What is Sin and is God Retarded?

It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’ve been settling here in Wilmore and enjoying the gracious provision of a wonderful God as He has permitted me to attain to Asbury University and begin studies there this spring.

    In this time of transition I’ve been able to get a bit of a grasp on what I really believe about a lot of things. I’ve been astonished at the clarity that has been brought, the conviction of the Holy Spirit that has come upon me, and the sheer sorrow over the general principles I’ve held over the last few months, but more on that later.

    For the past few days I’ve been pondering the existence of sin – especially the sin in my own life. God has indeed been very gracious to me. So that’s led me down this path this evening.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him
before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” – Eph 1:3-12 KJV

    First, I think that it’s important to establish the viciousness of sin. I love how Dr. John Piper put it in one of his sermons which I’ll attempt to summarize – slightly modified. The gravity of a crime corresponds to the eminence of the person against which the crime is committed. For example, if I were to take a swing at some guy on the street, the penalty would likely be very minimal – though I would likely be bested in such a confrontation –, but if I were to take a swing at the President I’d be lucky if I were living after that happened. Because of the greater eminence of the President in comparison to same random guy on the street the penalty is much higher. So, a crime against God – who sets up kings and brings them down (need I remind you of Nebuchadnezzar) – would bear a penalty even greater than an offence against the President. If we compare the eminence of a temporary, human leader of one of many nations on earth to the greatness of God there’s simply no comparison. The Earth is His footstool, He is clothed in light, He is sovereign over all things to such a degree there’s not one maverick atom in the universe, and God is inexpressibly greater than any human being ever to have existed.

    So, what is it to sin? R. C. Sproul defines it as “Cosmic Treason.” And that’s exactly what it is. When we sin we literally are committing an act of treason against the Sovereign Lord, asserting our “authority” over His Holy and Sovereign decrees setting ourselves up as ruler just as Satan did before our little blip on the radar of eternity began.

    What is the penalty for treason? According to Federal Law in this country the penalty for those convicted of treason can be death. But this treason is committed against a mere nation-state a collection of finite human beings corrupted by the evil of their hearts attempting to maintain order within their respective spheres of governance. What do you think the penalty for treason against an Eternal, Holy, Just, and Righteous Creator should be? If you guessed a stint in purgatory you’d be wrong. Eternal death in a place of unending conscious torment that never ceases and though a million ages would pass those who would dwell in this place of eternal death would never be any closer to an end of their torment. That is the punishment worthy to treason against such eminence as of God.

    So, that brings me to the main point of my musings. Is God retarded? I mean, God is supposed to know all things, and know the beginning from the end and be sovereign over all things, so why in the world was He stupid enough to create a world in which Adam and Eve would sin? I mean really, (and I’m speaking as an Arminian here) it wouldn’t have interfered with their free-will at all if He would have simply ensured that Satan wasn’t present. And even if it was out of His control, why didn’t He just kill Adam and Eve and start over? I mean they were going to die anyway, why not spare the billions who would spend their eternity in Hell for a few measly years on earth for two doomed people?

    The only legitimate explanation of this is that God designed the world with sin in mind. That He might glorify His grace in the sacrifice of His Son and in the comparative glory of those whom He had hardened and destined for wrath left in their state of spiritual death and those whom He would bring to life and thus to Him.

    Does this mean that God created sin? That simply cannot be! God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, God does not sin nor does He tempt anyone. I honestly can’t explain the origin of sin. It started with Satan, but in a perfect environment, conceivably, Satan shouldn’t have ever had the thought of sinning. But what I do know is that God uses Satan as His pawn, accomplishing His purposes in permitting Satan to do what he does.

    It’s a lot to ponder, but here’s my point. God isn’t somehow surprised by sin. He doesn’t sit up in Heaven on His throne surrounded by seraphim who cry out “Holy, Holy, Holy!” constantly doing a “Facepalm” when you sin. He planned on it! He knew about this before time began when He unconditionally elected all those who would come to Christ without any conception of wrongdoing or well-doing, simply out of His free and Sovereign wisdom, and this is good news!

