Tag Archives: faith

Church, Faith, and Returning to the Fold

I went to church today. The first time since April, and probably the first time in years — and maybe ever — I’ve gone solely for myself. Growing up as the pastor’s kid, church attendance was mandatory. It was the same in college, where church attendance was monitored and enforced. Then I was married, later with kids, and church attendance was simply a part of our lifestyle. But I’m not sure how much of my attendance over all these years was because it was something I wanted and needed so much as it was expected because I called myself a Christian and Christians go to church.

But today I went alone. No wife, no kids, just me. I went because the mental block that has prevented me from embracing my faith for so many years finally came down this last week, and going to church wasn’t just something I realized I needed but that I desired. I saw people I haven’t spoken with in months, had good conversations with many of them, received one or two supportive hugs, sat under teaching from I Samuel and Daniel, made lunch plans, and generally had a good morning. I didn’t pretend that things are all good in my life, and the people I spoke with were gracious enough to be understanding of that and to offer what words of support they could, which I greatly appreciated. I even managed to remain awake and alert throughout the sermon without experiencing a sleep attack, something that would have been remarkable just a few months ago.

There’s still a long road ahead and much work to be done on my part. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m living my faith for myself and not because it’s something that’s expected of me. As a result I’m finding it far more fulfilling than at any other time I can remember. Like so many other parts of my life right now, it’s a marathon I’m running and not a sprint. And so it continues to be one foot in front of the other, for as long as it takes to reach the goal. Seems like there’s an apostle who wrote something about that once…

Riposte: Christians for Sanity

bq. I’ve said it many times before: creationism is just wrong, and one group that should be fighting it hardest is Christians. They are letting a vocal minority usurp their religion, and if they don’t speak up they run the risk of letting those people speak for them. (Source: “Bad Astronomy Blog”:http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2007/02/10/christians-for-sanity/)

Seriously? No, really – _seriously?!_ The group that should be fighting creationism the hardest is Christians? I disagree — vehemently. The folks who should be _supporting_ creationism most ardently are Christians – despite the claim made above, I don’t believe that creationists are even remotely in the minority of Christian faith (though I suppose I could be wrong – a lot could have changed while I wasn’t paying attention).

Now, while I wouldn’t say that the Bible should necessarily be “interpreted literally”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2005/03/24/thursday-march-24-2005-at-0241-pm/#comment-1288 (there’s a lot of metaphor, poetry, and storytelling in there where literal interpretation would actually cause understanding to break down), I _do_ believe that it is inerrant. I also believe in a literal six-day creation cycle – the original texts are quite clear on this point. The Hebrew is very specific about the intended meaning. There is no cultural context would force a different interpretation of the events described in the first chapter of Genesis. There’s no poetry, no storytelling, no figurative speech contained in those first few pages.

Scientific claims run counter to the Biblical explanation of the universe and mankind’s origins. It’s been a continual source of contention for decades — and it always will be. But the folks over at “Answers in Genesis”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/ provide solid apologetical responses to the claims of secular science, answers that, despite secular science’s claims to contrary, are well-thought out, answers that take science facts, data, and evidence into consideration, and yes, answers that are even rational and logical.

I know how antagonistic secular science is toward all concept of creation and intelligent design — and I’m even fine with that. You can please everyone, and people who ardently believe a certain ideal become very angry and hateful toward people who believe differently than them (and sadly, this also applies to many Christians). I respect the belief that Christians should be on the front lines opposing creationism; it’s an opinion, but nothing more. But those Christians who “celebrate Darwin Day”:http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11145-christian-faith-in-the-iotheri-good-book.html are, I believe, grossly and dangerously in error. I believe that a Christian _can_ believe in evolution and the Big Bang and still be a Christian, but I believe that their beliefs with regard to origins theory are very, very wrong.

Call me a goofy whacko, if you will (oh, you already have?), but you simply can’t tell me all this around us came about by accident, not even by citing the “2nd law of thermodynamics”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/#comment-10675 at me. I recognize the value of science and acknowledge its importance. But I don’t believe that traditional secular science has a prayer (I just love irony) of explaining the origins of this universe or of mankind. It’s simply too limited and conducted by a creature that is itself far too limited to explain or understand something that big and complex.

