Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Litmus Test of a Genuine Church

There has been a lot of talk in the past about what constitutes genuine faith inside of Christianity. Denominations have battled it out for quite some time concerning what it is that truly marks the faith of not only believers, but of entire denominations. One of the biggest complaints skeptics express against Christianity is that there is so much divide and a lot of the divisions lead to wars that cost people their lives. What is it that marks genuine faith inside of a Church denomination?

Let's first establish what it is that marks genuine faith inside of a believer. Frankly, I think that the most credible source for understanding this topic in today's context would be Ray Comfort's ministry, The Way of the Master. Where many people will say that faith/belief marks genuine conversion and others say works are what marks a true believer's life, Ray Comfort contests that Repentance is what marks genuine faith in Jesus Christ. I think that there is some depth to this teaching, but to simplify it by avoiding What comes next? someone who hears the Gospel message must acknowledge his or her sins, admit their guilt, turn from sin, confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and follow him as he or she forsakes a sin cursed lifestyle. Once again, I think there is some depth to this, but I can't find anything I can disagree with regarding this teaching. Regarding denominations, I think it is a little trickier.

There are so many other doctrines that confound what genuine faith ought to look like. Let me rattle off a list of doctrines that have historically muddied the waters in relation to faith: Baptism, Communion, Tongues, Signs and Wonders, Snake Handling, Worship Style, Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Divorce, Gay Marriage, Abortion, Personal Holiness, Procreation, Polygamy, Biblical Authority, Biblical Interpretation, Eschatology (Understanding the End of Days), Predestination, Free Will, Authority in the Church, Modern Day Prophecies, and the list could go on for quite a while. The majority of denominations, according to my understanding, have some sort of a defining characteristic that they expect to be exemplified through individuals in order to acknowledge that their faith is genuine. Not everyone can be right, so how do we know what denomination is right?

To begin, I don't think that churches that claim exclusivity are necessarily doomed to condemnation if they are wrong. A question that recently arose on the internet got me thinking about this topic a little more in depth than what I had in the past and helped to connect some dots, as I thought about its answer. The root question was, "Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?" My immediate response was "No." But then a naughty boy followed the question up with, "Why is it always about Muslims? Why don't you ever question whether Jews and Catholics worship the same God as Christians?" That really got me thinking. Do Christians worship the same God as Jews and Catholics?

Concerning Jews, specifically, I used to think, "Of course they worship the same God as Christians. After all, we share the same Old Testament" (Not that Jews call it the Old Testament). But as I read Romans 9:30-32, it became clear that we do not:

 "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone."

I think this makes it clear that Jews and Christians do not worship the same God. The Gentiles that became Christians placed their faith in Jesus. Righteousness is what gives us the ability to enter into God's presence, but mankind is inherently unrighteous and unable to enter into God's presence because of sin. The Jews relied upon their own works to make them righteous before God and refused to place their faith in Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the Law of the Jews, given to them by God, and cleansed those who would place their faith in him. Without faith in Jesus, there is no salvation.

Make your own conclusions concerning what I am getting at here, but let me sum it up the best that I can, briefly. There are many denominations with bad theology. No matter how bad of theology (within reason) that a denomination might have, if that denomination teaches that Jesus Christ died for your sins  and rose from the dead and that faith in him ensures eternal life (despite all of the particulars) I believe such a denomination is genuine. They might condemn some of the doctrines inside of your church but that does not undermine the reality that their denomination recognizes Jesus as the Savior of the World. I believe that there is depth to this teaching that might exclude some of the denominations/sects within Christianity, but as far as I can tell, faith in Jesus as the One True God, is the litmus test to determine whether or not a church denomination has genuine faith.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Death of Harambe

The death of Harambe the Gorilla has exposed a very interesting trend in the attitudes of humans throughout the United States. Although I will say that my opinion about the whole thing is probably the majority opinion, there are an alarming number of people that think that the boy who fell into the pen with the ape should have been left to die! Others, of a more naive disposition, believed it was unjust to shoot Harambe to death because he was not harming the they perceived.

There is a petition circulating on the internet where 500,000 people have signed their desire to see Justice for Harambe. Although I understand the heartbreak people have experienced at the destruction of an incredible animal, Harambe was an animal. This little boy was created in the image of God and our priority as humans would be to preserve and protect his life. In terms of justice, the only ones robbed of it was the zoo itself as it was robbed of one of its most valuable assets. Its status in relation to humans is no higher than that of an ox or a dog. Thus, as property, the zoo deserves some sort of compensation for their loss, although they will never receive it.

