Electronic Christianity Three

My most humble apologies to any who may have read my post “Electronic Christianity Two” and thought I was trying to base eChristianity on the Nicene Creed. That was not my purpose at all. What I was trying to accomplish was to show there was something solid at the core of Christianity. What I wanted to point out was that just as there is a reality underlying mathematics, physics, and all other kinds of science so there is a reality to Christianity that cannot be ignored. Please forgive me if I was unclear.

Perhaps I should have used the concept of “mere Christianity” that was used by C.S. Lewis to describe his idea of the root reality of Christianity. In any case, at the heart of our belief is the actual reality of a new life that will endure forever. This is the sure promise and the ultimate certainty yet it is not all there is for us in Christianity. Although most of us have probably had our lives greatly changed through the work of the Godhead in us, what also matters is that we are a part of the body of Christ and the body needs all of us parts to be truly whole. This is why I thought up eChristianity. It is conceived as a way to bring together the many of us who are one-person churches; people who have never found their “fit” in conventional churches and provide us a unity with each other.

I am not sure how eChristianity will work but I think it can use what the Internet has made possible. It is meant to enable the coming together of many parts of the body of Christ so Christianity can better withstand the forces operating to reduce its influence in the world and in people’s lives.

Please let me know what you think.

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Electronic Christianity Two

I think that eChristianity needs a solid foundation to build on. After all, Jesus told us we were to build on rock and not sand. The Nicene Creed is possibly the rock we should build on. It has stood as a basic statement of Christian belief for about fifteen centuries and during that time has withstood the assaults of many, many alternative opinions. A version from a contemporary prayer book follows.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

It is appropriate that the majority of the creed focuses on the person of Jesus Christ since he should be the center of all Christian expressions. In addition to giving due respect to the person of the Son of God, there are other things about the creed that we should note. It is meant to be a creed for all of Christianity. This, I think, includes eChristianity. It is sufficient. It is all we need to believe to count ourselves Christians.

We should also think some about what is not there. It speaks of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins but says nothing about how, when or for whom. The Lord’s Supper/Communion/Holy Eucharist (for this sacrament we do not have a common name and yet we all, presumably, participate) is not mentioned.

The creed also says nothing about our human attributes. What counts in the creed is our “We believe” so we can be part of the eternal world to come. It is good it is this way because just as none of us are in the same place physically, none of us are in the same place spiritually. Each of us has our own spiritual “About” yet we can be united in a common faith as presented in the creed.

Creation: Its Causes, Essence and End

“For myself I wanted to know nature after another fashion in its causes, in its essence, in its end.” (Cited in review of We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace by Raїssa Maritain, First Things, May 2016, p. 63)

What we call nature is the creation of God but only part of his creative activity. If we are to broaden the six days of creation to six stages, as it takes the complete Bible to tell us, we might say these are: (1) Conception of existence, (2) Physical creation, (3) Creation of minds, (4) Creation of human spirits, (5) Regeneration of our spirits (rebirth) and, (6) Re-creation of human bodies (resurrection). And then God presumably rests from creation for eternity, although there may be room in eternity for types of creation we have not been told about.

Causes of Creation

Creation is a product of both the mind and the power of an infinite being. It is so complex in its six manifestations that it requires not only an infinite deity to accomplish it but one that has three persons. The Father is the source of all creation. The Son is the active agent who serves the purposes of the Father and who both shapes creation and takes into own being a human person. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the spiritual parts of creation in accordance with the purposes of the Father and the Son.

Essence of Creation

The essence of creation is the bringing into existence of something that did not exist before. When we think about physical creation these can be objects as large as the universe or as small as the Higgs boson. We can note that none of these physical entities has either mind or spirit. This fact escapes the minds of the materialists who think their thoughts and everything else can be explained by what is only one part of creation.

Before there was any physical creation there was a planning session in heaven. This brought into being a literally cosmic plan for something that had never existed before. After physical creation came the creation of minds. This, of course, required the coming into existence of something else that was new—life.

There are various opinions about the role of the twenty-four elders described in the book of Revelation. They appear to be rather robotic but one of them does impart wisdom to John during one of his experiences in heaven. My own opinion is that they were created to advise the Trinity on what it is like to be finite. Before the Incarnation none of the Godhead had any experience with the limits of finite being. This may be why there appear to be some “kinks’ in the timeline of creation.

The wisdom of the elders is shown by their continual praise of the Father and Son. This is what our kind of finite beings would be doing if we were wise enough.

Back to our own reality, when our ancestors reached a certain level of physical and mental development they were ready to be given a living soul. This is something that had not existed before. It did not come from physical creation although its existence was part of God’s planning of creation. Since our souls are not part of physical creation they cannot be detected by physical means. This inability to be detected means that belief in their existence requires what is called faith. In other words, an action of our minds not our bodies.

