Monday, January 27, 2014

Is the Church a Building or the People Within?
Why Orthodoxy Has Allowed the Acquisition of Things to Supplant Christ.
All contents copyright © 2014 by M.L. Wilson. All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Undoubtedly this will be another one of my commentaries which some will regard as contentious. Hopefully it will bring the reader information rather than contention. It is not my intent to bring division, but rather to instruct. Truth should always take precedence over a lie no matter how convenient or expedient the lie may be. When one is teaching on God Almighty, there is no excuse not to speak the truth. In our modern churches today, that appears to be a tall order as tradition seems to trump truth at every turn.

In truth, few of us have ever experienced “church” outside a building; we associate God and Jesus with going to a building, regarding such a Holy Place, “God’s House” as it were. This holds true even for those of other faiths. Jews attend Temple, Hindus and Buddhists have shrines (although Buddhism is more a philosophy than a religion in the strictest sense), Islam has Mosques; even Atheists have their own type of “church”, gathering in a designated structure which is set apart. We as a people have become inculcated with the notion of church being the building. Without the building, there really is no church, but rather just the people. Obviously this thought is completely in error. God’s House now rests within those who claim Him. WE are God’s House now, not a brick and mortar structure, not a temple or mosque.

The question which may come to mind is, “Why does any of this matter? If we worship in a building or in a field, whose business is it to anyone?” That is a good and legitimate question to ask. Ultimately one can find union with God in any place; the location and surroundings are immaterial. However that having been said, it does matter to those who claim to be followers of Christ. The reason it matters is because Christ is nothing if not truth. When we as Christians begin to apply to Christ that which is not true, what does that make us? Jesus was not much of a fan of Organized Religion; He saw the inherent danger in iconic worship. People would soon begin to venerate the material rather than the spiritual. Amongst other issues, the Pharisees took extreme exception to Christ’s opinion regarding their religious trappings.

It is of interest to note that when God ordered the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, He did so with the command it have handholds so it could be carried anywhere. Likewise the Tent of Meeting which housed the Ark was just as mobile (Exodus 25:12-14). The early tabernacle was dynamic, not fixed - essentially mirroring God. The subsequent temple which David wanted to build was constructed not out of necessity, but rather out of pride. David explained to Nathan the disparity he noticed with him as an earthly king living in a palace when God was merely “living” in a tent. God, of course, had a different opinion on the matter and questioned David’s intents. In the end He allowed for David’s son Solomon to build the temple, but it would only stand for as long as His people were obedient to Him (2nd Samuel 7:1- 16).  This required obedience didn’t last too terribly long for the Israelites and the temple was destroyed by the army of Nebuchadnezzer in 587 BC after 410 years of use—a far cry from the “forever” which was imagined. The second temple built by King Herod fared even worse and was destroyed completely after barely 70 years (and while still under construction) by the Romans. By contrast, the Cathedral in Notre Dame is over 850 years old. Thus the French Cathedral has lasted longer in one incarnation than both the Jewish temples by almost 400 years. (Perhaps the 12th Century Catholic Bishop, Maurice de Sully, had greater success because he didn’t ask God’s permission before building the cathedral.

Today it is clear that Christians regard the mark of a successful church as in direct proportion to its size. A mega-church with a membership of five thousand people and a staff of degreed pastors (a few ThD’s in the mix certainly doesn’t hurt either.) denotes a church that is wildly successful. But is it? Is a church so large the pastor (s) do not know the people occupying their pews really the example Christ spoke of? It is just as clear that one reading the scriptures would find the Apostles would have taken exception to the Mega-church model as what was intended. Such an edifice lent itself to an impersonal environment and not one conducive to the familiarity necessary for the health of the body. The church they take such pride in may be large and growing, but so is a tumor.

Not too long ago, one of these mega-churches crashed and burned very publicly. The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California was a wonder in its day boasting a seating capacity of over 2700 people. It possessed a state of the art audio and visual system which produced programs for a weekly television program called, “The Hour of Power.” The building was striking in its architecture, sporting glass walls and ceilings in the main sanctuary which allowed for the Southern California sun to bath the parishioners in its warm glow. For all intents and purposes, this was a thriving, dynamic church. The lead pastor was Robert Schuller who had started this congregation in 1955. In its earliest days, Schuller held services in a drive-in movie theater. Interestingly enough, this early incarnation was closer to the 1st Century church model envisioned by the Apostles than the behemoth it later became. What made it so was its simplicity and intimacy. It soon grew beyond that formative state and Schuller eschewed the division talked about by the Apostles, opting to merely grow one single body instead.

The Crystal Cathedral was built in 1970 and grew to give Schuller world-wide fame. He wrote many books and hosted his television show for more than thirty-five years. In its time, the Crystal Cathedral stood as an overwhelming success to the power of God, having been host to world leaders and United States presidents and the most watched religious themed T.V. Program in the world. But was it a success, or did it just give the earthly appearance of success?

By 2010, the Crystal Cathedral was bankrupt with debts exceeding more than $55 Million. The building still had a mortgage in 2010 of more than $36 million. Drowning in debt which had severely limited its outreach, the Hour of Power ceased broadcast in 2006. In the next four years, there was an exodus of parishioners from the congregation as internecine battles amongst the Schuller family became known to the general public. By mid-2012, the Roman Catholic Diocease of Orange had purchased the Cathedral and renamed it Christ Cathedral. Schuller was retired, and for all intents and purposes the church he had built was no longer. One has to wonder what would still be remaining today of Schuller’s church had he followed the Apostolic model rather than the model of man.

