Tag Archives: identity

The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.

 

Poems this year

I am not sure they really are poems, but they are certainly lines of prose gathered to express my heart. This year I have published four so far on http://therubberdinghy.blogspot.co.uk/ 

  • Prayer
  • Railing
  • Wide open spaces
  • Salvation

Wide open spaces was written whilst on a trip in the summer back to my parents in Cardigan, West Wales where I woke up with a feeling a walk confirmed. Salvation was written on the train back to Bishops Stortford. I’ve worked a little on both but feel my inadequacy.

Prayer and Railing were actually written in the previous summer and came out of a short time spent at Lee Abbey listening to a study of Job.

One, two; one, two, three; one, two, three, four…

How often are we told that the hope of the world is to be found in the local church? Bill Hybels is a proponent of this view and as an idea it’s become currency certainly in the church I attend. For me its is true when Christ is found in its midst and people encounter God not in the words but in the everyday lives of those gathered – people see that the church isn’t out there but in their back yard – local.

When I recently heard the idea at the church I attend I had to pause as I didn’t feel the gathering I was in was very local to me. It certainly was a church gathering I am a member of – I was connected to the people in worship and the town is admirably served by the church members. I reasoned that maybe the village I lived in, the people I worked with and the places I walked came to encounter hope because through me they might come to be in this gathering and experience the various ministries offered.

Looking at myself, I saw how in the fragmented society we live in- the age of the nuclear family and ease of travel, I had selected a church I felt comfortable in without thinking about its locality. Its teaching was largely sound, its works were wholesome and its worship was usually to my taste. To begin with it was also important that our children were served. The decisive factor though was that many of our closest friends were part of the community. But is my attendance rebellious and self serving? The teaching’s effect on me was to make me feel disconnected.

The reason I was being challenged in the first place was because the teaching was about discipline and how some avoid this by flitting from gathering to gathering and not committing to the local church. It was used again to justify where my money should be going. Written here that looks awful; it makes the church out to be a place of control that wants your money. It was actually  advocating that people are able within the safety of a well ordered church to form relationships that matter and to which we are able to be accountable within a framework where individuals are released financially to serve.

I see this but is it a bit like the tail wagging the dog? Didn’t I often see poisonous relationships you couldn’t walk away from because they were institutionalised and money being squandered propping up dubious ministries.

The place I have seen growth in my life has been in the free relationships I have formed not bound by the church I go to, the meals I have shared and the frank discussions I have had whilst on walks with people committed to seeing me prosper as a person in God. I have seen growth in my faith through the relationships where I have been able to express frustration and commit to change; where I have known encouragement and the speaking of truths.

The medium this message was being carried in- the organised church, I have to say doesn’t ring true. I wonder if the organisation of the church is a wrong framing of the  truth of the hope the church offers and inappropriate.

Surely the medium of Jesus’ message was in himself, the three or four disciples he was close to, the Apostles and in the fact he sent out all those gathered to him in twos. Jesus says where two or three are gathered then he is present. This is the unit of the local church, like the tissues of a body, made of individuals who are the cells, whose DNA is Christ, each individual being the dwelling place of God.

Each person embodies God and in twos and threes present Christ in their midst through love. We need to have confidence that an encounter with God and an infilling of the Holy Spirit equips the individual to be a seed of hope, a focus for growth like yeast in  dough. In a body, cells form tissues, tissues form organs and organs form the body -each distinct.

I do worry that maybe we have lost sight of the fact that Jesus entrusted his presence to the twos and threes. Surely the glory of the gathered church is in the quality of the individual relationships within it and this is what makes the wider church winsome. The winsomeness of friendship in Christ is at the centre of the local church not its size or organisation. The health of the body depends on the health of each distinct member.

For me the church has come to be focused in the gatherings of the two or three in Jesus name and not an institution whilst remaining embedded in an institutionalised church. The seed of growth and renewal is in the twos and threes where life in Christ is evident in the love and draws others to it and then…

1,2
1,2,3
1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4
1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 1,2; 12; 1,2; 1,2
1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3; 1,2,3;
1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4; 1,2,3,4;

Out there.

Jesus teaches that it is better that he leaves the disciples, enabling the Holy Spirit to come (John 16: 4 – 15). He proclaims a time when worship will be true because it is in spirit and truth not in Jerusalem (John 4).

And this freedom came 50 days after Jesus’ death. His followers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:19 – 23). Jesus had prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit in his teaching and, after a time of revelation and healing, on the day of his ascension, he spoke to his friends, ordering them to wait for an immersion and washing in the Holy Spirit they had received (Acts 1). I believe, just as the baptism of John prepared the disciples for the ministry of Jesus, his ministry had been preparing them for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The waiting ended on the morning of Pentecost.

Pentecost (Shavuot) is part of the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10). They count up to it from Passover and eagerly anticipate the day, staying up all night to pray and study the scripture on its eve. Shavuot is the day Jews celebrate becoming a nation, a nation revealed to Abraham that would bless the nations, All night the friends of Jesus would have been studying the Law, but on the day, as the ritual waiting ended, the morning was lifted to a new level of fulfilment and the Holy Spirit came in power (Acts 2).  The significance and true meaning of Shavuot was revealed on that morning.

