Thursday, March 3, 2016

Scripture Q&A (Part 5) - Can't We Generally Agree?

Can't we generally agree on what it means to be a Christian? Basically, it just means we believe in Jesus Christ, doesn't it? Beyond that, let's just acknowledge some major themes of Christianity, but worship God in our own ways.

After all, what does it really matter if we go to churches of different denominations? The basic tenets are all the same. Aren't they? Diversity in the body of Christ is good. Isn't it? We just prefer different types of worship styles, preaching and music. Right? Some churches even have a distinct traditional service and a contemporary service on the same day.

God made us all unique. Right? The body is supposed to have many members. Yes? It's a grand thing we can each worship God in our own unique way. Isn't it? After all, it's all about your personal relationship with Christ and/or living out your Christianity. Well?

Yes and No. Mostly No.

Yes, we can seem to agree in basic, general terms: God is the Creator of all things; Jesus is the Son of God; People sin; Christ died for our sins; the Bible is the word of God; Be good, do good; Heaven and hell are real; go to church and try to be a good neighbor. A new Christian has to start somewhere.

But, hopefully, we recognize where some Christian denominations stray or quarrel. Some say Jesus was only a man, not God. I disagree because of John 8:58 and other claims that He was both. "I and the Father are one," He said in numerous places. Some say you need to live a moral lifestyle and/or obey the Ten Commandments to avoid going to hell, or as evidence of being saved in the first placed. I disagree because of several passages, such as Romans 6:14, Galatians 5:18, and many more. (Others believe "once saved, always saved," no matter what you do. This I agree with due to 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.) I even heard one pastor say even, "worry can keep you out of heaven." I firmly disagree! See Romans 8:38-39.

Which of the things pastors with doctorates and famous theologians say is true? Does it matter if and how we discern the truth? How do we establish and know what is truth? How can we, as lay people of the church, validate the truth, understand truth, or get more truth? Do we also have to go to seminary for years? How is it possible we could all have the same roots and same destiny in Christ, yet think polar opposite, or not think much at all, about doctrine pertaining to grace, truth, the gospel, salvation, sanctification, the definition and purpose of the Church versus Israel?

So No, absolutely not when it comes to specific terms and definitions. No, we cannot generally agree nor should we settle for that. "All truth" has a specific meaning and usage in Scripture. The gospel is only good news in contrast to the bad news. Scripture clearly defines the boundaries of both in such a way there is no chance for private interpretation or wiggle room.

Yet, it is the nature of the sin nature to want to jump to conclusions and make applications, or to put trust in worldly knowledge and history, or to highlight emotional experiences and unexplained, miraculous, and supernatural phenomena.

Scripture has specific answers to hard questions. The problem is with opposing thoughts, not with each other, but with God. Isaiah 55:8 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD." It takes genuine humility to accept someone else's thoughts.

How far does God's grace go in a world filled with good and evil? What is salvation? What is it not? How does one get saved? How does sacrificial, biblical love differ from great heroism and humanitarian efforts? How much and what depends on our own attitude and actions? Why are we on this Earth? Why now? Why here? Who do we follow, why and how? What's our ultimate purpose?

There is a lot of division in the details of man-made religion. Sometimes, violent division. Ugly thoughts become harsh words. Harsh words become offensive, unloving behavior, often acted out. Unloving behavior becomes powerful enough to wound or kill, whether emotionally or physically.

However, these are not the thoughts and details God describes in Scripture. Indeed, Scripture can be used out of context and viciously; Satan himself attempted to tempt Jesus by quoting Scripture. So, just because someone quotes Scripture doesn't mean they understand it properly.

Scripture seems so voluminous and complicated. If it gets too complicated, many people dismiss further study by saying, "God works in mysterious ways." Or, "I guess we'll find out when we get to heaven." Or, "Who are we to question God?"

Can truth, the whole truth, be understood from Scripture? Yes! God wants us to know Him, in this life. He has given us His Spirit. We have the mind of Christ. When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide us into All Truth. These are all part of God's thoughts in Scripture. They can be understood, but not by the sin nature. Only by someone who is first saved, believes and puts their trust in Christ, and then humbles themselves and diligently seeks after God. One must be born of the Spirit in order to grow in grace and walk in the Spirit.

So many scholars have already studied Scripture. There are tons of commentaries and volumes of church history. I'm sure the pastors, priests, reverends already read through them, carefully picked the significant ones, and is summarizing them or making applications for me.

Can't we just learn from them? Can't we just find the ones we like and trust them to speak well? If the church is big and the preacher popular, he must be good. Right? Or maybe we think if the church is small and sermons not popular they must be teaching the painful truth, not simply what's comfortable. Some of these religious church leaders, elders, and teachers seem like really nice people. I wouldn't mind learning from them. Besides, they're good at telling engaging and heart-felt stories.

