Sins of Omission

In the past two blogs we have discussed the book Why We Make Mistakes.  Another point the author makes is that research has shown people feel more responsible for their actions than their inaction.  He notes that inaction means we did not do anything and we typically need to do something to feel guilty or good about what we did. [1]

However, the idea that failing to act is as much of a sin as wrongful acts is not a foreign concept to us.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that “. . .it is just as bad to passively accept evil as it is in inflect it.”

In Ezekiel 3:16-21God tells Ezekiel and in Ezekiel 33:1-9 God instructs Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel that it is our responsibility to warn others of danger or of the error of their ways.  If we do not, God will require that person’s blood at our hand.

In the study of the theology of sin one way of categorizing sin is by sins of commission and sins of omission.  Sins of commission are when we take actions that are contrary to God’s commands.  St. Thomas Aquinas states “a sin of omission violates a command to do something positive”. [2]  So in either case are we not violating a command of God?  Would that not make a sin of omission no different than a sin of commission?

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[1]   Joseph T. Hallinan.  Why We Make Mistakes.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2009, p. 53.

[2]   Timothy McDermott, editor, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Norte Dame, IN:  Christian Classics, 1989, p. 250.

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Mistakes

In this blog we have often talked about the fact that God made us finite and the implications of that fact.  I recently read a book written by Joseph T. Hallinan who details various mistakes to which we humans are prone [1] because we are finite.

One mistake Hallinan mentions is that as something becomes more familiar to us, we notice less information about that topic not more.  This occurs because we are flooded with information and because we are finite we must be economical with how we process all this data.  What we do is to skim the information with which we are familiar and ignore the details.  The result is that we tend to see things not as they are but as we think they should be.  Examples Hallinan uses include a misprint in sheet music for a Brahms capricco that professional musicians and publishers missed but that was found by a student.  A thirteen year old boy who corrected NASA’s estimate of the chance of an asteroid hitting the earth.  A 5th grade boy who found an error at a Smithsonian Institute exhibit that had not been detected for 27 years. [2]  In all these examples, the professionals missed an error because they were so familiar with the subject matter that they skimmed over the error and did not notice it.

We Christians have the same tendencies.  How else can we explain the fact that there are over 70 verses in the Bible that teach salvation is through belief in God or through our conduct, pattern of behavior, motivation, use of abilities, and repentance and yet we ignore them?  (See the header on this blog titled “What the Bible Says about Salvation for a list of these verses.)  Because these verses do not fit our established doctrine of salvation which is that salvation is only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins, we ignore these inconvenient details.  As Hallinan states”  “Facts that do not fit together . . . are forgotten, de-emphasized, or reinterpreted”. [3]

Now that we are aware of this very human tendency, what will we do?  Will we continue to ignore these 70 verses concerning salvation or will we determine a reason why God included them in the Bible?

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[1]   Joseph T. Hallinan.  Why We Make Mistakes.  New York:  Broadway Books, 2009.

[2]   Ibid., pp. 111-113.

[3]   Ibid., p. 123.

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Changes

This blog has been in existence for over five years.  Its purpose has been to address several questions concerning the Christian doctrine of salvation that have not been adequately answered by the Christian community.  We have approached these questions recognizing the following principles.  First, we are finite and that means our ability to know what is true is compromised.  This is the way God made us and he made us this way for a reason.  Second, the only way to overcome this limitation is to work with other Christians on these issues (Genesis 11:4-6).  Too often we ignore what other Christians say and believe about a particular subject because we are so entrenched in our current belief.  Third, Socrates pointed the way for us when he relentlessly asked questions about any topic he was trying to understand.  And that is what we attempt to do in this blog.

The Christian community in which I was raised generally frowned on raising questions about our faith.  However, God states he will reward those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).  I do not see how we can claim to earnestly seek God unless we address the questions that arise concerning our faith.

In this blog we have occasionally made forays into other topics besides the doctrine of salvation.  We will broaden our perspective to include many other topics.  We have changed the look of this blog and we have changed the web address to www.questionsonchristianity.net.  You will still be able to access this blog at www.achristiandialectic.com.

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Duplicity

Steve Tobak is a businessman who writes a blog on business topics but occasionally addresses cultural issues.  In a recent posting he decries one behavior he sees in our society.

. . .people talk a good game but their actions tell a different story. . .of all the cultural trends that threaten the integrity of our society, the most insidious , I think, is all the talk about doing good, aiding causes, and changing the world, while our actions show the selfish greed and narcissism that’s in our hearts. [1]

Unfortunately, we Christians are part of this trend.  Our doctrine of salvation says all we need to do is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins to be saved; all we need to do is say the right words.  Our doctrines say precious little about changing our soul so it becomes like God so we continue to exhibit “the selfish greed and narcissism that’s in our hearts”  We call ourselves Christians but are not Christ-like.

