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: 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 Maturity

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.

What I Believe: Forgiveness

Most of the time when we think of forgiveness we think of God forgiving us. However, at the end of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus gave the people he was speaking to this teaching about forgiving others. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 RSV).

The need for forgiveness among people comes from us having to live as imperfect people in a fallen world. Fortunately, Jesus gave us two commandments that form the basis of right-minded forgiveness. Love God with all our being and love everyone—including ourselves. Forgiveness should be based on love not on a desire to get right with God by obeying a commandment. Also, I think Jesus had in mind that our love should be as clear-sighted as his and not fogged by cultural constructs. Be that as it may, commandments are always impossible for us to completely obey. This brings us to how we go about the matter of forgiveness.

To be able to truly forgive others, and ourselves when we fail to do what is right, we must ask God to grant us the ability to love in a way that exceeds our present capacity. We need from the Holy Spirit a filling of love so we can forgive others and ourselves not on the basis of their or our righteousness but because we have been enabled to have in us more of God’s love

I also believe following the guidance of the Lord’s Prayer keeps us from asking God for mercy and refusing to grant it to others.

What I Believe: Justification

Justification is when God the Father accepts us as righteous through the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us. Justification precedes sanctification and glorification. As far as I know, it must be provided to us by God’s grace before we leave planet Earth.

Justification appears to have the characteristic of a “legal fiction.” We are never totally righteous until we are finally glorified in heaven but we are treated as such on earth because our glorification is a sure thing. I believe that once justification is granted to us, it will never be taken away. One reason for this is that justification does not come from us nor is it given for what we are or think or for what we do.

By his sinless life and total obedience to his Father’s will, Jesus made it possible, I believe, for the Father, in justice, to provide righteousness to those who are effectually called.

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: Soteriology

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

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

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

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

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

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.