Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Confession, Repentance and Forgiveness

Recently, I made a reference to confession, repentance and forgiveness. I’ve been thinking about these things lately.

I go to church with a bunch of very godly people. I can’t say I’m one of them. They’re all my heroes. And I’m not writing this with my tongue in my proverbial cheek. I have a hard time believing that these people really sin much. I know they must sin some. I know that a few others sin more than I do. But I know who I was and I know that although I am forgiven, patterns of the past sometimes haunt my thoughts.

I consider that it is wise to preserve dignity when someone sins to avoid disclosure among the general membership of their church if they repent quickly. That’s certainly a Biblical thing. Even if one is unrepentant and his sin must needs become public, it is wise to put the matter away quickly and not discuss it lest some are tempted to gossip.

On the other hand, what model for normalization do we have for confession, repentance and forgiveness? This, not to mention church discipline. When we sin against another and the sin is not obvious, do we let it drop or will we hear each other's confession in private, accept the attitude of repentance displayed and offer forgiveness? Or do we fear that the blissful view of fellowship we hold so dear will be disturbed by the sinful disclosure of another, withhold forgiveness, and allow the broken relationship to go unmended?

Whose private sins are disclosed in the Bible of righteous men? Job sinned. Abraham sinned. Moses Sinned. Sampson sinned. Saul sinned. David sinned. Solomon sinned. Peter sinned. Paul sinned. These, just to name a few. How do we know they sinned? That is, how was it not held private that it ended up in the Bible? We know one sin of Peter’s that Paul openly wrote about. Yet these men each repented. We are neither justified by our appearance, nor are we justified by the disclosure of our sin openly in confession and repentance. We are justified only by Christ.

Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount that “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Do we do this or do we merely pretend to be reconciled to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

As I've said, we keep each other at a distance to preserve some idealized level of comfort. But keeping our distance for this reason is self-centered and shows a lack of concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. we need to be uncomfortably close in order to bear one another's burdens. Our sins chafe one another. Do we dare approach the forgiveness Christ showed us? He went to his death to bear our sin before the judgment of God. How uncomforatble was that? Can we so bear each other’s momentary sins as the body of Christ unto a more perfect fellowship?

I say these things because I do not think we do this very well. We focus more on appearances. It is certainly wise to preserve the dignity of our brothers and sisters who confess and repent by not disclosing the nature of their sin. However, it’s an easy transition from dignity to pride and the latter can be insidiously deceptive, especially to the proud. It’s a sin and needs to be confessed and repented of.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, July 18, 2008

My Family Goes to Venezuela

Ok, this is a week late, but we're catching up. Here are a few photos of my family leaving for Venezuela as far as I could follow. They aren't great quality, but this is what I got of them.

Also, Lois is posting now with photos from Venny.

Checking luggage with the luggage Nazi. Actually, she hardly checked the weight or anything. She just looked like she was going to take someone out.

Luke and Hope pose for one last look at Dad.

Clearing the first security checkpint:

Labels: , , , ,

Knowledge and Morality: What is True Discipleship?

I realized my relationship in Christ when I was 11 and submitted to baptism. The church my family belonged to met in a building that had not been finished. As such, the temporary baptistery was a concrete hole in the basement that contained a pump at one end for drawing water unfiltered and unheated from a nearby branch. The presence of the pump underwater was frightening enough for me. The fact that it was February in Ohio was another matter – the water was literally near freezing. Yet I was pleased to demonstrate the realization of my faith in God in a tangible way.

However, the circumstances of my life changed quickly and dramatically, and I have spelled those circumstances out before. In summary, between the loss of my mother and a change to a new location, a new denomination and a new church family resulted in a lack of adequate discipleship. Discipleship in that denomination amounted to teaching on the Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacraments, and Confession. Know these things and the church can ostensibly be certain that you are a Christian. All these things are built into the service of the liturgical church in some form or fashion and are typically presented that way. In other words, the hope is that the liturgy and a good understanding of it will provide one’s weekly dose of good medicine to make someone a better Christian.

The small problem is that worship is not about what we get out of it. It’s what we put into it. Worship is not about what we get from God. We have already received our salvation. Out of a response of joy, we give ourselves over to glorifying God in any way we can. That’s true worship. The large problem is that this does nothing to inform our attitudes in our daily life.

Likewise, people have disciplined younger generations to do what is right. We look at what children read and what they watch and are perhaps pleased when a story has a good moral to it.

We approach civil law the same way. We want the laws of the land to reflect good morals. We want people who do not share our morals to act the way we know is right. That way, we think, God will like us better and bless us with an easier life. It is a good thing to seek a society that honors God in its public quarters.

