A biblical fundamentalist reads Scripture as a lawyer does a legal code. Rather than read like the Bereans, who were open-minded and therefore receptive to the message the Apostle Paul preached (Acts 17:11), many people read with an agenda to prove their current beliefs.
Religious fundamentalist scholars are often able to find what they go looking for, and at the expense of what is true. Their diligent search, rather than being a quest for Truth, is an effort to find proof-texts for their own theological presuppositions (often inherited positions), and is not guided by the Holy Spirit.
Some are very knowledgeable and respected people in their respective circles. They parse words looking for specific permissions and prohibitions, or only to justify their existing doctrinal stances.
They are scholars of conservative or liberal persuasion and dogmatists for any denomination.
They all have their loyal followers.
They all believe they are right.
But they are also no different from those whom Jesus confronted when he said:
…the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:37-40)
Those who were addressed by Jesus in the passage above had Scripture (graphé) and studied it “diligently” according to Jesus. But they were missing something. Jesus told them they lacked the word (logos) of God dwelling in them, thus they would not come to him for life. They were impoverished when it came to true faith and the indwelling word of God.
There are many who have only Scripture and not the Spirit to teach them.
We are told there will be tares sown in the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). This means that there will be those who appear righteous on the outside, but they reject the most foundational concepts of faith. Despite their many good works, they are spiritually dead and lost.
I recall discussions with a man unable to conceptualize the idea of a triune God. Time and time again he would come back to his own flawed understanding and insist that I was polytheistic for believing in one God… three persons. He also could not accept that the sonship of Jesus made him divine like his Father in heaven.
Sadly there are many who reject Jesus in a much more subtle way and by this I mean they have not placed their faith in the Spirit he promised:
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:23-26)
They claim to have faith, but are agnostics when it comes to the idea of the Spirit teaching “all things” as promised. And, despite their Biblical religion, they have the same “worldly” perspective that Jesus describes:
The world cannot accept [the Spirit of truth], because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17)
They are as Paul describes:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
Many who profess to believe have recast the Spirit’s work as mere emotionalism and cling to circular reasoning and poor understanding of the text. They have a form of godliness; but, despite their diligent study and careful religious devotion, they are spiritually impotent because they lack the “mind of Christ” or the indwelling word of God.
Jesus addresses those “blind guides” who love the letter of the law while rejecting the Spirit:
Woe to you, blind guides! You say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.” You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, “If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.” You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. (Matthew 23:16-22)
Jesus started by ridiculing a legalistic controversy about what made an oath legitimate. He dismissed the dispute as silly by taking a third position that supercedes the others and then continues:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:13-24)
These religious scholars missed the forest for the trees.
They were so focused in on legalistic details of application that they “neglected the more important matters—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Jesus insults these religious authorities, he calls them “blind guides” and knocks them off their proverbial pedestal.
Paul expounds on the blindness of those who only have Scripture and the need for the Spirit as guide:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
Biblical fundamentalists get things in reverse, they say we need the Scripture to understand the Spirit. The truth is opposite, we need the Spirit in order to understand Scripture or we will be no better than the “blind guides” who diligently studied Scripture and yet never embraced Jesus (and the promise of the Spirit) who brings life.
Are you a minister of the new covenant powered by the Spirit?
The new covenant is different from the old. In the new covenant, God’s dwelling moved from a temple of stone and gold to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), which is to say the individual bodies or collective mass of those who follow after Jesus and constitute the church. The new covenant is a law written on hearts rather than on tablets of stone (Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:15,16) and that is the work of the Spirit:
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
The silly controversies that divide the church are not caused by the word of God or the Spirit. They are caused by those who have their own interpretation of Scripture, who believe their own opinion of the language is infallible, and yet do not have the indwelling word of God or life of the Spirit.
Without the Holy Spirit to guide our study, we will “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” and be no different from those whom Jesus condemned: blind guides with veiled hearts and puffed up with biblical knowledge, yet unable to correctly understand…too focused in on the technical details to see the bigger concepts of faith.
We are all familiar with that guy—the high water mark of his life being his senior year of high school—who is always looking back on that one moment when he was actually relevant and longing for those glory days to return, right?
It is the tendency of some to romanticize the past and something very easy to do when things aren’t going as well as we’d like in the present. Occasionally this sentimentalism about the past is useful reflection, but oftentimes it is no more than our fear of a future that seems uncertain and keeps us from the greater fulfillment of our potential as an individual or together as a group.
We read about those who rejected what would have brought them into the promised land who “in their hearts turned back to Egypt” and “worship the symbols of their former greatness rather than understand” (Acts 7:39) in Scripture. Because of this idolatrous preference for things past-tense a generation of Israelites escaped the bondage of Egypt only to wander aimlessly in the wilderness because they did not trust God to overcome the giants of their time.
It is fashionable nowadays in some conservative Mennonite or somehow otherwise related circles to use the word “Anabaptist” as a means to distinguish themselves. This resurrection of Anabaptist identity seems to both be a response to a perceived lukewarmness in the established tradition and also a rejection of what is often labeled Evangelicalism. But what it often amounts to is no more than a change of window dressing and nothing more.
In many cases it seems these new Anabaptists are simply another hybrid/remix version of conservative Mennonite standards with Biblical fundamentalism, Revivalism, Pietism, along with many other more recent innovations and influences. These self-proclaimed Anabaptists may actually be more at odds with their ancestors than their Old Order cousins whom they consider to be their spiritual inferiors. There is no new life, only rewarmed leftovers of yesterday’s meals and a new distraction.
Early Anabaptists did not spend their days in obsessive omphaloskepsis or in preserving a religious cultural identity. They were men emboldened by the Spirit to question the authority of their own human teachers and break from tradition passed to them. They were rebels, branded as troublemakers and thought to be dangerous heretics.
If your primary goal in life is raising your quiverful and maintaining a respectable image in church or society in general, then you, my friend, are no George Blaurock.
Are modern day Anabaptist wannabes doomed to wander a spiritual wilderness?
The short answer is, no.
We all have choices to make in the present that will shape our future and the choice is still in front of us all.
