Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Basics



            When Caleb emailed me a few weeks back to ask me to contribute to his blog while he was away, my first question was "What do you want me to write about?" I primarily write about theological matters, on my own blog, http://www.elijahmcgowan.com, and I knew Caleb and I came from different camps as far as theology is concerned (I'm a Presbyterian). He replied by saying he touched on many topics in his blog posts, including technology (Once again, we have our disagreements there, but we're a lot closer) and politics (probably the realm of thought where our ideologies match the nearest, though I'm a Conservative Libertarian), and added that he didn't think we agreed much when it came to theology, speaking aloud (...or typing) what I had just thought. This really weighed on me, and in my reply, I stated that we probably agree on a lot more than we know, we just tend to focus on the disagreements, being hot-headed young adults (and in my situation, heading to law school with that passion for truth and justice). We are after all, brothers in the same adoption, partakers of the same communion of the saints, baptized by the Holy Spirit, alive in Christ according to His Gospel.
            With this in mind, and being the hot-headed individual I described myself as earlier, I decided that religion would be just the topic I would write about for both of my posts, and that for the first one, I'd try to establish that common ground that seemed to escape Caleb and I. Hence the title of this blog post: The Basics. In this post, I'll talk about many things, many things which have continually weighed on me over the last year, many things which I believe it would be good for the church, the bride of Christ, to take to heart. I'll talk about fellowship, how important it is for the church of Christ not to be divided. I'll talk about love - how, oh how important this is - using 1 Corinthians 13 as a blueprint. I'll talk about the careful balance of living according to God's commandments. I'll talk about what the bare requirements really are - what is worth fighting for in the orthodoxy of the historical Christian faith - using the Apostle's creed. I'll talk about how postmodernism has changed us all, whether we realize it or not, and this presents new dangers to at least take notice of. Finally, I'll talk about how technology is creating barriers in communicating all this, to shining this out to the world, and what we can do about it. And I'm sure I'll get sidetracked into many other things, but before I do, let's go ahead and get started.
            The importance of fellowship, of the siblinghood (I warn you, that won't be the last word I make up) of believers, cannot be stressed enough. We are one body. Scripture is clear on this. Scripture tells us that we need to work together, having a peaceful, symbiotic relationship, not one of all-out war. Unfortunately, this isn't so apparent in the status quo, the way things are now. I'll admit, as a Presbyterian, it's hard for me to overlook what I see as minor heresy in the beliefs of my Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, Church of Christ, Church of God, and Non-Denominational brothers and sisters. In fellow saints who don't claim any label, or go to any church, choosing to meet in their living room and rely only the word of God. It's even hard for me to overlook the varying beliefs of fellow Presbyterians: old-earth Presbyterians, pre-millennial and amillennial Presbyterians, and so on, ad infinitum. But let's step back, and take a bite or two from humble pie. Do any of us, really have the guts, nerve, stupidity, or sheer arrogance to claim that when the new earth is established, and mankind once again walks with God (whether this is proceeded by any number of varying eschatological views, we'll ignore), we'll not learn that we were indeed, so shallow-minded, so wrong, on many things that we thought to be true, and probably wacked others on the head over? I'm not saying, as so many annoy me more than half to death in doing, that we don't have a monopoly on the truth. We have all truth at our disposal, absolutely. What I'm saying is that we are fallen, very much imperfect beings, who will probably not go a day without sinning in our lives, and who have a very bad record of not getting the truth even when it's printed on a billboard and set right in front of us. So, walking in humility, we need to realize that all these disagreements are temporary, but that we'll spend all eternity in a corporate existence as the Church of God (in a universal sense, not a denominational one), as the catholic Church (Little "c"), as the bride. Right now, we're literally acting like siblings disagreeing over how to eat an Oreo (split apart carefully, eat both the dark sides, and save the creamy inside for last - whole milk required), when we'll be spending the rest of our lives (which in this case are eternal) together. We are losing fellowship with one another over the smallest of trifles. Does this mean I think denominations are wrong? No. That'd be näive of me. In a perfect world, yes, that would be wrong, but we are not perfect. It'd lead to endless sin and squabbles if we all attended on local church on Sunday as things stand. Separation is good for our growth and for the health of the church as a whole - it mitigates more serious heresy. But. The church should be able to come together as quickly as needed and even more often, for fellowship, the edification of the saints, and the showing of compassion to the world. Individual denominations have done great things in the area of medicine, charity, and social justice (not Social Justice) - so think about what it would mean to the planet if the Church (big "C") stood united, if we worked together in accomplishing the great commission, in making disciples of nations. This is why, as of late, I've tried to spend more time listening than talking, why, when I debate (and I do debate... my good friends will tell you I'm the least ecumenical person they know, I've placed at debate nationals on the collegiate level), I focus on education, on the mutual benefit of both parties by coming away with more information than we started with, rather than squashing my opponent (which is fun, yes...). This is why it’s most important that I love others.
            That brings us to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, which states:
1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

