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.

Creation: Its Causes, Essence and End

“For myself I wanted to know nature after another fashion in its causes, in its essence, in its end.” (Cited in review of We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace by Raїssa Maritain, First Things, May 2016, p. 63)

What we call nature is the creation of God but only part of his creative activity. If we are to broaden the six days of creation to six stages, as it takes the complete Bible to tell us, we might say these are: (1) Conception of existence, (2) Physical creation, (3) Creation of minds, (4) Creation of human spirits, (5) Regeneration of our spirits (rebirth) and, (6) Re-creation of human bodies (resurrection). And then God presumably rests from creation for eternity, although there may be room in eternity for types of creation we have not been told about.

Causes of Creation

Creation is a product of both the mind and the power of an infinite being. It is so complex in its six manifestations that it requires not only an infinite deity to accomplish it but one that has three persons. The Father is the source of all creation. The Son is the active agent who serves the purposes of the Father and who both shapes creation and takes into own being a human person. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the spiritual parts of creation in accordance with the purposes of the Father and the Son.

Essence of Creation

The essence of creation is the bringing into existence of something that did not exist before. When we think about physical creation these can be objects as large as the universe or as small as the Higgs boson. We can note that none of these physical entities has either mind or spirit. This fact escapes the minds of the materialists who think their thoughts and everything else can be explained by what is only one part of creation.

Before there was any physical creation there was a planning session in heaven. This brought into being a literally cosmic plan for something that had never existed before. After physical creation came the creation of minds. This, of course, required the coming into existence of something else that was new—life.

There are various opinions about the role of the twenty-four elders described in the book of Revelation. They appear to be rather robotic but one of them does impart wisdom to John during one of his experiences in heaven. My own opinion is that they were created to advise the Trinity on what it is like to be finite. Before the Incarnation none of the Godhead had any experience with the limits of finite being. This may be why there appear to be some “kinks’ in the timeline of creation.

The wisdom of the elders is shown by their continual praise of the Father and Son. This is what our kind of finite beings would be doing if we were wise enough.

Back to our own reality, when our ancestors reached a certain level of physical and mental development they were ready to be given a living soul. This is something that had not existed before. It did not come from physical creation although its existence was part of God’s planning of creation. Since our souls are not part of physical creation they cannot be detected by physical means. This inability to be detected means that belief in their existence requires what is called faith. In other words, an action of our minds not our bodies.

End of Creation

The end of creation is not when the space-time continuum tears and time and space no longer exist. The ultimate end, meaning its defining purpose, is in the vast number of glorified humans who are to live with and praise their Creator forever. The end of creation would have been at the conclusion of a far straighter train of events if God had not introduced contingency and probability into his creative efforts. As it is, all the stages of creation involve vast complexities that continue to challenge the best of our human understanding.

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.

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.

About the Inward Speaking of Christ to a Faithful Soul

The following is from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (Book III, Chapter 1).

I will hear, says a devout soul, what God the Lord will speak.

Blessed is that person who hears Jesus speaking in his soul, and takes of His mouth some word of comfort. Blessed are the ears that hear the secret whisperings of Jesus, and heed not the deceitful words of this world. And blessed indeed be the ears that heed not the outward speech, but rather take heed what God speaks and teaches inwardly in the soul. Blessed also are the eyes that are shut to the sight of outward vanities, and that take heed of the inward movings of God. Blessed are they that get themselves virtues, and prepare themselves by good outward and inward works to receive daily more and more the secret inspirations and inward teaching of God, and for His service set aside all the hindrances of the world.

You my soul take heed of that which has been said, and shut the doors of your body, which are your five senses, that you may hear inwardly what our Lord Jesus speaks in your soul.

Turning Christianity Upside Down

The reformation of American Christianity will, of necessity, cause turmoil and turn the culture of many churches upside down. However upsetting this will be, it is a necessary precursor to any possible positive impacts on American culture. Christianity must be made righteous before its light can shine out in the world. The Gospel of John (John 3:19–20) tells us the people of the world love the darkness of evil and resist being brought into the light of the truth. Only a regeneration of our Christian understandings and practices can produce any hope of us lighting up our darkened world.

