Archive for the ‘beliefs’ Tag

Christian Hope?   Leave a comment

It doesn’t take a lot of research to realize that membership in Christian churches is declining. Why?

Well, the answer to that might take a bit more research.

There are those who will say that evangelical Christianity is just too strict. If we’d ease up on certain Biblical teaching, or better yet, convince everybody that those teachings no longer apply, we’d see people coming back to the church. Is that true?

Hmm?

Did you ever read The Damnation of Theron Ware? Published in England under the title of Illumination it was written in 1986 by American author Harold Frederic. Most common readers haven’t heard of it, but it is widely considered an American literary classic by scholars and critics. Thus I was forced to read it in college.

Some classics deserve the title because they were well-written. I found the plot of Damnation to be manipulative and the characters wooden and one dimensional. There was a sense that the book was written to convince people of the author’s POV rather than to write an exceptional novel. It is a “classic” because that POV appeals to academics who agree with the politics that motivated the book in the first place.

The novel centers on the life of a Methodist pastor (Theron Ware, of course) who has recently moved to a fictional small town in upstate New York. Recently married, Ware has had a number of experiences that cause him to question the Methodist religion, his role as a minister and even the existence of God. His “enlightenment” is encouraged through his dealings with Father Forbes (the town’s Catholic priest), Dr. Ledsmar (a local atheist, philosopher and man of science), and Celia Madden (a local Irish Catholic girl with whom he becomes infatuated). By the end, these three intellectually “advanced” characters find Theron a bore and a philanderer and their rejection leads him to go on a binge. He’s rescued by Brother and Sister Soulsby, practical fundraisers for Methodist congregations who pragmatically send Ware and his wife off to far-flung Washington where perhaps he’ll become a politician.

At the start of the book, Ware is already in debt and has a history of financial mismanagement of a prior church. He doesn’t take kindly to the trustees of his new church telling him how to conduct the ministry. He encounters Father Forbes, the local Catholic priest, and sees his first Catholic rite. He’s intrigued. Over time, he becomes quite infatuated with both the Catholic and atheist ways of thinking and with Celia, the organist for the Catholic church. He finds them all more intelligent and more faithful than he or his fellow Methodists. When he attends a Catholic picnic, they are drinking beer. Theron partakes as Father Forbes explains that their religions really aren’t that different, how one day there will be a single “Church of America” and it will look a lot like the Catholic church.   Ware doubts there will be any church at all because mankind is moving toward an age of science, but Forbes insists that religion is needed for culture. Ware counters that if this is so, he doubts the Catholic church will win out because of its incredibly rigid doctrines. He suggests the Universal Unitarians or the Episcopalians are bland enough to appeal to everybody. Forbes asserts that the Catholic church will win because it compromises while practicing the art of not seeming to compromise. When called on its compromise, it refuses to acknowledge that such as occurred. It only takes a generation for people to forget what used to be rock solid doctrine, so the soft compromise works very well for the Catholic church.

So why am I talking about a scene in an obscure 19th century novel nobody has read?

Because many people today are channeling Father Forbes while encouraging evangelical congregations to compromise. If we want to grow instead of shrink we should …. If the church is really a necessity in culture, we must …

COMPROMISE!

Posted September 8, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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It’s a Rocky Path   2 comments

There’s a flip side to the argument that a good lifestyle won’t get you to heaven. That teaching has led to a heresy that Christians can do whatever they want and “get away with it”. This heresy existed as far back as the writing of Revelation, AD 90-95.

There are some people who think that since we are saved by Christ’s finished work on the cross, we can just go on sinning and God will forgive us.

This is a complicated concept. Once saved, always saved, and Christians are forgiven when they sin, but good works will result from a true saving faith. Thus good works are evidence of a saving faith, but they do not impart salvation. This is very different from saying that we are saved by being a good person. While the Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, the Bible does not teach “easy believism.” Christianity is an active faith; it will show evidence beyond walking an aisle or attending church.

The complication comes because all humans sin. We will never be anywhere near perfect and even “good”. The uncomfortable truth is that Christians are all hypocrites and that it is impossible for us not to be. Our goal is not perfection, which is impossible, but obedience to God to the best of our human abilities, which are limited by our humanity. Christians will have ups and downs, but a true Christian will repent of his sins continually and surrender his life to God, continuing to improve his/her relationship with God over time through a process the Bible calls sanctification. So, while we are saved as a gift of God available to all who trust in Christ, after being saved, a Christian, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will seek to conform his life to God’s will—as best he understands God’s will and his duty.