This means, much to the surprise of 2008-Eli if I was to take a time machine and confront him with this, that love IS the #1 thing. You can't have this without truth, yes, but you have to have equal love with your truth. I used to believe that it was better to not forsake truth, even if I was a bit harsh. I used to be the frozen chosen, as many Presbyterians are rightly known as. But love is primary, necessary, irreplaceable, everything. The verse says if we were to speak all truth, and not have love, we'd be nothing. Worthless. Empty. Filthy rags. Dead. So we have to focus on this. We MUST love. LOVE. And love is a choice. Despite what Walt Disney would have you believe, love isn't a magical sort of illness that you catch and can't help. Well, it can be, at first, but true love... true love is laying down your life for your friends. According to Christ, that is. And there's more than one way to lay down your life. Oh yes. It'd be easy for many of us to take a bullet for someone, adrenaline pumping through our veins, and it'd all be over in an instant. But it's not so easy for the mother of eight to dedicate forty years of her life, to lay it down, for her children, receiving almost nothing in return. But all of us are called to this kind of love, this kind of death, dying to ourselves daily, choosing to love the unlovely. Choosing to love when... well, life sucks. Christ did this. He took time for the children, the widow, the orphan, the whore, and every other sinful, human - just like you. They're just as deserving as you are. "Father forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us", "love your enemies", the commands are clear, and right from Christ. This applies to everyone, even our enemies. It's like the story of the famous Nazi-hunter, who when finally standing before the Nazi official he had been hunting for so long, in the court of justice in Jerusalem, broke down and wept as he discovered that it was not a monster he had brought to justice, but a man, just like him. Love is so important. And I feel so undeserving of the love Christ shows me. I am so undeserving. Yet for so long, I didn't pass this love along.
            Remember what I said above about my leaning toward truth without love because of my fear of heresy? That's a common mistake with us. It's easy to try to live right by plotting a course directly away from what we recognize as sin. But what we don't know is that if we head far enough in that direction, we're likely to hit an equally dark, muddy morass of sin. Run from anti-nomianism, lawlessness, and you get legalism. Run from Arminianism or Pelagianism which deny god's sovereignty, and you get Hyper-Calvinism, which denies God's command to evangelize. Run from socialism and you get anarchy. The straight and narrow path does not have a cliff on one side to lean against for safety. On both sides are sin, and only fully relying on God, only by looking straight ahead, to Christ, can we walk according to the commandments of God. Driving down the road, you don't watch your shoulder to stay on the road. You'll end up in a wreck that way. You look straight down the road, and guide the car to where you want to go. As Christians, we should do that, relying on God's word to tell us where we should go, and not being reactionary to the sin on either side. Basing our course off of the destination, the victory already achieved by Christ, instead of the object we're departing from. We can't walk a walk of integrity based simply off of a negative proposition; we need a goal, and a plan to get there.
            So what are the basics? What do we follow, look to, and if needs be, defend? God's word. Lean on the word of God. Drown yourselves in it. I can respect and even look to my brothers with awe if they are in the word, despite any disagreements we have. Ask God to reveal truth to you, and ask for an open heart to be able to learn it, ask to be soft, to let Him mold you. But what really is the core? What defines the faith? What are the limits of orthodoxy? What separates us from the Mormon Church, The Jehovah's Witnesses, or are we separate? Some Christians claim that the belief in Christ is the single defining point of orthodoxy. Truly, having  been saved by Christ, and renewed, the effects of which are evident is the minimum requirement, as you can believe anything, aye, as even the demons do according to scripture, and not be saved. But, grasping that truth alone is not enough that we must be brought alive by the Gospel, and that we must have love, what really defines what every true Christian can agree on? Such a document exists, being formed during the second century AD, when the disciples of the Apostles still lived. It's called The Apostle's Creed, and nearly every denomination of those who claim to be Christians have claimed it as truth for twenty centuries. That's big. All of us disagreeable argumentative Christians saying "This is how we all agree God's word is interpreted" - and sticking to it for two thousand years. That's big. It means something. The Apostle's Creed has several different wordings (only slight differentiations exist, they don't change the meaning), but the most commonly used one goes like this:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth. 
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. 
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

