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 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.

How Does the Holy Spirit Come to Live In Us?

How does the Holy Spirit come to live in us? This question comes from our adult Sunday school class discussion of Romans 8. It is based on Romans 8:11 (NIV) “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” You will probably not be surprised that the class was more eager to talk about Romans 8:28 “…in all things God works for the good… .”

The verse begins with a seemingly conditional statement “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” but ends on a positive note “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” In addition to the difficulty concerning the Holy Spirit coming to live in us, we have a further problem in how the Holy Spirit can give life to mortal bodies. The word mortal means subject to death.

A long time ago my wife and I attended the volunteer training for a Billy Graham crusade. I remember the instructor saying that it was fairly common for volunteers to discover that they were not “saved.” How could this be? They were all people from churches. They were eager to do something good. They all intended to help in the evangelizing of the unsaved. They were like the many other people who have been told they were Christians yet they had not received the Holy Spirit within them. This was evidenced by the fact they realized they lacked something in their Christian experience.

I think that had they asked their church leaders about the presence of the Holy Spirit in them, they would have been told that the Spirit had come to them as a “tag-a-long” to some other aspect of Christianity. They event mentioned might have been “believing in Jesus,” baptism, living a good life or something else. What they most likely would not be told was, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:7-8), that the Holy Spirit moves as it will. It acts outside of the control of people or churches. So how does it happen that it comes to certain people?

For the answer to that I think we have to go to the difficult subject of the election of believers. Some people do not like election because it removes from individuals the ability to control their own spiritual understanding and destiny. Others, often unbelievers, think it is unjust that some should be chosen for salvation and others rejected. Personally, I like election because it is the only reasonable explanation as to why I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I have no personal goodness to offer God and for many years I tried to live without God. However, since the Holy Spirit “did a number” on me I have become more and more dedicated to living for Jesus.

The Holy Spirit lives in those in whom it is the Father’s purpose that the Spirit does so. These are people chosen, on some basis we do not understand, before the creation of the universe. The life the Spirit gives to our mortal bodies is such that we can be redeemed from slavery to our flesh and put on the path to our glorification, which will be finalized in heaven. Without this spiritual coming to life there is, I think, nothing of our bodies that can endure beyond the earth so in this way the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.

Fair Warning

I am always impressed by how well the English use their language. For example, American auctioneers typically say “Going once, going twice, sold!” The English say “Fair warning!” In both cases when the gavel comes down the transaction is settled. The warning given at an English auction says two things. One is that no further offers will be accepted. The other is that the highest bid must be paid.

The Bible contains many instances of God giving people fair warning. Prophecies of destruction tell that a time will come when the cup of God’s wrath will be filled with peoples’ iniquities and it will be too late for people to repent. There are also descriptions of the heavy price that must be paid when people reject God and his standards for human behavior.

Applying this idea to present-day American society is too easy and has been done too often by “premature prophets” for it to have any traction in our culture. Where it has not been applied is to American Christianity. Christians fail to remember that what was destroyed in Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 was religious practices that had their origins in the desert of Sinai at the direct expression of God’s will. What happened there was no less powerful than what happened in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Yet what had been founded in the very presence of the glory of God had become so corrupt that God destroyed it without a chance for repentance and without remedy.

The first three chapters of the book of Revelation give fair warning to the churches of the United States. If their various corruptions are not remedied they will cease to exist in their present form just as the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom John wrote have long since ceased to define the nature of Turkish culture. What are these defects that must be remedied of Christianity is to remain a shaper of American values.

My analysis of our present situation will take the form of descriptions of conceptual churches. These churches are not defined by denomination, institution, closeness to tradition or history but by their attitude concerning Christianity. They are not separate physical churches as one or more of these churches may be gathered at the same worship service. The accommodation of a variety of beliefs is a characteristic of present-day Christianity so individuals in the same congregation can be far apart in their thinking yet safe from any serious challenge to the quality of their faith.

The first and perhaps the largest conceptual church is the cultural church. It comes in several very different expressions. Its characteristic is that its members poll on social issues almost exactly the same as the general population. This means that its attitudes and behaviors are indistinguishable from society in general. The cultural church, by some sort of paradox, tends towards attendance in traditional (mainstream and Roman Catholic) churches and in mega-churches. It exists in traditional churches because they are part of the culture. The mega-churches tend to fit the culture because their purpose is to attract as many people as possible, so they avoid, as much as they can, anything like an emphasis on doctrine that might offend anybody or cause controversy.

The pseudo-Christian church is an expression of ideological liberalism. Like secular liberals it assumes it is the reality and other expressions of Christianity are deviants that can be labeled evangelical or fundamentalist or some such. The pseudo-Christian church is where religion becomes an expression of rationalism. Everything in traditional Christian belief that requires the supernatural is removed as a reality but is given a spiritual significance. For example, the bodily resurrection of Jesus did not actually occur but it signifies something we can have good feelings about.