So when the world sees Christians who are not perfect, it’s best to understand that the Christian life is more about direction than perfection. Jesus is perfect. His followers are human. Humans are not perfect. Only God is perfect.

Only One Path   32 comments

There are a lot of misperceptions about Christians by which the modern world insists on judging the Church.

Christians do not believe we’re going to go to heaven because we’ve been good. In fact, true Christians believe we’re going to heaven despite having failed God in all areas except one. The Bible teaches that no one is good enough to get to heaven on the basis of their good works. It is Christ’s sacrifice for our sins (disobedience of God) that saves us from God’s wrath.

This belief is what separates Christianity from all other world religions and worldviews. All other religions teach that there is some pathway to reconciliation with the divine that depends on human effort. Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all teach human effort. In Christianity, because we cannot possibly be good enough to measure up to God, Christ’s sacrificial life, death, and resurrection are absolutely necessary. We are saved by grace, which is a gift from God, through the medium of faith, and not through our own merit (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Frustratingly, no matter how Christians state the above fact, it doesn’t seem to sink in. Even many who call themselves Christians think “salvation” is about being a good person when in reality, there is no reason at all why I should go to heaven except for what Christ did for me on the cross. Christianity is, in many respects, not a religion, but a personal relationship with the Deity. God has reached out to disobedient mankind and offered a way to reconcile us with Him through Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. There is no path to God in Christianity. There is nothing we can add to Christ’s finished work on the cross as payment for our sins.

He did it.

We accept it.

That is all.

 

Posted July 24, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Faith is Clinging to What Is Known   3 comments

Faith is a complex experience, so it is hard to address the whole of it in a blog post. I’m not even attempting that.

The early Christian believers had knowledge as well as faith. Peter, John and Mary saw the empty tomb. Thomas was offered the opportunity to touch the nail scars. Paul met Jesus face-to-face in the road. They KNEW that Jesus was risen again because they’d seen and talked with Him. It was such a powerful experience that Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, who were greatly opposed to His ministry during His lifetime, became believers who were willing to die for their faith. The knowledge that He was risen so convinced that them Jesus was God incarnate that it gave the early believers the courage to speak the gospel even under persecution and most of them would die for their faith. Even when everyone around them said they were wrong, they held fast to the KNOWLEDGE of what they had actually experienced and that gave them faith that God would keep His promises for the future.

Modern Christians do not KNOW God in the same way that early Christians did. We must exercise faith more than they did. Yet that does not mean we do not have some knowledge to support our faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

For Lewis faith is the determination of the mind to cling to what is known in the face of what is felt. Though it involves trust it’s all about knowledge: trusting that what one knows to be true remains true even when it does not feel true.

The early Christians had every reason to desire to recant their story. Their culture made it uncomfortable and eventually fatal to believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. Their faith in Him didn’t bring them power or prestige. It brought them death, and yet they held to it even as the sword hung over their necks. Clearly, they had no doubts about what they believed.

They KNEW Jesus.

I may not know Him in the same tangible way they did, but that does not mean I don’t KNOW Him.

A Message to Non-Believers   1 comment

Before you get into a lather about how I “don’t understand” you, let me explain something.

I used to be you! I was raised in a non-Christian household in the very secular state of Alaska. I think my family went to church three times while I was growing up — once for a funeral, once for a wedding, and once because Easter fell on my dad’s mom’s birthday and he wanted to honor her memory … or something like that. My parents were not atheists. More like agnostic-edging-toward-deist-not-interested-in-god-ruining-their-fun American “Christians”. They didn’t give God much thought and neither did I until fog grounded a bush plane in the Alaska wilderness and the only choices for reading materials were the Bible (in German), Zane Grey novels and Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is ThereI really hated westerns and I can’t read German, so ….

I read the book in two days and I was challenged to question the presuppositions I’d been raised with. I wasn’t hostile toward God; I just never really thought much about metaphysics. I was a cultural “christian” in that I (sort of) knew the Christmas and Easter stories, but I largely accepted without examination that Jesus was at best a great man who lived a long time ago and at worst was a myth. Because I lived in a very secular state, I didn’t know any faithful Christians personally and the few that I had met turned me off because they seemed really fake to me. I grew up with an old joke about Christians as my basic impression:

“I’m perfect. I don’t drink, smoke or swear. God loves me! Dammit, I left my cigarettes on the bar next to my empty beer.”

Funny, but it turned out not to be true!

