Friday, July 11, 2008

Three theological And historical misunderstandings



Three points I wish to make about what I see as three theological and historical misunderstandings. The first has to do with false doctrine and individuals within the Church. The second has to do with false theological groups within the Church. The third has to do with renewal and revival movements within the Church.
Drawing by Melissa McHenry Tregilgas

(1)Individuals and groups who call themselves Christian but teach false doctrine are just that, individuals and groups who call themselves Christians and teach false doctrine. They are just like the rest of us: sinners. A few of them great sinners, some of them seemingly of very good character and most of them very enjoyable people to know.

I noticed this misunderstanding about false Christians as I worked in ministries to new religions. As the Director of Apologetics Resource Center I was usually the person who wrote about off-beat Christian groups. Most people reading this will have not heard of any of them. For instance, have you ever heard of the “Manifest Sons of God” movement? Or what about Free Love Ministries or Aggressive Christianity? (Same group!)

My point is most of the people in those groups were not monsters like Jim Jones or L. Ron Hubbard, instead they were people who didn’t understand the very basic foundation of Christianity. They needed biblical Pastors, teachers and friends.

The problem with false doctrine is not that the perpetrators are horrid people but that they have made Christianity a religion of works. When they sin there is no hope. Instead of the death of Jesus Christ providing the sinner with the righteousness that belongs only to Jesus Christ the believer has to “know” or “realize” who they are. Or the sinner has to somehow fulfill the very same work as Christ, for example empty themselves in order to be transformed.

Instead of the Father reaching down and placing them in safety because of the Son, they are left climbing ladders to God. That is why I write about false teachers, because both they and their followers are left without the righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ.

(2.)Historically strange and false movements have grown in the Church, but the Church has outlasted them. The gates of Hell shall not prevail! In American Church history various movements have formed and grown in the Church but they have eventually moved out of the Church. For instance, the Unitarian church grew out of the early Congregationalists as a debate about the Trinity seemed to almost overcome the Church of early America.

The interesting part of this is that eventually the Unitarian Church had its own battle against those who no longer wanted to celebrate the communion service in any way. This was the battle the Unitarian Church had with the Transcendentalists. Later as false religion grew the Pagan and Wicca groups became a part of what is now the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Another movement that festered within the nineteenth century American Church was the Metaphysical Movement which was later to form into such groups as Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity and Science of Mind. Not many people know that early on this movement sought a home in the Christian Church. (And sadly it has influenced some of the Pentecostal churches and the Mainline Churches even now.) But the point is that God always has His Church somewhere and “having done all” she can still stand in His truth and grace. Error does not last.

(3.)A lot of writing has gone on recently about renewal groups having a slogan of “stay, fight win” in the mainline churches. I don’t think this is really the slogan of anyone but I want to address what it means to be renewal people in the Church. It means to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to be where He has called. And historically it can mean many things.

It can be a dying church that leaves a witness. Sometimes Christianity starts in the world as in seventeenth century Japan where most Christians died until Christianity was only a shell. It can be a renewing Church that waits a long time for renewal. Sometimes Christianity is renewed in the Church as it was in the Catholic Church of John Hus only to face death and a wait of a hundred years for the rise of a new reformation.

It can be renewal that lasts for years and changes history. Christians, in what would become modern Germany, were in prayer for church renewal when Martin Luther began his biblical preaching in what would become the Reformation.

We do not know where God is leading or what will happen in the mainline churches in the future. We cannot insist others follow Christ in the same way He calls us to follow Him. There is an old hymn that goes “Some through the water, some through the flood, some through the fire but all through the blood.”

But we can trust that His call is real and has value in His Kingdom. And we can keep loving those teaching false doctrine in the Church as we speak truth to them. We can also keep loving, caring for, and having fellowship with those God calls out of the mainline Churches. Perhaps in God’s plan they will bring blessings back to us.

32 comments:

Bill Crawford said...

It is important to remember that Athanasus fought for forty years and died before the concept of the Trinity was firmly and rightly locked into doctrine. So we labor on for faithfulness not for winning. In that sense I am in 100% in agreement.

It is important to remember this, at the same time the denominations of today are not a straight line comparison to the church of his day. This is why we see us taking seperate paths for the same cause. May God bless your journey and mine!

Debby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Bob said...

nteresting blog. I would have put the list as:

1. Non Christians who call themselves Christians

2. Christians who are either heretics or who have apostasized and are no longer Christians

3. The responsibility to honor the unity of the Church and witness to the Gospel in a Church that has gone into error (as the Church in Luther's time did), until kicked out, (as Luther was).

