The Truth Will Set You Free. Free From What?

“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This is a quote from the Bible, from Jesus in fact, that I hear quite often. Here are a few examples:

Truth – reality – is all that there is. Everything real is what it is, and anything else is pretense; half-truths as well as direct lies spun to deceive others do not exist. The meaning of the truth will set you free is that only reality and what’s factual actually exist. Lies, falsehood, cheating, and deception are all not real.

Therefore, the writer says TRUTH = REALITY. You are set free from lies. Therefore, the quest of man is to find what is real. No doubt the scientific method will come in handy as we test our hypothesis through experiment.

So discover the meaning of truth, learn to overcome your self sabotage, then the truth can work its magic – and set you free.

Truth here means the real you. Not the pretend you in your head, or the you your parents or society defined, but the REAL you. You are then free to be YOU! This, of course, assumes that the real you is a you actually worth you being. There is a reason why fantasy land is so attractive.

Only by embracing the truth of our past histories can any of us hope to be free of pain in the present.

This was said by a psychoanalyst, a psycho for short, about becoming fully you. Being free of pain is her endgame. Truth apparently does not hurt anymore.

OK, so weirdos from the world say weird things about the truth setting you free. What about Christians? Surely Christians know what Jesus was talking about.

Are you in bondage right now? Are you trapped in deception and weighed down by “rules and regulations?” Do you want to be free? Then look to Jesus. Pick up His Word and read it. Learn His truth, and it will set you free!

Truth is God’s Word, which is a fine place to start. Nice to be on common ground. However, they blow it by then saying FREE means being free of legalism. Not that I’m defending legalism, but no, this is not what Jesus is talking about.

If the Bible isn’t infallible, inerrant, and flawless, you’re in a heap of trouble. The Bible tells you how you can be saved. It tells you that your life isn’t an accident. The Bible tells you how to be forgiven. It tells you how God can use you for good in the world.

Again, we’re on common ground of having the Bible be truth. Rick Warren, Purpose Driven guy, said this quote. His freedom is forgiveness (which is closer) and, of course, God using you to do your purpose in the world. Although I can’t say any of this is necessarily wrong, it still misses the force of the words of Jesus.

That truth liberates us from superstition and from customs that displease God and harm us. The following shows how Bible truth has liberated people in various lands from some of the burdensome customs associated with Christmas.

Hey, I’m not making this up. The truth is the Bible, which is nice, but freedom is freedom from Christmas customs. Oh boy. As much as I’d like to be free of Christmas, no, Jesus was not talking about Christmas customs.

Truth gives freedom. Ultimate freedom is found in God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Scriptures speak and tell the truth destroying lies and deception.

Again, we’re agreed on where the truth comes from, but the freedom falls short of Christ’s freedom.

I’ll stop there. For the world, truth means what you experience to be real, and knowing the “real” sets you free from false-you, so you can be real-you, which is supposed freedom.

For most Christian types, truth is God’s word, but the freedom is usually along the lines of “freeing you from being wrong and being in disagreement with me,” or some amorphous deliverance from lies.

Now, the Grand Finale, let’s see what Jesus meant when He said the truth would set you free.

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

The Truth is the word of Jesus Christ. The Freedom is FREEDOM FROM SIN.

When you believe the words of Christ, you are no longer a slave of sin. You defeat sin. You stop sinning habitually. The power is broken.

The way to determine how well you know truth, is to determine how well you are beating sin.

Not overcoming sin? Then you should get to know more Truth.

Jesus is the one who said these words. I think we should stick with His point.

Sermon: Revelation 1

You can subscribe to the Rhinelander Bible Church podcast on iTunes here.

4 Point Book Review of Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

Tolstoy wrote this book in 1894 in Russia. This was not a pleasant time to be in Russia. Tolstoy did not like what was going on, and how he did not get thrown in jail for vocalizing his displeasure is beyond me. My wife, who knows such things, tells me it’s because he was already such a celebrity there. The book was banned in Russia and was originally published in Germany.

This book is about Christian Pacifism. Tolstoy believes Christians should all be non-violent and expresses this point in rather heated language, ironically enough! Although he quotes the Sermon on the Mount a lot, he seems to have missed the bit about sin in thought, not just action.

