Universalizing Faith

I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post in this series, The Stages of Spiritual Growth. To be honest, I have been thinking very hard about this subject and trying to come up with something meaningful.

You see, the thing is that I personally have no experience of this Stage of Spiritual Growth, if indeed it exists, and thus I would be writing from what is essentially a position of ignorance. But there are three things. First of all, just so long as my readers understand that I am writing this piece from that standpoint, and that I don’t really know much about this subject, then I’m not deceiving anyone – and I will write down my thoughts on it as I see them at the moment. Secondly, I am making the assumption that Stage 6 exists even though I personally believe that in some ways it’s just a natural progression to increased maturity in Stage 5. But then, as I said, I really don’t know. I must be honest and say that I have read Fowler’s chapter on this Stage and I can’t make head nor tail of it. Nothing has ‘clicked’ with me at all; it is all completely outside my experience. And finally, I can always draw on others’ perspectives and examples, which I do later in this piece.

So let’s begin our exploration of this Stage by looking at the summaries for Stage 6 (Fowler) and Stage IV (Peck) in that familiar tabular form (you can click on it to enlarge it):

Note that Peck combines Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6 into his single Stage IV. I think this is fair enough as this differentiation of Stage 6 is somewhat of a grey area, as I have already described, and in any case this whole thing about the ‘Stages of Spiritual Growth’ is very much a generalisation. Most people, being on a spiritual journey, are not necessarily ‘in’ a Stage at all; it is mainly useful as a tool to see how the structure of people’s faith changes as they too change personally. Or not; not everyone matures in this way – some stay where thay are and are perfectly happy, while others sometimes ‘jump’ straight into one ‘Stage’ or another without having any previous background in matters of faith. This is especially common with people who jump straight in at Stage 5, without going through Stages 3 and/or 4 first. I know quite a few people like this, in fact.

Let’s look at Fowler’s formal definition of Stage 6:

“Stage 6 is exceedingly rare. The persons best described by it have generated faith compositions in which their felt sense of an ultimate environment is inclusive of all being. They have become incarnators and actualizers of the spirit of an inclusive and fulfilled human community. They are “contagious” in the sense that they create zones of liberation from the social, political, economic and ideological shackles we place and endure on human futurity. Living with felt participation in a power that unifies and transforms the world, Universalizers are often experienced as subversive of the structures (including religious structures) by which we sustain our individual and corporate survival, security and significance. Many persons in this stage die at the hands of those whom they hope to change. Universalizers are often more honored and revered after death than during their lives. The rare persons who may be described by this stage have a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us. Their community is universal in extent. Particularities are cherished because they are vessels of the universal, and thereby valuable apart from any utilitarian considerations. Life is both loved and held to loosely. Such persons are ready for fellowship with persons at any of the other stages and from any other faith tradition.”

Where Fowler refers to part of Stage 5 as, ‘…without being stuck in a spiritual box’, I think that part of that is an increased understanding of the perceptions of those who have a differing point of view on the spiritual life. Which, when you think about it, is virtually everyone, since I don’t really think that anyone believes exactly the same things as anyone else; we all believe slightly differently. Even for people as close as Fiona and I were, we still believed slightly different things. In fact, one of Fiona’s things that she didn’t agree with me on was this very subject – the Stages of Spiritual Growth 🙂 Anyway, I feel that this illustrates my earlier point that Stage 6 is perhaps more of a natural progression, a deepening if you like, of attitudes and modes of belief and thinking from Stage 5. In this example, then, someone in Stage 5, realising that their views have changed, become more fluid, or if they have undergone a major deconstruction of their previous belief systems, then they might also realise that they don’t have everything right, and in fact are unlikely ever to do so. This makes it far more likely that they will have sympathy with those of other viewpoints – or even different faiths – simply because they realise that they didn’t have it all correct when previously they were so certain that they did, so what’s to say the other guy is wrong and we’re right? Of course this takes a bit of clear thinking and a lot of humility – as we shall see – but the Spirit does ‘soften’ people to the point where they can make this transition.

It’s especially important to remember that God moves us each through the Stages, if indeed He does so move us – as we have already seen, not everyone necessarily moves through Stages’ like we are describing here – all in His own good time. When and if God is ready to move us further into maturity, He will see that the right circumstances come into being at the right time and so on. In fact, the moving on is a gradual process anyway; as we spend each day walking in the Spirit, we will naturally mature. The transformation of the believer ‘…from one degree of glory to another’ (2Cor 3:18) strongly suggests that it was St. Paul’s experience that transformation occurs in degrees, gradually, one piece at a time. And we can expect this. So there’s no need to be all hung up about ‘progressing’; all we need to do is to rest in Jesus and He will perform the good work in us (Phil 1:6).

Having rambled on for a while from the perspective of my own, nonexistent, experience of anything beyond Stage 5, let’s also do the healthy thing and listen to others’ takes on the subject.

 

Here’s Margaret Placentra Johnston:

Apparently people in this stage are able to overcome the action/inaction paradox of Stage 5 and are able to sacrifice their own well-being to that of their cause. NOT in the sense of a soldier going off to war. This is very different! Fowler uses the word “subversive” to refer to these people because their contributions are so radically different from the views of the rest of society. Such people commit their total being to their identification with persons and circumstances where the futurity of being is being crushed, blocked or exploited. (They risk their own safety in order to help the helpless in unexpected ways.) ” [1]

 

Bill Huxley:

Stage VI – The Saint (Universalizing)

This Stage is the most difficult to understand. It is also very rare. It involves two major transitions:

1. “Decentralization from self, in which the self is removed from the centre of the locus of the individual’s life. It is a move beyond the usual human obsessions with survival, security and significance, coupled with a continued widening of the circle of “those who count”.

2. A shift to the complete acceptance of the ultimate authority of God in all aspects of life.

Fowler found only 1.6% of the population that operated at this Stage. Of those over 61 years of age, examples might be Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King.” [2]

 

Plus, most contemporary individuals who have received this type of anointing [Stage 6 – Ed] would likely shun becoming part of a research project. Very strong guess on my part – but based on pretty firm evidence that humility is such a strong part of Stage 6 that these people have so divested themselves of “ego” and taken on the mind of Christ – or whatever tradition they belong to – so that their “stage” would be part of a hidden mystery” [3]

 

“It is a rare person who reaches this stage of faith.

James Fowler describes people at this stage as having “a special grace that makes them seem more lucid, more simple, and yet somehow more fully human than the rest of us.”

People at this stage can become important religious teachers because they have the ability to relate to anyone at any stage and from any faith. They are able to relate without condescension but at the same time are able to challenge the assumptions that those of other stages might have.