Here’s your choice: Will you be like those who stubbornly clung to the past for security and missed out on the promised land because of their lack of faith? Or, will you this day choose to stop burying your talents in fear, invest fully in trust of God’s grace and rest completely in the Spirit’s ability to lead you as it did Jesus?
Jesus, when his authority was questioned, pointed to John’s Baptism (Mathew 21:23-27, Mark 11:27-33, Luke 20:1-8) and a moment of special spiritual anointing recorded in all of the Gospels.
We are told the sky was “torn open” (Mark 1:9-11) then the Spirit of God descended upon him “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:21-23) “and alighted on him” (Matthew 3:13-17) and immediately after this: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” (Luke 4:1) I believe those writers wanted us to know what gave Jesus authority and direction—what say you?
This is what I read: Jesus appealed to an authority greater than the experts on Scripture and theology back then could duplicate. He points to something spiritually significant that accompanied his physical water Baptism. An anointing by God that immediately leads him to the wilderness where he is tempted and then emerges to read from Isaiah “the Spirit of God is upon me” claiming it to be fulfilled that day in him to a stunned and incredulous audience.
But, besides that, there is another Biblical accounting of the Baptism of Jesus with an added detail of great importance, the testimony of John:
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is Godʼs Chosen One.” (John 1:32-34)
Jesus did not only live as an example and die as a sacrifice for our sins. No, according to the passage above, he came to deliver on a promise. That promise was a spiritual anointing like his available to all who believe.
That promise being “the Spirit of truth” that the world (including many who falsely claim to believe Jesus) cannot accept as real (John 14-17) and is only known to those who have been anointed or “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and is what was experienced on the day of Pentecost in an event Peter claims was foretold by the prophet Joel before preaching a message of repentance:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
What is the first step out of the wilderness?
#1) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15) Which means turning away from our sinful attitudes and behaviors—be Baptized, then live in obedience to the teachings of Jesus as we know them. The Baptism of repentance is something we do as both a symbolic gesture and also as part of sincere effort to put to practice the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.
This is the most difficult step for those raised in a Christian religious tradition. We know how to follow the rules or behave ourselves and act right. However, this is often a commitment without sacrifice and an occasion to stumble over our own pride. We become like the prodigal son who never left home yet was far from repentance.
Keep repenting as need be.
#2) “Ye must be born again.” (John 3:1-21) This was something perplexing to Nicodemus and still mysterious to us. Jesus says “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” then adds that only the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. As surely as you didn’t give birth to yourself the first time you will not give birth to yourself spiritually. For man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
There are many spiritual infants in the church today or those who rely on their own human reasoning and not the power of God. There was recently a man, ordained in the Mennonite church, who confessed to his not being spiritually born when he started as a preacher. We send missionaries out full of themselves or a religious indoctrination and youthful ambition rather than tell them to wait on the fullness of Spirit to come to them as Jesus urged his disciples.
#3) “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.” (1 John 2:20) Do you have that confidence? Or are you like those Paul encountered who were Baptized in water of repentance and yet…
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘Johnʼs baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘Johnʼs baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:1-6)
There are many who have been Baptized with water of repentance who are still not quickened in Spirit. There are two Baptisms, one physical and the other spiritual, one is to show our repentance and another is of God clothing us. I pray God sends the willing of this generation to lay hands on those who are Baptized yet still spiritual powerless and that through prayer they are anointed in the name of the Lord Jesus.
#4) “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint…” (Proverbs 29:18) The word revelation (also translated as vision) is about spiritual foresight and leadership. When there is no spiritual vision people cast off restraint, run wild, perish, etc.
Vision is not about looking backwards for answers. This is not medieval Switzerland, you are not George Blaurock, I am not Conrad Grebel, and we can’t recreate the 1500’s today nor should we want to. Tent meetings, Sunday schools, VBS (or any of the other innovations of a prior era) do not need to be preserved ad infinitum either. We have work to do, work God has given us to do in this present moment using the advantages we are given.
Yes, the witness of faithfulness past-tense should not be forgotten and is a great encouragement. Take these translated words of “Gott, dich will ich loben” (God, You I Will Praise) a hymn written by Blaurock before his martyrs death have great value:
“Lord God, how do I praise Thee From hence and evermore, That Thou real faith didst give me By which I Thee may know. Forget me not, O Father, Be near me evermore; Thy Spirit shield and teach me, That in afflictions great Thy comfort I may ever prove, And valiantly may obtain The victory in this fight.”
But putting those words to actual practice does not mean we should be consummate historians, full of knowledge of the past and light on vision for the future. We should not be like those obsessed with their former glory, trying to be great again by looking backwards, rather we should be full of the Spirit and a vision for today.
The real Anabaptist is the one who does as they did and recklessly pursues the truth regardless of personal cost. We need a radical faith, one that uses the technological means and media of today, that reaches the world with authentic self-sacrificial love. We have tools at our disposal that give of us capabilities that our ancestors could hardly even imagine.
Ultimately, however, for any of our tools, technology and historical knowledge to be useful, we need a spiritual awakening. Real Christian vision is not a product of human ability or effort, it comes from the Spirit of God—For any of our advantages to matter we must be born again.
Those who walk in the Spirit look forward with a positive vision and a great hope for the future.
His name was unknown.
He is a walk on linebacker on a college football team who started this season as a backup to a backup. But, undaunted, he practiced and committed to being ready for that moment.
That moment came last Saturday when this unknown finally had his number called. Brandon Smith, a number 47 on his iconic ‘no name’ blue and white jersey, finally got his chance.
After yet another injury in a season plagued with injuries he was called upon and took the field. He used the opportunity to lead a bruised and battered defensive unit and preserve a win for the team.
Smith, despite only having a few snaps at a college level until last week, was no bench warmer.
Smith, a humble soft-spoken leader, was on the most successful high school football team in Lewisburg Green Dragons history, a team that advanced all the way to the state quarterfinals in 2010, and the backbone of an outstanding defense.