Those words make me shake, thinking of the tradition behind them, the amount of truth in such a small space. The gallons of blood spilt by martyrs on several continents defending the truth those lines embody. It's the basics, like that, that we should care about and defend. Not something as trivial as the sacrament of baptism, sprinkling versus dunking, or whether or not children can be baptized. At the end of the day, the baptism of the Holy Spirit bringing us alive to Christ is the true baptism, not the demonstration of this using H2O. How does it profit us to debate something as foggy as the future? Does eschatology need to be the hill we die on, and alienate our brothers over? Instead, let's make a united stand for this type of truth.
            Unfortunately, today, what's truth doesn't matter so much to... anybody. Christians included. We're pretty much all Postmodernists now. Now. Before you scream in objection, might I point out why I said that - I stated that because we are always affected by our age. But we have to recognize this effect in order to make sure we are reforming ourselves to what scripture requires of us, that we are compensating for our cultural flaws, and every culture has them. Recognition is needed in order for any change. During the Premodern period, everyone was affected. During the Modern period, everyone was affected. And so it is now. Postmodernism simply defined, means that the most important thing to us is what we think. And this is more or less true of all of us... including me. I freaked out when this idea was first presented to me, by a professor of mine at Bryan College, where I pursue my majors in Communications and Political Science, and a minor in Bible. But then I thought about it. What matters most to me when I watch a movie, listen to a song, or read a book? What it says or what I get out of it? This especially true of music. How many songs do we enjoy, completely ignoring the artist’s intent in regard to the words, and focusing on what they mean to us? This isn't entirely bad, but it has to be realized that this is the single defining ideology of the age, lest we be entirely swept away in it.
            Because "me" matters most to us, technology has been placed on an interesting course. A recent CNN Tech article I read said that in the age of the internet, the political divide is growing, and communication becomes harder from one side to the other. Why? Birds of a feather flock together. When a republican boots up his PC, where does he go for the news? Fox. Why? Because he can. Because they agree with him and strengthen his views. A Democrat on her iPad will meander over to MSNBC. Because they share her views. Will an atheist take the time required to read this blog post? I doubt it. Would I read a post this long on a radical Marxist's blog? No. It'd give me a headache and require me to take some Advil afterward, in all probability. The ability to live in a virtual community that shares our beliefs results in the inevitable strengthening of those beliefs, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Psychologists call this the classic cult complex - two or more people who share the same ideas will, by being together, build off each other to reach new levels of thought not attainable by a single individual. It's what probably resulted in the Columbine shooting by Klebold and Harris. Their classmates said neither of them could have done it without the other. But, that's a radical example. What I'm trying to say is that as communities begin to de-diversify, as they divide themselves nicely out of the salad bowl and into their assorted containers, we're presented with a massive communication problem. How will we be able to, as the church universal, make a stand for the basics we believe in, in love, when those we are attempting to reach are postmodernists, and postmodernists given the tool (or buffet) of the internet to select what they want in their ideological diet? The answer isn't easy. We have to realize that in the end, it's God who saves, not us, and that we are just required to obey his commandments, speak truth, and show love. He will do the rest. Or he's not God. And our minor theological squabbles, the disagreements I have with Caleb, should not change the commands of God. Belief that the world is getting worse and the church is going to be raptured, or belief that the earth is getting better, and the church will triumph before the return of Christ doesn't change the fact that we should have a passion for reaching the lost, that we are commanded to, and that we are also commanded to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and provide for our families, and disciple them as a mission field given to every man as a priest of his family. Too many times, these minor beliefs change the commands of God in our mind. But they shouldn't. If we all obeyed the commands of God, if we humbled ourselves, if we sought Christ, if we bathed in the scriptures, then it would not matter nearly as much (and this is a major change of heart for me) what we believed about the physical sacraments, predestination, eschatology, creation, or a myriad of other things. If they didn't change how we viewed the whole. That's a careful balance though. And they do matter, but first things are first. Love is first. The essential truths are first. Both together, always. My mother, who has much wisdom, once said in regard to arguments over Bible translations that if we all lived out 100% of what the KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, and yes, The Message (*cringe*) agreed on, we'd be too busy living like Christ to argue over which one to use. I will continue to use my Geneva Bible, but the principle I'm speaking about here should continue to sink in: That the commandments of God, His will, is primary, and therefore we are to live by truth in love above all else.
            I've said nothing new here. I hope you didn't expect something new. Solomon was a bright guy, and he said there is nothing new under the sun. But sometimes we need to be reminded of things. I pray that the Church would find unity. I pray we will stand, and die, if needed, for truth. I pray that we all die daily in order to demonstrate love, that God enables us to choose it, and I pray He will use this stand to help us overcome the communication barriers of our age, and continue to be a city on a hill. The church is dead to sin and alive to Christ. We are able to communicate in truth in love. We can take a stand while others divide and fall apart. But we have to move. We have to start somewhere. Let's start here.
            Caleb, when you get back... let's talk about God. Let's enjoy our Savior together, and focus on that. Maybe we'll be too busy to debate then.
            Eli        
(P.S. - I'm looking forward to my two scheduled posts... I just had to go ahead and publish this to see what people had to say).
(P.S.S. I'd love to engage anyone who's interested on a personal level... friend me on Facebook, Add me on Google+, or connect on LinkedIn - Joseph Elijah McGowan. My Twitter is @EliMcGowan, and my Skype is joseph.eli1).

48 comments:

  1. Is this Eli or Todd Friel...? As Lutheran Boy says "SCARY"

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    1. Dude, I love Todd Friel. XD Thanks for the comparison. Made my day.

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  2. ...I don't mean to sound rude, but...do you have a shorter version for those of us who'd say tl;dr?

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    1. Just read the Bible verse if you want a short version. And by-the-way, I loved your Ubuntu post... Linux FTW!

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    2. Actually, that was The Constitutionalist Reformer's post on Ubuntu... And, if you're wondering where I come into the picture, I'm Caleb's sis. :)

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    3. Hello Caleb's sis. ^.^

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    4. Okay, read the verses. (1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, right?) I skimmed a bit of your point, which I assume revolves around that, and found the NIV translation for it, which I think suits it better.

      Here's the part I heard in a sermon, once:
      "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

      I don't think branches of the church should dishonor one another, become easily angered at one another, or keep a record of wrongs from things other pastors have said. That's not walking in love. If ever we are to reach out to everyone who does not know God, we must walk in love - without it, how would anyone trust what we say, no matter how close to God we feel?

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    5. That's a great way to put it!

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    6. Very great... I didn't see that comment until just now.