Rational/Emotional Logic

A friend “wrote an entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2007/02/01/its-all-in-your-head yesterday that got me thinking – the natural state of so-called ‘rational thinkers’ is, at best, skepticism and, at worst, out-right cynicism and condescension. The rational thinker realizes that there is always something more to learn, something more to know. He realizes that never in his life will he be able to get his mind around everything there is to know and experience; he realizes that any conclusion he comes to is going to be prone to error. Every fact and tidbit is subject to revision as more data is received, processed, and catalogued. Doubt and uncertainty become, to some extent, a way of life because everything the rationalist knows is subject to change, given the right sort of revelations (usually involving new things coming from the scientific community).

So it’s ironic, then, that the more knowledge one possesses, the less rational that person can become. Human beings are, by their very natures, emotional creatures. Everything we do and think involves an emotional factor, an _irrational_ reaction that rationality by itself often cannot predict or counter. Because everything the rationalist knows can be called into question, can be subject to revision, there is an inherent emotional stressor (called doubt) present that often goes unidentified, one that, if left unchecked, can actually undermine the very process of rational thought.

The rationalist attempts to logically work his way through a problem area, using critical thinking as his primary tool. He works from a set of “presuppositions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/ based on those bits of knowledge he already possesses and has been able to fit together, leaving any of them open to revision in the event he finds that the new information he has just gleaned sheds some new light on any of those beliefs. He neglects, however, to account for the seemingly random emotional factor, disregarding it as unimportant exactly _because_ it is not ‘rational.’ So, when he is faced with a confrontational factor during this rational process, he is frequently unable to deal with it and locks down his rational system, ultimately by walling himself behind those things he already believes and sees as ‘safe’ and solid because those are the things he has already worked through and believes to be true. As a result any information that was presented in a confrontational manner is disregarded as illogical and irrational – whether or not it actually is – because it evoked an adverse, stressful emotional response. This decision is typically reinforced when it is philosophical in nature, when it is something that rational science cannot itself examine directly.

The presupposed way of thinking is, therefore, reinforced – it’s safe and does not make the rational thinker _feel_ stressed or upset. It is ordered, structured, logical and is thus deemed to be the better conclusion of the two.

Sometimes, then, rational thinking can, in fact, be an emotional reaction and therefore be the more irrational of the two. True rational thought should recognize the presence of emotion and not only prevent it from ruling the thought process but should take it into account and even integrate it.

Presuppositionalism, Science, and Faith

I know I’m probably going to take a beating for writing this, but here goes, anyway.

I suppose you could say that I’m a “pressuppositionalist”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositionalist – I tend to follow an apologetic approach that believes it is impossible to find “meaning in anything where man himself is at the center of the pursuit for truth and understanding”:http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa210.htm. I carry with me a “certain set of core beliefs and assumptions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2005/04/16/saturday-april-16-2005-at-0812-pm/ that guide and govern, not only those things that I do, but also the way I fit together all knowledge into a cohesive whole.

It’s interesting – when the evolutionist looks around him and witnesses nature, “he sees millions of years of natural selection at work”:http://highlyallochthonous.blogspot.com/2006/10/mountain-musings-2-whats-god-got-to-do.html; when I look around me, I can’t but believe that _something_ had to have put all this in place. This belief is based purely in logic and observation – I just find it impossible to think that chaos at the beginning of time could have somehow found its way into some sense of organization that just naturally progressed over billions and billions of years to what we have now. That, to me, requires a much greater leap of faith than believing in an intelligent creator. From everything I’ve seen and witnessed and studied, the natural state of the universe at large tends toward entropy. Everything that currently exists is moving steadily toward a state of decay and decline, not the other way around. This has ever been the way of things. So I find it much easier to believe that everything started in a state of perfect order that somehow began a downward spiral toward chaos.

Both of these viewpoints are based on a set of presuppositions. For the evolutionist, there is no God, no creator, no intelligent designer, merely a “long process of natural selection”:http://skatje.com/?p=103, with new species adapting to their environments until we have the diversity that we see today. And natural selection makes some amount of sense, since it _is_ directly observable in the world around us – the strongest of the herd survive while the slowest, sickest, and least able to adapt die off, thus strengthening the species as a whole. I just have trouble believing that natural selection could ever have, ultimately, brought humanity into existence from a single-celled bacterium – and I have yet to see compelling evidence that states such. For the creationist (or the IDist), there must have been something intelligent and powerful to have set all this in place, that there is no way for something like this universe in which we live to have come about by chance or some evolutionary process.

