Believing the Bible

Christians really don’t believe in the Bible.

If we did, we would follow what it teaches.  Instead as Eric Metaxas explains in his book Amazing Grace, Christians in England in the 18th and 19th centuries supported slavery and still claimed to be Christians because it was an acceptable social norm to believe one thing and do another.  It was not considered hypocrisy.  Have things really changed?  In the last blog, we mentioned that some business people do not always practice Christianity in their workplace because they believe one cannot be successful in business doing so.  In other words, they say everyone should follow Jesus’ teachings but somehow think they are exempt when it comes to running a business.

We do the same in our personal lives.  Life Church (see www.lifechurch.tv) is currently running a series on what it calls “Necessary Sins”.  God may say a particular action is wrong (lying, gossip, etc.) but we think it is a necessary part of life.  We consider these sins to be necessary because they help us make it through life or because it is accepted in our society (and it is so necessary to get along in society).  Is that any different from the Christians in England in the 18th and 19th century?

Maybe we Christians should start believing in the Bible again.

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Implementation of an Idea

Over my 38 years in business, I have heard many business persons express the opinion that business and Christianity do not mix; that one cannot consistently practice Christianity and be successful in business.  I disagree.  Lean Enterprise with its three principles of focusing on the customer, eliminating waste, and respect for people (customers, vendors, employees the surrounding community) has proven to be very successful in business and non-business settings and is very compatible with Christian principles.

I also believe that business can also teach us about Christianity.  I have been reading a book about management and the author, Chet Holmes, asks how one can become very proficient at anything.  His answer is:  The mastery of any skill “is not about being special or more gifted than anyone else.  Mastery is a direct result of pigheaded discipline and determination”. [1]  He also emphasizes the importance of habit.  Repetition trains your mind so your responses become automatic. [2]

How does the above relate to Christianity?  In this blog we maintain that salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes like God.  The natural response to that question is:  So how do we change our soul?  My answer is from Holmes:  By “pigheaded discipline and determination”.  We must implement the teachings of Jesus in our lives, not just learn them.  Jesus’ teachings must be so engrained in our minds through practice that our response to a particular situation automatically conforms to what Jesus taught us.

Holmes tells his audience that they will agree with his concepts but most will not implement them.  Why would we humans not do something that we know works?  Because it takes effort.  The same applies to our spiritual lives.  Jesus’ teachings work but we do not put them into practice because it will require that we change our soul so it becomes like God and that change is hard work.

In business and Christianity and in all of life “Implementation, not ideas, is the key to real success”. [3]  How well are you doing in implementing the teachings of Jesus in your life?

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[1]   Chet Holmes, The Ultimate Sales Machine, NewYork:  Portfolio, The Penguin Company, 2005, p. xviii.

[2]   Holmes, p. xix.

[3]    Holmes, p. 4.

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Core Beliefs

In the last blog, we asked how we decide what our core Christian beliefs are.  Of course, they come from the Bible but the problem is that there are all manner of interpretations of the Bible and there are all manner of ideas concerning which Biblical teaching is a core belief.  However, I believe there are a few principles upon which all Christians should agree.

First, we should consider the earliest Christian creeds as the most authoritative.  These creeds were developed closer to the time of Jesus and have had less of a chance for erroneous and/or nonessential ideas to infiltrate.  As we mentioned last week, the earlier creeds are much simpler than the later.  If the writers of the early creeds did not consider a particular Biblical teaching to be a core belief, why did the writers of the later creeds?

Second, Paul tells us Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins is the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-7).  This is the main reason why Jesus came to this earth; it was not to teach us about the Trinity or baptism.  Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins must be a central part of our faith.

Third, Christianity is about Jesus.  Much of Jesus’ teachings involve our actions and the person we become (Matthew 13:41-50, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 18:18-30, John 5:27-29, John 12:44-50) so our core beliefs must address our actions as well as our beliefs.

Taking the above three principles, I believe our core beliefs should include:  Belief in God, Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins, the Holy Spirit, the universal Church, our eternal existence, and our judgment by Jesus.  These tenants clearly follow the early Christian creeds.  The only thing I would add concerns our judgment by Jesus—we will be judged according to our actions and the person we become not just our beliefs.

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Essential Beliefs

In a previous blog (August 28, 2013), we discussed the various Christian creeds that are in existence.  As I have reread and thought about them I noticed that the creeds became longer as time passed.  The earliest creeds simply proclaimed belief in God, Jesus and his work here on earth, the Holy Spirit, the universal Christian church, and our spiritual and eternal existence.