You, as always, are more polite than I am.

Debbie said...

Thanks for this post, Viola! Let me build upon what you are saying.

I think another thing to remember, in respect to point 3, as you imply, is that different Christians may be called to different paths. Some of us in the renewal movement may be called to stay in the PCUSA for whatever purpose it is that God has (I agree that the "stay, fight, win" is not a slogan I've heard from renewalists). Others of us may be called to leave.

So we must not accuse those whose calling is different of unfaithfulness. As Aslan says in the Narnia tales (this may be a paraphrase), "That is his or her story, not yours." Although we may have a strong sense of our call to stay or to leave, it does not mean that God only calls people to do as we are called to do.

Debbie Berkley

Viola said...

Bill,
You are a good friend and I believe you are a faithful Christian. And I do pray that God blesses your journey. But some of the things you are writing on other blogs are troubling me. Just as I have stood against the accusations against the EPC so I stand against any slurs about renewal people including references to the money they use in their labor for Jesus Christ.

Although the PCUSA is not "The Church" it is one of the groups within Christ's Church and he has a right to do with it as he wishes. He can remove its candle stick or he can renew its witness and use renewal people as his instruments. But if he has not called you here do you want Christ to see you stand and complain at those he has called here?

I think you should just be about the work God has called you to which I know you will so faithfully perform.

Viola said...

Thanks Bob,
I think your ideas are very good and I have read some of the post on your site. You have such great compassion for Christ's Church.

I haven't called the first group non-Christians although I believe some are. Some are simply untaught and decieved Christians. On the second group that is where I believe many of the non-Christians are. And they certainly are heretics who John says went out from us because they were not of us. I believe however that a denomination can be totally engulfed by heretical views.

Debbie,
Thanks for your words and for building on mine. I rushed to get that Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy, and look up the reference but then I remembered it is loaned out. I have thought of the quote several times while thinking of the various ways God call us to follow Him.

Dave Moody said...

I love that quote from Lewis, among many others.

Biblically, it reminds me of our Lord's words at the very end of John to Peter, asking about John- "what about him?" Jesus said, "What's it to you, if I want him to remain alive until I return? You must follow me!"

Grace- much grace, must be extended to all- who are leaving and who are not (yet), and who won't ever. Love, prayer, support and encouragement. We can argue over strategy and tactics- iron sharpening iron and all-- but at the end of the day- love God and do what you will- following Jesus on the path he determines.

thanks Vi for the post.
dm

Toby Brown said...

Really great stuff!

I too have struggled with how to consider those who claim the title "Christian" and who have serious departures from Scripture in their doctrine.

Sin I can handle, aberrant doctrine I cannot.

I'll throw out a big one here--- What about those within our denomination who claim to hold the same convictions that we do, yet who think that sex is basically not regulated in God's Word? Are they false Christians? Non-Christians who make false claims as to their status? Or are they flawed Christians?

Or maybe I should just not think to much about it and defend the truth of Scripture?

Good discussion!

Toby Brown said...

One more thing--

I'm asking this because we need to understand what regeneration brings. If, when God gives a person a new heart and new mind in Christ, can that person still not honor what God teaches in the Word?

Don't the regenerate love what God loves and hate what God hates? I know that this will not be perfect in this life, but surely a truly regenerated person cannot be in open rebellion?

We can safely say that the heretical groups that you mention cannot have truly regenerate people running them, but what do we say about those who claim our own name and who are yet in opposition (in heart and mind) to what God teaches?

Tell me and I'll know what to believe! ;)

Viola said...

Toby,
I think aberrant doctrine is far worse than other sins, (it is sin) because it keeps the sinner from the forgiveness of Jesus Christ out of ignorance. The Puritan Richard Baxter said something like that in his book The Reformed Pastor. (Not sure if I am spelling his name right or have the title right.)

"What about those within our denomination who claim to hold the same convictions that we do, yet who think that sex is basically not regulated in God's Word?"

That really puzzles me too. I have known people who became Christians and still held on to their worldly views about abortion, but as they grew in Christ they changed.

Sometimes I think of those verses in the Bible about the sower. Maybe it is the cares or worries of the world that make God's word non-useful to them so they become unfruitful. But I always see those in that parable as non-Christian because the Word of God is unable to bear fruit in them.

Viola said...

Dave,
Thanks for the words about grace. May it cover all of our actions.

Mac said...

A great post and series of responses. We must always remember that Christ defines the width and breadth of His church, not us. He alone will prune the vines of His kingdom.