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  3. Okay, two reactions to the post (although I agree with the preponderance of the comments):
    1) “How will we be able to, as the church universal, make a stand for the basics we believe in, in love, when those we are attempting to reach are postmodernists, and postmodernists given the tool (or buffet) of the internet to select what they want in their ideological diet?”
    The problem with this question is that it implies that the internet is really that important. As stated in the post, the internet supports their already held beliefs. Internet arguments are very unlikely to win them over. The answer to this problem is simple – we must reach them through relationship. This, of course, leads to the obvious question of how to engage such people in relationship, but that is the more important question, I think, because it is through our personal interactions with others that they are most likely to be affected. (Of course, I won’t put any barriers on the work of the Holy Spirit, who can use anything He pleases to get the job done…)
    2) “If we all obeyed the commands of God, if we humbled ourselves, if we sought Christ, if we bathed in the scriptures, then it would not matter nearly as much … what we believed about the physical sacraments, predestination, eschatology, creation, or a myriad of other things. If they didn't change how we viewed the whole. That's a careful balance though. And they domatter, but first things are first. Love is first. The essential truths are first. Both together, always.”
    I agree – the essential truths are pre-eminent, and as Paul is quick to remind us in I Corinthians 13, without love, they are nothing. However, perhaps we disagree on what is an “essential truth?” Jesus stated before Pilate that the reason he came into the world was – do you know? OK, look it up, I won’t give it away – John 18:37. I will give you physical sacraments, predestination, and eschatology as debatable matters. However, can we possibly say that special creation is not a fundamental, essential truth to the believer? If God is lying or speaking allegorically about this topic, the very first one about which He wrote, how can we possibly tell what else is allegorical or not? That is the source of so much theological error today – not taking the words of God seriously.
    That said, Jesus wrote to seven different churches in Revelation 2-3 and none of them actually knew the truth about their faults and their successes. Only one of the seven – Philadelphia – had their act together completely. We know that many of these church types are still in operation today, and we should not be any quicker to assume that we are the ones who have it all together than the churches were back then. (I can make a pretty good case that most churches today probably come closer to Laodicea than to Philadelphia, anyway.) However, no matter our differences, we are still called to be the body of Christ, his precious bride, and there should be unity in the body, where it is actually the body (there are some theological lines that just can’t be crossed).

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    1. Right. I agree with most of what you said. The quick overview I gave couldn't possibly address all of that. Thanks for sharing.

      Though, I'd have to say, although, yes, the core belief that spawns belief in old-earth creationism can lead to problems, just the belief in an old-earth timeline does not. The fever doesn't cause the cold. I know a lot of people who have come to that conclusion through careful study of God's word, and though I disagree with them, I can respect their view.

      I really like a lot of what you say here - we definitely don't have it all together. XD And yes, relationships are key. But relationships are built on... ... ...love. Caring. And you do have to have equal doses of that with your truth, which is all I claimed, nothing more. John 18:37 - Jesus says he came for the truth, but he also came out of love for His bride, per John 3:16.

      Nice post.

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  4. Very good thoughts, Eli. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Eli, since Caleb is not here to cover these things, I thought I would have a shot at this. :)

    First, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about Godly love. Thinking about what the Church could do as one united force is exciting and I hope that we can be there someday. It really hit me because I was thinking just the other day about a verse in James:
    "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."

    That is love in action, balanced with a proper fear of God. My thoughts of this verse is that we should sympathise and care for those who are hurting around us, while carefully watching our actions so that we may be a light to them. If each individual within the church did their share to act in such a way, we would be reaching people!

    I also appreciate your analogy about the road that doesn't have a cliff on one side to lean against. I had never thought of it quite that way. Walking that narrow path can be difficult, but you're right, if we keep our eyes on God and where we're going we can walk safely.

    I want to address what you had to say about baptism:
    "It's the basics, like that, that we should care about and defend. Not something as trivial as the sacrament of baptism, sprinkling versus dunking, or whether or not children can be baptized."

    Yes, we should defend the basics, but to a certain extent the basics don't need that much defense. Most people do not try to argue with the fact that we should love people. But more than that, I don't believe that you should call anything concerning God and His Word as trivial. I'm sure you've heard Caleb's opinion on immersion (I hold that same opinion myself), so I'm not looking to debate that one with you, but you cannot pass off something that God is so adamant about as trivial. Even if you do not believe that immersion is necessary for salvation, you cannot argue with the fact that Jesus told us to "baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matthew 28:19.

    As a command from Christ we should at least hold that as important. If it concerns our salvation, if it concerns our life in Christ and obedience to Him, it is something to be regarded as precious and sacred.

    I had a question as well, concerning your definition of postmodernism. I have never quite understood what all those terms mean (I guess I'm too lazy to look them up, I need to do that) but according to your definition it means that we care most about what we personally think or feel. In my mind, that is not something new or different. People have always judged everything by the standard of their own selves. Since the beginning of time we have considered ourselves first. So my question is, do you think that is merely a new thing or just that it is more emphasized in today's culture? And what would your definition of premodernism and modernism be?

    By the way, despite the length of your post, I found it very interesting and just the right amount entertaining.

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    1. Thanks for your compliments.

      "But more than that, I don't believe that you should call anything concerning God and His Word as trivial."

      True. But Paul, an apostle of Christ,calls circumcision, which is also an outward sign, trivial, and tells us what matters most is the circumcision of the heart. The same applies to the *physical* sacrament of baptism - because it is *not* required for salvation - or else the thief on the cross would have been lied to by Christ, never having been baptized. What *is* required for salvation is the act of God in Baptizing (big "B")our hearts with the indwelling of His holy Spirit.

      But yes, commands are important. That's why I do have an apologetic for what I believe about baptism, though I won't get into that here. However, once again, commands concerning a *sign* are not quite as important in God's eyes as those concerning... *people*. Dietary law in the OT did not come before moral law.