Part of the reason the creeds became longer was that differences of opinion arose about certain aspect of the Christian faith, such as the nature of Jesus—was he divine or human or both.  But is that a reason to make the Christian faith more complicated?

Jesus placed great emphasis on the unity of Christians.  In John 17:21-23 he stated that the world would know God sent Jesus to our world if Jesus’ followers were one like Jesus and God are one.  However, with our multitude of creeds, we have divided ourselves up into multiple Christian religions and denominations.

A creed should be as its definition states–a statement of essential or core beliefs.  It should not be packed with various opinions and interpretations.  In issues that extend beyond our core beliefs, Christians should be tolerant of other beliefs.  Instead we seem to be intolerant.  We all need to recognize that, as the Bible teaches, we are finite and are in some ways deficient in our knowledge of God’s truth.  If that is true, why are we so intolerant of differing points of view?

So how do we decide what are our core beliefs?  I’ll get back to you in a future blog.

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Elevator Speech

A couple of years ago I read an article by Harvey Mackay in which he states we should be able to explain any idea and stimulate an interest to learn more about that idea within three minutes or in the time it would take to explain our idea to someone while we ride in an elevator with them. [1]  So below is the “elevator speech” for the idea that I am attempting to communicate in this blog.

 

Salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes like God; it is not the belief that Jesus died for our sins.  Belief in Jesus is the means to the end, not the end itself.

Salvation being the change of our soul so it becomes like God is taught by the Bible.  There are over 70 verses in the New Testament which teach salvation is by belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance.  If belief in Jesus and his death for our sins is the only way of salvation, why did God include all these verses?

Salvation being the change of our soul so it becomes like God is taught by logic.  God made us finite; he constructed our existence so certainty in regards to historical events is not absolute.  For example, while there is substantial evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus, there will always remain an element of doubt about this extraordinary event.  So how can God condemn people to hell for not believing in something for which they cannot obtain certain proof?  Also, how can God be a God of love and justice and yet condemn people to hell who either have not heard of Jesus or whose culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant?

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[1]   Harvey Mackay, “Book explains art of the elevator speech”, The Tulsa World, June 5, 2011, p. E5.

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Looking and Seeing

Our world is incredibly complex.  There is so much going on around us that we only can grasp a small portion of it.  That is part of what it means to be finite.  Our inability to comprehend the entire world means we select the portions of the world we want to observe.  What we do not select, we do not observe.  David Matheny, in writing about an aviation related matter, states a truth that applies to all of life:  “You have to look to see, and you won’t see what you’re not looking for.” [1]

If we Christians do not look for problems in our belief system, we will not see them.  If we do not see them, we will not resolve them.  Why would we not want to resolve problems in our beliefs? Each of us must answer that question for themselves for problems do exist in the Christian belief system and we have listed several of them in this blog.

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[1]   David Matheny, “The Deer in the Headlights”, EAA Sport Aviation, Vol. 62, No. 10, October 2013, p. 32.

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Why God Made Us Finite

Why did God make us finite?  The lack of knowledge has caused and still causes so much suffering and hardship in our world.  Three examples will suffice.

First, we are lacking in our scientific knowledge of our world.  In the book The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan describes the effect changes in climate had on civilization between 1300 and 1850 but the book also describes other causes of the famine and disease that killed millions.  The other causes were the lack of knowledge and the lack of coordination among the people of that time.  It was not until humans developed new agricultural methods that increased the yields of crops, imported new crops from other lands, and shared that knowledge with others that most farmers moved beyond substance farming and began to produce a surplus which they could sell.  Methods of transportation were developed and used to move food stocks from country to country which helped eliminate famine when one country’s crops failed.  Governments began to coordinate relief efforts during times of crisis. [1]

Second, many people lack the knowledge of personal finances.  Dave Ramey has built a multi-million dollar company helping people understand how to structure and greatly improve their personal finances and wealth.

Third, we humans obviously lack knowledge on how we relate to each other—just read any newspaper.  Also, the Bible has much to say about how we are to treat each other—the Golden Rule, Jesus’ summary of all the Law and Prophets as love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  We would not need all this instruction if we already knew how to properly relate to each other.

The only reason I can think why God made us finite is because he sees a need to put us into certain situations to teach us lessons about ourselves and about life.  If our knowledge was complete, we would not be in many of the situations in which we find ourselves.  Exactly why God structured our lives in this fashion I cannot explain.  It makes life somewhat strange as is expressed in the German saying:  Too fast old, too late smart.  But I guess this is all strange because we are only looking at this one life; we are not looking at eternity; we are not looking at the person we can become.

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[1]   Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age (New York:  Basic Books, 2000), pp. 106-112.

