Doctrine of Commitment

Commitment is a sleeper. It’s a central part of our lives, and should also be a central part of our theology. Yet I call it a sleeper because it is seldom considered with the full depth it deserves.

Commitment is the central component of love. Many people will argue in favor of the emotional components of love, but emotions waver and it’s our commitment that carries us through those times.

Commitment is the heart of our salvation, first and foremost, God’s commitment to us. Chesed, is a Hebrew word expressing God’s love for us based on His commitment. Xaris, is a Greek word for grace expressing God’s commitment to us despite the fact we could never earn it or deserve it. (Studying individual words for commitment could go much, much further.)

We make a commitment back to God in the moment of salvation. We make a commitment to God to turn our lives around both in terms of repenting, turning away from sin, and discipleship, following the ways of Christ.

Living the Christian life also includes making commitments.

Christians commit themselves to a church family, in order to find a place to grow and opportunities to serve. This commitment to the local church is the subject of a great deal of spiritual warfare. People are easily driven away because they fail to see the church experience as an expression of their commitment to God, and instead get distracted by their relationships with one another. These believers always become spiritually stunted and useless to God’s kingdom work.

The fact that Satan chooses to focus his attack on our commitment to the local church is evidence of how important this commitment is.

So commitment is a sleeper. It is both the heart of our relationship with God, the focus point of satanic attack in our walk with God, and the point where the most failures occur in Christian growth.

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Categorical Theology

Sometimes I notice I have trouble talking theology with people who are accustomed to thinking of theology only in categories. For example, I am aware that I am not exactly a Calvinist. For a lot of people their immediate response to this is to assume I must be Arminian in my beliefs. This is false. I am even further away from Arminianism.

In my way of thinking about theology it is perfectly fine to have a belief system that is somewhere in the middle. But it seems as if a lot of people, believe this is cheating, somehow.

It is as if the men, for whom these theological systems are named, are such icons that we are obligated to accept or reject everything they say as a unit. Perhaps we are supposed to submit to their wisdom, assuming they are smarter than us and whatever they say fits together as a cohesive system must be accepted in total.

For some, theology is a zone where you are not allowed to think for yourself. Instead you are obligated to study, discuss and choose your belief based on the historic categories used to teach theology.

This doesn’t work for me. Not only do I like to think for myself, but what makes the most Biblical sense to me, doesn’t fit exclusively into one of the traditional categories. It appears to me to be a clear, sensible, tight fitting system, and I am perfectly fine that it doesn’t fit any previously defined mold.

So don’t limit my theological discussions to the framework of others. Instead let me describe my own beliefs. Hear what I say, rather than only looking for what historic views my discussion resembles.

I expect that the best ways of discussing God’s character, actions, and redemptive work, may be yet to be composed. Perhaps, our conversations will give birth to a new paradigm, but only if we allow ourselves to think outside of the historic boxes. Of course, we can never set aside Scripture, reverence or God’s deity, but there is still a lot of room for discussion.

Doctrine of Israel

What do you believe about Israel? Given current world events I believe this is a very relevant point of theology. Yes, world events and theology should and do affect one another. In fact, they must interact in order for theology to be either true or relevant.

So here goes.

I believe God chose a man named Abraham to begin His kingdom restoration work on earth. I don’t say it was the start of His kingdom building, since God always had one intent and therefore it started with Adam. However at the time in history when Abraham was alive, the world needed a restoration work, we had fallen so far away from the God that created us, that we needed a God who would reach out to us.

He chose Abraham to start this work and several promises were made to Abraham which are still important today.

He promised Abraham to make a nation out of his descendants. This is the Jewish people. Many of the promises made to Abraham were to include the nation descended from him. It is true Abraham fathered another nation through Ishmael, and that specific promises were given to this son, but those promises were given separately and Ishmael did not inherit the promises passed down to the Hebrews.

One of the promises is that God would bless the entire world through the Jews. I believe this promise was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. In God’s plan the kingdom restoring work suddenly expanded beyond the Jews and a few converts to be available to all the earth.

