s reign than ALL Jews killed in the Holocaust — many historicans estimate 35 million.

I mention that not to “prove Orthodoxy,” but to remind us that what Orthodox Christians have endured is horrific. And now, when they are just beginning to regain freedom, and see their churches in tatters, and their priests and bishops are even themselves trying to regain their balance and heal the many wounds, it is frustrating for them to see American Protestant missionaries with strong financial backing coming in and, to them, “stealing away the flock.” I completely understand their sadness over this. I don’t know what the situation in Belarus is; perhaps it is still Communism? The Anglican Church has helped immensely in getting hurting churches back on their feet, and I am hearing more and more of bishops reinstituting Christian formation programs for their churches. I wish we could support them to grow in their home churches, to reform their own ecclesial groups, without feeling the need to convert them to an American system of theology.

But, I really do wish you and Justin the best. I know you love God deeply, and I don’t want to discourage you or be an obstacle to your love for him in any way. God be with you in your endeavors.

Comment by kevinburt

Interesting reading here.

Perhaps we can take a moment and examine exactly what we are discussing. Justin calls for a simpler focus on “what is important.” Shelley yearns to “run back to Belarus” because the people there are focused and unified by persecution. Kevin appeals to the “wisdom of the historical church.” Cort tends to view all of this (as Justin mentioned) as necessary in the patchwork of Christianity. I tend to view everyone as a work in progress and try to avoid making judgements based on a snapshot of where someone is when they are 20, 34, 46,67, or 92 years old. Of course, that view has it’s own weaknesses, too.

But, don’t we ALL agree on the basics that Justin set forth in his original post? I think there is way more unity here than we might realize. What we are discussing is correct focus.

How blessed (?) are we that THAT is what we are spending our time on here. How to BEST show Christ to others and live for Him.

If we were under intense persecution, we might be more singularly focused, but we are not. We get to talk things over online, read blogs while drinking our coffee, and find out where we best fit in the various Christian traditions. That is largely why some get sucked into debates on Calvinism/Arminianism, pre/post/amillennialism, women in ministry, etc.–because we have that luxury.

I have no answers. I’m just merely observing our position in the world and how it allows us to do what we are doing here. I’m not even sure if it’s a bad or good thing. It’s where we are.

May all of us do our best to find the path that Christ has paved for us. And, ultimately, may we rejoice in those basic tenets that Justin laid out.

Cort

Comment by cort

First off, I agree with Cortney wholeheartedly. The fact that these are the things that concern us proves a lot about our privilege—and, probably, our pride. But let me explain where I’m coming from.

Growing up in a Baptist church, I knew little about the pre-Protestant forms of the church—Catholicism, Anglicanism, Orthodoxy. I was not a committed, true believer at that time.

When I got older and actually joined the saints here on Earth, in part due to efforts by committed Christians in Campus Crusade, I still didn’t know what to think about Catholics. All the rules and ritual and superstition (beatification of the Virgin Mary, for instance, which to me qualifies as superstition as it’s extrabiblical) concerned me, as did the basic Catholic view that if you aren’t Catholic, you’re not a “true” Christian, or at least not AS Christian as them. The word “Pope” doesn’t appear in my Bible, so why should I hold that office to be “divine”?

I’ve since come to know a few faithful Catholics, to whom evangelism is actually a priority (in the greater Catholic church, it seems, it is not). I’ve attended Mass a few times and found it refreshing. And I listened a while back to a long sermon series, based on John Paul II’s views on sexuality, and found it very thought-provoking and, though I think there are some invalid conclusions, it still seemed to be given in a spirit of love and holiness.

What bothers me lately, however, is how suddenly Protestantism seems to be the straw man against which many Christians are flailing. Those parts of the Christian life in which SOME churches are seen to be falling behind—helping the poor, for instance, or keeping the faith separate from partisan politics—are being reacted against by these “emergent” people, but instead of saying “Hey, we’re off track, let’s get back on,” you’re more likely to see the emergents saying “Let’s completely destroy the church and then rebuild it the way we see fit.”

And that’s precisely what the reformers did NOT do. Their complaints were many and the repercussions severe, but the way in which Protestantism flourished while Catholicism and Orthodoxy declined couldn’t have been predicted then.

Shelley brings up a great point, to me, which is that an evangelically motivated Christian—and if I know one, it’s her—is not going to place emphasis on rules and regiments. Most (not all) nonbelievers, esp. in America, aren’t looking for a new system. There are too many systems, filling best-seller lists every week! Rather, as Kevin put it, they’re looking for a relationship. But for many, ritual and regiment defeats relationship. A spontaneous buying of flowers for Shelley may stir her heart… if, however, I did it every Tuesday like clockwork, she’d not be stirred so much, and I’d probably forget the reason I’m doing it and turn it into a habit.