At the same time, we are called to be alert to the work of the one that hates the Church and will do everything he can to damage it (although he knows that he can never prevail in its total destruction). Aberrant doctrine is a major weapon in that attack. Not only does it keep the sinner who espouses false doctrine from the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, but it also allows the proponent to infect others.

Those who are still called to labor and struggle for the reformation and restoration of the PC(USA) must be in our prayers.

Grace said...

Hi, Viola,

How are you? We haven't talked in awhile, so I'm hanging out with my Presby friends for abit. :) I've missed you.

Have to respond to Toby. I think that in the visible church, there will always be "tares mixed with the wheat." And, ultimately only God knows our hearts, and sees the difference in an eternal sense. (We have to trust Him to sort things out.)

And, people can take differing positions on this and that issue for a variety of reasons.

To me, though, there is a difference between a knowing, and deliberate rebellion against the word of God because we really don't care, and want to go our own way, as opposed to a situation where sincere, Christian people may not always agree concerning the correct meaning, and interpretation of Scripture.

To give an example, I personally don't feel that the Scripture is addressing constitutional homosexuality, and committed relationships between gay folks who love the Lord. So, I'm affirming toward the blessing of SSU, and partnered gay clergy.

I realize that not everyone, even the scholars agree, and I may be wrong about this. If so, God will have to show me.

But, I can bear witness to you that I love Jesus Christ, and know Him personally as my Savior, and Lord. My heart is not full of rebellion, and scorn for the word of God, or the historic faith of the Christian church.

Sincerely,
Your sister..Grace.

Viola said...

Grace,
Its very good to hear from you too. I did read your comments over at Fred Anderson's blog.

I have some verses for you; after reading them perhaps you would like to send me back some verses from the Bible that say Homosexual practice is okay.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? De not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

"But we know that the Law is good if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching." (1 Tim 1: 8-10)

Add to this Jesus statement that marriage is between a man and a women. "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said 'for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?" (Matt 19: 4-5)

Notice that all the sins listed above need to be repented of and that Jesus Christ forgives them and changes us, He does not leave us in our sin. So I await your verses.

Viola said...

I forgot to say I am using the NAS

Grace said...

Viola,

At this point, I think I"ve irritated Fred, and better back off. I seem to have a way of doing this without even trying. :(

Viola, I cannot provide those verses. No one can. I think the Scripture is an empty closet, so to speak, and does not address the issue of constitutional homosexuality, in the same way that it doesn't address the issue of people who are inter-sexed, or transgendered.

I'm not sure why. Only God knows. I often wonder why God did not specifically command, and address the abolition of slavery, and make this issue more clear from the beginning as well. But, God knows, and we can only trust Him.

But, anyway, head over to Evangelical's Concerned website, and click on "clobber passages," to see an alternate interpretation of those Scripture verses you've mentioned, and more.

Wish I could provide the link, but I'm basically computer illiterate. Anyway, tell me your opinion.

Inclusive Orthodoxy is another good website to check out.

Wait to hear from you. I'm so glad we're able to have this discussion together.

God bless!

Viola said...

Grace,
First of all God did address the issue of slavery. For instance, "Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so." (1 Cor 7: 21)

The whole book of Philemon is Paul attempting to gain freedom for Onesimus.

One of the verses I gave you before, 1 Tim 1:10 the word kidnapper there can be translated slave-trader. And when God condemns Babylon in the book of Revelation one of the reasons is because she participated in the selling of human souls and bodies. (Rev 18-13)

On homosexuality, Scripture is not an empty closet, I just gave you several verses that condemn the practice, but you cannot give me any that okays it and that is because Scripture does not affirm practicing homosexuals. But Jesus Christ does offer freedom, love and forgiveness. (And so does his Church.)

Grace, I know you are trying to follow Jesus Christ faithfully but be careful, refusing to accept what scripture teaches can lead to rebellion against the Lordship of Jesus.


I have already looked at those sites they are simply twisting scripture.

Viola said...

Mac,
I am late in telling you thank you for your words. They are very encouraging.

Grace said...

Viola,

We'll have to agree to disagree then. And, I appreciate that you checked out the websites.

Hey, I want to speak to you from my heart. I realize that this is very controversial, and not all Christians are going to fully agree anytime soon.

But, I don't feel this is an issue that need divide the church. We can keep loving each other, and find our unity in Christ, around the gospel. And, in time, ,God's spirit will be faithful to bring us to a unity together.

Viola, you don't need to answer. Only pray about this. I've spoken with gay and lesbian people who love the Lord, and have been in loving,caring relationships, with the same person for years and years.

