Category: Discussion

No one is saved (yet)

Growing up in an Evangelical Charismatic church I thought I knew what it meant to be saved.

What do we mean by “saved”?

As far as my 12-year-old-self knew, you said the sinner’s prayer and then you were saved and going to heaven. Just wait at the rapture bus stop. While you are waiting, preach to people you would like in heaven with you and make them Christian too.

We quoted Romans 10:9-13 which described what we did in the sinner’s prayer (or so I thought). At the same time, we cited Ephesians 2:8-9 in case anyone started thinking that the prayer was what saved us. And we frequently made mention of John 3:17 and so we knew that it is Jesus that saves.

We glossed over Acts 16:31, where a man believes and his entire household are saved. Likewise, Mark 16:16 was only used at baptisms in case anyone got the idea that baptism was required to be saved even though “the Bible clearly says” as much.

The salvation we left out

There is a great deal that we leave out or gloss over when it comes to teachings on being saved. If we are to have a valid and unshakable doctrine of salvation all of these issues must be addressed.

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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.

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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.

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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?