    Does this mean that I can just look back at God when I sin and say, “You made me do it.”? No, rather we’re bound to our moral responsibly to do what is right and when we sin we sin not God. This post isn’t about giving a license to sin, rather it’s to encourage those who struggle in the knowledge that the Sovereign Lord already knew about your mistakes and failures and yet and still chose you as His own.

    The concept of God’s creating a world inclined to sin is unnerving. But the alternative is a God who is simply not worth worshipping. A God who is simply out of control and, quite frankly, an idiot creating a world, though foreknowing sin, and then scrambling to get some plan together to correct His error, it makes no sense.

     But the concept is a blessing in that we know that God isn’t limited by sin, because He planned sin. Such that no matter what state of depravity we may currently dwell in or perhaps our family members, or friends, there is no place of debauchery, disease or despair that God’s electing love can’t reach and bring them to Himself.

    Thus my prayer for those reading this would be that they would come to a greater awareness of God’s glorious grace and a peace in knowing that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives and that of our loved ones and that there would be a sense of the electing love that would assure those who are struggling today.

Blessings in a Gracious Lord,

-Aaron

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The “C” Word

In my introduction to my Old Testament class at Asbury University I introduced myself and included the fact that I’m a 5-Point Calvinist along with presenting some other aspects of my life-goals and such. One of my classmates responded, “You had me until you mentioned the “C” word.” Sadly many people find the topic of soteriology to be a point of contention that causes division and anger among Christians. I am a member at a United Methodist Church – a denomination committed to the idea of “Prevenient Grace”— I am also a 5-Point Calvinist which is quite paradoxical, but I co-exist and love my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Having prefaced the following blogs with that understanding, I’m going to take a few blog posts to explain why it is that I’m a Calvinist. Here we go… J

I think it’s prudent for me to explain the less theological reasons why I’m a Calvinist before I delve into the complexities of Reformed/Calvinistic Soteriology.

I was raised in a Charismatic/Arminian tradition. For years I spent my life attempting to gain for myself some kind of sufficient outer righteousness to add to the grace of God in order that I might somehow maintain my saved state. I’m a perfectionist at heart and when I do something that’s not up to my expectations – more the expectations I feel are being put on me by others – I beat myself up for it. Like Luther of old I spent my time in prayer, fasting, writing – just short of flagellation – to somehow prove to myself that I was saved and more importantly prove to God that I was saved. As you may have noticed in my previous writings, I am affected by Same-Sex attractions. It’s quite hard to live up to the expectations of holiness of the Law when one finds himself attracted to the same sex – declared as an “abomination” under the Law and a result of human depravity in the New Testament. So for years I wrestled with a God who not only requiring perfection of me so that I’d be able to retain the salvation that He freely gave, but was also cursing me with something that I couldn’t ever hope to eliminate from myself – quite the conundrum.

I was always taught to be opposed to and disgusted with the idea of “eternal security” as being “sloppy grace” and I wholly bought into this idea, so you would think that my becoming a Calvinist would be impossible. But through years of experiencing self-inflicted/legalistic system condemnation I found myself at a loss hating God because of His apparent ill-will towards me. It was in this state of destructive tailspin that I happened upon this concept of eternal security as taught by Dr. David Hocking and later Dr. John Piper.

Initially my response was a quick shrug and dismissal of the idea as blasphemous and heretical, but a theology that’s incompatible with your experience finds its way out. And I slowly but surely was convinced that my salvation wasn’t dependent upon my perseverance, but God’s.

So, that’s a brief history of how I became a Calvinist, but why – aside from the Biblical proof texts – do I remain a Calvinist? I find great comfort in the idea that God is sovereign over all things including my Salvation. I find great comfort in the principle that it is God who saved me and it is He that will bring me to glorification in the end. I find it wondrous that God would take a wholly depraved individual bent on nothing less than total opposition to Him and in a state of spiritual death, bring that individual to life, cause his will to be bent towards God and graciously bring him to redemption. I find it comforting to know that for nothing that I’ve done, or will do, God sovereignly chose me – not that I should boast in anything I am or have done, but in God’s electing grace.

