Archive for August, 2006

Faith and Peace with God

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Being at peace with God is not an intellectual argument as to how best summarise the perceived benefits, both to man and to God, of salvation in a general statement on the atoning work of Christ, achieved through His death, arrived at by the studious scanning of scriptures, making sure along the way to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, to present an entire man, grounded in the best of modern Biblical scholarship, holy and just and blameless before God.

For I don’t know about you but I did not come to a knowledge of Christ in this way, rather having come to the end of my tether, desperate to find peace for my soul, I sought God with an all consuming intensity to put right all that I could put right and pursued holiness with a lust that realised my life depended on it. I must admit to a certain tardiness at the time at intellectualising the process as to how Christ’s suffering achieved in my soul the peace I so desperately desired, I seemed to have more pressing things to ponder at the time like God’s mercy, power, forgiveness and concern, His help in rescuing my soul from the pit of despair and the sorrows of a man blind to His love. As I skated on the precipice of oblivion He was a true friend and a comfort in the day of trouble.

Having thus arrived back from the dead with a reasonably obvious desire to tell my tale, and to give my thanks to the Lord, I find my theology, arrived at through the difficult school of being crucified with Christ to my sins and being made alive again to Him in His triumph over death, was inferior to others who had being working out their salvation in the battlefields of library shelves and lexicons and the hallowed halls of bible colleges throughout the land.

One could only marvel at the row upon row of ‘tombs’ that filled the library shelves. Men’s lives poured out upon the altar of erudition, as they dissected, with obscene detachment, the living word of God and left us with the mangled corpse, carefully preserved in the pickling jars of weighty volumes; such as lengthy dissertations on the ransom theory of atonement versus, their obvious favourite, the substitutionary theory. I was turn over page gripped as I followed the technical arguments over whether the derivatives of the Greek word ‘hileos’ inferred God’s wrath ultimately fell upon His only begotten Son to satisfy His indignation at the sins of mankind, and I wondered if I was on another planet.

I found myself laughing out loud as I read the theological masterpieces that steered the thought of modern Christianity. It hit me with blinding clarity as to why the church is in the state that it’s in – the laughing stock of the world, except nobody laughs now because the joke has worn so miserably thin. And I wondered how has it come to this?

The question that hits me with some impact is this “Is it actually possible for a righteous man to be found in the church?” The answer, which is obvious, is curiously also theologically answered in the negative. Of course Christians don’t see it that way, but by a cunning sleight of hand they declare themselves righteous while at the same time declare that it is impossible, on their part, to keep from sinning. This is where theology starts to sound like a comedy sketch. They declare, “God sees me righteous on account of Jesus dying in my place on the cross (the substitutionary atonement) and in gratitude I’m going to do the best that I can to obey God, but because I’m still ruled by the ‘old sinful man’ we all know that try as hard as I might, I’m not going to do it. Thankfully, however, because I’m ‘called’, God’s forgiveness is assured and He will never let me go and somehow, in the twinkling of an eye, when I die I will be transformed into a perfect man in God’s own image.” How do they know all this to be true you may well ask and the answer is simply that they believe it to be true!

Here is another question, “What is the difference between a non-believer who is really trying to be a good person and a Christian?” The answer is not much! Except the Christian thinks he is especially chosen of God to live forever while he believes the non-believer is destined for hell.

You might well ask, “Why does the Christian have such a high opinion of himself?” Which is of course a good question, but the Christian will respond, “I’m no better than you, but God, by a free sovereign choice, chose me to enjoy this good fortune and, by an inscrutable mystery of His will, decided against choosing you?” Your immediate response to this information would probably be to ask this question, “How do you know that He has chosen you?” And this is the wonderful Catch-22 nub of it all because the answer is “Because we believe it to be true” and if you are able to believe that all they tell you to be true is true then you must also be chosen, but if you think that something smells like rotten cheese then I’m sorry but your damned!

It’s all pretty heady stuff and learned men go to college to get their head pushed around until they understand exactly why it is absolutely right and important to believe Scripture in their particular way, and why this makes them righteous men and sinners all at the same time, while other men are just sinners. If it all sounds too good to be true then it just might be possible that they’ve got something terribly wrong!

It also explains why a real righteous man cannot be found in the Church!

If you want to have some fun go to a Christian group, it doesn’t matter which one, and explain in logical detail how it is impossible to be both righteous and a sinner at the same time and before too long, as long as you don’t get seduced along the way by either their infectious enthusiasm or else by one of their pretty wives in waiting, you will be shown the door as a heretic. Fortunately in this day and age such sport doesn’t end in death, because the state disallows it, but in the not too distant past such men were burnt at the stake, just ask Servetus who suffered this fate in Geneva at the hands of that “great Christian reformer” John Calvin. However if you are too loud or persistent, even today, you can end up in jail for the night!