Here are four points from this book, which I will begin with a verse he quotes to make his point:

  1. “The Kingdom of God is within you”
    This is Tolstoy’s main point: we belong to God’s Kingdom, we are that Kingdom, therefore, we don’t need man’s kingdoms. Tolstoy is pretty much an anarchist. He says Christians should resist mandatory military service, taking oaths, voting, and even paying taxes. He sees no point for human governments, as they are merely self-feeding power structures that oppress the masses. I guess I can’t disagree to a certain extent, but God did establish authority on earth that we are to honor and pay taxes to, but he skips those verses. It appears as though he thinks Christians, by obeying God, can reform society and create the actual Kingdom of God. Although a popular view of his time, two massive World Wars ended this doctrine quite soundly.
  2. “Resist not the evil.”
    This phrase is from Luke 17:21. Tolstoy says this verse is the foundation of all Christian pacifists. He gives a brief history of Christian Pacifism, which was interesting, and how all these movements based their beliefs on this verse. I do think this verse gets short-shrift in Christian thinking today. We too quickly want to bomb people and shoot them. I imagine “resist not the evil” actually meant “resist not the evil.” Although Tolstoy might go too far in his application, this verse ought to impact our doctrine to some extent.
  3. “An eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”
    Although this was a law for the Old Covenant, Tolstoy argues that Jesus Christ’s commandment to love your enemy replaces this old law. Therefore, capital punishment and all forms of self-defense are out the window. We are to love, regardless of what someone does to us. We are to do unto others as we would have done unto us. Love fulfills the law. He also repeats “Thou shalt not kill” and thus, there should be no war and no armies. All soldierly killing is against God’s law. Any attempt to sidestep and defend military killing is more evidence of the church’s collusion with temporal powers.
  4. “Worshipers in spirit and in truth”
    Not only is Tolstoy against political authority, he is also against clerical authority. He views the church as being in cahoots with the government–just another power and money hungry institution dumbing down people to do their will rather than God’s. I have sympathy with his point, but once again, he overstates the case and misses many verses that weigh-in on this subject. He has no use for the church, not just the Russian church, which was entwined with the Russian political authority, but all church, no exceptions.

In the end, Tolstoy is one angry man. He does have some legitimate grounds for his anger, but I think he devised an angry philosophy, found six verses that backed it up, and wrote a book. Some of this book reads like a diatribe, which a modern-day editor would have limited extensively.

Tolstoy lived in a rough time and I empathize with him. I do think he’s more right than he is wrong, and I do think he was trying to help, but he’s just too sloppy with his reasoning, too idealistic in his hopes, and too narrow in his usage of Scripture. The deeper irony of the book is that he, as a rich man of influence, can get away with standing up to the government! If he were a peasant, his book never would have been written, let alone published, nor would he have lived! As much as I appreciate his stance against evil, I don’t think it’s rooted in reality, nor in Scripture.

This is the kind of book I’d recommend, except that I fear people would think I totally agree! I don’t! But he does raise valid points we don’t consider enough in our endeavors to follow Christ. For that, I thank him for making me think about it.

Why Leo Tolstoy and I Don’t Like Church and What I’m Trying to Do About It

I have never really liked church. This is rooted in being a pastor’s kid, always being in church, and watching my dad deal with untold masses of irrational people. When I moved out of my parent’s house, I did not go to church for several years.

During this time I was at a Christian college. This did not help my opinion of Christianity. My college years were filled with annoyance at Christianity in all its glory around me.

Then an odd thing happened: I realized that I did not like church because I understood it very well. So I had two options

  1. Leave it
  2. Try to help it

I had gone through several years of leaving it, and I tried hard to not let church idiocy bother me, but it did. Sitting on the sidelines being irritated was not turning out to be a healthy option. That’s when I came to the dreadful decision to be a pastor.

I switched my major and made plans for seminary. Here I am now, closing in on sixteen years of being a pastor.

I am the pastor of an odd church. The church I am at was founded to be a little odd. It cut out all the frills of churchiness and focused on Bible teaching. I fit in to that system. I have maintained that goal and maybe even furthered it.

We have no youth ministry. We sing from a hymn book. My sermons run about 45 minutes. Every church gathering during the week has a pretty solid chunk of time devoted to Bible teaching. We have no rituals, fancy clothing, candles, choirs, Christmas programs or Easter cantatas. We don’t do small groups, fund-raising, or busy work.

I hear many people tell me how nice that must be. “I would love to go to a church like that.” I hear this quite frequently, yet my church is rather small. Church without churchiness just doesn’t cut it for most people. I get it, and to a certain extent that’s fine. I’ve never been opposed to there being multiple churches to choose from.

It is my opinion, and a main reason why I lead my church the way I do, that church is largely messed up and distracting from the goal of knowing and following Christ.

I have been reading Leo Tolstoy lately. In his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, he launches on the church in chapter 3. In a discussion on heresy and church he says these quotes (I encourage you to track down the book and read this chapter at least. This site has a good chunk of the chapter, but not all of it. Click here for a taste):

Heresy is the obverse side of the church. Wherever there is a church, there must be the conception of heresy. A church is a body of men who assert that they are in possession of infallible truth. Heresy is the opinion of the men without who do not admit the infallibility of the church’s truth.

