beliefs

One Throne—One Gospel

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

Christ before Pilate-Mihaly_Munkacsy-public domain

It's easy to oversimplify and generalize truth. Doing so can make it seem shallow or trivial. But my observation is that teachers who teach well take difficult to understand truth and make it simple. This enables people to gain a good understanding of what's taught and internalize it.

My basic philosophy of learning is that unless a person (myself included!) struggles to think something through, they won't fully understand it or internalize it. Simple questions and challenges to see truth from different perspectives are useful in stirring up productive thought.

I've been writing on a certain track of thought with previous posts (see links below) and want to bring it to a conclusion—there is only one throne and one King of Kings believers need to submit their life to and this is based on the simplicity and depth of the gospel of Jesus.

Believers need to submit their life to only one throne and one King of Kings

A short review

The presentation of gospel truth—the good news of God's redemption for all humanity—is most often given in bits and pieces within a western cultural context. I wrote about this earlier.

A cursory reading of the New Testament (NT) reveals the gospel is presented in five narratives—4 Gospels and a history of the early church (Acts).

The remainder of the NT books explain this gospel narrative and give an understanding of how the truth of the gospel and its theology impact daily life within the church and among people outside the church. 

The larger narrative of God's Story, as it unfolds throughout the Bible, is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption. Even Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a heavenly narrative of how God's Story will conclude at the end of the Age.

The larger narrative of God's Story is important for those unfamiliar with the theology of redemption

Worldviews and the gospel

Consider again how truth is processed by different people with different world-views. Generally speaking, western thought presents bits and pieces of information strung together until the whole picture is seen.

In MOTROW, information and truth are understood as a whole, while bits and pieces are only seen as part of the whole. When the truth is presented in bits and pieces a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives often happens.

The post-modern mindset is similar to MOTROW when it comes to understanding truth. This mindset may still approach things in a linear fashion, but there's a freedom to associate other truth or information to a belief. This leads to a belief system like Moralistic Therapeutic Deism mentioned in a previous post.

Are you performing well?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is on what is termed a performance-based Christian faith. This is the idea that I need to do something as proof of believing in God or being a Christian. I need to give something to show my commitment to God.

This is often spurred on by well-intentioned calls to the altar—to accept Christ, to recommit your life to Christ, to serve Christ, and so on.

As mentioned in an earlier post, altars are for offering sacrifices and gifts. I see this as an expression of self-focused performance, especially when repeated many times in different services.

Are these responses or calls to some altar of self-sacrifice genuine? Yes, often they are. But the question ought to be, are they necessary?

A common emphasis in American Christianity is termed performance-based Christian faith

Only 2 vows necessary

I realized long ago that there were only two vows a person ever needs to make—one to follow Jesus and the other being joined in marriage. Both are all-inclusive and exclusive. Neither requires any additional commitments because they are all-inclusive commitments.

The call to follow Jesus is simple and requires no further clarification—Matt 16:24; Luke 14:26-27, 33. God's view of marriage, repeated four separate times in the Bible, is just as simple—Gen 2:24; Matt 19:5; Mark 10:7, Eph 5:31.

Some may argue, "But there's more to it than that!" But I ask, does God see it that way?

Reading through the book of Hebrews, I'm reminded of the great access provided for believers in the New Covenant established by God's grace—direct access to God's presence.

This access requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:16)

There are no minimum requirements for entering and remaining in the Kingdom of God. The only thing God asks is that we come to Him—Matt 11:28-30.

Access to God requires nothing of ourselves as believers—no giving, no doing, just coming into His presence—His throne of grace

What compels you to seek God?

So, back to the question—altar or throne? How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself? Or, are you coming to Him in all circumstances, good or bad?

When my children were young and I was a young pastor, I had an open door policy for my children and wife when I studied for messages. I can become so absorbed in studying that I block everything and everyone out.

My wife would remind me of my need to make myself accessible to my children and her., so I didn't elevate my work or my interests over them.

