Tag Archives: christian

Heresy or Humility?

In the terms of those who have invested thousands of hours and decades of their lives in Christian Theological studies – I am but a layperson.  I sometimes enjoy reading and considering for myself some of the things that these intensely learn’d people have offered over the centuries, but I would never consider myself one among them.  So when I call something “Heresy” with a question mark, I mean the question mark as much or more than I mean the accusation.  It’s more a reflection of what I’ve read and considered than a statement.  Please follow what I’m about to write only as such and feel free to offer your own conclusions or ideas about how wrong I am.  I never object to changing my mind for a good argument!


Have you ever been plagued by or known and loved someone desperately afflicted with an unknown disease?

Have you ever experienced the moment when a name that fits is finally given to that condition?  Even if there is no cure, there is so much hope and even some peace laden in that finding – just that it has a name… and the feeling that I’m not alone anymore… and this is real because it has a name.

Looking for answers a few days ago – I stumbled on this piece by R.C. Sproul called The Heresy of Perfectionism.

I’m not a big fan of Sproul and I don’t consider myself a Calvinist. I didn’t go looking for his writing, but this particular piece rang a loud bell in my mind and set in motion a time of study and reflection that hasn’t left me yet.  The article is not-at-all-subtly about the doctrine of Wesleyan Perfectionism – also known by many other names including the Nazarene Doctrine of Entire Sanctification.  The reason why it struck me so significantly is twofold:

1.)  I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in a Nazarene church. The idea of the foundation of my early belief and which blocks of said foundation I should replace with better ones and which I should not as I mature in my faith and knowledge of Christ is extremely important to me – particularly as I endeavor to lead others to Christ!

2.)  I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.

Here’s the point where I interject again and ask you yet again to pause your judgment of me.  I’m not and will not side with Sproul on calling formal Wesleyan Perfection or Nazarene Entire Sanctification Heresy because I am not qualified to judge it as such and simply reading a few articles about it does not make me qualified to judge it.  In fact, after heavily researching the topic I came up with a slightly different conclusion.

My opinion on the matter is that I think Wesley was probably a pretty cool dude.  When I read what he wrote directly, and what the Nazarene denomination took from it in their articles of faith (see section X, “Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification”).  When I read and try to understand a chapter in a book like this written by Everett Leadingham (a prominent Nazarene theologian and author) or brief and to-the-point articles like this from sources such as the Nazarene News Network.  When I consider these things, I think that Wesley, The Methodists, and the Nazarenes probably aren’t too far off the mark.  For the record, I don’t find a single human Christian theology to be completely correct about the state of salvation, the workings of the holy spirit (it’s called a mystery for a reason people!), or any of the other hundreds of things that these people argue so adamantly about.  I do think that many are very close and that pursuing such truths is essential.

In fact, I can even ALMOST buy into this idea:

Question: Does that mean sanctified people cannot sin?

Answer: Sanctified people can sin, just like Adam and Eve could sin — and did. However, believers who have moved to this level of Christian life and experience are more likely not to sin than believers who haven’t. Before experiencing entire sanctification, believers often lose struggles against inborn tendencies toward sinning and selfishness. After the experience, they find themselves most often feeling a tendency toward righteousness.

– From “How entire is Entire Sanctification” – linked above

Leadingham (and Wesley, it would seem) stop just a hair short of saying that a Christian who has experienced “Entire Sanctification” is free from sinning or will not make poor choices, poor judgments, or fail at discerning God’s will at times.  My personal theology at this present moment in time would take that notion and spread it maybe a 2×4 of thickness more comfortably toward a statement like this:

It is impossible for any human being in flesh to be sinless or perfect in heart, thought or action, even for a moment. The process of sanctification is life-long and never complete until the actual point of literal salvation fulfilled (death and personal ascension).