So that’s why I’m a Calvinist from a relational/emotional standpoint. In the next few posts I’ll explain why, from a theological/logical standpoint why I’m a Calvinist.

Blessings in the Gracious Christ,

Aaron

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Folks Like Me

Over the weekend I lost someone I once thought of as my best friend. He and I had known each other for years, but about 2 years ago we became really close. In the past few days I’ve been reflecting upon that time in my life and the circumstances that led to it. And the more that I thought about it the more I felt the following post was necessary.

If you’ve read my blog on Spiritual Abuse, you’ll note that I left my church due to spiritual abuse, but I left some details that I think would be helpful to some readers – and even those around me – to understand why I’m the person I am today.

I’ve spent much of my life “incognito” – wearing one mask after another, hiding who I really am/was from those around me. Perhaps that might be considered a difficult task for some, but having worn various forms of this mask since my early teens, I’ve become quite adept at it – as the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” If you’ve been blessed to see the movie “The Kingdom of Heaven” you’ll remember a scene in which the king of Jerusalem is wearing a silver mask to cover his leprous face. If you’ve read any of the New Testament you’ll note that lepers were regarded as the lowest forms of society and were segregated from their communities and required to yell to all who approached “Unclean! Unclean!” In my youth I felt much like one of these lepers I had read so much about, but unlike the lepers of my Bible study books, my disease wasn’t an infectious bacteria, it was being attracted to the same sex.

I can remember when I was growing up how well I wore my masks. I remember the mask I wore having conversations with my family about homosexuals, how they were such scum and they’re all going to die of AIDS! I remember the mask I wore with the “girlfriend” I had. She was quite the piece of work, she was my project. Unfortunately that didn’t last long; I believe she broke up with me over Facebook. I remember the mask I wore as I attended every prayer meeting, service, and function of the church. I remember the mask I wore when I would joke around (in those few moments when I discussed any form of sexuality) with my old friend about how I wanted to “worship God”, since having sex with one’s wife was thought of as worship. There were countless more masks I wore throughout my youth.

I’ve never been the socialite; my nature is more reclusive and introverted. Having friends was certainly a very difficult thing for me. The more masks I would wear the harder it was for me to be authentic, to be the real Aaron – and I don’t mean eye humping some guy as authenticity, I mean being authentic, I suppose “real” would be the best way to put it. So, though I would have friends, even – for me at least – close friends, I would always have my guard up and walls around what I was really feeling. I was always the happy go lucky guy, full of the “fire” of God for the crowds, but inside I was a broken and hurting little boy.

That’s the state I spent 5 years of Spiritual Abuse in. As the years passed and I found myself hating more and more of who I was and being disgusted with the things I thought; this led me close to suicide. On several occasions I can remember wanting to spend a couple days fasting and praying and then end my life – end the struggle – that had brought me to the end of God’s unending Grace. As you may recall from my blog on my journey through Spiritual Abuse, I would blog and pray and serve so that I could earn God’s grace. I recount in that blog post a time when I went down to the altar yet again for “deliverance.” After which I explained to the hateful God I knew that I hated Him.

I never wanted to admit that I was attracted to the same sex. To utter it would be to embrace it. I wasn’t going to do that, I was going to get fixed, I was going to get “delivered” – God was going to free me from this demonic stronghold in my heart. Yet as the years passed, as the prayers went unanswered, I became desperate. I wrote a letter to my pastor informing him of the struggle I was going through. I never heard a response to that letter –for which I’m grateful to God as he would have damaged my soul greatly. I had reached out with all the pain that was inside my heart, shown via that letter the leprosy I had been so diligently hiding, yet my plea for help went unanswered.