Many might say that Schuller’s example was an anomaly and not representative of the church experience in general. To those who say that, I would point to the many churches one can find in just about any community with dwindling congregations. The dynamic aspect of God is antithetical to the fixed aspect of a brick and mortar building. Thus when the congregants grow and move on, when the older generation dies off, the building—and its many sundry needs—remain. How can a congregation believe they are serving God with their tithes and offerings when the bulk of that money is going to the mortgage, the heating, water and electrical bills as well as the administrative over-head? Most churches may only apportion five percent or less of their intake for actual ministerial outreach. All the rest of this money goes to fixed expenses. (2013 study conducted by Ministry Advisory Panel. )

When one stops to contemplate the trend occurring with the modern church and then realizes this is only the fiscal impact, the other damning aspects of the modern church is akin to throwing gasoline on a blazing structure in a vain attempt to put out the fire.

Consider the modern church structure is to seat a large group of people in a room. These people are seated so as not to see or interact with one another, but rather to face forward and be apart from their fellow man. After an appointed and limited time of pleasantries (in many of the churches I’ve attended, this is a time caustically referred to as “grin and grip.”), we assume our places, sing a few songs about Christian brotherhood and then we are to sit in silence while we listen to the opinion of one person for the next half hour to hour (depending upon the individual speaker).  None can raise their hand to ask for a clarification on point as this is regarded as “rude” and not in keeping with protocol. The subtext here is clear: The pastor is the educated one, not you. The pastor is the one versed in the subject matter, not you. The pastor is the one anointed by God, not you. Ergo, if you do not understand what the pastor is saying, the problem lies with you.

Of course many pastors have allowed for a time when they will answer your questions at some other time, but depending upon the size of your congregation, you may never get that chance. I have personally attended two churches as an adult where I never even met the lead pastor. His time was far too valuable to be bothered with such banal questions from someone like me. For that, there was another tier of people who would clarify the point for him. Additionally, there were home groups where the finer points of his sermon could be discussed—discussed, but not necessarily answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Few of these discussions would ever make it back to the ears of the one who first spoke them. Thus, any errors pointed out by members of the congregation remained unchecked.

The primary problem with such a church structure is that it does not really lend itself to Christian fellowship. One goes to church today to be indoctrinated, not to get to know their fellow Christians. Doctrine is used as a measure and an indicator of one’s “Faith.” To question what is taught is akin to being an adulterer and such a person is questioned on their beliefs and if there is no change, they are excised from the body post haste. This church structure, of course, was the desired intention since the first of the Nicene Councils began to codify Christianity under the Roman Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. If one were to go to a church service and expect to be able to engage the speaker in a Q & A, one would be sorely disappointed and would be asked to remain silent or leave. In truth, few pastors are equipped to engage their congregation in that manner. Most approach the dais with a prepared and practiced sermon and any deviation is simply not tolerated. (I’ve witnessed multiple services with the same pastor giving the same sermon without much deviation. Even the humorous anecdotes, timing and rhythm of the sermon remains unchanged from service to service. How can a pastor engage his congregation when one is unable to deviate from the script or speak on the subject matter extemporaneously?)  

A personal anecdote:  Years ago I asked a pastor of a small church I was attending a question regarding the passage in Matthew 27:52-53. The passage dealt with the bodies of many saints coming out of their tombs and going into town to preach to the people about Christ. I was terribly confused about this passage as it almost appeared as though the Bible was talking about zombies. To his credit, the pastor neither dismissed me nor tried to give me a contrived answer. He looked at the passage, looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders saying, “I don’t know.” I remain in his debt for his response because he displayed true humility and respected me enough not to try to explain that which was beyond him. It pushed me to discover the meaning behind the passage for myself and the spiritual significance, but that is for another commentary.

As I write this commentary I am listening to Johann Sebastian Bach. While Bach wrote for many noblemen of his day, his primary employer (as with Michelangelo) was the church. It could be said that despite its failings, the institutionalized church has also given us many wonders we otherwise would not have experienced. The Sistine Chapel is one such wonder to behold as are the many cathedrals throughout Europe (and even here in the modern day United States with such as the Crystal Cathedral). I raise this issue only to let the reader know that I am well aware of the seeming benefits of the institutionalized church over the centuries. However, to presume that God in His eternal wisdom would not have still graced humanity with the talents of these many people is to diminish God. Is this not the same rationale that David used in wanting to construct the first temple? The better question to ask is how many gifted individuals would we have been graced with had the institutional church NOT stood in their way? Such people are now lost to history irrespective their talents and abilities because of the church’s intrusion and restrictions. The modern church by its very structure does not lend itself to utilizing the talents of its congregation. There can only be ONE pastor. Should there be others with spiritual insight amidst the congregation, they are ignored. There is no church division and the only church planting which will occur has to first be sanctioned and planned for by the Church Association. Budgetary concerns have to be addressed and, of course, qualified, licensed, degreed pastoral candidates must then vie for the position; they must interview for the job - like any other prospective employee. As a component of the modern church, this is truly a sad commentary and not at all what Jesus intended. It may make temporal sense to those in charge, but is excludes the eternal power of the Spirit to work in the body.

