What I Believe: General Revelation

Modern people think that they know how everything works and do not find God in any of it. Post-moderns do not care how anything works—as long as the battery is charged. Both philosophies discard any idea of general revelation, which is God showing his power and nature to humanity.

 

I believe that God’s reveals his existence and purposes in such things as physical reality, history, and human nature. Paul wrote that nobody had any excuse for not acknowledging the existence of God because of what was revealed to us in his creation of physical reality. The Old Testament shows God working in human history to show us what we are to do collectively as members of nations. God reveals his framework for human communities by providing everyone (with a few possible exceptions) a sense of right and wrong.

 

Any or all of these three aspects of general revelation can be denied or ignored by individuals and/or societies. Proverbs 1:20-33 describes this very situation. Wisdom (God’s voice) calls out in public places and is rejected by people given various derogatory names by the writer of Proverbs. These will suffer great harm because of their foolishness. At the end of the passage, a blessing is pronounced on those who listen.

 

Sometime time ago Time magazine had a cover which asked the question, “Is God Dead?” The April 3, 2017 issue asks “Is Truth Dead?” I believe there is an inevitable trajectory between those two issues. A society that pushes God away cannot maintain its hold on truth. After all Jesus told us that he is truth and people who reject him are not only turning against him but all the blessings that come with belief in him.

 

General revelation is a great blessing to humanity but it is not sufficient to bring people to righteousness. People are given the ability to blind themselves to any learning from general revelation and to make their selves deaf to the voice of God, which is one aspect of special revelation. The possession of these abilities does not excuse them for making use of them to refuse to seek and obey God.

 

Seven Things Jesus Accomplished on the Cross

There were seven things Jesus needed to accomplish while he was on the Cross. Dying was only one of them, and you or I could do that assuming we were crucified. What Jesus had to do was to complete, in perfection, some other tasks only he could do as the only begotten Son of his Father. What he needed to do before he died is reflected in words he said while on the cross. There are seven of these given below in chronological order.

Number One: Jesus forgave his executioners.

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”  (Luke 23:34)

From our perspective, it would not be easy to forgive people who were putting us to death. To make it worse for Jesus, his executioners were gambling to determine who would get his clothes, including a seamless robe of presumably significant value. It was necessary, according to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, for Jesus to forgive them.  This was to demonstrate that anyone could receive forgiveness from him, though not everybody would. Jesus extended grace to the soldiers and not to some other people. In doing so he showed he had no anger or hate for those who tortured him. That was undoubtedly not easy in the circumstances.

We remember there was in Jerusalem that day many people as guilty of Jesus’ death as the soldiers who actually carried out the crucifixion. Perhaps there was no forgiveness for them for they did know what they had done and thought they had done it for the best of reasons.

Number Two: Jesus ministered to someone in the most excruciating of circumstances.

“And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

Would you or I be willing to offer the priceless gift of salvation to someone who minutes before had been taunting us about our faith. Would we even have such a conversation while dying a tortuous death? Jesus had to provide a conversion experience to the repentant thief because he had said no one would be condemned who came to him believing in who he was (John 3:18). He needed to prove the truth of that assertion in the worst situation anyone has ever been in.

Number Three: Jesus remembered his mother’s needs.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Why did Jesus have to make provision for his mother’s future welfare while he was dying? One answer would be that his obedience to his heavenly Father would leave her without her eldest son who would normally have taken care of her. Another way of looking at it is that Jesus foresaw that his brother James and all the apostles except John would be martyred. Jesus must have known that John was the only one who could fulfill his obligation to his mother.

Number Four: Jesus endured separation from God his Father.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34)

Some Christians have experienced what is sometimes called “a dark night of the soul.” This, as you might imagine, causes them great anguish. Perhaps Jesus had to have this experience to know what some of his brothers and sisters would go through when calling out in desperation for a feeling or sign that someone cared for them and getting nothing back in response. This seeming absence of God apparently is always temporary, otherwise there would not be books written by faithful Christians describing the trauma of their hurting souls.

Just as Jesus’ death was of immeasurably greater importance than ours will be, so was the temporal withdrawal of the Father from Jesus of greater significance. Jerusalem was darkened for three hours.

Number Five: Jesus fulfilled Scripture.

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)

A drink of sour wine was God’s provision, and it was given to him by an act of human mercy. It is hard to see how Jesus’ expression of his thirst was a fulfillment of Scripture. Perhaps it is connected with the surprisingly early death of Jesus (Mark 15:44). Possibly, the wine somehow allowed Jesus’ life to end so he would avoid the breaking of his legs to ensure his more rapid death. Thus the Scripture was fulfilled that said “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).

