Category: Discussion

It is time to remove pharisaical influence from our doctrine

We talk about “my church”, “my pastor”, and “my ministry”. These things are not yours.

Our church is our family. Our church is where we are pastored (nurtured) and where we minister to (nurture) each other. 

The difference is between a place where you take for yourself and a place where you care for others. One is a club for Bible geeks and the other is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This pharisaical toxin in our thinking is inherited from the trace amounts of pharisee presence in our church culture and wider doctrinal teachings. Pharisaical influence is like leaven (yeast) of Galatians 5:9 – any is too much. The church is suffering from a yeast infection.

I suggest that it is time to remove pharisaical influence and rethink the way we think about “church”.

Agnosis demands humility

Agnosis means “I don’t know everything” because I do not. It is the antithesis of the idea that “the Bible clearly says…”

Jesus (Iesou) seemed to understand that the great truths of God are hidden from the wise and learned. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21-22, He thanks the Father for doing this.

In a post titled “The lost art of humility: homosexuality and usury“, the writer of Undeception says:

…no human may legitimately claim or imply the unimpeachability of his opinion merely by adorning it with the words, “The Bible says…” in place of the more accurate statement, “I interpret certain passages of Scripture to mean…”; to grant that even knowing what the Bible says is no guarantor that one knows the meaning or value of what it says.

This, I would suggest to you, is exactly the principle of Agnosis that I wrote about before.

If we accept that man is flawed and that we are men, then we must conclude that we are flawed. Therefore, If it is true that we are flawed it follows that our reading of the Bible – no matter how seemingly accurate – must be flawed. If it is flawed, it is yet to be perfected. If yet to be perfected then all of the following must be true:

  • Our understanding of scripture must be examined periodically (John 5:39)
  • One or more parts of our doctrine will be errant (Matthew 7:3)
  • We may be unable to see where the flaws are (1 Corinthians 13:12)
  • We cannot rely on our understanding of scripture but on Christ alone (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • In all things charity (love) and humility are vital (Proverbs 17:9)

Proverbs 16:18 teaches us that pride is always destructive. Therefore any doctrine proudly held up as perfect will crumble in time.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

We would be fools to think we have gotten everything right. Our only recourse is towards humility. Maybe the Calvinists are right; perhaps the Orthodoxy is most correct, it could be the more liberal universalists are on to something, or perhaps the purest truth is known only to a madman preaching on a hillside. Whatever our doctrinal position let us embrace those who have a different understanding as brothers first and foremost as the scriptures direct.

A Biblical view on Brexit

I feel that the church has been lacking a sound biblical perspective on Brexit. While I doubt that I am the one to write a definitive study, here is what I have decerned from scripture.

Polling from Lord Ashcroft showed that nearly 60% of those that identified as Christian voted to leave. Why?

According to Christianity Today:

A host of blogs, websites and claims of ‘prophetic words’ have fuelled a fear of the European Union’s apparent spiritual side. A minefield of ‘prophetic’ websites, many of which border on the extreme end of conspiracy theories, warn of a supposed darkness in the EU project.

I want to take a clear-headed look at what the Bible really has to say.

Spiritual Darkness?

The focus of concern for evangelical writers claiming “prophetic insight” is a belief that the EU has an evil spiritual power.

They point to the EU symbol of a women riding a bull and say that it is idolatry or point fearfully towards the imagery of Revelation. Others point to the EU’s building in Strasbourg and claim it is based upon Pieter Bruegel’s painting of Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Therefore, we are told, the EU is in open rebellion against God.

According to Christianity Today:

The central point of this wariness is around the European symbol of a woman riding a bull. The icon was chosen by the EU based on the Greek mythical story of Europa and adorns many EU official residences, buildings and documents.

But for some charismatic Christians the symbol is reminiscent of a biblical apocalyptic warning that spoke of a “woman sitting on a scarlet beast” in Revelation 17. According to Revelation, the woman on the beast is the mother “of the earth’s abominations” and will be destroyed by God.

Examining the prophetic

Let us take a quick refresher on how to examine the prophetic with Godly discernment.

Why prophecy must be carefully decerned

1 Timothy 4:1-2 warns us of deceptive spirits and demonic teachings:

Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.

With such a stark warning, we would be fools to accept these claims of God-breathed truth without examination.

Is it encouraging?

1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us, “But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation.”

This is the first test of any claimed prophecy. Does it build up?

Christianity Today:

Despite the desperate efforts of evangelical Christian Tim Farron, a vague notion that the EU was anti-Christian persisted among Christian communities […]

Rather than feeling encouraged Christians have reacted to the EU with uninformed fear. A thing shall be known by its fruits and so far I have to say it does not look promising for these “prophetic” claims.