People at this stage cherish life but also do not hold on to life too tightly. They put their faith in action, challenging the status quo and working to create justice in the world”. [4]

 

At all the previous stages, the person is more of a student of his faith. At this stage, the person tends to be seen as an exemplar of his faith. Regardless of the particular faith tradition that might be represented, this stage is characterized by a certainty of one’s own beliefs, a generous openness to the journey others are on, a sincere compassion for one’s fellow man, kindness, and the ability to be genuinely present, that is, to make the people they are with feel a sense of significance and sacredness just by keeping company with them.

Regarding this last quality, I think of the stories I have heard from people who were in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s presence who said that even if there were 100,000 people around them, for the moment they were with him, they felt like they were the only person in the world who mattered. Obviously, achieving this stage of faith is very rare but it is observable. If you think of the handful of people who you might consider to be truly holy, who are known for both their strength of faith and their genuine openness of heart, you will have a good sense of what I mean.” [5]


I think it’s fair to say that I would be completely remiss if I failed to point out two obvious people from the Bible whom you could categorise as Stage 6 people, if I can presume to describe God Incarnate in this way – one of these people, Who is of course Jesus Christ. If you read through Fowler’s definition above, most if not all of it applies to Jesus. He brought change and liberation wherever He went; He kicked out against the established religious and also, sort of, the political system – although this was not quite so overt. He was martyred for the trouble He caused. And so on. In every way, Jesus sets the example we can aspire to, as He always does, and He’s also the One Who does the inspiration and the changing. And His teaching continues to be the strongest individual influence on modern-day morality and legislation, far more than that of any other person in history.

Although I would also point out St. Paul as my second example, you could also pick out other Biblical writers, particularly those who wrote the New Testament (NT). Because of the lives they lived in the service of their King, their writings and influence have been immortalised – no matter how controversially – in the pages of the NT. But I like to single out Paul because not only was he the most prolific of the NT writers, but his history is also pretty well-known from an historical point of view. Paul was very much someone who fits Fowler’s definition of a Stage 6 person too, although obviously not to as great an extent as Jesus. Paul in particular used his many talents, but especially his intelligence; his skills and training in debate and logic; and his extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures that we now call the Old Testament (OT) in the service of Jesus. While Jesus’s declared focus was on the Kingdom of God, Paul’s focus was in Jesus Himself as the manifest Kingdom of God. In so doing, he advanced not only the Kingdom but also the knowledge of Jesus, which amounts to the same thing. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him” – 2Cor 2:14

I think it also extremely important that this Stage must not be used as any kind of measuring yardstick for real people; more than any other, this Stage the is one where, unless we know something about it, any comment or criticism can only be made from a position of ignorance. And in any case, we shouldn’t be judging others anyway. Despite this, the Pharisees of Jesus’s day nevertheless criticised Him and eventually killed Him, partly because people at a ‘lower’ level* of the Stages of Faith cannot possibly conceive of someone who is ‘further along’ than they are; they assume they are heretics – or at least a threat to their power base – and they kill them, either literally or figuratively. We have no right to diss that which we know nothing about.

Another point worth considering is that to attempt to ‘define’ this Stage is effectively to limit it. We all have our own sets of limits and boundaries within which we categorise our ideas, concepts and perceptions. While Fowler refers to a certain outwardly visible form of ‘holiness’, ‘selflessness’ and ‘saintliness’ (my words, not his), I am absolutely certain that there are many unknown people walking among us this very day whom we, if we could take off the lid and peer inside their spirituality, would find are excellent examples of Stage 6 people. Maybe these people are not as rare as Fowler tended to think! You see, to me, it seems that one of the defining characteristics of such people – if indeed ‘definition’ is possible – is that they don’t tend to advertise what they are doing ‘for God’ or ‘for’ His Kingdom. They just get on with it quietly. I know of at least one person like that; in fact I’d think that you do too. It doesn’t need to be a publicly visible or apparent faith, or a visible life of sacrifice, nor does the person have to be a thorn in the flesh of the religious elite. They can just get on with being Jesus to everyone they meet, in a completely self-giving and self-sacrificial way. And, in those cases, I do sometimes wonder if we can even consider Stage 6 people to even be part of a Stage of any kind. They are so far beyond – in a good way – the criticism and judgement of others as to make such criticism or judgement irrelevant. At the same time, such criticism or judgement is still hurtful to them, because they would never want to think that they are ‘letting Jesus down’ in any way. Of course, here I am talking about Christian people in this Stage, but there will of course be Stage 6 people within any faith tradition. Like in Christianity, they will be rare, but they will indeed exist. This is what is called being ‘humble’, or ‘humility’.

In fact, my literary hero, C. S. Lewis, once described a ‘humble’ person like this. And I have no problem with equating this sort of ‘humility’ with Stage 6:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” [5]

I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?

And I find it pretty hard to believe that anyone who has spent his or her life humbly walking with Jesus and listening to His Voice will not be drawn at least some way into this Stage.

They won’t be able to help it.

Anyway, hopefully this article has shed some light on this apparently most elusive of the Stages of Spiritual Growth. It’s been interesting to try to write a piece on something I know little about; hopefully I have done the subject justice!

In my next (and it will probably be my final) piece in this series, we will be looking at how these Stages apply in everyday life, and how we can use our knowledge of them to best effect.


*Although, as I have already said, to describe one Stage as being ‘higher’ or ‘beyond’ another is a misperception of what the Stages are all about. For more on this, take a look at what I wrote towards the end of this article.


  1. Margaret Placentra Johnston, link on her website to her PDF summary of Fowler’s Stages.
  2. Bill Huxley, “Fowler’s Stages of Faith
  3. Comment on a blog post on the Stages of Faith
  4. Handout on ‘Stages of Faith’ from this website
  5. Dr. Gregory Popcak, Patheos article entitled What Stage is Your Faith?, which is also a decent article on the Stages as a whole.
  6. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Header picture shows a part of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a picture showing some of the most distant galaxies ever observed. This is what the distant reaches of the Universe look like from our position within it.

00

The Hoax of Hell

Here’s a great little piece by the brilliant Lee O’Hare, on the concept of Hell.


If the traditional church teaching about hell is true and the vast majority of the human race really are going to spend all of eternity being tormented by fire, then why did not Paul, who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, who was THE apostle to the Gentiles who told the Ephesians elders that he did not hold back declaring the “whole counsel of God” — why did he not one single time EVER mention hell or eternal conscious torment of those who fail to accept Christ in their lifetime?

And why is there not a single mention of hell or eternal punishment in any of the 19 sermons and sermon fragments in the Book of Acts which gives us an actual first hand eye-witness account of what the original apostles of Jesus actually said while they were proclaiming the good news of the Gospel in Jerusalem, Samaria Judea and throughout the rest of the known world that time? If it really is true that God is actually planning to perpetually roast billions of people in a torture chamber called hell don’t you think it would have been at least reasonable for at least one mention of that fact in the preaching of the original Apostles in proclaiming the gospel to the world?