Consider this – what if the all that scientific data that has been collected on the origins of the universe and the evolutions of the species can’t be trusted? Secular scientists place a lot of faith in rationality. They place man at the very center of rationality itself by presupposing that systematic, scientific study will eventually unlock all the secrets of the universe – or at least that’s the goal and hope – and this methodology _does_ and has worked in a great many areas of study and research. But what if scientific study as it relates to these two macroscopic issues has been placed in the wrong context? What if, by placing man at the center, by assuming that if we only ask the right questions and study things in as unbiased a manner as possible, what if in doing science in this manner, we are getting it wrong? What if this basic assumption in secular science has led to a great many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the data we have?

I believe that faith and science _can_, indeed, “complement each other”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/. When “framed in the context of an intelligent designer”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/, the scientific data that seems to lend itself so strongly for evolution yields a very different picture. And contrary to popular belief, scientists who believe in intelligent design _are_ still scientists who work within the constraints of their field. The data I’ve seen on sites like Answers in Genesis is the same data I’ve seen shown on secular science sites, with the same explanations of what it means. The difference is that Christian scientists provide alternative solutions for why some of that data might be misleading. It is unfortunate, in a way, that many of these explanations can never be verified, as they are the result of “unreproducible events”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/#comment-8899. Similarly, neither can secular scientists prove their claims about the origins of the universe for the exact same reason. Despite objections from the secular community, Christian scientists _are_ able to provide a complete, unified response for their conclusions based on their presuppositions. And theirs is a response that makes _much_ more logical, rational sense to me than the origins answers that secular science sometimes provides.

And this is where faith bonds with science. We believe, based on a record given in the Bible, that the Earth looked a certain way during its beginning. Framing scientific data into this context provides an explanation why, for instance, “carbon dating may not be as accurate”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/carbon_dating.asp as is generally assumed by the secular scientific community. Because none of these events that various groups believe in – Creation, Big Bang, Great Flood, evolution – can actually be reproduced and examined first-hand, certain things must, by necessity, be taken with a certain measure of faith. This does not stop scientific study itself, nor should it. Mankind is, by his very nature, curious and so there is a great deal of worth to be derived from such pursuits. But the scientific community, no matter what camp, should bear in mind that personal presuppositions are going to greatly influence the way the collected data is interpreted.

So does secular rationality actually fail when faced with its own presuppositions? We can only wait and see, but I would posit that, yes, it does. Mankind is a “limited”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/09/05/finite-to-infinite-2/, “finite”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/04/05/finite-to-infinite/ creature, and as such our abilities to know and understand will always be subject to that limitation. If science, by itself, reveals anything to us with regard to the origins of everything that is, it will be that we can never know everything and that some ‘secrets’, like how the universe began or where mankind came from, will never be answered by science alone.

But don’t mind me – those’re just my presuppositions talking.

Faith

“Eric Bailey”:http://www.xanga.com/YOYOY008 has what may be the “most profound statement on understanding faith”:http://www.xanga.com/YOYOY008/534408149/faith.html that I’ve heard in quite some time. He recaps the story of Abraham and Isaac, the sacrifice commanded by God on top of that mountain, and Abraham’s unquestioning obedience. Eric also points out the impossibility of faith, the juxtaposition of two things that cannot both be true. Powerful, dynamic faith not only believes that both can be true but that both will occur. Surely, Abraham both believed that God would make a great nation from Isaac and that he would sacrifice his son. Hebrews states that Abraham actually believed that God would raise Isaac from the ashes.

Here is the most notable quote from Eric’s thoughts, the summary and point of his contemplations:

You not only have to know that the mountain will move, but that it is impossible to move it.

And you must know both without any doubt.

… Get it yet?

Faith is something of a divine madness — It transcends understanding, it transcends words, feelings, expression, life…

Or, at least, it _should_.

Abraham.

Go give the whole thing a read. He makes a most insightful point.