This is how I see a believer's access to God's presence. I can come at any time, in any condition, in any situation and His door is open. I don't need to offer anything or ask special permission.

The Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our promised intercessors (Rom 8:26-27, 34) ready at all times to hear us and be our advocates. Nothing and no one stands between believers and God.

How are you compelled to come to God? Are you offering Him something rather than yourself?

Guilt or grace?

Even as a young believer, I felt manipulated to respond to altar calls. I don't like being manipulated with emotion, nor do I want to just do something because it's expected or because I feel guilty about something. 

I'm not against altar calls per se, just the manipulative way they can be used and the assumptions made based on responses to these calls. I'm especially concerned about the self-effort I see people exerting to get into God's good graces. It's just not necessary.

God didn't ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac more than once. God accepted it and declared Abraham as righteous by faith (Gen 15:6; 22:1-18). Jesus only died once to justify those who trust in Him (Heb 9:12-14), this is made clear in several places in Hebrews.

Is there any need for doing something additional? If you think so, you don't understand God's grace. God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him.

God doesn't manipulate us nor does He use guilt or shame to bring us to Him

Confidence in God and His grace

I laid my life at God's altar and I made a vow to my wife over 45 years ago. I don't need to make any more vows or make any sacrifices to gain the Lord's acceptance.

I approach God's throne with confidence when I am in need, though I still fall far short of perfection. My perfection—my sense of completeness—is only found in my Lord and Savior Jesus. I had nothing to offer long ago and still don't, but He has all I am.

What about you?

Are you going to God's altar and waiting for Him to accept you? Or, are you going boldly before His throne of grace at any time whatever your need? (Heb 4:14-16)

Jesus calls each of us to deny our self and take up the Cross, and then follow Him in faith. He doesn't ask us to make more vows at an altar of self-sacrifice. He invites us to come to Him because of His grace, and as the traditional hymn declares—Just as I am.

God doesn't ask us to come to an altar of self-sacrifice but invites us to come to Him because of His grace

Links of previous related posts—

Many Altars but One Gospel

Altar or Throne?

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing.jpg

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions.

Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion.

Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance are overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?


This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story

Footnotes for this excerpt are below—

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— William Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

Why Do You Believe That?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_EDennis
Photo credit: unsplash.com_EDennis

What's the most visited page on a website? The About (Me/Us) page. It's true for my site, as it is for most others. Is it because our culture is so voyeuristic?

While this might be true to some degree, mainly it's because we want to know someone before we trust what they say. Christian believers also need to know the validity of what they say they believe.

Over the next several weeks, I want to take a look at why we believe what we believe. This includes a look at the 5 Solas, the basic pillars of the Protestant Reformation, from my own point of view as a follower of Jesus.

A very brief history

Every evangelical church, or evangelical community of believers, is rooted in the Protestant Reformation. Many people in evangelical ministries may not realize this, or if they know it, may not know why.

The Protestant Reformation (PR) started when men such as John Wycliffe, John Huss, Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, and John Calvin, over a period of 200 years, objected to the sale of indulgences (kindnesses) and other practices of the church.

As a means of raising money, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) provided a way to pay for forgiveness, even for people already dead. There's more to what paying for indulgences includes, its origin and history, but it worked like a get-out-of-hell-free card.

The reform movement formalized

This led to a movement that set out to reform the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). When it was clear the church—the only recognized church at that time—would not change, the Protestant movement separated from the RCC.

Initially, three primary churches developed, then a fourth, for mostly the same reasons—

  • The Lutheran Church— started by followers of Martin Luther's leadership and influence
  • The Reformed Church— started by John Calvin's followers
  • The Presbyterian Church— started by John Knox in Scotland
  • The Anglican Church— this included the Reformers in England, but was formalized when King Henry the VIII broke away from the Pope

Luther's 95 Theses

Although many people had similar concerns, Martin Luther is most well known for his Ninety-five Theses posted on the door of the church in Wittenberg. Luther was a monk who taught moral theology at the University of Wittenberg.