If the destiny of the great majority of humanity is to spend eternity in an everlasting torture chamber unless they accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” before they die don’t you think it would have been fair of God to have actually made that so absolutely clear that there could be no doubt about it? Shouldn’t that have been the very obviously primary focus of the early church’s preaching as recorded in the book of Acts and of the Apostle Paul’s writing in all of his letters to the churches and the church leaders?

And don’t you think that somewhere in the Old Testament there would have been at least one mention of the impending punishment of the majority of the human race in the everlasting torment and flames of hell if that were in fact the destiny of all those who fail to accept Christ in this life? Do you think that maybe God just simply forgot to tell Adam and Eve what the actual consequences would be of eating that forbidden fruit if eternal torment in hell really was their destiny?

Is it possible that the omission of any mention of Hell or eternal torment might be evidence of the fact that it never was true and that the religious powers have perpetrated an incredible hoax and deception upon the masses of people in order to control and manipulate them through the fear of something that has its roots, not in true apostolic Christianity, but rather in Egyptian and Greek pagan mythology that was transferred into the church during its dark days of mixture and pollution with the secular and pagan Roman Empire which eventually became the Church of Rome that plunged the world into centuries of “The Dark Ages”?


Superb. For more on what I believe about Hell, along with links to others’ ideas, please visit ‘my Hell Resource Page

11

A Personal Message to Someone I Met

Hi there

I don’t know your name, but it was lovely to have that interesting and gentle conversation with you yesterday, despite our having only just met, at Sainsbury’s in Bridgwater in Somerset. Hearing a lady whistling a Vineyard song from the 1980s was so unusual, I just had to come over and say something!

Our conversation began over that worship song – ‘Change My Heart O God’, from the Vineyard in about 1986. In reply to your question, I declared that Yes, God has indeed changed my heart in dramatic ways, but not in ways that many Christians can cope with. Remember, it’s not up to me how God changes me; it’s just my task to follow where He leads, and that’s going to be different for each of us.

Having received the tendered business card for my blog, and the accompanying explanation, I appreciate that meeting a Spirit-filled Christian who doesn’t believe in Hell must have come as a bit of a shock to you. Maybe that was something a little outside your experience, and I apologise for shocking you with that little nugget. I must say I did warn you, though, that I was an heretic!

I may have got this wrong – I am Autistic, so I don’t always pick up properly on what people are saying…but it seemed that your assumption was that I don’t believe in the Bible either. Well, I really do believe in it – subject to an intelligent reading, taking into account things like literary and historical context, type of literature and similar factors, and all this reading with the Person of Jesus in mind and the Holy Spirit doing His usual narrative in my spirit.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but some people have different interpretations to Scripture passages than do others. In this case, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was, I think, the passage you were referring to. I always have to remind myself that when Jesus was speaking in parables, He was deliberately being slightly obfuscatory, where some thinking in his listeners would be necessary in order to glean the nuggets of wisdom contained within. Parables are all about hidden meanings. But one of the key things about parables is that they are stories with a meaning, and the very last thing that they are meant for is to be taken literally. If you read the context of that Parable, it’s all about the Jews not bearing fruit despite repeated exhortations from God. And there are as many different interpretations of most Scriptures, not just the Parables, as there are people reading them. Except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses; they are all told what to believe and no dissension is allowed. We don’t want to be like that. But this is the reason why there are so many – tens of thousands, in fact – Christian denominations!

Please let me reiterate that I have the highest respect for the Bible, as long as it is used correctly. I am a Bible college graduate who knows the Bible inside out; I have several sections memorised by heart; and I quote from it regularly in my writings, usually using passages that I have found already to be true in my life. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain things to you properly, but as I said, I am Autistic, and my main medium for communication is in writing, like here in my blog. I find it very hard to communicate face-to-face, because of a number of factors. The main thing is that I can’t understand body language, and so, for me, interfacing with others is often like speaking only half a language. Also, because of the way my thought processes work, I can’t formulate proper trains of speech on the spur of the moment; I need time to consider replies properly, and so my face-to-face interactions come across as a series of disjointed arguments which only make sense in my own thought patterns. These patterns make perfect sense to me, but they won’t make sense to someone we would call a Neurotypical (NT); a non-derogatory term meaning someone whose brain is wired ‘normally’, whereas the brain of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (my particular Autistic Spectrum Condition) is wired differently from those of NT people.

I can – and I have done it many times – stand up in front of hundreds of people and lead them in worship, or preach a sermon. It comes easily to me, but that’s because in that situation I don’t need to do any interpersonal interactions. But put me one-on-one, and I am usually at a complete loss.

So, yes, it was lovely to meet you and yes, we are greatly enjoying our holiday here in Somerset. I think next time I meet a fellow believer, though, I will let them see what fruit I have in my life before mentioning a contentious issue. He is indeed the Potter, and I am the clay. Who am I to contest the work He’s doing in my life? Isaiah 29:16 says this:

You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?

– Is 29:16

I wouldn’t dream of changing the things He’s done in my life, nor unlearning the things He’s taught me. For me, once I have tasted, there is no untasting. Once I have seen, there is no unseeing. Once I have been given something from God, I cannot and will not reject it, because His calling and gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11.29). I have to do what I see the Father doing (Jn 5:19); how else could I honour God’s calling on my life?

To better understand where I was coming from, all I can suggest is that you read some of my blog posts – there are over 500 of them to pick from – with an open mind and see how I came into the freedom I have, and what that freedom looks like. Maybe you too might be able to catch a glimpse of the wide-open spaces of God’s Grace and move out even further into the broad, sunlit uplands of freedom in the Spirit, guided by the Master’s Hand. Remember that, as a Christian of 38 years’ standing, I will not have reached the conclusions and positions I have reached without a great deal of study, thought and prayer.

And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of dissing your faith or your beliefs. I’m not saying you don’t already know Him; you do. I’m not saying you don’t already have freedom; you do. But there is so much more to learn, and so much deeper depths of God, and so much wider freedom than you may know. I have heard people talking about ‘pressing in’ to God; well, that’s what it looks like. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, ‘Further up and further in!’, and this is a never-ending process.

I hope this hasn’t come across as condescending; that would never be my intention. As you are probably aware, Autism means that sometimes people lack the social graces necessary to keep others comfortable. If that’s the case here, I am sorry. It also means that, when you first meet someone, you really don’t know what sort of filters and barriers that person is trying to overcome in order to try to communicate. One thing’s for sure, though. Next time, it will not be the case that I virtually introduce myself as someone who does not believe in Hell. That’s always going to get a conversation off on the wrong foot!