Francis Schaeffer’s book gave me pause because he explained why belief is a more reasonable response to the world than nonbelief. But it only gave me pause. I was still skeptical and for the next 16 months, I investigated the evidence for Christianity’s claims. By maintaining an open mind and by treating those faithful Christians who came into my life with respect rather than derision, I eventually came to a place where enough of my objections were answered satisfactorily to where I had to admit that the only thing standing between me and knowing if Christianity’s claims were true was my own unbelief.

I could choose to go on not believing or I could lay aside my objections for a moment and let God show me why belief was the most reasonable response to the world. It took 16 months to get to that point, so it was not a “leap of faith”. I had thoroughly investigated the subject before I accepted salvation.

During those 16 months I learned some things.

  • Christians are human beings who are not perfect. And most of them don’t claim to be.
  • Faithful Christians are generally consistent in what they believe from the Bible, but they struggle to reconcile their faith with their culture, which sometimes leads to perceived inconsistencies.
  • The Bible is surprisingly consistent with itself, but misconceptions abound among both believers and nonbelievers, with the nonbelievers holding the greater share of them.
  • American “cultural christianity” is mostly unfamiliar with the actual teachings of the Bible.
  • The Bible and science do not (contrary to popular belief) disagree about the world. Science properly cannot make any claims to understanding the metaphysical claims of the Bible and the Bible is a book of faith and history, not science. Those claiming that science has proven there is no God (or gods) are mistaken in their claims because they try to make science authoritative outside of the observation of the physical universe, which is its proper field of research.
  • Archaeology has so far been supportive of the Bible’s claims

Because I am not a true believer in science — and never was — I can see theories for what they are — someone’s opinion about the collected evidence. Materialistic scientism arrives at one theory about the origins of the universe and life on the planet by viewing the evidence through the lens of certain presuppositions. Intelligent design (it wasn’t called that in the 1970s, but it was around) has another theory also based on their examination of the evidence colored by their own presuppositions. There are extremes of both groups of theorists who try to take the evidence where it cannot go. Not being a true believer in materialism, I could have faith in God and still respect science for what it does well – collect evidence.

Archaeology hasn’t proven the Bible, but it has not found substantial evidence against the Biblical claims. The same summer I read Schaeffer’s book, I read an article in a magazine about how the Bible was crap because, among other things, Nineveh had never existed. Archaeologists had been looking for it for a century without success, so the writer insisted the Bible was lying about Jonah and, therefore the whole Bible was in question. I believed that claim without examination all during my investigative period. Within days of deciding to let God show me that my objections were misapplied, archaeologists announced that Nineveh had been found.  They’d been looking in the wrong places for a really long time and someone more or less stumbled upon it where they weren’t actually looking. Coincidence? Maybe, but it added evidence to the mountain that I was now scaling. Contrary to popular belief at the time, archaeology was actually confirming many of the claims of the Bible.

I came to the Bible and the claims of Christianity as a skeptic, but I had been challenged to approach the subject with an open mind. An open mind demands proof, but not absolute proof. Absolute proof is the province of a closed mind, a mind that is made up and will not be changed even by overwhelming evidence. I did not require overwhelming evidence. I only needed my reasonable questions answered. Essentially, when my collected evidence spoke more for God’s existence and, particularly for the claims of Jesus Christ, than it did against, I set aside my skepticism and let God answer the rest of my objections.

And, He did!

So, yes, I do understand skepticism, but no, I don’t think skeptics are right.

Non-Believers Misconceptions of Heaven Part 2   3 comments

“Heaven is a place, just as much a place as is New York or Chicago.” Charles Ferguson Ball

Everyone wants to know about heaven and everyone wants to go there. Nearly 80% of Americans believe there is a place called heaven and most people expect to go there when they die. That 80% includes a lot of people who do not attend church or align with the New Testament definition of a Christian.

Don’t you wonder why so many non-believers in the Biblical God want to go to His heaven?

Something deep inside the human heart cries out for something more than the pain and suffering of this life. They hope for something more than 70 or 80 years on Earth, of being born, living, dying and being buried. C.S. Lewis talked about a “God shaped hole” in the human heart, but even in an era when many Americans claim not to believe in God, there is apparently still a heaven-shaped vacuum inside the human heart. We somehow know we were made for something more than this life.

What I find interesting about all of those folks who think they’re going to heaven — especially the ones who do not seek a day-to-day relationship with God while they’re on this planet — is most of them have no concept of what heaven will be like and even if they do, if you push them, they wouldn’t really like heaven.

I suspect most Christians wouldn’t like the mythical representation of heaven either. What’s to like about floating around on clouds playing the harp? I l’ve hiked into many a cloud and they tend to rain on you and I don’t play the harp now, so why would I enjoy playing it for eternity in wet robes?