Does it make sense that these folks are listed in the same category as people who murder their own parents, murderers in general, and kidnappers, in the Scripture, Viola? Or, is it entirely possible, this word translated as "homosexual" means something else, as some scholars believe?

On top of that, I'm so concerned for many in the gay, and lesbian community who have been hindered in hearing the gospel, in coming to Christ because of the church's traditional stance. It breaks my heart.

How many others have become involved in various ex-gay ministries only to become disillusioned, and then to return to the very worse of some of the gay sub-cultures, totally alienated from the Christian faith.

Another thing Viola that is concerning to me is that too often folks who are strong advocates for gay and lesbian inclusion in the church are either involved, or are very compromising toward heresy. What message does this send to our gay and lesbian friends?

I think orthodox Christians have just dropped the ball.

Sincerely,
Your sister, and friend,
Grace.

P.S. Let's hold each other in prayer.

Viola said...

Grace,
I will address your comments because you are throwing around every argument that Progressives use and then some. First you say "To me, though, there is a difference between a knowing, and deliberate rebellion against the word of God because we really don't care, and want to go our own way, as opposed to a situation where sincere, Christian people may not always agree concerning the correct meaning, and interpretation of Scripture."
And then you tell me the Scripture doesn't say anything about homosexual practice which it does. And then you make a whole list:

1. Gays in long-time relationships shouldn’t have their actions listed with such sins as murder or kidnapping.

2. Homosexuals are kept from a relationship with Christ because of the Church's stance on homosexuality.

3. Gay people who have been in ministries for gays and become disillusioned fall into bad sub-cultures in the gay community.

4. People who advocate for gay ordination have heretical theology so orthodox Christians should be inclusive to save them from bad theology.

So let me take those last four.

1.If scripture states that something is sin that means it is something that separates us from God. It is in fact a symptom of our sinful nature which places us under the wrath of God. You picked out of the lists what you consider to be the worse sin to contrast it with homosexuality and make it seem like-somehow homosexual practice could not be so bad. But all sin brings us under God’s wrath and only the redemption of Christ can save us. That redemption places us in a new life where we live for Jesus not for ourselves so we with the help of God’s spirit keep walking toward God’s holiness. “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. (Romans 6:19b)

2.It is truly only God who calls us and places us in the kingdom of his Son. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin—it is not the Church’s business to create new rules so that all will find it easy to enter the kingdom. The Church is to simply preach the Word. If someone rejects the word it is out of their own rebellion. The Church needs to pray more, love more, preach the gospel more but speak the truth.


3.We should have compassion on those who fall back into sin but we should call them back to repentance. “”and have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 22-23)

4.That is a circular argument of a sort: Christians should preach bad theology to save people from bad theology! Good theology calls the sinner to repentance, what ever the sin, so that they might find a full life in Jesus Christ.

Grace it should trouble you that bad theology is used to promote ordaining active homosexuals. Those are links in the same chain. Promoting sin leads to sin and vise versa. I am praying for you.

Grace said...

Thanks, ((Viola.))) I always appreciate prayer. We'll leave it to God, then.

Sincerely,
Grace.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

I think the argument that Grace is putting forward is that quite simply the biblical texts have been mistranslated and misinterpreted.

There is considerable evidence and precedence to support this claim.

It states that what was condemned in the original biblical text has no real equivalent is Western society, and what Western society is presenting to the Church did not exist in biblical times. At least there is no evidence that it did.

In such a circumstance, one needs to be humble, look for other higher laws in Scripture that might apply, and pray.

Did I mention being humble? We are after all saved by grace, not by keeping an accurate record of our sins.

Ritchie

Viola said...

for anyone interested including and hopefully grace, here is something to read, by Robert A. J. Gagnon, "How Bad Is Homosexual Practice According to Scripture and Does Scripture’s Indictment Apply to Committed Homosexual Unions?" at http://www.robgagnon.net/HowBadIsHomosexualPractice.htm.

Viola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola said...

That should have been, http://www.robgagnon.net/HowBadIsHomosexualPractice.htm. And sorry Ritchie you are simply expressing an opinion and it is not a very scholarly one at that.

For some reason blogger is not putting in the full address I am posting so if not this time at e.htm. to that address.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

It's not my opinion. I can name at least two scholars who give this scholarly opinion: Dr Jeffrey Siker and Dr Jack Rogers, both accomplished theologians and bible scholars.

Both can be found on Amazon.com

There are others.

I know very well that the topic is subject to much acrimony and polemic. I don't intend to engage in the same. But the opinions I summarized are those of scholars with impeccable credentials who have done a lot of in depth research.

