Archive for the ‘Practical/Theological’ Category

It has become fashionable among professional theologians to label opponents with a heresy. This heresy is supposed to be what the opponent really teaches, if they were consistent with their ideas.
This tactic is fine it it’s was true that the teachings essentially or by consequence, lead to the mentioned heresy then let us call a spade a spade. But that requires argument not cool shaming.
For example, if I was to call Wesleyenism Semi or full blown Pelegianism that would be unfair. Wesleyenism tends not to deny men’s total depravity or that God moves first. On the flip side, though many passionate young men who claim to be Reformed may be fatalist, this label would flatly misrepresent the position that has been held by the majority of protestant divines throughout history.
Yet labels of Gnosticism, Modernism, and many others names are leveled against those whose beliefs neither lead there nor do they live like they do. Simply because they do not embrace the opposite extremes that their name callers are trying to make the new normal. This is a smart tactic, since it would be a lot harder to deal with someone arguments. Smart not being a moral category here.
Since they do this, I find it only fair to point out what the practical outworking of their theology should be called- practical materialistic universalism. “Practical” since this new emphasis of theology would have some statements buried in the doctrine, not impacting their preaching and actions, that denies materialism or universalism.
Universalist: These men and women allow no distinction between believer and unbeliever. If such a distinct group of people as the church is acknowledged, it is seen as to existing as the servant of all mankind. The church does not exist to care for the sheep and to call as many as possible into that flock. As one former pastor said who later became open to universalism “the gospel is either good news for everybody, or it’s not good news for anybody.” God’s judgement is pretty bad news, actually.
Wait, is there not a call to care for and love all humans? Is there not some sense in which all people bear God’s image and thus deserve our service? This would assume that I am accusing universalism of anyone who wants to love both believer and unbeliever. No, what I am saying is that there is a priority on and a distinct group called believers. This is not exclusion, but a priority. We should be investing our thoughts, our money, and our time on the People of God, and if no evidence in our speech, of a priority for those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, we might as well be Universalist.
Likewise the preaching and teaching of such tend to run along themes that deal with a universal tint. Anyone claiming for even the slightest separation from the world is seen as failing in cultural engagement, and countless lessons on blessing the city and supporting human flourishing whether or not redemption is flowing through their soul are standard fare. True phrases like that God will redeem humanity are spoken in a way to give the impression that humanity and the new, redeemed humanity will have all the same members. When ethical summons are given upon the financial giving of the members, as is well and good, pushes are made not for the supporting of the Church but for the support of the community. Of course, by community they do not mean the church, but the town.
Materialists. As they have gotten into the habit of anyone who believes that there is spiritual reality as well as physical reality “Gnostics” it is only proper that they be labeled as materialists, since they, unlike those that they label, really do live as if only atoms exist. It is doubtful they would officially deny a spiritual world, but their ministries, missions, and daily concerns only see the physical as “really real.” If you think I am going too far, I ask you, does focusing one’s joy for the world to come on the new physical earth and not on the Joy of daily being in God’s presence strike you as odd? And if this is their view of the ultimate goal of salvation… simply the restored physical universe (noting that no one has ever denied the restored physical earth as part of “thy kingdom come,” yet it was not before put as the ultimate hope but a means to an end) than even their gospel proclamation is materialistic. Their encouragements for heaven are all based on material needs and joys only. These are, indeed, good. We should not return to the self-imposed life of misery and denial of the enjoyment of God through the physical means. But to react to it by making salvation purely physical is equal asinine. No further proof is needed than the way that the word “creation” is understood synonym for nature or the environment. I ask, is economics, relationships, architecture, cities, rest, and souls created things, the will, understanding, all part of what is referred to by creation in scripture, and not just the great outdoors?
I am sincerely challenging those who follow these men and women, listen to what they describe salvation as, and then lesson for what all their missional goals attend to, it is primarily if not exclusively physical. Rare is the church or zeitgeist surfing theologian, whether from Oxford, middle America, or Vatican City, who is investing as much money and time in combatting demonization as they are in bringing down world hunger. Feeding the hungry is a fine thing to care about, but does not the lack of concern for demonization alarm us?
Look, honestly I don’t have the numbers. But the kind of bare admittance that demonic influence, both in demonization and Satan’s bigger lies is a problem, while in most practical cases it receives little attention and investment, show us how materliastic they have become. The spiritual world may exist, but let us focus our efforts elsewhere. The world said “the spiritual realm, such as demonization and the lies of Satan do not exist.” So the church said, well, we still think they exist, but they are hardly worth doing anything about. But when will the Pope (and I sincerely hope one will) speak at the U.N. and tell them their refusal to recognize evil as real is inhibiting them from good policies? Keep in mind I am addressing certain leaders, including the current pope, and not those loyal preachers who see Satan as a worse threat than poor education
I do believe if cornered, these would admit to the church’s priority for the people of God and the reality of both physical and spiritual, but in the way they preach, set up ministries, and think about life daily they may as well not. Thus the qualifier “practical” which hopes that behind closed doors that they aren’t developing fine sounding arguments that would simply justify the practical outworking.