What is the solution then? While I have raised many issues (and there are many more), what is the solution? In his book, “The Problem of Wine Skins – Church Structure in a Technological Age”, Howard A. Snyder is rather direct. He asserts we ought to do what Christ commanded which is to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21). Is this a realistic solution? Many churches have a great deal of money tied up in real estate and other property. There is also the attendant responsibility they have taken on in administrative overhead. Selling off the building would effectively put the pastor, associate pastor, music minister, youth pastor, accountants, secretaries, custodians, et al. out of their jobs. Yes, that is true. But consider this novel approach and one which was used by the early church which met with great success: The pastor volunteers his time and works elsewhere for his income. (Paul remained a tent maker and Peter a fisherman while they planted churches and preached.)  The congregation can meet in private homes until they reach a certain predetermined size and then break off and start a new congregation. Any administrative roles needing to be filled would utilize the congregation, an eclectic mix of people with varied talents heretofore ignored by the modern church. In this way, all have a part and all are included; no one is left out and pride will not have opportunity to take root in any one individual. (Even a degreed and lettered pastor does not know EVERYTHING and should not proceed upon that false premise.)

Is such a solution unrealistic? No, but it will meet with great resistance. It is a human trait that people do not like to give up stuff. A pastor or a degreed theologian has worked hard at his career and is not going to entertain for one second the possibility of simply throwing it all away. They will dip into their years of knowledge of the scriptures and parse same to contrive a valid excuse as to why God called them to create their monoliths and why God has personally sanctioned their church and continues to bless them. Of course they will; the pull of the flesh is strong and the enemy is cunning. So cunning, in fact that even the elect can be deceived. Humility must be a component of the pastorate. These are positions which are supposed to be above the traps laid by man. As Christ Himself said, … If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.( Luke 9:23)

History has shown us that such as the modern church construct is inevitable. Humans like control and will do what is necessary to make certain control is maintained always. The Jews first wanted a king and later King David decided to build the temple. Much later, Constantine the Great established the church under his rules and regulations for just this reason. He needed the people of God, but only on his terms. Once his primary goal was realized (a united Empire with him at the head), the established church structure was used merely to keep the masses “in line” and prevent further insurrections. Neither tactic worked very well and the established church structure survived him by only 150 years. With Rome’s fall in 486 AD, the remnant of the church bunkered in monasteries and was for all practical purposes, useless to the people at large.

Whatever people did learn about God and Christ came from small home studies. This was the new reality of humanity throughout the known world until early in the 10th Century. When the Holy Roman Empire was born, the structure of the church was changed; the people in charge were not at all the “good Christians” one would have imagined they should be, but rather were ruthless despots. Again, any such learning was done in the home and usually to their earthy detriment. Those who did not conform to the strictures of the Holy Roman Empire were brutally tortured and then executed. It is safe to say that little Christian learning was gleaned from orthodoxy during this dark period, despite its supposed legitimacy.

There is an even greater danger to the body than that of the hubris and pride many modern pastors suffer from which is the brutal facts of history. As early 20th Century philosopher George Santayana famously stated, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." What has bedeviled humanity before is prophesied to visit us again. The Bible prophesies a coming darkness before the rise of the dawn and eternal Light. In that time, the established church will not be in existence as it is today. Whatever “legitimate” church will reign over the earth will not be one which will imbue humanity with the goodness and the Grace of God Almighty. If we, as God’s face to our fellow man, do not begin to plan for this eventuality today, we will not be equipped to handle what is to come tomorrow. In effect, by maintaining these faux “houses of worship”, we are actually “…placing our light under the peck measure.” Our growth will remain, but again what kind of growth are we aiming for? If it is unity and harmony of the body of Christ, we’re failing and failing spectacularly.  Just as in the Dark Ages, the Church today is filled with people hurting and in desperate need of others, but do not feel safe. Those who have created their livelihoods on the name of God are not going to be too quick to cede the power and position they’ve worked so long to attain. Jesus has some startling news for such people, “… they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2)

We are entering what I believe to be the final phase of humanity in this earthly state. It could all end tomorrow, or in a hundred years or more, but the end is coming. For now there is still a sliver of light which we can enjoy and take advantage of, but it will soon grow dark. In those times, will planting yet another brick and mortar building, will adding yet another financial obligation, placing the awesome burden of debt upon a congregation really be what Christ intended? Must we as a Christian church always firmly plant our feet and demand that the lost come to us, rather than our being dynamic enough to go to the lost? When darkness once again falls upon the world (and it is a historical certainty that it will), these brick and mortar monoliths will fall as well. The hard work which was expended, the dollars wasted on new carpeting, paint, tile and administrators will be seized by the authorities and the occupants imprisoned, killed or otherwise turned out. (Think China, Cambodia, USSR, etc.) Meanwhile, many who could have otherwise benefited from those funds never will; many who could have shared in the unity of a dynamic body will have missed the chance while meeting after endless meeting was convened to deal with issues of zoning, taxes, apportioning of funds for maintenance, etc.