-Me

There is room to move between these two states and I find comfort in that.  There is also room to move between my conclusion and ideas like this:

To believe that we are sinless we must annul the standards of God’s Law. We must reduce the level of divine righteousness to the level of our own performance. We must lie to ourselves both about the Law of God and about our own obedience. To do that requires that we quench the Spirit when He seeks to convict us of sin. Persons who do that are not so much Spirit-filled as they are Spirit-quenchers.

One of the true marks of our ongoing sanctification is the growing awareness of how far short we fall of reaching perfection. Perfectionism is really antiperfectionism in disguise. If we think we are becoming perfect, then we are far from becoming perfect.

-R.C. Sproul

Incidentally – remember that last line from another more famous Calvinist?  Hmmm…

So where is the truth?  Is this Heresy or Humility?


You’ve come to this point in this blog thinking… ok… so what on earth was he talking about up above when he said “I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.”  Right?

If you know, are, or love any kind of Christian or Christian leader who abuses Wesley’s doctrine or the Nazarene version of it in order to say to those who would question their judgment in the slightest to have a sentiment in response similar to, “I know I’m right because I am entirely sanctified, so what you’re saying is wrong.” Or anything to that effect, or sentiment – whether it is subtly remarked over time through multiple situations or directly in a single conversation.  THAT is the Heresy against which I warn today.

Even at the greatest extreme that I can find in biblically-founded Christian doctrine about personal human holy spirit given “perfection” – even if you disagree with my ideas about what Sanctification does or doesn’t mean – if someone were to say something like THAT to you, surely we must think it pure Heresy.  Do you agree?

This is where I find some freedom, comfort and hope – albeit a little strangely.  If my friend to whom I referred is truly living in this state of Heresy then surely God in all his Mercy and Grace will work relentlessly to offer freedom from it?  I hope and pray!


Creation – Subject to Revision

I was given the opportunity on my favorite message board with my favorite Atheist and Agnostic friends to respond to a remark about what Christians believe about creation.  I enjoyed writing this response and I wanted to share it here as well.  I have modified it slightly to make it read more clearly in this format.

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Part 1 – regarding an article where a Giant Platypus fossil was recently discovered, my clever friend “A” quipped:

Do God-believing people think this stuff is a joke? E.g. the five-to-fifteen million year age estimate is admittedly vague.

Which I took as a direct question – because I’m a jerk like that – but my friends tolerate and entertain me pretty nicely.  Here’s what I responded:

This is a good opportunity for me to explain something important: Not every Christian is a “young earth creationist”.

Young Earth Creationism – God made the world 6,000 years ago, humans existed with dinosaurs OR dinosaurs are a big scam, everything in Genesis is translated 100% accurately to modern-day scientific terms and it should be taken 100% literally word for word.

I am not a Young Earth Creationist.

There are lots of theories about creation that are more compatible with Christianity – save base evolution which really isn’t. I’m not a fan of Darwinian evolution, but I have good scientific reasons for this opinion!

Here’s what I know for sure about creation: God created.

That’s it.

That’s the point of Genesis. “God created.” The rest, I’m just as open to working-out the details as you lot. I freaking love Science! 🙂

I’ve met as many Christians with opinions similar to mine as I have ardent young earth creationist. It’s such a hot topic for the YEC’s that I tend to avoid it like the plague when talking to another believer… mostly because I think it really doesn’t matter to your faith today. What matters today is just that God created.

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Part 2 – my clever friend “B” wrote:

I know a bunch of folks are also getting into the combined Creationist Theory of Evolution. Basically that God created some base units that then evolved naturally into what we have today. Which Science isn’t able to disprove yet so it is as equally likely that God started it as it is that pure random chance started life.

I will say though that Young Earth Creationists scare me, how can you possibly put so much faith in one collection of vaguely similar books and yet ignore the massive collection of information that clearly shows pure, empirical evidence of the age of the earth being greater than 6000 years.