When Paul and his fellow Christians left Antioch to bring the light of Jesus Christ into their darkened world they were entering a culture that was not like the present secularized, scientific, and technological environment that now surrounds us. It was a culture that much resembles the contemporary condition of American Christianity. The pagan part of Roman culture followed gods that were of human invention, and traditional myths largely inherited from Greek culture, as well as imports from Eastern and Egyptian religions. The irreligious people advocated a number of conflicting philosophies.

I think it would take a long article to fully justify the previous paragraph, so please just accept my thesis that there is a real correspondence between the Roman culture of Paul’s time and our present Christian culture. If you do that, you can see that the book of Acts contains ideas applicable to our current situation.

C. Kavin Rowe in his book, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age writes that the passage describing Paul’s visit to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–9) sets out three interdependent practices churches must follow if they are going to fulfill Luke’s vision of cultural remediation of a darkened society. These actions are: “the confession of Jesus as Lord of all, the universal mission of light, and the formation of Christian communities as the tangible presence of a people set apart.”

It might be thought all Christian churches would acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord of all that exists in this world and in the world to come. However, what is the reality in our present-day churches. It brings to my mind the parable Jesus told about the tenants of a vineyard that had been left in their care (Mark 12:1–12). The tenants thought they could take ownership of the vineyard because the owner was absent and the people the owner sent to remind the tenants of their obligations had not the owner’s power to enforce them.

The present-day tenants of the Christian enterprise have sought to claim ownership by doing away with the person and teachings of Jesus as set forth in the canonical New Testament and substituting either their own opinions or those of various people, past and present. This is readily evident in people who deny the truth of the New Testament accounts. It is also true of those who remake the gospel in order to attract people to their ministries. It shows up in the portion of Christianity whose image of Jesus is a dead man on a cross. It is also apparent in churches where the empty cross and not God’s love are made the center of preaching and teaching.

Rowe makes the point in his book that when a “moral or metaphysical order is invalidated, a practice whose sense was made in relation to this order literally loses its sense.” What this means, in plain language, is that when Christian churches and institutions move off the bedrock of the being and reality of Jesus Christ their practices of Christianity become nonsensical. This is a strong statement but I suspect it was what had become the situation when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It may be that many of the people who are leaving the practice of Christianity are sensing at some level this disconnect between the reality of their churches and what Christianity really ought to be.

What will happen when part of American Christianity becomes a mission of light to darkened churches should not be a great surprise. John 3:19–21 (English Standard Version) tells us there will be two reactions. Some people will hate the light and resist it so their evil works will not be exposed. Others, who have having been holding to the truth, will come to the light and be seen as people of God.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Judgment is not a popular thought in our culture. I think it is true that some Christians in the past both misunderstood it and overemphasized it. Judgment is not getting zapped by a lightning bolt when we do something wrong. It is choosing darkness when light is available, and having to live with the consequences of that choice. One of the missions of a reformed American Christianity will be to show our nation both the reality of the light and the truly fulfilled lives Christians can live.

According to Rowe, Luke in the book of Acts shows us that Christianity was not to be a reformation of Roman culture but an overturning of it. If we apply this understanding of Acts to American Christianity, we can see that something radical is needed for its reformation. Institutional Christianity swallowed up the converts of the Billy Graham crusades, the Jesus people of the ‘70s, and the men of the Promise Keepers movement. Perhaps a motto for reformation will be “Step out of your Church and enter the Kingdom of God.” This was the essentially the message of the first reformation and I think American Christianity needs as thorough a revision. However, it should be accomplished without all the downsides, such as divisions among the reformers, persecutions, religious wars and so forth.

It is at this point that the formation of tangible Christian communities will be required to show the reality of life in Christ. I think these communities can be virtual (existing on the social media), ad hoc (Christians coming together at particular times and places to accomplish meaningful objectives), and long term (more or less permanent groups of Christians who have chosen to be an expression of the body of Christ). I also think it will need our submission to the leading of Christ and the Holy Spirit as the reformation task is too large and too difficult for our human abilities, no matter how motivated we might be.