Unless and until we as a true church decide to stop wasting our time and effort on icons, on an edifice which we place before us to feel important and display our earthly worth and wealth to our fellow man as an indicator of “God’s love”, we will have failed in the primary objective given to us by Jesus Christ, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why do we so readily assume God is a bully?

All contents copyright © 2014 by M.L. Wilson. All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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“God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to His patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.” 
R.C. Sproul
, The Holiness of God
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I don’t often like to point out what I regard are errors with any one particular individual’s doctrine. Everyone has their own relationship with God and I do honestly respect that. Splitting hairs over finer points of doctrine is not what I like to do nor does such interest me. That having been said, I do find the need to point out what I regard as errors which threaten the relationship one has with God when such is propagated by respected and influential leaders within the church. In that regard, eminent theologian R.C. Sproul has done much to propagate such error.

I will take this opportunity to point out that in the above quote, Dr. Sproul uses the word “infinite” when I believe he actually meant to use the word “eternal.” I’ll note that these are two different words with two completely different meanings. Infinity is a construct of a temporal realm, it is mathematically quantifiable; eternity is not. Eternity is a construct of a higher dimensional realm which is unquantifiable. Eternity belongs solely to God Almighty.

This isn’t terribly surprising as Dr. Sproul is a Calvinist. Those who have read my earlier commentary on Calvinism will already know where I stand on that belief; even John Calvin didn’t believe in Calvinism, but rather it was his followers who twisted his teachings into what we have become familiar with after his death.

But the deeper question one must ask when confronted with such quotes coming from a teacher of the Word is this: Why do we as human beings assume that God Almighty is a worse caretaker of those who are weaker than are we? Let me clarify that point for a moment.

Human beings can be incredibly cruel to one another. No one needs to look very far to see acts of heinous depravity; it is all about us. The human heart is just that: Human. As human beings, we more readily identify with that which is most familiar to us. The flesh cries out for attention because the flesh is needy. When we are conceived in the flesh, we are also present in the spirit. At biological conception, the new life is imbued with the very spirit from God Almighty. It is this spirit which He is interested in. Ironically, it is the presence of this spirit which tends to discombobulate theologians like Dr. Sproul. Such learned men cannot conceptualize a God who can stomach such loathsome creatures as a human being regardless, and can only look upon man through the veil of blood which was shed by Jesus Christ. This is an unfortunate way to view one’s fellow man because it is ultimately an elitist position and is not at all in keeping with the love relationship as outlined by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22.

When a theologian must retreat to the pages of the Old Testament to buttress an argument with respect to the attributes of God Almighty; when only the Law is held up as the means by which God’s Holiness can be quantified, we have lost our way and clearly do not know who Jesus Christ is. I will reiterate it here as clearly and as succinctly as I possibly can: Jesus Christ IS God Almighty; they are exactly one and the same. Jesus Christ is not a subset of God Almighty, He is not a “close friend” of God Almighty, He is not a vestige of God Almighty: Jesus Christ IS God Almighty.

Why am I hammering a point which sould be assumed as well known by a theologian like Dr. Sproul? The answer is simple: Orthodoxy has taught our theologians for many, many years now (primarily from the Protestant Reformation onward, but really since the days of Constantine the Great starting in 325 AD.) that God Almighty and Jesus Christ are really two separate entities which operate in perfect consort with one another. Both exist in an eternal state, but there is never the less a hierarchal structure enjoyed amongst them. There is at the head of this hierarchy, God the Father, then there is Jesus Christ and laterally is the Holy Spirit. This structure is referred to as the Holy Trinity. It should be noted that this Godhead structure was unknown to the early church and was not even formally recognized by any of them until 186 AD.

The Trinity gave Constantine just the kind of ammunition he needed in order to pull the early church in line with his thinking. Until the Edict of Milan in 313AD, Christianity about the whole of the Roman Empire was an outlaw faith movement. (I refuse to call it a religion as in its most pure form, it is a relationship.)  The Battle of Milvian Bridge between the Eastern and the Western halves of the Roman Empire had established Constantine the Great as the certain eventual victor and future head of the whole of the Empire. Shortly afterward, he penned an edict with the leader of the Eastern provinces named Licinius. The two rulers of the Empire met in the city of Milan in what is today Northern Italy. (Then it was regarded as a satisfactory halfway point so as not to give either ruler a logistical advantage.)

Part of this edict was to give greater tolerance to Christians and to treat them benevolently. The last Roman Emperor to pour his efforts into the persecution of the Christians was Diocletian. It is regarded as the most severe persecution ever levied by a Roman Emperor and it was this severity which eventually led to an outright revolt and Diocletian’s ouster. (Diocletian was part of a Tetrarchy – four rulers, two primary and two secondary - which ruled the Empire from 293AD to 313AD.) With the Edict of Milan agreed upon, Christians the Empire over were finally given some freedom to practice their faith unlike any enjoyed since Christ. It was this act on the part of Constantine which made the eventual convening of the councils of Nicaea possible.