Finite to Infinite

I’ve been delighted that a “friend”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com of mine has joined the ranks of bloggers. He never fails to stimulate my thinking, and his “entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2006/09/03/evil-problems/ from the other day is no exception:

bq. As to another application, while studying philosophy here in seminary, I’m curious about Plato & Natural Theology. Philosophy has always been ‘searching’ for a conception of God that is ‘pure-God’, consistent, full, beyond disbelief. But it’s a search without an end. Who’s to say your conception of God “is”? You conception of God will never be The Concept of God, it will always only be Your Conception of God, in-so-far as it’s based only in your head & not in external info (like God’s own self-revelation).

As usual, I’m taking one piece of his monologue and running in a slightly different, but related, direction with it. Yes, I like philosophical rabbit-trails. They’re fun.

He’s correct in saying that no conception of God will ever be consistent, full, or beyond disbelief. Ultimately, none of us can ever have a concept or understanding of God that is comprehensive and total. God is, by definition, infinite; we as humans are, by definition, finite. It is simply impossible to fit the infinite into the finite. The finite will never be able to contain it all, let alone comprehend it or understand it. This is the nature of the created to the Creator. He will always, ever be so much bigger than us that all we will ever be able to understand of Him will be just the very, very tip of a massive iceberg. In point of fact, it is safe to say that our human (finite) understanding of an infinite God will always be infinitely small.

This is exactly the reason why faith is a necessary factor in relating to an infinite God. We have to understand that, since we are infinitely smaller than Him, there will always be an infinite number of things about Him that we simply cannot comprehend or understand, that will be forever beyond our reach to see, know, or experience. This is why faith is absolutely crucial to our ability to relate to an infinite God. We have to trust that God is good, despite the fact that He does not reveal everything to us, knowing that we are simply unable to grasp all that knowledge.

This is also why science will always fail to fully explain everything that exists and happens in the universe. Science is, by its very nature, a finite tool. It is a construct of finite men and so is inherently limited. Because the ability of men to see and know and understand is limited, so too is science limited in the same ways. Science _is_ a useful tool for learning more about that which finite men can experience, but science can never be the all-encompassing, comprehensive tool of study that mankind would like it to be.

Faith and science are not mutually exclusive tools. They are, in fact, complements to one another, particularly when wielded with wisdom and patience.

Ever At Odds

I’ve been grappling with my feelings about an ongoing conversations I’ve been watching for the past few days. Long-time readers of this site know that I strive to always be respectful of the beliefs and opinions of everyone who comes here, even when those opinions are very different from my own. As a result I have won some unlikely friends and subscribers, and we have had some lively and engaging discussions, as a result. What I have struggled with lately is the debate between three particular groups that seems to have soured all parties involved.

I believe that apologetics are important. Generally, when one thinks of apologetics, they think of the formal defense of the Christian faith, but technically anyone who engages in the formal defense of their faith, whether they believe in God or not, is engaging in apologetics. The reason that I believe apologetics are important is because I think it is crucial that a person know what it is they believe and the fundamental reasons behind that knowledge. I mean, how else can a person stand on their faith and beliefs if they do not know the ‘why’ of said beliefs?

I’ve been watching a virtual apologetic slug-fest for a few days now. The three groups I have seen thus far are: 1) atheists intent on breaking down the Christian faith by showing its logical leaps and fallacies; 2) Christians reacting to said atheist arguments; and 3) other Christians in conflict with the former group of Christians over various issues, including the proper approach to apologetics and whether apologetics are even necessary. What I see is a lot of sarcasm, cynicism, and derision; snide remarks, caustic questions, and critical allegations. What I see is a debate that is merely spinning its wheels in the mud, with any headway in the argument being completely stalled because everyone is pushing against each other in a reactionary manner rather than working and talking together to gain a better understanding of one another and of Truth. As you might imagine, it’s frustrating to watch. I’ve been tempted to chime in a time or two, add my own viewpoint and perspective, but I really wonder if it would even make a difference. I think it probably would not, and so I have not.

I’m all for firmly standing on what one believes. I don’t like dealing with wishy-washy people ((So, when I’m wishy-washy about something because I don’t completely what I believe myself, I’m usually pretty frustated with myself.)), so I have a great deal of respect for an individual who knows what he believes and can back that belief up with reasonable, rational arguments. ((And yes, even statements of faith can be rational, contrary to what some might tell you.)) What I can’t abide is that same individual having a condescending and arrogant attitude about his beliefs, arguing with you about your beliefs simply for the sake of having conflict and with no intention of coming to an understanding with each other.

