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.

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What I Believe: Election and Divine Calling

The problem here for me is how to reconcile election and divine calling with the freedom of human will. This has been a problem in theology for a long time. As for me, I am very fond of election because I know I never would have had a chance to become a child of God without it.

Election

Election is always for God’s purposes but it is not always about redemption, as we normally think of it. The Old Testament contains numerous examples of elections in both directions. Joseph was elected to save Israel from starvation while Nebuchadnezzar was elected to destroy Jerusalem and send the Israelites into exile. In turn, another pagan ruler, Cyrus, was elected for the return of the exiles, and the rebuilding of the city and the Temple.

Eleven of the twelve apostles were elected to do Christ’s work on earth and then go on to eternal glory. One was elected for infamy on earth and annihilation as his eternal destiny. Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better for him if he had never been born.

Those who are elected will eventually do what God wills them to do. Even if as in the case of the Egyptian pharaoh, it takes ten plagues. Or as it was with Jonah a whale of an adventure.

Apparent Contradictions

Election and divine calling do not negate human will. No one comes to Christ or rejects him except by his or her own choice. So how can God ensure that people make the choice he means them make. This seems a hard problem unless we believe that God is active in our world. Once we accept that, we can see there is no limit to the forms of persuasion that can be applied to convince one of the elect to choose what he or she had always been meant to choose. Human will is malleable not sovereign. On the other hand God can leave those who reject him to have what they desire—the absence of God. In either case, God’s will is certain to be accomplished. Thus we rightly pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven and, sure enough, it is.

Universal Offer

As to the question of why Christ’s work needed to be sufficient for all humanity although not everyone would avail their selves of the offer. I believe this is to ensure that no one who rejects God or willfully believes in false religions, philosophies or ideologies can claim that they were not able to be redeemed.

Jesus’ work on earth in its power and scope was sufficient that anyone who seeks God will find redemption. This is because they are one of the elect. This means that those who refuse to seek God, as they should because of the evidence of God’s work and creation all around them, are responsible for their earthly and eternal destinies.

The gospel and the entire message of Christ are to be brought by Christians to as many people as possible that they might be encouraged to do in regard to God what they are responsible for doing. Those who do not have an opportunity to receive the gospel will be, I believe, judged rightly according to how each of those persons would have responded to the gospel. Justice will be done in each case.

Effectual Divine Calling

Each person who comes to an effective faith is Christ arrives there by a different chain of experience. This is not to say all paths lead to God. There is one Way and each of us walks on our own portion of that narrow road.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit that gets us on the right road by convicting us of our sins and enlightening us in regard to the actually of Jesus. Then, at the proper time, I believe, we are brought to offer our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Our offering will be accepted, as Jesus promised, and we will be received, redeemed, and reconciled. The other good things of the Christian life will start happening at that point.

What I Believe: Human Will

Human will is a remarkable attribute. Some people can use it to form an ego so large it pushes God out of the universe and reduces him to nonexistence. Other people use their will to follow Christ and the other martyrs to death for sake of their faith. From these extremes it can be seen that there is such a free aspect to our wills that they can be used to honor God or curse God.

If we search for free will elsewhere in the physical realm, other than in humans, we will not find it. It was given to us by God and is, I believe, part of what is written of us when we are told we were created in the image of God. Our autonomous wills are unique to humans in the created universe. Every other physical part of us is shared in some way with the remainder of God’s world.

Our wills burden us with a tremendous and terrifying responsibility. We are accountable for all the choices we make. We cannot make God or Satan responsible for the choices we make. Yet our choices lead us to a final decision after the end of our lives on earth as to whether we will dwell eternally with God or not. What help is there for us in such a situation.

Fortunately for us, while our wills are free they are not beyond divine spiritual influence. When the Holy Spirit redeems our spirits he also gains the power in us to change our wills over time so our choices become more and more aligned with God’s purpose for us. Unfortunately for us, we will always a ways to go. That is why our wills are not going to be perfected as long as we live in this world and why we must look forward, I believe, in hope for resurrected bodies and minds that will perfectly do what God would have them do.

What I Believe: Created Spirits

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.

What I Believe: Non-Christian Views of God

One non-Christian view of God is that held, in different ways, by Unitarianism and Islam. This is the idea that God has a unity as one person and which denies the deity of Jesus and the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit.

Deism sees God as out there somewhere (transcendent) and having once acted as creator is not further active in earthly affairs (immanent).

Pantheism goes the other direction. It sees God in all that exists and all that exists in God.

Polytheism is any religious system than contains more than one god. Hinduism is an example. So are the various pagan religious ideas that occur all over the world.

Buddhism has at the center of its beliefs nothingness (Nirvana).

Other systems of thought that do not contain a God are Agnosticism which believes that God is either unknowable or unprovable, and Atheism and various secular ideologies which deny the existence of God.

There are belief systems that have their roots in Christianity but whose ideas are not orthodox. These beliefs are rejected by implication in the Nicene Creed.

These beliefs are not alternate paths to God as some people think. I believe they lead people away from the true knowledge of the triune God.

What I Believe: Providence

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.

What I Believe: More About the Trinity

Let me put in here something more about the Trinity. This is not from my own thinking but from the Nicene Creed, a fifteen-hundred year old interpretation of Scripture accepted by most churches. The Trinity functions as three distinct persons though all share the full nature of God. Here is what the creed has to say about the character and roles of the three persons.

 

“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.

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.”