Keep on singing the songs, dear sister. And always bear in mind that someone might come into hearing range and start harmonising with your music, and your worship… 😉

Peace and Grace to you.

– Anthony


Yes, the header picture is actually of the Bridgwater branch of Sainsbury’s. Well, I am quite pedantic; no other picture would do 😉

10

American Pastors Rethink Homosexuality

Previously, I have posted a video about American Christian parents who had rethought their stance on homosexuality and LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning and others) sexualities. And today I am posting a video by American pastors who also have learned God’s heart for LGBTQ+ people.

Why am I posting things by Americans, when I am British? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the persecution of LGBTQ+ people in the United States appears to have become somewhat ‘legalised’ – not that many Christians would care whether it’s legal or not anyway – since Mr. Trump’s Presidency has declared what appear, to the outsider, to be several pogroms against minorities. Anyone who is ‘different’ is made to suffer, it seems. I’d have no chance with my Asperger’s Syndrome! 😉

Secondly, it is usual in British Evangelical churches to parrot/mirror, in a somewhat dilute and more tacit way, the things that American churches take the lead on. And so, the ‘yeast’ of some American churches’ anti-LGBTQ+ attitude comes over here stealthily and infiltrates itself almost unnoticed into out attitudes, particularly among those who are unable/unwilling to think for themselves.

But this can have its advantages too. If some American pastors/church leaders and parents are taking the lead on changing their attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, and changing the way they respond to the peer pressure of condemnatory naysayers, then this will begin to happen over here too.

Maybe one day you will be able to say ‘I saw it here first!’ (here on my blog!)

Anyway, here’s the video. It’s only 3 1/2 minutes long and is well worth watching:

I reckon in twenty years’ time, LGBTQ+ people will be accepted into churches, relationships and ministries in the same way as are heterosexual people. There will of course be bastions of self-righteous people who are still anti-LGBTQ+, but most people will ignore them just like they ignore ranting Christians already. Change takes time in religious circles, and religious people can be some of the most intractable and intolerant people on the planet. That’s not going to change. But as the Spirit works on people’s hearts, those who have ears to hear, people like me, will gradually come around to His way of thinking and include all of God’s children in their perception of God’s family.

And, make no mistake: I still believe very strongly that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (and other) folks are key to God’s plans in this time. I believe there will be amazing miracles, healings, reconciliations and social changes brought about by Christian LGBTQ+ people. Like other persecuted minorities, these people have a special place in God’s Heart, and it will become apparent soon enough.

I personally am looking forward to seeing that coming to fruition.

Grace and Peace to you.

20

Say It Like It Is!

I’m a Yorkshireman. Call it a stereotype if you like, but it’s true for me: we Yorkshire folk like to say it how it is. We don’t pull our punches. We call a spade a spade, not a ‘long-handled digging implement’.

And so, I have named this little piece ‘Say it like it Is’, partly at the suggestion of one of my readers (in the comments for this post) and partly to continue in my Yorkshire heritage 😉 These quotations are from people saying it exactly how they see it – as are all my ‘quotations – style’ posts – and there’s a lot of truth here without all the dogma.

Read and enjoy!


“Jesus is how God has defined himself. Contrary to what many say, this is not a limiting, but a liberating definition, as it locates God within the human experience, not without it.

“Every emotional up and down, experience of bliss or its opposite, becomes a sacred space God inhabits and can be experienced by those whose recognition that Jesus is Lord opens them up to this reality”

– Jeff Turner

 

“If we are looking for a ‘creation narrative’, the best place to start is John chapter 1 and Colossians chapter 1, not Genesis chapter 1!

“Why? Because those [passages] came after the full revelation of God in Christ. Jesus said no one had seen the Father or knew the Father except the Son. So that means neither Adam and Eve or Moses had seen or knew the Father fully and accurately”

– Martin Fell

 

“You could say it’s part of human nature to want to be secure in our answers, where actually little such security exists outside the Relationship with God, where our security is in Him and our questions and answers will not disrupt that security in any way”

– Me

 

“Adam (אָדָם) is humankind imagining a monster god and being afraid.

“Jesus is God saying to humankind, don’t be afraid.”

– Brian Zahnd

 

“…Jesus did not speak in terms of theology—God, sin, heaven, hell, the end times—so we should not be looking for clues to detailed theology in the gospels; Jesus spoke in broader terms of love, positive behavior, relationships, and the expanding kingdom of God on earth”.

– Tim Chastain

 

“Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way”

– Atle Peersen Bakken

 

“I find it completely risible that people who do believe in Hell threaten with Hell those who do not believe in Hell. Some threat, eh?”

– Me

 

“We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation! It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.”

– Christy Wood

 

“You do not create faith. Faith is created in you. Faith does not create. Faith trusts That which creates, and receives that which has been created.

“Stop trying to control the world, and simply trust. You will lose what needs to be lost, and gain what needs to be gained. Take the other route, though, and you will lose all that needs to be gained and gain all the needs to be lost, all while pursuing what cannot be gained in the first place.”

“Stop. Rest. Trust”.

– Jeff Turner


Finally, here’s a bunch of Yorkshire lads performing the ‘Yorkshire Haka’, a tribute to the All Blacks’ Hakas that they perform before rugby matches, but with a uniquely Yorkshire flavour. It incorporates four stereotypical Yorkshire phrases: ‘Eeh bah gum!’, ‘Where’s me whippet?’; ‘ ‘Ow much?’ and ‘Ah’ll sithee!’. *

As you have already seen, I have featured these sterling blokes in my header picture.

Say it like it is!


*Translations:

‘Eeh bah gum!’ is a mild expletive meaning ‘omg!’ or something similar

‘Where’s me whippet?’ is a reference to the idea that the stereotypical Yorkshireman always has a whippet dog

‘  ‘Ow much?’ – It costs how much?!! Yorkshire people are legendarily thrifty with their money and object to paying more for something than they have to, although actually they are equal to the Scots in generosity. Yorkshire and Scottish folk are (despite their reputations of being tight-fisted) the most hospitable people ever.

‘Ah’ll sithee!’ – I’ll be seeing you – like ‘cheerio’ or ‘goodbye’. As used by the late legendary Yorkshire cricketer Fred Trueman in his 1970s TV series ‘Indoor League‘.

00

Proud to be a Christian?

For a time, I refused to refer to myself as a ‘Christian’. This was because the name had become associated with, and tarnished by, all sorts of horrific and ridiculous practices; not just down through history, like the Crusades and what have you, but also today in so many ways. Need I make a list? I’m sure my readers know of examples of such behaviour.

And yet, the label ‘Christian’ also carries much that is good. It carries love, compassion, healing, acceptance, social advancement, justice and so many other good things.

And I refuse to let nasty people, who call themselves ‘Christian’, hijack the rich inheritance of the term, especially where it applies to things I believe a Christian can be. If you like, ‘Christian’ is MY name, and I am not going to let a set of pirates hijack it.