      True, and as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.

      Pre-Modernism was the system of the ancients, believing miracles were valid proof of something, ready to believe anything, really. This had drawbacks in that any magician or "prophet" could easily gain followers.

      Modernism changed this, relying only on what someone can prove systematically, scientifically. Darwin was a modernist, or a product of this era.

      Postmodernism is the belief that you can't prove anything objectively, because you have your own truth, what matters most to you is what matters, even if not for anyone else.

      This site has a good overview: http://www.postmodernpsychology.com/Philosophical_Systems/Overview.htm

      All have always been present. The Apostle (Doubting) Thomas showed a characteristic of the modernists, etc. But the single defining view of our day is postmodernism. Which is really going beyond what is important to you I guess, and saying "that can *only* be important to you, no truth can really be known *apart* from *you*, for *you*.

      Thanks again.

      Eli

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    2. Good response, Eli. The salvation of the thief on the cross has always been the most compelling evidence to me that baptism is not required for salvation, although it is clearly an important step of obedience for those who receive salvation.

      I'm interested in one of your statements, though: "What *is* required for salvation is the act of God in Baptizing (big "B") our hearts with the indwelling of His holy Spirit." I'm trying to understand exactly what you meant in regards to baptism and the Holy Spirit. Would you mind providing a very brief argument from Scripture to explain your comment above? It seems to imply that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers as part of the salvation experience, and though I'm not sure I disagree with that premise, there are examples in the Word where this was not the case (Acts 8:16). Are you speaking of something different than the baptism of the Holy Spirit that is spoken of in Acts? I would be grateful for some discourse on this topic. (Obviously, as we have already established, none of this matters all that much compared to reaching the lost and doing it all in love, but still...)

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    3. Eli,
      Thank you for the further explanation of Postmodernism, that makes sense to me now. :)

      I guess my issue is that I do see baptism as necessary for salvation. As far as the Baptizing of the Holy Spirit, I believe (according to Acts 2:38) that it takes place at immersion. Immersion is the truest translation of the Hebrew word in that passage.

      Concerning the thief on the cross, do you believe that Christ had power on earth to forgive sins?

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    4. Okay. Let me try to write this out in a systematic way, which is troubling to me, because I'm quite ADD, as you probably noticed in reading my original post. 8D

      I'll combine my answer to both Anonymous and Miss Grove.

      First off - every act of salvation is not limited to forgiveness. Christ could not arbitrarily forgive the thief on the cross any more than a judge could pardon a convicted serial-killer who was found guilty by a jury. Every act of salvation, from Genesis to the present day was achieved by the justifying work of Christ on the cross, making us *legally righteous* in God's eyes, as Christ substituted Himself in our stead, became a sin offering, an abomination, and was crushed by God. Reconciling where Proverbs says "He who justifies the wicked is an Abomination before the Lord" with Romans 6 which states that God is "both just *and* the justifier of the wicked." So - the thief, like everyone else in all of history, was saved by a justifying work of God.

      So, on to the mechanics of salvation, which is a very delicate subject.

      First off, let's look at the start of Ephesians, which tells us that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest anyone should boast. This means we were saved by grace alone, which is a very historical belief of orthodox, and subsequently reformed, Christianity. By grace through faith. Not by faith. Not by belief (even the demons believe and tremble at his name). Not by baptism (very much a physical work, and indeed, if this was required for salvation, wouldn't communion also be required?), by prayer, by fasting, or any other manner of good and proper things. To paraphrase Keith Green, a rather antiquated CCM artist, none of these things make us Christian any more than eating at McDonald's makes us a hamburger.

      So, right form the start, we *have* to grasp that we are saved by grace alone. *NOTHING* we can do aids to our salvation or is required for it, lest we should boast. Additionally, this would be absurd in light of the fact that before salvation, even our "greatest works are but filthy rags before God".

      What else do we know about salvation? Ephesians also tells us we were dead before coming to Christ, Paul says we were slaves to sin, utterly incapable of bettering our position (not preaching predestination here, you can believe in free will and still have an accurate view of salvation). We *willingly* entered into this slavery by our *legal* representative Adam, in the covenant he made with his make in the garden. Through our first parents, we were all represented, and all fell.

      So then, how is salvation achieved? God frees us. Breaks these chains. Turns our hard hearts into those of flesh, and all at once, like Paul on the road to tarsus, just on a more realistic level, the level of the heart, than the also visible physical appearance in that special case. And this is more or less without us, per Romans 3:11, which says we do not seek God. At this point, the Holy Spirit lives in us, as it has in every believer from genesis until the present day (Pentecost was a special pouring out, an overflow of the spirit). Without the spirit, it would be impossible to abide in christ with our sinful nature pulling at us.

      1 Corinthians 6 says:

      19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

      20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

      And verse 3:16 of the same book:

      Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

      It's because of this that every good work we do, is not really ours, but Christ's. It's why, last semester, when a Junior at my college died, her father, stood up at the memorial service for her and told all the students of my school, that the wonderful person they knew was not his daughter, but Christ.

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    5. Continuing -

      Like 2 Tim. 4:18 says: "And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve [me] unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen."

