Reformation Day Reminder

Today is Reformation Day, the alleged date that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis to the Wittenberg church’s door.

Luther was certainly right to have a problem with the indulgences of the Catholic Church and call them out on their profiteering.

As with most reactionary responses, it went to an equally ridiculous extreme. Luther invented the concept of Sola Fide, which refers to being justified by faith alone.

The only problem is that the only time the Bible mentions “faith alone” is in James 2:24

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

So, you are now left having to choose between Sola Fide or Sola Scriptura. Faith Alone or Scripture Alone? Choose carefully, because it can’t be both!

Guess which one Luther chose? You guessed it: he went with his pet doctrine over Scripture.

“Therefore St James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it . . . The epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the Papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest…Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove . . . I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”
–Martin Luther

This Reformation Day, take some time to reflect on your faith. How much is based on Scripture and how much is based on defending doctrines that your guys hold? How much of the Bible do you need to throw away to maintain your doctrine? Is your faith consistent with Scripture? Do you know the Scriptures well enough to answer that question? If not, don’t you think you might want to figure that out before you stand before God and give an account?

Don’t worry about reforming the church; reform your own faith.

Evangelical Christians and Politics

I am reading a book called, The Evangelicals. It is a history of the Evangelical movement within American Christianity, particularly the political involvement they have gotten into over the years.

It’s a 600 page book. The first 200 pages dealt with Wesley through Billy Graham. The last 400 is from Billy Graham to today. It has bogged down tremendously.

One fascinating thing that stands out to me is how ridiculous, from a historical perspective, church leaders look when they get involved in politics.

Politics is driven by fear. There are HUGE problems, so vote for us to solve them. If they solved them; you wouldn’t need them anymore! So, they never get around to solving issues, just changing them and freaking everyone out along the way so they get votes.

When the Church, which is allegedly filled with people with eternal hope, gets involved in temporal squabbles heightened by fear, they look really stupid.

This is especially true when they fall for predictions about the future. There have been so many “threats” to us that should have wiped us out. But none of the major fears ever developed and predictions, predictably (!), fail.

What happened was Evangelicalism, which originally just meant people who were focused on the Gospel (the “evangel” part of Evangelical), got wrapped up with politics. Billy Graham solidified the movement. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time. Richard Nixon broke his heart.

The church got sucked into Republican politics with the Moral Majority and so forth in the 1970’s-90’s. They got carried away and got used, while America continued to remain firmly nowhere near Evangelical ideals.

So, the church learned its lesson. It got tired of being lumped in with rightwing nutjobs. Which brings us to today.

While reading this book about the roaring 70’s-90’s Republican Christian Might, a debate over the Social Gospel erupted.

The Social Gospel, often called Social Justice, Movement is nothing more than leftwing nutjob thinking.

The lesson the church apparently has learned from our losing with the Right, is to join the Left.

I fully expect that in about 40 years all these church leaders fired up over the new leftwing Social Justice stuff will look just as ridiculous as the rightwingers of the 70’s look to us now.

Allow me to posit a theory.

Perhaps the lesson the church should have learned from the disastrous Moral Majority days, is not to shift from the Right to the Left, but rather to stay out of the world’s fray to begin with.

Something like, oh, I don’t know, come out from among them and be separate. What fellowship has light with darkness? Set your affection on things above and not things on the earth. Not falling for the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches that choke out spiritual growth.

Maybe something like that. You know, like, what the Bible says and stuff.

Just a theory.

Health and Wealth is American Christianity

A recent LifeWay study found that 75% of Evangelicals believe that God wants them to materially prosper.

The Health and Wealth Gospel used to be a peripheral message in the church; it is now one of our new fundamentals of the faith.

The Bible is massively against materialism and material success. It, in fact, says that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out faith.

If you trace back the Health and Wealth Gospel you will find it originated around a guy named DL Moody.

Moody, in order to fund his revivals and his schools, hit up businessmen constantly for money. In order to get money from rich guys, you have to preach a message that doesn’t make rich guys feel guilty.

Mr. John Wanamaker was a successful businessman. He invited Moody to speak at a lecture for businessman that would be “tailored more than any that preceded it to the needs of business and professional people who wanted to be freed from the guilt of doing what they were doing.”

In other words, don’t make them feel guilty for making money.

Moody dipped into Health and Wealth teaching when he wrote, “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.”

He later said, “I don’t see how a man can follow Christ and not be successful.”

Clearly, DL Moody was not as extreme as some of our modern televangelists. But he got awful close. There is a dark side to American revivalists, one that seems to follow the tents. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, right on up to the modern televangelists.

There’s something about coming up with a message that appeals to a large audience that seems to feed on materialism. Perhaps because people want wealth and desperately want to get rich quick. If we can make the Gospel sound like the trick, people will “get saved.”

I’m not trying to besmirch anyone’s character, I merely point out Church History facts. The Health and Wealth Gospel didn’t drop out of the sky! There’s a logical and recorded development that got us where we are today.

If you think Christianity is going to make you rich, successful, and respectable, I suggest not reading the Bible, for that will end your dream.

Fundamentalism, Higher Criticism, and Evolution

Christian Fundamentalists are often portrayed as evil, nasty people. Often they get lumped in with Muslim Fundamentalists. Muslim Fundamentalists kill people. Christian ones don’t! Yet many secular sources will tell you a fundamentalist is akin to a terrorist.