It breaks my heart that the Church has done such a poor job of being Christ to those who experience same-sex attractions. People in churches either want to set them up with a partner or they want to get them “fixed.” As you may remember from my last blog post, I stated that therapy is a difficult. I want to elaborate on that point a bit. The therapeutic techniques developed by Dr. Mark Yarhouse are effective at reprocessing same-sex relationships (should the client desire to do so) from a sexual relationship to a brother, men amongst men relationship. The difficulty lies not in the therapy itself, though it is – as is any deep therapeutic work – a painful process, no the difficulty lies in finding the required help outside the confines of a counselor’s office.

For the type of therapy I’ve studied and experienced it’s CRITICAL that the client, wishing to reprocess their relationships with the same-sex, that they find same-sex friends with whom they can be authentic. Ideally these friends would also be able to provide healthy non-sexual physical touch (hugs, holding, etc.) to meet the real same-sex needs of the client. That’s where the difficulty lies.

So, yet again my finger points back to the arms of Christ on earth – the Church. Even for those few churches/pastors/laity that get beyond the “here’s your partner”, or the “get the devil out of ’em” lunacy and actually get the person some therapeutic help, that’s where their involvement stops. They push the problem child onto a counselor and then don’t pick them up to do the real work.

Here’s my point: Churches don’t know what to do with folks like me. What would be really helpful to those who experience same-sex attractions would to have groups available that allow space to be authentic with other guys and within that safe space to get healthy touch and time. It would be nice if there were a place where folks like me could get together and talk about life – because there are some things an openly gay man or a straight guy will never understand about me – and be there for one another. It would be great if there were elders who would be mentors and fathers to those who are struggling. It would be awesome if there were competent counselors on hand that were able to offer income adjusted counseling to all those who wanted to have it.

 I’ve not been blessed to have those things I described for the most part. I’ve spent years trying to find it with little success. My distrust of church people hasn’t been helpful. But, I struggle on knowing that God in His Providence isn’t finished with me yet.

For the next 7 years I will be at Asbury University and then Seminary – leaving with my Masters of Divinity – to make those nice-to-haves a reality in our church world. 

Blessings in Christ,

Aaron

Update 9/1/2014:

God has been so faithful to me in providing me with those things which I need most. In my time here at Asbury I have found a loving church, a faithful pastor, and a community among people whom I know and am known to. 

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Perseverance’s Awakening

I had a bit of a spiritual awakening last week. Shockingly it was while pondering the finer points of TULIP (The 5 primary distinctives of Calvinist/Reformed Theology – Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and The Perseverance of the Saints). One of my friends that claim to be a Calvinist stated she disagreed with the idea of the Perseverance of the Saints.

A brief synopsis of Reformed Soteriology [the study of Salvation]: We have been chosen by God before we were born, not for anything that we’ve done or will do, rather because of His sovereign will (Unconditional Election). Because our natural hearts are far from God and resist Him (Total Depravity), God sovereignly and graciously intervenes and causes us to become spiritually alive that we will receive His grace (Irresistible Grace). This gracious act was made possible through Christ’s purchasing us in the atonement – the atonement being sufficient for all of mankind but only effectual for those whom God had predestined to be saved (Limited Atonement). Because our salvation is secured through the Atonement and God’s sovereign will we cannot by any means be lost – else God’s sovereign will was ineffectual.

As you can probably surmise, the fact of the matter is that you cannot believe that any real credit lies with any of these theological principles and still not believe that those whom God has foreordained to be saved could in any wise lose that salvation. The idea that God’s sovereign grace, once imparted to someone through His irresistible will could somehow be brought to naught through some work or deed of the flesh as if God had wanted to save the person and tried to, but failed—lunacy!

So, how did this trigger a spiritual awakening? There is nothing like being reminded when you’re in a place from which God seems so distant that you didn’t choose this road, that God, through His sovereign grace and mercy chose you and it is He that will bring you to the end of your journey with Him.