The Bible says "...God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). The value of human life is priceless. How can we say that this animal, being created without the ability to reason as people have, could have protected this child? How could anyone say that this boy and his parents should have to suffer because a stupid mistake that took only seconds to accomplish? It takes a cold cold heart to concede that this little boys life was not worth that of one dead gorilla.

After watching the video, above, it is difficult to conclude that this boys life was not in danger. This gorilla was clueless as to what it was doing. According to the experts the gorilla was angry and that there was no choice but to shoot him dead in order to retrieve the boy. As I watched this video, I wondered to myself, "What would I have done if I was a spectator?" I would like to think I would have the courage to spring into action, do something heroic, and save the boy's life. But this was an animal of immense power. My intervention may have resulted in the boys instant demise as this beast could have ripped him in two in the blink of an eye.

It is easy to watch a video where we know the outcome of the situation and say, "This should have been done," or "That should have been done." Could you imagine actually witnessing this event before you knew what was going to happen? It would have been petrifying terror! And as a parent, even more so! If we escalate the situation to a personal level, I couldn't imagine the type of dread that would blanket over me as I watched my little boy being dragged across the water by this massive and immensely powerful creature. Frankly, I would expect to be dead in a matter of minutes because I would not be able to bear the sight of this monster harming my son.

I love animals. I think they are wonderful and that God has gifted them with incredible abilities. I would prefer that both the boy and the ape would have been spared from this horrendous incident. Unfortunately, there was no compromising in this situation. Either the gorilla or the boy was going to be carried out of this situation in a body bag. Shame on you, if you believe it should have been the boy.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Humility of Christ and the Humility of Man (Philippians)

"who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped"~Philippians 2:6

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own."~Philippians 3:12

There is no doubt that Philippians chapter 3 is outlining the narrow road that a believer must walk to attain salvation. It is intimidating to read that Paul himself, one of the most amazing men ever to walk the earth, did not consider himself to be at the point that he had attained salvation. The road he outlines sounds very much like a works based salvation and if Paul had not achieved this security by the time he was thrown into prison and wrote the letter to the Philippians, who can have any security that they have attained the gift of eternal life? Might I suggest that you can?

The other day as I was reading through Philippians in my ESV Bible, after having read chapter 2 and continuing onward to chapter 3, I noticed something that I had never noticed before. There was a parallel between the position of Christ to God, in chapter two, with the position of mankind to Christ in chapter 3. 

The verse I have listed above, Philippians 2:6, is saying that Jesus did not exercise his full authority as God while he walked among his disciples and this was considered an act of humility on Jesus' behalf. After that, it states what Jesus did to fulfill his obedience to God including his becoming a man, becoming a servant, and suffering to the point of death.

Philippians 3 starts off with Paul outlining some points of which he could boast but quickly transitions to how he considers these qualifications as rubbish in comparison to the glory of knowing Jesus Christ. This glory that Paul describes that mankind works to attain is parallel to the glory described in chapter 2 that Christ attained through his obedience to the Father. Our obedience, likewise will aid us in attaining an incredible glory in our resurrected state.

Now, what I am observing is not that the resurrection is something that must be earned but the degree of glory that brings us closest to God in the resurrection. Where do I get that from?

Philippians 3:12 ends by stating that Christ Jesus has made Paul his own. Verse 16 states that we ought to hold on to what we have attained. Where Jesus did not hold his position as God over us, we as Christians are not to hold the status of being a Christian as a means of righteousness for ourselves. 

Before God, we are made righteous in Christ. He has already paid our debt. But as grateful servants of Christ, we are to live our lives as people who joyfully desire to repay our debt to God despite the fact we can never repay it. Let me reiterate what I am trying to say:

Though being gifted with the Holy Spirit, we ought not count the Spirit as our own righteousness. Instead, we should regard ourselves as nothing, owing God everything for the all surpassing glory that is guaranteed to the servants of Christ. So that on that day, we would not live in God's presence merely because we confessed our sins, but that we lived a life of full repentance and righteousness as though it was our debt and entry fee to heaven. Praise God, through Jesus Christ, that we can already claim sonship through his sacrifice. 

Let me know your thoughts.