During the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine the Great was supposed to have seen a sign in the sky promising victory if the Chi-Rho (The first two letters which spell out “Christ” in the Greek.) were painted upon the shields of his army. Whether this event actually occurred or was merely a clever ruse on the part of Constantine to ingratiate himself with the Christians is forever lost to history. (This account comes primarily from an early church father named Eusebius of Caesarea whose claims are sometimes inflated.)  Regardless, it was the perfect pretext to convince the leaders of the early church of his good intentions. (There is lore which states Constantine converted to Christianity on his deathbed, but again this is another of those incidents lost to history. Regardless, it makes for a good tale. In all likelihood, he remained an adherent to the Sun God Amun Ra until his death – like any good Roman.)

Once the first of what was to become seven Ecumenical Councils was concluded, Constantine had established the Apostle Peter as the first of the Church Fathers or Popes. The reigning church leader in Rome, Sylvester 1st, held onto the position as the Bishop of Rome from 314 Ad until his death in 335AD. (Sylvester did not attend the Nicaean Council and had little to do with its codification.) Sylvester was succeeded by Mark and then Julius.

The formation of this early structure was carefully controlled down to the manner of worship to the plethora of icons which were introduced and then venerated. Constantine’s mother, Helena, was sent all over the Empire to collect relics to buttress the belief in the Christian God. In this, here is a listing of some of what she was able to miraculously locate:

A piece of the cross of Christ.
The bones of one of the Magi.
The blood of Christ.
The nails used to secure Christ to the cross.
The Scala Sancta (the stairs from Pontius Pilate’s praetorium) which was used by Jesus.

There are many more on the list, but the point is thus made. These varied objects became the “glue” necessary to bind the Empire together for Constantine and it did so quite effectively. The hierarchy of the church was thus established with Constantine, the Roman Emperor, as its true head. Christianity was now established as the national religion, but only under strict supervision and through a strict set of rules. Abridgement of these rules would find the offender no better off than they would have been under the worst of the Diocletian persecutions.

So what does this history lesson have to do with how Dr. Sproul sees God Almighty? Actually it has much to do with his perspective. How we are taught from our very earliest is generally how we’ll always view something. Our formative years set down in the bedrock of our consciousness how we will perceive the greater world around us. We’ve seen such teaching lead to everything from the inculcation of racism to the embrace of Communism and Islam. We’ve also seen such teaching lead to incredible acts of generosity and benevolence. Nature or nurture is the age old question, but it is without a doubt that to stand against the tide is going to take extra effort and few realize they even have the need. Thus we tend to follow the crowd.

When we are raised to believe that God loathes His human creation and can only stomach them through the veil of Christ’s blood and all of the learned men surrounding us are in absolute accord with that thought, who will challenge the predominate thinking? Very few. No one covets  a position as the outsider. It is far easier to walk a road which has already been paved with misconceptions rather than to cut a trail through the untouched tangle of truth. The aforementioned history lesson was introduced in order to give a foundation to the reader as to exactly where the teachings within the modern church originated. Certainly there have been “tweaks” to the teaching over the millennia, but the essential structure remains untouched. Thus Christ is relegated to second tier status forever and always in the minds of His people.

When I became a parent, many views I held about God began to fall apart. I simply could not believe that I, as a loathsome human being, could be more forgiving than God Almighty. Raising kids is not an easy task and anyone who has had the pleasure understands what I mean. Children are a boundless blessing, but they can also try your patience. (To put it mildly.) I’m certain that with few exceptions, most all people reading this who have had children have felt the sting of their rejection on at least one occasion. Such rejection can take many forms, but the rejection is felt no less keenly. It hurts when our children tell us they hate us … or worse. But we forgive them and we do what we can to bridge the gap separating us. We do this (or attempt, in any event) because we love them. Now how is it that as broken, rotten, loathsome, sinful human beings we can do something which God is unable without utilizing a “proxy?” The short answer is we cannot. The Apostle John explained that we can love because Christ first loved us. (1st John 4:19)

Orthodoxy teaches that God cannot look upon sin and as we are all sinners, God apart from this veil of Christ’s shed blood cannot look upon us and DOES NOT regard us as His children. This is errant teaching which came from the hierarchal structure first instituted by Constantine the Great. To put it plainly, it is absolutely one hundred percent incorrect. (I would ask the reader to reference my earlier commentary on Matthew  27:46 for further details on my thoughts:

Sproul calls sin “Cosmic Treason” evidently without realizing what sin is. Sproul appears to conflate sin and evil. This is unfortunate since the two concepts are as different as night is from day. (Again I have already addressed this is an earlier commentary.)  I will mention this just to clarify in the minds of the reader what Dr. Sproul seems incapable of grasping: God does not desire you to love him at the point of a gun. If such were the case, I do believe our world would look much differently than it does. God is about a loving relationship first and always. The “Holiness” of God cannot ever be trampled by our behavior no matter how abysmally we act. To relegate such holiness to a being that is so easily roused to anger would bespeak a being not entitled to enjoy such respect from anyone … except at the point of a gun.

Lastly let me be clear on the path which Sproul has chosen is one which dooms most of humanity. If one must first acknowledge and accept Jesus Christ, most of humanity is damned to the fiery pit of Hell. The reach of the 1st century Christians was exceedingly small and most of the world had absolutely no knowledge of Jesus Christ. This remained the case as the centuries wore on. Most all of Asia remained unaware of the Christian God even up through the beginning of the 2nd millennia. While we in the West might not give much thought to the untold billions of lives smothered out by a misreading of scripture and our own innate bias, I assure you that it matters to those people in far off lands who do not share the belief they are going to roast for all eternity just because a well meaning Christian says so.