I’m reminded of a passage in the Old Testament:

“”I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated…”” – [Mal 1:2-3 ESV]

In this time of despair for the nation of Israel they ask God, “How have you loved us?” God answers in a surprising way that initially we might not catch; He responds explaining that He hated Esau. He responds to the Children of Israel declaring that He had chosen them! Later we read in Romans 9:

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.“” – [Rom 9:10-13 ESV] (Emphasis Mine)

It wasn’t through any work that Jacob had done; rather that God had chosen him as His vessel. Throughout the Old Testament we see the failures of Jacob as he tricks his brother out of his birthright, steals his brother’s blessing through trickery, and fails to lead his family through the Egyptian crisis. Yet God chose him and from his seed the nation of Israel was born – God’s chosen people.

So how does being reminded of these theological principles cause a spiritual awakening? In life we’re faced daily with the results of our corrupt nature, our own shortcomings, insufficiencies, and defects. Whether it’s that we feel that we’ve failed God too many times, or we’re overweight, or regret a decision we made, the knowledge that the Sovereign Lord knew all about it and yet and still He chose us. He looked at our misshapen lives and said, “I want him to serve me, He will be my son.” And if that wasn’t amazing enough, He knows every time we fail, every time that we turn away, every time we neglect to pray the right way or miss a Sunday service, He still looks at our decrepit souls and says, “He’s mine, that’s my boy, that’s my son.” How can one describe such ridiculous love? Though we daily commit treason at the cosmic scale against the holy and just Creator of the universe, He still loves us and beckons us to draw ever nearer to Him. Though our lives are in shambles around us, He holds us in his wondrous arms of love and promises us that all of this will work to our good.

So yes, my friends, I was brought to spiritual awakening. I asked my Father in Heaven, “How have You loved me?” and He has graciously responded, “I chose you my son, I chose you.

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The Dreaded Homosexuality

Good evening friends, I greet you with the grace and peace of our Savior Jesus Christ. Glory, majesty, unending praise and adoration be to Him who lives forever and to Him through Whom all things subsist.

This evening I’d like to cover a topic that I’ve largely been avoiding, but I think it important that I address the issue.

If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know that I don’t follow the mainstream Evangelical social position; however, I generally do have a similar view – this issue is no different.

As human beings – though fallen – we’ve been endowed by our Creator with divine worth, such that all persons no matter their social standing, sinful condition, or righteousness are deserving of God’s love and by extension the love and affection of all peoples – especially Christians as we have been given God’s love and grace to share with all peoples. As Christians, we are to be people of love; our lives should reflect the love that Christ has shown us in our daily walk as we encounter other Christians, friends, family, and even enemies.

We are a fallen people. From our birth, our mind is stayed upon evil to such a degree that we are enemies of God and children of the Devil. Friends, we are totally and utterly depraved and incapable of pleasing God, seeking God, and much less desiring God. Our “righteous” acts are but filthy rags presented to the King Who is clothed in light. We are dead in trespasses and sins, incapable of doing anything to save ourselves. We are but grass that is surrounded by fire. But God (such relief in but two words) has – through Christ – gracefully saved us, not through any righteousness of ourselves, lest we boast, rather through His willing and working in us.

We are sheep surrounded by wolves. Many seek to sneak into the fold, bringing heresy, traditions of men, false doctrines, false prophecies, false Gospels – adding works to the finished work of Christ, but they are not of us. The enemy of our souls prowls about seeking any whom he may devour. Our only defense being our Gracious Shepherd Whose voice we hearken to, even amidst cacophony of calls that echo around us, pulling us this way and that.

As Christians saved by Grace we’re aliens in a world that is not our home, awaiting the return of our Savior. We walk through the world as salt and light and a city set upon a hill that cannot be hid. Though we are in this world we are not of it, our mission and purpose extending far beyond this temporal realm. We go into the world to make disciples from Jerusalem, to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth bringing the Good News to all those whom the Father has given to the Son.

Friends, in this mission of love, our objective – our purpose – is to bring the hurting and lost souls into the healing fold of Christ. This purpose extends to all people groups, including the abortionist, the rapist, the thief, the murderer, the prostitute, the liberal, the Muslim, and I daresay even the homosexual.