I do not believe that Christianity on earth constitutes a new Israel. We have been grafted into the Israel that existed, and have not replaced it. Nor do I believe that every Jewish person is saved automatically. They must find their salvation, just as we do, in Jesus Christ.

Another promises is God would bless those that bless Israel and curse those who treat Israel with contempt. I believe this promise is still in effect and applies to the modern nation of Israel.

This is why I believe the topic is currently relevant. The United States has been backing away from every action which God previously blessed us for taking. We no longer honor Him, we are quickly losing our missionary power, we are no longer standing against tyranny, and now as a final straw we are no longer supporting Israel.

You can expect God to bring about some changes as a result.

The Devil

There are some things that Christians believe about the devil. The Bible teaches that the devil was an angel, that led a rebellion, and with him one third of the angels became fallen.

The question that naturally arises is, how do you stage a rebellion attempting to overthrow an all-powerful and all-knowing God? God will know what you are up to, and absolutely nothing you do can harm Him. So how is rebellion even possible? Why didn’t God stop it before it ever got started?

As how rebellion is possible, the devil convinced himself that he could successfully rebel, being blinded by his own arrogance and vanity. He lied to himself to believe he could succeed.

But answering why God allowed it, has to come down to one reason. The devil’s rebellion served God’s purposes. Now for some people this is a hard pill to swallow. For them, thinking God allowed sin, for any reason, is reprehensible. I prefer to look at it that God is powerful enough, that every sin, is used by God to bring about positive results.

I believe God’s purpose, His positive result, is to create humanity as truly and completely free moral agents. We have been given the power of choice. However, the power to choose is meaningless without choices to choose from. Similarly, if all of the choices are right choices, then we are not truly free.

The devil creates for humanity the alternative to choosing right. Without this choice we would not be truly free, and therefore not truly human. The purpose of our humanity is the ability to choose God, choosing to love and serve Him instead of self. This human free will is what makes us the crown of creation, and without it we would be nothing more than fancy automaton.

The next question that arises is, does that mean God is responsible for sin? The answer is no. God creates angels and humans with a true power of choice, and with this power comes the responsibility for one’s own choices. God knew the wrong choices that would be made, but that does not make Him responsible for our sins. We choose them and we are responsible for them.

To help illustrate this point, think about a couple bringing a new baby home to a two year old. They can reasonably assume the older child will at some point mistreat the younger. So does that mean they forcibly separate the two and never let them meet? Of course not, to do so would be an unspeakable cruelty. These two are born to be siblings and to love each other. So over their growing up years the parents know there will be errors, but seek to teach them to love and grow together into healthy, non-murderous, siblings.

Similarly God is not responsible for our sins. He is simply allowing the situation which gives us the possibility of becoming fully what God has created us to be. He made us to be the crowning jewel of His creation, the ones who choose to love Him.

King James Bible

One of the difficulties for believers to wrestle with is what to think about all the different Bible translations. Many people resolve the issue by choosing to adopt the King James Version as the Bible, or at least as their Bible. This answer is easy to grab, since from the American perspective it feels like the oldest Bible. It was the translation every older American grew up with. It was the version they used when the Mayflower landed. Some people incorrectly believe it was the language of Paul.

The King James was translated in 1611. It was a remarkable translation for its time, but it was not the only translation of its time. The fact that this one was accepted and used to a greater degree, was primarily based on it being the last of the Bibles authorized by the British crown.

The problem with the King James is that we have now had over 400 years of finding better manuscripts and of scholarly review. The first means that we have found small, very small, corrections we can make to the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts the Bible is translated from. The better opportunities for scholarly review means today’s translations are checked and rechecked in ways that were unimaginable back then.

Notice that I said the changes were very small. I have never seen a textual variation which changed the message in any significant way. I believe God has been protecting the transmission of His Word, allowing some basic human error back when the Bible was hand copied, but preventing the corruption of His message.

God’s Word is the message rather than a single translation. We tend to think of the Bible as whatever translation we happen to be reading. But it is also being read in Italian, Chinese, Spanish and many more. The fact that there is more than one English translation is no more troublesome than the fact that there are translations in so many languages. Since we believe God so loved the world, means the whole world, then it’s only logical His Gospel would be available to all of us.