Obv. these are just random thoughts… I’m not going to edit through this and make it all flow real well. I just think Protestantism is getting a bad rap, esp. considering that the majority of those brought into the faith in the last hundred years or so—whether in America or post-Communist countries or Africa, where I’m told the biggest mission successes are happening right now—are being brought under the auspices of evangelical Protestants. But I’ve yet to meet a “Protestant” who evangelizes in order to make new “Protestants”… rather, we’re Christians seeking to expand the kingdom, to help the Spirit work in lives as Christ told us we should.

Comment by rjustin

Cortney,

Yes, I think most any serious Christian will look at Justin’s list of basics and say, “right on! I believe!” Or if you wanted to get a little more formal, you could just read the Nicene Creed.

But if I can speak for a branch of faith I don’t personally belong to, I think a point to be made here is that the the Faith and the Church are not basic. Yes, they begin with the basics, as language begins with the ABCs, but as with language, they grow, expand, take on grammar, and then later, slang. They accomodate and adapt. I very much enjoy reading Watchman Nee’s *The Normal Christian Life* whenever I feel like I need to be reminded of the ABCs of faith, but I’d be limiting myself and my faith if I never read anything more. Indeed, even Paul goes deeper than Watchman Nee.

The thing Kevin and Daniel and other Othodox believers seem to continually go back to is the Church Fathers, and specifically the people who came right after the apostles. We all accept the Apostles writings as divinely inspired, but we also go further than that. We look at St. Paul and St. Peter as models of the faith, as perhaps the best examples to follow after the Lord himself. What Kevin and others keep trying to point out is that there were other believers, who came directly after these great Saints – e.g. Paul, Peter, Philip, John – and who were just as authentic as the the earliest believers because the Apostles themselves had *appointed* these new leaders. They endorsed these new leaders, and these new leaders endorsed the forms of worship that Orthodox believers still cling to. For a poor analogy, if I own a company and then in my later years appoint a successor, I expect the people under him to work for him just as diligently as they would work for me. Hence, I think a great deal in Kevin’s and the Orthodox position hinges on these Church Fathers, and until we’ve read them and weighed them thoroughly, our discussion will seem a little, well, unbalanced, because we’re not working from the same reference points.

Justin,

“Let’s completely destroy the church and then rebuild it the way we see fit.” I find it very strange that you would word this imaginary quote in this way, because this is exactly the mentality of a great deal of historical and contemporary Protestantism. Need we remind ourselves of the iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the splinter after splinter after splinter that each said, “We’re doing away with that old way and starting over in the right way”? Perhaps the original reformers didn’t have in mind to toss everything out, but they certainly didn’t do a whole lot to guard against the possiblity, because what they did in effect was take a brick out of the dam, and it wasn’t long before a flood followed.

And perhaps, for me, the biggest problem that arises with this patchwork of faith notion is that there is no limit to just how patchy the faith gets. You can’t truly have defenders of the faith when you have no prime example. Right now there is a woman near Franklin, Tenn. who is leading a congregation, and allegedly, is the confidant of many pastors in the area, who denies the Trinity as a valid doctrine, basing her arguments on perhaps the most ill-informed historical reading I’ve read since I gave a false account in 11th grade Humanities class of Dominick Holt who came over from Ireland during the Potato Famine. There’s another man, a Puerto Rican, who claims to be “Jesus Christ Man” and is leading a small revolution against all the other religions who just don’t get it right. And then, of course, there’s Mormonism, which is growing and growing and growing. But who’s to stop all this? No one in the realm of Protestantism, because their word as is good as yours. And if you accept the doctrine of the Trinity and they don’t, well, we’ll just have to wait it out and see who’s right in the end, won’t we? Because there’s no authority beyond our own church parking lot that says that they aren’t part of the true Church. Yes, of course, we have the bible. That’s authoritative. But the doctrine of the Trinity is an informed reading of the bible, and is never explicitly stated. Furthermore, can you say Jesus never intended to come back as a Puerto Rican? Or never really visited the Native Americans after his resurrection, and gave Joseph Smith a set of Golden Tablets?

Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body. He is the ultimate authority. But people interpret that authority in a great variety of ways. Sometimes it seems to me that there needs to be an authority on the Authority. An authority that is not simply given free reign on how it authorizes, that is kept in check by its faithful sheep, but an authority nonetheless.