We are on a mission of love, but when it comes to those who practice lifestyles that contradict our own, it seems as though we’re on a mission of exclusion, eradication, and destruction. The Church – and by extension the God of the Church – is viewed by the homosexual community as a body of people who seek to destroy their freedom and deny them basic human dignity.

In our churches today, the sin of homosexuality is regarded as an ultimate evil that is more repugnant than the most heinous of murders. These homosexuals threaten our families, threaten our marriages, threaten our very sexuality without remorse, without prudence, without fear. These heinous individuals crowd our streets with debauchery, waving their flags of many colors proclaiming to all the world their “pride” in their sinful and horrific actions. This plague must be stopped! We must protect our children from this evil!

I wonder if much of what I have written resonated with many of you reading this. I wonder if you haven’t expressed similar sentiment to your brothers and sisters in Christ. I wonder if you haven’t declared your abhorrence of even your children when they chose to enter the world as a homosexual man or woman.

Friends, this is not as it should be. We condemn a people group because they participate in a sinful behavior just as we have. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory that is God’s. We all were dead in our trespasses and sins until God Himself brings us to life to serve Him. While we declare that the doors of our churches are open, homosexuals walking through our doors are regarded either openly or behind closed doors or masks of welcome, as parasites and infestations to our culture that must be quickly eradicated. While we extend our gracious hands and arms of affection to those addicted to drugs or alcohol, the homosexual is ostracized to prevent our children becoming infected by their disease.

What then should we do? We know that God has created us in His image and defined sexuality as between a man and a woman. We know that Scripture, Tradition, and Reason inform us that homosexuality is not as God has willed. How do we deal with this?

Friends, it is the all-powerful, overwhelming love of Almighty God with which we extend God’s loving arms of affection, love, and healing to these who are broken and bruised. Rather than ostracize, we embrace; rather than concern ourselves with becoming infected, we should infect them with the love of God – be contagious! Extend the same gracious hand that you were extended when Christ reached down into the miry clay and saved you!

Friends, we all should recognize that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching; however, we also recognize that any sin whether we regard it as major or minor is an outright attack upon a Holy and Just God; therefore, all sins carry the same weight of eternal destruction. Just as with alcohol in previous years and new prayer books in years before that, each age is confronted with an issue that is regarded as the most important issue that must be stopped at all points lest the Church fall, homosexuality is no different. The Church will find her way and balance will be restored.

Having written all that, I will – as clearly as possible – state my position on homosexuality:

Homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching, nor is it a psychologically, spiritually, or physically healthy lifestyle. Homosexuality, though wrapped in the guise of love, does not reflect the glory of God and is not pleasing to God. But all peoples are deserving of the love and grace of God and basic human dignity and respect. While I do not advocate or support the homosexual lifestyle I will not actively protest or attack their lifestyle; however, I will remain steadfast in my position that homosexuality is a choice and that those who choose not to embrace homosexuality can do so. As with other sins (lying, anger, gossip, etc.) it does not evidence a lack of a salvific experience, that is to say a practicing homosexual that has accepted the grace of Christ is still saved and I leave it to the Holy Spirit to convict those that are practicing homosexuality in the Church to bring them to a place of desiring healing for the wounds that caused the behaviors. In short, though homosexuality is a sin, I love and respect my homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ and hope that you will also.

Blessings in God’s Grace to you!

Amen

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Home-Churches vs. Organized Religion

Friends, through my years in the Church I’ve witnessed different systems of church government. I’ve personally experienced some of the good points and also experienced the bad of each. When I began going back to church in my distrust of organized religion I began to associate myself with the home-church movement as a means of denying evil pastors the autocratic spiritual authority I’d experienced at TLC (see my article on Spiritual Abuse for more information). I saw organized religion as the enemy of “real Christianity” and sought to disassociate myself with any form of centralized theocratic power.

My efforts led me to attend a home-church for a while and then a Southern Baptist church that employs what’s called “Congregational Church Polity.” The United Methodist Church I now attend follows a Presbyterian Church polity and the Catholic and Episcopal churches espouse an Episcopal Church polity.