In any case, whether I call myself ‘Christian’, ‘Jesus-follower’, ‘disciple of Jesus’ or whatever, sooner or later, some oik is going to come along and hijack that term as well, just as they do so often with the things of God; replacing what is golden and genuine with a fake idol which is powerless. So yes, I am ‘proud’ to be a Christian – as I understand the term – and I am not ashamed to own it.

But I can fully understand why some might not want to be tarred with that brush.

And there are others who feel that way. Here is an excellent piece by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir, writing on the blog ‘Feminism and Religion‘ , and I will leave it up to you to read it and form your own conclusions. The comments section is also interesting and gives a few excellent perspectives. Here is the link to the original article.


I’m not proud to be Christian – and no one else should be, either

I hear a lot of people talking lately about how they are no longer proud to be Christian. They point to the vocal conservative churches and leaders who support Trump, condemn and exclude LGBTQ people, oppress female bodies and sexuality, exhibit breathtaking racism, classism, sexism, nationalism, and ecocide… and they struggle to call themselves “Christian” anymore, in light of these shameful behaviors by modern American “Christianity.”

I completely understand. The most visible examples of self-identified Christian organizations and leaders in the US today make me cringe— or pale in horror. How could any ethically responsible moderate or progressive Christian want to be associated with such bigotry, violence, and dysfunction?

This cringing horror—this is not new for me. My entire life as a Christian living in the (relatively) secular, progressive northeast has involved frequent damage control. When I worked with young people, I had a tough job to undo and heal their damaging, toxic “Christian” ideas: No, you are not going to hell if you have sex before marriage. No, you are not an abomination. No, you are not inherently inferior because you are female. Yikes!

Adults, too: No, the divine is not a monster who killed your wife with cancer. No, your child did not die because you did not pray hard enough. No, your depression is not a symptom of your failure to have enough faith.

And of course, scandals have rocked churches since churches first formed. Clergy abuse. Indulgences. Telling women to shut up and let men oppress them (1 Timothy). Giving the best seats to rich people and telling poor people to go sit on the floor. (I guess James 2:3 had his hands full). Pretty disgusting, those Christians… who would possibly feel proud to be associated with that crap?

There’s this thing in social psychology called “Social Identity Theory,” developed by Henri Tajfel.  The gist is: we all want to feel good about ourselves, so we try really hard believe our identity groups are superior to other identity groups. We want to feel proud of our “ingroups” – racial/ethnic, religious, national, language, regional, even sports teams, music, hobbies, and our sex. Unfortunately, we tend to exaggerate differences between our ingroups and our outgroups (“those people”), and we try to ignore or minimize differences within our ingroups. We stereotype. We show positive bias toward people from our ingroups, and negative prejudice against people from our outgroups.

We also make excuses for people from our ingroups, when they do awful things. When an ingroup member hurts people, we minimize the damage done, justify it, or blame the victims. We must defend these awful ingroup leaders, or else our own self-esteem suffers, and we feel badly about ourselves by association.

The more a person gets her/his sense of self-worth from ingroup belonging, the more s/he will defend bad behavior by other ingroup members.

Of course, it’s always easiest to fall into this trap when one’s ingroups are privileged or dominant.

Here’s how it plays out:

—If I get a lot of my self-worth from being American, then I will justify the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the economic exploitation of poorer countries

—If I get a lot of my self-worth from being white, then I will deny that racism is a problem, justify police violence, and blame black victims of police violence— “AllLives Matter”

—If I get a lot of my self-worth from being male, then I will react defensively to #metoo, and I respond, “What about the men?” or “Not all men!”, consider feminists “man-haters,” and dismiss the overwhelming patterns of male violence.

Sometimes, even for the most well meaning people, who try really hard to avoid stereotypes, and combat prejudices… we can still fall into this trap of ingroup-based self-worth. Then, when members of our ingroups do awful things, in our shame, we try to dissociate from those groups.:

—If Trump gets elected, move to Canada.

—Unfriend that racist person instead of trying to change h/er views.

—Males who condemn toxic masculinity may try to reject masculine gender norms, or even maleness itself, and self-identify as not really male (even though they do not identify as transgender).

It would be so easy, wouldn’t it, if we could find the perfect ingroup? If we could find the perfect community, clan, religion, nation, ethnicity, etc… we could feel awesome self-worth, bask in how great we are because we are on the Right Team! Rest, relax, not have to worry about taking responsibility for the horrible crap done by “our people,” just sail along on a happy breeze of smug superiority.

Except, it doesn’t exist. There is not, and there has never been, a perfect human community. Humans are fallible, messy, flawed, imperfect creatures. Our communities are destined to make mistakes. That’s all the Bible is: a record of human communities trying desperately hard to figure out what matters most, how to have healthy community, and failing. And getting it right, and really, horribly wrong, learning from those mistakes, and trying again. That’s all we are doing now, every community on Earth: trying, failing, and trying again. Every religious community, atheist community, yoga club, environmental group, charity, political organization, and justice team.

There has never been reason to be “proud to be Christian.”

Christianity, like every major religion and secular ideology, has always consisted of humans with great ideas, terrible ideas, beautiful intentions, horrible intentions, wise insights, and horrendous mistakes. If a person gets h/er self-worth from being on the right team, s/he is doomed to failure. Whatever your religion or secular philosophy, don’t let it be a source of pride. Let it be a source of guidance, strength, comfort, community, and hope. Let it be a vehicle for advocacy, ethical outreach, making the world a better place. Let it be a place to make mistakes, to fail, and to find the courage to keep trying. You are worthy of love and respect, just as you are. You don’t need to point to your groups. You deserve love, healing, and wholeness. You can be a vessel of love, healing, and wholeness for others, wherever and whoever and whatever you are. You are enough. You are enough.


Excellent. Hope you enjoyed that. Once again, here is the link to the original piece.

20

Chasing Eden – the New Reality

Here is a magnificently inspiring piece from one of my favourite bloggers, Christy Wood. Read this, soak in it, and let it produce its good fruit in your life!


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Something isn’t right. We know it in the very core of our being. We see it every day in the news, in our relationships, and in the creation around us. We are surrounded by death.

Beauty and brokenness. Hope and disappointment. The contradictions surround us.

Life is a struggle. Relationships hurt. We sense the wrongness.

death-2998446_1920 (1)There is an emptiness within us that we cannot fill…not with money or possessions, not with job promotions or titles, not with exercise or food, not with sex, alcohol, or our drug of choice. We dim the ache by staying busy and avoiding silence. We appease the longing with social media and various forms of entertainment. We try.

Our longing isn’t just spiritual or metaphorical. We can tangibly and physically feel the ache for something that we can’t exactly explain.

