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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Methodism, the Non-Judgmental Church


Methodism, the Non-Judgmental Church


Many good Christians today do not go to church any longer because they have been judged by other good Christians at church. Like shell- shocked soldiers these Christians eventually retreat from the slings and arrows of battle and wonder what went wrong.  Or they stumble into a Methodist church and find other shell shocked Christians all worshipping together in a safe place.  I am one such shell- shocked Christian. After too many years of being judged and ostracized by my intellectual evangelical community, my husband and I moved away and walked into a Methodist church. And the rest was history.

The Methodist folk took us in and included us in their lives.  Invited us into their homes and treated us with respect. We couldn’t resist. We were part of a Christian fellowship again and it felt good. Small groups are one of the hallmarks of Methodism. And we soon felt at home in our small cozy Sunday School group. Many of our Sunday School class members had been divorced in the past. And many of these folks had been asked to leave their home  churches when their marriages broke up.. But the Methodist Church was always there in the background waiting to take in anyone left out in the cold and love them in the Name of Christ.

How did the Methodist Church become like this?  Why are Methodists so non-judgmental when many of its’ members don’t agree on important issues? It all started with John Wesley, the father of the Methodist Church.  John Wesley and his generation inherited 200 years of religious warfare and bloodshed.  In his home, he also experienced religious debates. Wesley had seen up close the damage that fighting among fellow Christians had done to the body of Christ. He wanted to change all that..  He believed that love could cover a multitude of sin and he emphasized the importance of loving one another to his new converts.

Wesley looked for the common ground and tried to build bridges with people who thought differently than he did. Instead of forming a church that leaned to the far left and fought for far left truths or a church that leaned to the far right, and fought for far right truths, Wesley’s Methodist church is a church of the extreme center! And Methodists have had to give up a lot to remain in the extreme center.  The Methodist denomination has been criticized by Christians from other denominations for occupying this middle position.    

  Wesley wrote these words: “Although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection?  Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”   These attitudes of John Wesley have been a hallmark of Methodism ever since.        


The Methodist Church was born in England out of two hundred years of religious struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants.  Wars were fought and for a while England went back and forth from being Catholic to being Protestant.  And then back again to being Catholic with much bloodshed in between. Christians killed other Christians because of their different beliefs as to the right way to follow Christ. The Methodist Church was profoundly shaped by these warring religious forces. Martin Luther preached that Christians should love and understand one another instead of judging and fighting.      

Finally, England became mostly Protestant but the question then was, How Protestant?  So they fought about that. As time passed England kept on changing and modernizing and moving out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance period which brought with it the Enlightenment! John Wesley was deeply influenced by these new humanistic ideas.

People in England who believed in the Enlightment principles would keep their membership in the church and formally hold that they were Christians. But their loyalty to Christianity would be in name only.  These folks really believed that education, class status and intelligence could save a person and that Bible teachings and Christian religious beliefs were old fashioned.  John Wesley and his Methodist movement had this new problem to consider. But often the Methodist answer was to take in the sinner and just add more love.

John Wesley was shaped by the new Enlightenment ideas but he believed that people should give their hearts to Christ as Savior and Lord to be saved. So the union of human reason with the desire for a personal faith in Christ would become one of the main characteristics of Methodism.  Wesley believed that the Methodist Church should emphasize the preaching of the Bible.  John Wesley’s deepest desire was to bring people to faith in Christ. And he rode on horseback all over England preaching in the open fields everywhere and calling people to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. There was spiritual revival in England and all of England was changed because of John Wesley and the Methodist movement.

But the tensions between believing in human experience and also believing all the teachings of the Bible can occasionally be difficult to pull off.  Methodists then and now want to bring the sinner into their fellowship, but if the sinner does not renounce his/her sin and if he/she ignores the commandments in Scripture, then other church members can be harmed. Some Methodist churches have watered down their faith so as not to offend others.  So you can see the tension between wanting to be a loving body of Christ and still wanting to keep the Christian faith!      


The Methodist Church takes her doctrines and beliefs from four sources: The Bible, tradition, human wisdom and human experience.  (a four- legged stool) You may remember that the Catholics takes their beliefs from two sources: Scripture and tradition. Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church protested this belief in allowing tradition to be equal with the holy Scriptures and Lutherans claimed that they would only take their beliefs from the Bible.  “Sola Scriptura” or only Scripture would guide their decisions. Lutherans in Luther’s day took a high view of Scripture.  


     

    

Methodists were and are known for their singing. John Wesley’s brother Charles Wesley wrote over a thousand hymns and many of them are still popular hymns today.  And Methodists are also known for helping the poor and for social reform.  Methodists today put a priority on helping the poor and working to make a better and more just society. Most of the members in a typical Methodist church serve the poor, feed the homeless, visit the prisons, visit the sick, and some support attorneys who will represent the poor in court, operate homes for single mothers and children, etc. 

 Methodist churches typically send their youth groups out each year on mission trips to poor neighborhoods to work and rebuild and pass out food and supplies. Methodist youth come back tired from a week of hard work and happy to have been able to help where they were needed.  Whereas Evangelical churches, typically send their youths out each year to nice camps in the woods usually with church services and good Bible studies along with sports and games.   These young people come back more enthusiastic about their Christian faith.  They also have had a week of fun and pampering. The Methodists retreats emphasize giving to the poor and the Baptist retreats emphasize a personal relationship with Christ and learning more of Gods’ Word.


As a former Baptist, I miss Baptist Bible studies. I miss testimony time around the campfire and being challenged for Christ.  Baptists believe that the Bible is Gods’ living Word and they know that they can count on its’ promises.  Many Methodists aren’t quite so sure. Methodists sometimes have a low view of Scripture, I believe that if we can’t trust the holy Scriptures, our faith has nothing solid to stand on and we are on a slippery slope. Many Methodists don’t seem to know what they believe!         


