Converting To What?

Christianity is divided into multiple doctrinal camps. Division reigns supreme. Many people wonder why this is the case. Many conclude it’s because the Bible is too hard to understand.

I agree there is too much division, I do not wonder why though, I think I know. And it’s not the Bible’s fault for being too confusing.

The main cause of division is that few are using the Bible anymore as an authority. Sure, they have verses and favorite passages, but few comprehensively use the Bible and fewer submit to what it says.

Today’s doctrine is largely based on what other guys said. When people argue you into their theological camps, it’s generally not out of a concern for your soul but it is 1) a defense of their doctrinal camp and leaders and 2) an attempt to get you into their camp to make their camp look bigger and better.

As we know (from reading the Bible), there is nothing new under the sun. People have long been more interested in defending and building their group than in the eternal state of your soul. Here are two biblical examples:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
–Galatians 6:12-13

The main reason most stayed away from the Gospel is because it would cause them problems. They wanted to appease those who would persecute them for following the Gospel. Best way to do that is to defend the old camp.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
–Matthew 23:15

Pharisees of Jesus’ day are acting the same as those messing with the Galatian church. They would rather count you in their camp than get you right with God. In order to escape hell, you have to first escape the bad teaching and then embrace the good teaching, that’s my interpretation of “twofold child of hell.” You have to be saved from bad teaching and then saved by good teaching, as it were.

People, in general, don’t care about your stand before God; they care about their stats. Better stats means playing a people-pleasing game, winning people to our side so we win. The more we win the more we feel like we are right.

Surround yourself with your camp and you’ll never have to face reality. Unless, of course, you find a camp that deals with reality, by which I mean, the reality God explains in the Bible.

There are no shortcuts and avoid anyone who offers you one. Use zeal, effort, energy, work, toil, labor, and get this right. Beware of theological camps and doctrines named after people. Read the Word so much you know when you’re hearing false teaching.

Having the Spirit teach you the Word through His means (which can be other people with the Spirit; I’m not throwing away all people or churches here) is the only safeguard we have against false teaching and division. Pray for wisdom, then do the work to get it. Be sober, watch and pray.

Ditching Morals

I am reading a book about the history and psychology of technology. Pretty exciting stuff. I actually started the book more than a year ago. Only on page 100. It has some good points, and also a lot of words.

Technology is invented and developed by necessity. We have needs and we find more efficient ways of meeting them.

When technology started there was an art to it, a craftsmanship and a precision that required effort, time, and skill.

As our tools got better, craftsmanship declined. We didn’t need artistry and skill, we just needed the right machine to make the product. People just pushed buttons and finished items came out.

As we progressed, we ditched artistry and craftsmanship for productivity and efficiency. Our products got uglier while becoming more functional.

The same thing is happening with morals. Morality is getting in the way of getting results. We shove aside such inconvenient niceties for better outcomes.

Take a look at our politics for example. Each party is determined to win at any cost. Morality is out the window. Our side must win. If we have to beat people up or call people names or smear character; so be it! We must win!

The way of the world is toward function over form. Toward quick results over time consuming care.

I don’t really care that our can openers are ugly, gotta be honest that I just want the can open, but it is troubling that we’re willing to throw out morals in order to win and get more stuff.

This is yet another example of the Gospel-life being at odds with worldliness. The Gospel says to slow down and love people. Cross the road to the guy beat up in the ditch and care for him.

Yeah, it’ll slow you down and destroy your efficiency, but it’s the right thing to do. Go the extra mile. Turn the other cheek. Give your shirt too when someone asks for a coat.

This makes no sense to the worldly mind, but makes perfect sense in light of the cross of Christ. Grace is beautiful. The world has no time for grace; they just want to win and get stuff.

Grace loses. Grace cares. Grace takes its time, listens, and helps. Come out from among them and be gracious.

Accepting Or Fighting The Gospel

The Gospel is a life-altering force. Seriously. It is.

In our day the Gospel has become a cute story we believe about this thing this guy did 2,000 years ago.

But the Bible speaks of the Gospel as something you enter into by faith. You are identified with Christ, placed in His Body. His body which was born to suffer and be broken.

As a believer in the Gospel, identified with Christ by faith, don’t be surprised if you suffer and are broken. That’s what He did; if you follow Him, that’s what you’ll do.

Your flesh will hate every minute of following Christ. Your flesh will fight against this. The world will mock you and fight against you. Satan will throw things in your way to defeat you.

Fight the fight of faith.

Faith is a fight.

War a good warfare.

People would rather have a happy Gospel with happiness upon happiness followed by an eternity of happiness.

You can find that Gospel out there, but it’s not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When it comes to the Gospel, either way you’ll be fighting something.

You can either accept the Gospel and fight against yourself

or

You can accept yourself and fight against the Gospel.

The lengths people go to in defending their sin and staying away from the Gospel is ridiculous.