But some people have a strong attachment to the KJV. So a couple of textual theories have been put forward to justify the idea that the KJV is the only valid English translation.

One of these is that the majority of Greek texts are roughly the equivalent of the KJV text. This is not exactly true. But even if it was it would not be a good way to choose the best text. In the course of history a certain text might be copied thousands of times. If it has an error in it, then there will be thousands of texts with that error in place. The age of the texts is a better criteria than numbers. The idea of a majority text in scholarly circles means something entirely different and this use is a misunderstanding of it, and it was not the text available to translate the KJV

Another of these theories is the idea of a received text. Some believe God was protecting His Word by giving one single correct Greek text which then was used to translate the KJV which is therefore the only correct English text. This also doesn’t really work out as a claim for the Greek or for the English. Notice that the King James we grew up with is not the one that is for sale on the shelves today, and that the 1611 version was totally different than either. Publishers update the language in small ways. Even today if you buy a KJV from different publishers it is likely to be updated in slightly different ways.

I tell you all of this to help you avoid getting stuck on the idea that the KJV is the only good English translation. It is a good translation, but at many points the language is archaic enough that people have a hard time understanding it. Instead of adopting a single translation as the perfect Bible, accept that God’s Word is the message behind the words. By accepting a reasonably translated modern version you will likely get more out of it than you will from a translation that is stuck in centuries old language you did not grow up with. Updated language is especially important in ministry to young people. Remember, they don’t teach Shakespeare in schools anymore, so today’s youth have no context for the ancient language.

Angelology

Angels are God’s messengers. That is the meaning of the Biblical Greek word used for angels, and the word from which the English word is derived.

Angels are created beings but they are made differently than humans. In regard to how they are different it is rather speculative to elaborate, but angels are mentioned in Scripture a number of ways, and from these we can learn some specific things about them.

Guardian angels are likely real in that Jesus speaks of putting angels in charge of watching over children.

Angels can have different physical appearances since some are described with six wings, with implication that this is different than other angels.

Angels can be used as God’s warriors in battle since Jesus states He could call 10,000 angels to His defense and since a battle in heaven is described in the origination of Satan and his minions.

Angels have a decision making ability and at least a degree of free will, since one third of the angels mounted this rebellion.

Angels can take on physical form since they took human women and interbred in the book of Genesis. These might well have only been fallen angels since Jesus mentioned angels do not have marital relations.

So how do we put these things together to give us a Christian understanding of angels? Begin with the very first thing mentioned. Angels are God’s messengers, sent to do the work of God. While God could accomplish His work in any number of ways, He chose to do some of it through angels.

But be careful, some of the conclusions people arrive at in regard to angels I would discourage. It is not wisdom to worship angels, or to seek their intervention on your behalf. We are to go directly to the Boss, not to His servants. We should not seek to know the names of specific angels or demons nor try to understand their hierarchy or realms of responsibility. Again we should relate directly to God through Jesus Christ. Remember they are God’s messengers, doing God’s work, so taking focus off of God to put it on angels will always be a misstep.

 

Inspiration

Christians say that the Bible is inspired by God. It is a concept drawn directly from Scripture, but what exactly does it mean? It is one of the more subtle questions of theology, but also one of the most important.

There are a number of different viewpoints on exactly how inspiration plays out. I personally believe it means that God chose every word of the text of Scripture. He literally wrote the words of the Bible through the human authors.

But then again, that is why it is hard for us to figure out. There were human authors. Individuals who wrote things, probably not thinking they were particularly special at the time. These individuals have a multitude of ways in which their personalities and style comes through in the portions of Scripture they wrote.

But does that mean, God is out of the picture? I don’t think so. Assuming the variety of human voices in Scripture, excludes God, is equivalent to assuming God is very small. God who created each one of those human beings instilled into them their unique traits. Why would we believe God is big enough to create all those different persons, but not big enough to use and speak through each one uniquely?