I have to conclude that these claims fail this test. Most of these prophecies fuel fear and distrust. They seak to pull down the EU and do not seek to build anything in its place.

Is it consistent with scripture?

Let me tell you this up front it is unbiblical for one of faith to fear the icons and myths of the past. 1 John 4:4 reminds us that He that dwells within you is greater than any that dwell in the world.

Titus 1:14 tells us to pay no heed to myths. 2 Peter 1:16 is likewise scathing of fables:

For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur.

1 Timothy 1:3-4:

As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith.

Yet myths and speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan have been emphasised by Christians frightened like little children by a dusty old icon.

1 Timothy 4 advises us to “reject those myths fit only for the godless and gullible, and train yourself for godliness.”

Pointing to icons with fear is not becoming of those adopted into the faith.

Does it promote the fruit of the spirit?

The fruits of the spirit, such as peace, patience, and love should be multiplied by God breathed prophecy. Do these calls to Christian action lead to good spiritual fruits?

So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. (Romans 14:19)

John 3:20 tells us, “everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.” What has come to light is just how completely the Leave campaign lied. Ephesians 5:11 says to not associate with such deeds but expose them.

Again, I’d have to say no. Instead of peace, Brexit has given rise to racism, poverty, and uncertainty about the future. Brexit brought division to the country. How can we of the Faith be yoked with such deception? 2 Corinthians 6:14 says to do no such thing.

Examining the scriptures

Now we have examined claims of prophecy let us look at what the Bible has to say about our relationship with our neighbours.

Building up our neighbours

Romans 15:2-3 starts by saying, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good to build him up.”

Does Brexit in any way build up the UK’s Europian neighbours? It is hard to see how it can. In fact, there are those among the leave camp hoping to see the total destruction of the Eurozone. That is the very opposite of building up. Don’t forget what Leviticus 24:19 says about he who harms his neighbour.

1 Corinthians 10:24 says “Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.” I wonder if, through Brexit, we have failed to do this.

God’s commands regarding foreigners

Central to the Holy Law of God is justice for all – both native and foreign.

Deuteronomy 10:17-18 says:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who is unbiased and takes no bribe, who justly treats the orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing.

Central to Brexit is a closing of borders to refugees. These two things are not compatible. You cannot serve two masters.

Lies or truth?

It is the thief that comes to kill, steal, and destroy. The aims of Brexit are separation, division, and a destruction of the EU.

Proverbs 12:22 says this:

The Lord abhors a person who lies, but those who deal truthfully are his delight.

The Father of Brexit was lies and deception. John 8:44 is clear on the nature of such a father.

You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

How can something driven by deception and lies be the will of God? If God desired the UK to depart the EU surely it would bring glory to the Father if this was done openly, honestly and in truth?

Love your neighbour and the Brexit divorce

James 2:8 says:

But if you fulfil the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing well.

How can UK Christians claim to love their neighbour and be part of divorcing and rejecting them?

Was the EU unfaithful to us? No.

Why, then, are we seeking separation from our EU partner to whom we have committed? To trade with other nations. Would not Luke 16:18 show us to be adulterers if we do that?

Christ’s prayer for us

In John 17 you can read Christ’s prayer for His followers. Not that we are removed from the world but that we remain in it.

Even if you accept the highly doubtful claims of “spiritual evil” in the EU surely our Godly duty is to remain there and be salt and light? Salt that has lost its saltiness is not good for anything but to be trampled underfoot.

If the UK truly were a last bastion of Godliness (and I doubt that it is any better than anywhere else) then how can we be salt and light to an EU we have rejected?

Conclusions on Brexit and the Bible

When thousands of desperate souls came to France seeking hope and justice from the UK, Christians had a historic opportunity to put into practice our faith. Instead, we chose to close our borders.

We did not speak out for those that have no voice. A light was not shed for those in need.

If Christians are concerned about spiritual darkness, we should be galvanised into action by the injustices of people being driven to use food banks to feed themselves. Outraged at the racism and hate that followed the Brexit vote. We should be loudly vocal about the thousands that are driven to the brinks of suicide by a benefits system expensively persecuting the poor and disabled.

Our silence speaks volumes and it condemns us.

It seems to me that the move towards Brexit is an attempt to divide us from our neighbours and frustrate the will of God. If that is the case, Brexit will ultimately fail. How it fails will determine the price we must pay for our arrogance and fear.

