It seems our leaders are still intoxicated from our swift victory over Iraq when they invaded Kuwait and just can’t get enough war. Plus they don’t seem to read the resolutions they pass.
Here is my letter to my Congressman urging non-interference. Feel free to copy any or all of it (change the names at the top and bottom).
Dear Congressman Hastings,
I am concerned that you voted to pass House Resolution 758 (Dec. 4, 2014) and only 10 in the House voted against it. While in principle I do not oppose a resolution condemning the Russian Federation for their interference in a neighboring country, the language of this Resolution is troubling. In it I do not find a desire to bring peace but rather to escalate war and flex our might, plus falsehoods and a fair amount of duplicity.
First, the duplicity:
- The Resolution condemns Russia for what we do ourselves, such as violating Ukraine’s sovereignty (paragraph 3) when we participated in the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected officials in February.
- The Resolution condemns the people in east Ukraine of “fraudulent and illegal elections,” (paragraph 11) which were no more so than our own country’s Declaration of Independence, and also urging the government in Kiev to resume military operations against the regions seeking independence. Our country has always supported the basic human right of self-determination – why not now?
- The Resolution (paragraph 16) condemns Russia for selling arms to the Assad government in Syria, to fight against ISIS, while we supply arms to rebels, to fight ISIS, and Syria, some of which have been confiscated by ISIS and are being used against us.
- The Resolution (paragraph 17) condemns Russia for economic sanctions against Ukraine while we repeatedly hit Russia with the same and is considering even more.
- Paragraph 34 condemns the Russians for spying, as if the US doesn’t do that. Who are we kidding?
As for falsehoods, the Resolution (paragraph 22) accuses Russia of invading Georgia in 2008 while the European Union concluded that it was Georgia that “started an unjustified war” against Russia, not the other way around.
This Resolution appears to seek to escalate war rather than seek peace. It calls on the US President to “provide the government of Ukraine with lethal and non-lethal defense articles, services, and training required to effectively defend its territory and sovereignty,” and states that “military intervention” by the Russian Federation in Ukraine “poses a threat to international peace and security.” With language like that, we cannot ignore what is going on. This greases the skids for more aggressive resolutions to follow.
I urge you to encourage President Obama to stay out of the internal affairs of the Ukraine and draft a resolution to that effect.
Only ten members of Congress voted against this Resolution, 5 from each party. They are:
1) Justin Amash (R-MI)
2) John Duncan (R-TN)
3) Alan Grayson, (D-FL)
4) Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
5) Walter Jones (R-NC)
6) Thomas Massie (R-KY)
7) Jim McDermott (D-WA)
8 George Miller (D-CA)
9) Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)
10) Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
To find your Congressman or Congresswoman and get his or her email address click here.
One of the Congressmen who voted against the Resolution, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), explains why he did here.
Embracing the doubt that was the standard mode of operation before we had Evangelicals and Catholics will free us to discover the faith of the early church.
What if we didn’t know which books of the bible should be in the bible?
What if we didn’t know whether Paul’s writings in the bible are inspired to the point of being exactly what God wanted him to write? What if some of what Paul or any other bible author wrote was just from their own human mind and not from God, but we didn’t have a way to find out which was the case?
What if we didn’t even have the bible but only parts of it and Christians in other parts of the world had different parts of it, or had books in their bible that we have never heard of or wouldn’t even want in our bible if we had heard of them?
Would any of this make any difference in our walk with God? Would this cause us to lose our faith, lose our morals, or become slaves to our own carnal ways of thinking?
For many people if all of the above were true they couldn’t imagine how they would even function as a Christian, or how churches could ever function as churches, yet this is exactly the experience of the early church. This is how it all started. It was with all of these uncertainties that God inserted the Son of God into society, called men and women to follow him, called them to be like him, even think like him, and then pass this faith on to others, and grow the church for over 300 years before there was a bible. All of the above uncertainties were what they had during this time.
Back then, Catholics and Evangelicals didn’t even exist. How so? An Evangelical believes the bible is the final authority on matters of faith. That’s what defines an Evangelical. If there isn’t a bible there aren’t any Evangelicals. A Catholic believes God created an institution that had the divine ability to sort through history and scriptures to determine infallibly what truth is with regard to matters of faith and practice. If at a time in history there does not exist such an institution, then there are no Catholics during that time.
If we haven’t established what the bible is we wouldn’t be able to say whether a doctrine is biblical or not. Even if we all got together and approved a list of books to be in our bible would we necessarily know that God was putting his stamp of approval on our list? What if we missed one? What if God only wanted half of those books in our bible but didn’t tell us which ones? After the scripture canon (a list of approved writings) was ratified at the end of the 4th century these questions were not answered so even then there was no such thing as an Evangelical. That simply is not how the early church operated. It took hundreds of years before any particular list of approved writings became the accepted canon among the majority of churches.
A Catholic believes that despite all this unsureness God ordained the church to sort it out, infallibly, and that there is an unbroken string of Christian doctrine from Jesus until now, but the evidence from history proves quite the opposite. There is no indication that the church of the first 300 years had an institution that kept the church in line with the hearts and minds of Jesus and his apostles. They had the apostles for a short period of that time but even they didn’t always agree with each other, and they weren’t omnipresent. Not every church had an apostle. Some churches were actually quite isolated from the rest of the churches.
After the apostles died their immediate successors, the Apostolic Fathers, improvised with impunity. Though they were well-regarded at the time, some of their beliefs were considered heretical by the church a few hundred years later. Without a bible it was a make-it-up-as-you-go religion. Theologians were free to come up with ways of understanding God and what was revealed to man through Jesus and his appointed leaders. There was no standard to which all men could appeal if they thought someone else or some other church was getting off track. It wasn’t until hundreds of years later that any group of church leaders even tried to determine which of their writings were inspired and which of their doctrines were “orthodox.” For the 200 years after the apostles there was no general consensus on many of the issues of their day that we take for granted, such as the nature of God and Christ, so it’s impossible to say there was any sense of certainty during that time, much less an infallible Magisterium which is a bedrock understanding of the Catholic faith.
If you are an Evangelical, the debatable points above deal with the nature of inspiration: whether everything written in the bible is just what God wanted them to write, or not. Of course as Evangelicals we admit that what we do have, ancient manuscripts several generations removed from the originals, is flawed. Nobody claims we have an accurate manuscript from which to translate into our native languages. Except for the King James Only proponents, but nobody takes them seriously and I don’t see any reason to either.
What would be the point of God infallibly inspiring the biblical authors if he isn’t also going to make sure the original autographs are preserved without humans making any changes, make sure those perfect manuscripts are translated perfectly into English and every other language on the earth, and then give us a way to perfectly interpret those translations so we don’t get anything wrong? There would be no point. Infallible scripture writers do us little good if we don’t also have infallible document recorders, infallible translators, and infallible interpreters. We don’t have those. We don’t even have the original supposedly perfect writings.
If you are an Evangelical you gotta agree with me here, unless you happen to be a King James Only Evangelical. If you agree with me about the lack of perfection in what we do have, why then promote the perfection we don’t have?
If you are a Catholic you will probably take exception with the idea that we don’t really know which books should be in the bible. You believe that Jesus would not ascend to the right hand of the Father without leaving us with some assurances that we can know the truth, and know it unequivocally. This is why you believe God will put his stamp of approval on what your church does, after first making sure your church doesn’t do it wrong, of course.
What both Evangelicals and Catholics can agree on from my list of questions at the beginning of this article is that the early church didn’t know which books of the bible should be approved. They had only parts of it and Christians in other parts of the world had different parts of it, or had books in their “bible” that others never heard of or wouldn’t want in their bible if they had heard of them.
Actually, to be more accurate, they didn’t have a bible until the end of the 4th century when the canon of scripture was ratified by a couple of church councils.
So there you have it. Jesus planted his church and grew it for over 300 years in a sea of uncertainty, and many consider this to be the golden age of the church before Christianity was legalized and then tainted by the ungodly Roman culture of its time. All that we know about Jesus Christ and the Gospel came from an era where not much of anything was known for sure. They knew a lot and had many wonderful, life-changing truths to share, and they had faith, to be sure, a vibrant faith that often makes us look like Fair Weather Christians, but it was faith in Jesus Christ, not church, not anyone’s interpretation of scriptures, and not even the bible. How could they? They didn’t have one.