It’s difficult to determine attitude on the Internet. All we have are words to read. There is little to no inflection added to indicate tone or soften a seemingly harsh turn of phrase. So, something that reads like sarcasm or arrogance may not actually be so. Yet given enough time with the dialogue, one should be able to pick up from the response of the opposing party that one’s own words are being taken as sarcastic and arrogant, and one should then make an effort to couch one’s words from that point onward in softer language that conveys respect and humility. It’s tough, I know, but it’s well worth the effort in the longrun and greater strides are made at mutually beneficial discussion.

I’m watching harsh words be flung about haphazardly, words that contain bitterness and cold resentment, words that strike out with anger, and I think to myself, This ought not be. But I am helpless to do anything about it.

My faith is important to me, and it is important to me to be able to defend it to those who might call it into question. But I find it unreasonable to defend it with sarcasm and arrogance because in doing so, I validate the point of my challenger and forever turn him or her off to the message of Hope that I carry with me. Why do so few see the damaging affect that their words have on the hearts and minds of others? And when faced with the truth of what their words do, why do they then shrug that revelation off so that they may continue as before?

Hard are men’s hearts and blind are men’s eyes when they are confronted by Truth yet do not recognize nor heed it.

To all who come here, to all who read my words, know that you are welcome here and that you are welcome to present and discuss your beliefs in this forum. I cannot do anything about the others who do not seem to be truly open to discussion, but I can continue to assure that this will be a place of sanctuary, where people are free to believe as they will and are free to talk about their beliefs without animosity or rancor. I welcome you with arms wide open and hope that you will choose to stay awhile.

Give Me Simplicity

There are many times during the course of my immersion into the realms of science fiction and fantasy, whether it be reading books, watching shows or movies, etc., when I wish that I could experience aspects of those cultures first-hand. For instance, in the short-lived show _Firefly_, two cultures merged into one when humanity abandoned Earth. The predominant world superpowers at that time were the United States and China. So, when new worlds were terraformed and then populated by Earth’s refugees, it wasn’t long before most inhabitants of this new solar system were bi-lingual, speaking English primarily but switching over to Mandarin in moments of high emotion.

In Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon cycle, the culture of Britain in the early days after Jesu left his mark on the world was rich with history, symbolism, and faith. The mere image of the cross was enough to spark strong emotional and behavioral reactions in the followers of the Great Light, of the one True God. You can believe that nothing in their faith was taken for granted.

What it comes down to is this – I see in many Americans a shallowness that borders on being depressing. I don’t believe it always used to be this way. Early on in our nation’s history, national pride was treasured, cherished. It was important to be known as an American, important enough to die for, as many did. Today it seems that so many of our citizens are almost ashamed to be called Americans, thinking that to claim such is to be pretentious and arrogant in the eyes of the world. We are becoming American in name only, with so many having no concept of the pride that goes with being called such.

So, too, in our churches and in our faith. We are becoming Christian in name only, and that often only barely. Cultural shallowness has begun to penetrate our minds, our hearts, our churches so that our ministries become less effective, less robust. As both Americans and as Christians, we are losing our culture, those elements that root us in what we are and in what we believe. The cross of Christ has become less of an integral, necessary part of our belief system and more of a digitized placeholder of faith whereupon we look and remark in a distracted manner about how important it is to our faith.

A recent email conversation among some friends has addressed this topic from the perspective of the church’s affluence. The problem posed at the outset of the discussion is that of the presence of “fancy buildings… sound systems, and the musical instruments, and the hundreds of different colors of papers, and the power point programs, and twenty children’s programs and all associated materials.” These are all things that most of our churches today seem to think they require in order to function and minister effectively. We seem to require that our auditoriums be air conditioned and that crying children be removed from the service, that the drums not be played too loudly (or at all) and that the pastor have the appropriate level of pious humility if we are to be expected to worship at all. ((Email correspondence))

There are several things that I believe have contributed to the current state of affairs in our churches. The first is that the increased development of technology has pushed the pace of culture into hypersonic speeds. Information and data travel at a breakneck rate nowadays, and most of us have noticed that life has moved into not just the fast lane but into the ultra-fast lane. We have less time now than we ever did, and what free time we have we fill with activities that are, essentially, needless. We are constantly inundated with more and more information that we must sort through and process, and as a result we have become detached from those things that are truly important, things like God, faith, and family. This is contributor number one to the shallowness of culture.