We Christians that voted for Brexit sided with messengers of lies, oppression, and injustice. We were deceived by fearful words. Now we must repent and rebuilt our bridge to the world.

How Christians could end poverty

church

The roadmap for the body of Christ to end poverty was set out in the Deuteronomy and Acts. Yet somehow we still miss it.

What is poverty?

Poverty is a trap. It means not having enough and what you do to cope with that need.

Poverty is a trap because it disadvantages the entire family. The children are less likely to do well at school. In fact, most children who grow up in poverty fail to attain any qualifications worth a damn. As adults, they are trapped in low paying jobs and their children will inherit the same trap.

Poverty is a trap that damages society. Children that experience poverty are more likely to engage in crime, antisocial behaviour and drug use.

We Christians should be doing something about that. Instead, we either are trapped ourselves or grow fat and offer to “pray for the poor”. James 2:16 points out just how worthless that is, for a poor person.

What can we do?

What does Deuteronomy 26:12 say to do with the tithe? It says to feed the Levit, the fatherless, and the widow. I bet your pastors have not been telling you about that.

Deuteronomy 26:11 says to include resident foreigners in your celebrations. Or as we know them today, immigrants and refugees.

You will celebrate all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family, along with the Levites and the resident foreigners among you.

The model of the three tithes

Almost all teaching about tithes seems to focus on the one that pays the wages of the preacher – the sacred tithe. That’s the one you give to the church if you practice tithing.

However, your tithing is not done until you have paid all three tithes. The fact that we do not is why poverty keeps our communities in bondage.

These are the three tithes:

  1. The Levitical, or sacred tithe (Numbers 18:21-24).
  2. The tithe of the feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
  3. The tithe for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

The tithe for the poor

The law regarding tithes talks repeatedly about “Levites, the resident foreigners, the orphans, and the widows”. In those days that was pretty much everyone unable to earn an income and feed themselves. In other words, those trapped in poverty.

Did you know that the provisions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy say to treat those in debt like the resident foreigners? That does not mean hound them out of the country as we are prone to do in this day and age. It means to care for them and keep them safe.

What do you think Matthew 25:31-46 is talking about if not caring for those in poverty? The division into reward or fire is not based on belief, confession, church attendance or anything else. The eternal reward is based on how you helped the poor and needy.

As it says in James 2:14-26, Faith without works is dead.

If you have extra houses

If you are fortunate enough to have more than one house, consider selling your spare houses like they did in Acts 4:32-35.

Then you can do what Leviticus 25 says and buy the freedom of your spiritual brothers and sisters. If you do not know how to distribute it yourself, find someone that does.

Are there fellow Christians trapped by crippling debt or locked into a mortgage they can no longer afford? Did you know that it is your biblical duty to go and buy their freedom?

Imagine the blessing you could unlock if you rocked up to the bank and just paid off another family’s debts. You would be making true the promise of Isaiah 61:1 by living it.

If you have additional houses under heavy mortgages

Okay so selling your houses would not net you much income. That happens. However, you can still bless the body of Christ without selling them.

I imagine you pay the mortgage by renting out your houses. That’s a business – and you might want to consider reading the next section too.

Think about this. Is there a family that lives in substandard housing? Maybe they cannot afford rent, or deposit. Maybe race is an issue that holds them back. Perhaps they were recently made homeless.

When one of your properties becomes vacant, that is an opportunity to bless a needy family. If you can offer them a year rent free so they can get back on their feet. Or if that is too expensive for you, offer them a rent much below market rates with no deposit.

Before they move in, you and some fellow Christians could pack the cupboards with food and furnish the house with items they need. Items which you will gift to the family.

Are you a Christian business owner?

If you are a Christian that owns a business, God has blessed you. What are you going to do with that blessing?

You could, for example, use the business to put those trapped into poverty into self-sufficiency. Here’s how.

Every seven or so years, take a tenth part of the business and separate it into a business of its own. One way to do this would be to set up your business as a franchise.

Now you have a new business that you could give, not sell, to a poor person from your local church.

The neediest people might not be equipped to run the business themselves. So you may wish to prepare in advance by taking them on as your apprentice. I don’t mean run a modern apprenticeship that some middle manager takes care of. I mean make them your right-hand person and let them learn from you by working with you.

When the time comes to gift them a business of their own, they will have the skills to run that business and make it grow. Teach them to do the same and in seven years time, the two of you will be able to help two more people out of poverty.

Do you earn enough to increase your savings regularly?

So you have savings. Good for you. Now it is time to think about how to bless others. After all, Matthew 6:19-21 says that we should store up treasures in heaven and not on earth.