It’s easy to focus on the evil we all do because we do so much of it all the time. To say otherwise is a false pretense. It is many times as instructive to honestly and earnestly examine conscience and demonstrate how we deal with sin practically through repentance, confession and forgiveness.

The question arose recently, what of the Law of Moses are we responsible for upholding, or what part of the Law did Christ fulfill? The easy answer is to break the Law into categories that are Biblically arbitrary, but make some cognitive sense to us. We can say that some of the law is civil in nature, some of it regards the sacrificial system and other of it is moral. For Peter and the Apostles, Acts says that there is no requirement for Gentiles except that we “abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality,” as recorded in Acts 15. What? Nothing about murder? Does this comport with the Law summed up by Christ in the gospels where He said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” But what does love for God and His people amount to? “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2,3) So we’re back to square one.

Now it’s good to desire to honor and glorify God by following His law. It’s hard to get real dogmatic about what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. We have some basic admonitions. The thing is, we can’t even keep the simple ones.

True Christian discipleship is more than the mere dispensation of knowledge or the modification of behavior to do good things. It is instruction in wisdom. It’s one thing to recite the golden rule. It’s quite another to see someone in need and think, “If I were that person I’d want someone like me to help, and I think I will,” rather than, “That person looks like a fool; I bet I could make a joke about them and make myself look like a winner.” This is not to say that discipleship shouldn't include the teaching of knowledge or the admonition to do good. But knowledge makes arrogant where love edifies and extensive lists of dos and don’ts takes the focus from grace and makes us seek to appear to be what we are not. Therefore, knowledge and morality should not be imparted without teaching understanding in light of God's sovereign providence.

That said, disciplers can only impart knowledge and can only present stimuli to someone else. This stimuli can be rather persuasive and we can study this for our use, but ultimately it is the activity of the Holy Spirit that enlightens the disciple to the Truth of God. That's sanctification.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

Recent Activities

To all who follow this, Lois and the kids are back in Venezuela for several weeks. She has a full itinerary. Last year, she wasn't certain at any time what she was going to be doing. She did a lot of things, but could have done much more if it was organized a bit better. This year she pushed our missionary, Ised, for a full itinerary up front and got it.

She will be doing many of the things she did last year such as women's cell groups and children's Bible lessons in mission areas. Some additional activities include building relationships with other churches in nearby towns and helping take the gospel to the Yucpa Indians.

As for me, I've been preoccupied and haven't had the chance to post much lately. I've had all kinds of neat thoughts about such things as discipleship, absolute truth and crises in ministry, but just not the chance to type them up in a coherent way. So, forgive the lack of posts lately and I'll get back at it while I can.

Lois plans to keep us updated on the blog she started last year for this purpose. Her Internet access is rather limited this year, however, so she may not be able to post often. subscribe to her feed so you can get the updates as they happen.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Is There More Than One Way to Get to Heaven?

Ok. Who hasn’t heard this question? The easy answer for Christians who trust in the only known revelation of Christ (the Bible) is to quote Christ Himself:

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

Case closed.

I don’t understand how anyone can call himself a Christian without trusting the Bible. If you say you believe in Christ and don’t trust the Bible, then on what basis can you say you believe in Christ and call yourself a Christian?

But the question is a poor one. It is theologically flawed and often asked of those who lack theological clarity of thought. It’s like asking a toddler if there is more than one way to get rich without doing anything. The correct answer for the toddler is, “No: inheritance is the only way,” as though a toddler knows what inheritance is. Not to mention that you haven’t discussed what “rich” means or that inheritance is a birthright of sorts so an heir was never without his inheritance.

Likewise, the question of ways to get to heaven bears certain clarification.

1. Is the question aimed at Christians? (i.e. Is there absolute truth?)

Non-Christians of different religions will have different ideas regarding this question. Considering that all the religions of the world teach what people must do to secure a favorable status either in this world or the next, it is true Christianity that teaches what God has done for us that we have not done for ourselves. (See clarification #4.)

Some non-Christians believe that their religion is true and Christianity is false. Many people are more willing to hold that what they want to believe is true but that what other people believe could be true too. They are afraid to be seen as judgmental and solve the dilemma by also believing that truth is not absolute. That is to say that what they want to believe is true isn’t necessarily true for everyone. They fail to realize that this is an utterly incoherent assertion because so many people are deluded enough to believe it. Ignorance loves company.

Of course truth is absolute. So the question is: what is true? If we believe there is a heaven to get to, then there must be a belief in the One whose throne resides therein. (See clarifications #2 and #5) Given this, can we ascertain that if we are to get to heaven, then the One who sits on the throne therein must have a communication to us that is discernibly unique in its writing, scope and capacity for authoritative self-reference. Only one such exists: the Christian Canon.