The Spirit Compromised Is Man-Made Religion. 

Jesus was angered by the religious leaders of His day, calling them hypocrites (Matt 23), and for good reason. They were about making themselves look good and ignoring what God has done in the process, and was still trying to do through the Holy Spirit.

At the very least, even someone nice, kind and gentle could be focused more on being nice, kind and gentle rather than assisting in the Holy Spirit's mission. The love of God and the word of God, His thoughts and His ways, are about so much more than just being nice, kind and gentle.

At worst, or most blatant, in Acts 7:51, Stephen rightly said of the Jews who opposed Christ, God's salvation, "You stiff-necked (stubborn), uncircumcised in the heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit just as your forefathers did." In fact, after Stephen gave his testimony, they were stirred to such outrageous anger, they stopped (tightly covered) their ears and rushed at him, cast him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Why? Because instead of being cut to the heart and repenting (changing their minds) towards God, they resisted the Holy Spirit, thus denying God, and dug their heels in, retracting into their own self-righteous sin nature, arrogance, anger, and violence. This response was not love, humility, nor the fruit of the Spirit. It was deep-seated, man-made religion.

When this happens, the Holy Spirit is deeply grieved. He carries a profound message of love, grace and truth. Yet, He is outright rejected. He is hindered from doing His job, which is, in common grace, to convict the world of disbelief in Christ, God's solution for reconciliation, and then guiding the saved into all truth.

If we dilute the truth so we can appear to agree, we are covering up the truth as if parts of it were shameful. While we parade around in fancy clothes of moral righteousness. We try to be proud and humble at the same time.

Take the word 'grace' for example. 

Perhaps, we could all agree that grace is a significant part of Christian theology. Grace comes from God. Grace is undeserved merit. Grace is kindness expressed.

But, join the word 'grace' to 'salvation' or to 'the law', and the lines of its boundaries sharpen enough to split convictions. How can the house be divided with both sides calling themselves Christian?

Most would agree we are saved by grace. "For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph 2:8a). In the immediate context:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

Not all of those who agree with the verse above would agree that we are saved once and always saved thereafter. But, if I had something, anything, to do with my salvation, I could boast of that. Right?

Some of them would say, yes, you are saved by grace, but if you go on sinning you won't be saved in the end. Take the example of the pastor I gave above who said, "Worry could keep you out of heaven." You didn't endure or persevere. Your faith probably wasn't even genuine to begin with. 

You are like the seed on the rock, quickly springing up but having no root and just as quickly falling away. You are the branch that did not bear fruit and are cut off and cast into the fire.

Others may be on the opposite side of the 'once saved, always saved' thought and say we can sin all we want once we're saved. It doesn't matter. Salvation is done, out of our hands. Therefore, live it up!

You won't lose your salvation no matter what you do. We are under grace, not the law. No one and nothing can snatch us out of the Father's hand, not even ourselves. In fact, if we sin, grace will abound all the more.

So, which is it? Is salvation secure, or does it hang in the balance? Or is it something else? I challenge you to study the thought behind 1 John 2:2. Did Jesus really die for the sins of the whole world? Yet, that is clearly what the verse says. Would you be tempted to qualify the verse and say it doesn't really mean the "whole world"? 

Where do people get these ideas? Are they all from Scripture? No, absolutely not. There is no compromising all truth. There is no "agreeing to disagree" with the Spirit of truth. Truly understanding 1 John 2:2 is truly understanding grace. No, not everyone is going to heaven. But, John 3:18 clearly says who remains condemned and why. Pay attention to the word "because" and realize the original Greek often translated "do not believe" actually means to "resist believing."

Is that splitting good? Is it right to divide? Is it even okay to agree to disagree? Well, I didn't think so. I bounced back and forth between seeking and not seeking, going to different churches. Every time I sought God, man and his religion obscured my view of what God intended. But, as I kept seeking, sincerely, diligently, God opened doors to understanding His thoughts and His ways I didn't know existed.

Contend for the faith, not for denominations or branches of theology. The Word of God is alive and powerful. All Scripture is God-breathed. Yes, these are phrases within Scripture verses. But, I can no longer hear them out of context. Context is king! Seek Him in the Scriptures. It's not a rule book.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)

complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:2)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:5)

... and so much more! (See other series in this blog, such as 'Scripture Q&A' or 'Why Scripture?')

Thank you for reading my post. Please feel free to leave a signed or anonymous comment. May these words be a blessing to you.

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