The least that mere mortals like you and me can do is recognize that if scholars such as these and the one you mentioned do not agree, then the answer is not as obvious and simple as you have stated.

Back to being humble and relying on grace,

Ritchie

Dave Moody said...

Ritche-
Mistranslation of the text? really. Someone actually claims that NIV, ESV, RSV, NRSV- let alone other languages, dealing with actual Hebrew and Greek Texts (NA 27?) that are critical of homosexual activity are mistranslations? I'd like to see that.

Misinterpretation. Well, only if you engage in committed eisogesis, I suppose. I don't expect you to agree... but, even Walter Wink and Mark Achtemeir, say one cannot get to approval of homosexual behavior via the scriptures. One must go outside of scripture for ones' authority. Jack Roger's book is shallow and dishonest. It is partisan, not scholarly- in the sense of dealing with all the texts and dealing with them integrally.

If you are serious, mere mortals like yourself, really can read and comprehend Gagnon's book. Scholars disagreeing doesn't mean one cannot weigh the evidence, and evaluate the scholarship. They too are mere mortals, and may have an agenda that pre-disposes the outcome. It is usually not that difficult to spot who weighs all the evidence and goes where it leads, and who dodges, weaves and dismisses.

Just a word of wisdom...
dm

Anonymous said...

Dave,

I promised I would not get involved in an acrimonious polemic, but I feel it is only fair to say in response to your comment about Jack Rogers's book being shallow and dishonest, that other scholars that have reviewed his writing say otherwise.

For example, James A Sanders, an early translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the originator of the photographed edition that everybody is using today says the following:

" Rogers' book is so strong and convincing that it is going to be attacked, and probably quite viciously. [as you demonstrated] In my view, however, it knocks the props out from under those who in our day once more, as many times on past issues, deny the depth, height, and breadth of the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ."

He sees Roger's book as a devastating indictment against the conservative claims that only they know the bible and follow it.

Again, not my fight. I just think that in light of such a scholarly endorsement that it would just confirm Rogers' worst accusations if you stand at a distance and call it shallow and dishonest. It is much more likely that he just disagrees with you.

Now, if you say that everybody who disagrees with you "has an agenda and is pre-disposed", and everybody who agrees with you "weighs all the evidence and goes where it leads" then that is a different problem.

The fact about Rogers is that he started where you are, and following the evidence where it lead, quite unexpectedly to him, ended up on the other side.

It just goes to show that the Lord indeed works in mysterious ways.

Ritchie

Viola said...

To see Sander’s review go to http://academic.shu.edu/btb/vol37/Reviews%2037-1.pdf. There is nothing in the review that changes what scripture states about homosexuality.

Sanders writes of Rodgers book "Rogers sees a pattern through the history of the church of
misusing the Bible to justify oppression—using it to condone
slavery and segregation, oppose women’s rights, and deal
with the issue of divorce and remarriage of Christian people.
Most Christians during that time ‘accepted slavery and the
subordination of women with not a hint that there was any other
view in the Bible” (p. 18). In each of these instances, Christians
“had accepted a pervasive societal prejudice and read it back into
Scripture”’(p. 18). In each case also, he might have added, it was
progressive society and progressive Christians that led the way to
social justice and not the churches!"

If this is actually what Rodgers wrote he has taken very complex historical issues and over simplified them. The truth of the matter is that both sides of these debates can be praised and faulted. For instance Southern Christians can be faulted greatly for their approval and use of segregation. Progressives can be faulted for being the only ones to push Eugenics. etc.etc. But this still does not change what the Bible states. Because either side misinterpreted the Bible does not change what the Bible states. Poor scholarship is poor scholarship, whether it is Jack Rodgers or white Southern Christians. And even there we cannot forget that not all white Southern Christians were for segregation. Nothing is ever that simple.
For an interesting article and part of a review on Rodgers book see http://www.robgagnon.net/RogersUseAnalogies.htm.” “JACK ROGERS’S FLAWED USE OF ANALOGICAL REASONING IN JESUS, THE BIBLE, AND HOMOSEXUALITY.”

Viola said...

I am now closing this thread because the comments have moved far away from the original subject.

Presbyman said...

Sorry to add this, Viola, but I can say that Rogers blatantly misrepresented Gagnon's work. Follow the footnotes referring to Gagnon and you'll see what I mean. It's shocking.

I am amazed that Rogers gets so many fawning reviews (and is puffed by Westminster/John Knox Press) for his dishonest little book.

Viola said...

Thanks Presbyman.