The reason I write this is not to see our jails filled but because I am alarmed at the nonsense that is proclaimed as truth in the name of Christ by men who don’t know Him but who have set themselves up to be teachers and claim to speak with His authority but who have all contributed to make the Church the fractured divided laughing stock that it is today. If Christ returned today He wouldn’t call the Church His own, it bears no resemblance to the one He planted 2000 years ago, and there is no one in the Church who grieves and mourns over this. Jesus asked when He was on earth, “When the Son of Man returns would He find faith on earth?” It’s a question the Church has never taken seriously because it believes it has faith. But a tree is judged by its fruits and it is for this reason that I write and fear!

Faith and the Church

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

What began as an extraordinary, shattering life-changing experience for a group of men who beheld and grew to desperately love the most remarkable man to ever walk the planet has denigrated into a belief system.

What began with a group of fishermen leaving behind their livelihoods in a sense of wonderment and urgency to follow a powerfully disturbing enigmatic stranger has become a ritualistic utterance of formulaic doctrine to gain entrance into a privileged club.

What began with the birth of a morality so pure that people feared the power emanating from the transformed first apostles has become a refuge for every scoundrel and confidence trickster who has ever mockingly held their hands together in prayer.

Who can claim that the faith revealed in the life of the early church is the same faith that is proclaimed today in what is loosely called the church?

Something has happened, something has changed, something has gone wrong. Let us take a look then at this faith. Let us examine the faith, which is the life of the church, in the hope that we might live!

When I say that faith is the life of the church I mean that the very glue that holds the church together is supposedly the love that flows as an outcome of the individual faith of its members. If the church is not bearing the fruits of Christlike love then it can only be that their faith is at fault.

Faith, as taught by the Church today, is a once and for all acceptance of Christ as Saviour. A transaction is done, you believe and He saves, and everything is done once and for all. All subsequent Christian theology is filtered through this belief, and everything contrary is considered doctrinally unsound or heresy. But the faith that Jesus taught is not of this nature.

The faith that He teaches is one of a relationship rather than a transaction. An understanding of faith then, in the theological sense, is alien to Christ. If you put your faith in Him and remain steadfast, the day will one day dawn, when you will know who He really is, the power of His love and all the wisdom and insight that resides in his breast.

Faith will have its fulfilment. No one can take this faith from you, for if you are loved and have come to know the full depth of that love and have truly put your faith in that love, then you will walk and grow and live in that love until you reach the maturity of faith which is the full witness of Christ.

When Jesus walked on earth the disciples were often challenged in their understanding by the witness of Christ, both His words and work, and their stumbling revealed that their faith, and hence their comprehension, was lacking; even as He walked among them. But once He went to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit in power their joy was made the more full and their understanding was enlightened by the fullness of His presence. That had not happened previously, not because He wasn’t available to them in fullness before then, but because the actual work of Christ’s life and death had to have its affect upon their lives to the extent that they were open to fully receive.

In other words it was not merely the atoning work of Christ in His death that was their salvation. But the act of putting their faith in Him, trusting Him, needing Him, loving Him, listening to Him, being shattered in this faith through His death until, in the agony of this brokenness, they had been emptied of all other gods (i.e. reasons for living other than love of Christ), and had their faith in Him completely rewarded through His resurrection so that they were able to receive His Spirit in all of its fullness, for they could no longer live for anything else

Unless we too go through a similar schooling, a trusting, a walking, a shattering travail, a dying to ourselves, a being brought to know our absolute dependence and need and love and thirst for Him, then our faith is counterfeit and our understanding of salvation a fallacy.

While His disciples walked with Jesus in the flesh, we must have this work done in us through the Spirit. The Lord has to do a work in us, of the same magnitude, as the one He wrought in His disciples. This is why Peter says “don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeals that come upon you for your testing as though some strange thing were happening to you, but to the degree that you share in the suffering of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation”. Later he also writes “…you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day star arises in your heart”.

Now if those whom he writes to were complete in their salvation and understood what they believed there would be no need for him to write, “until the day star arises in your hearts”. For if they had heard the gospel – which they had – what need did they have for a star to arise in their hearts? Weren’t they already trusting? Didn’t they know the Lord? The answer is apparently not really, or fully, there was, according to Peter, a need for them to yet have their faith perfected into union with Christ as he, Peter, had already received.

This then is the faith that is a relationship. The faith that deepens and grows, that endures through trials and tribulations. A faith that is stretched to the point of breaking, only to be deepened and renewed until it is at last steadfast and secure and complete. The faith that David wrote of in the Psalm, “My soul is like a weaned child within me.” At last at rest upon the steadfast bosom of God, the breast of Christ, alive to the fire of His love, so deeply and completely, that the day star shines in your heart – the mirror of the fullness of His love.