To which I responded again – as though it was directed specifically at me (it wasn’t):

Some YECs scare me too. Many of them accept what people tell them as gospel truth and never investigate any other ideas that what someone said might be wrong. God says you should investigate and question things until you fully understand them (which in theory, should be never). That seems a pretty good definition of scientific investigation. Plus, it says in the Bible that God stands outside of time. Why would he be constrained by that? Why would you take an idea as powerful as the Christian God and put him in chains by saying he is required to follow the rules of time as we humans understand it? Also – the way that they understood time 6,000 years ago and wrote about it is NOT the same as the way that we understand it today. You just can’t read it that way.

“God caused evolution and then let it happen” theory – We call that general Deism. That’s not really what I believe either. Christians believe that we serve an active and currently involved personal God. We believe in current day Miracles, that prayer is real, and that Jesus is alive (in a way that doesn’t fit the physical humanist definition of life).

So what do I believe about creation and evolution? I don’t want to appear dodgy here, so to be as specific as possible: I believe that Evolution is a quality explanation of the evidence we’ve found here on earth – as we view our universe from a Human perspective. Just because that’s the direction our scientists have gone based on the evidence they have, doesn’t make it an accurate explanation. I believe that it’s possible that Evolution IS accurate and wholly compatible with an invested, tangible, live, and direct God. If I am to believe that he created life, then why wouldn’t he have a hand in Evolution at every step? It’s not philosophically exclusionary of God’s involvement – it doesn’t have to be. I’ve just chosen to think – as a thinking man – that it doesn’t make as much sense as some have believed.

What I don’t believe is that any amount of Scientifically obtained evidence disproves Faith. I find that to be remarkably arrogant and dangerous thinking. I also find it to be a significantly un-scientific attitude. If we are to accept that we are humans, living-in and experiencing a single dimension of what we call space/time from a single perspective – testing ideas and philosophies based on that perspective and on the tools we’ve made for ourselves… then certainly it seems reasonable to also accept that there are forces and factors far outside of our ability to comprehend or observe that may quite dramatically influence those things that we can observe and test.

Given this philosophy, you could find alien life and it wouldn’t threaten my view of God.

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I’ll wrap this post up with one final comment.  I’m perfectly willing to believe that I have this wrong.  Maybe the earth IS 6,000 years old. I think it’s far more likely, however, that we all have it quite wrong and the truth is far outside of anything we’ve imagined yet.

In this context, the essence of true Science is this:  I cannot wait to learn or discover more.

If I add in Faith, it only changes to this:  I cannot wait to learn or discover more about God’s creation.


I don’t mind stealing bread

“I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence

but I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled”

-Hunger Strike, Temple of the Dog (1991)

I heard this song today.  I remembered identifying with the lyrics way back when I was a teenager and heard this song the first time and loved it.  I remembered thinking “yeah, that’s right.”

Then I thought about who I am today, particularly in light of my relationship with Jesus Christ.  What’s different?  Would I mind literally or figuratively stealing “from the mouths of decadence?” (unfortunately, I don’t think I’d mind too much) To feed myself or my family?  Would I feel badly about it?  What about stealing from the poor and powerless? (depending on the situation – I bet I could rationalize this to myself too)

I also thought – what if I’m the mouth of decadence?  Aren’t I?  Who am I to draw the line and say “you’re too wealthy, you’re poor. I’m somewhere between and am therefore, somehow ok”?

By driving around wealthy Boulder, Colorado today in my almost-new, bought on payments, little Honda Hybrid car… aren’t I contributing to the great feeding upon the powerless of the world through consumerism?

This inner dialogue formed a freshly regurgitated debate in my mind that has been continuously unsettled:  Where does (or would) Jesus stand today on western culture social justice issues?  Particularly the very popular humanist perspectives that I see strongly in our  youth and young adults on ideas like:  income equality, health care reform, elective life choices like marriage and birth (or abortion), universal religion, etc…

What about those Christians who would claim that being a good Christian means you work hard and earn what you deserve?  and by inverse implication – if you don’t have anything – you deserved it?  Is this the same as “an honest day’s work”?  Or “go to the ant, you sluggard…” (Prov 6:6)?