“Fundamentalist” is a term that actually means something. Generically the term means someone who boils their faith down to strictly defined core beliefs, or fundamentals. Fundamental basically means foundational, things you build on.

Christian Fundamentalism began in the 19th Century. As with most movements, it was a response to other forces.

The two main forces Christian Fundamentalism responded against were

  1. German Higher Criticism
    Higher Criticism treated Scripture as a historical document that needed to be analyzed and checked for errors. It focused on who wrote what, when was it written, and who added what to the text over the years. Not entirely a bad desire, yet ended up denying inspiration. Truth in the Bible became subjective and Biblical authority was undermined.
  2. Evolution
    During the same time period, Charles Darwin popularized evolution. This created tension between the Biblical account of Creation in Genesis 1 with supposed geological and biological facts concerning the age of the earth and the origin of life.

When these two forces began clamoring, Christians felt attacked. They doubled down defending the fundamentals of their faith:

*Inerrancy of Scripture
*Literal interpretations of miracles, creation, virgin birth of Christ, the resurrection, etc.
*Belief in the Second Coming of Christ
*The Atonement of Christ

The fundamentals of the faith were put together in a 12-volume set of essays originally called, The Fundamentals. Something often lost is that these volumes were put out by the Presbyterian Church.

Things have gotten more confusing since then! The Presbyterian angle has all but died off, but still exists. There is a dispensational wing of fundamentalism fostered by Lewis Sperry Chafer through Dallas Seminary. A more evangelistic, not quite as theologically rigorous, branch spawned by DL Moody and Moody Bible Institute.

Northwestern College, now called University of Northwestern in St. Paul (where I just dropped off my daughter last weekend to begin her freshman year), had a prominent part in early 20th century fundamentalism. William Bell Riley traveled the nation forming a group of fundamentalist churches called the World Christian Fundamentals Association. It eventually faded away and supplanted by such groups as the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America.

It is now embarrassing for most to be called a fundamentalist. Most will deny the name and few will point out, let alone celebrate, their fundamentalist past (I also went to Northwestern College and never knew of its role in fundamentalism even though I worked in Riley Hall for four years!).

Although some of the fundamentalist methods are hokey today, their intent was good. They attempted to defend what they believed against secular, modernist, liberal attacks.

Paranoid? Maybe, but history has shown they had a point. Don’t be afraid to learn Church History. It’s fascinating to see how all these things work together as Christians make their way through history.

American Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.

After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).

This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:

‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.

The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.

The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.

In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.

You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!

It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.

A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.

Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.

In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.

It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.

It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.

Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.

John Wesley on Being a New Creation

Here’s a quote from Wesley’s Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says if you are in Christ you are a new creature:

He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world. God, men, the whole creation, heaven, earth, and all therein, appear in a new light, and stand related to him in a new manner, since he was created anew in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel isn’t something you believe so when you die you go to heaven. You believe the Gospel so that right now, in this present world, you have new spiritual life that will extend throughout eternity.

The Gospel is life-changing, not just after-death-changing.

Theologians: Making the Bible Complicated for Thousands of Years

I am reading a biography of Meister Eckhart, an Augustinian monk from the 14th century. He was attempting to bring some reform to the corrupt, materialistic Catholic Church.

In so doing, he became one of the foremost mystics in Christian theology and is a little weird. He felt it was important for people to actually know Christ through mystical experience, rather than ritual motions, although he still kept ritual motions.

In a section talking about Eckhart’s education in the monastery, I read this paragraph:

Lectures on Lombard’s Sentences provided Eckhart with his first experience in the sophisticated practice of scriptural interpretation, or exegesis. Most crucially for his own religious thinking, he learned how to move from the sensus historicus, or literal sense, of Bible passages to various spiritual senses that reveal certain ‘deeper truths’ on the reading in question. The allegorical, or metaphorical, interpretation of a scriptural passage, for instance, viewed people and actions described in a symbolic manner, together conveying an essential spiritual truth.

Along with the literal and allegorical sense, there was also the moral or tropological sense, and the anagogical sense.

Each of the four interpretations, according to his teachers, pointed in a different direction . . .  each sense was true, Eckhart learned, but not readily apparent to the casual reader, hence the need for a trained preacher.

The reason we need a trained clergy is because regular people are too stupid to see these “deeper truths.” I like that the author says these senses are “not readily apparent to the casual reader.” Yeah, no kidding!

Seeing these deeper, hidden truths, and needing to be educated by people who are initiated in special ways of reading the Scripture, is the realm of theologians.

The main job of a theologian is to make the simple Scriptural meanings massively more complicated so they can feel smart and sell you things.

Yes, I’m a tad cynical of theologians. People who use big words like tropological and anagogical are not people who are going to help you understand the Bible! Use real words, people!

People who use big words are not trying to help. They are trying to make sure you realize they are smarter than you and you should bow before their awesomeness.

I don’t trust them and neither should you.

Read the Bible. Take the common sense interpretation and put it into practice. You will grow that way.

Theologians can help, but if you find that all they do is confuse you and make it harder, than don’t mess with them.

Pretty much the only reason I listen to theologians is because everyone else is basing what they believe off of what these guys said.

If you want to know where different Christians are coming from; read theology. If you want to know God and follow Christ; read the Bible.

You do not need to read big-worded theologians to know Christ. For many, theologians actually keep people from knowing Christ.

Keep it simple. Don’t let smart people discourage you. Know Christ.