For the last year I have been working for a Congregational Church. Church government is not often seen as a core issue of belief, but it is a decision that has to be made and so I’d like to explore the scriptural basis for congregationalism.
There are three basic forms of church government: Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational, and we should note that these forms of government go well beyond the denominations that bear those names. The episcopal form, found in Anglican, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is a top down government where the leadership is appointed. Here decisions are made by leaders, and the higher leaders appoint lower leaders. The Presbyterian system is representative government, such as we find in the United States government. Here the decisions are made by the leaders, but the leaders are selected by the people. Congregational form of government means that the whole community decides together on what to do, what we might call a true democracy, though it often requires more than a slim majority for decisions. The only place this really exists in America is when some New England towns do town meetings.
Often reasons given for the congregational form of government wherein issues are brought before the whole church body for everyone to vote on, is that the Holy Spirit can speak to any believer and that voice needs to be heard. Others cite the equality among believers. Beyond these, theologians who favor congregationalism cite a number of passages.
When the first church needed to select seven men to serve at tables, commonly referred to as the first Deacons (the the word Deacon occurs later) The Apostles, undisputedly given authority, gave the task of selecting these men form. “Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them” Acts 6:3 NIV. Many point to this as a time when if anyone had a right to appoint people, it would be them, but they deferred to the congregation.
The New testament epistles written to whole churches (vs. those written to individuals) where meant to be read to all the church. These included commands to make decisions, such as in 1 Corinthians when Paul tells them to excommunicate someone. Jesus also appeals to the congregation when seeking decisions on settling disputes and church discipline in Matthew 18:17. This is also true of the instructions about the ordinances (also known as means of grace or sacraments) such as in 1 Corinthians 11
Appeals to a congregation in a day and age when the average laymen was uneducated and often illiterate show us the force of the congregational argument. This also was not merely for deciding policy, but for decisions as important as excommunication. This is helpful, because during the middle ages “the church” often referred to the magisterium ruling the church, rather than to the whole gathered Body.

I am not saying that maybe Adam wasn’t lonely. What I am tired of is a neglect of seeing what Adam was made for and what he needed a partner/helper for (either word still proves the point.) All the animals were brought before Adam, and what he was looking for as a suitable partner. He wasn’t looking to see who could keep him company, but for a partner to enhance him in his call to work the garden and fill and subdue the earth.
God made eve for them to work together, and couples who look for a mate not simply who makes them feel less lonely but who are good partners for the general call of all of life, they will do well. Even the phrase “it is not good for man to be alone” we conclude it’s not good to be alone because you need someone to hang out with. We don’t see it as it’s not good for this man to be without a fitting partner in this labor of dominion.
This is what people should be looking for in a mate and striving for in Marriage. They are teamates, and if our view of marriage is to have someone satisfy us or we them, we miss the point that marriage is for the duty of serving God. This less romantic view may sound disappointing to those who feed off of a steady diet of romance novels or chick flicks, but those who want something that will give more richness to the earthy reality of day to day life, and will find enhancement instead of mere satisfaction.
Romantic love has made marriage more difficult because we go into it looking to get needs met it was never meant to. The need it meets is a suitable counterpart for living your life. When you see couples like this, you find they are the ones who love each other more 20 years into the marriage than at their wedding, rather than declining over time.
It was not good for Adam to run the world without a suitable partner. The reading that he was lonely would allow us to see Adam still ran the world alone he just had someone to talk to when he was on break.