The pseudo-Christian church closely follows the secular spirit. Thus its big concern now is homosexual rights, before this it was sexual liberation, feminism, environmentalism, world peace, and other liberal causes. It accepts the theory of evolution and whatever else falls into the realm of the popular. You might ask why the pseudo-Christian church continues to affiliate itself with Christianity. The answer is simple, Christianity provides them with tenured professorships, social respect, sources of funding, and keeps them able to think they are something they are not.

The hyper-Christian church ignores the warning C.S. Lewis gave us in The Screwtape Letters about adding things to Christianity. The pseudo-Christian church believes too little, the hyper-Christian church believes too much. It adds worship of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and miracles as essential elements of the Christian life. It can be given some applause for bringing some fire and spirit, through the charismatic movement, to parts of the cultural church. However, in “amping up” Christianity it raises expectations higher than can be maintained thus causing disillusionment among some of its adherents.

The social-activist church should have longevity as there is a never-ending list of things needing to be done to make people’s lives better. One problem with this church is that it became a social-critique church and many of its members went from seeking to relieve poverty to criticizing the acquisition of wealth. A more serious problem from a spiritual standpoint is a conceit: If we were in charge of the world we could set everything right. The pride revealed in this mode of thinking shows up particularly in the peace and justice part of this church. The foundation of Christianity, for Christ and all believers, is humbleness before the purposes of God the Father.

The self-centered church comes directly from our self-centered society. The core of the self-centered church is an inward-looking view of what Christianity is meant to be. In this church what matters is that God thinks of them highly and lovingly. Their songs contain a lot of I, me, and my instead of second and third person pronouns such as you, he, and his. Their self-centeredness can go as far as to think that God’s happiness depends on their performance as a Christian. They think a lot about their time, their possessions, their safety and their personal peace. Obviously this church does not think much of others except in what way helping them might increase their own self-esteem.

The self-made church has two denominations. One branch believes that we can make Christianity be what we want it to be. Thomas Jefferson, who edited the New Testament to make it say what he wanted to believe, was not the founder of the first denomination but he is a good example of its members. The members of the this branch of the self-made church “cut out” the parts of Christianity that do not suit them or are not in accordance with their lifestyle or social beliefs.

The second denomination of the self-made church seems, at first, to be very unlike the first. Its members generally take the Scriptures very seriously and do their best to follow them. Where they are like the others is that they believe their Christian life and practice have to come from their own efforts. They have to make a choice, sometimes in conjunction with the saying of a prayer, to become a Christian. They are told in this part of their church there are many things they must do as a Christian in their own efforts. These directions, such as reading the Bible, praying, and doing good works, may seem good. However, this do-it-yourself sanctity can prove exceedingly difficult, often leading to the rejection of their Christianity. Or if they are successful in following the directions they are given for leading a Christian life, they can be led into self-righteousness. You can see that participation in either denomination of the self-made church is hazardous for people hoping to find completion in Christ.

There are two other churches that relate to modern philosophy. There is the rationalist church that believes that reason can create a form of Christianity compatible with modern philosophy. The literalist church began as a defense against modern philosophy by trying to make its interpretation of the Bible “scientific.” There will undoubtedly come into being, if one does not already exist, a post-modern church.

There is, as there has been since the first century, a heretical church. The length of time this church has been in existence makes it hard for it to create new heresies but its members keep trying. There is the new deist Church that seeks to allow the compatibility of Christianity and both Judaism and Islam by removing faith in the deity of Jesus Christ and eliminating the Holy Spirit. There is the new-age church that melds Christianity with both new and old forms of spirituality.

I will end my rather long list of churches with the miscellaneous church. This is the place of worship for people who withdraw from society or other Christians, people whose beliefs are so far from normal Christianity that they are a church unto themselves. Their problem is that, and the members of the other churches described here share in it, is that they violate the unity of the one church of which all Christians are meant to be members.

At this point you may be wondering why I left out the good church—the one like your local congregation—from my list. It is a principle of Christian sanctity if we think we are good enough, we are not. If you think your particular body of believers does not need reformation, it most likely does.

What all the churches on my list have in common is they have, in one way or another, turned Christianity upside down. They have made Christianity about people—church leaders, poor people, oppressed people, us, and so forth—rather than about Jesus Christ. We have come to think that it is God’s job to supply the seed, fertilizer and water so we can cultivate our own gardens. We find this much more to our liking than the idea we should be servants in the Lord’s garden.