I had earlier made mention of the myriad evils which mankind is quite capable of inflicting upon one another. I reiterate that we do so because we are being led by our flesh rather than ceding control to the spirit which imbues all of us. I’ll also hasten to add that such evils remain in the slim minority. They get attention because of the fact they exist out of the norm. Most of us “loathsome humans” simply do what we can to make our way through this life as best we can. We may all be sinners (as sin defined is merely the failure to meet a predetermined line of demarcation; in this case, one set by the Celestial Beings of God Almighty – Galatians 3:19), but the evil (read selfishness.) which ensnare us comes in shades of gray.

It is my hope and prayer that as Christians we would all begin to recognize that love is the primary component in the Christian relationship. Most people can be coerced to do something they don’t really believe, but God looks upon the heart of the individual. If we were supposed to simply love God or He’d kill us, there would have been no need whatsoever for Jesus Christ; a better path could have been utilized.

Christ emphasized relationship and love. Paul said that God  desires we call him Abba – father. Such is an incredibly intimate term between a parent and their child whom they love dearly.  Don’t short-change God Almighty because you cannot yet understand His totality of being. We anthropomorphize God at our peril and our personal loss. We lose so much when we regard God as possessing our attributes. Read Galatians 5:22 and compare the attributes Paul says God possesses to the attributes you have been told God possesses by the church. If you can find an angry, short-tempered, jealous God within the attributes listed, you’re reading into the scriptures what is not there. Don’t bring an Eternal God down to your level in order to understand Him, rather listen with your spiritual ears and rise up to His.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Who Are We Really ?

And What Is This Thing Called Evil?

 All contents copyright © 2014 by M.L. Wilson. All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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This is going to seem a rather disjointed commentary for many different reasons. I suppose the primary reason is that I have a jumble of thoughts within which seek an escape. It seems that only by holding such thoughts out before me can I really make sense of them and what it is I am supposed to do with my life as a Christian; a certain introspection, if you will. Ordinarily I have not used this blog space for anything other than my religious and political views. I have definite opinions about a great many things and surprisingly enough, those views have not altered much over the span of my life.  As I grow older, however, I find that having a certain point of view or opinion about the larger world around you really doesn’t help to navigate some of the more murky aspects of your life. Whether or not I think Barack Obama is a good or bad president does not seem to help me in my job or familial relationships.

Quite frankly as one who has never really caught onto the ideal of journaling, the whole concept of a blog is somewhat intimidating to me. It has always been my impression that a blog was a place where thoughts of a certain import could be conveyed to the masses for their edification/enjoyment/ bemusement. I am personally drawn to blogs that impart information of which I  was previously unaware. I’ve attempted to do this on my blog page, but I fear that what tends to happen is a presentation of walls and walls of text which is quickly abandoned by any potential reader; such is the subject matter I have decided to tackle.

Personal taste is an interesting thing. I have often wondered why I am attracted to the subject of theology and if so, why I never pursued the proper formal training. Time has answered some of those questions for me; adulthood and raising a family left little room to spend on what was little more than a “hobby” of mine. Of course the financial consideration had to also be factored into the equation as much as the investment of time; raising a family left little of either. However the interest remained. Theology – (From the Greek: θεολογία literally meaning God study) is a subject that continues to draw my interest.

Lately I have found myself in something of a spiritual wilderness. This is not a unique position to anyone – believer or agnostic. (I don’t subscribe to the position of there being atheists for a host of obvious reasons.) One of the more famous accounts of such spiritual wilderness is a poem by Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century Roman Catholic friar which was written in approximately 1578. St. John was regarded as a Christian Mystic and delved deeply into the spiritual connectivity we as humans have with God. Clearly he was well aware of the (maddening) situation which the Apostle Paul also pointed out in 1st Corinthians 13:12 regarding a human’s ability to see the greater world as God views it. Paul said that such was akin to, “… looking through a glass darkly.” My previous commentaries sought to put an answer as to the “why” of this situation, but it doesn’t begin to address the emotions such a situation can have on the individual.

Part of my wilderness can be summed up in this one basic question which so many before me have sought to answer: "Why is it that so often it appears as though God isn’t present?" Through faith we’re commanded to believe that God is with us, but the harsh reality for most is sun that the will rise for the dawn of a new day and rare is the occasion a change for the positive is forthcoming; evil continues its onslaught seemingly unabated. Our prayers continue to go unanswered and most of us are left feeling absolutely alone.

To compound our suffering, we find that we cannot raise such feelings with our fellow Christians because to speak of such things is tantamount to lacking faith. As we are taught from the earliest, a lack of faith denotes one who is “not of the body” and is therefore not saved. A misreading of scripture (my interpretation) by too many well meaning Christians warrants ostracization for the one even thinking such thoughts about God. Thus the one hurting is set further adrift by the very people who are “called” to be the face of God to their fellow man. To me, this seems antithetical to the way God designed us to interact with one another. However if such were the case, would it not be reasonable to presume that God would tend to His flock and teach them properly; raise up those who have a voice which speaks the truth of God , rather than of the traditions of men? Hence, why does it seem God is not present?