Is there a family that you could bless by doing their grocery shopping for? If you believe in prayer (and I am assuming that you do) why not seek God and ask Him who you should shop for this week?

Don’t look to the well-dressed people sat at the front of the church. Turn your attention to the ones sitting at the back. The people that get overlooked.

Think about the families that never seem to go on vacation. The families that never seem to come to retreats and events. Maybe they don’t like going away but maybe they cannot afford to do so.

Do you own two cars?

Do you own two cars? Maybe you own several TV sets. Whatever you have multiples of you could share.

When you have a wealth of material things and there are others who have nothing how is the name of God blessed?

Consider that there might be others close by that lack the things you have. Do you really need all those things so much that you cannot give a few things away?

You cannot take your things with you so how about you release the blessing locked up in those items by giving them to those whose need is greater?

What does Luke 6:38 say about giving? Try it.

Do you only have sufficient?

Maybe all of these ideas are too much for your means. However, could you not make a meal stretch to a few more people?

In any church, there are the lonely ones. The singles and the elderly. You would enrich your life and their’s by simply inviting them to eat with you.

Skip the popular people. the names and faces of the church that everyone recognises. They have all the meal invites they need. Look for the people that get overlooked and bless them instead.

Do you not even have sufficient?

If you lack even enough for yourself, keep your money. Stop putting “tithes” into the church offering for a while. Use the money to pay your debts and feed your family. God the Father will understand.

Instead of tithing money, bless the body with anything you do have available – your time, your skills, your love.

Share what you have with those that appreciate it. “Seed gifts” mean nothing to the already wealthy. A cup of tea with a lonely person means the world to them.

The church could end poverty

I strongly believe that the church today has the means to end poverty in one generation. Two, at most.

The reason we do not is that we have failed to teach two-thirds of the tithing message. We have failed to remember that it is not “salvific category” but actions that define our faith.

For too many of us, our faith lacks works and is dead. We have become no better than the Pharisees – all law, no mercy.

It is time for the true Christians to take a stand against the prison of poverty. It is time for the church to show the world how it is done. It is time for our light to shine. It is time to show love to our brothers and sisters in need.

Metrics for assessing doctrine

fruit

There are numerous methods (or metrics) for assessing doctrine. By this, I simply mean that we have a wealth of tools for evaluating the quality of our faith.

There are few, however, that are as simple or effective than the one I wish to share. This particular tool for assessing doctrine does not require years of study. It does not even require months of study. It is a tool that any Christian can apply right from the get-go.

The fruit of a doctrine

That is the metric of the character the doctrine inevitably leads to. A doctrine that is righteous should lead to righteousness. If a doctrine is loving then it should lead to love. While a doctrine that leads to pride, factions, conflict, aggression, condemnation, and all those other bad things must, self-evidently, be bad.

This stems, from Matthew 7:15-20 which tells us “by their fruits you will know them”. Given axiom zero (that all scripture is good for teaching), we can know that this has something to teach us. Specifically, that the fruit of a doctrine must be good for it to be considered a good doctrine.

What is good fruit?

Now Galatians 5:22-23 shows us what fruits we should be looking for when assessing doctrine:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

A doctrine that leads to these sorts of characteristics must, at the very least, be good even if it is not perfect. Yet a doctrine that leads to the opposite is fatally flawed.

Why this matters?

Too frequently we Christians have been quick to insist that a doctrine is right because we say “the Bible says” and yet the very attitudes it leads to are anything but Biblical.

Such characteristics as found in Galatians 5:20 such as hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, and factions. These are the symptoms of a doctrine or belief that are at odds with the character of Christ. They lead to the sort of behaviour I call “trolling for Christ” – which we need to stop doing.

If at any time we find our belief leading us towards hostilities, strife, and dissension then it is our belief and not those of others which needs to be assessed. I can assure you that if we are not readily assessing doctrine that we preach then others will do it for us and be far less kind when they do.

If you need a scripture for this act of self-assessment – 2 Corinthians 13:5 directs us to examine ourselves.

Let us examine our own doctrines to be sure that they produce good fruits and be ready to uproot any that have failed to yield good fruit.

Thoughts on translation

One of the many things that disturb me about practitioners of modern Christianity is a reliance on translated text without a mind towards the source material.

When Christians insist that “the bible is clear” on some topic and then point to the English language edition for support – that worries me. It worries me because any translation is difficult and something is always lost in the transition.

I have read Galatians 5:9 where it says that a little leaven makes the whole loaf leaven. What if the translators were pushing an agenda? My theology would have that agenda in it. What if some vital clue was lost? What if some bias was introduced? My theology would be off-kilter too. What if a subtle point was obscured? How would I know I had missed it?