Normalization of sin, as I would describe it, is when sins that were considered in the minds of most, let’s call it the “culture” stop being seen as wrong. Then believers, who may agree that is is a sin, still hardly see it as a major sin anymore. They are so effected by what culture views as right and wrong, that though they still say it is wrong, they no longer really feel too much conviction over it. The gradation of how henious a sin is is determined in large part by whether the culture actually views it as wrong.
For example, our culture use to view sexual sins very seriously. Thus back then, when even the thought of sexual sin crossed someone’s mind, there was a sort of “no no no no, I’m not that kind of person” reaction to it. Today, perhaps, there still remains a little bit of this in regards to a married person lusting after another, but even there it is being normalzed. The point is, that, as in the old days even the crossing thought of premarital relations was avoided becasue “no, i’m not that kind of person” not it’s readily entertained, even if recognized as wrong.
This goes for many other things as well. Lying is no longer viewed as that big a deal. Sure we acknolwedge it as wrong, but because it’s become normalized, when we’re caught in a lie, we dont feel shocked at what kind of person we’ve become.
And thus we become desensitized to sin, at least certain sins. Whereas we will be shocked to find even a trace of racism in ourselves or others, we are shocked and the person is seen as backwards morally. But when a person is caught in a repetitive web of lies, his character is rarely losing in the eyes of most. Even when someone is caught with “smut”, he loses little in regards to his being seen as morally backwards.
Thus it is the culture, and not God, that helps us to decide which sins are so heinous that a person should avoid them at all costs. and thus when workign with youth, or adults who are caught up in culture, only those sins still acknowledged by the culture are seen as having the power to make someone in need of desperate help.
What is the remedy? We need to no longer let culture play down for us the seriousness of sin, especially of those sins that are greatly serious. We see politicians caught in outright lies, and then when they are forced to confess, there is almost no talk of how this politician is not even fit to run a gas station because his word is untrustworthy. We need to come down hard on sins with church discipline, one of GOd’s mean of grace. Our people will not come to us for help with sins, for the most part, that they don’t see as having a negative effect on their lives and community. And they, we, to be honest, are fine with allowing those sins in our lives that don’t have these effects in our minds. But have they do, and it is up to us to call out in each other the sins and their grave danger. To help a person see not only that lying is wrong, but that it places him on the same standing as a worthless man as does a sin of racism. To help them see that the revulsion they should feel at longing after a woman besides their wife should be the same “no no no no no no, I will not be that person” revulsion we would feel if we felt attracted to a a family member.
Of course this goes for many sins that have become normalized, and are now acceptable. I do want to make it clear that I’m not saying all sins are equal, that would be incorrect. THough any sin is enough to cause someone to need Christ to reconcile them, various sins have different effects on our relationship with God, encur greater or lesser discipline, are more damaging, etc. But that standard is determined by God’s eternal standard, and should never be compromised because society has started to “wink” at it or be okay with it. We should not allow the culture to determine which sins require church discipline, or someone stepping out of leadership.
Morality is not subjective. And if we treat it as such we will only allow our churches to suffer the same effects the culture is experiencing. If we continue to rely only on our consciences to tell us when we are wrong, than we can expect these consciences to continue to do what they have done for centuries, reflect the sensiblities of the times, not the truth. But if we are ready to alight our feelings to God’s word, we would find conviction of a very strong nature in places where our culture would mock us for being so concerned. But, in reality, their mocking is small compared to the price to pay if we do not take these great sins with the right weight.