It seems like religion should make a difference, believing and doing the right things, but even that falls short of satisfying our emptiness. This is shameful to admit…because people say that God is the answer. We hear Christianese phrases like “there is a god-shaped hole in our hearts” and we wonder what’s wrong with us. If this is true, then why isn’t religion filling our hole?

Once upon a time, there was a garden…Eden.

In that garden, for however briefly it lasted, God walked with the people He had created in His own image. They knew what His footsteps sounded like. The people lived in perfect intimacy with God and with each other…with nothing between them and without any shame. But they lost it, and humanity has been chasing Eden ever since.

Do you believe that? Or is Eden just a pretty myth?

We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing Eden. That garden explains everything to me.

I was created to live in Eden…created for an intimate relationship with my Father God and with the people around me. Created to live in a perfect world where everything works according to it’s design. In the depths of my broken soul, that is what I long for…that is why I am never satisfied. I was made for more. You were too.

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We are magnificent creations trapped in broken bodies in a corrupted creation. Everything and everyone has been affected by sin and death. Destruction is a part of life.

No amount of religious activity, or busyness, or social media, or money, or status, or anything else will ever satisfy our ache for Eden. We will live with that ache until we die. But there is hope!

Too often salvation gets presented as a list of behaviors.

  • We do bad things (sin).
  • Those bad things need punishment.
  • Jesus died on the cross to save us.
  • Pray this prayer.
  • Now go do good things to show that you really love Jesus.

Wow! That’s not even close.

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Salvation is about restoration.

Yes, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. But before they behaved badly, they were already doubting God and listening to lies. Their perfect relationship with Him was already breaking. It wasn’t a surprise to God…He knew this was going to happen and He made them anyway. Why? I haven’t a clue!! God is way too intense and crazy for me to figure out. 😀

Salvation isn’t about our behavior. It’s about God’s unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

Jesus came and showed us WHO God IS…face to face. Shocking the religious people, amazing the crowds, and touching the broken, Jesus reached into our hearts and began to restore. He started by restoring our concept of God. God is not who our doubts and fears tell us He is…He is only better, bigger, and more good.

Jesus then grabbed sin and death around the neck and annihilated them. He effortlessly destroyed them once and for all. Jesus set us free.

But even better than seeing God face to face and having Him be nothing like we feared He was, and even better than being set free from the power of sin and death, Jesus put Eden into our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, that mysterious third member of the Trinity, comes to dwell within everyone who chooses to put their faith in Jesus. God within His creation. The possibility of oneness with our Maker. And the restoration continues. The Holy Spirit never leaves us…no matter what it feels like. He empowers us, teaches us, and begins to remake us into the amazing creation we were intended to be. We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation!

It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.

What does experiencing Eden in our hearts look like? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everyone. God is not limited to one cookie cutter experience. There isn’t a right Sunday School answer. This isn’t about religion. 🙂

For me, it means embracing the discontent and reminding myself that this is my pull towards eternity. It means recognizing that there is more to life than the physical things around me. It means accepting the reality of a mysterious Spirit and learning to know Him. It means giving value to the people I run into every day.

In these truths my heart can find hope, peace, and satisfaction. ❤ What does Eden mean to you?

Name

 

 

 


Here is the link to the original article

10

Did Jesus speak more about Hell than about Heaven?

It is commonly held by many Evangelical Christians that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven, and I have in fact written before on this subject; here is the link to my former piece.

Recently, I read an excellent article on the ‘Unfundamentalist’ blog which reached the same conclusion I did: Jesus did not speak more about Hell than He did about Heaven!

Personally, I consider that the whole idea of this inaccurate ‘word count’ is some sort of Christian urban legend, passed on unquestioningly and unchallenged, from one person to another.

But, anyway, here is that aforementioned article, by the brilliant Dan Wilkinson, giving his take on the subject:


According to some well-known pastors, Jesus’ teachings are primarily about fire and brimstone. For example:

“… he [Jesus] himself speaks twice as often of hell as of heaven.”
— D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World

“He [Jesus] spoke more often about hell than he did about heaven. We cannot get around this fact.”
— Leon Morris, “The Dreadful Harvest,” Christianity Today, May 27, 1991

“Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven in order to warn men of its reality.”
— John MacArthur, “The Ultimate Religious Decision

“Jesus said more about Hell than Heaven.”
— Jerry Falwell, “Heaven and Hell

“Obviously I do believe in hell. Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven.”
— Rick Warren, interview with John Piper

“Jesus said more about hell than about any other topic. Amazingly, 13 percent of his sayings are about hell and judgment …”
— Mark Driscoll, “6 Questions on Hell

“Of the 1,850 verses in the New Testament that record Jesus’ words, 13 percent of them deal with the subject of eternal judgment and hell. In fact, Jesus spoke more frequently about hell than He did about heaven.”
— Robert Jeffress, How Can I Know?

Those are some very bold and very specific quantitative assessments of Jesus’ message. But are they true?

By my count [1] (with the help of some BibleWorks magic), there are 1,944 verses in the four gospels that contain Jesus’ words.

Surprisingly, only about 60 of those verses–or an unwhopping three percent of them—might be construed as either directly or indirectly referring to hell.

On the other hand, there are more than three times as many verses in the gospels in which Jesus references heaven, eternal life, or his coming kingdom: 192 verses in all, or almost 10%.

So Jesus did not, in fact, speak more about hell than heaven. But many people who should know better still seem hell-bent on insisting that He did.

How do they arrive at a conclusion so contrary to the facts? By reading hell into any and every possible passage in the Bible.

D.A. Carson, for example, who is one of the first purveyors of the “Jesus talked more about hell than heaven” myth, finds hell in the story of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-27). In the words “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!” Carson somehow construes a clear depiction of eternal damnation:

The sermon ends with what has been implicit throughout it—the demand for radical submission to the exclusive lordship of Jesus, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets and warns the disobedient that the alternative to total obedience, true righteousness, and life in the kingdom is rebellion, self-centeredness, and eternal damnation.
— D.A. Carson, Matthew, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Given that interpretation, it’s no wonder that Carson thinks Jesus spoke of hell twice as much as heaven!

Yes, throughout the gospels Jesus did speak about judgement, and yes, he also spoke a handful of times about places such as Gehenna and Hades, words often translated as “hell.” But those instances do not stand as justification for the promulgation of the myth that Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. Continuing the promote that falsehood severely undermines Christ’s true message—which is the love of God and neighbor that Jesus himself called The Greatest Commandment.

Turning Jesus’ gospel of love into a “gospel” of fear, damnation and punishment is either alarmingly ignorant or intentionally manipulative. Either way, it’s very bad news indeed, and needs to stop.