But God is teaching us many other lessons now that we have joined a caring Methodist Church. It has been good. We are learning to love others who are different from us and not be as judgmental as we had been before. We are learning to reach out to the homeless and the poor and not to neglect these commands of Christ. The Methodist Church has many strengths and we are being blessed..
.  .



Some of the ideas in this blog were taken from Adam hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”.









Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pentecostalism and the Power of the Holy Spirit



Pentecostalism and the Power of the Holy Spirit





The Pentecostal churches are the youngest of the main Protestant denominations. And Pentecostalism had its beginnings in1902 during a time of revival in the United States.  Pentecostals and Charismatics hold to the basic truths that all other Christians hold to in the Nicene Creed. Pentecostals believe they should have a strong personal relationship with Christ as their Savior and they place a strong emphasis on the emotional dimensions of one’s relationship with Christ. There are approximately 600 million Pentecostals or Charismatics worldwide today



All the new Protestant denominations got their start because their members were trying to get back to the Bible and back to living as the early Christian church had lived. Each Protestant denomination had its beginnings because people were trying to follow Christ’s teachings more faithfully. And the Pentecostals were no different.  Pentecostals claim to preach the “full gospel” implying that the other denominations are leaving something out and are only preaching part of the gospel. Do they have a point?   



The part of the gospel that Pentecostals believe other Christians have forgotten are the Scriptures that call on believers to receive the power of the Holy Spirit into their lives.  All the main Protestant denominations and the Catholics believe that Christians receives the Holy Spirit into their life when they believe in Christ or are baptized or confirmed into the faith. But Pentecostals and Charismatics believe that there is a “second work of grace” after the believer accepts Christ or is baptized when the Holy Spirit completely immerses believers, giving them power. And Pentecostals and Charismatics also believe that when a believer is baptized into the Holy Spirit that he or she will speak in tongues



Pentecostals get their name from what happened at Pentecost according to Scripture. When Jesus left the disciples and went back to heaven He instructed them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the power of His Spirit to come upon them.  The disciples obeyed Jesus and other believers joined them to wait for what Jesus promised would be theirs.  There were over a hundred followers of Christ praying and waiting together when the Holy Spirit fell upon all of them.  There were tongues of Holy Spirit fire over each of the believers’ heads and they all began to speak in tongues. This was the miraculous birth or beginning of the Christian Church and it happened on the day of a Jewish festival called Pentecost. 



Here is how the Bible describes this wonderful event. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability.”  (Acts 2:1-4) 



A Pemtecostal or Charismatic person is a person who believes and wants to experience the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” the way those early Christians experienced it at Pentecost.  Other early Christians we read about in Scripture also experienced this Holy Spirit baptism. They remind us that when John the Baptist was ministering he said: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but One (Jesus) who is more powerful than I is coming after me: I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  ((Matthew 3:11)



 John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus and his mission was to go before Jesus, the Messiah and introduce Him. Here in Matthew 3:11 John the Baptist was prophesying that when people repented of their sins they would receive his baptism which was with water. But soon Jesus the Son of God would baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire or with power. Power in their lives to be used by God. 



Jesus spoke these words: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)  Pentecostals believe that as in those Bible days of old when the early Christians were baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in other languages or tongues, that today we will also speak in other languages like they did back then.  And Pentecostals believe that the evidence that one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit is the speaking in tongues.



This is where Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals (most other Protestant denominations and most Catholics) don’t completely agree. Non-Pentecostals believe that those first Pentecostals were given the ability to speak foreign languages by the Holy Spirit probably because there were many Jews living in Jerusalem at that time who were from other countries and who spoke other languages.  When the Spirit filled Christians at Pentecost spoke in tongues, they were speaking to the travelers from other countries who could understand them. And because these foreigners miraculously heard about salvation in their own language they were amazed and believed in Christ and were saved.  Scripture says that about three thousand persons believed in Christ soon after Pentecost when Peter preached to them and many of them heard him speak in their own language! (Acts 2:38-40)  



Non-Pentecostals believe that foreign languages were used by the Holy Spirit after Pentecost to spread the word of Christ and bring many people to salvation.  But they also believe that the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not necessarily speaking in tongues or foreign languages, because we aren’t in the same situation as those early Christians were with unbelievers all around who spoke other languages. Non-Pentecostal churches believe that the Holy Spirit gives us gifts perhaps to match the situations we will be facing. And non-Pentecostals believe that having the fruit of the Spirit is an evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives.  Scripture says that the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, long suffering, self- control, goodness, patience, gentleness, faith, . .as described in Scripture. (Galatians 5:22)



 And non-Pentecostals believe that God also gives each believer a gift or gifts through the power of the Holy Spirit as also described in Scripture: (1st Corinthians 12:4-11) The speaking in tongues or in foreign languages is just one of the many gifts the Holy Spirit can give a believer. The gifts listed in this passage in 1st Corinthians that are given through the Holy Spirit are words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, the gift of healing, helping others, performing miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, teaching, the interpretation of tongues and speaking in different kinds of tongues. These are special abilities and talents that God gives us through the Holy Spirit as He sees fit.  He gives us power to live a Christian life.



Even though the Pentecostals have sometimes only emphasized the gifts of the Holy Spirit that seem more exotic, we don’t need to shy away from those gifts. My husband and I were once in a church where the congregation would sing praises for thirty minutes or more. Often, while we were all praising God we could feel the presence of God in our midst and it was a warm and wonderful feeling.  Often during these worship services a person sitting in the congregation would speak a message in tongues and then we would wait a minute and another person would give the interpretation of the first message.  These gifts of tongues and interpretation were usually messages of love and comfort or guidance from the Lord.  I really miss being in these charismatic groups now.     