Preface
I will be mostly referring to idolatry as it’s condemned in the second commandment. I know some would say the ten commandments are no longer binding on Christians, whilst some would say they are, still others would say that they are not binding but still represent God’s moral will. However, this shouldn’t stop the relevancy of the discussion of what idolatry is. If we take the stance the ten commandments aren’t for us today at all, idolatry is still condemned in the New Testament, unlike, say, Sabbath breaking which is not clearly condemned for NT  believers. Thus, regardless of one’s stance on the revelence of the OT law on believers today, what follows should still stand. Certainly the concept of idolatry as used in the New Testament should be seen as having roots and how it’s defined in the old, just as others day.

 

The second commandment reads like this.

Exodus 20:4″You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Our brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Lutheran churches combine the 1st and 2nd commandments to make them simply one commandment. That is, Have no other Gods before me and make no idols. Thus, in those traditions, as long as one is not making them to worship another God, graven images are okay.
But the natural reading is that they are two separate commands, and that the second commandment, no idols, is not simply giving detail to the first, no other God’s before me. Thus, it is not only wrong to create an image of another being to worship, it would be wrong to create an image of the true God and worship that.

This is more relevant then we realize, and would make sense if we think about it. In the story of the Golden calf, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites commiting such an abomination, he was appalled. But the feast was, at least by Aarons declaration, a feast to the true God. So why would the God be mad if they were worshiping Him? Well, do you see anything wrong and having a day of worshiping God, and what you are calling God is a statue of a dumb animal?

Idolatry is terribly wrong, because God is real. It is wrong to image God as you want him, be it in art form, or in your own head, and worship that. God is God, and we all try to adjust our idea of him to fit what we want him to be, and interact more with our idea of God then with God himself. We say we worship the true God of the bible, but we want to make him manageable, understandable, and so we make an image of Him. This seems most prevalent in Dt. 4 15-18 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth

The reason given for not making any image is connected to the fact that they saw no form.  This distinction of our God, that, though indeed his works in our world may certainly be representing by us in ways, he must not be, gives respect to him as a real being, beyond anyone’s imagination and deserving never to be so minimalized into an image, be it of a man or a beast. Likewise, the sin of the Northern kingdom was not only their constant worship of other gods, though that was true, it was also the two golden calves Jeroboam had set up.
Idolatry is not simply the worship of another god. Idolatry is imaging God in some way. By representing him according to your own fancy instead of letting him remain who he is. We do harm to people’s spiritual lives when we tell them it is only worshiping another God that is wrong, it is wrong to worship the True God as an idea, a symbol. He is a reality. And when we begin to worship only our idea of God, well, it becomes very easy to worship him, doesn’t it? Because then he’s exactly the kind of God we want, but we must not be like that.
When we worship God as he is not we commit idolatry. When we wish God was other then he was, we commit idolatry. That is why “Covetousness is idolatry.” Covetousness is not idolatry because it makes a God out of what you covet. That would not be a breaking of the 2nd commandment, as idolatry is, but of the 1st. It is breaking the 2nd commandment because when I desire that God had made me different, or had placed me better in society, or had allowed me to have whatever it is my neighbor has in terms of talents, relationships, or experiences, I am saying I wish God was other then he is. This is greatly dangerous. To Covet is to long for God to be your idea of what he should be, and refuse to delight in the real one. But there is only the real one, and only in delighting in him, can we have worship and joy.
So should we use images in worship? I’m not saying the commandment covers that. But it certainly covers images of God. We have a real God who is so beyond comprehension, any imaging of him we do brings him down to the level of our ideas. And this must be avoided. God has never shown us his form. Do not give him a form just to make it easier on yourself, to make God more tangible and manageable. He cannot be managed. He cannot be mastered. He can only be known by who he is, and not by what we think he is. May we not image him and so keep ourselves from knowing him.