The “Congregational Church Polity” is structured so that there is very little control from any persons outside of the congregation itself. The congregation is the end-all-be-all as far as decisions regarding the church’s governance, beliefs, discipline, finance, etc.. The congregation votes on the pastor who serves the congregation. A pastor functions as an elected official that has exactly as much authority as the general congregation gives to him or her. Major decisions for the church are not made by the pastor(s), rather they’re made by the congregation as a whole. The local church may be loosely affiliated with a larger group, but the control of the church decisions and governance remains with the local congregation.

The “Presbyterian Church Polity” – as generally defined has a structure wherein each congregation is subject to a “session” that is subject to a “Presbytery” that is subject to a “Synod” that is subject to the “General Assembly.” The congregation makes its own decisions and governs itself as its own entity to a degree, but is subject to the Session. Since I’m more familiar with the UMC’s model I’ll discuss it here. The UMC is governed foremost by a “General Conference” that is made up of half clergy and half laity and meets every 4 years making major decisions for the UMC as a whole. These decisions affect the organization as a whole and include the UMC’s social policies and financial regulation. The General Conference is subdivided into “Jurisdictional Conferences” that comprise several different “Annual Conferences” that can be made up of “District Conferences” which are made up of local churches. While these many divisions may seem ridiculous, you must remember that the UMC is a worldwide organization and it must ensure that everyone is governed locally as much as possible. For the UMC there is also a Council of Bishops which essentially oversees the day to day governance when the General Conference isn’t in session to enforce and uphold the decisions made by the General Conference. There’s also a Judicial Council that rules on the constitutionality of any legislation made by the General Conference and ensures that clergy have the right to trial by a committee and appeal and members have the right to trial before the Church or by a committee and appeal. So, that’s the bones of it.

The “Episcopal Church Polity” is structured in a way that denies the local congregation the most power. The congregation is ruled by the priest who is ruled by the bishop who is ruled by the archbishop. This form of church polity enforces the most control over the congregation and denies the local church member/laity the most power. The Archbishop assumes almost god-like control over the organization as a whole.

While the hubbub of organized religion seems to be detrimental to the spread and propagation of the Gospel, I think there are more positives to note than negatives. Southern Baptists are struggling to maintain a unified image as church after church embraces homosexual clergy, doctrines not embraced by the conference, and other non-conforming behaviors. The Catholic Church faces the challenges of intrigue, corruption, cronyism, etc.. Presbyterians face rouge clergy just as Southern Baptists do, but with the added bonus of potentially causing a church schism.

Each method has its flaws, but I believe the UMC has a pretty well rounded system. When you have a system like the Baptists do, there is very little ability of the conference to ensure that the churches that are in the conference are representing well the rest of the conference. While there is some tacit doctrinal unity, the reality is that each local church could be teaching doctrines that directly contradict the views of the conference as a whole without the ability of the conference to bring discipline on the offending church. When you have a system like that of the Episcopal or Catholic Church the laity is largely denied the power to hold the governing bishops/priests accountable and ensure that the Church as a whole is led in the proper direction and doesn’t take violent turns with each new Archbishop/Pope.

I believe the UMC provides the best compromise between the three systems. Where other systems may fail as a result of a lack of structure the UMC is able to take control of situations that potentially undermine the entire Church as a whole. The conferences have the authority to bring to discipline rogue clergy and ensure that the overall doctrinal standards of the Church are enforced. The UMC gives the liberty to each local church to worship in whatever cultural setting they have, but also ensure that support and direction is given. The UMC’s structure also allows it to weigh in on social issues on the national and global level. While it may have its flaws, the overpowered Episcopal church government and the weak congregational church government can’t compete.

So, I’ve defined all these terms to give you a knowledgebase with which to approach the subject I’m really blogging about: Are home-churches the way to go?