You’ll be fighting either way. Just give up the fight against God’s Word. Stop chasing false gospels. Stop twisting Scripture to make you feel better about your sin.

Just give up. Humbly come to the Gospel and receive grace that will strengthen you to fight the real battle.

Christ died to free you from you. Be freed and enter the fight. The victory is assured and the spoils are eternal.

Fight the fight of faith. Lay hold on eternal life.

Calling People Names for Jesus

Everyone and their mother is upset right now over being called names, or being labeled and stereotyped.

Sticks and stones break people’s bones, names didn’t use to. Now, apparently they do.

In response to the hyper-sensitivity, we now come down on anyone who ever says anything the slightest judgmental about what someone else is doing.

As much as I agree we need to guard our mouths and be careful not to do unfair, self-righteous judging of others, I would also like to point out that there is a time and a place for labeling people for what they are.

Allow me to illustrate be quoting our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
–Matthew 12:34

But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
–Matthew 12:39

Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
–Matthew 12:45

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.
–Matthew 16:4

Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?
–Matthew 17:17

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
–Matthew 23:33

And that’s just Matthew!

Jesus is talking about a large group of people, a generation. Certainly He’s stereotyping and labeling with His generalizations.

Now, I’m not for you going out calling people names or stereotyping people.

I am for a call to reasonableness. At least for calling a spade a spade, rather than calling a spade a “garden implement useful for turning soil.”

Words mean things and need to be used carefully, wisely, and righteously.

We still live in the midst of a crooked, perverse, faithless, and wicked generation of vipers.

We should admit that. We should also admit we are part of that generation and are therefore implicated for our own part.

Sin is sin. Evil is evil. Call it what it is. Sinners sin. Speak the truth and call things what they are. This will protect you and also potentially help others.

BUT, proceed with love, grace, and compassion. Love rejoices in the truth. Don’t fear truth.

Blinded By The Fight

The Catholic Church took a big hit last week. The largest child abuse case was detailed in Pennsylvania. The offending priests were shuffled around, no one took action to stop the abuse.

Willow Creek Church is falling apart as board members and clergy resign after founding pastor Bill Hybels was accused by multiple women of adulterous relations. No one took the allegations seriously as they were going on.

Ohio State football is going through a similar ordeal. Which reminds us of the disgusting revelations of the Joe Paterno Penn State program.

The president and other politicians can say and do all manner of ridiculous things and yet their party continues to back them.

There is a pattern here!

Institutions take on a life of their own. Members of the institution feel that their institution is doing great work, they must be preserved so their work can carry on.

If a bad apple gets in the bunch, cover it up! The institution is bigger, and the work is too important for one person to bring it down.

Everyone is guilty of this fault. We are a communal people and we’ll defend our communities to the death.

Of course, if the other side does an equally bad thing, that’s the worstest thing ever! Hitler!

Human institutions appear important, but they are like all earthly things: temporal.

But our eyes get clouded. We start looking to the things of this earth and defending them. We will compromise our values, our morality, and our witness to maintain the important work of our institution.

People get hurt when institutions become too big. The poor kids whose lives will forever be scarred, it boggles the mind how such sickness can take place, let alone be covered up.

The power of institutions is a scary thing. What institutions carry too much weight for you? Your political party? Your football team? Your denomination? Your theological camp?

We each have at least one institution we defend. Be careful. No matter how big or how important you think your institution is, it’s not bigger than the Gospel and the simple truth that we are to love our neighbor and do righteousness.

Don’t be blinded by the fight for your institution. The only fight to fight is the fight of faith.

When the Bible Interferes With Your Doctrine

Occasionally, when you read the Bible, it will become apparent that what you were taught is not what the Bible says.

What to do when the Bible disagrees with your doctrine?

Usually you start by asking your teacher, “Hey, how comes this here verse don’t say what you done told me?”

Your teacher will more than likely explain the verse away, or list 14 other verses that distract the issue, and let you know that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. They will tell you that the problem, of course, lies with you and your uneducatedness. Good thing you have such a wise teacher!

You will then go back and read the Bible some more and you will come across the same question. You will remember what your teacher told you. You will look up the 14 verses that were listed, which you are now also more familiar with. Sometimes your understanding really was off and the teacher was right.

But other times you will figure out that the answers you were given don’t quite seem to jive with Scripture. In fact, often times, they conflict with verse after verse.

For many years I, along with just about every evangelical, was taught that we are saved by faith alone. I assumed the Bible said this. There are 14 verses people will list to prove that we are saved by faith alone. None of those 14 verses says we are saved by faith alone.

In fact, the only time the Bible mentions being justified by faith only is in James 2, where it clearly says we ARE NOT justified by faith only.

There are volumes written to explain why we are justified by faith alone and how you just don’t understand James, or you don’t understand why you don’t have to listen to James, or some other explanation you don’t understand.

You can hear the answers and have it explained to you 4,000 times and still not be able to get around James saying we are not justified by faith only.