2. What is heaven? (i.e. What is the nature of infinite time?)

Different religions have different ideas of what the “afterlife” looks like. Muslim men get 2 rooms: one with 72 virgins and the other with trophies and riches. Muslim women get to be one of the 72 virgins. Mormon men look to being the heavenly Father of their own planet and have all kinds of wives to give them spirit babies to populate the planet. Mormon women look forward to being these wives. Hindus hope to be reincarnated until they achieve “nirvana” or union with god (Which god, I’m not sure. They have so many.) where they get to live in Ioka (heaven) for all time. Who god is and what heaven is really isn’t very certain in Hinduism. Buddhists don’t look forward to much except an enlightenment that has them believing about anything and everything, especially if it contradicts itself.

Christ told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Heaven is described in Revelation a huge cube, kinda like a Borg ship. (The imagery is highly symbolic given that much of Revelation is apocalyptic literature.) Christ made more than a few references to the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven”. When He left, He went to “prepare a place”.

There is a sense in which orthodox Christianity holds to an existence in infinite time. A place where we know we will always be welcome and alive the day after tomorrow – no uncertainty, no pain, all of our needs met.

But eternity is only manifest in infinite time. Eternity is all that is absolute. We have eternal life available to us now. Therefore…

3. Is getting to heaven the goal of the Christian?

…the goal of the Christian is not simply getting to heaven. That’s a self-centered goal. It focuses on what we get out of the deal. But our focus must be on our Lord. Our goal is to be with Him wherever He goes. Wherever He goes, there is our paradise; there is our purpose.

4. Does “way” refer to justification or sanctification? (i.e. What is your soteriology?)

Many often think of “way” in terms of “how to” accomplish something. That is often the sense this question is understood. This is because most religions and people think in terms of what we need to do in order to secure our status with God.

Even many orthodox Christians can’t seem to get this idea out of their heads. The pat answer is that Christ is the only way to get to heaven. Well, what does that mean? That means that if we want to get to heaven we need to trust Christ. Well, what does trusting in Christ amount to? That’s the kicker.

Many start listing good things we need to do. We need to believe really, really hard – don’t pop a vessel in your head on account of the strain! We need to be nice to other people – except those sinners. Don’t have anything to do with them lest they lead you astray. Give them a tract and get back to the church before you get contaminated. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Don’t wear that skirt that’s too short or that blouse that’s too low. Don’t get a tattoo. Don’t smoke. Don’t speed. Learn to pray out loud. Don’t marry people of the same sex and don’t even kiss until you’re married. Don’t pick your nose in public. Don’t burp. Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t make your hair look funny colors unless you’re a little old lady and the color is blue. Don’t listen to rock music. Don’t stay up too late. Don’t stay out too late. I could go on and on. And if you don’t do these things you can’t say you have enough faith in Christ to get into heaven.

That’s the sad way most people think. Now many of these things are rather wise and godly things to pursue. Some of these things are just silly rules or that some churches have imposed on themselves. The fact is that these things do not result in trust. Faith in Christ is the result of the quickening of the Holy Spirit. Once we have this trust, we are more inclined to pursue those behaviors that honor and glorify God.

Faith in Christ is unto justification. It’s where our sins are forgiven. It’s an absolute fact. There is only one way (means) for justification: Jesus Christ, the logos / messiah / incarnation of God.

Those so justified are to grow in Christ. That means that we are to improve in our capacity to glorify Him. This is when good behavior becomes desirous. It’s not that I have to give up drinking, but that I WANT to give it up. It’s not that I have to give up gossip, but that I WANT to give it up. I may fail, but the desires of me heart increasingly grow toward God and the result is that I behave in ways that make the rest of the world wonder at what unseen Spirit is giving me power. That’s the glory of God.

This is called sanctification. Sanctification is different for everyone. It speaks to our unique circumstances as the Holy Spirit guides us moment by moment. There are no two paths alike. Did you read that?

So, there is only one way to heaven if you are talking about justification. There are no two ways to heaven if you are talking about sanctification. Here’s where deception can trickle in. The Deceiver may use the false idea that most of us have that we do good things to get to heaven, point to differences in sanctification between believers and use this to falsely argue that this amounts to different means of justification. That conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

5. Who is God?

I could write books on who God is. The issue with asking if there is more than one way to get to heaven is that you are asking something about the nature of God, whether He is concerned about His creation. If He redeems us indiscriminately allowing us entrance without discipline, then we enter heaven not knowing our Creator. If we believe whatever we want to believe without learning who God really is, then how can we expect to have a good relationship with Him.

Rather, His method of redemption tells us a lot about Him so that we know Him well enough. He cares enough about us to educate us. To believe in any other way is to ignore His education and discipline. Nevertheless, we know that his children will desire to understand as much as they can.

I hope that clears things up a little.

Labels: , , ,