The second contributor is the shift toward post-modern philosophy. Truth is no longer what it once was. It has become an ethereal entity that cannot be grasped. Indeed, truth has become little more than a vapor, a thing that is seen – and then only just barely – before it is caught up by the wind and blown away. We try to clasp it in our hands so that we may know it, yet it slips through our fingers and goes on its merry way, leaving us wondering if it was ever real to begin with. This is the way popular culture sees truth today, as an insubstantial, ever-changing entity that is unique to each individual. Truth has many faces, so that it may look different to each individual who views it, even changing in form to a single person depending on the circumstances surrounding its pursuit. We are continually losing the notion that truth is, in fact, static and stable, never-changing, steady throughout the ages. The Enemy attacks the idea of absolute truth because those who do not believe in it are merely sheep to be led to the slaughter. The disappearance of absolute truth has contributed to the shallowness of culture and the loss of those things which are most important. Now what is most important is determined by each person privately and may look vastly different from what is most important to the next person.

The third contributor has already been mentioned – the affluence of culture. As another contributor to the conversation stated, it seems that “the more STUFF we have around us, the more FAITH we need.” I do not believe that this is just limited to material possessions, either. I have watched as men fill their heads with more and more knowledge and ‘facts’, information that they learn and catalogue. In so doing they see less and less of God’s presence in the world and in creation and less need for something outside of themselves to provide truth and to make sense of those things that happen that we simply cannot explain. We are an affluent culture, both in the things we _own_ and in the things we _know_. The more things we have, the more we become distracted by them and the less we see a need for God. It is the _things_ that then become important because we must maintain them, maintain a certain way of life, maintain traditions that we have become comfortable with and that continue to make us comfortable. The things take a place of higher precedence, usurping God and pushing faith into the background. We continue to believe that we have faith, but all we are really left with is a dependency upon things that, when taken from us, cause us to come crashing down because, in pushing faith aside, we have struck our own foundation out from under ourselves. The acquisition and collection of things contributes to a shallow culture and a faith that is sorely taken for granted. Things are temporal; faith is not, yet we seem to have gotten the two in reverse.

I find myself yearning after some of the things I read in my fiction, not as a substitute for my faith but as a return to a simpler way of doing things, a way that eliminates so many of our distractions and restores a richness to culture and to faith that has been lost in today’s hustle and bustle of activity. I think perhaps what most appeals to me about Chinese culture, in some ways, is the richness of it, the legacy of history that inspires millions to both national pride and devotion (though even that is being lost as Western culture invades the Chinese borders). There is a power within a national legacy that the cultures of both America and American Christianity seem to lack. We have become shallow people, abhoring and rejecting that which is most important in favor of pursuing those things that are most important to _us_, our selfish and narcissistic ideals. That is what our culture has told us is important, to what and to seek out that which _we_ want, rather than what our Creator God deems important.

A return to simplicity is needed, I think, in order to return us to our roots, so that we may find again the awe of our faith and the power of God in our lives. I believe that the icons of our faith can once again become powerful, no longer taken for granted as just another pretty picture on a wall or a decorative item to be viewed and then dismissed. I also think that simplicity can be communicable, a contagion that can spread through the Church and returning it to a place where the important things are remembered and the unimportant set aside and forgotten.

Yet, I think in order for that to happen, simplicity must first take place within each one of us separately, as we extract those things in our lives that prevent us making the most of the time we have here in this life – the possessions that demand our interest, the activities that require our time, the pursuit of more knowledge and facts that only serve to distract from serving our Lord. It is in the doing and living that makes the most impact on others, that demonstrates that we do not, in actuality, require most of the things we cling to with such ferocity, that we can really be happy and content with less. It is not, and will not, be an easy process, no. But I think more and more that it is a necessary one if we as a Church in America wish to again be salt and light in our culture. We do not yet see that we need less because we are blinded by our own affluence, but there are Christians in many other countries who pray that Christians in America will face the persecution that strips away all the unnecessary things so that we will once again remember Who it is we serve and remember again what business it is we are to be about.

Less is more. Jesus knew this. It is why he taught time and again that for any man to follow Him, he must first give up all he had and then follow Him. Would that we should remember that.

