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.”
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.
Soteriology is the knowledge of salvation. Salvation is God’s work of redeeming mankind for eternity and his glory. It is far more than just freedom from the experience of God’s wrath. Let me tell you what I believe about six aspects of it.
The Great Substitution
Jesus offered to the Father what we cannot—an unblemished life. In his sacrifice he suffered not only pain and death but injustice, humiliation and spiritual destitution. He suffered because he loved us and was willing to do what was required for the redemption of those who are his. He died so that those of us who believe in him and receive regeneration might live with him forever.
Regeneration is more than our being made better. It is the new birth in us of eternal spirits. Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3) that he had to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven, which confused him greatly and well it might. It is not easy for us to understand. I believe we are made new creatures and have a new nature when we are reborn by the work of the Holy Spirit and are thus enabled to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Adoption takes us beyond citizenship in the nation (kingdom) of God and makes us members of the family of God. We become the beloved children of our Abba who is the perfection of our ideas of what a father should be and do for his children. We also become brothers and sisters of Jesus so we are treated as friends with whom he shares his plans and intentions rather than as servants just doing what we are told to do and hoping to get it right. We also have an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in the family who speaks for us when we do not know what to say.
Saving faith is a gift of God’s grace that allows us to effectively believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that we are in need of redemption through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. I believe this is the only way to regeneration and adoption. In addition to the faith that gives us our salvation, we are to trust God in all the circumstances of our lives.
Repentance comes about from our beginning to see ourselves as God sees us. I do not think it is a single act at our conversion but a lifelong process as we are shown more and more of our flaws and realize we need forgiveness and a reminder of God’s love and all that Christ has done for us.
Repentance is also an act of God’s grace. If we think we can remove our guilt on our own we will end up in futile attempts of expiation. Luther climbed the steps of St. Peters Cathedral on his knees but it was not until he found grace that the burden of his sin was lifted from him.
Grace is God giving us, because of his love for us and not for any merit or work on our part, the spiritual and physical blessings we are unable to obtain for ourselves.
The Bible mentions a wide variety of created spirits. One problem we have in knowing more about spiritual creatures is that the writers of Scripture had to use physical categories to describe spiritual realities. Another, more actual, problem is that we normally have little experience with spiritual creatures and so when we may think we are in the presence of angels of light they may actually be demons.
One defining characteristic of Satan and his minions is that they are liars. This is why it is so important in our thinking about spiritual creatures and events to seek only to know what is true because truth only comes from God.
There is a fundamental division between those created spirits who have chosen to serve God and those who choose to follow Satan. The lower ranks of those who follow Satan we call demons. The New Testament also tells us of powerful beings, apparently produced by Satan, that are described as frogs, dragons, two beasts, a false prophet, and a reigning prostitute.
On God’s side, in addition to angels, there are archangels, elders and seraphim. Angels act as God’s messengers. Archangels also act to bring God’s messages to people. They also have a role in the destiny of nations and wage war against the satanic spirits. The elders lead worship in heaven and may have other roles. The seraphim, with their multitude of eyes, appear to have the job of overseeing God’s physical creation.
On earth, I believe we are in the midst of a vast spiritual warfare. Satan’s intent is not just to cause problems for people but to bring physical and spiritual death to as many humans as he can. Were it not for the purpose of the Father, the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the obedience to God of the angels we all, without exception, would be doomed to eternal death.
One of the loose ends that Jesus needed to get right on the first Easter Sunday, and the forty days that followed, was that he had really come back to true physical life. One way he did this was that on Easter evening he walked several miles on the road to Emmaus with two disciples. Later the same day he appeared within a locked room in Jerusalem to some of the disciples and asked them to examine his healed wounds (Luke 24). There is no way a human body could heal itself of the wounds of crucifixion in three days, as some people seem to think.
From all the testimony of the New Testament writers, I believe that Jesus was truly, literally, and actually raised from the dead on the third day and restored body, soul and deity to the person he was when he died on the Cross, except his wounds were healed.
The witness of the New Testament to the Resurrection has not prevented people from finding ways to deny the reality of the Resurrection, either by saying it could not happen or did not happen. However, none of these people were there when it did happen.
It is not only unbelievers who have had a problem with resurrection from the dead. Paul had to write a rather sharp passage to the Corinthians concerning how essential Christ’s resurrection was for them if they were to be free from their sins.
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God,because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:12-17 ESV).
Paul’s language is somewhat complex because he is arguing both for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and for our own resurrections. What he is emphasizing is that the entire edifice of Christian testimony rests on the reality of resurrection as God’s unique gift to the faithful. If there is no resurrection for us then we are no-hopers and in no better state than nonbelievers.
Providence is God working his will on what exists in the physical realm to accomplish his purposes. It is what we pray for when we say, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer. God uses the products of original creation and continuing creation to control all that exists for his purposes.
The secular mind is baffled by providence and even Christian believers often do not see God’s hand in what is happening around us. This is because providence can only be distinguished from nature by grace acting through faith. If we are to know providence then we must have faith that God is working and that by his grace he will give us a sufficient, but not all encompassing, understanding of what is going on. I believe we will not be left in ignorance if we seek understanding.
Providence is moving the world to the end God intends for it. There are various opinions as to what this is. However, we can be sure God’s control will take it to where it is he has in mind and to what he intended for it before the earth’s creation.