This sea of uncertainty has been used as a reason by thinking people to reject the church, reject Evangelical Christianity, and reject Christ. That last rejection doesn’t have to be. In fact, embracing the doubt that was the standard mode of operation before we had Evangelicals and Catholics will free us to discover the faith of the early church, the faith as it was first introduced to the human race, the one that turned the world upside down. Without having had a bible or an institution that had everything figured out for them they knew no other way to follow Christ.
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Evangelicals will have a really hard time with where I am going. It’s hard enough for them to accept that some parts of scripture may not be inerrant.
My theology is messed up. “What’s new with that,” you say? I’m glad you asked.
To be more specific, my theology is about to be messed up. I’ve just had the biggest paradigm shifting moment I’ve had in years. Call me weird, but I love to have my paradigms challenged.
It all started with a discussion on TheologyOnline.com. We were discussing Jn. 1:1 and the definition of LOGOS (the Word), including the possible Hellenistic influences on this the last of the four Gospels, when one of the posters wrote this about whether Revelation should even be in the bible:
“As I already told you – Revelation was debated for a very long time, much longer than the gospel of John. Those who accepted John rejected Revelation. There was also another apocalypse on the table that was considered scripture by many: the Apocalypse of Peter! If the early church was skeptical of these writings I see no reason why I shouldn’t be as well.”
A light went off in my dim, formerly pot-stricken mind.
Us Protestants seem to be no better than the Catholics, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses who just accept something because some person or group in history came up with a definitive statement about it. There really is no difference between a Catholic accepting a doctrine because some supposed authoritative body or Pope made up our minds about it and a Protestant who accepts without question the canon of scripture. It’s just plain laziness on both occasions and I must say I have been guilty as sin of the latter.
It seems we have the same problem as Catholics and resolve the issue the same way. A Catholic believes God would not just let all these Christians loose on the theological gym floor to come up with their own doctrines. Bedlam would ensue and a quick read of church history seems to bear this out. Such a sight leads to insecurity so they reason God must have provided us with an authority to keep us on the straight and narrow. Hence, the Mother Church, the Defender of the Faith. Ditto for the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who looked at all the denominations caused by everyone thinking for themselves and concluded God could never have authored such a mess, hence the need for latter day prophets to straighten us all out. Interestingly, Muslims reason the same way.
Our problem as Protestants is that if we are going to rely on scriptures alone, adhere to Sola Scriptura, and not on some institution or latter day prophet to keep us in line then we need God to do essentially the same thing: God must provide us with a complete, authoritative list of books to include in that canon with no quibbling or second guessing among us as to which books are authentic, inspired or credible. If God hadn’t done this, we would never be able to go about the business of determining just what is biblical and what isn’t, so they reason.
This is a problem, for me at least. Some church council in the 4th century is telling me which books are inspired, authoritative, or to be considered the Word of God. Who were these people? Were they chosen by God for this task? Do they somehow have more of the Holy Spirit than I do? Are we not elevating them to the same level of inspiration as we believe the authors of the bible had? That’s a bit of irony that escapes the average Evangelical.
After reading about one church council of a few decades prior to this which anathematized (damned to hell) anyone who does not proclaim publicly that Mary is the “Mother of God,” I have my doubts. After reading some church history from this era showing the carnal self-serving nature of the leaders who forgot to follow Christ’s example of servant leadership, I really don’t want them making these kinds of decisions on my behalf. Some group of faithful leaders who put their lives on the line to serve Christ in the 2nd century maybe but not this bunch about 80 years after Christianity became legal in the early 4th century.
Evangelicals will have a really hard time with where I am going. It’s hard enough for them to accept that some parts of scripture may not be inerrant. They reason if we accept the idea that part of it may have errors, how will we know that a really important passage dealing with our salvation isn’t an error and thus we are believing the wrong things and might not even be saved! Surely God would not allow that and therefore must have given us a 100% reliable text to follow. Scriptures cannot be authoritative if they are not reliable. If they are not authoritative us Protestants might as well throw in the towel, stop “protesting,” and be Catholics. Rome would welcome us with open arms.
That makes sense, but funny thing, Evangelical scholars who reason this way also recognize that it was only the original manuscripts written by the apostles that were inerrant, and unfortunately we don’t have those. Or fortunately given man’s propensity for idolatry – Shroud of Turin, anyone? What we do have, they admit, does have errors because there exists no perfect translation based on perfect manuscripts that have no corruptions.
The originals were inerrant, we surmise. We don’t have the originals. So what difference does it make if the originals had errors or not? The whole idea of “verbal plenary inspiration,” of the original writings which, by the way, is a required belief to be a member of Bethel Church in Richland and probably several others in town, even if nobody knows what it means, is an argument based on insecurity. It’s the old “slippery slope” analogy. Don’t step foot off the trail because if you slip and fall you may never be able to get back up to the trail.
For some reason arguments based on insecurity don’t have much appeal to me. Probably because I am secure in Christ. Not only do I know what I believe and why I believe it, but also I know whom I believe, Jesus Christ the Son of God. My faith in him is secure. It’s rock solid. That gives me the security to explore, to think outside the box, to see what’s down that path that leads who-knows-where.
I don’t know where this is going to take me but I feel like a kid who’s just been offered a free bore job for his hot rod to boost his power by 50 horses. He doesn’t know the long term effects of the bore job on the integrity of his cylinders – and doesn’t want to know. He’s just looking forward to the ride.
Some will say, “What keeps you from picking and choosing which scriptures you want to accept and not coming up with your own Jefferson Bible? Well what kept the early Christians from doing the same thing or simply tossing scriptures that didn’t fit their preconceived theologies? Again, I would rather put my trust in the Holy Spirit whom I know than these church leaders whom I do not know.
Somehow, the Christian Church survived nearly 400 years without them. I submit God was big enough for them so he’ll be big enough for me, and anyone else who chooses to go down this faith walk.
Note – This was written in 2010. It’s been a fun ride since then. I haven’t really tried to come up with my own personal biblical canon, I’m still too lazy for that exercise.
I’m not sure how many proponents of biblical inerrancy are willing to admit that Jesus and the apostles were wrong about something so it would seem much more in line with their Evangelical beliefs to find another interpretation that takes Jesus at his word.
Now that people are interested in Revelation due to the new Left Behind movies I’d like to add one bit to the discussion of how we are supposed to interpret this book. Even some atheists will be interested in this because you hear about all this Anti-Christ and Rapture and Great Tribulation stuff and wonder how far Christians can go with it. I’d be happy to have you listen in as I bring up one small point to them that may help you to realize these Left Behind proponents don’t speak on behalf of the Christian church or even Evangelicals.
I have heard several sermons over the years about lukewarm Christians who will get spewed out of God’s mouth, rejected and go to burn in Hell forever, or at least miss the Rapture and have to go through the Great Tribulation. This is according to their interpretation of Revelation 3:14-19, a message directed to a particular church that existed in the city of Laodicea. It’s a section where God is speaking and saying how he wanted that church to be either hot or cold but since they were lukewarm he is going to spew them out of his mouth. Some will do their homework and tell us how “spew” really means “vomit” but I have never heard one of them explain what the whole scenario would mean to someone living in the city of Laodicea at that time. They will wax eloquent about how the Rapture is not for lukewarm, mamby-pamby, saved-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth kind of Christians but for sold-out, on-fire Christians who love the Lord with all of their hearts, the kind that might be included in “I wish you were hot” in the passage.
You generally didn’t hear this kind of sermon in a Lutheran church but heard it in a Charismatic or Pentecostal church where they thought of themselves as being an on-fire bunch of Christians so the sermon was directed in a self-validating and elitist manner toward those “Lukewarm Lutherans”, and others, “out there,” (outside their door) or perhaps the poor searching soul sitting in the pew who had a lot of questions about all of this charismatic stuff and just wasn’t getting with the program, hoping a little fear of missing the Rapture and going through the Great Tribulation would help motivate him. For most of you that kind of motivation is counter-productive but it was preached just in case it worked on somebody who needed to hear it.
One of my favorite preachers at the time was Keith Green and as I recall he preached this sermon and if you know Keith Green you know he wasn’t preaching to those “out there” but was actually preaching to those who came to his concerts. Prophetic types really like this passage, especially if they haven’t bothered to find out what it’s really about.
When I was in that frame of mind in my younger years I was amazed to find someone who actually called himself a Lukewarm Lutheran. I remember looking at him and thinking, “Dude, do you realize what you are saying?” I so wanted to help him escape The Great Tribulation but really I was the one that needed a little help with my history.