 

[1] By request, here is a list of verses I used for my numbers: jesus-heaven-hell.pdf


Here is the link to the original article

10

Assurance

This is a very personal account that describes something of what I observed in Fiona, my beautiful late wife, during the time leading up to her loss.

When I lost Fiona to cancer, twenty months ago today, I knew that she had no qualms about dying; about going to be with her Jesus.

This is because she had assurance.

She had complete confidence in Jesus – was ‘assured’, if you like – that He would come through for her and would deliver her into her promised rest. She had no doubts whatsoever about what awaited her on the other side of the veil of death.

And I too rejoice in my salvation. I belong to God; I know it more certainly than I know anything else, and no-one and nothing can take that salvation away from me*.

Jesus’s message was simple: God loves you. Just as you are. He loves you and He cares for you. Jesus amply demonstrated this in His life, His teachings, His miracles, His death and His Resurrection. And His Grace. The unearned, undeserved favour of God. On that basis alone, nothing we can do, or not do, is either a qualification or disqualification for being ‘allowed’ into God’s Presence. Salvation is freely given, and it is complete and perfect, rooted in the historical death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is so simple; why do we complicate it? And yet, maybe it’s just part of human nature, but we do so complicate it indeed!

But not everyone believes like that. Not everyone has that assurance. As I’ve said before, so many people in the Christian faith, particularly those of a legalistic leaning, are actually not sure what would happen if they died tonight. They are not sure because they think that somehow their behaviour might disqualify them at the last second.

My faith isn’t like that. Being fully convinced that we are forever safe in Christ is what’s known as assurance, and knowing for a fact that Jesus has you forever in His arms is simply nothing short of revolutionary. Once we believe that, and know it in our hearts, then every single insecurity we might have concerning our ‘eternal destiny’ just melts away in the burning light of His love. But, because of the ideas expressed below, sadly, many believers who actually have this assured inheritance simply do not know it.

And so I am going to look at our assurance today, from the perspective of one who has seen someone die in perfect assurance of where she was going.

You see, part of the problem, for some people, is that idea that we need to ‘confess’ (i.e. own up to) every. single. ‘sin’. in order to be ‘forgiven’. If we die with just one ‘unconfessed ‘sin’, they claim, then we are toast. I could present many, many Scripturally-based  arguments to refute this idea, but instead let me testify to what my Fiona was like in the last weeks of her earthly life.

Fiona had a complete assurance of where she was going. She had an unshakeable certainty that, once she passed through the veil of death, she was not only going to be with Jesus, but she was going to her reward, her inheritance, to an amazing life full of beauty, light, joy, fun, and the Presence of God. Not long before she passed away, Fiona shared with me that she had received a vision of what Jesus had waiting for her there with Him. Fiona’s visions were always very vivid and real, like an IMAX experience, only better. Personally, I know what it’s like to receive a revelation from God, but Fiona’s ‘style’, if you like, was much more vivid. And this vision was such a comfort, indeed an encouragement, to her. She already knew what she was going to; she knew she was dying, she knew she wasn’t going to make it with that cancer eating away at her, and yet in that dark tunnel of what could have been despair, instead she was filled with the light, glory and hope of Jesus. She was actually looking forward to going to her inheritance. The phrase, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ applied to her for certain, and I am absolutely sure that she heard those words from Jesus the moment she arrived there.

And you just can’t argue with that. When you have seen the shining holiness of one of God’s Saints about to pass through the veil, you just know it. You know where they are going, and so do they. And that is such a tremendous boost to one’s own faith.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His Saints – Ps 116:15

Non-existent is any lack of assurance; the tired and worn-out ideas that one last-second slip-up could condemn one’s soul to torment for all eternity**. The worry of one ‘unconfessed sin’. When seen in the light of the death of a saint like Fiona, those arguments become just shadows. The harsh, unbending and assurance-breaking doctrines of the religious legalists and gatekeepers are seen as simply two-dimensional, flat concepts when compared with the real, solid and altogether complete certainty of where we go after death. How can I put this more emphatically?

It’s funny, but Christians sing the hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine’, and yet some of them do not really recognise that assurance. If you are one of those people today, please let me encourage you to raise your head from the mire of – yes, let’s call it what it is: self-righteousness – and of ‘doing things’ in order to try and please God, and instead to rest complete in the salvation that Jesus has bought for you. This is real, it is complete, and it is already accomplished. And I have seen it. All the arguments, theology and doctrine of men melt into nothing in the face of the death of a saint like Fiona; when you have seen this happen, nothing can ever be the same again, and the dry, dusty and indeed crumbly doctrines of we mere humans become as naught in the face of the utter assurance of salvation seen in a dying saint.

I’ve always believed in ‘once saved, always saved‘. I have never believed that anything I can do could either lose or indeed ‘boost’ my inheritance. I am utterly sure of my station in Christ and my status as one of God’s children, because these things have been revealed to me personally by my Heavenly Father. I have dates and times for these events, they were that real. And you can argue with me all you like about doctrines and whatnot, but the thing is that I have seen it. And I have seen the final assurance, first-hand, of someone who is about to pass into the direct Presence of her Lord. There is no fear; there is no sense of ‘what if?’; there is no sense of ‘resignation’. There is only an eager assurance, a peace, indeed an anticipation, of what is to come. There is sadness, yes; we will miss her, and she knew that we would miss her, and she also knew that we would have to carry on without the guidance and wisdom that she brought into our lives in such full measure. And I miss that wisdom every day. But there is also a quiet and yet exuberant joy, that ‘soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!’ And it’s awesome to behold.

Jesus’s Resurrection was, and is, the guarantee for us that there is life after death. Jesus’s presence in our lives, by the tangible presence of His Spirit, is the guarantee, the downpayment if you like, of that assurance. That death is not the end is the single most important truth that we can get hold of in this life, after the fact that it’s God’s love that provides that truth for us. Once you see that; once you grasp that, your life will never be the same again. In fact I would even say that, unless you really believe that you know ‘…where you would go if you died tonight’, then you have absolutely no right to try to sell people the salvation that Jesus offers as if it is indeed a complete, cast-iron assurance, when the reality is that you yourself don’t really believe it is as secure as you claim. Because that sort of gospel, that so many peddle these days, is really no gospel – not good news – at all.

So, for the question, “Is it ‘once saved, always saved’? “, I actually rather think we are looking in the wrong direction. That’s looking backwards, at things we have done; it is a backwards perspective because we are always focused on looking back to see if we have done something that’s somehow going to drop us out of God’s favour, and that we need to ‘confess’ it and get it out of the way. But it’s not like that at all. If you walk in the Spirit, then you will not gratify the desires of the ‘sinful nature’. You just get on with it, free from the encumbrance of worrying about ‘sin’ all the time. Our salvation enables us to walk forwards in life with Jesus. When Jesus said that “whoever sets his hand to the plough, and then looks back, is not worthy to be My disciple” (Lk 9:62), He meant that by looking back all the time, you just can’t see where you’re going. You need to look forward and just walk with Jesus. The only way to keep that plough straight is to look forward, not backwards. Landing an aeroplane is similar; you look forward to the far end of the runway, not down at the runway below you, otherwise you can’t judge the landing properly. Thank you Lord for your wisdom.