As a complete amateur in the field of linguistics, I am wholly dependant on the translation notes of the likes of Thayer and Strong. I have my suspicions that Strong may have had an agenda with some of his translations. When Strong gives the possible meanings of a word, there is often one (the one that is used) that sticks out as being quite different to the other possibilities. That bothers me. The best I can do is trust but verify.

The Bible was not written in English

I hope it does not come as a surprise to you to learn that the Bible was not written in English. (It was not). The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek and first translated into Latin. Anyone who reads any of those languages fluently is going to have insights that we, who only read English, lack.

I have learned that some parts of the ancient Hebrew are so obscure that without the Latin version for a comparison, translation into English is only so much guesswork. “I guess my theology is right” does not sound all that trustworthy.

How do I know that what I am reading is what the original author intended?

1 John 4:1 says to test every spirit. I take that to mean: Test every message that is preached. By test, I mean:

  • Look and check to see if it measures up.
  • Think about it logically.
  • Study and make sure.
  • Ask questions.
  • Be as certain as I can be.

I cannot do that with Hebrew and Greek. The best I can do is check multiple translations and the translation notes. Anything I come up with must be subject to the caveat that it is based on other people’s interpretation. It could be flawed.

Trolls for Christ

Today, we have (what I hope are) well-meaning Christians hounding all and sundry on the Internet bombarding them with the English language translated scripture. Some are doing it in a way that borders on trolling. If there is one thing we can agree on scripture does not teach us to “troll for Christ”.

When the recipient of this Christian trolling knows scripture – in the original Hebrew – better than the Christian, all they are doing is making us all look stupid. When these people also offer a humble and gentle rebuke we have a choice expressed in Proverbs 9:7-9 – learn and be wise or demonstrate our lack of Christ-like-ness.

Humility is the only refuge

When it comes to debating scripture, teaching it, preaching it, or in any way talking about it – our only refuge from looking like fools is to remain humble. Unless we are fluent in ancient Hebrew and Greek, we are dependent on the translation work of others. We see only through the darkened glass of others, to quote 1 Corinthians 13:12.

To pretend we do not suffer from agnosis – a lack of knowledge – is both proud and very, very stupid; not to mention, self-deluded. Have you not read Proverbs 16:18 which says what pride goes before?

For that matter what about Psalm 138:6 and James 4:6? God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble. I will leave it to you to work out if “trolling for Christ” is humble or proud. (Hint: It is not humble at all).

I think it is the time that we Christians climbed down from our high horse and gave up the pretention that we are in any way experts. Proverbs 17:28 says that “Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise”. Let us be wise.

The demands of an evil god

In this post, we will be talking about why people may have difficulty taking some Christian doctrines seriously and that it is entirely our fault.

The problem, I contend, is that through failing to fully rationalise our own doctrines, when others do it for us they see not a loving God but an evil one.

Definitions

As with all my articles, I will preface with a few definitions so there is no doubt or confusion.

This article rests on the axiom that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine. In this article I am going to be talking about two topics:

  • Evil
  • Calvinism

That is not to say that one is the other, I do not wish to say that, only that one rises in the context of the other.

What is evil?

Evil, in the abstract, is a noun or verb indicating a thing, action, or entity that is in any way harmful or tending to harm or profoundly immoral and wicked. I’m going to go one step further and state that evil is the seeking or willful attainment of privilege or agency without the implied responsibility or price associated with it.

For example, a person wants a car but being unwilling to pay for it they steal it. For another example, the bully who waits until the teacher is not looking and takes the paper-round money earned by a smaller child. Both of these are privilege without responsibility.

The opposite of this form of evil, responsibility without any agency, is an injustice. For example, slavery where people are expected to work hard but not enjoy the fruits of their labour. The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed.

The Romans had a particularly violent form of this injustice – decimation. Should a military commander fail spectacularly his troops might be lined up and every tenth man would be killed. This too was responsibility without agency.

What is Calvinism

I am going to be talking about Calvinism throughout this post. I do not intend to give a full overview of Calvinistic doctrines and would probably not do a very good job of it but here are the basics.

To quote the Wikipedia on predestination:

Reformed theologians teach that sin so affects human nature that they are unable even to exercise faith in Christ by their own will. While people are said to retain will, in that they willfully sin, they are unable not to sin because of the corruption of their nature due to original sin. Reformed Christians believe that God predestined some people to be saved.

To summerise, Calvinism teaches that we lack a completely free will. The atonement is limited and was only for the elect. Calvinism is, therefore, a predestination, doctrine.