As you might well imagine, I don’t think so. No man can survive alone, and so too is it with movements. When dealing with something as global and dynamic as Christianity the worst thing that can happen is for it to be isolated. Home-churches are at the mercy of the whims of the assembled people. It only takes one heretical idea to take root to take what was established as a Christian church and make it into a cult. Without the oversight of a larger body, doctrine and practice is largely subject to whim rather than tradition or reason.

One of the greatest attacks of the enemy is to make us think that the Church is divided. While, yes, there are Methodists, Pentecostals, over 5,000 kinds of Baptists, etc. we all submit to the teachings of Orthodox Christianity and furthermore express a reliance on Faith alone for salvation (This listing purposefully excludes Catholics for this reason). While we may experience God in a different way we are all united in Christ as His body.

Home-churches promulgate this belief by isolating a small group of people without connection to the overall Church. Also, home-churches do not provide the funding that large scale denominations allow for missions, ministry to the poor, and education.

While this is my take on it, if in order to experience God best you need to be in a home-church rather than a large congregation/denomination then that’s fine; however, I write this to caution you in that practice from becoming subject to the whims of doctrine or the impression that you or your small group of people are alone.

Blessings in Christ

Amen.

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Experiencing God

I’m more than slightly amazed at what I’m about to write. A few years ago, even a few months ago I would have thought what I’m about to write was blasphemous and downright heresy. But I’m always willing to admit when I’ve made an error and correct that error if I can.

    Friends, how do you experience God? Do you experience Him in a silent prayer down the hall after you’ve kissed your child goodnight? How about in the sound of a babbling brook? Perhaps you experience God through a Charismatic experience as people “fall out” around you. In my few years on this earth I’ve been astounded at the marvelous diversity of experience in the Church. I’ve witnessed the staunch liturgy of the Methodist, the modern worship music of the Baptist, the Charisma of the Pentecostal and as I look back I wonder that this mess of diversity can be called by the same title of Christian! Yet each one embraces the grace of the Father and His Son Jesus.

    As I left the Pentecostal church, I declared vehemently that their practice of “Speaking in Tongues” and the other Charisma was nonsense and did not reflect the Church that Christ desired to have. As I left the Baptist church I decried the worship music as shallow and weak. But, in hindsight I was too quick to judge. No, I don’t think that dancing around and screaming gibberish is how I’d like to experience God, but if that’s the way you need to experience God in order for Him to be real to you, then more power to you. If repeating two words over and over is what brings the divine to this natural realm, then so be it. If an organ, hymnal, and choir is what it takes for you to know God’s there as I do, then great. But each means of experiencing God is valid and brings glory to God who desires us to find Him.

    As you might not know, I’m a 5-Point Calvinist. Predestination, sovereignty, etc. I embrace the whole lot. A few months ago I would argue tooth and nail with the Arminian who would embrace this “Free-Will” idea. And while I still disagree, I wonder if that’s just simply the way that that person needs to rationalize salvation and why crazy and terrible things happen on this earth. For me, I find peace in knowing that God planned and purposed even the most horrible things in our lives to His glory and our eventual eternal joy. For others it may be that being able to blame the devil or mankind for the horrors of this world are what allows them to have the faith to serve the loving and just God of the Bible. I wonder if God left just enough mystery there for us to allow us to believe what we needed to believe. I wonder if the finer points of theology that we spend the most time arguing about are simply the things that make us unique.

    I think that we can all agree that God knew exactly what He was doing when He wrote the Bible. In its pages we find things we can hold fast to (e.g. the virgin birth of Christ, the promise of a heavenly home, Christ’s returning for His chosen ones, etc.), but we also find in those inerrant inspired words mystery and challenges. How did God create the world? What is the catalyst for salvation? What were the Nephilim? These are left to mystery and individual interpretation that allows us to experience the God image that we need to in order to serve God.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still stick to the idea that there are some things that are true without doubt. These things comprise what we’d call Orthodox Christianity and those groups that deny those primary tenets are not by any means “Christians” experiencing God, rather they’re experiencing a false god insomuch as the Hindu or Muslim does. But where there is room for question there is room for experience and for grace.

Grace and Peace to you Friends, Amen.

  

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