But more significantly than all of that, Smith was active in the local church and is by all accounts a young man fully committed to using his talents for the honor and glory of God. He even turned down two scholarships to prestigious universities to walk on and suit up for Penn State because that is where he believed God wanted him.
The reason why Mennonites do not show up to play ball.
The Mennonite tradition I was born into has a long list of activities that are not encouraged. And, of those activities restricted or outright banned, one being participation in organized competitive sports and football was considered especially intolerable.
The reason for this is an idea called ‘non-conformity’ that is common to Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups. It is based on a statement “be not conformed to this world” found in the book of Romans and in other Scriptural teaching about separation from the world.
This idea of non-conformity usually amounts (ironically enough) to conformity to a religious standard that is enforced primarily by church leaders. The standards are different from group to group, but generally apply to technology usage, clothing style and entertainment. Through their idea of non-conformity various Anabaptist groups have maintained their cultural distinctiveness in an ever changing world.
Unfortunately too often it seems the focus is on preserving a religious heritage and an ‘Anabaptist identity’ rather than a radical pursuit of God. Wearing black socks or using a horse named Fred as transportation rather than a Ford does not change a person’s heart.
The problem is when non-conformity is nothing more than a human effort to please cultural expectations.
Conformity without transformation misses the point entirely and will keep us spiritually sidelined.
The bigger problem with Mennonite non-conformity and separation teaching is that it puts the emphasis in the wrong place.
Read the context:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
The ‘be not conformed’ above is not a standalone statement. Paul doesn’t leave us to guess his meaning and quickly follows with “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” and is basically describing the need for something transformative to happen within us.
The word “transformed” is translated from a word “metamorphóō” (μεταμορφόω) that looks like metamorphosis and basically means the same thing. It is a word used four times in the New Testament, twice it is translated “transfiguration” in reference to Jesus and twice (including Romans 12:2 above) to describe the change that takes place in a believer.
Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) is a very significant event, the “greatest miracle” according to Thomas Aquinas, thought of as a bridge come between heaven and earth or perhaps what modern science would describe as a portal between dimensions. It is where Jesus is seen by his disciples talking to Moses and Elijah and a voice proclaims Jesus as son.
The other time this significant word is used is in this passage:
“Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
It is quite clear in contextual usage that this word “transformed” is something spiritual, something God does, and not a matter of human effort. In the passage from 2 Corinthians above it is about having a “veil” removed by the Spirit that allows us to be able to understand Scripture that leads to transformation. In Romans 12:2 it is about a transformation that leads to renewal of mind.
What is renewal?
The word “renewal” as in “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is translated from a word “anakainósis” (ἀνακαίνωσις) and describes a process. In Romans 12:2 it is about the mind being changed through this transformative thing. It is also a word used one other time in Scripture:
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)
Again we see a process in which God intervened on our behalf while we were still lost, hopelessly blind to spiritual reality, and did something to change us. It is not something we do for ourselves or a list of do’s and don’t’s passed down from generation to generation, it is something spiritual done in us by God’s grace.
Why Mennonites should stop playing for fun only and need to get serious about using their all for God’s glory.
Should I be brutally honest?
Our idea of non-conformity is more often a path to complacency rather than spiritual renewal.
We are doing it wrong…
We have become as the Pharisees who were obsessed with details, considered themselves to be the experts on all things Biblical, yet despite their diligent study of the book they rejected Jesus as savior (John 5:39-40) and totally missed the point. They were “blind guides” who “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24) and we are there with them.
Instead of seeking after true transformation, and using everything in our life to bring glory and honor to God, we attempt to carefully divide up our activities into categories of “worldly” and spiritual. Instead of integrate all areas of our life into our witness, we compartmentalize and become ineffective.
When we do participate sports, rather than see it as a way to a witness, we play for fun only. In similar fashion, when we work we do it for money only, when use social media we use it exclusively for recreation only. We think missions is only something that happens when we join our earnest religious peers on an airplane ride to Africa and otherwise arrange our lives in such a way that we miss opportunities staring us right in the face.
Instead of seeing athletic pursuits as a means a greater end, a chance to display Christian character to others, we see only the frivolity of sports. Instead of seeing business as a mission to our customers and employees, we take a worldly approach by make profits a higher priority than people—then excuse it because it will give us more spices to tithe on Sunday or an opportunity to “travel over land and sea” as Jesus said (Mathew 23:15) the Pharisees did while calling them hypocrites and blind.
It is a problem called functional fixedness. In problem solving functional fixedness is when a person can only see things one way and therefore miss better solutions.
Could it be possible that this is because we got our poles reversed and have put our effort to achieve righteousness before real faith in God?
Could it be because we are non-conformed in outward appearance through artificial religious means, but have the same ‘worldly’ attitudes in our hearts and are not truly transformed through a renewal of our mind?
If so, we should stand up against our own hypocrisy like Jesus…
Jesus defied the religious expectations that he was supposed to conform to and so should we.
Jesus infuriated the adherents to the Bible-based religious tradition of his time. He broke their rules of do’s and don’t’s as a way to point out their hypocrisy and true lack of faith. Jesus, while they were busy arguing the theological minutia and details of application, was out healing and showing love.
Mennonites, like many other Christian denominations, are often so distracted by their own doctrines and dogmas that they fail at being actually faithful. We are so concerned with preserving our own fundamentals that we neglect the larger matters of following after God’s way and the largest being genuine love for the world.
The truth is that we are never told by Jesus to physically separate ourselves from the world.
We should be in the world and not of the world, set apart in our attitude and approach to life rather than in outward appearance only. To truly follow after Jesus we need to be in the world, in places where the real people are and in the places that religiously self-righteous people avoid.
We need to consider the example of Paul:
“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
It is interesting to note that Paul, directly after telling us that for sake of the Gospel he has “become all things to all people” in the quote above, uses an analogy of an athlete preparing for competition. It reminds me of the dedicated preparation of a faithful young man named Brandon Smith.
Smith was not only ready to take the field in terms of physical preparation either. This week, after his debut on Saturday, his wife, Andrea, posted a status update on social media from her personal prayer journal. It was an entry from exactly a year before and asking that her husband would have the opportunity to take the field:
That, my friends, is where it gets real.
