There has been a serious slide in our culture that has invisibly snuck by most people. It has changed how most people (much more in the younger generations) think about themselves and their lives, and they don’t even know it. It used to be that people fit in one category, but now that category is almost all but empty and everyone has shoved themselves, without knowing it, into the other once vacant category.
I guess we should feel a little vindicated since so much time has passed since this once vacuous position came into existence. At the time the introduction of it seemed insignificant, but its after wake has been disastrous. I call it the: “why me” slide into the “why not me” pit.
It seems to me that Jesus and the Apostles made it clear: Christians are to focus their work in fulfilling the Great Commission by using the gifts, talents, and social positions they find themselves. Like my pastor says: “please don’t hear what I am not saying”. I am not saying that Christians are ONLY to do the Great Commission obvious things like preaching, teaching, and evangelism. Rather I am saying that it seems to me that Jesus wants us to take his command seriously in that it is the primary motivation for our work in this world.
Many people will take this thinking and run in the direction of saying that only such activities that directly and obviously fulfill the GC (Great Commission) are to be done by Christians and no other activity is worthy of their time, but that isn’t what I am saying. In order to better understand my thinking on this subject one must think slower and longer on it than the quick assumptions we all make from the gut.
I must first start out saying that I am ignorant of every nuance and implication of this debate. I have barely studied the subject as to now. Therefore I will write down my impressions and thinking as to this point in time, wherefore I do not suggest that they will be the same at a later date. My mind is not made up, but my mind is neither changed from what it is currently.
As a short background I grew up Dispensational, which tends to have Christians living in their own little ghettos. Later on I became mentored by two theologians who seem to be on the 2K side, but attend a church that leans towards the 1K side (at least that is my guess about the founding pastor although I haven’t asked him directly). So my own views are probably confused between having so many different areas talking at me, but here goes my confused thoughts anyways.
It seems, in Southern California at least, that many Christians mature in the same way. We start out being legalistic and antinomian (against the a law), that is we live for the law we create for ourselves, while we think we have thrown off the shackles of any external law that seeks to oppress us (this is usually our pre-Christ days). In this stage we live how we want. We do what we want. We believe what we want. Because in the end, its all about us. We are our own gods. The next stage of maturity happens when we first become Christians (note there are many stages and none of us will achieve perfection on earth, I only talk about 4 stages to make a point on how I have seen myself and other Christians grow, these aren’t biblical stages just observations I have made). The Spirit of God so works in us to love Him, and hate evil, that we then respond to our former lives the total opposite way: we become legalistic and rule bound. If we used to drink alcohol without restraint, we now fence it in with stringent rules about not even touching it! It is apparent to us how sinful we are, and we hate that sin, so we attempt get rid of it all through our own wisdom, cunning, and devices.
Christians in this second state are easily picked out of a crowd. They dress modestly (often apparently so), they don’t drink alcohol, they don’t gamble, they don’t watch certain types of movies, and don’t do many other things that are completely acceptable to our culture and to many other Christians. They fear sinning against God so much that they put a fence around his law so they cannot even get close to sinning. The problem is this fence (like do not drink alcohol – Scripture never says do not drink, only do not get drunk) becomes the new law. People in the first state of maturity and Christians in the second state both are legalistic (trying to please god or God through their own means and on their own terms), and although the latter claim Christ as their savior, they also have added their own performance and rule keeping to the mix.
I have made comments in the past about Christianity being a Religion and I would like to add a few more to further my thinking on the subject and clarify my position. I heard recently a group of pastors I really respect arguing that Christianity isn’t a religion, because “religion” is man’s attempt to reach God, while Christianity is God’s reaching out to man. When I heard this line of reasoning the proverbial light bulb lit in my head. What really is the issue is the definition of Religion. What is Religion, or rather how does one define it, and if we are all working with the same definition, do we still disagree. I think the real issue is that we all are not working with the same definition of religion thus many of us think we do not agree on the subject but we really do.