The original intent for his 95 Theses was to promote discussion not dissension, but the church didn't see it that way.

There's much more to the story, but the essence is that Luther and other reformers challenged the authority of the pope and certain practices of the church that were not biblical.

The driving force of the Protestant Reformation was to bring the church back to its biblical roots. The Scriptures are to be the final authoritative basis governing all doctrines and practices of the church, not the pope nor other church leaders.

The roots of Protestantism

Protestantism is a broad term that includes churches or communities of believers who are not part of the RCC, but who hold to a biblical foundation of faith.

Other churches grew out of the four primary ones mentioned above because of other distinctions in theology, doctrine, and practices, but the essentials of the Christian faith remain the same.

The primary tenets of the Protestant Reformation are summarized in the 5 Solas (originally in Latin)—

  1. Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone – The Bible alone is the sole authority for all matters of faith and practice.
  2. Sola Gratia – Grace Alone – “Salvation by Grace Alone.” Salvation is proof of God’s undeserved favor; we are rescued from God’s wrath by His grace alone, not by any work we do.
  3. Sola Fide – Faith Alone  “Salvation by Faith Alone.” We are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by the works of the Law.
  4. Sola Christus – Christ Alone  “In Christ Alone.” Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone; no one and nothing else can save.
  5. Soli Dei Gloria – Glory of God Alone “For the Glory of God Alone.” Salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God for His glory alone.

Why we need to understand what we believe

Pure and simple devotion

We need to be aware of deceptions perpetrated by the enemy of our soul (the devil). As Paul points out, we need a pure and undivided devotion to Jesus.

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. (2 Cor 11:3 NLT)

It's always about Jesus! He's the Head of the Body of Christ—the church. He's the Core of the Gospel. He's the Alpha (first) and Omega (last). He's the only Son of God—Savior, Lord of Lords, and Returning King.

A strong and deep relationship

Our relationship with the Lord Jesus needs to deepen so we're not so vulnerable to clever arguments, deceptions, or anything else that would draw us away from a pure, uncomplicated commitment to Him.

I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments... And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him... Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. (Col 2:4, 6, 8 NLT)

Spiritual maturity

We need to pursue spiritual maturity, not by gathering more theological knowledge, but through deepening our understanding of Jesus—who He is and what He's done to redeem and restore us.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. (Eph 4:13-14 NLT)

It's who you know, not what you know

We need to be rooted and grounded in our relationship with Jesus, not just gain more knowledge about Him. We need to understand what He says.

The four gospels are the bedrock for our faith, as they were for the early church. Jesus is the one who interprets the truth of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms for us. He did this personally for the apostles (Luke 24:44), and He will do it for us by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27).

Jesus is the Cornerstone of our faith (1 Cor 3:11; Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:4-6).

Jesus is our plumb line, our spiritual point of reference. As Jesus said to His closest followers—

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

If the truths we hold about Jesus and the Christian faith don't line up with what He says, then we're on shaky ground.

Do you understand why you believe what you believe?


Helpful links for the history of the Protestant Reformation and the 5 Solas—

Protestant Reformation

Protestant Reformation History

5 Solas

Cambridge Declaration–Alliance–Confessing Evangelicals

Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact? No doubt you've heard the phrase, "living in a bubble," or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality. But the concept of living in a bubble, like an incubator, caught hold in a cultural expression.

In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

[bctt tweet="Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them"]

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers. Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians, and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way and don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

Even more sadly, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all. This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom. Jesus had an entirely different way of life intended for His followers, which is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12.

His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure extended this same message—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is also echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission (see What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?). It is clear, Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered to go out with His message to the world around them.

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the bubble. We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

Over the past several weeks, I've posted articles related to this week's topic—sharing our faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we have to be willing to get out of the Christian bubble to engage people who don't share our faith.

Here are the links to those articles—

One simple question— Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?