There are two ordinances (sacraments) that, as far as I know, are observed by all the variations of Christianity. These are baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). You can see already that they are given different names in different traditions and when it comes to understandings and practices there are even more versions that we could look at. I am not going to try to sort these things out and tell you which ones are “right.”
What I believe is that these are done properly when they are done in faith. I think that if we and our churches were all that we should be that the Holy Spirit would come upon us at our baptism as was the case with Jesus. In like manner, when we eat the bread and drink the wine (grape juice) at the Lord’s Supper I believe we could be in the spiritual presence of Jesus.
Fortunately, God has in this case, as in everything, made accommodation for our imperfections. I believe we can participate in and partake of the ordinances and be blessed because of our obedience in doing what we are told that we should do.
After almost 2,000 years the local churches that started out as geographically based entities have become many faceted things. I do not have to tell you how many varieties of Christianity, and what purports to be Christianity, there are.
At this time, there may even be local churches that are worldwide thanks to the Internet. Jesus told us that where as few as two or three believers are gathered in his Name he will be with them. He did not seem to limit his promise to any particular mode of being together.
Despite the many differences there have come to be in local churches, I believe the role of churches in Christianity has not really changed. I think they exist not for their own selves but to serve the people who are the body of Christ. We believers need to be supported, built up, comforted, loved, given opportunities to utilize our gifts, and receive much, much more of benefits to believers that can best be done in the context of a local church.
Near the beginning of the book of Revelation John is given a prophetic vision in the context of seven actual churches in Asia Minor. Great blessings are promised to people in the churches who persevere in their faith in Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth. However, the churches are told their light and lamp stand (there are various understandings of the symbolism) will be removed if they do not deal with various problems present in their churches.
It seems we have an obligation both to maintain our own faith in Jesus through adversity in our lives and corruption in our culture while also seeing to it that our churches remain holy and, to use an old expression “as pure as the driven snow.”
The Christian Church, as were the Tabernacle and Temple, is intended to exist for a time to fulfill God’s purposes on earth. At the Second Coming, I believe, it will cease to exist, having served its purposes on earth and it will no longer be needed in heaven because believers will have direct access to the persons of the Trinity.
Jesus Christ is in charge of the Christian church as it is the extension of the work he came to do on earth. There is powerful symbolism in the New Testament portraying Christ as the bridegroom and the church as his bride. The meaning of this is, I think, that the Christian church must be prepared, eager, watchful, energetic, pure, and so forth to be ready to give itself to its Lord when he returns. This will not be as an organization or other human entity but as it will have birthed and been the mother of the people of the universal church.
The universal church is the totality of all believers, past, present and future that have been brought into the kingdom of God through the effectual work of Jesus Christ. There is, therefore, one church that is the body of Christ in the world. This is the holy catholic church of the Nicene Creed.
My beliefs about Christian marriage are, of necessity, shaped by my own experience of marriage. My first marriage took place in a church when I was not a practicing Christian. That marriage lasted fourteen years. My second marriage was a brief ceremony in a pastor’s living room when I was living a committed Christian life. That marriage has lasted many years and my full intent is that it will last as long as we both shall live.
A Christian marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman that they will live in a lifelong exclusive relationship. To do so is a gift from God because there are many things, I believe, that war against the durability of a marriage. A public profession of promised love and faithfulness must be supported by an acceptance of the Christian view of marriage by both parties.
Christian marriage has practical as well as spiritual benefits. It seems obvious that two people working together to deal with the issues of life will have a better chance of coping with whatever may come.
When Paul used marriage as a picture of Christ’s love to the church (Ephesians 5:22- 23), he brought Christian marriage into the realm of the spiritual blessings given to Christians.
What follows is a letter that I wrote to Touchstone magazine and that was printed in their May/June 2016 issue. The post following this one will tell you my beliefs concerning Christian marriage.