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Ignorance

The French writer André Gide tells us to:  “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”  I’m sure most Christians would object to his statement since they believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and is the source of all truth.  Christians are very vocal in claiming to know what is true; they firmly believe Christianity is the only way to heaven.

However, as we have often said in this blog, while God’s word is infallible, our interpretation is not.  All the different Christian religions and denominations demonstrate there are very different interpretations of the Bible and they all cannot be right.  One would think that most Christians would aware of this aspect of the human condition—that we are limited in our ability to know what is true.  The books of Job and Ecclesiastes both have much to say about this topic. 

The problem is, as John Mark Reynolds notes, that knowledge and awareness of one’s own ignorance is both the easiest to learn but the hardest to acknowledge. [1]  It is so difficult for us to admit that our knowledge might be incomplete, to acknowledge that our “facts” might be in error.  It is our egotistical self; it is our sinful nature that does not want to recognize we have so much left to learn, that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

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[1]   John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2009, p. 98.

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Rules and Principles

I recently read an article by Robert Eschauzier in which he promotes living our lives by principles rather than rules.  Although he did not intend it, he has some important things to say concerning how we Christians should live our lives.

Principles are developed internally through logic and objective reasoning. Principles motivate me to voluntarily do the things that I know are good and right. Well defined principles (e.g. non-aggression) are absolute, not subject to negotiation or debate. Principles tend to be quite simple, often requiring no more than one or two words to be expressed without ambiguity. Principles are to philosophy what natural laws like gravity are to physical nature.

People who live by principles have in doing so acquired an internal (moral) compass to guide them in all decisions about right vs. wrong. Having full confidence in this compass, they tend to easily develop the discipline to use it constantly in daily life. Rarely will they need more than half a dozen principles to make up the entire compass.

Rules (aka “laws”) are externally and arbitrarily developed by others. Rules coercively compel me, through force or threat of punishment, to involuntarily do the things that someone else deems good or right. Rules are arbitrary, frequently subject to negotiation and endlessly debatable. Rules tend to be extremely complicated, usually requiring many lengthy paragraphs and highly convoluted language for their definition, resulting in massive ambiguities. Man made rules and laws are to philosophy what weather is to a solo sailor in the South Pacific.

People who live only by rules are essentially rudderless. They have little or no internal ability to distinguish right from wrong. They mostly distinguish only legal from illegal. Problem is, there are literally hundreds of thousands of laws and regulations. Having no or limited confidence in their knowledge of all these rules, they rarely develop a consistent discipline and instead follow or break on an ad-hoc basis the rules they are aware of, living in constant fear of error.[1]

In this blog, we have established that God has given us the freedom to live as we please.  The Bible teaches that we are to live by just two principles—love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5).  The problem is that many Christians do not use this freedom.  Instead they live their lives based on rules.  They depend upon someone else to interpret the Bible for them and to tell them how they should live.  The world would be an entirely different place if Christians lived by God’s two principles instead of our “Christian” rules.

We follow God’s principles because we want to.  We follow man-made rules because we must.  It should be obvious what the superior moral position is.

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[1]   http://lewrockwell.com/orig10/eschauzier3.1.1.html

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Accommodations

In his history of the Christian church from the 4th to the 14th centuries, Fletcher points out that organized Christianity targeted the most powerful individuals in a society first.  The reason they did so was because they needed protection, monetary support, status, and access to royal power of coercion.  [1]

The first question we must ask is why Christianity needed all this help from the secular world.  Was not Christianity able to survive based upon its own merits?  Why did Christianity need help from the political, financial, and cultural elements of a society for it to be accepted?  Or did those Christians just want quick success without all the hard work of convincing people of the validity of Christianity and of actually putting Christianity into practice?

Because of our limits, it is understandable why Christians would band together and use all the elements of a society to accomplish some purpose such as fulfilling the Great Commission.  However, once we form any organization, there is the temptation to consider the organization as more important than the mission; to make accommodations to our belief system and actions to promote, preserve, and grow the organization.

In the 11th century, the Archbishop Wulfstan of York told the king of England Canute that he should express his gratitude to God for his good fortune and remorse for the blood he shed by lavish gifts to the church and acts of piety. [2]  Did Jesus ever say such a thing to the political leaders of his day?  No, Jesus was more interested in a change in the life of each individual he met.  The existence and maintenance of any organization was secondary.  We like to think that Christianity is growing when more people join more churches or when we build more churches, bible schools, seminaries.  Is that really true?  Or is Christianity growing when we see a change in peoples’ lives, when they become more like Christ?

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[1]   Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion, New York:  Henry Holt and Company, 1997, p.236-237.

[2]   Ibid., p. 408.

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