Will we continue to participate in this “culture of duplicity” that Tobak describes or will we follow the example of Jesus who did more than believe in God but who did God’s will?  Maybe a start is to rethink our doctrine of salvation.

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[1]   Steve Tobak, “A Culture of Duplicity”, http://stevetobak.com, November 2, 2016.

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Injustice

World Magazine recently ran an article about the problems the native Alaskans face.  Part of their problems stem from the history of injustice they suffered through the hands of the non-natives that came to Alaska.  The injustices they endured included “an educational system that separated native families and banned native languages”, sexual abuse, and the constant denigrating of their culture in favor of the culture of the foreigners. [1]

Some Christian missionaries participated in dishing out this injustice.  The question we must ask is:  Why?  In our blog of September 20, 2011 we discussed the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in1994 when Christians killed thousands of other Christians simply because they were of another tribe. [2]  And then we have the on-going story of the Roman Catholic priest’s sexual abuse of children.  Why do Christians act so unlike Christ?

Yes, we all are not perfect and we do make mistakes but mistakes of this magnitude?  Maybe part of the problem is that we subscribe to a religion that only requires that we profess faith in Christ.  As long as we say the right words, as long as we have the right beliefs we will go to heaven.  Our doctrine of salvation says nothing about how we are to live our lives.

If Christianity taught that salvation is the change of our soul so we become more like God do you not think our behavior would change?  Do you think we could participate in the injustices described above if we believed the core of Christianity is that we should love others as God loves us?

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[1]   Sophia Lee, “Way up north”, World Magazine, October 1, 2016, pp. 48-53.

[2]   Emmanuel Katongole, Mirror to the Church, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2009.

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Evangelism

My dad recently sent me the following article from A Treasury of Bible Illustrations.

A secretary on the job is engulfed in problems. Her husband left her; a son is in rebellion; she can barely make ends meet. She cries out for help.  We don’t hear.

A fellow employee is overwhelmed by the complexity of overcoming his chronic drinking problem.  He longs for a friend. We’re deaf to his cries.  The owner of the gas station where we’ve traded for years has just lost his wife. His eyes echo his loneliness. We don’t see.  A wife would love to share with us the trauma and trivia of her day just to have a listening ear. Our ears are closed.

And as the “perfect” ending to such a self-centered day, we hurry to the church building and get our weekly door-knocking assignment as we hasten to engage a cold prospect in an ambiguous process which we have labeled evangelism.  Does that approach make sense? It seems to me it is time we acknowledged the fact that a good translation of the Great Commission has it reading: “As you are going into all the world. . . .” You see, we are in such a hurry to “go!” that we miss the very ones whom God brings into our path as we are going.”

 May God awaken us to the realization that true evangelism is loving the world the way God loves it; allowing our hearts to be broken by the things that break God’s heart; acknowledging that there is no dichotomy between “evangelism” and “benevolence” that true evangelism begins with Matthew 10:42: “And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

We Christians are “self-centered” because of our beliefs.  Since we believe salvation is only through belief in Jesus and his death for our sins, our emphasis will be to get others to believe; it will not be to imitate the compassion God shows to each and every one of us.  If, however, we believe salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes more like God, then we will be just as concerned that we help people in need as we are about their belief system.

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Something Left Out

Heresies “happen whenever there is ‘any [teaching] that leaves something important out or seriously neglected’”. [1]  What has been seriously neglected in Christian theology is the more than 70 verses in the New Testament that teach salvation is through means other than believing in Jesus.   For example the following passages teach salvation is through:

  • Repentance of our sins or humility – Luke 18:11-14, 2 Corinthians 7:10
  • Belief in God – John 5:24, Acts 10:34-35
  • Our conduct or actions – Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6-10
  • Our pattern of behavior or persistence – Matthew 10:22, Hebrews 10:26-27
  • Our talents or the use of what is given us – Luke 16:9-11,

There is no dispute the Bible teaches that salvation is through belief or faith in Jesus’ death for our sins.  However, if belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven, why did God include these verses in the Bible?  Either we must ignore these passages (that is essentially telling God we know better than he does) or we must deal with the issues they raise.  If we ignore these passages, what is to prevent us from ignoring any other part of the Bible with which we disagree or have a problem?  If we start down that road, we might as well ignore the entire Bible.  God put all these statement in the Bible for a reason.  It is up to us to determine what that reason is.