My vexation at such a conundrum is multiplied when at every turn, doors are shut to me. I don’t mean to make this a whiny entry into my blog, but rather an avenue of thought. In truth, how many of us are terrified to speak what we really feel about the condition of our relationship – not only with God, but with God’s people? Will a pastor who leads a successful church who suddenly has an epiphany really impart such to his congregation if it means the loss of his job? Will the Deacon or Elder at a church risk their position to speak out on what has touched their heart because to do so would result in their excisement from “the body?” What about one who has simply attended a particular church for years, but has come to different conclusions than what is popularly taught?

Why should good people be terrorized into silence for fear of being rejected by other Christians for the dark thoughts which fill every person’s heart from time to time? Are we not called to share in one another’s sorrow as well as their successes? Evidently that is not the case in today’s modern church where personal internecine cliques will trump Christian unity at every turn, where one who enjoys wealth sees such as a sign of God’s love over that of the poor wretch barely making ends meet, where only the number of degrees and awards are a deciding factor in who possesses the wisdom of God and who does not? Why are Christians (or even non Christians) forced into silence when the Spirit instructs just because it may run counter to traditional teaching? While I agree that error should be reigned in, my personal research has shown me that orthodox thought propagates most of the error. (John Nelson Darby anyone?)

I will confess that after decades of study, prayer, contemplation … pleading even, I really do not understand this entity we call God. Such does not shake my belief in Him; quite the contrary, but I do not understand Him in the least. If Christ said that all authority was given to Him (Matthew 28:18), then from that point to now, it would seem to me that He is complicit in the evil which has bathed this world so thoroughly. However since such would run counter to what Paul tells us of God’s very nature (Galatians 5:22) and certainly is not in line with the example Christ left us with, I have to conclude I am misreading the signs. This further vexes me as I have tried most earnestly to understand what is going on and what the point and purpose for my being a part of it could be. Let me explain:

My theology has led me to the conclusion that a Covenantal agreement between God and his spiritual ambassadors erroneously referred to as angels (they are actually Celestial beings of vast power.) led to a break in the intimate relationship which should exist between man and God. A misunderstanding of what was written in Genesis has led mostly western religions to conclude there was some sort of “fall of man” which has dropped us all into a sinful state. While there was technically a “fall” and this “sin state” did exist, one has to be aware of certain words and their meanings. The word “sin” is a term which simply means, “to miss the mark.” I cannot underscore enough that sin is not evil; they are two totally different concepts. Simply put, Sin is not gradient; it is black or white, on or off, ones or zeros; sin is essentially binary.

Evil is a tricky concept for most people to grasp because even theologians are not certain just what evil is. They will rail against the “evils” of the world, but all they’re really doing is pointing out the effects of evil, not the actual concept itself. So what then is evil and how does it differentiate from sin? To answer that question, one needs to look briefly at all acts which are evil. Certainly we can look at a Hitler as evil. We can look at a Charles Manson as evil. Some of us will look at a Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) and conclude she is evil. One must be cognizant of the fact that despite our personal belief, each one of these people has their followers and those who regard their acts as good and NOT evil. What is the difference in what those followers believe and what you believe?

A Christian might say that murder is evil and a sin against God, thus these aforementioned people are evil. Really? That is your tipping point? Anyone familiar with the Old Testament would become well acquainted with God’s temper and the wanton killing and murder which ran rampant. (Deuteronomy 20:10 – 20 comes to mind.) You can attempt to explain such murder away all you wish, but what else do you call the plight of a little Canaanite girl minding her own business at home who is then suddenly torn from her mother’s arms, raped and then brutally murdered by the invading army of Joshua? Righteous justice? It is to laugh. There is nothing righteous or just about such brutality. Compare the heinous instructions from god to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy with Christ dealing with the adulterous woman in John chapter 8. Quite a contrast – and yet both occurrences took place while under the covenant of the Law; the Old Testament. (Christ had yet to die for ANYONE. The strictures of the Old Covenant were still very much in effect.)

Israel was following the orders of their god when they invaded the land of Canaan. The Canaanites may have been “sinful” in the eyes of the god of the Jews, but there is very little evidence to support their being an evil people. (At least no more so than were the Jews themselves.)  Again, two different concepts with two different words in the Hebrew language. Regardless the designation of being “sinful” by their god, there remains no excuse for the ill treatment the Israelites showed the citizens of Canaan. Period. Such is a rationalization by people unwilling to see the incongruity between the god of the Law and Christ.

So what then is evil? If we have seen that sin is simply the abridgment of a set line of demarcation (e.g. If you can finish the race in under 5 minutes, you win otherwise you lose.), but evil is not the same. As I stated earlier, evil is gradient. Recall Christ’s parable in Matthew 12:43-45. How can one be invaded by spirits MORE wicked then those who had been swept clean if sin is predicated on a single line of demarcation? The answer, of course, is that they cannot. Evil is gradient, evil has shades of gray. It does so for a very interesting, yet obvious reason. Evil – true evil – is merely the antithesis of God Most High.

Consider that Christ came to this earth as a servant; Christ came to be selfless. He did so because at that time, the earth was under the command of the powers of darkness. (John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11) I will not belabor the obvious incongruity that according to orthodox thought, Jehovah God was still in absolute and complete control over the whole of the earth at that time. Scripture is clear that the earth was being ruled by something apart from God Most High. Once we can accept Christ came to defeat these powers of darkness, we can then look at evil in a new light.

