What I Believe: One in the Holy Spirit

We are told in many places and in many ways that Christians are one in the Holy Spirit. None the less I am a pragmatist. That is a person who when he or she sees a “Wet Paint” sign wants to determine the truth of the matter by touching the painted surface. How can this tendency work in spiritual matters? I think I have found an example.

When I started this “What I Believe” series of posts it was to provide me motivation to work on a personal project. That project was for me to examine what I did believe as a Christian. The framework was a statement of doctrine prepared by a candidate for ordination as a minister. The series has been good for me and the “what I believe” posts, not surprisingly, have had a mixed acceptance among those who chose to view them.

What did surprise me was the wide personal and geographical range of viewers who responded to my posts. There were people of different ages, different nationalities, and different understandings of Christianity. The only thing all of us share is our common humanity and our redemption in Christ. That leads me to believe that what I found in connecting with these viewers, in addition to an intense wonder that I should be so honored to share a small part of their lives, was a real sense of our unity in the Holy Spirit.

There is a song that has the words “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord…” and I think I have found the truth of that. Thank you all for that blessing.

What I Believe: Power and Love

People may think of God almost exclusively in terms of his power. On the other hand there are those who see love as the overwhelming attribute of God. What do we see of God when we examine the life of Jesus?

Jesus’ life on earth was marked by significant withholding of his power as the second person of the Trinity. Although he had the power to judge all the earth, he came to bring salvation instead. This means that when he used his power it was to express his love for people.

It is easy to focus on the power Christ displayed when he raised people from the dead and performed other supernatural acts. We tend to forget the beneficiaries of his power and the divine acts of love that changed their lives.

Yet we are in the same category as those told of in the New Testament. In fact, it would not be hard to make the case that most all of Christ’s miracles have happened in us as we have been brought into the realm of the Son of God. The difference in our cases is that it is, for the most part, spiritual defects that have been cured and spiritual hunger that has been satisfied. We have also been given eternal life, sight to see the things of God, access to truth and innumerable other blessings.

What I Believe: A Deeper Healing

We are able to be healed of more of our sinful natures by the works of the Holy Spirit than we can improve ourselves by our own efforts. This does not mean that we cannot do better in expressing the temperaments we have been given by exercising our self-control.  What it does mean is that we can only go so far on our own.

Recently I read of an encounter between Charles Spurgeon, a famous English preacher, and a man who claimed to have achieved perfection. Spurgeon then stepped on the man’s toe and found that his perfection was incomplete.

What healing of our human natures we produce on our own will always be precarious. What we need is healing by the Holy Spirit that not only removes the wrong behaviors but eliminates our wrong desires. Our need is particularly strong in the area of addictions.

Addiction may be defined as a desire that overcomes our ability to control it. Addictions come in many varieties and in the degree of dysfunction they produce in us. While we may be able to achieve some control over the addiction by daily struggle, this is not living in the freedom promised believers by Jesus Christ.

To be freed from addiction we need the deeper healing of the Holy Spirit which sanctifies our natures and changes them in a process that brings us freedom from those aspects of our being that are contrary to the nature of our Lord and Savior.

For some of us freedom from addiction has been an actual matter of life and death. I think it takes a serious transaction between us and God the Father to bring us the freedom we desire from whatever is spoiling our life of faith. I know of no formula for this covenant between God and us. It is a matter, I think, of the desperate appeal of our spirit to God for the Holy Spirit to do what we can never do on our own.

What I Believe: The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation began its existence being thought of as an apocalypse, a revelation from God, and turned out to be a mystery. It continues to cause problems for interpreters and commentators. I have two commentaries that have over 1,000 pages each. They are both written by respected academics yet both are entirely different in their approach to and understanding of Revelation. And this begins with the translation of the Greek text.

As for myself I have read the two commentaries, other books on Revelation, the book of Revelation with various study guides and still do not think I have it all figured out. There is one thing though that I have found in my efforts. It came to me when I asked myself “Why is the Second Coming described at the end of chapter 11?”

I think the answer to my question is that Revelation consists of two very different accounts of events. Chapters 1 through 11 begin with John on the island of Patmos and end, as I said, with the Second Coming. In this first section, events on earth are described in literal, figurative and symbolic ways. The second half of the book is a spiritual account of events that impact people all the way from the formation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai until the believers are united with God in the New Jerusalem, and evil spirits and unbelievers have ceased to exist.

The rest of what I think I have learned about the book of Revelation is on the Revelation page of my blog as “Revelation: A Short Version.”

What I Believe: Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of the “end times.” There are many opinions about the end times. For myself, I think the world entered the end times with the Incarnation of Jesus. At that time a new reality of human history began and everything that has happened since and will happen until history is long past is founded on that event.

If my thinking about the end times is right, the whole Christian period on earth is part of the end times and all that is in Scripture concerning this period may apply to us or to Christians who have come before us, and after us. The four gospels and the Book of Acts tell us the history of the beginnings of Christianity. The book of Revelation tells us the rest of the story. It is a very complex book because that is the way history is. Another difficulty is that we cannot know where we are on the time-line if there is one. A third problem arises from the fact that John had to describe spiritual entities in terms of physical images.

All in all, I believe the end times we live in are complex mixture of physical and spiritual events of which most occur outside the realm of our human understanding unless their meaning is revealed to us by God.

What I Believe: Church Government and Discipline

What am I to believe about church government and discipline? I believe that those people who are appointed, anointed or elected to leadership in a local church bear a heavy responsibility for maintaining the strength and holiness of their portion of the body of Christ.

The seven churches of Revelation show that local churches have a number of serious responsibilities if they are to keep their “lamp stand.” These include not only removing people who practice a sinful life style or teach false doctrine but also keeping their witness to the community burning bright in spite of persecutions and temptations to conform to cultural influences.

Just as the Shekinah glory was not in the temples built by Zerubbabel and Herod, I believe that Christ’s glory is not present in every local church. I think it is a sad thing for Christians to be in a church where the glory has departed and all that is left is the operation of an institution.

What I Believe: Church Ordinances

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.

What I Believe: Local Churches

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.”

What I Believe: The Christian Church

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.

What I Believe: Christian Marriage

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.