 Each of us should find out which gifts we have been given by the Holy Spirit and learn to use them.  When we use them for God’s glory we will find great joy in our faith.  It is amazing to see the various gifts people have and to know that God planned it that way so we can all fit together as one body and serve God and each other.  Some people have been given gifts of music to glorify God and some have gifts of helping others. Others are given the gift of administration and finance and others leadership talents. And some have the gift of tongues and interpretation, or prophecy and healing. (I Peter 4:10-11)  



God has put us together in the body of Christ and Christ’s body is not all eyes or hands or legs. You may be a foot and I am an elbow. But what would a body be without a foot and an elbow?  In His wisdom God has given us our special gifts to fit into His body. Let us find out what our gifts are and use them. Our Pentecostal friends challenge us to be bold in prayer and to ask God  for help and for healing. And to repent of our sins. They remind us to listen each day for guidance from the Holy Spirit and to ask for it. 



The Pentecostals insist that we be bold in our praying and look for God to do wonderful things.   We have a loving God and Father whose mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23)  Our prayers do accomplish so much good.  Let us listen to the Pentecostals and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and our work.  Let’s be aware of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power in our lives and listen every day for His still small voice in our daily activities. And count on Him to guide us.



Pentecostals encourage us not to be luke-warm Christians. (Revelations 3:16) But to be hot!  Go all the way!  With the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives we can do all of that!  We can be “on fire” for our Lord!        



          


Many of the ideas in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Baptists: Conversion and Scripture


The Baptists


The first Baptists came out of the Puritans movement in England in the 1600’s.  The Puritans were called by their name because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church in England of its Catholic elements. Puritans were calling for moral and spiritual purity.  And the Baptists were one of the groups inside the Puritan movement that were nonconformists and were accused of having radical ideas. 

One of the Baptists’ “radical” idea was that baptism should only be for adults or for children who were old enough to believe in Christ for salvation. Discontinuing infant baptisms seemed a radical move since the Catholics and all the other Protestant denominations practiced infant baptism. Other denominations of Christians worried that Baptist babies might not go to heaven if they died before being baptized.  But Baptists believed that salvation comes only through faith in Christ, and they refused to put their trust in anything else – even baptism. Baptists trusted that their loving God would not send a baby to hell because it was too little to trust Christ. 

Baptists reject all of the liturgical elements of worship or anything that seems “Catholic”. There are no processionals and no special vestments and robes for the clergy.  No bishops and no pope.  Baptists do not answer to any outside authority and they insist that the Bible is the sole authority for doctrine and practice.   Simplicity is the norm for Baptists.  Jesus as Savior, nothing more and nothing less. Their churches are unadorned with no statues and no extra religious items.  Baptists worry that praying in front of statues might lead to idol worship.  And Baptists only pray to God.   

There are about forty-five million Baptists around the world.  Thirty-three million Baptists live in the United States and there are liberal Baptist churches and fundamentalist or very conservative Baptist churches. But there are similarities between all Baptists. All Baptists believe that a Baptist church member must believe in Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and Lord and make a confession of faith.   All church members must testify that they have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. 

Baptists stand on the holy Scriptures and trust completely in Christ, that His death on the cross is for their salvation and that He alone saves them and not their church or any other thing that they might try to do.  They can quote hundreds of Bible passages promising salvation through Christ and they feel secure doing that.  Here are two passages that Baptists love, along with many others.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16) Another passage: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:35) 

Religious liberty is also important to Baptists.  Clergy and laity work together in governing the church.  Baptists in the past have strongly believed in the separation of church and state. Many early Baptists were pacifists.  And also many early Baptists warned against the love of money or the love of anything “worldly”.  Pastors would warn their members not to see certain movies or listen to certain music because it was  “worldly”.  Early Baptists also believed that a Christian could not serve God and money at the same time.  A Christian was to set him/her self apart for God.   


Baptists love the holy Scriptures and look to the Bible alone as their guide to beliefs and practices, just as the Lutherans do.  Most Baptists believe that the Bible contains truth “without any mixture of error… there, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.”  Baptists often use the term “verbal, plenary inspiration,” which means that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. That the Bible is the inspired Word of God is a basic belief of Baptists.  Whereas some other denominations consider tradition and human wisdom or experience to be as important as Scripture in deciding doctrine and practice, the Baptists believe that the Bible is God’s Word and human wisdom or tradition can never be considered equal to God’s Word.  If God’s Word (the Bible) contradicts a popular human belief, Baptists will stay with God’s Word.  

Because Baptists believe so strongly that the Bible is God’s living Word, many Baptists gain great strength and help from “standing” on passages of Scripture during times of trial and in good times too.  Baptists love to have “testimony” time where they come together and testify how God helped or saved them. Many of their testimonies tell of an experience they have had when they believe that the Lord gave them a Scripture verse during a difficult time and holding onto that passage got them through their trouble.

A friend of mine, Colene, a Baptist, told me about a time in her life when everything was going wrong.  Colene had been very close to her father, but he had recently died leaving her devastated.  Then shortly after, her husband discovered that he had stage four cancer of the lungs. As Colene waited by her husband’s hospital bed, doctors told her that they didn’t expect him to live. Terrible fear welled up in her heart and stayed there. 