So, at a certain point you have to decide: will I go with the doctrinal gymnastics of my group, or will I simply take the plain language of the Bible and go with that?

Most go with the group.

Some go with the Bible. I recommend going with the Bible.

Take the simplest explanation of each passage, which can only be seen by the context. Pretend that every verse means exactly what it says, stop trying to cancel out one verse with another one, and you’ll be amazed at how much more easy the Bible is to understand.

Stick with that simple message and act as though it were true.

If the simple message of the verses disagrees with your doctrine, make appropriate adjustments to your doctrine. Do not adjust the verses to your doctrine!

Everyone knew what James was talking about until Martin Luther invented justification by faith alone. Ever since then people have been trying to reconcile man’s ideas with James’ inspired message. And this is one example of about 5,000 where our man-made doctrine disagrees with Scripture.

Everything is simplified if you just drop man’s ideas and stick with the God-breathed words of Scripture.

You will be amazed at how consistent and simple the Bible is once you decide to stop defending your doctrinal camp. It’s truly beautiful and I highly recommend it.

Act as though the Bible is true. Do the work to find out what it means based on the context. Put those words into action. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word. If you are following man’s doctrine and not God’s Word, then faith is not what you are doing.

God’s Word is what has life. Don’t let man’s ideas keep you from the living Word of God.

Two Challenges to Learning Doctrine

Learning doctrine is pretty straightforward:

Learn the doctrine!

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

Doctrine is just a fancy word for teachings. Learning doctrine means to learn what the Bible teaches. Note it does not mean learning what people say the Bible teaches, but what the actual Bible actually teaches.

Learning what the Bible teaches is pretty straightforward:

Learn what the Bible teaches.

That’s it! Pretty easy, eh?!

One would think so. It seems all a person would have to do is read the Bible and learn what it says.

If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Hardly anyone is. I think there are two hurdles that prevent us from learning what the Bible teaches. Two thing we must clear first in order to be taught from the Scriptures.

1. You can’t be afraid to leave wrong teaching.
All of us have learned poor doctrine. All of us have gone along with a teacher or a group because we didn’t know what else to do. We didn’t fully understand the Bible, how could we? We just started learning what we were taught! While trying to learn it for ourselves, we trust other people who’ve been around longer to steer us in the right direction. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes those who teach you haven’t learned themselves. They are merely teaching what they were taught with little personal examination in between.

You can’t be afraid to leave old, bad teaching. If something is bad, it seems it would be easy to drop it. You would be wrong! There is reputation: I’ve staked things on this teaching; if I leave it now I’ll look like a fool. There is peer-pressure: this is what my group thinks; if I reject it they will turn on me. There is respect: just because your teachers were wrong, doesn’t mean they are bad people, but if you disagree with them they might interpret that disagreement as disrespect. There is safety: it’s easier to stick with what you’ve got than to let go of the safety line and swim out into the deep alone.

Your desire to learn truth needs to get to a place where your desire overcomes your fear. Where regardless of the cost or inconvenience or sheer terror, I must get to the truth. Paul reached a place where he counted all his life as dung for the excellency of gaining Christ. That’s the moment; that’s the feeling; that right there is faith. Faith is scary.

Do you have the guts to let go of those things that are behind in order to grab hold of what lies before you in Christ?

2. You can’t be afraid to adapt to new teaching.
Once you’ve convinced yourself to let go of the old, faulty teaching (and not everything you learned before is faulty necessarily. Don’t throw out the good old baby with the dirty old bathwater!), you now have the challenge of learning and adapting to new teaching.

Learning means getting more information. When you get new information it will change what you do. You now know more and this new knowledge will bring added insights and perspective. You can’t keep doing the old things with the new information.

When you learn biblical doctrine, your new life in Christ will be radically different from your old life in the flesh. Old things are passed away, all things have become new. There is a new training and a new discipline to bring about a new life. Getting yourself to act on that new information is scary. You’ll feel stupid, self-conscious, foolish, and tentative. Does this really work? Is this worth it?

Remember when Israel left Egypt? They hated enslavement in Egypt. They got the guts to leave it and immediately started complaining about their new free life. “Can’t we go back to Egypt where we at least had good food to eat?”

This is the struggle of faith. That’s why the OT was written for our learning! Israel struggled to believe that God knew what He was doing. We laugh at them and mock their wimpiness while we run from new freedom in Christ today!

We’re doing the same thing.

Living with God, learning His ways, is terrifying to your flesh. Your flesh wants no part of it; it still wants to be in bondage where at least decisions were taken care of for you.

Learning aint easy because learning changes things and change is tough. Learning aint easy; but it’s totally worth it. When you become a man, put away childish things. Adulthood is freaky, but totally worth it. Grow in Christ. Learn. Live with confident hope that what Christ calls you for will indeed set you free. The just shall live by faith. Live by faith.