This is generally coupled with a doctrine that only those that accept Christ in the form of a sinner’s prayer, or similar are the elect and all other souls are bound for hell.

What is an evil god doctrine

An evil god doctrine arises when we fail to fully rationalise our own doctrines. Often when we chose a theistic framework and try to jam in doctrines that are not a good fit. In this case, you guessed it, jamming extras into Calvinism.

When fully and logically explored the god being presented mutates into a vicious and malignant being deserving of no-one’s worship.

Dissecting an evil god doctrine

The atonement is limited and was only for the elect is pretty harsh but, you know, kismet – fate is fate. Right? Yeah, I’m not fully convinced but that is another discussion for another time.

The problem arises when some Calvinists try to combine predestination with pre-reformation theology without thinking through the consequences.

This sealed fate paradigm is less than ideal for motivational recruitment. So, somewhere along the line, evangelical ideas of “reaching the lost” get added to the mix. Now you find a doctrine that heaven and hell are a done deal with a drive to go out and make converts and “save people”.

A “god” who loves everyone but you

One of the inherent weaknesses of this doctrine is that it preaches John 3:16 with God loving the world but at the same time not enough to save everyone.

This is countered with the claim that while it is true that God is love He is also infinitely just and His law is absolute. Thus we have a God angry at sinners for being sinners but some (via verses like Exodus 33:19) will get the gift of a free pass.

From the other side of the fence – as a hell-bound soul, it must seem like God is picking favourites. Whichever way you cut it, this is very hard to reconcile with claims of an infinitely loving God.

This is, apparently, perfect justice. I don’t see it myself but I am not here to discuss Calvinism as a whole. If Christians want to believe that they had no choice but to accept Christ, I am willing to let them believe that.

Blaming the victim

At the more extreme end of things, you have well-meaning and otherwise mild-mannered Christians who espouse the belief that the condemned sinner is somehow responsible for their own damnation.

Now, I should point out this is not a Calvinistic doctrine. It is not even especially compatible with Calvinism. This free will aspect is a pre-reformation idea found more commonly in, for example, Catholic dogma.

This leads quite logically to a doctrine where the choice is God’s but the responsibility for is ours. Which, as we established earlier, is the definition of evil.

You cannot blame a victim who lacks any agency for what was done to them and still claim justice has been served. The child forced to hand over his money for the “crime” of being weaker might not have any choice but that child is a victim of injustice no matter how many times the bully says “You are lucky, other bullies would beat you up as well.”

Evil god in the wild

Lest you think I am making this stuff up I present to you an actual example of this doctrine being preached. This is a blog called The Gospel Truth written by a man named Bob Hutton. I have no doubt that Mr Hutton is sincere in his zeal for the gospel but someone has sold him some incompatible doctrines.

For example:

Remember, too, that the natural man refuses to accept God’s word unless their eyes are opened (1st Cor. 2 v 14).

Either way, by pointing out that God has opened the way for people to be saved we put them on notice that, if they end up in Hell, it is entirely their own fault.

In case you think that Maybe Mr Hutton has just not made his point very clearly, he clarifies in the comments:

If you die in your sins and end up in Hell, you have no complaint because you have received justice, and the blame for your sin, and its consequences, is entirely yours.

If God plants the gift of faith in you and converts you (John 6 v 65), then He has shown you His mercy, and all glory goes to Him.

And agains, citing John 5:40 (out of context, I might add), Mr Hutton says:

the choice is God’s but the responsibility is still man’s

This responsibility without agency, as we defined already, is the injustice that evil serves. It makes for a very strange form of Calvinism. By strange, I mean self-refuting and contradictory.

The “god” presented there appears to be a bully demanding people suffer the outcomes of His choices. Mr Hutton’s answer, though not untypical, defines an evil god. This is the perfect illustration of a failure to fully rationalise our own doctrines.

This god only picks some people and the rest he condemns for not being picked. It is a doctrine devoid of love but packed to the nines with condemnation and blame.

It is also not just a little smug. The “saved” sitting there smugly telling everyone else that he or she is “teacher’s pet” and everyone else is doomed. What worries me most is that no one who espouses this doctrine is the least bit bothered by this. It is as if their very sense of justice were somehow scorched and blinded.

What is the problem with “evil god” doctrines?

The problems with this hybrid Calvinism are manifold. Not only are we unlikely to convince any rational people of a loving God while also presenting them with a self-evidently evil lying god but we look like we have no idea what we are talking about.

Much worse, though, are the implications of the evil god doctrine.