      It's all through him we are preserved. It's impossible for our heart to have the strength to hold out against our sinful nature for the amount of time needed between salvation and when baptism is possible. From the outset, we are only kept in our current alive state through this indwelling. We are incapable of abiding for one second without it. Salvation's method does not change - the thief had to be saved the same way as all else, through grace, and if anything else was required, he could not have been saved, and Christ would be a liar. Additionally, nothing can be required of us per Ephesians, lest we should boast.

      All this should comfort us, as therefore there is hope for every battlefield salvation, every death-bed salvation, everyone whom God ever saved of His own will, and no one will be barred from heaven for a lack of reaching some H2O.

      I'd disagree that immersion is the truest form of the (Greek, not Hebrew) word in that passage, but you should already know I think that, and this is nto the place to have such a debate. I only wish to establish that the sign of baptism is not as important as Baptism itself.

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    6. Amen and Amen to everything Eli said about salvation! An outstanding summary of the topic, and I couldn't agree more, although I believe Saul was on the way to Damascus, not Paul to Tarsus.

      More substantially, I'm having a hard time swallowing this statement: "At this point, the Holy Spirit lives in us, as it has in every believer from genesis until the present day (Pentecost was a special pouring out, an overflow of the spirit). Without the spirit, it would be impossible to abide in christ with our sinful nature pulling at us." OK, first of all, I think something happened that was a little more special than a "special pouring out" on the day of Pentecost, and here are some of the reasons:
      • In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit comes on people (e.g. David, Samson, etc.) then leaves; that doesn’t sound to me like the Holy Spirit is “living” in them; in fact, the verses Eli quoted highlight a key difference of the New Covenant from the Old – instead of a tabernacle or temple made of materials constructed by man, we ARE the tabernacle/temple! We take God with us wherever we go! (How has the modern church got this so wrong, with all these grand edifices we construct and call them “churches”? )
      • Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be our Helper after he was gone (John 16:7-13). That passage doesn’t sound like he was just promising a “special pouring out” to me; it sounds like something new and different that would be available to ALL believers after His ascension. Acts 1:4-5 also speaks of a “promise of the father” when His followers would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
      • Delving into the Feasts of Israel in the Old Covenant a bit, there were seven feasts – Feast of Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, Pentecost/Feast of Weeks, Rosh Hashanah / Jewish New Year, Feast of Tabernacles / Booths, and Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement. These feasts are prophetic – this can be easily seen from the fact that the first three were fulfilled at Jesus’ first coming, when they occurred on the exact calendar day of the feasts themselves (i.e. Jesus was crucified on Passover, as our Passover lamb, and resurrected on the Feast of Firstfruits, as He is the firstfruits of all who believe). The last three feasts have not yet been prophetically fulfilled, as they appear to be prophetic of Jesus’ second coming, which hasn’t yet occurred. That leaves Pentecost – prophetically fulfilled on…surprise!...the day of Pentecost. What happens on that day, the fiftieth day after the first three feasts? The Holy Spirit fills EVERYONE present, appearing as tongues of fire, which highlights the believers’ new role as LIVING SACRIFICES and as temples of the Holy Spirit. So what does this day of Pentecost represent? The birth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, this mysterious new entity (shedding some light on Jesus’ strange comments in Luke 7:28), taking us back to that original post Eli made about unity in the body, since we are all considered ONE body by Christ.

      So…what did Jesus mean when He said he was sending us this Spirit of truth, our Helper? Why would He say that if all believers from Genesis through today experienced His Spirit in this way, or even COULD experience Him in this unique way? What’s so prophetically important about the Day of Pentecost if all that happened that day was a “special pouring out”? What’s going on in Acts 8:16 if they had already received salvation and had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus – why did they need to “receive the Holy Spirit,” and what did that mean to their lives? Wouldn’t the Holy Spirit already have been there, if Eli’s description is correct? If so, then why did they need to receive the Holy Spirit again or in addition? These are some of the questions for which I find Eli’s explanation inadequate.

      I’m interested to hear your thoughts or perspectives about the questions I've posed above. Again, Eli - excellent post. I’ve just chosen to pick on one point to challenge some of the assumptions.

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    7. Shanna - regarding the Greek word baptiso; how do you reconcile your belief that the truest translation of this word is "immersion" with Luke 12:50, in which I can't possibly imagine Jesus is speaking of being immersed in water when he uses that same Greek word?

      As a completely separate, but interesting, aside about the word baptiso(Strongs G907), here's a really interesting comment about this word that I found while looking it up:

      "This word should not be confused with baptô (911). The clearest example that shows the meaning of baptizo is a text from the Greek poet and physician Nicander, who lived about 200 B.C. It is a recipe for making pickles and is helpful because it uses both words. Nicander says that in order to make a pickle, the vegetable should first be 'dipped' (baptô) into boiling water and then 'baptised' (baptizô) in the vinegar solution. Both verbs concern the immersing of vegetables in a solution. But the first is temporary. The second, the act of baptising the vegetable, produces a permanent change."

      That's powerful stuff! When we read about baptism, it's something that is meant to change, as opposed to just being temporarily dipped (immersed!), which produces no permanent change. Deep - literally! OK, enough puns.

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    8. I feel like an idiot, yes, it was the unconverted Paul (Saul) going to Damascus.

      Interesting summary, and I'm glad you liked what I said about salvation.

      I'm going to have to look into this matter a bit more, as I'm somewhat undecided on it, also, I'm trying to figure out the indwelling of Christ vs. the indwelling of the spirit. Anyway, time to hit the books.