Kind of Like Marriage

Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For, were Jesus to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name beside this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. -Ignatius of Antioch, one of the early church martyrs (ca. 117 C.E.), Letter to the Magnesians 10

When men are called by any other name they cease to be Christians for they have lost Christ’s name and have clothed themselves in human and foreign titles. -Justin Martyr (ca. 150), Dialogue with Trypho 35

Never at any time did Christian people take their name from their teachers among them, but from the Lord, on whom we rest our faith. Thus, though the blessed Apostles have become our teachers, and have ministered the Savior’s Gospel, yet not from them have we our name, but from Christ we are and are named Christians. -Athanasius of Alexandria (340 AD), Against the Arians 1:2

I dislike calling people onto the carpet, yet sometimes it is a necessary thing to do. The more “I think about”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=310 this issue, the more “analysis”:http://cpsdiscernment.blogspot.com/2006/03/ruminating-on-emergent-church.html I hear about it, the more I read what others write on the subject, the more I have to conclude that the folks who have stopped going to church are wrong in their decision to do so. I don’t like saying this about my brothers and sisters, yet I have no option but to conclude that the church was never meant to be broken up and fractured the way it is now.

Yesterday’s sermon at “my church”:http://www.yourchurch.com hit the subject of unity very hard. One of the things that Pastor Kauffman hit on specifically is that no matter what the problem, no matter what the issue, you do not leave the church. If your leaders are drunk around the communion table, if someone in the church takes you to court and sues you for everything you have, if something occurs that causes strife and conflict in the church, you do not leave the church. It actually occurred to me that it is something much like a marriage. No matter what happens in the marriage, you stay together and work it out, no matter how difficult it is to do. ((This symbolism is, perhaps, why the sanctity of marriage is so important.))

The fellowship of the Body is so very important for the Body functions better and more ably when it is whole. If people split off whenever there is the slightest amount of trouble (or even when there is a great deal of trouble), then the Body itself is broken into small pieces and is rendered impotent.

Titles and denominations are both terribly detrimental to the unity of the Body, as Pastor and Dr. Bebawi have “pointed out”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=315. In giving ourselves titles, in following one teacher over another, we lose our focus on the One we _should_ be following. We forget that it is all about Christ and him alone. It’s not about “labels”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=111 – it’s about being identified with Christ. It’s about joining with the Body, with the Church, and working from the foundation of our faith, that being the Gospel, to reach the rest of the world with the hope that we have. We may disagree on various points of theology along the way, but if we agree on the Trinity, on the depravity of man, on the personhood of Christ and His work on the Cross, on the work of the Holy Spirit, then we can be unified under God and we should work together to further the Gospel, no matter the problems and issues and conflicts that arise in our midst. We need to work through them, no matter how hard it may be to do so, so that the glory of God may shine in us.

Does this mean that God cannot use those times when people go off on their own? Does this mean that God is not present when they ‘do church’ in the coffee shops and private residences of our communities? Does this mean that God does not speak to and grow His children when they are absent from the Body? By no means, but I do think that the goal should be for these people to return to the Church as quickly as possible, for the strengthening of the Body and the edification of the saints. We are made all the stronger when we gather in greater numbers.

The Church is not perfect, that is sure, for it is still composed of as-yet imperfect people. Sometimes, the Church can be downright ugly, when people forget Who it is they represent. But how we the Church grow when those who most desire to do so leave it and turn their backs on it?

I appreciate the voices of those who have left, who have voiced their concerns and have spotted some of the problems within so many of our churches. But I feel that they have made the wrong choice in leaving, in depriving us of their vision and of their hopes. I recognize and realize that they are disillusioned and burned out and hurt, but we need them all the same. If we could give up our titles of Arminian and Calvinist, of Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic, I believe we could once again function as a unified Body and turn this world on its head for Christ. This will likely never happen, but it does not mean that we cannot, and should not, work toward that end. We will never be perfect this side of Heaven, but we do have perfection as a goal, and we should be taking steps, however small, toward that end.

So, please return to us, those of you who have left. We need your energy, your vision, your hope of what _could_ be and what _should_ be in our churches and in our Church. We need that inspiration, that continual renewal of vigor, especially where that vision has grown stale and stagnant. More’s the power when you are with us and when we are together as one for the cause of Christ.