We do not battle against flesh and blood, our battle is spiritual. We do not win victory by artificial conformity and meaningless arbitrary rules either, we are fighting an unconventional war using asymmetrical tactics, we need the mind of Christ:
“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:15-16)
Do you have the mind of Christ? Have you been transformed by supernatural means of the Spirit? Or are you just outwardly and artificially non-conformed through human efforts? Whatever the case, do not bury the talents God has given you for fear of what others may think.
Smith is expected to get his first college start on Saturday afternoon against Michigan. And, win or lose, I know #47 is playing for the right reasons. I pray God blesses him and his wife as they serve. I hope we all are prepared to serve wherever and whenever our own number is called.
I was struck the other day by a quote in an article I read about Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, and a conversation about that quote is some of the reason for this blog post.
“Was not the death of God, in fact, revealed in a doubly murderous act that, at the same time that it put an end to the absolute, assassinated man himself? Because man, in his finitude, is inseparable from the infinite, which he both negates and heralds. The death of God is accomplished through the death of man.” (Michel Foucault)
It was a response to the statement “God is dead” used by Nietzsche to describe the crisis those have who reject the established religious morality as he did. The quote is an acknowledgement of the cost of western rationality, a philosophical perspective that depends solely on revelation through the physical sensory and dismisses spiritual experience.
Western thinking focuses on what can be known through natural or rational means. The result of this pursuit of knowledge has been greater understanding of the world and technological advancement. But this has led many to abandon all belief in the supernatural as superstition, it has undeniably come at the cost of moral purpose, and I know because I’ve been there.
The unbelieving believer phenomenon and lack of faith in the church.
Many in Western religious communities, while thinking themselves to be at odds with this western rejection of God, have a very worldly perspective of reality and are simply unaware of the implications of following their own theological ideas to completion.
Many Biblical fundamentalists, with their complete dependency on book-based circular reasoning and human interpretive ability, seem to actually be agnostics who simply have yet to come to the realization of their own real lack of faith.
Yes, the language of these ‘Christian’ religious unbelievers is often the same or similar to those of true faith. Yes, they will emphatically declare up and down that they believe that the Bible is true, call the book the “word of God” even, and yet these unbelieving believers reject the very means of revelation described in the Bible. They, like their more reasonable and logically consistent secular neighbors, have made human knowledge gained by natural means their god.
This pathology of unbelieving belief comes in many degrees and in various forms. But underlying is always a reliance on human perception of physical evidence (inspired books or reliable science) and a partial or complete rejection of direct spiritual means of revelation.
It is actually humanism, disguised or hidden in a cloak of religious devotion and spiritual sounding language, because it depends primarily on human decision rather than something divine. It is faith based in ones own ability to experience God through means of human effort.
It is what Paul addressed in the early church as foolishness:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3)
The idea that God is primarily revealed through physical media or other intermediary mediums (institutions) is logically incoherent and ultimately a rejection of the teachings in Scripture. Paul describes the Galatians as foolish because they were reverting to completely human means to know God and rejecting the primacy of the Spirit as the only true agent of spiritual revelation.
When little gods replace a big God there is division rather than unity.
The problem is that many people think God is governed by human rationality and therefore can only communicate through means they can understand.
Protestants too often prefer a little book god and call this “sola scriptura” which is Latin for through Scripture alone. Catholics, the religious parents of Protestants, make a little god of the institutional church or the man who leads it through an idea of papal supremacy.
Yes, certainly the official story is more complicated than the simple explanation I give. Both Catholics and Protestants acknowledge special revelation and the power of the Spirit. And both western traditions are right in their own perspectives to some extent: Acountability to the collective church body, the catholic “universal doctrine” (katholikismos) is a true expression of faith through submission. Likewise the written tradition of Scripture is obviously important for a believer and should not be abandoned.
However, the problem with both Catholic and Protestant traditions is when the overall emphasis is put somewhere other than the truth revealing Spirit of God. Both have too often replaced the core of Christian faith, the living spiritual reality of Jesus Christ, with their own religious efforts of traditions, doctrines and dogmas.
In Galatians there was a reverting back to “the works of the law” and “means of the flesh” rather than “means of the Spirit” which caused a schism to form. We can actually know with certainty when dependency on the Spirit of God is being neglected when there is disunity in the church:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Clearly today, especially in the Western church, there is not unity in the Spirit. No, instead there is unity only, and quite literally, on our own human terms. There is a widespread refusal to hear anything that goes contrary to our own personal opinion and perspective. Few are willing (or able?) to reconsider their own base assumptions about the nature of their reality or the truth of their religious indoctrination.
The fruit of Western thinking is the rule of men rather than God, it eventually leads to everyone being their own Pope and a tragic kind of individualism that wrecks meaningful community. Now even our marriages do not last because of this growing lack of faith. It is only through means of the Spirit that we are able to transcend our differences and submit to each other in Christian love.
We need fewer little gods with the spirit of Diotrephes (the early church leader in the third epistle of John who put himself first and judged unilaterally based on his own ideas) and seek after a truth greater than ourselves. We need to realize our idolatry and flee from our small god perspective.
Dead religion relies on human judgment rather divine nature and their own fleshly instincts rather than intuition of faith.
Dead religion must rely on the work of man. It must create mood through music and other emotional manipulation. The focal point is often denominational labels or charismatic leaders, religious commentators, and not Jesus. Growth comes primarily through by biological means, children are indoctrinated, brainwashed and pushed to commit before they can “count the cost” rather than encouraged to make an adult decision as an adult. A negative fear-based cold calculus, a cancer, has replaced a true walk of faith, has displaced a positive spiritual vision and agape love.