Or is this more like “Don’t judge (or condemn)…” (Mat 7:1 and many more)?  Did Jesus only mean – don’t judge another person’s salvation – when he said that?  Which judging or condemning is encouraged by Jesus?

What about “love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31 and others)?  What about “the greatest of these is love” (1Cor13:13)?

Am I asking more questions than providing answers or opinions?  Welcome to my brain.  Now you know why the blog is called “Otter Confusion”.

So where does Jesus stand on social justice in the way that we think about it in America today?  Would he be friendlier with the lazy hippies or the hard-working republicans?  What would he stand for – today – when presented by a modern Pharisee with a social justice “gotcha” question?

More importantly, how should I personally respond to that?  What’s my responsibility as a Christian towards social justice?  Should I just exercise what I believe to be appropriate justice through my own life and choices – prayerfully considered – and faithfully executed (only on the best of days do I actually find myself doing this)?  Or should I stand up for more than that – take to the streets – join the “1% vs 99%” rally?  Or – depending on your perspective on the above questions – an American Republican “tea party” rally?

Or do I just look for more ways to Love others directly – and stay out of the fray?

(in retrospect, this last option seems to have been my unintentional life’s mission since becoming a Christian)

Where do I go from here – particularly on this day of government shutdown – on the brink of collapse of our beautiful nation founded on the principles of Love and Freedom?

Maybe another song, also currently playing on the repeat track in my brain…

“Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a child with no socks or shoes

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you

Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a woman dying from the loss of food

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you”

-Stand Up, Flobots

Or maybe not.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Micah 6:8)


Grace in a pressure can

I have a really hard time with entitled people.

C.S. Lewis wrote about Pride/Conceit – saying “There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are  more unconscious of in ourselves.  And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

Maybe I have a new – old problem.  Maybe.

On my flight home from DC yesterday I really saw a wide range of humanity.  There were all kinds of people, very interesting.  I had a lovely conversation with the lesbian couple that I sat next to and generally I don’t talk to anyone on airplanes – I’m a real headphones on, eyes closed, don’t bug me kinda guy.  They were just amusing, clever and outgoing people.

Our flight was late due to thunderstorms and so people were tired, hot, and a little frustrated.  The air was rough and every seat full. There were 3 or so small children on our long flight continuously crying – parents feverishly walking up and down the aisles when the seat-belt light wasn’t on, just hoping nobody would look at them (man I have so been there).  Then there was this one guy…

This one guy. I still can’t figure out exactly what his deal was… I had plenty of time on the airplane to really try to think through his motivations and understand how much pain he must have been in to act the way he acted. This guy came as close as anybody can come that I’ve ever seen to getting arrested when he steps off the plane. He wanted a different seat, on a full flight, on a Frontier flight where there are no ‘better seats’ and everyone pays about the same amount. He stood in the aisle and demanded it from a flight attended and easily stole 45 minutes of her time – refusing to sit down even when the seat-belt lights were on and arguing with her about how he needed a different seat. I really don’t know what was wrong with him. I think that people can’t act like that if they’re being rational and so the only explanations for irrational behavior I can come up with are substance abuse, pain, and mental disease.

The guy wasn’t really the “show” though. He was just a part of the show. The thing that I found MOST impressive – the show – was the flight attendant and how she handled him. He was so… unmanageable. I wasn’t in a ‘love everyone’ good christian mode… I was glaring hard at him from behind his head just waiting for my chance to tackle him.  I honestly hoped he would turn his eyes and see me. I wanted a piece of his face and I was going to jump up and get it first the moment he assaulted the flight attendant.  I was so offended by his attitude that I couldn’t see his humanity until quite some time after it all settled down.  The fight I imagined never happened, because of how she so impressively handled him.