      But, this issue, the timeline of the Holy Spirit, is very far from our original topic... and not too big of an issue - we obviously have it now, either way.

      Additionally, I enjoyed your explanation of baptism, a lot.

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    9. Anonymous pray tell, art thou a Pentecostal or Holiness? Or either I am curious?

      TCR

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    10. Shanna,
      Not sure these questions of yours got answered in full, so I want to make sure I comment on them:
      " guess my issue is that I do see baptism as necessary for salvation. As far as the Baptizing of the Holy Spirit, I believe (according to Acts 2:38) that it takes place at immersion. Immersion is the truest translation of the Hebrew word in that passage."
      You've already seen my comment regarding the Greek word "baptiso." I've previously mentioned Acts 8:16, in which some followers of Christ had been baptized in water, but not by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:44-48, followers receive baptism in the Holy Spirit before being baptized in water. In Acts 19:1-6, believers are water baptized ("baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus") and then Paul lays his hands on them and "the Holy Spirit comes upon them" - two separate events happening in succession. Thus, I would conclude that water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit are two separate things that CAN happen at the same time (or the same setting, at least), but don't necessarily NEED to.

      Concerning the thief on the cross, do you believe that Christ had power on earth to forgive sins?
      Didn't Matthew 9:6 provide the answer to that? However, how is this question relevant?

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    11. Anonymous, my point is that if Jesus had power on earth to forgive sins, then He could give that to the thief, telling him that he will be with Him that day in paradise.

      As far as the whole pickle idea, I would agree that baptism should bring change.

      Concerning Luke 12:50, I personally think that Jesus was using baptism as a metaphor for the death and resurrection that he was to go through. This also makes sense according to Romans 6:4. If we are to truly be His, then we must die to our sin and be risen in Christ. I think we can all agree on that. From what I see in the bible, immersion is not only a metaphor for our spiritual death and resurrection, it is that moment that God has chosen to enact that spiritual transformation.

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    12. Shanna:

      Thanks for the response. I'm still trying to logically make the connection between your first paragraph, that Jesus could forgive the thief's sins, to your last paragraph, where you say that immersion is the moment that God has chosen to enact that spiritual transformation. First, what Jesus said to the thief on the cross was "today you shall be with me in Paradise." That is inherently the result of our salvation, right? Being reconciled to God and resurrected unto new life to be with Him for eternity? You say that God has chosen the point of baptism to enact a spiritual transformation, and I agree with you. However, this was obviously not required for the thief to enter Paradise, and therefore cannot be a prerequisite for salvation and the resulting resurrection with Christ. However, I have no disagreement that for those of us who go on living instead of dying immediately after our salvation experience, baptism is indeed very significant.

      John's baptism is clearly stated to be a baptism of repentance, and then after Jesus' ascension, believers were to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11, fulfilled in Acts 2 and elsewhere). As to the purpose and significance of baptism, it seems that Romans 6 is the most comprehensive passage dealing with this topic. Since the entire book of Romans is intended to describe who is justified (i.e. who is saved, and the why's and how's), Romans 6 seems key to properly understanding the purpose of baptism. Romans 6:3-4 tells us that we are baptized into Christ's death so that we can be raised with Him and walk in newness of life, being freed from sin's bondage and becoming slaves of righteousness. Thus, the focus of the chapter is not on salvation via baptism, but that baptism represents our transformation from the old man, slave to sin, to the new man, a "slave of righteousness." The chapter explains how we are to live AFTER we have been justified by grace through faith, that no man should boast. (It is Romans 10:9-13 that most concisely sums up how we are saved, with no mention of baptism.)

      In fact, speaking of boasting...the apostle John goes out of his way to emphasize that Jesus did not do the actual baptizing, but delegated it to His disciples (John 4:2). Paul also emphasizes in I Cor. 1:13-17 that arguments about who had baptized a person were not to cause division in the church (there should be no boasting), and Paul says in v.17:
      "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect."

      I find it instructive to see that multiple scriptures are quick to point out who Jesus and Paul did NOT baptize to avoid divisions in the church. Instead, Paul emphasizes preaching of the gospel, because as he says in Romans 10:17, "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (As an aside, the Greek word for "word" in this passage is "rhema", the living, active, spoken word, not "logos", the written word.)

      To sum up: I agree that baptism/immersion is a moment that God enacts a spritual transformation - I can even buy into the case that baptism is required if we are to live a godly life, because it clearly is associated with dying to our sins and being raised with Christ in newness of life. I just can't see that scripture supports baptism as a prerequisite for salvation, and the thief is a great example of that.

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    13. So, question Shanna -

      In my own experience, as a member of a Presbyterian family, I was baptized as an infant. Obviously this had nothing to do with salvation, but then again, we don't believe the sacrament has anything to do with salvation no matter when it is performed.

      When I was much older, and after experiencing much sin, and being utterly stuck in the pit of Nihilism, I was confronted, all at once, with my sin, granted faith, and the ability to abide in Christ through His Holy Spirit. I'm now alive to Him, and my former sins I now hate, they grieve me, when I once loved them.

      So the question is this - having never experienced immersion, or the sacrament of baptism as a believer, and never intending to, as I believe the first is unbiblical and the second unnecessary in my case, having been baptized in the covenant expectation that God would one day save me, is it possible for me, in your framework of thinking, to be saved?