Those who rely on themselves do not know grace, they cannot trust God to work in the lives of others and must therefore take judgment into their own hands. They cannot reconcile the radical teachings of Jesus to love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36) into their reality. They must reason around these clear instructions because they do not have faith in God to judge. They usurp God’s authority because they are not themselves able to live under it:
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
One must have the Spirit of God in them to show true grace. It is work of the Spirit, not our own righteousness, that we can have “fruit of Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) that include “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It is because people do not have the Spirit of God that they revert back to their own human judgment and graceless application of law. Without the Spirit we are left with a mind governed by fleshly desires and are spiritually dead:
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
Elsewhere in Scripture we are told “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) and therefore we must have faith. However, we are also told faith is gift from God rather than our own works and something given to us while we were yet dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-10) which is the paradox of faith. How do we get faith if we do not have it? Both religious and secular minds do not have an answer for this and for that reason both turn to their own small gods.
Both secular and religious people attempt to kill a big God, but now even science defies them.
Many people in the Western world are trapped in a delusion of a materialistic view of reality, they cannot accept explanation that does not fit their own religious or scientific dogmas and attempt to kill off any possibility of a bigger extra dimensional reality. Understanding, to them, is only gained through physical eyes and literal ears. They want a little god that can be understood by a human mind and reject a God bigger than their own abilities to comprehend.
They are like the religious authorities who demanded a rational explanation of how a man’s physical blindness was healed by Jesus (read the account in John 9) and rejected, based in their own understanding of Biblical law, that this was a miracle from God. These religious hypocrites concluded that the man was a fraud who faked his blindness and they cast him out as a sinner because it went against their own confirmation biases and understanding of reality. But, truthfully, many reasonable people today (religious or otherwise) would conclude as they did and assume it was trickery.
There is no rational explanation of how a man born blind could be healed through having mud rubbed into his eyes. Modern medicine does not tell us of any form of blindness that can be healed externally in this way and going by a reasonable standard this is literally a physical impossibility. There are many scientific laws violated by miracles and this is why many reasonable people reject them as possibility. The natural world is governed by a time based causality. In other words, A leads to B which always without exception leads to C and there is no rational way that this causality chain can be broken without disrupting everything known about this universe.
So how could it happen?
It couldn’t happen, not in terms of rational thought or science, at least not without massive energy from a source outside of the closed loop system of our universe. Any miracle, even the smallest epiphany of revelation inserted from a spiritual dimension into our physical brain to healing the blind or raising the dead, would need to disrupt the entire reality of this universe from the beginning and end of time to happen. Any true miracle would require a force with power literally beyond the comprehending of a finite mind.
Therefore, everything Jesus did, from turning water into wine to walking on water, defied the idea that this universe is a closed loop system. The life and witness of Jesus supported the idea that there is a source of power that is available beyond our universe and energy (for good or evil) that can be brought in through acceptance of these spiritual means.
This is the power of the Spirit.
And, believe it or not, that is also part of the huge implications of quantum mechanics. Physicists, using the double slit experiment, have discovered a phenomenon called wave particle duality. This, and other scientific evidence, points to a reality that defies rational explanation. What it shows is that at the smallest level of the universe there is a break down of time based causality and with it possibility of spontaneous events. What this means is there could be energy leaking into the universe from dimensions beyond it and more that there is only a thin veil between us and this higher dimensional reality.
Quantum computing, still in it’s infancy, promises to reach beyond the bounds of our natural universe and allow calculations impossible otherwise. Some theorize that our brain is a quantum computer and may have backdoor of consciousness access to the spiritual realm. This, to me, is the point of access to the realm of good and evil. Those who have the Spirit can have close communion with God the Father through spiritual rather than physical means.
Living faith that reveals God only comes through spiritual means, not through our own works or understanding.
There is a story of a man described as a “rich young ruler” who asked Jesus what he must do for eternal life. He was a religious man who faithfully followed all of the commandments from his youth. But Jesus, instead of telling him “good job and keep up the good work,” yanks the rug out and tells him to sell everything, give all to the poor and follow him.
The disciples, with their little religious minds, are stunned by this and ask: “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replies: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
The point of the story is that faith is not a product of careful religious practice. It is not something we earn by our diligent study of Scripture and our good works. Faith is rather something that is a gift from God and a result of the Spirit working out from within us.
Jesus describes an idea of being “born again” and completely befuddles a religious expert, Nicodemus, who takes him quite literally and asks:
“How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4)
Jesus replies with more metaphor from the physical world to explain this spiritual reality:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
The Spirit is not literally wind. This is not something that originates in the physical world at all. It is instead the breath of God that enters us through mysterious means and brings us to life spiritually. It is something that transforms our mind and changes us literally from the inside out. It is something divine, not originating in this sin cursed world, and the only true evidence of another kingdom. It is a knowledge born of heavenly rather than physical worldly origins:
“Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” (John 3:11-13)
Jesus was, as the son of God, conceived by supernatural means of the Spirit, and we must also be. No one has given physical birth to themselves and likewise nobody is spiritually born of their own efforts. Understanding of “heavenly things” does not come through physical means. You cannot find a God bigger than the universe by studying things in universe, that is circular reasoning and will turn a rational person into an agnostic.
Only a blind person who gains their sight can know for certain they were blind and now they see. Only a person born physically knows they exist in a physical reality and only through spiritual birth can someone know God exists. Even if they can’t explain it, even if nobody believes them, they know simply because they know. Our existing in any reality is a self-evident truth.
The West, in trying to kill God, has only killed their own spiritual connection and this is suicidal.
Western thinking has put emphasis on human will, knowledge or reasoning rather than the power of the Spirit and God’s grace to humanity. People want a God governed by their own human reasoning and logic. They try to make God subject to their own time based causality and turn spiritual life into some kind of physical process. They reason things can only be know through natural means, by their physical eyes, ears or touch, and reject direct revelation through supernatural means.
Western thought, using human reasoning and worldly knowledge, attempting to kill the idea of a supernatural God. But the tragedy in this is that we are blaspheming the true source of life (Mark 3:28-30) and effectively only killing the divine nature in ourselves. The end result is hedonistic and meaningless life not worth living. Those who cannot distract themselves in materialistic pursuits are soon left staring into a dark hopeless void of time and empty space. This is leading many to premature death through drug abuse and suicide.