One night late as Colene was walking across the dark hospital parking lot, several men jumped out at her, hit her, grabbed her purse and threw her in a ditch. She tells me that at that moment she felt about as low and frightened as she has ever felt in her life.  As she lay in the ditch trembling in the dark with the bad men standing over her, she remembered the Scripture verse in 1 Corinthians 12:8-12 where Christ says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  She told me that right then she “claimed” that verse and her faith “stood” on it. There in the ditch in all her weakness she felt Christ over her in all of His strength protecting her from these bad men. The men yelled and clamored for a few minutes and then disappeared in the darkness dropping her purse on the ground as they left.  Colene shared this Bible verse with her husband and they both held onto it.  Her husband’s lung cancer began to turn around with chemotherapy and he is alive and well today. 

Another Baptist friend, Velma, tells me that she occasionally finds herself in situations where she is over her head and feels that she cannot perform a job as well as she should. At these times, Velma prays for God’s help and she “stands” on Philippians 4:13 which says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  She says she can feel the fear leave and courage come to her as she “claims” this verse. 


A third friend, Jim, works at a shop where several co-workers often treat him badly.  Jim “stands” on this Scripture verse during those times: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:21) He says it has helped him change much of the negative dynamics at his work place.

Baptists have a passion for inviting people to come to Christ.  Baptists believe that people who do not know Christ are lost and Baptist churches send out missionaries to foreign countries to help the poor and also to win people to Christ. 

The Christian life begins with a personal decision to follow Christ.  And Baptists love to tell the story and urge people to come to Christ.  Scripture says: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)


 Baptists know how much difference it makes to believe in Christ.  Scripture says that once we open ourselves to follow Christ the Holy Spirit begins to work in us to change us from the inside out.  And we become new!


Christ died to take away our sins.  But we must accept Him as our Savior.  Revelations 3:20 says: “Behold, I (Christ) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  He awaits our willingness to invite Him into our lives.  But we must at some point make a decision to open the door of our heart.

Do you recognize what Jesus is offering?  That He is offering you eternal life?  Do you recognize that you cannot save yourself?  Are you willing to embrace His love and allow Him to embrace you?  Maybe you have been a lifelong churchgoer but still haven’t asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord.   I invite you to accept Jesus now.  Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and wash you clean and make you new.  Tell Him that you will try to follow Him. Ask Him to lead you.  If you give your life to Christ and mean it, you will become a new person! That is what Scripture says and we who have done this know that it is true.  Christ will come into your life.  It will be the most important thing that you will ever do.   

Many of the ideas from this blog came from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.       


  





  


Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Presbyterian Church


The Presbyterian Church



John Calvin is considered to be the father of the Presbyterian Church. Soon after Martin Luther in 1517 protested some of the practices of the Catholic Church, John Calvin and other reformers followed in Luther’s steps with more protests.  Martin Luther and John Calvin along others were leaders in the Protestant Reformation, which spread like wildfire across Europe and the British Isles.


John Calvin believed that Luther had not gone far enough in breaking from the traditions of the Catholic Church. He and John Knox led protests that resulted in the formation of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, which settled in Switzerland, Holland, France and Scotland with some groups settling in England and Germany. Many of Martin Luther’s followers established Lutheran churches in Northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.


The Presbyterians take their name from the way they are organized.  The word “presbuteros” is the Greek New Testament word for “elders”.  The Presbyterian form of church organization does not include bishops as leaders.  Instead elders or presbyters lead each local congregation.  When elders run the business of the church, this really emphasizes the responsibility of the ordinary church member.. The Presbyterian Church is run democratically.

Since the Presbyterians take their doctrines and traditions from John Calvin, we will focus here on John Calvin’s beliefs.  John Calvin was born in 1509 and when he was a young man he had a conversion experience in Paris where he was studying law.  He left Paris for Basel, Switzerland where he studied the Scriptures and wrote a book titled “The Institutes of the Christian Religion” This book was the most important book published during the Protestant Reformation and influenced many to become Protestant. 

John Calvin emphasized the sovereignty of God and that is a hallmark of Presbyterian and reformed theology.  The phrase “sovereignty of God” means that God is the absolute ruler, reigning over all of creation. John Calvin and his followers emphasized the intellect and Bible study. And today Presbyterians are known for debating religious ideas and have theological discussions; meditating and studying the creeds of the faith.  Presbyterians encounter God through His Word.  Calvin introduced five theological points known by the name TULIP.


 Some Presbyterians today do not believe these five points of TULIP but some still hold fast to these beliefs. These five points taught by John Calvin are strictly Presbyterian beliefs. The Catholic Church and most other Protestant churches do not agree with this TULIP theology of Calvin’s.  Here copied below is Calvin’s contradictory TULIP theology:


T – Total depravity.  This means that we humans are utterly sinful.  We are so depraved and lost and broken by original sin that we cannot even turn to God. 

U- Unconditional election   This is Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.  He believed that God chose who would be saved and who would be damned from the foundation of the world.  Those who God chose for salvation were chosen by God and didn’t do any good deeds to merit this election.

L – Limited atonement   This belief of Calvin’s offends many Christians because it teaches that Christ’s death brought salvation to a limited number of people and it was not for all. Calvin believed that Christ’s death was only for the elect, or for those who God chose and predestined to be saved.  The whole Bible teaches that it isn’t God’s will that any should perish but all should have eternal life. (2 Peter 3:9) This doctrine of Christ not dying for the everyone is certainly not Biblical in my view! 


I -  Irresistible grace This doctrine of Calvin’s says that if you are among God’s chosen ones and are predestined to receive salvation you cannot refuse God’s salvation.  You can do nothing and  God does everything to bring you into His kingdom.


P – Perseverance This doctrine of Calvin’s means that if you are saved you cannot lose your salvation. Once saved, always saved. You cannot slip away and you will persevere or keep on in your faith until the Day of Judgment.  If you do slip away from God, then you weren’t one of the elect in the first place.


The doctrine of predestination and all that goes with it has been the major difference between Presbyterians and many other Protestant groups over the last three hundred years.  Many Presbyterian churches today downplay these beliefs.  There are many Scriptures that speak of the sovereignty of God. But nowhere do the Scriptures say that God chooses who will be damned and plans it that way! If God only chose those who would be saved then He would also choose those who would be damned.  And God would be responsible for creating a person who He made for damnation! That is certainly not the God I love and serve!! I am glad that many Presbyterians do not hold to these beliefs of Calvin.  But I am glad that our Presbyterian brothers and sisters remind us that God rules.  And that “All things work together for good, to them that love Him, to them who are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)  


Truly we cannot save ourselves and our sovereign God must do all the saving. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot do anything. We have the freedom to open ourselves to God’s leading or to reject His grace. Many passages in the Scriptures teach us that we are made in the image of God and we have free will as He does.  Even though most other Christians do not believe Calvin’s TULIP teachings, we do need to be reminded that God is sovereign. And that no matter how awful things can become in our lives or in our world, God is always at work.  God’s purposes are being worked out in our lives even if we cannot see them now. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Adam Hamilton asked Dr. Tom Are, Senior Pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas if he believed that God has caused Hurricane Katrina.  The Presbyterian pastor said that he did not believe that God had caused the hurricane Then he added these words: “Nothing, not even Katrina, not even our death, is beyond the redemptive grace of God: and in that sense God is sovereign.  All the evil we see in the world would seem to bear witness that God is not powerful, but the doctrine of sovereignty says that God is more powerful than these signs of evil and that God will ultimately fold these into His purposes.  …God will not let evil and destruction be the last word.” 


We read in Scripture that when Job lost his children and his home and his wealth and his health he said that no matter what happened to him that he would continue to trust in God.  He said:” Though He(God) kills me, yet will I trust Him.”  (Job 13:15) Job trusted in the sovereignty of God, - that he would ultimately triumph over evil with God’s help.  Job also said: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last Day He will stand upon the earth: and after my skin has been thus destroyed (after Job dies), then in my flesh I shall see God.  Whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a)

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas responded this way when asked about how he felt about the sovereignty of God.  “When I think of the sovereignty of God, I think of God’s ultimate reign over the cosmos – that He does have “the whole world in His hands.”  I know that one day this world will end: there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the kingdom of God will consume the kingdoms of this world.  This brings me great comfort. …… In my illness or health, in my poverty or wealth, I belong to God.  If I am to die tomorrow, or forty years from now, I will never be outside of God’s grasp, I know that He is always with me, and knowing that brings me great peace.” 


Adam Hamilton appreciates our Presbyterian brothers and sisters for emphasizing the sovereignty of God because of the great peace and comfort it brings all Christians.  And I agree with him.  When I feel like my life, or the lives of my family members are out of control, I also find great comfort in giving it all to God and knowing that He can take care of everything.

 Scripture says that through Christ we have overcome the world and all the problems of this world.  I have problems that are too big for me to handle and I can become depressed and fearful and I surely don’t feel like an overcomer.  But I have a sovereign God as my heavenly Father and He makes me an overcomer. And you too.  This is one of the Scriptures that comforts me: “Everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This (Christ) is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world.  Only he or she who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  (1 John 5:4-5)   It doesn’t get any better than that!

This blog was taken from the chapter on Presbyterianism in Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”.     



Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Anglican Church


The Anglican Church:




The Anglican Church came out of the English Reformation of the sixteenth century.  Just as the Lutheran Church came out of the Protestant Reformation of the fifteenth century.  The Protestant Reformation would change the religious makeup of Europe, with half the population becoming Protestant. And the Reformation that took place in England would shape religion in America in the years to come.


All of England was Catholic in the fifteenth century and the Catholic Church in England was having the same problems as the Catholic Church in the rest of Europe. Many of the church leaders lived in luxury and wielded great power and influence over the people causing many Catholics to call for reform, William Tyndale, a reformer, was put to death by the Church. It was King Henry VIII who finally caused the English Catholic Church to split from the Roman Catholic Church and become the Church of England.


King Henry VIII was a Catholic and didn’t want to reform the Catholic Church.  All he really wanted was a baby boy and his wife Katharine of Aragon couldn’t seem to produce one for him.  King Henry VIII was attracted to Anne Boleyn and he hoped that she could produce a male heir for him.  The king asked the pope to give him an annulment to cancel his marriage to Katharine so he could marry Anne Boleyn.  The pope refuse to give the king the annulment he wanted, so King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn anyway.  The pope responded by excommunicating him.


This caused England to split from the Roman Catholic Church. The British Parliament removed the Church of England from the pope’s control and declared that King Henry VIII would now have control over the Church of England. 


King Henry VIII did not intend to change any of the church’s doctrines.  He just wanted to take the oversight of the English Church away from Rome. Even though King Henry VIII put some Protestant reformers to death he did allow Catholics in England to read the Bible, something the Roman Catholic Church had not allowed.


After several years of marriage to Ann Boleyn, King Henry VIII tired of her and had her head chopped off! She had also failed to give him a male heir. After marrying and divorcing or doing away with six wives, King Henry VIII died in 1547: and his sickly nine-year-old son, Edward VI, succeeded him to the throne. During Edward VI’s brief reign as king of England, he allowed the Protestants to reform the Church of England. Clergy were now allowed to marry and the first Book of Common Prayers in the English language was brought in for the people.




When Edward VI, who was Protestant, died, his half-sister Mary, who was a strict Catholic, came in to rule England as their queen. Mary has sometimes been called “Bloody Mary”, because she either beheaded or burned many of the leading Protestant reformers of her day!


After twenty-five years of turmoil where England went from being Roman Catholic to English Catholic to Protestant and back to Roman Catholic, the situation had led to chaos in England!  But then Elizabeth I, the half-sister of Mary and Edward came to the throne in 1558.  Elizabeth reigned for forty-five years and Elizabeth used her influence to cause the citizens of England to stop  fighting and to be united in a common faith. A truly amazing story!   




Queen Elizabeth I put together the Church of England, which was made up of Catholics and Protestants, and was called the Anglican Church. There were large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants in England at that time and the Queen wanted them all  to come together. Queen Elizabeth I negotiated an agreement between them to form the Church of England – a Church that would keep some of the Catholic doctrines as well as some of the Protestant doctrines!
 


The Queen’s agreement for a new state church in England was known as the “via media” or “middle way”. She called out to her beloved Englishmen to stop the fighting and bloodshed and she encouraged Catholics and Protestants alike to unite as one.  The Queen encouraged Catholics and Protestants to work together peacefully and amazingly they did!  Because of this the Anglican Church was born!




Even though we each may not have the influence that the Queen had over England, if each of us used our influence and encouragement to bring about peace and unity, we might just change our little world as Queen Elizabeth did hers! After Queen Elizabeth I died, King James I came into power and he authorized a new translation of the Bible known to us today as the King James Version.


Marks of the Anglican Church that are part of the Catholic teaching are the three-fold ministry of the bishop, priest, and deacon and the seven sacraments.  Also the Catholic sense of great reverence for God in the liturgy has continued in the Anglican Church, along with the reliance upon the spiritual disciplines that are a part of the Catholic Church. 




The more Protestant elements of Anglicanism include the fact that bishops, priests, and deacons can be married and women can serve as priests in some areas.  Also the members of the church share in the ministry of the Anglican Church. 


The Catholic Church determines what their beliefs and practices are from two sources. (1) the Bible and from   (2) their church traditions.  The Lutheran Church only determine what they believe and practice from one source, (1) the Bible, or as Luther stated, “Sola Scriptura” – only Scripture.  And the Anglican Church chose to determine their beliefs and practices by following (1) Scripture, (2) Tradition and (3) reason. 




They called this their “three-legged stool. The Catholic Church and many conservative denominations of Protestants believe that human reason can never be placed on the same level as God’s Word, the holy Scriptures. Conservatives take a high view of Scripture and worry that this emphasis on human intelligence gives the more liberal denominations a low view of Scripture. .    




Prayer is the main emphasis of the Episcopal or Anglican Church.  Jesus said that God is looking for people to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Anglican worship is not casual but “high church”. An Anglican church service is never a performance given for an audience but an Anglican worship service is always a time to remember that a holy and almighty God is present and a time to humbly worship Him.


Anglicans believe that without prayer, we simply cannot continue to live as God desires.  The idea that “The law of prayer is the law of belief” is an idea that is very important to Anglicans.  It means that praying and worshipping are the most important things they do.  The essence of Christian faith is found in worshiping together, spending time each day in prayer, and listening for God’s voice.  The Anglican Church has a Book of Common Prayers which is read in all their services. Also, Anglicans are encouraged to set aside certain times of the day to pray and worship and read the Psalms. 


Anglicans believe that prayers and praise and worship shape their Christian belief.  They call on their members to bring discipline and order to their prayer lives.  Through prayer, Jesus found strength.  And we will too.  We can learn valuable lessons from our Anglican brothers and sisters.  Let’s follow their example in prioritizing prayer and worship.
 
And we can also learn lessons from the Anglican attitude of “via Media” or “middle way” of working together to negotiate agreements so all may unite as one.  This gentle attitude of peace and cooperation still seems to be a part of many Anglican congregations. We Christians from other branches on Christianity’s family Tree can learn much from our Anglican brothers and sister in Christ.            
 This material has taken information from Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree” Chapter 5 “Anglicanism: Common Prayer.


 
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lutheranism: Word and Faith


Lutheranism: Word and Faith

The early Christians (35 A.D) were a faithful loving group. They joyfully received the Gospel and believed in Christ as their Savior and Lord.  The Holy Spirit came on each believer and their lives were miraculously changed. Miracles and healings were common in their gatherings.

.And when the terrible persecutions came upon them, the new Christians stood firm and bravely continued to proclaim their faith in Christ. In an attempt to stop the spread of Christianity, many believers in Christ were imprisoned and beaten and many more gave up their lives for the faith.  But these cruel persecutions only fanned the flames of Christianity and seemed to spur the Christian faith onward to spread like wild fire across Southern Europe and Asia Minor and Northern Africa.        

After several hundred years of enduring severe persecutions, the early Christian Church seemed to finally find relief. In the third century, the Roman ruler, Constantine, declared Christianity to be the faith of the Roman Empire.  Now Christians could relax and settle into their church headed now by the state! Believers in Christ called themselves “catholic” meaning “universal”, so the Catholic Church got its’ name. Christians had fought so hard for their faith.  The blood of the many Christian martyrs was not forgotten.  But now in the third century A.D. with the government and the church intertwined, the future appeared to be looking good for the Catholic Church! Now with power and money behind it, how could it lose?  The Christian faith could move ahead, couldn’t it? 

But as the centuries rolled on the Catholic Church gradually seemed to move farther and farther off track.  Finally, by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Catholic Church was experiencing her darkest period ever. She had lost her way. The high ecclesiastics, the bishops and popes and church leaders had let power and money go to their heads.  Instead of being Gods’ servants of the Church and shepherds of God’s flock, the Catholic bishops, abbots and popes had become powerful rich secular rulers. The church leaders lived in luxury and held great power over to people.

This was the sad state of the Catholic Church when Martin Luther was ordained a priest in 1507.  Martin Luther had been raised with the fear of God.  He thought of Jesus only as a judge and he constantly felt guilt because of his sin. Some historians believe that he might have suffered from depression. Because Luther was studying for the priesthood he was allowed to read one of the few Bibles available that had been copied by hand.  (The printing press was invented shortly before Luther’s lifetime.)  As Martin Luther read the Bible for the first time he was amazed to find that the holy Scriptures taught that a person is not made right with God by their good works, or by paying money to the church. Luther read in the Bible that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. And that salvation is a free gift from a loving God. Luther had always worried when he read in Scripture that only the righteous person will please God.  He knew that he was not righteous.  But when Luther read Romans 1:17 a great weight fell from him and he realized that God made a person righteousness through Jesus Christ.  All a person needed to do was to have faith. Here is what Romans 1:17 says: “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from beginning to end, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”. This passage of Scripture changed Martin Luther’s life!  Afterwards he was no longer depressed with guilt as he had accepted Christ as his righteousness.  His whole life changed!   He described himself as one who was “born again”. 

About this time, the pope decided to build a great cathedral in Rome – later to be named  St. Peter’s.  Of course, the pope would need a lot of money to build Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Priests and church leaders were commissioned to ask their members to give money (called indulgences) to build this Cathedral. The priests told their people that if they would pay money for this building project they would get something back in return.

 The money (or indulgences) church members would pay would buy the prayers of their priests and bishops. The priests would pray for the deceased loved ones of the members who paid.  Nearly everyone had a loved one who had died and they were told that these deceased loved ones were now suffering in Purgatory! The priests would not say special prayers for the non-paying members loved ones in Purgatory. So, if a church member did give money their loved ones would be freed from this Purgatory much sooner than if they didn’t give money!

 The priest was needed to intercede between the Christian and his God.  A priest’s prayers and intervention was all important! A preacher named Tetzel came and spoke in Martin Luther’s town.  One of his sales pitches went this way: “When the money in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs!”  Luther was furious!

How could the Catholic Church make up these stories to raise money?  Luther fumed.  How could the church leaders tell members that they must pay money to get their loved one’s sins forgiven?  God takes money to pardon people from sin? Luther knew that only Christ can take away sins! This practice of the Church pushed Luther over the edge. He composed a list of ninety-five statements questioning the practices of indulgences (taking money to get people out of Purgatory) and other problems Luther saw with the Catholic Church of his time.  He nailed these ninety-five statements on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517..  Lutherans call this day “Reformation Day.”


Martin Luther never intended to leave the Catholic Church.  He only hoped to reform it.  Many other people around Europe were also frustrated with the abuses of the Church in that day and joined in with Luther’s call to the Catholic Church to change. Someone translated Luther’s ninety-five statements from the original Latin to German so that the people could read it also. The newly invented printing press printed Luther’s ninety-five statements and soon they were spread like wildfire across Europe. Luther loved his Church and waited for an answer.   


The Catholic Church of the fifteenth century refused to acknowledge Luther’s ninety-five statements.  They called Luther “apostate” and refused to believe that they might have any problems. Instead the Catholic Church tried to silence Luther. He had to flee for his life. There was a break from the Catholic Church and the Protestant branch of Christianity was born.  The movement was called the Protestant Reformation. Thousands of frustrated Catholics joined  Luther in this protest – this reformation. They split from the Catholic Church and formed a new reformed church, the Lutheran Church. Eventually Lutheranism came to be the main church in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.


Several of the main beliefs of Lutherans – reforms that Luther wanted the Catholic Church to consider – were 1) The Priesthood of All Believers,2) Sola Scripture (only Scripture) and 3) Justification by Faith.  We will start with the priesthood of all believers.  Luther believed that Scripture teaches that each Christian believer can come before God without the priest being the mediator. Protestants believe that Jesus Christ is our mediator and we can all come to God through Him, as Scripture teaches.


In Luther’s day, the priests did most of the worship while the members watched.  Luther understood that worship was meant for the whole people of God.  Luther translated hymns and the Scriptures and encouraged the people to read the Bible and sing hymns to God and pray directly to God themselves.  He maintained that all believers were ordained to serve God and do His work, not just priests. And each Christian had a calling.  Believers found great joy through the Holy Spirit in serving God and in Bible study and in prayer.   


Luther’s second main affirmation was “Sola Scriptura “or “only Scripture”.  Luther believed that the churches should only teach doctrines that can be found in Scripture. That the Bible is Gods’ Word. This led to rejection of many of the practices of the Catholic Church. The practice of paying indulgences to get loved ones out of Purgatory could not be found in Scripture so this was rejected!  Praying to saints was rejected since the Bible commands us to only pray to God. The Bible was placed in the hands of the laity and everyone was encouraged to read it and live by it. 


And Luther’s third main affirmation was the “Justification by Faith”.  Luther had grown up believing that our salvation hinged on our doing enough good works to overshadow our sins.  The fact that Scripture tells us that we are saved through faith in Christ was a new truth when Luther first read it in the Bible.  “For by faith are we saved through faith and not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any person can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This truth utterly transformed Luther!  He accepted Christ as his Savior and this was the central tenet of Luther’s faith and the faith of the entire Protestant Reformation which we believe was led by the Holy Spirit.  Luther’s truths would be picked up by others who would press them further. Next week we will see how another reformer, John Calvin and the Presbyterians grew out of Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  



The ideas in this blog are taken from Adam Hamilton’s book, “Christianity’s Family Tree”   










    

   


Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Orthodox Church



The Orthodox Church

The official stance of the Orthodox Church is that they are the one true church.  The word “orthodox” means “true” or “right”.  Does that mean that they think that other believers in Christ who are not Orthodox are not going to heaven?  Members of the Orthodox church make up the second largest number of Christians after the Roman Catholics.  Most of the orthodox Christians are in the east, with the largest number being in Russia.

Eastern and Western Christians have some cultural differences in the way they approach our faith and worship.  Western Christians are perhaps more intellectual about their Christian faith and tend to see the good news of Christ in more concrete terms.  We attend Bible studies, bring in special speakers and sometimes conduct theological debates.  But Eastern Orthodox Christians tend to make greater allowances for mystery and tradition and for experiencing God.

Women are not ordained in the Orthodox Church.  And the divinely inspired Fathers of the Orthodox Church are the only ones who can interpret the Scriptures.  Their authority cannot be challenged or ignored or questioned!  Orthodox Christians believe that the holy Spirit was guiding the early church and that the writings of early Christians during the first five centuries are all important.  They repeat a favorite story of Polycarp, an early Christian martyr, who was burned at the stake because he refused to renounced his Christian faith.  Polycarp’s body did not burn in the flames and he was finally stabbed to death. 

The Orthodox have many more stories of early Christian martyrs and writings of early Christian leaders that hold a central place in their faith practices.  Most Protestant Christians are not eve n familiar with these stories that inspire Orthodox Christians so deeply.  The Orthodox Christians have created icons of many of these early martyrs – icons which they look to for inspiration and icons to which they can pray to and ask for strength to carry out their own Christian pilgrimage.  These icons are all over the walls in their churches. 

One of the main teachings of the Orthodox church is their teaching concerning what is real.  Orthodox doctrine emphasize that real life is found in participating in the kingdom of God.  The real world is not what they are doing for a few short years here on earth.  The real world is heaven, God’s eternal kingdom and we are just pilgrims and aliens here on earth.  Orthodox Christians dwell on the fact that there is a heavenly realm that we can =not see but that it is all around us.  Orthodoxy challenges their members to live with the certainty of this kingdom of God. 

An Orthodox church is built to help the worshipers “see” or experience the mystery of the kingdom of God.  The ceiling represents heaven.  And the dome on the top of the church gives the worshiper a sense of being encompassed within the realm of heaven where often a mosaic of Jesus is on the dome or ceiling looking down on the congregation.  This is a reminder that Jesus is looking down on us.  During Orthodox worship and praise, thick sweet incense rises to the ceiling, reminding the orthodox worshipper that the prayers of the saints are going up to God.

The walls inside the Orthodox place of worship are covered with icons and an icon screen containing painted images of Jesus and Mary and the apostles is placed in front of the worshippers.  The icons are not worshipped but they are venerated and held up as good examples to follow.  These icons are reminders that the saints are all around the throne of God praying for the worshippers.  And behind the icon wall is the altar, representing the holy place where the spirit of God resides.

The orthodox Christian is encouraged to live in the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and run the race here on earth as faithful followers of Christ, always remembering that those saints or Christians who went before them are cheering them on.  The emphasis seems to partially come from chapter eleven in the book of Hebrews, the “faith” chapter, that describes the faith of many of the saints in the Bible.  Let’s listen to some of the passages of this “faith” chapter.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible…

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance: and he set out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God…

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.  They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: indeed, for He has prepared a city for them. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-10, 13-16:  12:1-2)

Orthodoxy challenges us to live our lives remembering that we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven and it is reality.  We are to travel lightly here on earth, remembering that the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents and never put down roots.  They confessed that they were “strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:9) “desiring a better country with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

The icons in the Orthodox church are visible reminders that the saints are around the throne of God today and that these saints who came before us are praying for us and encouraging us to keep focusing on Jesus and to run the race set before us.  The orthodox liturgy is meant to replicate on earth the kind of worship that is taking place in heaven.  The chanting, prayers, incense, Scripture reading, praise, thanksgiving, are all used to transport the worshiper to the heavenly realms. And worshipers mystically join in with the angels singing their praises. 

This is the essence of faith: remembering what is true and real even though we cannot see it.  This is the gift the Orthodox give us.  We might learn something from our Orthodox brothers and sisters. Even though the Orthodox Church may still believe that they are the one true church and wonder whether we are going to make it to heaven or not; we believe that they are going to make it there.  We are all sheep in God’s pasture and like sheep, we all seem to stray. We wander off track in one direction and our brother and sister in another direction. All of us have sinned.   None of us are “Orthodox” or “true”.  We are all lost until the good Shepherd goes out in the dark cold night and searches until He finds us and brings us back to the fold.  Only through Him (Jesus Christ0 are we truly “Orthodox”.  We are not saved by a church!  We are saved by a Savior!  Praise God!

The Orthodox Church is a large branch of Christianity’s family tree.  We all have so much in common. All the churches we will study including the Orthodox Church, share the trunk of the tree which is Jesus Christ. All of us, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants have believed in Him as our Savior and Lord.  We are all baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit (the Holy Spirit) We all share His body and blood in the Eucharist or communion.  We all believe in the Holy Scriptures, the New and Old Testaments of the Bible.  And we all share a common creed, the Nicene Creed.  Indeed, even though we have each strayed in different directions and we still argue and disagree on some issues, we Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians are still truly part of Christianity’ magnificent Family Tree.
This blog was taken from  chapter 1 “Orthodoxy”  of Adam Hamilton’s book “Christianity’s Family Tree”   



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