David J. Theroux in his article “Higher-Order Marriage” (Touchstone January/February 2016) showed us that Martin Luther was wiser than we might have otherwise known. He writes that Luther believed marriage should be a function of the civil government. Now, why might Luther think that? Well, if we go back before Jesus, Moses, Abraham, and Noah we arrive at Adam and Eve and the first marriage. Marriage was given to our first ancestors as a common good for all of humanity. It occurred in a manner open to the whole human race: cohabitation.
Theroux’s argument that Christian marriage is a higher-order relationship is true—and a truism. Everything of Christianity is a higher order of living. However, this does not deprive others of the common goods God has provided for the human race. For marriage to be available to all male/female couples it must be a function given to the civil authorities for they are the only institutions with universal jurisdiction. This I think might have been Luther’s logic.
Our civil authorities have failed in their responsibilities to God in the realm of marriage, and in many other ways. They will pay the price. In the meantime, I think we need to look very carefully at ourselves to see if we have pushed people away from finding a higher-order marriage in our churches by raising too high the standard required for a valid marriage.
Immature Christians are sometimes described as being like babies who are not yet weaned and thus unable to feed on the solid food of Christ’s teaching. So what are we to about this situation? I believe we can expect our spiritual maturing to proceed as our physical maturing did. That is, it moved sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly over a considerable time period. Nonetheless, our body had a plan for what the finished result would be.
I think I have taken the eating and physical growth metaphor as far as it will go as there is no end in this life for our need to continue maturing in Christ. There also seems to be no end to suggestions as to how Christians are to mature, many of them involving events and/or products.
To get anywhere with God in any attribute, I believe, we need to put our Creator in charge. After all, he made each of us unique and only he knows what he has in mind for each of us. There is an old joke that goes “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” However, this witticism may bring us close to the problem of maturing. Most of us may prefer doing something rather than being something, such as a willing servant of our Lord. Yet we will only become more mature as we allow ourselves to be made more and more in the image of Jesus.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “[T]his slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 RSV). We may find rather more than slight affliction is required as we take on the weight of eternal glory but in the end I am sure we will think it worth it.
Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).
The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.
To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love
I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.
All those who are justified, sanctified and glorified will live forever. I envision getting to this eternal state as involving a multistep process involving our lives both on earth and in heaven before we arrive at this final condition. The first step is justification in this life as we receive eternal spirits through the work of the Holy Spirit. Next there comes physical death when our physical body and living spirit are separated. Our bodies return to their elements. Our spirits go somewhere in the heavenly realm.
The completion of the process of our sanctification might be in a “purgatory” of the enjoyment of the presence of God. Perhaps this part takes place as we sing in the heavenly choirs and thus learn the truth about the Trinity and absorb what we need for our coming glorification. Frankly, I think instant total sanctification might be too much of a shock to our still earth-stained spirits at the time of our death and that there is a stage of spiritual growth necessary before we are ready to live as fully glorified people.
Glorification is when our sanctified spirits are joined to our resurrection bodies.
I believe we can know what our glorified bodies would be like were we to return to earth. We would be in bodies of such power that we would be as radiant as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were on the Mount of Transfiguration. We do not know what our bodies will be like when we go to live in the New Jerusalem.
When we fully exist in heaven we will be justified, sanctified and glorified. We also will be in the very presence of God so as to enjoy him forever. However, as to what our activities will be other than worship and celebration I find only hints in the Bible. Apparently, we must wait to find out about our eternal purposes, probably ones shaped in God’s mind before the creation of the earth.
Justification is when God the Father accepts us as righteous through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us. Justification precedes sanctification and glorification. As far as I know, it must be provided to us by God’s grace before we leave planet Earth.
Justification appears to have the characteristic of a “legal fiction.” We are never totally righteous until we are finally glorified in heaven but we are treated as such on earth because our glorification is a sure thing. I believe that once justification is granted to us, it will never be taken away. One reason for this is that justification does not come from us nor is it given for what we are or think or for what we do.
By his sinless life and total obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus made it possible, I believe, for the Father, in justice, to provide righteousness to those who are effectually called.