If this faith were the faith that filled the life of the individual members of the church then the church would be a completely different body to the one we see today.

Faith and Reason

Monday, August 21st, 2006

There has recently been renewed interest in religious matters particularly so with the rise of the religious right in the United States. This has fuelled much comment in numerous newspapers and periodicals, justifiably so, but one thing that I cannot help noticing is the obvious confusion in the minds of many commentators who wrongly assume that faith and reason are two separate and conflicting ways of viewing life. That there are conflicting ways of viewing life is undeniable but to claim that to have faith is beyond reason and conversely to live by reason is to live without faith is an untenable position to take. What is often meant by reason is a belief that there is nothing that exists outside of the material universe or that to have a belief in something that cannot be apprehended by the five senses lies beyond the domain of human experience and hence is an unreasoned response. Both of these contentions are unprovable axioms and hence can only themselves be labelled as belonging to 'belief systems'. The truth is reason cannot exist independently of faith. What we put our faith in determines how we reason. Those who claim to live by reason rather than faith are really putting their faith in their own ability to reason. But what they fail to grasp is that it is the reasoning faculty in man that has produced the superstitions and dogmas they find objectionable.

Reason is therefore not supreme but is subject to ourselves and to our existence! We exist independent of our reasons. The 'reason' for our existence is therefore supreme over our own reason. To be at peace, to be complete, we have a bridge to cross that links us to that which we depend upon for that existence. That bridge is faith. Separate identity does not mean independence. To be separate and yet dependent means that we are necessarily linked to something outside of ourselves regardless of our reasoning process. We are, for example, dependent on a power outside of understanding in every breath we breathe. We can make a reasoned response to our situation of existence, but only within limits, and even these limits are beyond our control. That which links us in our understanding to that which we are necessarily dependent is faith – either real or misplaced.

Faith in something unseen is an essential foundation of reason. Reason is the articulation of the faith we have. Before we could think we were totally dependent on our mother's breast (unless she had reasoned a substitute). Now that we have been weaned from that dependency we are just as dependent on the world to supply us with all our needs. Really nothing much has changed, except what we 'think', what we 'reason'. We were taught faith in our mother's love before we could reason. Love is beyond reason. When our mother's love failed, when she was cranky or couldn't cope, we had reason to respond – either with love toward her or with bitterness. Reason doesn't exist in a vacuum. It has reason to exist for there is a reckoning to be done. What we reckon how, we reason, is dependent upon what we have put our faith in to satisfy our real needs.

Unfortunately, just because our needs are satisfied it does not follow that our faith or reason is the cause for that satisfaction. In other words, results that satisfy reason can entrench us in untruth rather than liberate us. We can seek and find justification for any of our beliefs, individually or collectively: this, for example, is the birth of our cultural identity. Within this cultural framework there are different processes of rationalisation, arriving at different conclusions to address identical social needs. In politics, for example, we are often confronted with polarized public opinion, based upon contrary reasoned responses, to various issues. It isn't reason that divides but rather the axioms upon which that reason is based. These axioms, these beliefs, this faith we have in the direction of our reasons, are that which we need to confront to arrive at just and workable conclusions to the challenges that confront us.

To believe in the supremacy of reason is to believe that we, within ourselves, are capable of knowing all things – this is of course absurd. If we are born knowing nothing, and subjected to an education by those who know as good as nothing, where does this propensity to know all, by reason alone, spring from? I know I don't know; I don't know which way the wind blows tomorrow or the day after, whether there will be drought or famine, depression or revolution. I can, at best, read the signs; but like reading the future in tea-leaves, the signs make myriad of patterns, of possibilities, too vast for me, through reason alone, to find a path for my feet to travel in perfect safety and security. If I cannot find a path with certainty for myself, using reason alone, how can I hope to guide others?

My life is not subject to my reason alone, neither my living nor my dying. I do not create my life. I am in fact powerless in regard to its occurrence. Reason therefore tells me that there is reason beyond my reasoning for my existence. To fulfil the purpose of my being, there must be a propensity within me to place my faith in a reason beyond me, to guide me in a path that is for me. Just as there is an external light that guides the eyes of my body, there needs be a light that illumines my internal eyes, that I might walk the spiritual path of my life without stumbling. If this is true for me, faith tells me it is true for all men, no matter how they reason.