Christ explained to us in Luke 14:11 that, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The common thread here is the frame of mind one has who would exalt himself over that of his fellow man. Such a person is not being selfless by definition, but rather SELFISH. So as Christ is selfless and good, one who is selfish is evil. Now think about those who are regarded as supremely evil in history – or even people in your own sphere who you would regard as evil. If you look carefully you will note that the level of evil is proportionate to the level of selfishness. Worship of self is evil; worship of God is good. David Koresh thought himself a god and molested little girls. Hitler sought to bring about a master race which regarded him as their leader and murdered millions of people in the process. Both men were supremely selfish and put no one or nothing before themselves. Even at the very end, Koresh did not free the people from the Compound at Waco and instead allowed the ATF to burn them to death – all of them. Hitler believed the German people had failed him and thus deserved their fate. He then committed suicide rather than face judgment. The mystery of what is evil is thus solved. It is to be the antithesis of God; it is to be selfish.

Of course I am not so naive as to believe the critics of this commentary will not come out of the woodwork to shoot down my theories. Would it dissuade such people if I were to say that God told me these things Himself? Probably not. Those critics are keenly aware of the fact that I have not heard God’s audible voice much as they have not heard God’s voice. Such people rely primarily upon the teaching and instructions they have received from “learned men” rather than the prompting of the Spirit. It is a sad reality in our world which holds men of letters higher than those who have connected with the Spirit. Such was prophesied however. I suppose that should give me a measure of hope; based upon the vitriol of my critics, I am on the right track.

Please do not misconstrue this commentary to mean that I regard all who have had such formal teaching to have been deluded or not “in touch” with the Spirit; that is not my intent. I started out this commentary with a confession that I personally do not understand God and that fact hasn’t changed. What I am pointing out in this commentary is that most the rest of us do not understand Him either. We will shield that fact from our fellow man primarily out of fear, and then out of pride. My pride where understanding God is concerned is non-existent. One can only be called a heretic so many times and ostracized by fellow Christians for only so long before any pride once possessed is completely eroded away. Pride and ego do not compel me to write these commentaries (since I know that few read them in any event); a thirst for knowledge and understanding does.

During the nine years I researched my novel series, I had to find the answers to a number of vexing question which kept coming up regarding God, the spiritual realm and us lowly human beings. Too much of what I had been taught simply did not fit no matter what contortions of facts one made. The answers I received from the clergy (“There are some things in the Bible we’re not meant to understand.”) displayed a stunning level of ignorance of both history, and of the spiritual aspect of just who God is. Quite the contrary to such limited thinking people, I believe that the entire breadth of scripture is to be understood with absolute clarity. Paul’s analogy of, “…looking through a glass darkly.” Refers to the spiritual realm only and not to scripture. How can one assert that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, but God doesn’t want us to understand it? I would presume if such were the case, it would have never been written at all then. Of course I dismiss such notions as the tripe that it is. With this understanding, the teachings I received from tradition began to fall apart one by one. I was left with an entirely different understanding, some of which is explored in the pages of my novels.

Here is a truth. People are generally self-centered; it is a natural requirement of the flesh trapped within a finite world which dictates such. I hasten to add that the fleshly body is merely a temporary conveyance and is NOT the sum total of our parts. Only the limited vision of the flesh will struggle with the eternal because the two are incompatible. The spiritual realm in not infinite; it is eternal. As with sin and evil, Infinity and Eternity are two different words with two entirely different meanings. We do not enter into infinity with God, we enter into eternity with God. (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, John 17:3, Matthew 25:46) When one contemplates the differences in those two terms and the implications of one over the other, I’m certain a greater degree of understanding will be enjoyed. It will, of course, open up a range of new questions which I have concluded is part of “Eating solid food, rather than continue to suckle milk.”

I realize that most of the selfishness I see is the flesh taking control of the person rather than the spirit. Divorce, drug abuse, sexual immorality, abortion, murder, etc. are all as a result of the person giving into their flesh, not sin. Since we’re all regarded as sinners, that argument is fallacious. When Christ confronted the Pharisees as to who their father was, he was not talking to the so-called evil Pharisees, but rather to Pharisees who were genuinely curious. Still He told them clearly they were children of the devil. (John 8:42-47) Christ summed it up with this verse, “…He who belongs to God hears what God says.” My understanding of that verse is that to the one who has put aside listening to the body (and the god of that body) they will hear what it is God has to say. More simply put, we must learn to see with our Spiritual eyes and listen with our spiritual ears rather than relying on the five senses of the body. The flesh cannot comprehend that which is eternal and spiritual. Period.

My hope and continued prayer is that I will come to a greater understanding of God in the time I have left on this planet. As Christians are to be God’s face to their fellow man, this understanding MUST include my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a difficult prospect for someone like myself who is severely “relationship challenged.” That having been said, my fellow Christians need to also look towards others in the same light and not merely hold up those who have means and letters as the only indicator by which God shows himself. If the Gospel’s taught us anything, it was that God used the lowliest among men to spread the truth of who He is. There were none of means or letters amongst them, not even Paul who was regarded a traitor by those who once embraced him in the Synagogue.