The Western church still holds on to a delusion of knowing God through their own works of faith and the symptoms of their humanistic pathology are still able to be masked through group hypnosis. Many are able to maintain appearances through artificial conformity to tradition and are satisfied in their experiencing the ripples of Christian love passed down through the Spirit-led tradition left to them. But eventually this spiritual momentum will run out and with it the life of the church.
It started with the elevation of one man (the Pope) and now has resulted in an unhealthy every man for himself mentality that first undermined the church, then the local community, then the family unit and is leading to a cultural suicide unless we repent and return to true faith. We have embraced a rationality that leads us to death rather than life.
We need a return to a reality of faith based in a bigger God than the little god of human rationality, understanding that only comes from the physical world and dogmas both secular or religious. It is time to see God through the supernatural means Jesus promised to those who truly have faith and follow him. It is time to remove the veil of falsehood that western thought has put between us and God.
And it is time to take a quantum leap both forward in grace and backward to a faith that truly makes all things possible again. There is a more abundant life that is only possible through spiritual means, we can know the truth and be set free, so seek direct revelation from God and reject western delusion.
Sometimes the most religiously educated minds are the most spirituality ignorant.
Jesus confounded the religious teachers and authorities of His day. Like the time Jesus asked a perplexed Nicodemus (John 3:3-21) why he “Israel’s teacher” could not understand the basics of spiritual birth.
Nicodemus was a religious expert. He had no doubt studied Scripture his entire life. Yet his mind was dull to spiritual things, his existing knowledge clouded him, and he clearly was not understanding what Jesus was trying to explain.
What was Jesus trying to explain to Nicodemus?
Nicodemus is not the only religious authority totally ignorant of spiritual matters. Many professing Christians have the same dullness of mind of Nicodemus because they have yet to be born of the Spirit and to realize the fullness of truth.
The religiously minded tend to think they gave birth to themselves. They believe they were saved by their own study and understanding of a book. No, they will never say this in so many words, but it is evident in what they claim as the foundation of their faith and attitudes towards those who try to give credit to God alone.
The thoroughly indoctrinated church borns, those who are the cream of the crop in their own minds, are the most difficult to convince.
How do I know?
I was one of them. I was raised in a bastion of Biblical fundamentalism and religious pride. I was born in a conservative Mennonite home. (We are the best of the best and know it—Don’t let our initial humble appearance fool you!) I went into public high school arrogant enough to think I knew more about biology than the college educated teacher of the class.
This is not unusual, Biblical fundamentalist children are often ‘big fish in a little pond’ and the smartest person they know. To make matters worse, they are often isolated from outside influences (home schooled or raised with like-minded people) and too sheltered to realize how sheltered they are.
The result is that many things are just presumed to be true and never questioned. Yes, we are fed a steady diet of information to make us feel knowledgeable about everything from science to theology and philosophy. But most of it is a strawman of the other side and an attempt to vaccinate us from further questions.
But I had the misfortune of being born with a question “why” on my lips. I delved deep into apologetics, slipped on a personal tragedy, and found I could not (despite my dedicated effort and mental strain) prove the existence of God. I thrashed, gasped for that last saving breath, then disappeared into doubt and despair.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
A mother’s wail ripped a hole in my heart. All of my pretense of knowledge couldn’t save her children or keep me from my plunge into spiritual darkness. I stared at the lifeless body that had come to represent my hope for my close friend. There was no resurrection of the dead that day. My little hope died.
I had reached an end. All of the religious cliché and trite assurances were swallowed up in a tsunami of fear and hopelessness. Over the same period of time I had a falling out with the religious community that was a big part of my identity and security. I gave up. My attempts to find faith through my diligent religious effort had totally failed me.
Passing from death to life by the Spirit’s power.
Many who profess faith in Jesus believe they were saved through their religious knowledge and reading the Bible. But Scripture does not support their delusional claims. There is no evidence that we can be born of Spirit or come to faith through our own religious knowledge and effort.
Just as a child doesn’t give birth to themselves, the spiritually dead cannot bring themselves to life and this is what Scripture describes was our reality before God saved us:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. […] For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 1-10)
There’s no such thing as half dead.
There’s no way for a fully dead person to bring themselves to life.
Those who claim to be saved through their Bible study have somehow missed the obvious. They may have read, but they clearly do not understand that dead is dead and the dead to not rise by their own accord. No, if you are spiritually alive today “it is by grace you have been saved” and “not by works” or Paul is a liar.
What I had failed to comprehend in my diligent study and dedicated pursuit of faith is the simplest spiritual truth of them all. Because of my religious education I had no grasp of my own hopelessness. I had always assumed faith was a product or result of my own knowledge of Scripture and religious devotion.
I was blinded by my pretense of knowledge. I had reasoned that I could be saved because of what I had learned about Jesus in church and in reading the Bible. I thought this was faith in God, but it was really only ever a trust of my own human rationality and circular reasoning at best. I really only had faith in my own ability to understand and believe the content of a book.
But my attempt to bootstrap my way into heaven this way failed me. It was a false hope built on presumption and self-righteous delusion. By assuming that my Bible reading was my salvation I had actually rejected Jesus and real spiritual life. Despite my sincerity and ability to argue Bible-based dogma, I was nothing but a 2D cardboard cutout of a 3D faith.
It was only after my faith in my own abilities had died that there was a realization out of the blue. The epiphany was the sudden understanding that it wasn’t my faith that saved me. No, it was God’s faith expressed through Jesus that saved me while I was yet a sinner. I was miraculously raised from the dead with Him.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ.” (Colossians 2:9-13)
My Biblical ‘Christian’ indoctrination did not save me. No, it had blinded me. I was too full of religious pride, intellectual assumptions and the pretense of spiritual knowledge to know the truth. However, despite this pretense of faith that had taken root, I had believed in Jesus as a child and was baptized in sincerity of faith.
And now that spiritual seed of my Baptismal faith was ready to emerge from the water. Suddenly the words of the Jesus and the Apostles came alive in a new way as I read them. I was astonished, what had once confused and confounded me was now clear as day. I could finally understand the book that had caused me (and others like this guy) to fall into agnosticism.
Are we saved by our book knowledge or saved by Jesus?