Ultimately to say that we have lost faith in all things, except for our ability to reason, is an absurdity. It is in fact a most unreasonable statement. If we have reason to believe in the perfection of our reason we must reason our claim, we have a responsibility to show all and sundry how we have arrived at this deduction that all may share in its bounty. If it is impossible to prove, as you will no doubt find, how can we keep holding fast to an unprovable axiom? Why do some believe as true an unsubstantiated claim? By doing so are they really 'preferring evidence to faith'? In a moment of weakness have they not been blinded by the’ light' of their own reason? They have found all other systems of belief unpalatable and have trusted in their own taste as supreme. It is not reason per se, however, that they believe in, but rather the 'light' of assurance they feel that their reason is correct. It is the 'Eureka' of Archimedes, the Newtonian apple of inspiration; it is this dawning of understanding that they trust in. But what is this light that gives man this assurance in his search for knowledge? Is this light always unerringly right and what is its source?

As I have mentioned all beliefs and dogmas and superstitions are the fruit of man's reasoning. Man has had numerous feelings of illumination, inspirational assurances that he has arrived at truth. But how many of them were true? Those who believe in the supremacy of reason would maintain only those insights that are not based on faith, but are they right? Today we believe we have arrived at truth because we have arrived at deeper and deeper analysis of observable reality. But if we take any field of science, and plumb its depths, we always come up with a brick wall. The light that illumines man's understanding has not yet revealed the ultimate truth that he is seeking. Rather than accept his limitations – a reasonable choice – man decides to reason otherwise. Why? Because he needs to put his faith in something! Without faith he has no reason! Only a man of reason calls a brick wall a door! A man of faith calls a wall a wall!

If reason tells me that it is not reason that I seek but light, then I must ask "What light?" As we can see there are many lights that illumine men's understanding, but not all light is reliable. Or in other words not all of which man puts his faith in proves faithful. Now just because we can be wrong about what we trust it does not follow that their is nothing that is trustworthy. For example, just because many men are unfaithful to their wives it does not mean that all men are unfaithful. So what we are seeking is a spiritual husband, a light which is never wrong to illumine our understanding; a faithful husband in whom we can put our faith.

As men of wisdom and learning we know that there are many faiths, many beliefs and many men who claim to speak the truth, but in whom we see no truth at all – Men who preach in a loving God but in whom we observe no love at all. Because we are wise men we reason thus – "All these men are fools, therefore there is no God at all". The reason we reason thus is not because we know, not because we want to believe "that though all men are liars God Himself is true", but it is because we know we are all flawed men, full of faults and failings, and we find it easier, more convenient to cope in unbelief, than to face the truth about ourselves. We can breathe a collective sigh of relief, if we choose to believe that there is no just and loving Father of us all who is rightly displeased with our meandering ways.

Seeing this is the state of all men unbelief not only flourishes but it is also strengthened by a sense of camaraderie, as if the weight of numbers alone equals truth. Not only this but we borrow from one another's reasoning to confirm us in the choice we have already decided to take. Hence we live in a world of collective amnesia, a self-induced hypnosis, a preparedness to believe anything but the truth.

Men of 'reason' rightly scorn on men of 'faith', for men of 'faith' use their reason to justify their own inability to live by what they preach. Men of 'faith' look at men of 'reason' and rightly say – "You say that there is no God to put your faith in, but you do not see that what you believe in is a new creed cast in your own image". Both use reason to justify their own existence. All are in error.

It is not that men who claim to trust in reason have no faith, but rather that they have no faith in what they perceive to be systems of belief. It is not that systems of belief are founded on no evidence, but that we choose to decide if the evidence of their claims allows us to be persuaded of their veracity.

If one reads Scripture, one finds that the faith expressed in both the Old and New Testaments is based on evidence. Noah heard God, listened to Him, built an Ark and then there was a flood. You can argue whether you believe in the events or not, but you cannot argue that Noah's faith, as depicted, was not based on evidence. Similarly Moses saw the Burning Bush and responded. Samuel heard God and listened. Isaiah saw God high and exalted and cried out in alarm. All of these men first saw or heard and then believed. Similarly the disciples saw Christ. He was in their midst he spoke to them and they believed him. His crucifixion was witnessed, as too was his appearance after his resurrection. Doubting Thomas was given the evidence he required, as was Gideon in the Old Testament. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus. John was shown all that he wrote in the book of Revelation, as was Daniel whilst in captivity in Babylon.

There is in fact a substantial body of evidence recorded, what we are choosing to do is cast our vote as to whether we are willing to believe these men's experience or not.

In summary, as reasonable men, I hope we are not deceived in our reasoning. I hope we do not fall into the trap of regarding our own ability to reason as superior to another's, simply on the basis of our own perceptions. For surely, unless we are prepared to have even the very foundations we stand upon shaken, real enlightenment and truth have no way of proceeding.