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.”

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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: 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.

What I Believe: Common Marriage

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.