Revelation was written to 7 churches in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. To them it wasn’t a mind-boggling array of disjointed images and chronologies about events far in the future as it seems to be to us.
Here’s the bit of history that I was missing. I got this out of the Bible Background Commentary published by the InterVarsity Press. As some of you may know the IVP is about as Evangelical as you can get. Back in Laodicea they had hot springs outside of town and they brought this water into town in pipes or aqueducts. By the time the water got to town it was no longer hot water but lukewarm. It was not warm enough for a nice hot bath to soothe the aching muscles after a hard day at work and if you tried to drink it you would find it to be too warm and you would spit it out. It probably had a sulphur taste like natural hot spring water tends to have which might make you sick and want to vomit so you got it out of your mouth as soon as possible.
Everyone in Laodicea knew what this was like. No explanation in Revelation was needed. To them, this lukewarm water was simply USELESS. When they read these words to them in the letter of Revelation (they probably didn’t have a name for it yet and it wasn’t a book, it was a message), they knew they were being warned about being useless Christians, not spiritually “dead” Christians, as Charismatics like to think.
Was John the Revelator saying God would keep useless Christians out of heaven and now we must figure out what a useless Christian is so we can warn them of eternal suffering? Whoah, not so fast. Without going into the issue of eternal suffering itself I think the message the Laodiceans were supposed to get is that God wants people to be useful and finds useless Christians to be distasteful.
This of course will be construed as “watering down the Word”, or taking the “punch” out of the message, or something like that, but if you are thinking that how do you know the author had intended there to be that kind of punch or the undiluted concentration of words of warning that you have in mind? Have you taken any time to learn how this type of literature was interpreted in their ancient Near-East culture or are you just assuming they would look at it the way you do 2000 years later, like when you were assuming the temperature of the water symbolized spiritual fervency when in fact it doesn’t?
Once you get into what the symbols and the whole book meant to them at the time you will discover things like the emperor Nero being nicknamed by his own subjects as That Great Beast, and when he was in Beast Mode, you do well to just stay out of his way (sorry Marshawn Lynch, I couldn’t resist). He had a statue of himself at the entrance to the markets in Asia Minor where in order to go in and buy and sell you had to take some of the incense in your hand they were burning at his statue and rub it on your forehead and proclaim, “Caesar is Lord.”
You will also find that this type of literature, called apocalyptic, was not meant to be taken as a chronology of events to happen beyond their lifetime but an encouragement that God will act in their lifetime to right the wrongs being committed against them, in their particular case by an oppressive apostate religious establishment, often portrayed in their own writings as a Harlot, and now getting authority from the civil government to kill Jesus and persecute his followers. The Great Whore Babylon riding on the back of the Beast, in other words.
I’m not saying Revelation was written to them exclusively, and not to us today, and there isn’t anything in there for us today, I’m just saying it was written to them first and they understood it because the author was referencing things they were familiar with, things which would lead them to think, “I know exactly what John is talking about,” not think, “What in the world is this all about, this must be for some distant culture and it will make sense to them because it sure doesn’t make sense to me.” They would have read the statement in the very first sentence about these things happening quickly to mean “soon,” not quickly in the distant future, and expect the rest of the message to play out in their lifetime. The Greek word used in “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place,” can mean quickly, but it is never used to mean quickly at a later time. It is always used to mean to be quick so as to make something happen sooner, not later.
Every author in the New Testament that touched on this subject, and even Jesus himself, believed Jesus would return soon, as in their lifetime. If the proponents of the Left Behind series, and the majority of Evangelical churches, are correct in saying it has yet to happen then there is only one conclusion we can draw: Jesus and his apostles were mistaken about his return. Either that or they were purposefully lying about it as a trick to get people to stop sinning and be ready for it even though they knew it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I’m not sure how many proponents of biblical inerrancy are willing to admit that Jesus and the apostles were wrong about something so it would seem much more in line with their Evangelical beliefs to find another interpretation that takes Jesus at his word. Do a little Google searching and you will find what you need. Not only will you be able to understand the symbols but the message of hope Jesus has for our church today which has been lost in all the efforts to finding modern day fulfillment of the words of Revelation.
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If you believe the doctrine was taught in the church from the beginning what is your proof?
I’ve been hearing a lot of people lately who are knowledgeable about church history saying that the doctrine of the Trinity was what the early church believed and that the Council of Nicea in 325 AD just codified for the first time what the church had always believed. I’ve also heard it put this way: The history of Christian theology is viewed as a long struggle to find adequate language for what the New Testament had already been understood to teach and had always been believed by faithful Christians. The idea is that somehow early Christians managed to be Trinitarian though their teachers could not find adequate language to express this truth which was finally well expressed only in the 300’s after the terminology was invented in the 200’s.
Some Trinitarians, but by no means all Trinitarians, would have us believe that the early church was Trinitarian in their understanding of God, long before the doctrine was developed by the church. As you can see, I disagree, and I’m throwing in the red flag to protest that call.
They Could Have Just Come Right Out and Said God is 3
The vocabulary for the doctrine of the trinity had not been invented until about 200 AD by Tertullian, who interestingly enough is considered a heretic for some of his other doctrines. Not only was he the first person in the history of the church to use the term “trinity”, he was the first person to put the number 3 and the word “God” together in a statement about God, saying that “God is 3.” Sure, someone MIGHT have been able to conceptualize a triune God, at least in his mind and in pictures, without the terms “trinity” or “triune”, but if that is how Jesus and his apostles thought of God, why didn’t they teach that doctrine, especially if it’s such a foundational and vitally important Christian doctrine, as it is usually considered? They did at least have the number 3 in their Greek and Hebrew languages. They could have just said, “God is a 3 person being,” if that’s what they believed and would have saved us a lot of guessing, but they never said anything like it, while they did say God is one, several times. The fact they never came right out and said “God is 3” in so many words means one of two things: that’s not what they believed, or if they did, it wasn’t important enough to be stated in any of the Gospels, the epistles, or the Old Testament, and therefore doesn’t qualify as a foundational doctrine of the Christian church.
There Are No Exclusively Trinitarian Statements in the Bible
I’ve been trying to find the first well-regarded person in church history that unequivocally conceived of Jesus (but not necessarily the Holy Spirit) according to the doctrine of the Trinity. For a long time I thought it was Justin Martyr around 150 AD. (I think it would have been cool if he had spelled his name with even more y’s, Jystyn Myrtyr, just like Lynyrd Skynyrd did.) But recently I’ve been wondering if he wasn’t an Arian who believed in Jesus being a separate pre-incarnate being of lesser godness than the Father. At any rate, I feel confident you will not find anyone prior to Justin Martyr who made statements about God that couldn’t also be made by either a Unitarian, a Modalist, an Adoptionist, a Subordinationist, an Arian, and sometimes by all five. You might be tempted to quote me something written by the apostle Paul or some other author in the bible to show me they were Trinitarians but the problem is EVERY scripture in the bible you might want to quote is also used by either Unitarians, Modalists, Adoptionists, Subortionists, or Arians, sometimes by all five, to teach something other than the doctrine of the Trinity. You cannot find a single scripture used by Trinitarians, exclusively, so you cannot find distinctly Trinitarian theology in the bible.
Can You Find Me One Trinitarian? Just One?
On several other online media I have asked for people to find me one person, writing prior to Justin Martyr in 150 AD, who wrote something that could only be written by a Trinitarian, thus proving that at least ONE PERSON in the early church was a Trinitarian. I am confident enough that you won’t be able to find one that I am offering a one hundred dollar bill, freshly printed (by the US government, no less) to the first person who does. In the past I have issued a challenge like this and people have cut and pasted from some article without looking at the dates of the quotes. Most of them come from the 4th Century. That may be considered “early church” by many, but it is not the earliest church and doesn’t really count. The issue here is establishing an unbroken line of Trinitarians from Jesus to Nicea in the 4th Century. It can’t be done, and Trinitarians tacitly admit as such when they recognize that the doctrine wasn’t codified (written down) until Nicea.
Some will admit that the doctrine of the Trinity was not formulated until the 4th Century, including many Catholic and Protestant scholars, but will also say that the doctrine was present in the apostolic church in rudimentary form. All of the statements were there, they just had to be put together in such a way as to construct the doctrine. OK, fine, but the doctrines of Unitarianism, Modalism, Adoptionism, Subordinationism, and Arianism were also there in rudimentary form, so that does not solve a thing. It’s just looking at earlier statements in the bible through later interpretations. Eisegesis instead of exegesis, in other words.