I can hear the howls of protest from both the book worshipping religious people and other unbelievers: “How could I know about Jesus and come to faith without reading the Bible?!?”
But these religious cynics and skeptics lack understanding of their own spiritual ignorance:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-45)
This is the mystery those who reject the Bible and those who think their own knowledge saves them refuse to understand. They have both (tacitly or openly) rejected the resurrection of the dead and, in their self-reliance, dismiss the promise of Jesus and cling to what is reasonable to their spiritually dead mind.
But Jesus never promised we would be saved or taught by a book. That idea is a misunderstanding of Biblical terminology and causality at best. It is spiritual idolatry or rejection of the person of Jesus and blasphemy again the Spirit of God at worse. This is what Jesus did promise:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
Now, lest any of you protest and attempt to credit your own understanding of the Bible for saving you. Go back and read the passages I’ve quoted previously, dead people do not come to understanding and life by their own reading comprehension. We are told the real teacher is the Spirit and that it is only through the spiritual anointing promised by Jesus that we avoid deception:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:26-27)
At first glance it might seem paradoxical to write to warn someone about deception if they don’t need to be told. However, faith is not individualistic effort or personal project and God uses many means to encourage us through the collective body of believers. Only those with the Spirit know that the words of a writer originate from the Spirit.
But, wait, isn’t that circular reasoning, how do you know?
I’ve mentioned that predisposing the Bible to be true because it says so is circular reasoning or an argument based in two unproven premises that rely on each other to be true. So, isn’t saying that I know the Spirit because I have the Spirit the same thing?
Of course, the only way it is the same thing is if we believe a book is equal in ability and power to the Spirit of God. Many Christians do this when they describe the Bible as “word of God” and claim it saved them. But the Scripture is indeed different from the word of God and we can know this as fact.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.“ (Isaiah 55:9-11)
That word translated as “word” in the passage above is the Hebrew דָּבָר (dabar) and in the New Testament Greek comes out as λόγος (logos) or ῥῆμα (rhema) and does not refer to Scripture. If it did refer to Scripture, and Isaiah is true, then it would be impossible for those who knew the Scripture to reject the word of God:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. […] And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:25-40)
These people Jesus says studied the Scripture diligently. Yet, despite their religious dedication to a book, according to Jesus, they did not have God’s “word” in them and therefore would not come to Him for life. If Scripture is the word of God and they knew the Scripture, then how could they not know the truth standing literally in front of them?
The answer is that they knew Scripture and not the word. The two are not one and the same. One is divinely inspired writing useful to a true believer (2 Timothy 3:16) and the other is divinity embodied and a promise that cannot fail. One is infallible while the other can be twisted and misused as Peter warns:
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.“ (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Scripture can be distorted the “ignorant and unstable” but God’s word is always true. Satan can quote Scripture, but we also know he always lies, has “no truth in him” (John 8:44) and this is a problem if you presume that “word” is synonymous with Scripture.
Fortunately we need not make such a presumption. Scripture and the word of God are related to each other. God’s word is what inspired Scripture. I will even venture to say that Scripture can become as God’s word to the believer. However, we must get first things first or we are deceived and Jesus always comes first.
Salvation is through faith and Jesus, not in our religious devotion to a book.
I am saved because Jesus saved me. If I were to make any other boast I would only out of ignorance of both Scripture and the word of God which inspired it. My faith and eventual salvation is entirely a gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8) and rest in the mystery of God’s power.
It was knowledge apart from God that drove Adam away from the tree of life—I believe (after the fact) that it is God’s word or Spirit who “quickened” me to salvation.
There is no faith without obedience and there is no obedience outside of hearing God’s word. This is the paradox of the promised Spirit. We hear because we are made alive in the grace of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5) and must be faithful in the very little we know before we can expect to get very much.
I believe salvation is totally the work of God. God makes the initial payment through grace and we continue to grow in faith through obedience to to what we know. My faith is not a presupposition based in something I read in a book or a product of religious indoctrination. My faith is personal relationship and something experienced in the heart of those who believe.
I believe the word comes to us through revelation of the Spirit. It is not our mere knowledge of Scripture that saves us, but also always an act of God and work of the Spirit. It was only after Jesus revealed himself to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that they were finally able to understand:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:44-45)
If the very men who spent all that time with Jesus teaching them needed His help to understand the Scripture, how can we expect to do better?
But the most compelling case for direct revelation is how Paul’s explanation of how we (as believers) understand the Scripture when others with the same written texts did not:
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
Scripture is only useful for those of the Spirit and those who do not accept the Spirit “considers it foolishness” because they have yet to experience the indwelling of the word. They are spiritual blind and often the most religiously arrogant hard-headed people. If they profess Jesus Christ and seek to obey Him, I do believe they will be saved. However, because of their refusal to fully acknowledge or accept the gift of God’s Spirit they may be as those who have built a foundation somewhat on the works of men rather than completely on Christ—who will see their work burn but still be saved (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) because God is gracious to the ignorant.
For those who think the Bible is the best way of sharing the Gospel I will again point to the explanation of Paul who writes (2 Corinthians 3) we ourselves are a letter from God and it is the Spirit that makes us competent. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always best learned through application. Bible study has it’s place for certain, in fact that is probably one of the first places the Spirit will take us. However, reading without loving as Christ loved to our best ability will limit our deeper understanding of the book.
What am I… a Calvinist?
I make no such allegiance. I have not studied John Calvin enough to know where I stand in relation to his teachings.
I believe in free will and still acknowledge the clear pattern of causality and determinism in the universe. I also do not ignore the language of predestination and election in Scripture.
I do believe in paradox.
There are many cases where dualities of both/and (as opposed to either/or dichotomies) offer the better explanation. Dualities are found in both the uppermost, lowermost and outermost limits that define the universe as we currently know it.
The singularity of a black hole, on the scale of the very big, is an object both infinity small and massive, a place where time itself ceases, defies normal reasoning. Quantum mechanics, the world of the extremely small smallest parts of the universe, brings us to an irrational bizarreness where particles behave as waves until observed and time ceases to matter.