Number Six: Jesus surrendered his human spirit to death.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

Jesus, because of his divine nature as the Son of God, was able to do what we cannot. As an act of his will, Jesus separated his human spirit and his divinity from his physical body and thus denied death a final victory over him. When Sunday morning came, his body, spirit, and deity were reunited, and then we arrive at the Easter story. Jesus, in some manner after that, stayed on earth for forty days and then ascended into heaven.

Number Seven: Jesus trusted God fully at his last breath.

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

Although the Father had departed from Jesus for three hours while he was on the cross, when it came time for Jesus to die their relationship was restored. This was consistent with Jesus’ total obedience to the Father’s will. He was ready to do what we should do when our time of death comes and that is to entrust God with the keeping of our spirit.

Faithfull obedience to his Father’s will was Jesus’ desire  in all he did while he was on earth, and it also was the motive of his creative work before the Incarnation, and it drives what he now does as the risen Son of God.

Scripture from the English Standard Version

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.

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.

Electronic Christianity

The secular dreams of those who thought the Internet might bring about a better world might be partially fulfilled if it is used by Christians to bring our religion into the electronic age in a way that unites us in a common purpose and hope.

I think the future of American Christianity should lie in what I would call electronic Christianity. What I would give as a name for this new form of Christianity is the term eChristianity. I was surprised when my Google search came up empty for the label. I would have thought someone would have already used it. Perhaps eChristianity is simply too obvious or, perhaps, rather too broad for people’s implementations of Christianity on the Internet. Of course, all of you who read this post are participating in some form of electronic Christianity.

What I hope eChristianity will do is provide a form of Christianity without the current limits of geography, institutions or traditions. This does not mean that it would be without a common core of belief centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The various beliefs of eChristians would be tested in the electronic community by standards of conformity to the Bible, objective truth, rationality, common sense, and reality. I would hope that the form eChristianity takes allows us freedom of faith and understanding in the areas where there is some latitude while restricting the spread of unhelpful concepts of Christianity.

An eChristianity community can bring into being a tangible presence of a people set apart from the rest of the Internet while at the same time providing an actual unity of Christ’s people. Our relationship to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will have an actualization in the oneness of a Christian community joined in electronic communication.

There is further benefit to a form of Christianity imbedded in an electronic community. In our present culture it is far easier to interact with people electronically than it is face-to-face or in other physical ways. Also, almost anybody, Christian or not, is accessible to electronic communication. This fact allows for both a great enhancement of the activities currently conducted in churches and a far more widespread proclamation of the gospel (good news) of Jesus to unbelievers.

This new form of Christian community would not keep groups of Christians from coming together to participate in various activities helpful in their localities, and to join together in celebrations of what Christ has done for us.

The success of eChristianity will require a sacrifice of some part of our status quo from all us who participate. Though this is a small thing compared to the sacrifice of their lives required of some Christians, it is still no small thing. We like our freedom and independence, and our present situation. Unfortunately, unless we do something positive about the state of American Christianity what we like may not matter. Please let me know what you think about eChristianity.

The Love Chapter: A Trap for the Corinthians—and For Us

The love chapter is, of course, First Corinthians 13. It was supposed to be a favorite chapter of our Sunday school class. However, I think we should be wary of it.

What Paul wrote to the Corinthians was the result of what he had heard of them. This was that they were engaged in a “spiritual competition.” This is evidenced both by their division into factions (1:10-12) and by arguments of which spiritual gifts were greater (12:1-11). Paul finishes chapter 12 by showing the value of all the spiritual gifts. As the letter was read in the church I can imagine everybody feeling good about themselves and their gifts at this point. Then the trap closes.

“And now I will show you the most excellent way” (Romans 12:31b, NIV). We might have heard a gasp out of the assembled Corinthians. They thought they were arguing over excellence—how could there be something better. Paul then tells them that love is better than spiritual gifts through providing them a series of examples of love, some of which are beyond most people’s capability and all of which we have difficulty with in our everyday lives.

It is impossible to have divisions and factions and competitions in our churches and still maintain we are being faithful to Paul’s teaching concerning our Christian lives and spirituality. Surprisingly, after telling the Corinthians that love is greater than faith and hope, Paul exhorts them to continue to desire spiritual gifts. The trap for us in the love chapter is that we, in general, do not go on to chapter 14 but are content to see chapter 13 as the high point and end of Paul’s instructions and leave the search for spiritual gifts to others of less orthodox persuasions.

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.