Is the message too simple? Christ is very near because of this momentous gift; God is present in each believer, no longer in one place at one time but wherever those who love and obey him are. Every person may die to self and rise in him, proclaiming the good news: in Christ we are saved, made right with God and are freed to become what he made each of us to be (John 1:9). By being together, Jesus is present and because of him we are enabled to live lives of virtue, drawing more people into this freedom.

The everflowing truth is that God is not over there, up above or down below, but so near, heaven touches the everyday of our lives; our hearts, lips and minds. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, Heaven touches Earth through ordinary lives.

Together, we can move on, not locating God in movements, men and places but we may grasp the reality that through immersion in the Holy Spirit, God is as near to us as our breath and pours out of us like a gushing stream or a quietly bubbling spring, fresh and lively. This water, restores, revives and refreshes all who drink it and it never disappoints or ends.

God is near to us, not out there on a stage, an event, directed by the words of men and expectations of the crowd; not out there in the lives and successes of others but in our own brokenness and healing; our own stories of death to sin with him, rising again to new life and fulfilling the promise of lives made whole, which proclaim this good news.

The crowd at Pentecost received the same good news. The blessing came as each heard the news in their own languages. People then gathered frequently to hear the teaching of the apostles and shared their homes and their means to further the cause of their message.

From an abiding flow the growth comes in those who listen and obey, as promised by Jesus. From an outpouring of living water the thirst for good is quenched and each is nourished for the troubles of the day.

Don’t settle for Christ out there.Don’t shrink the Church to a weekly event. Don’t judge the Church by its events, buildings and institutions. Christ is amongst us as we gather in his name as twos or threes and Jesus is revealed by the love between us.

Intentional

Having visited Lee Abbey for a holiday on a number of occasions now, I have become aware of the appeal of an intentional community. Becoming the body of Christ, each member valued, is purposeful.

How though can being a body be achieved when people are gathered to communities that are so apart? People rarely engage with one another and certainly, in the church I am part of, small communities are secondary to the vision of the whole church and a main meeting.

This suits a lot of people and they are very blessed by it. They are able to be effective in their settings and carry an energy that certainly appears to be fulfilling. Church communities are formed around ministries, such as leadership, worship, social enterprise or youth. The momentum is through the task or sometimes a particular type of meeting. But this is not what I want.

Some people are able to function by networking within their work place where Christians gather. Others find involvement in a hobby, sports club or Gym satisfies. Interests such as running, cycling or bird watching have a draw as does support for a sports team. Surprisingly, need or disaffection can be a seed for community. This again is not what I want.

Deep down I have a need to grow spiritually and to be active in society as a whole. In my heart I need a source for being that starts with God but ends up blessing my neighbour. At Takeley Chapel I have seen the beginnings of how this might be achieved. I hope and pray that one day I might see it fulfilled. Currently we meet for breakfast and prayer on a Sunday morning; I would like to see the Sunday evening cafe meeting flourish and a monthly Friday evening community supper added.

The spiritual aspect I will come to, but practically what we could have is a menu of activities based around sharing meal times. These are natural breaks; breakfast sets us up for the day, coffee for the evening and Friday supper ends a work week. All these meetings should have an all age focus where children are able to participate and there are no restrictions on who might participate; all learning styles should be encompassed. There should not be a burden of preparation only inspiration

Children can be involved with adults in craft activities without a great need to organise anything special. In fact there should be room for people to be outdoors or even break out in to other spaces. The purpose is to be friends and families together.

Time should be flexible with people being able to leave when they are ready. Of course where there are activities then people need to know when these are happening but they should not be at the start of any meeting, to allow for people to arrive when they are able and still be a part.

What I am envisioning is threefold:

  • A Sunday morning prayer group arranged around the materials provide by lyfe.org.uk; the pattern is to reflect on a spiritual discipline through a bible verse and various materials. Through prayer, reflection and as a result of the teaching, participants agree to explore spiritual challenges for the week. These challenges might result in poetry or song, art or craft which can be shared the next week so that each meeting is organic. People may then go home, go on to attend other church meetings or decide to engage in some kind of recreational activity.
  • During the week participants would also follow the New Daylight materials provided by brf.org.uk, journaling, sharing their insights when they can over refreshments on a Sunday evening. The benefits of this would be to have a sense that on each day, not only are we pursuing the weekly exercise from Sunday morning and growing in our Spiritual knowledge, but each of us is on a shared prayer journey based on scripture. The resource is convenient as each day has a printed version of the scripture, a comment and a reflection or prayer and an audio version is available.
  • Each month, on the first Friday, early in the evening, a simple supper could be shared where people bring contributions and there may be sung worship. Those who are gifted may be invited to preach; those with insight may share what they they believe God is showing them. Communion will be shared and after prayer ministry, any business could be discussed that needs to be decided ending with refreshments and recreational activities. The source of this inspiration would be intimate groups of two or three, maybe organised around the renovare resources or other ministries that participants felt met their needs, meeting weekly.