The second problem with these churches is that those who still believe in the kingdom of God in some way misunderstand its meaning. They are much like the religious rulers Jesus spoke to. They want, and expect, a political kingdom. Someone said something like “Jesus preached the kingdom of God and what we got was churches.” And we do have a multitude of churches. What we do not have is an understanding of the proper role of these churches The function of churches is to serve the body of Christ by evangelism, exhortation, comfort and many other things not to be the be-all and end-all of Christianity. They were intended to be way stations, outposts, hospices and so forth for Christians so they could be fully equipped to live in the kingdom of God.

I do not think there can be a remaking of American society on Christian principles unless there is a return of American Christianity to the truth of Scripture. That will not occur until many, many members of most of the churches are turned right-side-up. That is, they become focused on Jesus and his kingdom as the object of their faith, love and learning rather than anything else.

If the regeneration of a significant part of American Christianity occurs, it will be the work of the Holy Spirit. What we who see the need for this change can do is allow Christ and the Holy Spirit to work in us so we know quite certainly that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. As that happens, we will be freed of our illusions, delusions and ignorance so we can see what is upside-down in American Christianity and rightly work and pray for its becoming as Christ would have it. Thus, if the Holy Spirit choses to honor our efforts, and if Christ’s purposes include a reformation at this time, we will be participants in, and celebrants of, a great revival of Christian belief, and be able to rejoice in the righting of what has gone wrong.

Otherwise, let what I wrote constitute “Fair Warning.”

From the Present World to the New Creation

The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).

There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.

The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.

The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.

The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.

This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.

The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.

Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.

The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”

The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.

The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.

The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.

There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.

Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.

Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.

It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.

Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.

The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.

After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.

At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.

There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.

Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.

We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.

The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.

The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.

Some Keys to Christian Maturity

I am sure that somewhere in the television series “Doctor Who” (BBC) the doctor turns to the lovely Clara or another of his female time travelers and says, “Just because something is in plain sight does not mean it is not a secret.” Some keys to the secrets of Christian maturity are plainly outlined in the sixth chapter of Hebrews. This does not mean that many Christians have recognized these for what they are. There is good reason for this.

Verses 4 to 6 can appear to be a warning about Christians losing their salvation and the passage is commonly interpreted that way. However, it also can be understood as a statement that it is impossible for Christians who experience certain spiritual realities ever to fall away from their Christian faith because that would be like they were crucifying Christ again. These five spiritual experiences are the mark of a mature Christian. How do we know this?

The writer of Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 6 that we are going to leave behind “the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” Some of the elementary things to be left behind are: “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Most Christians hardly regard these as elementary teachings so what are the ones that lead to maturity.

The first one is to “have once been enlightened.” This does not mean a onetime experience but that enlightenment comes to mature Christians and remains with them. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, prays that their eyes might be enlightened so they would know the hope to which they were called, the glorious inheritance of the saints and God’s incomparably great power for those who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).

The second part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the heavenly gift.” It is possible to think of this heavenly gift as God’s grace. However, it is more likely to be a taste of eternal life. We cannot fully experience eternal life now but we can taste it sometimes and know it is surely promised to believers as a gift of God (Romans 6:23).

Sharing in the Holy Spirit is the third experience related to Christian maturity. What Jesus told Nicodemus about the mystery of the action of the Holy Spirit in regard to rebirth (John 3:8) is illustrated by two events described in Acts, as well as in other instances that are described in the New Testament. The first instance was when Phillip went to Samaria. There he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Those who believed were baptized with water but the Holy Spirit had not come upon them. This happened when Peter and John arrived and laid their hands on them (Acts 8:12-17). The second example was when Peter preached in the house of Cornelius. The Holy Spirit came upon those who believed and then they were baptized with water (Acts 10:44-47). It would appear that there is no fixed way that the Holy Spirit comes to believers yet it seems that Spirit must come to any who would be spiritually mature.

The fourth part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the goodness of the word of God.” Faith comes through the hearing of the word of God (Romans 10:17) but Christian maturity is found by tasting its goodness. And at the end of the list, we find Christian maturity is also shown by the believer tasting the “powers of the coming age.”

I think the writer of Hebrews meant by the coming age the era of the kingdom of God that arrived with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Peter quoted the last days prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:17-21) to the crowd who had gathered as the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. From this passage we can see that the powers of the coming age that will be tasted by mature Christians include prophecy, visions and dreams. However, this is not the end of the promised abilities. We read throughout the New Testament of disciples having the ability to perform signs and miracles. Presumably people of Christian maturity will also have the power do signs and miracles when and if it suits God’s purposes.

In all these descriptions of Christian maturity there are none that are obtained through physical acts or by sacraments. They are all pictured metaphorically which means they must all be received spiritually. In other words they all come about through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 5:16-26 a number of things about living in the Spirit. Toward the end of the passage (Galatians 5:25) he writes “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” It seems that the keys to Christian maturity involve learning to walk in several ways in the awareness and power of the Holy Spirit.