Advanced physics is now making the long held assumptions of materialists obsolete, we can now look beyond these constraints and to possibilities once unimaginable.
Our rationality is time based.
God’s is not.
Time is an illusion.
This has huge implications.
This might explain the language of ‘is and is yet to come’ in Scripture. Jesus explained “my kingdom is not of this world” and pointed to a higher spiritual dimensionality that is beyond the reach of normal human reasoning or natural science.
Perhaps the question of free will and predestination is answered by a paradoxical both. If we are adopted by God, sons and daughters according to His word, then we will eventually become one with the Father, our Father who exists in timeless reality, and therefore we participate in our own coming to salvation through the Spirit.
Who knows? Only Jesus.
I don’t pretend to know the answers to those questions. I don’t need to know the answers to those questions. All I know I need to know is Jesus. Even if I were not a Christian I am convinced Jesus, his way of self-sacrificial love and leadership by example, is the answer.
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
That is the testimony I have. Only by the love of Jesus and the Spirit’s power am I saved.
Jesus is the answer that found me.
Two different religious traditions use the same Scripture. One tradition says the text points to a man named Jesus who preached in Roman occupied Judea a little over two millennia ago and was God’s only begotten son came to save people from themselves. The other tradition rejected these claims and still waits on Elijah to return as a prelude to the arrival of the Messiah.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
Note the choices in the passage above. There’s option a) repentance and changed hearts, or option b) face total destruction. And, depending on perspective, there might be an option c) both.
We know that Judaism was split in two because of Jesus (some believing him, others rejecting him) and also that Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70CE. The glorious temple, the very center of Jewish worship, was completely dismantled as Jesus had foretold and has never been rebuilt.
Temple #1: Symbolic, representation of truth, built out of stone and sweat of men, located in Jerusalem:
“As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)
Clearly Jesus is referring to the destruction of buildings that the disciples were admiring and that destruction literally happened.
But, there’s more…
Temple #2: Figurative, fleshed out truth, the life work and example of Jesus, located in history:
“The Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)
Jesus also used the temple as a metaphor for himself, predicts his own death and promises to resurrect his body.
Then at the trial of Jesus…
“Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: ‘We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.'” (Mark 14:56-58)
Note, in the third passage, we are told that the witnesses at the trial of Jesus spoke falsely. However, we see in the prior two Gospel accounts quoted above that the words they spoke were half-true—It is indeed true that Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple and probably said something about a new temple not built with hands—The false part is where they claim he would do it by his own hand.
Jesus foretold his own death using a metaphor of himself or his body being the temple. But he was also prophesying about the literal building of stone in Jerusalem. His words a double entendre, one meaning of the word “temple” was figurative about his own death and resurrection and a second concrete meaning about the literal destruction of the temple built of stone. However, there is a third use of temple and not the temple of the body of Jesus or the temple in Jerusalem built of stone.
Temple #3: Spiritual, a truth experienced, lived practically and today, located in the heart of believers:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'” (John 14:23)
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
That is a radical message. It takes us from a man-made building of stone and religion. It takes us to the man named Jesus “the stone the builders rejected” (Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11) and then finishes with us being the place where God dwells and being Jesus. It is the message that got Stephen killed:
“After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. It remained in the land until the time of David, who enjoyed God’s favor and asked that he might provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?‘ You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:45-51)
I can imagine why that was insulting. Stephen basically just invalidated the entire religion of his audience using their own Scripture.
The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem marked the end of a religious system. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of something very different: A chance to be a dwelling place for God, and an opportunity to be a true child (adopted, not begotten) of God.
Jesus, talking to a woman who asked about the proper place to worship, said:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Oddly enough, many professing Christians today are waiting on a literal temple of stone and a literal bodily second coming of Jesus. They seem to me like those who wait on a literal Elijah, who did not recognize John the Baptist as the spiritual Elijah, and rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have a Bible-based religion, they diligently study Scripture, yet they seem to be missing something as far as understanding and faith.
Bible-centered religion and regulation is false security. Jesus never told anyone that Scripture would replace him as teacher. Jesus did, however, promise that the Spirit would “teach you all things” (John 14:26) and will come to all who believe. I believe many have been deceived and believe their ‘Biblical fundamentalism’ will save them. What they actually have is fundamental misunderstanding, they are relying on their own human religious traditions. They have a Biblical religion only and not the true faith described therein.
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16)
It is the Spirit that makes the Bible discernable. Those who place their security in the Bible itself (or their fundamentalist book-based religion) are not fully submitted to the Spirit and cannot fully understand the things of faith that are described in Scripture. They bind themselves up in “false humility,” create “regulations” that have “appearance of wisdom,” (Colossians 2) yet they are false and—like those who “study the Scripture diligently” (John 5:36-40) that Jesus rebuked—they do not have the word of God to discern truth from it.
“Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
The truth that brings freedom is of the Spirit. Religions give adherents false security, but true faith that originates from the indwelling Spirit gives freedom and ability to experience God first hand. Bible-based religion leads men to talk about Jesus. Spirit-led faith allows men to *be* Jesus and bring salvation to a lost and hurting world.
Religion relies on rituals, one size fits all prescriptions and manipulation through fear. Faith is dynamic, applies grace as liberally as necessary and motivates by being an example of a love that transcends. Religion hides behind a veil of human inadequacy and attempts to legislate morality into existence without ever changing hearts. Faith overcomes fear and produces fruit out of passion that comes from true unity with God.
The Bible is a book that can only be understood properly by those with the “mind of Christ” and Spirit. Knowing when the language of Scripture is figurative, metaphorical, spiritual, concrete, literal (or some ‘all of the above’ combination) requires the indwelling of the word. Discernment through any other means but a mind renewed in Christ (be it be an old tradition or a new commentary) is incomplete.
“…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
No amount of religion finagling or diligent study can replace the indwelling word. Jesus made it possible to remove the veil of religion and experience the full presence of God. Seek after Spirit-led faith, not Bible-based religion.
Have you experienced the promise and freedom of faith?
Or, are you still waiting on Elijah to return?