End of Creation

The end of creation is not when the space-time continuum tears and time and space no longer exist. The ultimate end, meaning its defining purpose, is in the vast number of glorified humans who are to live with and praise their Creator forever. The end of creation would have been at the conclusion of a far straighter train of events if God had not introduced contingency and probability into his creative efforts. As it is, all the stages of creation involve vast complexities that continue to challenge the best of our human understanding.

The Woman at the Well

Amazing isn’t it. You know from the title what person I am going to write about. So did the Bible Gateway search engine, although the woman is not identified that way in the Bible. Further astounding is the fact that there were thousands of women in Palestine at wells on the day Jesus talked to a woman from the Samaritan village of Sychar but this is the only one we know about.

There is something else about Sychar that we should know. Jesus did not have to go there. When the Pharisees increased their opposition to his ministry in Judea Jesus decided to return to Galilee.  Now note this, John 4:4 (NIV) informs us, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” It is true that Samaria lies on a straight line between Judea and Galilee but that did not make it necessary for Jesus go through Samaria.  There was a route east of the Jordan River that Jesus used at other times to travel between the Jewish areas of Galilee and Judea and that was the preferred way to travel precisely because it avoided going through Samaria. The necessity for Jesus to travel as he did was that he would meet a woman at Jacob’s well.

The encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well was not related to the fact that the well was thought to have been dug by the patriarch Jacob. Jesus had to meet the woman at a well because he was going to tell her of a metaphorical spring of water that would come to her though her faith in him and bring her to eternal life (John 4:10-15). We all know that water is essential for our physical life and that we have to drink it daily to maintain our bodies. Jesus was connecting our spiritual lives with what he called living water. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. When we are filled by this living water we no longer thirst for the presence of God but experience it as a certainty.

Much is made in the retelling by preachers and Sunday school teachers of the story that the woman was at the well in midday. And there is no reason to doubt the woman was of ill repute in the village. After all, she had been through a bunch of husbands and now had not even bothered to go through the formalities of marriage with her present mate.

It is even not too surprising that Jesus revealed to her he was the Messiah and gave her to believe that she had been forgiven of her sins. Other people, like Matthew, who were pariahs in their own towns received the same kind of blessings from their encounter with their Savior. What seems so remarkable to me was that the people of the village listened to her and believed her when she told them of her experience.  They, too, became believers in Jesus and “said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42, NIV).

Perhaps it takes people to whom God has personally spoken to have such a certainty of their encounter with him that they are able to open others to the reality that Jesus is the Savior for whom they have been seeking. Then these people go on to read the “book” and have their own personal experience of the fact that Christ is Lord of all.

Jesus Weeps

It was a sad day in the village of Bethany. Four days earlier a popular young man named Lazarus died an untimely death and had been placed in his tomb. The mourning for him was still continuing, including even Jews from Jerusalem who had come to comfort Mary and Martha.

When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived at Bethany, she went out to meet him. This was not to invite him to come to the wake at her home but to find out why he had not come sooner when he could have healed Lazarus. At this point in the story we should stop and consider Martha’s faith in Jesus. Personally, I find it mind boggling considering the probable limits to her understanding of who Jesus was.

First, she believed that Jesus could have healed her brother had he been there. Second, she knew that Jesus would receive whatever he asked of God. Third, she believed her brother would come to life again at the resurrection that would take place on the last day. Finally, she said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world” (John 11:27, English Standard Version).

After this conversation, Martha went to tell Mary that Jesus was there. When Martha returned to Jesus with Mary, she said what Martha had said about Jesus not being there to heal Lazarus and then fell at his feet weeping. It was then that Jesus wept, being deeply touched by their grief and that of the other mourners. In addition to his sympathy for the sisters, there was another reason Jesus experienced deep sorrow.

Martha and Mary were right. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death. However, Lazarus’ death had to happen so Jesus would be glorified by his return to life (11:4). Another reason for the event was that the disciples might learn that someone could rise from the dead (11:15). Last, it would, as Thomas rightly understood, lead to Jesus’ death (11:16).

There are several reasons for Jesus’ grief. Perhaps the deepest motivation for Jesus’ tears was the understanding that doing his Father’s will would hurt the friends he loved. Jesus also had to foresee that his agony at Gethsemane and his death on the Cross would cause enormous pain to him and to those who had believed in him. However, when Lazarus was raised from the dead, his grief then turned into great joy.