She was Grace in a pressure can – both literally and figuratively.  She had so much patience for this guy.  She just stood there and endured his ranting and waited for a chance to calmly, warmly, and lovingly explain the truth of the situation to him over and over.  I watched as she appealed to his humanity and his rationality with her eyes, smile and genuine temperament.  I listened as she patiently explained over and over that there wasn’t anything she or anyone on the flight could do to help him.  I fully expected her to make up some kind of lie to pacify him like… promise him a free ticket when he calls customer service after the flight or something.  She didn’t.  She stuck to the truth, she explained that he has a right to choose whether he wants to fly on an airplane or not but that when you make that choice, you have to stick to the rules.

I saw a little piece of God yesterday in this woman whose name I didn’t even manage to get.  About an hour after the event I managed to steal her ear for just a moment while she walked by my row.  I said to her “You are amazing!!”.  She smiled and said “I just told him the truth.  That’s all I can do.”  I died a little.  I left that encounter embarrassed about who I am and who I am not.

Dear God – as me and my family continue to endure trials of your difficult people – of which I certainly am one – between blessings and joy – please oh God teach me more about how to share “Truth in Love” and not compromise anything along the way.


Salty Bread

As a child or an adult – try to remember what it felt like the last time you’d been away from someone you really love for any considerable amount of time. I don’t mean just a day or even just a couple days… but weeks… maybe even months or years. How does it feel? What’s going through your mind as the day draws closer that you would get to be in the company of that person again? Do you play over and over again in your mind how you will run to him/her? How you will embrace them and feel their warmth and strength? When the time finally comes, can you stand to wait at all?

embrace

The church I attend is not really a very conservative or liturgical assembly. If I had to find an incomplete labeling paradigm I might call us progressive and even perhaps moderate if not occasionally liberal non-denominational quasi-evangelical protestants. We have rock ‘n roll worship, we drink coffee in the sanctuary, we have stage lights, computers and projectors, and some of us (like me) wear t-shirts and shorts to church services.

One of the more unique things we do as a church is we take communion every week. At my last church (a similar style of church) we took communion once every 3 months… maybe… if it fit into the preaching schedule. You’ll find that latter kind of pattern to be the more common one in this style of church.

At first it seemed really weird that we did it weekly and it took some getting used to. Then after some time I started to really appreciate it. Taking symbolic communion every week gives me an opportunity to remember more often exactly what it all really means. I don’t take it for granted and I don’t get robotic about it. God allows every week to be a new experience and I consider that alone to be a gift of His Grace in itself.

So here’s the confession. I RUSH into communion. Sometimes we take it together as a congregation and sometimes we take it on our own time. In either case, if there was a race to get the bread into your mouth – I’d win it every time. Irreverent, right? I’ve been contemplating within myself for weeks now why it is I seem to do this. Sometimes I wonder if someone is watching me shove that salty grape-juice soggy bread into my mouth and quietly judging my haste.

I really do eat it like a gluttonous child getting a candy bar for the first time in a week.

It’s the funniest thing. I know that the bread isn’t magical. I don’t go for magic bread or magic water, that’s not in my personal book of theology. I know it’s just a reminder of what happened, who I really am and who my God really is…. but I just can’t wait to get there. I can’t wait to get back into that place where I feel like I belong, in my father’s house. Maybe it has something to do with this?

Romans 5:6-8 (ESV): 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

In my heart, I know that Christ RUSHED into forgiving me. He RUSHED to my rescue, while I still didn’t know or want him, while I was still a sinner, while I was still an Atheist, while I still HATED every idea of him… He came anyway, he RUSHED to my salvation. With divine Love and great urgency, God RUSHED to take me home.

So it is while I’m still quite sure of my unworthiness, while I’m still unsettled in my state of readiness – that I rush into worship through communion – that I rush into his arms. I want to be there before I’ve had a chance to convince myself that I’ve paid enough reverence or enough prayer or enough quiet to be there. I want to rush there while my mind is still scattered, while my heart is still dirty, and while my hands are still busy.

That’s when he loved me first. While I was still broken. So that’s how I want to come to him every week, while I know that I’m still broken…. RUSHING into his love.