      With regard,

      Eli

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  6. Are you implying Apple is for socialist while PC's are for Conservatives, I happen to like my iPad and am an ultra-conservative libertarian (Mostly)

    TCR

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    1. I love Steve Jobs, but I just don't like his overpriced hardware. Dells running Linux for the win! 8D

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  7. "Hence."
    I love that word.
    I like my iPad too, and I am conservative. (Mostly.)
    By the way, I am Caleb's older sister.

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    1. Thanks. :D
      I should hope so...
      Cool! How many siblings are in your family again? XD Us homeschoolers... I'm the eldest of 8...

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  8. Pray tell Anonymous are you a Pentecostal? Or Perhaps Holiness?

    TCR

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    1. Rather than to self-identify with the labels of such movements, I prefer to think of myself as non-denominational, trying follow the Word of God without being overly influenced by the historical clutter and convention of denominational traditions or belief statements. That said, I do have some Pentecostal upbringing, and I've personally witnessed or heard firsthand of too many miracles not to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in signs, wonders, and spiritual gifts as much as or more today in the world as a whole as He was in the book of Acts. However, most of these signs and wonders are happening in other places in the world (especially 3rd world countries), not in the U.S., allowing many believers in this country to comfortably deny that such events even occur today. I find this unfortunate. However, I'm also well aware of the excesses of Pentecostals and an over-willingness to abandon the clear teaching of the Word of God in search of the "next big experience" (like the Lakeland FL stuff a few years back). I don't condone or agree with that, either.

      I'm not trying to force a specific perspective on anyone, but I am looking for some good discussion and debate based on the Word taken holistically. I take the Bible seriously and love to discuss it with others who do the same. Thanks for asking.

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    2. That's wonderful because I too am an shall I say independent Pentecostal (not affiliated with the denomination), modenr day movement such as the Lakeland revivals, and heretics likes Benny Henn, Todd Bently, Kenneth Hagan, and dare I say it Jimmy Swaggart have put a bad name on Pentecostals as a whole.

      TCR

      TCR

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  9. Sorry for the double post I didnt think it went through the first time

    TCR

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    1. That was probably because I have to okay anything that is posted (unless written by an administrator) before it goes online. Sometimes it takes me a day or so for me to get around to publishing comments.

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  10. There, Eli, I read it. :D

    And... wow. God is doing something, something big. I think we've already established that... haha. :P But I see Him raising up people, men and women, who... love. Who see the Vision He has for the Church. Who want it to be all He can make it. And I'm excited about that. :) This post kind of ties it all together nicely. I am eager to see where God brings us all in the next generation... it'll be scary, but awesome. :)

    The comments, however, on this post... most of 'em, at least... are rather ironic. :P

    *shrugs* Ah well. Some will get it, and we will keep loving and praying until more get it. :)

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    1. Thanks Carissa. I was thinking of you a lot while writing that... and Jay... and HW, and everything and everybody. :)

      Yeah, those comments are extremely ironic... ... ... >.<

      I'm so eager...

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    2. ...or perhaps the comments are not so ironic?

      When we speak of God's love, we're talking about unconditional love, the kind that bears all things and never fails. We believers will have our minor differences, but we recognize that the same Spirit fills us all. The comments to this post are an excellent example of the differences that will inevitably be there among individuals with different spiritual backgrounds and upbringing, but should never separate us as believers. The Father of Lies comes to separate and destroy, but our Father in Heaven wants there to be a diversity of gifts and functions, but one body.

      However, we should also never let ourselves get so "touchy feely" about the whole "love" thing that we forget that God honors only one thing above His Name: His Word. If it's that important to Him, it had better be the basis of everything we believe and act upon. Without love, every verse of the Bible is futile or even harmful, but without His Word, our acts of "love" quickly become just another secular social program (see: Salvation Army). His Love and His Truth - we need them both in equal and ever-increasing measure.

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    3. Good remarks. But the fact that people immediately started asking each other what denomination they belonged to... XD

      We err on both sides of the path, like I wrote. There's no easy way out. For too long I leaned toward not loving rather than avoid truth, but now I see my new path was just as sinful. We must love. We must speak truth. But we must still love. Always.

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    4. Knowin someones denominational stance helps us to understand where they are coming from in their arguments, if I understand that you (Eli) are a Calvanist I understand what you mean i.e. by preservation of the saints, this would mean something totally differant to lets say a Pentecostal (ME) or a Church of Christ (CALEB).

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    5. Absolutely. That's why I refer to myself as a Presbyterian. Today, even Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses call themselves Christian, so it's hardly enough to let someone know who you are.

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  11. I can bring about large amounts of irony at times, I am human so excuse my shortcomings.

    TCR

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  12. You're welcome. :) Yep, I could tell. :D Or at least it sounded that way..

    *sighs* It is hard, when thing like that happen. :P But... it's actually encouraging, in a discouraging sort of way. There's always resistance when you're doing something right. The enemy doesn't let go without a good hard fight. :P So we press on...

    Me too. :)

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  13. Shanna, you never answered my question. :D

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  14. "Trees have no dogmas, and turnips are singularly broadminded."

    "Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father."

    "The frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear."

    ~G.K. Chesterton

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I'm Caleb Grove

Yep, that's me. I'm a 17 year old web unicorn and own OnRamp Web Design. My skill base is quite broad, though my real focus lies in UX and UI design for the web. When it comes to designs, I'm a perfectionist, scooting 1 pixel at a time.

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