In John 5:19 we see Jesus saying that he only does as His Father does. Ephesians 5:1 commands that we also imitate God. We see in teaching’s, such as Mr Hutton’s, the outworking of that where, imitating the evil god, they effectively say “I have no pity, this is all your own fault.” The resultant behaviour is devoid of compassion or kindness. It is without love.

If a country ever enacted statutes that imitated this god, you would have a country where one person commits a crime and quite another can be punished for it. We call such regimes oppressive and evil.

The fruit of this doctrine is evil because the god (root) of this doctrine is evil. As Matthew 7:15-20 says, by their fruit you shall know them.

What’s the solution to the “evil god” problem?

There are three possible solutions as far as I can tell.

  1. Refine your doctrines to weed out the ones that do not belong
  2. Reject all your current doctrines and start again
  3. Resign yourself to worshipping an evil and inconsistent god

This extreme-Calvinist doctrine arises from a failure to think through the doctrines that have been loaded in together. Doctrines which simply do not fit together. Such self-refuting doctrines could be avoided altogether if we made even a little more effort to fully rationalise and consider what it is we claim to believe.

At the very least, we must take note of 1 John 4:1-3 and put the teachings that are presented to us to the test. Those that lead to a hate-filled god are, scripturally, anti-christ. Something I am sure zealots, such as Mr Hutton, would want nothing to do with.

I would be prepared to accept a relatively indifferent god if the Calvinistic framework were to not also include a blaming the victim mentality. I might, with some persuasion be willing to see God as loving for only saving some.

As long as some proponents of Calvinism also try to have their cake and eat it, the conclusion must be that the god they worship is evil.

What I am saying is that’s not my God.

That’s not my God

I do not know this evil god that the extreme-Calvinists preach.

The God that I worship is loving (1 John 4:8), His mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13), and is well able to save us all (Isaiah 59:1).

The God that I worship does everything he says He will (Numbers 23:19). He says that His intention is to save all mankind (I Timothy. 2:4) because he is full of loving compassion (Psalm 103:8) and cares about the well being of people (Matthew 9:36) and expects us, his followers, to be the same.

The God that I worship sent His son, Jesus, to Earth as a ransom all (1 Timothy 2:6) from the grip of our imperfections (sins) and grant us the power to forgive sins (John 20:23).

The good news that makes me glad is a good news of restoration, not this dictatorial nonsense. How about you?

Towards an Inclusive Faith

I doubt fundamentalists would agree with me but I think a case can be made for a much more inclusive faith.

This is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith as well as a weak argument for a more relaxed attitude to other faiths. It rests on the axiom of the value of all scripture. (For more on axioms).

Inclusive faith

In Mark 9:38-41 is found a report of Jesus saying this:

whoever is not against us is for us

This inclusive attitude is in stark contrast to the more common exclusive attitude so frequently encounter.

That word “against” is kata (SG2596) the same word used in Matthew 12:25 when Jesus talks about a house divided against itself.

This says to me that Jesus’ attitude was to take it as given that everyone not opposing him was on his side. This fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.

This inclusiveness fits well with 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says that love hopes all things and, given that God is Love and Jesus was his son, it follows that Jesus would display maximal love.

Apparent contradictions

However, any exploration of Mark 9:40 without also looking at Matthew 12:30 would be remiss. This passage seems to say the exact opposite of the inclusive passage. However (and this is something I hope to establish as an axiom), context is everything.

A comparison within context

The best and most comprehensive explanation of the meaning in context is found on the website of Ken Collins, or to be precise: The Rev. Kenneth W. Collins, B.A., M.Div. In short, I am pretty sure he knows what he is talking about.

Rev. Collins points us to Theophylact, who was born on the Greek island of Euboia in about 1055. This Theophylact spoke the language of the new testament as a native. He was also a student of scripture.

Theophylact observes that when you consider Mark 9:40 and Matthew 12:30 in context they are talking about entirely different things. Once I saw that, it was hard to imagine how I missed it.

The Mark passage in context

In Mark 9:40 the disciples tried to stop a man who was acting in Jesus name and yet was not part of the in-crowd. The disciples had no idea who this guy was and yet Jesus says not to stop him. Others are not “wrong” just because they are not part of what you consider the “us”. In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.

In other words, just because they follow a different doctrine or have ideas that differ from your own, or come from a faith background you consider separate from your own, they are still “for us”.

Rev. Collins says two things about this passage that are striking the second I will come to in a while but the first is this:

This passage also teaches us that Jesus is biased in favor of people. Yes, God hates sin, but He loves people even more, so He sent His Son to get rid of the sin and save the people.