All effort after a living comprehension of the doctrine [of Christ] has been made by heretics.

To assert to one’s self or of any body of men, that one is or they are in possession of perfect understanding and fulfillment of Christ’s word, is to renounce the very spirit of Christ’s teaching.

The churches as churches, as bodies which assert their own infallibility, are institutions opposed to Christianity.

The churches. . . cannot but persecute and refuse to recognize all true understanding of Christ’s words.

Tolstoy’s experience in church lead him to believe that churches all think they are the only ones with the Holy Spirit, the only ones with “truth.” To question that truth is to be a heretic. Churches have to be exclusive to the truth in order to guilt you into coming and giving them money to maintain their institutions and traditions.

Tolstoy is speaking directly about the Russian Orthodox Church, Catholicism, and Lutheranism, but throws in all branches of Protestant theology as well. He may be overstating the case a tad, not all churches are like this, but certainly the majority are, if not by direct statement, at least in action.

Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ’s teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so-called believers.

I think this is true.

If the church taught people to pursue Christ, churches would go out of business. So, the church interposes itself in between the individual and Christ. “You need us to get to God.”

If churches don’t give people that “religious feeling,” people think they are not being godly. People go to church for the feeling, not for learning who God is and how to pursue Him. It’s risky business to set people free.

This is the central tension I have always felt as a pastor. I am here to help people come to Christ. I am not here for me, for my legacy, for my achievements in church building. Nor am I here to fill you with false hope and happy thoughts. I am merely a guy trying to know Christ who wants you to know Christ. I try to keep everything else out of the way of that goal.

I really wished this worked! But it doesn’t, at least not according to man’s wisdom. I don’t have numbers, buildings, money, or anything of temporal measure. I will let God judge the spiritual results.

In the end, I see the problem, and I think Tolstoy did too. Whether I am actually addressing the problem in a constructive way will be revealed when I give an account to my Lord. Until then, I do hope you find Christ and pursue Him. It’s pretty much why we’re here.

ISIS, Pacifism, and Being a Christian Doormat

I am reading a book on Pacifism written by Leo Tolstoy. While reading it, Paris was attacked by ISIS.

Reading some of the discussions about how America should respond to terrorism, I saw someone propose being really nice to ISIS. Several folks disagreed that this approach would work. The pacifist insisted it would.

Our pal Madonna said, “Only love will change the world, but it’s very hard to love unconditionally, and it’s very hard to love that which we do not understand or that which is different than we are, but we have to or this will go on and on forever.”

Hate to break it to this philosopher, but evil will go on “forever” regardless of what we do.

I would classify myself as a Pacifist. I don’t think violence should be my response to a personal attack (which doesn’t mean I’d do that at the time, but, you know, in theory. . .). As for America, I don’t know.

Some people are weirded out by that distinction. How can you be a personal Pacifist and not think America should be?

The Bible was not written as a guide for political governance of nations. In fact, Romans 13 says the government has the power to wield the sword.

The Bible was written to instruct the follower of Christ. Individual followers of Christ are to love their enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you. I don’t see anything about nations loving their enemies.

At the same time, I do think America’s military power does cause terrorists and others to hate us. We are so entangled in the affairs of other nations, and history has shown us to be on the wrong side from time to time (some theorize ISIS was created by America). I do not see how we could pull out now without causing mass confusion and chaos.

Best case scenario is that our military removes a threat. Guess what happens next? A new threat fills the void. Then we take that one out, to be filled by another. But what if we don’t take a threat out? It seems that threat will just get stronger, which seems worse than having a new, fledgling threat.

I would tend to lean toward isolationism for our nation. Perhaps we could back off the military responses a tad. We may have gotten carried away. On the other side, America already leads the world in charitable giving and foreign aid.

So, would being nicer cause our enemies to stop being violent? Does Pacifism make enemies into friends?

Very rarely. More than likely, if America announced to the world they were now Pacifist and had destroyed all their weapons, America would not see an increase of friends! America would be overrun within minutes.

The same thing is true for the believer! If you truly are Pacifist, and people find this out, more than likely they will take advantage of you. When Jesus says to give the shirt along with the coat, to turn the other cheek, to go two miles, to lend and not ask for anything back, He is inviting us into impractical living!

The Bible does not recommend Pacifism because it works (if “works” means your enemies will be your friends), it recommends it because it’s the right thing to do in God’s eyes. God’s Son came to sacrifice Himself while keeping His mouth shut, as a lamb to the slaughter. Let this mind be in you. Christianity is based on God’s wisdom, which is foreign to man’s wisdom.