If the doctrine of the Trinity is what the church had always believed from day one, what can you produce to demonstrate this is the case? I have $100 for the first person to come up with something to show that at least somebody was a Trinitarian prior to Justin Martyr, even though that wouldn’t demonstrate that the whole church was Trinitarian unless that person spoke for the whole church. That, as you may know, has never happened since the original authors of the bible. Nobody since that time, including any church council, has ever had the authority to speak on behalf of the whole church. Even if you are Catholic and believe your Magisterium does have the authority to speak for the whole church, you will not find any popes or councils who actually did speak for the whole church, except for at the Council of Jerusalem in the book of Acts.
If I am correct in what I am saying then that raises another question: what were Jesus and his apostles if they were not Trinitarians? That is a subject for another post, but as for the church leaders who came soon after the New Testament scriptures were penned, they were all over the map, literally and theologically. There were no unified, church-wide “isms” that developed after the Apostolic Age. Every “ism” that existed was developed in some corner of Christendom and then later sanctioned by the Church at Rome, or one of the other Holy Sees, which of course have never been united on much of anything.
If you say the doctrine of the Trinity developed over the course of several hundred years that would be an honest admission. If you believe the doctrine was taught in the church from the beginning what is your proof? Why would you even believe such a thing?
According to The New Catholic Encyclopedia, “The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title THE TRINITARIAN DOGMA. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective.” The Apostolic Fathers are those who followed immediately after the apostles and some had the apostles as their teachers.
I don’t always agree with the Catholic Church, but when I do, it’s because they have interpreted church history correctly.
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We need to do this in a way that marks us as being completely different than them, and I don’t mean by that how advanced our military is compared to theirs. I’m talking about a difference in character and mission.
For the record, I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m not a Liberal or a Conservative, or even a Libertarian, though I suppose Libertarians will find the most to agree with here. I don’t fit easily into any of these labels but then neither will a solution to the Middle East crisis, if there is one to be found. We really can’t ignore ideas about what to do just because we might be able to pass it off as “an Evangelical answer” or “a Liberal answer.” The Middle East is complex and requires an honest look at all the options.
I’m not much into labels, but one label I do accept is “Christian.” This means different things to different people but nevertheless as Christians we do have answers to the world’s problems. Here are mine. I do hope this reflects not just a “biblical world view”, but reflects the heart of God for the Middle East.
I want to get one thing straight from the outset. My blood boils just like anyone else’s when hearing about the brutal atrocities being committed by ISIS fighters against just about everybody but themselves. I don’t have a problem with America being the world’s police force, or the big kid on the block protecting the little kids on the block. I think it’s an honorable thing to do. Speaking of which, I often wonder why the Middle East gets all the attention when far worse atrocities and genocide are happening in other parts of the world and we sit idly by doing nothing. But that’s the subject for another post.
As you can see I am not a pacifist. I don’t interpret “turn the other cheek” the way pacifists do. I really don’t think Jesus was thinking about international power politics when he said that. If you are a pacifist looking for a don’t-defend-under-any-circumstances answer you will be disappointed with me. Unlike a pacifist, I can find justification for dropping A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The justification is that if that war had continued for just one more month then just as many Japanese people would have been killed and a lot more if the war had continued for more than one month, not to mention how many Americans would have been killed if Japan hadn’t surrendered when they did. History has proven that was a humane decision.
With the war on terrorism, however, history is not supporting our actions. Nobody can make a solid case for how many lives or even if there has been a net gain in lives due to our campaign to eliminate the terrorists. On the contrary we can point to specific instances where Americans have been killed BECAUSE of our involvement in the Middle East. We have those dead and injured numbers, and it doesn’t look good.
In Jay Sekulow’s (American Center for Law & Justice) new book called Rise of ISIS – A Threat We Can’t Ignore he lays out only two options, either negotiate with the enemy or “evil such as this must be met with force. Nothing else will do,” and by force he means try to kill every terrorist in the Middle East. If Mr. Sekulow is the voice of the Christian Right then I have a problem with the Christian Right and hereby turn in my membership card. As followers of Jesus there is so much more we can do and it’s sad that Christians can’t think of any. I no longer want to be a part of a movement that has nothing more to offer the world than what the world can produce well enough on its own: fear, hatred, and violence. As Christians I think we can do better. Way better.
I’m not a pacifist, but I am also not a war-mongering right winger so if you’re expecting a “peace through military strength” answer you too will be disappointed in what I have to say.
Emotion certainly is a good motivator of the masses, but we can’t remove our heads when deciding what to do about the ISIS crisis. We need to go about the Middle East wisely, in a way that’s not counterproductive, and helps both us and the people of the Middle East. We need to do this in a way that marks us as being completely different than them, and I don’t mean by that how advanced our military is compared to theirs. I’m talking about a difference in character and mission.
Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. Many Christians believe radical Muslims are a lost cause but Jesus wasn’t excluding anybody from the Great Commission. The turmoil in that area, much of it caused by us, has left a huge door of opportunity for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in that broken land but we are squandering it on more bombs to create more turmoil.
Before I can give you a plan that will make much sense you need to understand several presuppositions on my part:
- Killing off the terrorists is not possible. No expert on the Middle East thinks this is possible. Military leaders don’t even think it’s possible. Yet House Speaker Boehner said on 9/28/14 about our boots on the ground if no one else puts their boots on the ground: “We have no choice. These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re gonna pay the price.” Listening to our military and political leaders you would think we effectively neutralized al-Qaeda but here we are yet again dealing with an organization that is “intent on killing us” which sprang from al-Qaeda and is so ruthless even al-Qaeda divorced them. Let’s learn our lesson from history. Islamic terrorist groups are like the mythological many-headed snake called Hydra. Cut one head off and two more grow back. I’m sorry Speaker Boehner, your ways not only don’t work but are working against us. You are just creating more of them.
- Understanding the enemy is essential if we are to be effective in our efforts. Statements like, “Force is the only thing they understand,” and “Muslims want to take over the world” need to be examined for accuracy. It’s too easy to only hear what we want to hear in order to justify what our leaders want to do with our military might. Honest appraisal is not only needed, it’s just what upright people do. Remaining ignorant isn’t something Christians should promote or be proud of.
- Not only do we need to know our enemy we need to know ourselves. Are we doing what we are doing because we know it’s the right thing to do or because we have a war-mongering spirit? Are we really interested in a long-term, as-peaceful-as-possible approach or are we just looking to pick a fight? Is this really about “self-defense” or just an excuse to flex our military might? A Christian response to ISIS should include a measure of humility and self-assessment without being branded as unpatriotic or anti-American, which is how it’s all too often judged by the Christian Right.
- We need to stop thinking everything we do is right and we’ve always traveled the moral higher ground. We need to ask tough questions like, “Terrorists respond to our occupation of their land by taking down two of our skyscrapers and we respond to that by bombing the hell out of them. Why is their action any less justified than ours?” We need to stop worrying about being accused of being un-American, or God forbid, a Liberal, if we dare suggest we are a part of the problem. We need to put love of Christ above love of country and recognize when blind patriotism is getting in the way of approaching this crisis like Christians with the mind of Christ.
- The vast majority of Muslims don’t interpret the Koran the way Christians typically interpret the Koran who find verses to prove that Islam is a violent religion. That doesn’t make any more sense than atheists pointing out how God commanded the overthrow of Israel’s enemies as proof Christianity is a violent religion. Christians simply don’t interpret those verses that way. Except to justify our violence in the Middle East. Our use of Koranic verses to paint all Muslims with a broad stroke is like a Muslim looking at Westborough Baptist and thinking this represents all Christians. Our enemy is not Islam, but a small minority within Islam that are their right-wing fundamentalist fanatics. Those who are trying to warn the West about what Islam is all about are spreading fear and hatred, not an accurate portrayal of Islam.