If I stay at the basics then, yes, maybe I’ll be all right. That’s basically where I’ve been hovering most of my Christian walk. But even then the basics don’t inform me of something like the Trinity. I rely on the Church for that, whether I realize it or not.

Comment by Derek

I have kind of been avoiding replying to this post… but I have to echo to a degree what Derek has said. I have spent a great deal of my life in the protestant world, until I came into the church I am at now. I don’t really feel like we are “protestant” or even “evangelical” in the traditional definitions. We aren’t protesting anything. But we aren’t Catholic or Orthodox so we are stuck as being “protestant” and since we do support missionaries and live our lives in a way that we would be a influence of the Christian faith to all who are around us then I suppose we are “evangelical”.

But we are also very different. We study the Bible through Lectionary. Something early church fathers have crafted. Something that helps the church worldwide (at least those who participate) study the same scriptures and be led by the Holy Spirit as one. We also sometimes recite the Apostle’s Creed and/or the Lord’s Prayer or other liturgy together. I have had some who are much more protestant than I say that these are a waste of time. That these words are written for me, and not from my heart (therefore not genuine). Does spontaneity equal authenticity? To me this is absurd. The same school of people who would say that my every prayer must be made up as I go and “from my heart” would also teach me that my heart is evil and needs to be purged. They would also feel ok perhaps with me reading a book by Timothy LaHaye on how to pray, but not ok with me reading through the prayers of devout believers who have gone before me. It is a fear of “high church” without qualification.

I have also seen discipleship turned into this tedious, personal encounter of someone affirming over and over that “Christ died for you. Remember that. Did you forget? Are you depressed? Are you praying enough? Well, Christ died for you! Remember? Feel better?” But what I have found in my current church family (90% of them anyway) is a constant shaping and strengthening of my faith in God through Jesus Christ, as well as an openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit, through the body itself. Constant. By the way they live. By the time we spend together. In prayer. Reading the scriptures. Visiting the sick. Feeding the poor. Building each other up and claiming victory over Satan. Doing the things Jesus did, and encouraged others to do. But these things are hard to do when you do not engross yourself into a community of believers. And even harder to do when you submit to no authority other than your own heart and emotions. As well intentioned as they may often be, or even well-versed in the scriptures. I have been stuck there before. It gets you nowhere.

I am still not Catholic or Orthodox. But I really hate thinking I am protesting any other Christian church. I am hardly emergent (though this movement is so far less offensive to me than many other protestant Christian movements have been). But I do fit in with the ecumenical approach our church has tried to take. The scriptures are the most important source we have. But there is countless benefit in the disciplines and traditions mentioned here. These things help us to grow closer to God. And not alone, but within a church. A community of fellow followers of Christ, setting all divisive differences aside for the common goal or following our Lord Jesus, and to be a light in this dark world for His kingdom and His love. May we not let things that are petty distract people from this light. More than our own pride and opinions are at stake, but the souls of those around us who may turned away by our reckless bickering.

They will know that we are Christians by our love, not by what convincing arguments we give.

Comment by Brandon Andrew Miles

Justin,

I just want to reiterate to you and Shelley the respect Jen and I have for you both. It is very refreshing to see a young couple passionate enough about their faith to argue it, whether we agree with them on every detail or not. And I also admire you for your willingness to provide a place where others have the “right” to offer differing viewpoints; it reveals you maturity and willingness to “be the church.”

Don’t let these discussions become too discouraging; I know that the “overload” of information can be just that (from experience). We all need one another, though, and this “iron sharpening iron” may be painful or frustrating or even quite annoying at certain seasons, but in the end if will yield a harvest; it will help us to grow in Christ (which is the only truly necessary thing).

Sunday was Pentecost, and we celebrate this week the coming of the Holy Spirit to make all things new. We are called, by Pentecost, to speak one language, to be neither Parthians, Jews, Gentiles, etc., but those united by One Spirit. I think when we give every effort to help one another think, and grow, and act in Christ, we are doing that, even though we are still trying to grow “into one Body.”

May the peace of the Holy Spirit be with you, and all those here in this discussion, for this peace is life.

Pray for me, a sinner.
Kevin

Comment by kevinburt

Derek,

By no means am I suggesting that we should simply stick with the ABC’s, but when we engage in conversations like this, I think it’s important to remember that we are speaking the same language. That’s all I was trying to say.