Christianity is life lived for the next world, not this one. We aren’t supposed to entangle ourselves with the affairs of this world. We’re supposed to be separate. I would not kill a member of ISIS. If others can, I guess that’s up to them. If America does, I guess that’s their call.

I don’t see how “thou shalt not kill” carries exceptions.”Love your enemies” is hard to do while killing them. Blessed are the peacemakers. The Bible seems pretty clear on the issue. Whether we will obey the clear is another matter.

When Christianity is tried, it is found to be impractical and painful, which is why few do it. Pacifism will not lead to peace. I am a Pessimist, Pacifist, Isolationist who thinks his stance and all others are pointless in ending evil. Nothing on this earth will lead to world-wide peace, until the Prince of Peace reigns.

Even so, come quickly.

Sermon: 2 & 3 John

You can subscribe to the Rhinelander Bible Church podcast on iTunes here.

4 Point Book Review on Augustine’s “The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love”

The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, And Love was written by Augustine, who isn’t one of my favorite theologians. Augustine was trained in philosophy, so his writing is very philosophical.

I am not a philosophically minded person. I do not care about the deep, intricate cogitations of people’s brains that much, not even my own. Augustine will drill a subject to death, talking in circles, and going on and on and on. It’s writers like him that necessitated the invention of people called “editors.”

Although this was not light reading, it wasn’t the worst of the stuff I’ve read by Him. Here are four points I took away from this book:

  1. The Title
    Any book that has “enchiridion” in the title is going to be a piece of work. Enchiridion is an actual word, even though it’s not in my spell-checker. I looked it up in Webster’s Dictionary and it was there. It is from the Greek en– which means in, and the Greek word cheir meaning hand. In hand. The idea is that it is a handbook or manual. Huh, who knew. I also added a comma after Hope that is not in the original title. My wife tells me all lists should include a comma before the and, otherwise the last two things would be lumped together by the and. It makes me feel better that, although he philosophizes better than me, I can still correct his grammar. The book had little to do with faith, hope, or love and I have no idea why he called it this.
  2. Original Sin
    Augustine is fixated on Original Sin and has some rather strange views attached to it. Original Sin is the fault of sex. Augustine, in his Confessions, had a long, sordid sexual history. After he slew that beast, he tended to speak of sex as always being bad. Even marital sex was bad in his mind. Sex is what transfers Original Sin, therefore, sex has to be bad. He also thinks that kids are responsible for their parents’ sins, since the parent’s sex transferred their sin. He’s also somewhat convinced that kids are guilty for all their forefathers’ sins. His logic on sex would have to lead him there. He is very weird on this issue.
  3. Baptism
    I do not agree with his take on baptism, most of which comes out of his strange views of Original Sin, especially in the area of infant baptism. Infant Baptism, according to him, releases babies from Original Sin, but not any sins they do on their own. There are zero verses on this. He also completely botches the doctrine of baptism in relation to Jesus Christ, saying that Jesus will baptize with water and the Spirit, which of course the Bible never says. But he makes an effort to quote the Bible having said this, which I do not like. Several times he referenced verses that did not say what he said they said. I hate that.
  4. The Church Forgives Sin
    Augustine believes the Church is the only place you can go to remove your sins. I find this unbiblical. He even says that the man who does not believe the Church remits sins has committed the Unpardonable Sin. Wow. Surprisingly (sarcasm), he has zero verses on that one either. Since he puts more stress on baptism than he does on faith, and only the Church can properly baptize, the Church is the only place to get sins remitted.

I am not, and never have been, a fan of Augustine. He is considered to be the Father of the Catholic Church and also of the Reformed Church. Calvin’s Institutes are merely a recitation of Augustine’s writings. I disagree with Augustine’s views on predestination, non-elect babies going to hell, and various other Calvin-hijacked doctrines on this issue.

For instance, when trying to answer the Bible’s claim that God “who will have all men to be saved” when we know all men are not saved, says this:

We are not on that account to restrict the omnipotence of God, but are rather to understand the Scripture, “Who will have all men to be saved,” as meaning that no man is saved unless God wills his salvation; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will, but that no man is saved apart from His will, and that, therefore, we should pray Him to will our salvation, because if He will it, it must necessarily be accomplished.”

Uh, no.

It’s a nice theory, but it’s not what the common sensical reading of the verse says. This is the kind of stuff that drives me insane.

Augustine is a philosopher and writes like one. Unfortunately, he starts with philosophical conclusions and picks and chooses verses that he thinks backs up his philosophy. I do not see him as a theologian, but a philosopher borrowing some God talk.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: