Would Jesus be allowed to join – or to represent – your church?
The previous posting dealt in some detail with only one of the favorite “bandwagon issues” to which individuals and groups demand that their adherents, in order to be considered “faithful” or “orthodox”, must unequivocally subscribe. The discovery that there was no such idea included in the New Testament text provoked a broader investigation, and raised the question with which we begin.
I know a young man, deeply committed to the Lord and his ways, who was desirous of serving his people through a health initiative of a denomination to which he had related. The leader of the project had known and appreciated his faithfulness for a period of years, and requested that he be appointed for service. That request, however, was denied by the denominational hierarchy,not because they had any problem with his excellent academic or experiential qualifications, but because of the candidate’s conscientious refusal to sign a detailed “statement of doctrine” which included a number of assertions which, although amply footnoted with carefully edited “chapter and verse” references, went far beyond any ideas that could responsibly be derived from the actual New Testament message.
Now, it is perfectly reasonable that enlistees in the service of the King be deeply committed to him personally, and to the way of life that he advocated and demonstrated. But if you have followed many of these studies, it should be clear that Jesus on no occasion raised any philosophical or theological questions with those whom he called. He asked only for personal loyalty and obedience.
Most of the issues so adamantly defended by “doctrine police” deal with subjects which Jesus either chose not to address at all, or tackled head-on to correct popular misconceptions!
Here is a small sampling of “required beliefs” which, if insisted upon, would peremptorily exclude the Lord Jesus himself from the privilege of service or fellowship in many of the groups that most loudly proclaim their faithfulness!
Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament (except for editorial footnotes of the last couple centuries) makes any statement regarding the popularly disputed ideas of the “when”, “where”, or “how” of “creation.” Everyone assumed that “God did it” – Paul, in Eph.3:9 and Col.1:16, specifically refers to Jesus himself as the agent of creation. Jesus himself uses the word only three times: the incident in Mt.19:4 and Mk.10:6 regarding the creation of male and female, and Mark’s version of his description of the destruction of Jerusalem (13:9).
Much more attention is given to the concept of the NEW creation, which begins with one’s identification with Christ (Eph.2:10, 4:24 and Col.3:10), and its purpose: “for good works” Eph.2:10, and “for thy (Jesus’) pleasure” (Rv.4:11)!
Paul, in Romans 1:20, also asserts that it is IN creation that God reveals himself even to people who lack the correct “pedigree”!
- “Inerrancy” of both the Old and New Testaments
Repeatedly, Jesus made serious corrections (“you have heard it said … but I say to you…”) to the “Law”, and consistently referred to it as “your law” and never once as “God’s law”. There are six such corrections in Matthew 5 alone, and many more scattered throughout the gospel accounts. For more detail on this subject, please refer to the “Flat Book” posting.
- “Original sin”
This idea is mentioned only once in the entire New Testament, and that was not by Jesus, but by his Pharisee opponents (Jn.9:34)! Even Paul, the hero of the doctrine crowd, who love to cherry-pick isolated “verses” (or even just phrases in his writing) to support their theories, spends the first two chapters of his letter to the Romans – one of their favorite “cherry-picking trees” – establishing that the depraved condition of people was their deliberate choice, and not their original condition. Jesus himself never mentioned the subject at all.
- “Virgin birth”
Although this is certainly clearly a fact, being asserted in both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, Jesus never commented at all upon the circumstances of his birth. He repeatedly referred to God as his Father, but plainly was not overly concerned with his own genealogy.
- “Penal Substitutionary Atonement”
Please see Word study #151. This subject was never mentioned by Jesus. When challenged on his right to forgive (see Word Study #7), Mt.9:6, Mk.2:7, 10; Lk.5:21-24, neither he nor his challengers said anything about his death. It was his identity with God that was the source of his authority, and also of their fury at him.
- The “fate” of nonbelievers: condemnation to hell-fire, etc.
Although poor translations of “pisteuo” (Please see Word Study #1) can be twisted to support such an idea in Jn.6 and elsewhere, the word more accurately denotes faithfulness/loyalty than theoretical or philosophical “belief”. When Jesus spoke of “eternal” consequences, they were predicated upon the behavior of the people in question (Mt.25:31-45 and Jn.5:29) and not their theological opinions. (Word Study #10)
- Jesus’ promised return
Two things – and only two things – are significant and certain here: (1) He IS coming, to assume his rightful role of King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and (2) by his own testimony, No one knows when that will happen (Mt.24:36 and elsewhere). Just as significant are his very plain warnings NOT to follow people who pretend to know all the details of time and place and circumstances (Mt.24, Mk.13, Lk.21) and his statement to the disciples enroute to Jerusalem for the last time that “ALL that has been written about me” would then be fulfilled. By Jesus’ own testimony, therefore, NONE of the rhetoric about “unfulfilled” Old Testament prophecy could possibly be true. Please refer to Word Studies 164-167.
And those are just a few of the discrepancies. I stopped at seven of them because some of you folks seem to like that number – although that is another thing Jesus never addressed.
How about it? As the purveyor of this sort of teaching, would Jesus be allowed in your church?
It is long past time for faithful followers of the Lord Jesus to quit sniping at each other over their theological constructs, and get about the business of accurately representing him in a world so desperately in need of his touch!
Dear Ruth [if I may be so bold],
Your recent posting Would Jesus be welcome in your Church, is a shocking and profoundly worrying question. Your assessment of the requirements demanded by an increasing number of churches reflects a profound movements away from a healthy Biblical warrant to a dogmatic, creedal assent which, as you rightly but all too briefly point out, is demanded regardless of the true faith of an individual involved. We have moved into a time when dogmatic idealism is gaining a supremacy over large swathes of mankind, whether in the form of ISIL or fundamentalist churches. In both these cases a form of ‘death’ is involved, ‘my way or not at all’, and those who refuse assent are cast out as unbelievers. Some Christians would be utterly shocked to be classed with ISIL but the ends and the means of arriving at the required results are the same, it seems to me – brainwashing, indoctrination, unthinking acceptance of all that is taught, the necessity of belonging heart and mind to the group if progress is to be made, seeing oneself in the group as alone of the truth, etc. etc.
I am grateful to God that I grew up as a young Christian in the 1960’s. In those heady days we could have serious disagreements over many of the issues you mention, and then sit down and pray together and have a cup of tea while finding deepening friendship and joy in fellowship. We rejoiced over Gospel commonalities and accepted our differences as just that. Now I find that I am becoming increasingly careful in what I say and to whom I say anything. All too unwittingly it is possible to profoundly shock another’s sensitivities. Serious discussion is all but banished from the public square and in churches an increasing number of Christians are so ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches, that they prefer to bow to the latest personality, inducing a hagiographical approach to truth, rather than a truly Biblically examined statement. Such folk are being led by the nose into a prison of unthinking, while those of us who seek to maintain personal integrity by carefully examining the Scriptures and coming to our own mind over issues while agreeing to differ over non-essentials, are sidelined into silence or ostracized if we suggest anything outside the accepted truths.
I am a retired Church of England minister and have been privileged to spend my ministry [in the UK] in giving throughout my time a Biblically based exposition of the Scriptures. Today, such a ministry in the CofE is becoming a rare thing indeed. Now in retirement my wife and I worship in an independent Church as the local CofE’s are simply liberal or so high Church that Rome might hang its head in shame at failing to aspire so high. We watch what we say, and take great care not to cause offence. We worship with dear brothers and sisters in the Lord but we both think it unwise to become members of the church preferring to stand to one side rather than become involved in issues we consider secondary. Sigh!
Sorry this is so long but as you can see, you have touched a nerve, and perhaps it might give some consolation to know that you are not alone, not that I think you believe you are, but at least, I find your comments sad but encouraging.
We press on to our high calling in Christ Jesus and leave the outcome to His grace – after all, it is His Church, but I do believe that there will be many a time when He sighs with frustration.
And as an important side bar, please keep up your great word studies. I have found them most useful and thought provoking. I can only wish that you were able now to start on the OT Hebrew! Perhaps in glory…but then it will not be necessary.
Yours in Christ,
Dear brother John —
Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I, too, was introduced to the Lord in the 60’s, and I agree there was a lot more freedom in many believing groups to take the New Testament at its word, and to “go at it” with enthusiasm but also with loving respect (although sometimes also”hot and heavy”) over what we found there. Besides being truly helpful in understanding, it was also fun and challenging.
Sadly, such atmosphere is hard to find today. Your description of the “prison of unthinking” is apt, and far too prevalent.
We too have avoided formal identification with an institutional body, for the same reasons. We have been fortunate to find a small group with whom to interact and share, that is not hung-up on formalities. The lack of overt “membership” is a source of some sadness, but also something of a life-saver.
I wish we were not so far apart! I am sure we two couples would find much commonality.
Looking forward to meeting you, as our college group used to say, “here, there, or in the air!”
Dear sister Ruth,
Thank you for the gracious welcome in terms of personal address, and for such a swift, heart-warming and welcome reply.
How things have changed and one wonders, “Where next, O Lord??”
I join in with a hearty Amen to your closing comment!! A phrase we in the UK also used those many years ago.
Yours, aye John
I don’t think my previous post got through. You will not be accepted if like Jesus you don’t affirm the Trinity or the deity of Jesus. He never taught he was god but called the father “my god” He never spoke of a trinity.
Agreed, but many [most?] churches teach that one cannot be saved if the trinity is denied. Poor thief on the cross, eh? Certainly, this is a complex issue but made more so by imposing a dogmatic approach rather than letting alone questions that might well not be legitimate questions to ask of the scriptures. We do know for certain that Jesus was the Word, but as for being an eternal Son? John 1 shows that the incarnation meant that the Word then became flesh and in the flesh he was declared to be Son of God. The text is actually very clear on this: It was the Word made flesh, not the Son becoming incarnate flesh. The incarnate Son was the Word that came into the world.
I’m out the door for suggesting such heresy. Interestingly enough, the company is growing. I’m not alone.
I did not say that the list was exhaustive.
That said, I do not intend to get into the (to my understanding) unproductive issue of people’s definition of “trinity” doctrines. That’s one of the things that is unclear, and further muddled by both defenders and attackers of “doctrine.” I do however stand by my agreement with Jesus’ implication that his unity with the Father was his “credential” for the right to forgive.
The real problem is “churches” (or individual theologians) presuming to define who is and is not “saved.” That is an issue best left in the competent and compassionate hands of the Lord himself.
The trinity problem is highlighted by arguing for an ontological trinity rather than a functional one. And therein lies the heart of the debate regarding the nature of the trinity. The former approach presumes we can arrive at a definition of God’s nature by philosophical argument and then bolster the argument with texts that seem to support the viewpoint. A dogma precedes the argument. The latter takes the scripture as read in terms of what God does and refuses to ask questions to which the Bible.will not give an answer. Simplistic outline but herein lies the issue which will not be resolved on philosophical terms. The issue for fallen nature is always – what must I do to be saved? Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, is the Biblical answer.
Your statement, John, regarding refusal to ask questions that the bible does not answer is good, but partial. We need also to refuse to try to ANSWER such questions.
Let me remind you both that this site does not exist to argue such questions, but simply to look at what the New Testament DOES say. As for the “fallen nature”, I don’t want to argue that either; but please see Romans 1 and 2. That, like everything else, good or bad, is a matter of choice, not automatic.
John and Robert, I respect you both as brethren; but I will not maintain this argument on the web site.
That’s fine. I’ve found already elsewhere that such discussions are pretty well fruitless and simply controversial without resolution. I will gladly fit in with your site’s honourable and fruitful intentions.