 

Denominations

Denominationalism can be a tricky topic. For some people it is a contest, who is best? For others it is a proof, if God existed wouldn’t He cause His people to agree on everything? For other people it is simply a point of confusion, why can’t we all just get along?

I believe these questions all miss the point. They take the realities of human nature and pretend it should fit their preferences. In my examples the preferences expressed in the question were competition, anarchy and homogeneity. But none of these reflect the nature of all of humanity at any moment.

I think of denominations rather simply. It is a group of churches of like faith and order that choose to cooperate together for the purpose of missions or other mutual causes. Denominations can be large or small. They can be governed any number of ways. And they can be good or bad.

A number of things can make a denomination bad. I believe if it has a single autocratic leader, its already bad. If you don’t understand why, just wait until the day you have a bad person in the position. Bad doctrine will certainly make a denomination bad. Lead people astray and you will pay a high price. Bad organization will make a bad denomination. Good intentions require good structure and great follow through. I am sure the list could go on.

But in regards to all these different denominations, let me make a few observations. If you think they are all fighting with one another, get over it. Yes, you can find people who are that way. You can even find entire denominations that are that way. But an honest accounting would come to the conclusion they are few. And except on those larger issues, you will find they are mostly limited to young or young at heart believers.

What about those larger issues though. Honestly, some issues are worth confronting. Not by fisticuffs, not by shouting matches, but by reasonable conversation. Remember I said bad doctrine could lead people astray? If astray means sending them to hell we really should try to intervene within appropriate limits. (Yes, I am saying not everyone who calls themselves a Christian will be recognized as such by God.) This world acts as if addressing their spiritual falsehoods is the greatest rudeness. I would think letting people walk into eternal hellfire without a word of warning was much ruder.

This by the way is the answer to the other objections. God allows us our differences of opinions. Removing them would be equivalent to removing our freedom, and therefore our humanity. He makes Himself available by the Word and Holy Spirit, by nature and prayer. So Christians seek Him and they don’t all have the same personalities, preferences or experiences. So even with the same revelations, they come to different conclusions. God is willing to live with that, so we should be too.

For believers this means they have a point of responsibility. When one believes Jesus is God’s Son and the Second Person of the Trinity you would rather fellowship with others who believe and teach the same. The same truth applies to a bunch of other doctrinal points. At some level you begin to say a doctrine is minor enough that it is not an essential test of fellowship. But to decide that no point of doctrine is important enough to break fellowship, is equivalent to saying you will not stand up for God in any way.

 

The Repentance Paradox

Repentance is a paradox. The word describes a change of pattern based upon a change of direction.

The Christian use of the word describes turning away from sin in order to turn toward God. This change of direction is initiated by your human will, but empowered by God.

The change of pattern is another problem. We habitual creatures have a way of returning to our past patterns. And hence the reason why I call repentance a paradox. We make a commitment to God to turn from sin, knowing full well we will continue to sin despite our efforts.

But don’t take my statements as asserting there is a falsehood in repentance. It is a real and necessary part of the Christian experience. We make a decision to turn our lives over to God. God then gets a grip on us. His actions place us into His family and kingdom, but they do not remove our humanity. Our free will is a major ingredient in our humanity so removing it would be making us something less than human.

This paradox is necessary because it is God’s desire to have a relationship with humanity. Not creatures without free will, but real people with all their failings. For this reason the Christian life is more one of grace and forgiveness than the conquering of sin.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying sin all you want, or sin doesn’t matter. I want you to work hard to battle sin. In this battle you can expect to gain ground. You can expect to prevent sin from overtaking you and robbing you of your freedom or usefulness to God. But you cannot expect to gain absolute victory by never sinning again.

Christmas

I believe in Christmas:

The virgin birth,

The Christ child,

Angels singing,

Magi traveling from afar

Peace on earth,

And good will toward men.

I believe in Christmas:

God’s personal outreach to humanity,

God’s Son as the first and greatest gift,

The Word becoming flesh to dwell among us,

The eternal king taking the manger when He deserved the throne

And the same king that will come again.

I believe in Christmas.