I would argue that historically Religion has been roughly defined as the system of beliefs and actions which develop and exist in the right relationship with the true God. Has not the historic Church argued that they were a Religion, albeit the true one, and all other religions false ones? I wonder if any Ancient Christian writer ever really argued that Christianity was not a religion. I don’t see such arguing in the Bible, that I am sure of. In our present time it seems that many in the church are focusing their energy, not in the historic apologetic of defending Christianity as the true and only religion, but in removing Christianity from the Religion debate all together. Of course such an action is desirable by many because it is the easy way out. If one is apart of a group that is considered pretty lame, it is much easier to just claim you are not in that group, than it is to correct the misconceptions.
When one thinks of the phrase “quenching the Spirit” one does not immediately think of Pentecostals. After all they are the ones who usually are criticized for being too “Spirit” focused. I am also sure that most evangelicals would reject the notion that their churches too, often quench the Spirit. So, the question is, do they? I believe they do quench the Spirit more often than not, and it has to do with rightly understanding how He (the Spirit) works.
The job of the Spirit is to fill and comfort believers after Christ’s ascension. To spread the word and create the Church. He works from the command of Jesus and the Father. So, if we look at Scripture how do we see Him normally working? We see Him working through pretty ordinary means, although there are some significant exceptions, we never see the exceptions made into the rule nor do we see them lifted up as needed to be in future generations. I propose that the Spirit mainly works through ordinary means such as: Word and Sacrament, while in rare cases works through other means.
In contemporary Evangelicalism the Altar Call has become the Third Sacrament, and sometimes the only sacrament as it often replaces both baptism and communion (by making baptism and communion be only human responses and not heavenly blessings). The problem is: no where in Scripture are we given a command to have Altar Calls; they are a creation of man not God. I know this position will inflame many people, and upset others for it seems by stating such, I am attacking the heart of the Christian religion. After all, how can one preach the Gospel and expect it to save anyone unless they give an Altar Call right? In a word: wrong, scripture never has demonstrated nor commanded an Altar Call. Let us define our terms so that we are all on the same page.
When I speak of a Sacrament I am speaking of an ordinance in which God works to confirm heavenly realities, grace, and spiritual blessings. The only two taught us in Scripture (sorry my Catholic friends), are Baptism and Holy Communion. Baptism in the most basic of explanations, confers to us the New Covenant, by making us members, and all the spiritual blessings there-in. As a covenant sign like Circumcision in the Old Testament, baptism is to be given to our children, because they are in the covenant, and thus need the covenant sign applied to them. Now please note it doesn’t save, and it doesn’t confer regeneration, but non-the-less there are real spiritual benefits with-in baptism, and to reject it, is to reject God’s covenant (and thus Salvation). One’s baptism, as a believer, can be one of the greatest anchors in which to assure ourselves of our salvation, not because it demonstrates our commitment to God, but His commitment to us within the Covenant.
As I have grown throughout the years in my Christian faith, my tastes for worship songs have changed. Often I have wondered if the change is merely subjective, or if there is some objective growth to be found under the surface. Am I growing closer to God’s ideal for worship, or am I growing father away? Like any sane person, I consider my changes in tastes and preferences over the years to be an improvement, rather than a de-evolution, in maturity.
This article is my attempt to discuss some of the reasons behind my changes in taste, and why I think more people ought to change with me. I will assure you that my thinking is not bubbling from a latent and invisible arrogance, but rather springs forth from what I am convinced God, through Biblical revelation, desires of His children. If I have gained any truth or maturity in Spiritual things, I acknowledge that God is to be praised and not I.
There seems to still be a debate as to whether Christianity is a religion or not. Personally I don’t understand what the big deal is, and why some people fight to say that it is not a religion. They give reasons like: “religion is man trying to reach God” and thus “Christianity is God reaching man” so they affirm that it cannot be a religion. But is this how God sees it? Is this how God defines religion and does He see Christianity as a religion?
James 1:26-27 “26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
*disclaimer* this is not meant to be a legal study of how much particular we should give or not give, but an article to challenge our thinking and attitudes.
Now a quick word before I get to my main point. With out getting in a huge word/verse study in the Bible, I would argue that we Christians are first called to give both of our time and money to the Church, and second that it should come from our heart and desire not from the law.