In order to obey what God has intended for us to do, it may also be required of us to hurt the people we love. If that happens, let us remember Jesus weeping with his friends and then rejoicing with them, and so be able to both obey and then find hope in the larger purposes of God. Like Jesus, we too must place the Father’s will above all personal desires and yet remember, as we are faithful, the short term may be hard but the long term is eternal glory.

 

What Did the Disciples Doubt?

Matthew 28:16-20 tells us of Jesus giving the eleven disciples what we call the Great Commission. It is a familiar and much cited passage and yet there is something in it that our adult Sunday school discussion class skipped over that seemed to me of interest. This was the phrase in verse 17 “but some doubted.”

The complete verse 17 (NIV) reads “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Apparently Matthew was the only gospel writer to make this statement as no cross references are given in the NIV for this verse nor does the Oxford Study Bible provide any. As far as commenting on it, the Life Application Study Bible does not refer to it. This is not an extensive survey of possible aids to understanding what Matthew had in mind but it seems our class was not the only people willing to just let it sit there without attempting to understand how it could be true.

Another Matthew, Matthew Henry did not omit a comment on this verse. He writes “All that see the Lord Jesus with an eye of faith will worship him. Yet the faith of the sincere may be very weak and wavering. But Christ gave such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as made their faith to triumph over doubts.” What Henry writes is true in the large view but does not deal with why there were doubts among the disciples, on that mountain, on that day, with the risen Jesus present with them.

The doubt may have arisen from the fact that it was evident by then that the messianic kingdom of Jewish anticipation was not what Jesus had described when he spoke to them in his prior teaching of the kingdom of God/heaven. What was it to be and what was their role in it going to be? This seems to me at the root of their uncertainty and why it can be said that some doubted.

Jesus, as always, was aware of their concerns and, as was typical, gave them a task they had not foreseen. They were to use his kingly authority on earth to make disciples from all nations. They were to make them citizens of the kingdom of God by baptizing them in the names of the Trinity. Then they were to teach them be good subjects of their Lord, that is they would be shown how to obey the commandments Jesus had taught the disciples, love God and love your neighbor.

The disciples were only the first of many Christians who have had uncertainty about the nature of the kingdom of God and their participation in it. These doubts have often been resolved by placing the kingdom in another time or place and envisioning Christians as reigning in it. This is another version of the Jewish expectation and not at all what Jesus taught the eleven disciples gathered that day on a mountain.

Christians have also been distracted from the focus on the kingdom of God that was central the Christ’s teaching by confusing the church with the kingdom. It is clear, though, that the kingdom of God exists both on earth and in heaven while the church is an institution whose purpose is to support the spread of the kingdom and the growth in maturity of all believers. The church is both flawed and temporary, as are all the things of earth. At the end of time it will cease to exist while the kingdom of heaven, and those who belong to it, will endure forever.

The Ladder to Love

The apostle Peter in his second letter, in the context of what divine power has provided us Christians, gives us what might be called a ladder to love (2 Peter 1:5-11). The purpose of his instruction is that we might “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV).

Faith is the first rung on the ladder, as we might expect. Everything given to us in Christ is based on our belief in him and the Father.

Next, we are told to add goodness to our faith. It is a great help to us in our lives if we both be good and do good.

Knowledge comes after goodness. We might think the order here should be reversed. However, if we waited until we had great knowledge of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit we would be postponing the exercise of the knowledge we already have about things that are good to do.

After knowledge comes self-control. One of the things we will learn through increasing our knowledge ourselves is how difficult self-control is and on how many occasions it will be tested.

Perseverance is required of us because none of the steps on the ladder are easy and there are many times our feet will slip off the rungs. Without perseverance the ultimate promises given to us in Christ cannot be fulfilled.

When we think of godliness, we should think of the ability that is given to us to become more like Christ as we mature in our Christianity. We will not be perfected while still on the earth but we can hope to be markedly improved in being an image of God.

Kindness is of the nature of Christ. The Gospels tell of many instances when Jesus was kind to people who did not expect it, did not deserve it, did not understand it, and sometimes did not even thank him for it. As we come to be more like him, we will be kind just as he was to those he encountered.

When we come to the final rung, love, we are reaching what is the essence of the Trinity. Their love for us is what puts us at the foot of the ladder of love and provides the grace we need to ascend it. When we return the love given us by them, and love the people around us, we are as we were meant to be when we were envisioned before the creation of the earth.

Peter tells us that climbing the ladder of love will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then he adds a warning that if we do not seek to acquire the qualities described we are nearsighted and blind and are forgetting our cleansing from our sins.

He then goes on to tell us we should be eager to make our position in Christ sure as having these qualities will keep us from falling [into the corruption caused by evil desires?] and insure our welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 1:8-11).