- Islam is consistently portrayed as a religion to be feared, one that has world domination and the destruction of Christianity as its goal. Some who live in this fear will tell you that when push comes to shove every Muslim on the planet will side with the radical Muslims against Christians, even if said Muslim was born and raised in America. Specifically, the line of thinking is if we don’t kill them they will come over here and kill us, just like they did on 9/11, because that’s just what these Muslims are about: destroying Christian and Jewish nations. 9/11 is often seen as proof of this. The truth is, every single Muslim terrorist attack for the last 100 years, and maybe longer (that’s as far back as I needed to go in my research), including 9/11, has been a territorial dispute. It has been a strike in response to what they perceive as aggression against their claims as a homeland. We may dispute their claims and certainly the territory being carved out by ISIS is not a legitimate claim, but it’s clear 9/11 was a response to our aggression in their territory, not an attempt to expand their territory into the Western Hemisphere. To use 9/11 as proof we need to fear them swarming over our southern border and taking over our country is to fear an imaginary boogeyman. No Islamic group has designs on our land or would have the ability to do anything about it if they did. They are lucky enough to carve out a measly patch of rocky dessert in the Middle East with their Muslim brethren getting in their way let alone taking on the world’s superpower in our own land to make this the Caliphate States of America. I recently heard one military expert say on CNN that ISIS doesn’t even have the ability to overtake one large city like Baghdad even though it’s guarded by a corrupt and ineffective Iraqi army.
- Whatever our military does it does in the name of Christ, as perceived by people in the Middle East. We may debate whether this is a Christian country, but to them we are a Christian country just as much as they are a Muslim country, Israel is a Jewish country, and India is a Hindu country. Whatever we do over there reflects on Christ, in their eyes. Every president we have had in recent history has claimed to be a Christian and so his reaction to the crisis over there is seen as a reflection of our leader, Jesus Christ, and so it should. Wouldn’t we as Christians want our leaders to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do”, and act accordingly? Including how and when to use drone missiles? Do we really have the luxury as Christians of separating what we do in some official secular capacity as somehow not falling under the lordship of Jesus Christ? What are we saying about Christ when the message we are sending them is, “We are going to occupy your poor miserable country and solve your religious, political, and social problems with our bombs and bullets.”? We may want to comfort ourselves by saying we are just protecting ourselves, but even if that were true that’s not the message they are getting. Just as in politics, perception is reality, and they see us as an aggressor occupying force. Our good intentions from this side of the ocean mean nothing to them on their side when we are killing their women and children. They in fact will be glad for someone, anyone, to provide some level of stability in the wake of our aggression, even if that someone is an extremist group they don’t even like.
- Our nation picking sides and pledging support for any group and hoping for a solution that will take longer than a year or two is not sustainable or tenable. We get a new president every four or eight years and that new president isn’t going to be hog-tied by the policies of the last president, and neither should he be except in the case of formal treaties between nations. Concerning the people who come to rely on our intervention, our picking sides has historically produced people that feel like they have been betrayed by our country and the Christian West when our policies change and we abandon them. This has happened so many times they simply don’t trust us anymore. Every president needs to ask himself what he is forcing the next president to support should he go through with his plans. We may want to blame President Obama for pulling all of our troops out of Iraq and creating a power vacuum for ISIS to fill but did President Bush really think every president after him would support his nation building efforts? It was different with his father’s campaign because that was a winnable war. Iraq advanced into Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush simply had to take the battle to an empty desert and cut off the invading army’s lifeline to their mother country. It only took four weeks to accomplish and once it was over it was over. We don’t have that luxury with terrorist organizations that don’t operate like standing armies. What worked in the 90’s won’t work in the 10’s. Some might call this “appeasement” but promoting alternatives to a kill-them-all-off approach can’t be compared to allowing Hitler to gain in strength as it’s often portrayed. Those analogies just don’t make sense in the Middle East of today.
- Not only do we foster distrust of us when we fail to carry out our commitments in the Middle East, we don’t really know who we can trust and just about everything we do over there backfires. Our involvement in the Middle East has never really worked well. Why does Obama think he’s got a solution? We help to get rid of the prime minister of Iran who wanted to nationalize their oil industry and then later the Shah we support doesn’t respect the common people and he ends up running for his life. We then get the Ayatollah Khomeini in his place. Because of Iran’s nuclear ambitions we pose sanctions on them which harm the populace but fail to slow down their nuclear program and simply alienates the people. We arm Saddam Hussein’s army against the Iranians and then we have to go up against those same weapons when Iraq invades Kuwait and in the process we destroy Iraq’s economy making it vulnerable to extremists. Then we arm the Iraqi army, again, in its struggle against the Islamic State (ISIS) and ISIS takes those weapons and, once again, they are being used against us. Saudi Arabia is considered one of our most loyal friends in the Middle East yet many suspect them of funding radical Sunni jihadists such as ISIS. We talk about not giving terrorist organizations “safe haven” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but Saudi Arabia has been a major terrorist breeding ground for a long time. The majority of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were Saudis, you may recall. Are we also going to bomb Saudi Arabia to prevent safe haven? We supported the Afghan mujahedeen (people of the struggle, or jihad) against the Russians and then the country descends into devastating civil war with not two sides fighting each other but no less than seven. One of those seven was funded by Osama bin Laden and the Saudis. Another one was led by a village mullah named Mohammed Omar that became known as the Taliban. We see despots like Moammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak that we don’t like and work to get rid of them only to have their two countries, Libya and Egypt, plunged into the hands of Islamo-fascists, namely the Muslim Brotherhood as well as various al-Qaida-associated terrorist militias. If all this sounds like we really don’t know what we are doing over there you would be correct, but that leaves a lingering question, does President Obama know what he’s doing over there? What are the chances that he does? Why are we supporting him? Why are more Republicans in Congress supporting him than Democrats?
- It seems to me terrorist groups love to have the US military get involved in the Middle East. If they can just find some despot in the area to fight against they know we will help them and enable them to succeed, which of course in the future will help them against us with the weapons we supply to them. Also, I’d be willing to bet terrorist groups that we fight against love to have us do it because our bombs anger the people over there because they see it as further encroachment on their land by a meddling superpower. This actually helps them in their recruiting efforts to find more jihadists willing to strap on guns or suicide bombs.
So what are we going to do in the Middle East? One wonders if we had just stayed out in the first place if things wouldn’t be better off for everybody but unfortunately what is done is done. How are we to proceed?
I would like to suggest the following as we go forward:
- Stop using our military for an offensive war. Trying to purge the area of terrorists isn’t possible and is counterproductive for reasons I already gave above. We should only use our military for defending the weak and defenseless. This will require our boots on the ground if we are going to accomplish anything.
- Stop trying to get rid of despots. I understand the problem with despots who use chemical weapons against their own people. I get angry like anyone else when I hear about it. I want to see an end to such inhumanity but in the Middle East the cure is often worse than the disease. One thing a strong armed despot does well is keep radical jihadist groups in check. When we get involved in the overthrow of dictators in the Middle East we so far haven’t gotten a replacement that is much better such as Maliki in Iraq. Sometimes we get someone even worse like the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Right now we have a despot in Syria we would like to get rid of but one of the opposition groups in Syria is ISIS and who’s to say any other opposition group or “democratically elected” leader that fills a leadership vacuum when we get rid of Assad won’t be just as bad as ISIS? What makes us think whoever succeeds the despot will be so grateful for what we have done that they will automatically behave in a way that’s productive for the area? It hasn’t happened yet.
- Stop training and arming other armies. This usually backfires on us. We don’t know who to trust. The best we can offer is intelligence and our own boots on the ground to get stuff done. We think we can trust the Kurds? It wasn’t that long ago when both the Kurds and the Yezidis we have been trying to help were killing off Christians. Who knows if they won’t be doing the same if we give them the guns with which to do it?
- Have zero tolerance for collateral damage. There’s a big problem with relying on bombs – they cause collateral damage. It really isn’t so important to kill a terrorist that we need to risk the lives of others to get him. In a conventional war our laser and GPS guided ordnance works great but when the enemy is able to move into populated areas and use innocent humans as shields the only pinpoint ordnance that works is a sniper’s bullet. This requires a set of eyes at ground level, not a drone flying at several thousand feet. This set of eyes of course has to have a set of boots on the ground to get it there.
- Stop invoking overwhelming force. Overwhelming force works well in traditional warfare against standing armies but not against terrorist organizations. Unless our goal is to kill as many innocent civilians as enemy combatants. What we should be doing is enough to keep ISIS from advancing on the ground. We’ve had no-fly zones, why not several no-walk zones that disrupt their ability to move men and supplies around the region? Enemy military logistics are really easy to mess up when you have the abilities of our military compared to what they have. Remember the elite Iraqi Republican Guard platoons surrendering en masse to unmanned drones during the first Gulf War? When they knew they were cut off from Baghdad they had no other option.
- Use our military for humanitarian purposes on a large scale. We have used our military for humanitarian work on a limited scale in the Middle East but we need to make that our main purpose and our stated goal for being there. This brings us to #7.