I totally agree with you (and Brandon, Kevin, etc) regarding the church fathers. As I mentioned, we are kicking around how to best do church and how to best follow Christ, but we are NOT debating the Trinity. We are NOT debating whether Christ is God. Why? Those issues were hammered out at Nicea in the 4th c. This is part of our unity, and it comes from the church fathers whether we realize it or not (Mark Noll’s Turning Points deals with this issue).

I think we CAN point back to Nicea and say that there are lines that can be drawn. Nicea and other early councils and fathers built the fences. We can wrangle, jump, bite, kick, and yell within those fences, but jumping the fence is NOT ALLOWED. Golden tablets? Denying the Trinity? That is jumping the fences constructed by the fathers. Now, as you proposed, can Protestants DO anything about it? I don’t know. Like Brandon, I am not sure I am “protesting” against any Christian group that adheres to those ideas that unify us.

Derek said: “Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body. He is the ultimate authority. But people interpret that authority in a great variety of ways.”

Bingo. For good or bad, Christianity is a patchwork, and the patchy-ness can be maddening and frustrating. The American tendency to create a start-up church instead of working through issues has created a quilt with too many loose stitches. And, of course, all of those patches think they have it all figured out and do it the “right” way. Having strong convictions can be good; but we have to leave room to have our minds and hearts changed, too.

I have not arrived in my thinking on this. I wonder if I/we will think the same way about church and faith in ten years. I certainly think differently at 31 years old than I did at 21 or even 27. I know from my conversations with Kevin that this is true for him and I would guess it’s true for everyone in this thread.

I’ll echo Kevin in saying that I respect and rejoice in the convictions of those in this thread. I’ll also say that these types of conversation strengthen my faith in the body. We are all typing these long responses because we care.

And, though it may not always sound like it, we all recite the the same alphabet, to use Derek’s analogy. How we use the language may differ, but we still sing our ABC’s.

Cort

Comment by cort

Kevin,

Thank you for your kind words. Justin and I, too, have great respect for you and Jeanette, and know that your hearts and worship are genuine. Before I say anything else, I want to be sure that you know that our current frustrations are coming from the collective movement that is bashing the protestant church itself, and not anyone or any tradition specifically.

There are certainly things in various denominations that need changing, and there is validity to many of the arguments that we are reading about online, some on links from your blog, but these are from a variety of sources which is what we are finding to be alarming. Please do not feel that we are against the path that God is obviously leading you on because that is not the case.

Cort, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment summing up the points we agree on (the Trinity, Christ being God, even that future “gospels” that are different be regarded as false as in the Mormon tradition) which do not need to be re-hashed.

It has been a while since my studies in Christian history and so I confess that my memory is a bit rusty. But it seems like in the 1500s, even among appointed bishops and priests, that corruption became the norm, ultimately resulting in the protestant reformation. Luther, though flawed, discovered that the people were not being taught the truth in scriptures by those in authority. This is one example, among many, of corruption among church leaders, even going back to the Old Testament priests. A return to scripture has been the key to getting the people of God back on track.

My conviction is that today, with a new covenant that is of the Spirit, our practice of faith can be much simpler. As the writer of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah– “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Heb. 10:16) We ultimately now have a law that is not on tablets of stone, but as believers, it is on our hearts, and inside of our very being. We are inwardly motivated to love and good deeds, and also convicted of sin by the same Spirit.

Much like the early church when Gentile believers were not asked to become Jews first, but only to adhere to a few simple commands (Acts 15:24-29), new Christians today should not be expected to learn all of church history in an effort to walk with the Lord. Scripture is our foundation, and mastering it should be our goal. Not that other writings are not helpful or useful, but certainly secondary. My concern is for new believers and what we would ask of them today. We do not want to water down the gospel and make it weak or lose its power. That is not what I am suggesting.

But if you have seen someone come to faith recently, think about the growth of that person and what helped to bring about their maturity. My experience has been that many of the important issues were dealt with from the inside (the Spirit convicting) before I had to bring them up with people. One girl told me that she found she could no longer lie to her mother because she felt bad about it now, where before she felt nothing. This same girl started dressing more modestly because she realized, all on her own, that maybe some change was in order.

All this is to say, that we are all Christians first, whether Catholic, Baptist, Orthodox or like me, homeless. We all have the same Spirit if we have a relationship with Christ. There is beauty in our differences and the freedom we have in Christ. My current understanding is nothing in comparison to who God is, and what we will come to know of Him in eternal life (Romans 11:33-36). I only hope that our discussion will lead to understanding and love for our brothers, sharpening each other as Kevin suggests, and not devouring each other, which will only harm the name of our Lord.

Comment by Shelley




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