You can, should you be so inclined, read how each of the church traditions interprets this passage in terms of the ministry of the laity. Liaty being those who have not been ordained.

The point that Theophylact makes is that this is a passage about people.

The Matthew passage in context

First let us go wider – say, Matthew 12:26-30. Now we have some context for the quote. In English, it is all too easy to see that Jesus could have been talking about people here too. However, Theophylact (for whom this Greek was his first language) observed that Jesus was talking exclusively in spiritual terms (about demons).

To quote the Rev. Collins on this too:

If Theophylact is right, Jesus is giving us an important and simple tool for spiritual discernment—not to discern people, but to discern ideas and spirits. All we have to do is ask if the spirit or idea glorifies Jesus. If it does, it is good. If it does not, it is in rebellion against God and thus evil.

I would suggest that by comparison to the Mark passage we can go further. Here where you see spirit think not only spiritual thing but also any attitude, philosophy, or idea too. The Greek for spirit (pneuma SG4151 is a wide and encompassing word).

  • Any spirit that supports or agrees with the work of Jesus is good.
  • Any spirit that is not against us is probably for us.
  • Any spirit that opposes the work of Jesus opposes Him.

Conclusions and questions

Other Faiths

Taking the implications of the above verses, consider the other Abrahamic religions.

The Jewish faith

First the Jews. Their faith focuses on righteousness and teaching righteousness to the Gentiles. The church’s terrible behaviour towards this people group aside for a moment, the church’s mission to bring the righteousness of Christ to the world is something that the Jewish faith could get behind. The fact that historically this has not happened, owes a lot more to the aggressive behaviour of Christ’s disciples than anything else.

The fact that the early church saw itself as an extension of the Jewish faith rather than a rival to it only adds weight to the idea that the Christian church should seriously consider embracing their Jewish brothers and sisters on an equal footing.

The Islamic Faith

Now the Islamic faith. This is where I am almost certain to lose some of you but try to stay with me here. The Quran speaks, in a number of passages, about the People of the Book (′Ahl al-Kitāb). The Quran uses the term People of the Book in reference to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. The Quran emphasizes the community of faith between possessors of monotheistic scriptures, and occasionally pays tribute to the religious and moral virtues of communities that have received earlier revelations, calling on Muhammad to ask them for information.

Moreover, People of the Book have frequently enjoyed a great deal of protection under Islamic law. Dhimmi, for example, is a historical term referring to the status accorded to People of the Book living in an Islamic state. Dhimmi literally means “protected person.” Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.

On a people level (Mark), this is a faith that is expressly not against us and thus, in Jesus words, must be seen as for us. On a spiritual level, that is much more complicated and might not fully be understood, at least by me, in this life.

This much is clear, however, that all aggression towards Muslims in unbiblical and runs counter to the teachings of Jesus Christ. However you conclude in this area, the only attitude we can have and remain true to our faith is one of love.

Non-Abrahamic faiths

I do not possess sufficient knowledge or insight to examine any other faiths at this time. However, having established a set of principles from scripture, I hope that I have laid out a pattern by which we might modify our attitude accordingly.

Perhaps you might like to explore this area in the comments.

Inclusive Salvation

This passage raises other possibilities too. What about the width of salvation, for example?

Traditional evangelical teaching ascribes a narrow view of salvation (mostly due to verses such as Matthew 7:13). Fundamentalism takes things further and can, at times, ascribe salvation only to those who completely agree with a set of doctrines.

On the other hand, verses like I Timothy. 2:4 throw things wide open. Could Mark 9:40-41 indicate that salvation will ultimately be found not only by Christ’s disciples and followers but by all who support, bless, or are “for” them?

Rev. Collins’ other striking statement (I have not forgotten) about Mark 9:40 was this:

Quite often people preach the gospel as if everyone were going to hell unless they made a conscious decision for Christ. That doesn’t strike me as good news, exactly, but this passage has me wondering. Could it be (and I say this as a thought exercise for you) that because of Jesus’ love and His work on the cross, everyone is going to heaven unless they deliberately choose otherwise? I’d like to point out that it would solve the problems of infant deaths and people who never hear the gospel.

Apparently, I’m not the only person to wonder about it. I’ll leave you with this thought, could the role of Christians be to provide the forgiveness of sins to the rest of the world? After all, John 20:23, seems to be saying Jesus granted his people the power to forgive sins.

Your feedback is invited

As I said at the start, this is an incomplete argument for a more inclusive approach to faith in general. It seems that Jesus preached a fairly inclusive faith. Perhaps inclusive enough for his followers to develop a far more relaxed attitude to other faiths too.