Fortunately, that’s not the Biblical concept of heaven. The Bible describes it as a real place, where believers will be free of sin, illness and death to pursue the work of God and worship Him without end. I don’t know any non-believers who would like to live that way for even a day, let alone an eternity.

Nonbelievers, I have a few questions for you. Please consider …

If you desire to go somewhere, shouldn’t you have some idea of where you’re going and what it will be like when you get there? Wouldn’t that be important if you were going somewhere forever? If you don’t like it, you’re going to have a long, long time to regret your decision. If you don’t want to worship God now, why would you want to worship Him forever?

How do you feel about serving Him forever? Luke 19:11-27 provides us a picture of what heaven will be like. We will use our gifts to administer the new heaven and the new earth. Bakers will bake, teachers will teach, singers will sing, and preachers will preach. For all I know, soldiers may march off to battle and quarterbacks will throw passes. Think of the flowers the botanists will study. Gifted astronomers will go from galaxy to galaxy studying the wonders of God’s creation.

No one will be sitting around on a cloud eating grapes and polishing his halo. We’ll all be too busy for that. And all of it will be in the service of God.

Non-believers –

You do realize — Christians will be in heaven? You know, those people you’ve ridiculed for believing in God — whom some of you have called stupid or mentally ill or weak willed. Are you sure you want to spend eternity with us? And we’re not just talking about one or two Christians. We’re talking about millions of Christians.

You can be as angry as you want about God expecting you to meet His standards to enter His home, but be honest with yourselves. If you hate God and are annoyed by Christians, would heaven feel like hell to you rather than a paradise?

Christian Misconceptions of Heaven Part 1   5 comments

To a certain extent modern Christians own the non-believers jabs on several topics, including heaven and hell. The prosperity gospel favored by many churches today paints a rosy picture of heaven as a place of temporal rewards where even a greedy person might overdose on the opulence.

Most Americans have a cliched notion of heaven as a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels. The vast majority of Americans also believe that after death their souls will ascend to some kind of celestial resting place where they will be “happy”.

There’s really no Biblical basis for that belief. First century Christian believers expected the world to be transformed into God’s Kingdom – a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions. They also believed that Jesus had established the Kingdom of God with His death and resurrection. In other words, they (and we) were (and are) living in the the start-up era of the Kingdom of God. This inauguration of God’s Kingdom was (and is) far from complete and required (still does) the cooperation of God’s people in spreading the gospel and being good examples of Christ-in-the-flesh, because God works through people and He is not willing for anyone to perish … if He can help it.

Which makes me sometimes wonder … is the delay in His return due to the rising tide of atheism? Is He allowing Christians the opportunity to find effective arguments to reach these misguided humans?

The idea of heaven veered off course in the Middle Ages. Writers and artists like Dante and Michelangelo and some theologians began to depict a heaven and hell (and a purgatory in Catholicism) that looked nothing like the New Testament version. Why? Depicting hell as the absence of God didn’t make such an exciting painting as the fiery hell painting? Maybe, but images like hell-fire and angels were actually pagan images from surrounding cultures, made more attractive because people couldn’t read the New Testament for themselves.

Twenty-first century Christians don’t have the same excuse. We have the New Testament literally at our fingertips. We can carry it around on our smart phones. We should read it, because our misconceptions, Christians, are crippling our faith. We have a temporal perspective rather than an eternal one. Many of us live only for the here and now and we don’t study that much about the world to come.

The Bible actually commands us to think about Heaven.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2

When we understand what heaven really is, it changes how we live life now.

My cousin Rick (the research doctor) works with patients who have debilitating diseases and very little chance of long-term survival. I’ve met people from third-world countries where they faced difficult and dangerous situations, where sharing the faith can get them imprisoned or killed. Those who face adverse circumstances think about heaven a lot! Their perspective is not on their temporary lives, but on their hope for the future.

On Jesus’ last night on Earth, He told his remaining 11 disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me. My Father’s house as many rooms, if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-4)

Heaven is about a restored relationship, which is what Christians have signed onto. The relationship we have now is intermittent because we are bent and twisted by sin. The relationship we will have with God in heaven will be in sharp focus. We will have renewed relationships also with our fellow believers and with ourselves. Heaven will be a place where sin, death and sorrow are absent, adventure, work and discovery await us and God will be present in a way that even we who seek Him have never experienced.

Now doesn’t the sound better than floating around a cloud playing the harp?

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