And so let’s round this out by saying that, when it comes to the crunch, and death is just around the corner, it is possible – indeed it is your right, as a Child of God – to face that event with love, confidence, hope and indeed a joyful anticipation. Because precious indeed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints – and you are one of them. There is no fear in Love, because perfect Love casts out all fear (1Jn14:18). And there is no fear in death, because Jesus has gone there before us – and He has come out the other side for our assurance.

Be assured.

Be at peace.

God’s love for you is greater than you can possibly imagine.

And there is no need for fear.

 

Grace and peace to you.


*I’m not going to define ‘salvation’ right now; I do have a set of developing ideas on the subject but I wouldn’t do them justice if I write about them just yet, because the ideas are not fully formed. In this context, suffice it to say that I believe that Fiona’s firm conviction that she was going to be with Jesus is what I am talking about here.


**Not that I believe in that anyway.

00

Deceived by God’s Word?

I think it’s fair to say that many Christians today believe that the Bible is a set-in-stone, non-negotiable document that is open only to the narrowest of interpretations and even then only by people who are ‘qualified’ to do so. Although, in practice, this is not actually the case – there are likely almost as many interpretations of Bible passages as there are individual Christians – still there are those who insist on their own interpretation being the only correct one.

Personally, I believe that if there is only ‘one correct doctrine’ (about anything) then God would have made it a lot clearer in the Bible than He did. By its very nature – many voices speaking of their own experiences of God – it can never present a unified voice on any matter, really.

Jesus had the same problem in His discussions with the ‘religious elite’ of His day. Even in a society where ‘robust’ (i.e. argumentative) theological discussion was actively encouraged, indeed taught, He came up against entrenched opinion and interpretation. Which, I suppose, is fair enough, given that most people like to have answers to Life’s Big Questions, where actually those Questions take a whole lifetime to glean even a sliver of understanding of their answers. You could say it’s part of human nature to want to be secure in our answers, where actually little such security exists outside the Relationship with God, where our security is in Him and our questions and answers will not disrupt that security in any way.

Anyhow, here’s a great piece by Russell Croft, expressing a lot of this sort of thing:


“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” — Colossians 2:8

There is a lot of fear in various Christian circles today that people are being deceived by false gospels that are not grounded in God’s word. It is a very heartfelt sentiment, one that is genuinely concerned for the fate of fellow believers and non-believers alike.

From this perspective, the answer is to stand on the word of God, to hold it sacredly, to believe that it is the ultimate God-breathed truth, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We should not waver from the truth revealed within its pages and should always consider the whole counsel of scripture whenever preaching or debating the gospel. God’s word is God’s word, from beginning to end, the literal, infallible revelation of God to man. Anyone who abandons any part of the holy, inspired scriptures has been deceived and has believed a false gospel that threatens to lead others astray. One cannot argue with any part of the scriptures or consider alternative understandings of what they literally say without falling into heresy.

Revolution of Belief

Perhaps this is why the leaders of ancient Israel wanted to keep Jesus quiet. He would often take the scriptural understanding of the day and turn it on its head. In a culture that promoted robust discussion and even allowed for disagreement on scriptural interpretation, Jesus still ruffled too many feathers and rocked too many theological boats.

Jesus abandoned many of the well held positions among the religious people of his day. Instead of paying back the scriptural eye for an eye, Jesus told his listeners to love their enemies and forgive their debts. He admonished people for their methods of tithing, praying, and worship. He walked among the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes and sinners, telling them they were entering the kingdom of heaven before the others who had excluded them. He taught that God accepted and loved everyone, not just the upright Jew, but the unclean Gentile and the evil Samaritan. His was a message of Grace that had no room for religious striving or elitism under the law. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

So what was Jesus doing? A disregarded sacrificial system of spiritual duty lies wasted on the road to Calvary. His mercy is freely given to those who sacrifice him to their god of control, ending the old covenant based on human responses to God and ushering in a new covenant, where Jesus took on our responsibility and showcased God’s mercy, fulfilling both the human and divine sides of the ledger once and for all. Salvation or spiritual wholeness in this new covenant is based solely on what Jesus did, not on any attempt on our part to enter the kingdom of heaven.

A Conflict of Covenants

Here’s the problem: a literal, unmoving interpretation of scripture combines and confuses the old and new covenants, presenting a belief system that allows Jesus to do the initial work of salvation, but that must be continued by our ability or desire to maintain wholeness–or holiness–through repentance, prayer, tithing, worship, and belief. The old covenant is elevated to a position of equal importance to the new covenant, and appears to still supersede it in many ways. Scriptures declaring God’s goodness, love, and forgiveness of all humanity are accepted, yet overridden by passages portraying him as full of wrath for those who don’t accept his love.

But what if there was a way to hold the entirety of scripture in tension? To find the ways in which Jesus and the new covenant don’t necessarily abolish the old covenant, but fulfill it for us so that it is no longer a requirement? What if there was a way of rest, of faith and of trust in God to bless us, not because of what we do or believe, but because of what Jesus believed about us and did on our behalf? What if we really did have the fullness of Christ dwelling in us because of the reconciling work of the cross, which we just need to trust in, in order to see? A holiness that wasn’t dependent on ritual or repentance, but an already given, unbreakable union with Christ, which once recognized, leads to all kinds of love and selfless action that the old covenant could only hope to inspire.

Relying on Christ

Of course, we can still hold on to human traditions masquerading as old covenant practices. We can try to pull God down to earth or open heaven for some new blessing or spiritual breakthrough rather than relying on Christ, thus denying the fullness that has already been given through God’s grace. We can still hold to beliefs that we are only OK once we’ve said the magic words and dedicated our lives to denying certain aspects of human life. We don’t even need to call ourselves “Christian” to do so.

Or we can rest in the new covenant and allow Christ in us to provide the outworking of our faith. A faith that is really his faith, since it is Christ in us that provides the gift of faith in the first place. A faith in love. A faith that knows, even in the midst of doubt or suffering, that we are OK, because we have a God who loves all his children and a high priest in Jesus interceding for us, even if we are unable or unwilling to pray for ourselves. A faith that places the old covenant in its right place, as something that was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross and as something we need not fulfill ourselves today in order to remain within God’s blessing.


An excellent piece, I reckon. I hope it blessed you and maybe gave you some food for thought 🙂


Here is the link to the original article

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