- Stop telling the Muslims our goal and purpose is to come after the terrorists. Not only do we sound like kids on the playground who don’t know of any better way to handle themselves but this sends the wrong message. It sends a message that this is the best we can do for them, we are doing this because we are afraid of their terrorists and feel like we need to scare the crap out of them, and we have our best interest in mind, not theirs. It also reinforces the idea that all our presidents are like the cocky, combative one from Texas.
- Confiscate the oil wells ISIS has stolen. I’m sure our military has thought about cutting off their main source of funding but nobody is talking about doing it because, I suppose, no local militia is capable of doing it on their own so it would require us to have our boots on the ground to get it done. But how hard would this be?
- Reduce our number of bases in the area. Hawks squawk the loudest when anyone mentions this but good grief do we really need 600 military bases in 128 countries plus our dozen or so carrier battle groups to defend our nation? Do we really need a larger navy than the next biggest 16 navies combined? With those kind of numbers the rest of the world thinks we aren’t interested in our national defense but are more interested in world domination. Even our own military leaders don’t think we need all these bases for national defense and it’s really hard to tell the rest of the world with a straight face that we need all that for defense. I think reducing our footprint in the rest of the world will tell the rest of the world we really are about national defense, not world domination. This message will go the farthest in the Middle East where terrorist groups seem to get a particular sense of satisfaction out of going up against the world’s superpower, even if they get reduced to a skeleton of themselves.
- Take ownership of what happens after our mission is accomplished. This includes laying out how things are going to be when we have rescued a country or a people. If we go in and break it we should own it and own what comes after it. This could include warnings of the US taking over the civil government if whoever is elected violates human rights or fails to form a coalition government that gives all the players a stake in that government. If we shed our blood for them we should not have to tolerate a new leader favoring one sect over another and causing alienation of the Sunnis like Maliki did in Iraq. Ever since Vietnam we have accepted leaders in countries we have saved who become corrupt or dictatorial. We should make it clear to everyone involved that if the new leader crosses a line we reserve the right to remove him.
- Start making the Great Commission our #1 means to a peaceful Middle East. We need to stop thinking of bombs and bullets as our only option in the Middle East and stop thinking of Muslims as somehow exempt from Jesus’ departing words to go and make disciples of all nations. Yes, I know our government is not the missionary arm of the American churches, but what we support or don’t support regarding our foreign relations as a nation should reflect our commitment to Christ and his mission. One question we should always be asking is, “Does this policy work for or against the interests of Jesus Christ to make disciples of all nations?” Notice I didn’t say, “Does this allow us to preach the Gospel?” The Great Commission is so much more than preaching. It’s not just talking about Christ, it’s being Christ, and yes, even an unsaved Marine working to help restore wholeness to a broken land through him protecting an unsaved Red Cross worker who is bringing clean drinking water to a village is a powerful ingredient to making disciples of Christ in that land. In the name of the Christian West, as they see us, they will be touching the lives of people eager for anyone to bring stability and basic human rights and needs. Not only will they be addressing some of the core issues that give rise to a radicalized Islam but will be extending the love of Christ to many who will some day consider the merits of what groups like ISIS have to offer. What better antidote against the lies and propaganda they will be hearing about the West than to come face to face with those who are helping them get education, clean water, electricity, and health care? Can we offer this to them or will the bombs and bullets that inflame their hatred be all they get from us? Furthermore, if they see care and compassion demonstrated from what they consider to be Christian nations won’t that make for receptive hearts when they do hear the Gospel, whether they hear it from western Christians or Christians in their own countries?
Many won’t like the idea of adding more religion to the mix of what makes up the Middle East thinking that religion is at the heart of the area’s problems but those people do not have an experience with the heart-changing power of the Holy Spirit. Those of us who do know that the best thing, and for the Middle East, probably the only thing that will bring peace, is if the people are submitted to the King of Peace. If the only “meddling” western nations had done in that area had been to advance the Kingdom of God by being the hands and feet of Jesus we wouldn’t have created so many problems and the Middle East would look totally different than it does today.
By Kirby Hopper
November 9, 2014
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Christians get into endless debates about free will, predestination, and once-saved-always-saved, get lost in the complexity of it all, and don’t even see the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the room.
I feel a need to expose one of the most insidious heresies to ever infect the Christian church. Though I have strong words to write about this doctrine I have nothing but love for my Baptist, Presbyterian and other brothers in Christ in the churches of the Reformed tradition. In fact, I may be teaming up with some to oversee a local body of believers in my own town. I don’t bring this burden to divide the body of Christ, but to provide a bulwark against yet another wind of doctrine that has blown through the Christian church and has stuck in some quarters, this quarter being about 80 million strong, about 10% of those who consider themselves to be Christian.
One reason this doctrine has flourished in some parts is because it’s complicated. With complicated doctrines many adherents on both sides of the debate get sidetracked and never really deal with what needs to be dealt with. Christians get into endless debates about free will, predestination, and once-saved-always-saved, get lost in the complexity of it all, and don’t even see the 800 pound gorilla sitting in the room. Calvinists spend their time trying to figure out if they are 5 point or 4 point Calvinists, as if there is any real difference, and don’t even consider the kind of God they have created.
Right here before we get past the first page I want to lay it out as clearly, succinctly, and simply as possible:
Calvinism teaches that before any humans were born, God picked out which of us would spend eternity with Him and which ones would end up in eternal conscious torment.
That’s about as clear as I can make it. Calvinists will word it like this (taken from the Acts 29 Network doctrinal statement):
God chose us (to be saved) not on the basis of foreseen faith but unconditionally, according to his sovereign good pleasure and will.
If you’re up on this topic you can see some of TULIP in that statement and recognize this is the conclusion to the doctrine.
In other words, if anyone ends up suffering for eternity it is because God chose him for that. This is what Calvinists mean by “predestination.” If a person accepts the Gospel and gets saved it’s because that was God’s eternal purpose for him and divinely enabled him to accept the Gospel and get saved. Without that divine intervention in his heart he would never have had faith in Christ. If he doesn’t hear the Gospel, or if he does hear it and rejects it, that’s because that was God’s eternal purpose for him. He was created for God’s good pleasure and his good pleasure is to have him or her suffer for ever and ever and ever, with no end. Ever.
To sum things up, and this is the point that gets lost in all the debating about free will and losing one’s salvation:
This Doctrine Makes God Out to be an Evil, Sadistic Monster
We could stop right here because this is all the information we need to reject this doctrine. Any doctrine that makes God out to be something that he isn’t, in fact makes God out to be the opposite of what he actually is, can be and should be rejected on that basis alone. End of debate. We can all call it a day and be done with this. Nothing more needs to be said.
But of course more we shall say.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in free will or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe in predestination or not. It doesn’t even really matter if you think you have scriptures to support what you believe or don’t.
My dear Calvinist friends please consider: If the result of your doctrine is that God is an evil, sadistic monster, then there is something wrong with your doctrine.
You may think you have scriptures to support Calvinism but it should be apparent that your interpretations of said scriptures are wrong, terribly wrong, and you shouldn’t be working so hard at defending your doctrine. What you should be working hard at is finding a way to interpret those scriptures in such a way that is consistent with the idea that God is a God of love, justice, and yes even wrath, not someone who creates people for his good pleasure and his good pleasure is to see them tormented for ever and ever and ever with no end and no mercy, as if that is somehow what a God of justice and wrath would actually do.
If you are not willing to consider that your interpretation of scripture is wrong, you have no business teaching the Word of God to anyone else.
The End of the Debate for Some Calvinists: You Can’t Question God
If you are not a Calvinist you may wonder why this doctrine has gained such wide spread popularity. Like I said before, it gets complicated, and according to them I can’t even raise the issue and question their doctrine. They quote the verses in Romans 9 about how God created some for glory and others for destruction:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath– prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
This verse does indeed imply God has created some for destruction, but what does Paul mean by that? Who is he talking about and what kind of destruction is he talking about? We need to understand what Paul meant by that and not take it out of context to use it to support an insidious doctrine that makes God out to be a cruel, sadistic monster, something Paul would never have done. Paul was talking about God bringing the plagues on the Egyptians and hardening Pharaoh’s heart so he would chase the Israelites out of Egypt. That was a seminal moment in Israel’s history and if you follow Paul’s line of thinking (not always an easy chore), you will see that he is saying to the Jews that just as the Egyptians had no “right” to complain to God for being a part of God’s plan by being the ones to receive the plagues, the Jews have no right to complain that God’s blessings are now going to the Christians and has left the nation of Israel, who, by the way, were about to be destroyed by the Roman army in 70 AD.