Christianity – Distinct From All Others

I could have sworn I’d written previously about the uniqueness of Christianity from all other religious faiths, yet when I searched my archives to find it, I was unable to do so. Apparently it was something I’d _intended_ to write about and never did. Allow me to rectify that situation now.

One of the things that absolutely convinces me that my religious faith is the correct one, the only one that _can_ be right, is its very distinctiveness. In all the world, there is not another religious faith that is as unique, and simple, as Christianity. The one that comes closest, perhaps, is Islam, but as we “have seen already”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=315, even it falls away to be little different than all the others. What follows are a few of the things that set Christianity apart and spotlight it as being so very special.

*Nothing We Can Do, Nothing We Have To Do*

In every religious system, personal salvation is worked out by the deeds and actions of the individual. If someone desires to get to heaven or attain a higher position or status in the next life or to ascend to a nirvana-like state, that individual must first live a life that consists of more good deeds than bad. At the minimum, the scales have to be balanced, and at the maximum, they have to be tipped in favor of good deeds. It is a game of continual tension and anxiety, the individual never knowing if they have done enough to earn that special place in the next life.

Within Christianity, there is nothing that we _can_ do that is ever good enough to earn our way into Heaven. We are prohibited from doing so by our very sinful nature. But at the same time, there is nothing that we _have_ to do to earn Heaven, for what needs to be done has already _been_ done. The payment has already been made.

*God Himself Making the Way for Men*

Christianity is also unique in that it is the only religious faith where God Himself made it possible for human beings to get to Heaven. It is the only place where you will hear about God becoming a common man simply for the sake of taking on the punishment for sin. The gods of other religions have always traditionally been petty and cruel, warring and bickering amongst themselves and forcing humankind to perform all manner of menial and degrading tasks to earn a shaky place of security in the next life. Only in Christianity is admittance into Heaven a free gift, offered to any and all who would accept it, made possible by God Himself.

*Personal Relationship with God*

Christianity is also the only religious faith that teaches that men can have a _personal_ relationship with God Himself. It is the only place where God has literally reached down into history itself and spoken one-on-one with men, where He has walked with men and fellowshipped with them. It is the only place where God Himself took on the form of a child and grew up as a man, providing the bridge necessary for God and men to relate to one another in perfect harmony. The Greeks believed that the gods sometimes disguised themselves as men for a period of time, for any number of reasons, but always they returned to Olympus and never could common men maintain contact or continued communication with them. The gods were indifferent to the needs of men, caring more for their own comfort than for the welfare of men. The God of the Christians is different. He genuinely cares about His people and is fully accessible to all of them. We may go to Him personally to speak with Him and present our needs, our requests to Him. And what is more, He actually listens to and hears us. Nowhere else will you see this relationship between deity and mortal played out.

*Focus on Self, Focus on God, Focus on Others*

As a result of this relationship with God, the focus is not on ourselves, as it is in every other religious system. Everywhere else, the focus is on getting oneself into heaven, doing enough to insure that one has lived a good enough life to move to a better place when one dies. Within Christianity, everything that needs to be done has already been done, so there is no longer a need to do anything for oneself in order to get to Heaven. The focus, then, moves from self to God, and from God to others. We are able to focus on our relationship with God, following Him and serving Him. We are also able to focus on others with the joy that we have, urging them to also choose God, to choose Christ, over the cumbersome ways of self-righteousness and self-justification. We can tell them that it is so much easier than all that to make sure that one gets to Heaven, that the price has already been paid, that there is actually a personal, loving God who has already done everything for us that we need and that all we need to do is accept that gift He has offered us.

This is what makes Christianity so very unique in the world, what sets it apart from all others. The rest of the world religions may _look_ unique from one another at first blush, but when you boil it down to what each demands of its supplicants, what you find is that they all demand the same thing – good deeds of the individual in order for him or her to _earn_ his or her way into heaven. Christianity is the _only_ religion where the individual has to do nothing, where it is already done. Christianity is the only religion where its members are truly free, where the shackles of a legalistic and rules-driven life have been cut away and discarded forever.

This is what I believe sets my faith apart from all the rest, what convinces me without doubt that I have chosen the truth. There is no God like my God, no Lord like my Lord, no freedom like that freedom which He has given to me, and I will follow Him all the days of my life. I can give Him no more and no less than all of me, for He has secured my hope and my salvation.