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[1]   Dr. D. Clair Davis as quoted by Andrée Seu Peterson, “Unstable elements”, World Magazine, September 5, 2015, p. 75.

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Working Out for Good

In the last blog we quoted the apostle Paul:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”   (Romans 8:28 ESV).  Paul puts two conditions upon all things working out for our good.

First, we must love God.  That seems simple enough but it raises several questions.  Why did Paul not say that all things will work together for good for those who believe in Jesus?  Does that mean this promise extends to those who are not Christians?  Is it possible to love God without knowing about Jesus?  Don Richard in Eternity in Their Hearts lists multiple peoples who believed in God and wanted to know more about him but who had never heard of Jesus [1] so it appears it is possible.

Second, Paul also includes those who are called according to God’s purposes.  Can God call persons according to his purpose without them being Christians?  God worked through the nation of Israel in a special way but he still put Israel on par with other nations that existed at that time.  Amos 9:7 states God moved nations other than Israel for his purposes.  Cannot God move non-Christian people and nations today?

Notice that Paul says all things work together for good. Did he mean that all of our life experiences would be good or pleasant?  In this passage, there is no guarantee of that but Paul assures us that in the end the totality of our life experiences will contribute to something positive.

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[1]    Don Richardson, Eternity in Their Hearts, Ventura, CA:  Regal Books, 1984.

Posted in God's Sovereignty | Leave a comment

All Is Well

A Sunday or two ago, the pastor of the church we attended talked about the story of the Shunammite woman and Elisha.

The Shunammite woman, whose name is never mentioned, was wealthy and well connected.  To illustrate how connected she was, sometime after the event we will discuss, Elisha warned her about a coming famine and so she move to the land of the Philistines.  When she returned after seven years, she petitioned the king for the return of her land and it was granted (2 Kings 8:1-6).

But back to our story.  The Shunammite woman had prepared a room for Elisha to stay whenever he passed by that way.  Elisha asked her what he could do to repay her and she requested nothing.  Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, then mentioned that she had no son and Elisha told her that within a year she would have a son.

The Shunammite woman did bear a son but when the child was older, he was stricken with some illness involving his head and died in the arms of his mother.  Instead of just mourning for her loss, she determined to get to Elisha who was at Mt. Carmel which was a distance of 20 miles from Shunem (according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary).  Her urgency is expressed in what she told her servant:

“Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.”  (2 Kings 4:24-25 ESV)

The Shunammite woman illustrates how we should respond to a crisis in our lives.  Many Christians resign themselves to whatever life brings into their lives because God is sovereign and he controls everything that happens to us.  A “let go and let God” mentality.  This borders on fatalism.  The example of the Shunammite woman tells us we have an ability to deal with the crisis we face and should do whatever we can.  As one of the early Church fathers, Origen, explains:  “He makes Himself known to those who, after doing all that their powers will allow, confess that they need help from Him.” [1]

While she was doing all she could, she also exhibited calm in the midst of the crisis.  When she made it to Mt. Carmel Gehazi asked her how it was with her, her husband, and her child.  Her response was:  “All is well.” (2 Kings 4:26-27 ESV)

Losing a child is one of the most heart rending experiences a parent can go through.  This is particularly the case for the Shunammite woman who had been childless for so long.  We can understand why she did everything she could to save her child.  Yet in the midst of this crisis, she exhibited a calm because she evidently believed that regardless of the outcome, all would be well.  Paul had the same opinion:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, (Romans 8:28 ESV).  “All things” means the good and bad events in our lives.

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[1]   David W. Bercot, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up, Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publishing Company, 1989, p. 53.

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Earning Salvation II

In the last post we noted that regardless of one’s view of salvation all require that we take action to be saved.  Confessing our sins and accepting Christ as our savior are actions and according to Christian doctrine are actions we must take to be saved.  So can we really say that salvation is a free gift?

The only Christian group that is consistent in their doctrine that salvation is a free gift is the universalists who believe everyone will be saved.  No matter what one does or believes, all will be saved in the end.  The problem with this view of salvation is that the Bible does not teach it.  The Bible teaches the reality of hell and that not everyone will be in heaven.

The view of salvation that we proposed in this blog and in my book resolves all the above issues.  We assert that Jesus died for the sins of the entire world.  The entire world’s sins are now forgiven and there is nothing that any of us did to receive this free gift and there is nothing that we need to do.  Once we have this free gift, the question becomes:  What we will do with it?  Will we use what we have been given to develop our soul so it becomes more like God or will we squander this gift and continue on our rebellious path?  It is this choice that will determine where we spend eternity.

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