First it was the Egyptians who would have been asking, “Why have you made me like this?” and then it was Israel’s turn. The destruction spoken of was physical and temporal, not spiritual and eternal.
Calvinists will judge me, and you if you agree with me, as ones whose carnal minds God has not illuminated to be able to embrace the glories of their “gospel”. To them I am one of those whom God has hardened, or at least left in my natural state and I have no business even asking questions like this, branding me as the same clay that cries out to the potter, “Why have you made me like this?”
To a Calvinist, this is the end of the debate. No one has the right to question God. Nothing more needs to be said. Call it a day and go home. Some will even go so far as to say that since I do not believe their “gospel,” as they define it, i.e., I am not a Calvinist, I am not of the elect and my end will be eternal hellfire. And if you, like most of the Christian church, are not a Calvinist, you will end up there too.
Not all Calvinists are that legalistic to think that only Calvinists are saved but it’s not hard to see why some do since it’s easy to see how one can confuse the Gospel with a person’s doctrine about the Gospel. They errantly reason that if you don’t believe a person gets saved the way they believe a person gets saved then you don’t believe the Gospel and thus can’t possibly be saved. We’ve also seen this with Catholics who don’t believe Protestants are saved because we don’t include works as necessary for salvation. Conversely we see this type of legalism with some Protestants who don’t believe a Catholic can be saved if that Catholic believes works must be added to faith in order to be saved. We see it again here with some Calvinists who won’t accept faith in Christ as sufficient for salvation. As you might suspect there are non-Calvinists who don’t believe some Calvinist can be saved because some Calvinists ad to faith in Christ a particular doctrine about salvation that must be understood and believed in order to be saved. Thus in their minds the Calvinist has a false gospel and how can anyone get saved through a false gospel, they might argue.
Sometimes I think the Catholics are right: Protestants left unsupervised just create a mess and don’t clean up after themselves.
I agree that Calvinists have a false gospel but right in the middle of their message is a message of faith in Christ which does exactly that, leads to a faith in Christ. I think God is good with that. Amen anybody?
Let’s get back to the problem raised by Romans 9. We are not the clay questioning God, we are mature men and women of integrity questioning the Calvinist’s doctrine about God. Can you see the distinction? Many Calvinists can’t and that’s why they are still Calvinists.
Other Calvinists are able to see the distinction between questioning God and questioning their doctrine of God but have been led to believe the tenants of Calvinism are biblical so have no option but to accept the conclusion that God created millions to suffer in hell forever, no matter how unsettling a proposition that may be.
Dear Calvinist, if your understanding of theology leads you to a conclusion that doesn’t sit well with you, have you considered this is the Holy Spirit gently speaking to you? Is your heart soft enough to act accordingly? There is another option, and millions of your brethren have found it. This other option is fully consistent with the idea that God is good, that he is a Father, that he is love, and that he is just, holy and a God of wrath. It does not do violence to what Jesus and his apostles taught us about God and what we as Christians know of God, as does the doctrine of Calvinism.
This leads to a second reason Calvinists are trapped in Calvinism:
The End of the Debate for Some Other Calvinists: Spiritual People Accept Hard Doctrines
If you think I’m implying there’s a bit of spiritual pride involved you would be correct. The line of reasoning goes like this: God says some things that are hard to swallow, but the spiritual swallow them nevertheless. If you don’t accept God’s hard sayings, you are like the multitude that left Jesus after he told them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. A spiritual person, one who loves God with all of his heart and all of his mind, one who loves truth and is willing to have his human understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit, will accept biblical teaching, no matter how hard it is to accept.
To that I agree. The problem is, we must first determine what is biblical. I submit that a doctrine that makes God out to be an evil, sadistic monster is not a biblical doctrine to begin with. How could it be? Instead of feeling spiritual for accepting a doctrine that is, to put it mildly, uncomfortable, we should actually be spiritual and examine it closely and critically. To do any less does not show a genuine love for God and truth, in my not-so-humble opinion.
If you can’t see what the big deal is and can’t see why a Christian would be unsettled with the proposition that God created for his “good pleasure” people to suffer for eternity then there is a problem. All I can say to you is don’t be afraid to think about it. God honors honest questioning. Spiritual people don’t take difficult issues and sweep them under the rug.
Making God a Moral Monster – An Unnecessary Stumbling Stone
I started out with some pretty strong words about Calvinism being one of the most insidious heresies to ever infect the Christian church. I can think of only one other wide-spread heresy that has done more spiritual damage: Roman Catholicism.
Why is this one so concerning, other than the fact it makes God out to be a monster, you ask? It causes people to lose faith in Christ because at some point they think, “If that’s the Christian God, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”
This won’t concern many Calvinists, and this is part of the problem, since they believe a person who loses his faith in Christ never really had it to begin with and if his end is eternal suffering that was God’s choice and it doesn’t really matter how he got there. A Calvinist can teach the Word of God any way he wants with impunity. Or so he thinks.
All this of course assumes Calvinism is true to begin with. To a Calvinist, he’s just preaching the hard truth. Those whom God has not included in the elect and has not softened their sinful hearts to receive the truth won’t receive the truth. That’s just the way it is. Que sera, sera.
If that’s you have you ever stopped for one moment and wondered if maybe you got your interpretation of scripture right? That would be hard to do because if the answer is no then you might be implicated for causing someone to stumble and lose faith after portraying God as something other than what he really is.
Who has enough integrity to even allow their minds to wander down that path and squarely deal with the implications of being wrong and causing others to stumble and end up in hell forever?
How about you? Are you willing to seriously question your own beloved doctrine? Or is your doctrine always going to be a Sacred Cow wandering the streets of Calcutta that must not be touched, much less slaughtered to help feed the starving Indians?
The False Rest and Comfort of Election
Many people who entertain the idea that a person’s salvation depends on God’s election and not on one’s own response to the Gospel find comfort in thinking they are saved and thus can never lose their salvation. That’s all well and good if they don’t think about it much beyond that. What about all the people who thought they were Christians but end up at some point in their lives rejecting the Christian faith? There are only two possibilities for them in the Calvinistic scheme of things: either they never were part of the elect but just thought they were or if they were part of the elect they never really lost their faith no matter how negative toward Christ they may have gotten. Either way we don’t really know who is elect and who isn’t. When a Calvinist, or someone entertaining the idea of election per the Calvinistic understanding, thinks about this a little deeper he will inevitably conclude that he doesn’t know if he’s of the elect any better than the millions who also thought they were of the elect but ended up in Hell forever. He will then have to face the reality that there is no real comfort in being a Calvinist trying to rest on God’s saving grace because he can never really know if he has it to begin with. If he has any humility he will realize he’s just as susceptible to being wrong about his state of salvation as the next guy who was a strong Christian but ended up denying Christ later in life. There really is no rest for a Calvinist and those holding out a false hope need to think about what they are saying before leading another soul down that path.
As for me, I rest in God. I’ve never worried about my salvation or ever had a need for reassurance. I know the admonitions to stay faithful to the end have real meaning and aren’t hard because God is on my side. Nothing will come along and pluck me out of God’s hand. I’m secure, eternally. Yet I can reject God and his Savior at any time I want to. And suffer the consequences. It really is my choice, not God’s. I am not predestined to salvation, I am predestined to what comes after my salvation. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s a verbatim quote of Romans 8:29. That image of his Son is the goal of our Christian life, according to 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” That’s our destination, determined beforehand at the foundation of the world.
Once we are saved, God has a choice as to what to do with us. His choices were: A) conform us to the image of Christ, or B) conform us to the image of something else, or C) not conform us to anything. His choice was A, conform us to the image of Christ, according to Romans 8:29. That is to what we are predestined, not salvation. The Gospel is not about who was predestined, but to what we are predestined. Those who are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ are the New Covenant elect of God.
The Doctrine of Total Depravity Requires Total Scrutiny
For the sake of brevity I’m not going to go into a full-blown disputation of TULIP but for those who aren’t familiar with it I’ll briefly go into it. TULIP is a popularly used and useful acronym to describe the Calvinist’s doctrine of predestination. TULIP stands for:
T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints
John Piper makes it even easier to understand by putting this in the order we experience it and thus the acronym becomes TILUP:
1. We experience first our (Total) Depravity and need of salvation.
2. Then we experience the Irresistible Grace of God leading us toward faith.
3. Then we trust the sufficiency of the atoning death of Christ for our sins (Limited to only those whom God chose to be saved).
4. Then we discover that behind the work of God to atone for our sins and bring us to faith was the Unconditional Election of God.
5. And finally we rest in his electing grace to give us the strength and will to Persevere to the end in faith.
In either scenario the first step is the same and from this understanding everything else in the Calvinistic system follows. The doctrine of Total Depravity says that due to the sin nature that we are born with man is incapable of hearing the Gospel and responding to it in a positive manner, i.e., respond in faith and trust God for our salvation through his Son Christ Jesus. Without God first making us able to have faith in Christ, after having chosen us to such a grace, and conversely not choosing the others, we would never have faith in Christ.
If you believe in Total Depravity there is only one logical conclusion: if you are saved God chose you to be saved because without that predestination, election, and then at some point in your life reformation of your heart, you will reject God every time you hear the Gospel.
If this sounds to you that in the final analysis human free will is eliminated you would be correct since God must control the will to get you saved and without such control you will not get saved.
But again that’s a side issue and to a Calvinist it doesn’t matter anyway. Discussions about it never get resolved. Though they might consider it a great song by Rush, Free Will is to them your issue and your problem, not theirs.
So how do we get past Total Depravity so we don’t end up making God a monster?
The vast majority of false doctrines can be boiled down to the same problem with logic that a skilled debater will do his best to expose: the argument is a Non Sequitur, that is, it does not follow. In other words, the doctrine doesn’t follow from the scriptures used to teach the doctrine. To put it even more simply, the bible doesn’t teach what they say it teaches.
That sounds simple and if it were actually that simple this doctrine wouldn’t be so popular but as usual the devil is in the details. Look at any list of scriptures used to “prove” Total Depravity and ask yourself if those scriptures are really saying man is incapable of having faith in Christ apart from God picking him out ahead of time and giving him the ability to believe the Gospel. They may say something close to that, but close is only good enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. It isn’t good enough if we want to prove a doctrine which ends up making God out to be a monster. When the stakes are this high we should demand scriptures that say exactly what the doctrine says is says. Nothing less will do. We should walk carefully, very carefully.
The Church’s Achilles Heel: Pride of Literalism
Catholics take pride in taking Jesus literally when he said to the disciples they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Evangelicals take pride in taking the Genesis account of the seven days of creation literally no matter how convincing the evidence for an old earth. Before about 1500 AD almost everybody thought the sun went around the earth due to a literal interpretation of scriptures and took great pride in believing so when challenged by astronomers. A God-said-it-I-believe-it-that-settles-it attitude has been pervasive in the church and kept Christians from considering the possibility that they are taking some scriptures too literally, that is, the author never intended them to be taken literally in the first place.
The rather incriminating language in Romans 3:10-18 is often cited to support Total Depravity:
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
If your mom is unsaved, does this description fit her? Does it fit anyone you know? If this was meant to be taken literally and is literally true about all men who have not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit then the human race should have become extinct long ago since “their feet are swift to shed blood.” If all the rest were meant to be a literal description of mankind I think I would want to be a hermit living as far away from other people as possible. I hear you can homestead in the wilds of Alaska – maybe we should all stake our ground a dozen mountain ranges away from the nearest town. No, wait, you can’t come with me, I’m trying to get away from people like you.
A favorite maxim of literalists is to take scriptures literally when at all possible. This isn’t one of those times. Taking this passage literally leads to ridiculous conclusions.
Paul wasn’t quoting this Old Testament passage to teach Total Depravity. What Paul is saying is that Jews are no better than the Gentiles and quotes these verses to keep the Jews who are still under the Law from being proud and arrogant. The verses immediately before and after these verses (9 & 19) give the context: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin . . . Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.”
Paul is quoting Old Testament hyperbolic statements to illustrate a point, that all men are sinners. The scriptures are full of hyperbole, exaggeration for effect. If we are going to take this passage literally we might as well be consistent and take them all literally, including the one that says we should gouge our eyes out if our eyes cause us to sin.
To use this passage from Romans and others to teach Total Depravity is just plain sloppy exegesis. It’s not even exegesis at all, it’s eisegesis, reading our interpretation into scripture rather than discovering what scripture has to say to us.
Pitting Scripture Against Scripture – Both Sides Are Wrong
Quite often discussions about theological issues boil down to one side pulling out their list of scriptures proving their doctrine and the other side pulling out their list of scriptures proving a contrary doctrine. Whoever has the longest list wins. This approach to theology is faulty to the core. We should not be pitting scripture against scripture but be doing our best to harmonize all of the scriptures that deal with any given topic. If we have a theology that seems to ignore the scriptures used by those who oppose our doctrine then we have not done our job and we are not being honest with the Word. We can’t possibly be “rightly dividing” the Word if we can’t harmonize all of the Word.
If the bible has one author then we can rightly assume it will be self-consistent and not be self-contradictory. Whenever we find ourselves thinking two scriptures seem to contradict each other then that’s a sure sign we aren’t correctly interpreting one or both of them. Isn’t that what we say to the atheists who want to disprove divine authorship by pointing out what they think are contradictions in the bible?
It doesn’t matter if one side appears to have more scriptures or “stronger” scriptures on their side. He hasn’t done his homework and the Holy Spirit hasn’t taught him the truth on the matter.
An Appeal for Unity – God’s Way
This wasn’t meant to be a refutation of Calvinism, though you’ve been given plenty enough reason to flee it like the plague. This was meant to begin the discussion with the point that gets lost in all the debate and complexity of the issue and frankly many people are afraid to even think about it much less discuss it.
Refuting Calvinism would require showing why all the scriptures used to teach it don’t teach it and then introducing the scriptures that refute it. And that’s just for starters. We also need to ask the right questions. I’ve often said 90% of theology is asking the right questions. Here’s a couple: are we predestined to salvation or to a blessing once saved? Since election is defined as “picking ahead of time,” is it God picking who will be saved or what the nature of that salvation and blessing will be? The nation of Israel was called God’s elect and they obviously weren’t saved. What does that tell you?
Though I have strong words regarding this doctrine I don’t believe those who teach it should be branded as heretics, though biblically speaking a heretic is one who causes division and this doctrine has certainly caused a lot of division in the Body of Christ. The older I get and the longer I study theology, which is pushing 40 years with 6 of those years in full-time, intensive bible study, the more grace I have for those who have been caught up in the numerous false doctrines that have blown through the church and have their very intelligent and educated proponents who are just trying to be faithful with what God has provided us to guide us in His ways.
I’ve often said if God really expects us to have doctrinal unity he would have either provided us with a much thinner book or he would have provided an infallible interpreter for the rather thick book that we have. If he has done the latter then we need to determine which of the cults that claims to be God’s channel for infallible truth is actually that. So far in my analysis none have a valid claim though the Mormons, the Watchtower Society, and the Roman Catholic Church sure have convinced a lot of people they are it.
That being said we are adjured by Paul to “speak the same things” which tells me that the Holy Spirit does have doctrinal unity as a goal and we need to be on the path with other Christians to get to that point, but we need to do it God’s way, not man’s way.
Man’s way to produce “unity” is to ostracize anyone who doesn’t agree. That can take a rather overt form such as the Catholic Church burning at the stake anyone who dares to teach anything different than what it teaches or it can take a more subtle form when churches and para-church organizations make you sign a doctrinal statement in order to be a member.
At the other extreme are those who say you can believe what you want, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Just love each other and if we do that then that’s all that matters. Never mind the fact that false doctrine leads to bondage and to truly love each other we would want our brethren to be set free by the truth.
God’s way to produce genuine doctrinal unity requires maturity. It requires having enough faith in the working of the Holy Spirit that we allow people of all theological persuasions to be able to express what they feel is the truth. It requires humility to understand that the person on the other side of the theological fence may have something to teach us if we just open our hearts and minds enough to find out what it is. Genuine unity requires a lot of work and is a long process, much more work than the easy methods employed by much of the church. And finally genuine doctrinal unity requires the grace for others that comes from realizing that if it weren’t for the grace of God in our own lives providing us with truth through books, articles, teachers, our own study of the scriptures and the aid of the Holy Spirit, we would be just as blown about by the winds of doctrine as those we are trying to help.
Our God is a God of love and justice. That much we can agree on. What that actually means and how we actually portray God we need to work on, for God’s sake.
Your Brother in Christ,
Kennewick, WA USA
April 4, 2014
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