It is hoped that as  result of this intentional life together, members would be effective employees, engage in other communities and serve the society they are part of, effectively, from a heart grounded in God.

It would only take two or three people to commit to this community to make it work. From it we may renew the communities we are part of and revive the gospel witness in Takeley.

Straw Dogs; Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, by John Gray

Puppy

Our guide dog puppy Riley

The thesis of this book is that we are all suffering, cruel animals and humans are bent on destroying their environment with technology. Pretty gloomy stuff but very well written. To be honest, I am not qualified to critique the book but I did read it.

Gray presses home his argument with shocking examples of humans behaving badly. He really despises humanism’s hope that things are getting better, and sees secular humanism as an empty philosophy worse than Christianity, because it does not face up to the facts as he sees them. They, ‘…have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.’ (Gray, 2003, p.38) Morality does not exist, there is no self and he ventures that what distinguishes us from animals is we, ‘…have learnt to cling more abjectly to life.’ (Gray, 2003, p.131)

Strangely I found his shocking examples rather tame compared to the cruelty and depravity in the bible. Even his thesis is biblical, though he wouldn’t acknowledge it. He reads like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ). Indeed Gray writes in the tradition of Wisdom Literature.

Gray’s assessment is unashamedly Godless. He espouses Buddhist awareness and reflection as the answer to human rapacity. Death is the release, and we are burdened by our awareness of time in waiting for it. He concludes,

‘ Other animals do not need a purpose in life. A contradiction to itself, the human animal cannot do without one. Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?’ (Gray, 2003, p.199)

I must admit I found this book made me laugh, as it was so earnest and self reflectively serious. The illustrations made me want to cry, but the bible had hardened me to the depravity of mankind and the destiny of creation. Gray’s whole argument makes sense; it has to, I offer, or faith would have no meaning. I wouldn’t put my trust in them though as someone clever will rip his ideas to shreds one day.

In the bible, God does not prove himself; argue for his own existence, he reveals himself. The sun, the moon and the whole realm of nature are as much bleak as they are inspirational. Nature is as cruel and chaotic as it is rational. God speaks into this.

Yes the bible supports the idea that we are all animals, but take Gray’s advice, look within. There you will find an inner land to explore; there God will reveal himself. Yes, to live is to suffer, but to see, to seek, is to find God and his Image in you.

I have deliberately not given detailed quotes to support my biblical insertions because I want you to read the scriptures and find out if I am right. I’m not sure what merit there is in reading this book, except that it lays bare secular humanists and updates you with examples of the depravity of man.

Reference

Gray, J. 2003 Straw Dogs. London: Granta Books 2003.

Sovereign

One of my key beliefs is in the sovereignty of the human will (Genesis 1:27).

I believe in the sovereignty of God; he is all powerful and holds the whole creation together. God is good.

I see in the act of creation, the incarnation and salvation sovereign acts of self limitation (Philippians 2:1-11). I strongly feel that God has limited himself for the glory of his wonderful grace and that all our wills are created sovereign. This is one way I understand being made in the image of God.

God’s will is supremely free. His will is not bound. To exercise free will, our sovereign wills  bind to his sovereign will. Free will does not mean we exercise our will outside the will of God. Our will is only free, I believe, when the will of God is sovereignly our will. This is how I understand the mystery of God, creator and God made flesh.

The futility of sin is the fact that our wills are no longer free but bound by the slavery of selfishness and disobedience to the call of God. Our concept of self determination cloaks free will with the idea that we are free to sin. We are not free when we sin, we are made free in Christ so that we do not sin.

Jesus sets people free and commands them to go on their way and sin no more. While we are still sinners and bound by sin, we are forgiven and our experience of love and acceptance illuminates our life so that we have the hope of salvation. Sin no more, is a command to us based on the grace of forgiveness(1 John 3:1-10). But God does not take away the gift of our sovereign wills, we still need to turn to him.

Believing in Christ, we never lose the promise of salvation as we struggle with sin. Belief in Christ is a moment of peace and joy, an experience that sets us on the way to be imitators of Jesus; to be holy as he is holy. Believing in Christ is the creation of a new identity from which our sovereign identity grows. It is a decision to follow Christ, to be faithful to him (John 3:16-18). The battle begins as our character and circumstances are challenged and the gift is, our hearts are turned from stone to flesh. We hear the perpetual call, Go, and sin no more.

This is a simple command; go, and sin no more (John 8:11); be holy as I am holy (1 Peter 1:13-16). It is a call to imitation, to realise the divine image within all of us. Jesus’ teaching is easy and its outworking light.  Jesus says, love God with every fibre of your being and love everyone else (Mark12:30-31).

It is a true metaphor that speaks of arming ourselves for this life. Life is not easy but Jesus’ message is (Romans 13:12). We need every defence and weapon available, as, for some of us, we meet failure after failure and despair upon despair. Some struggle against circumstances and suffer. Others, if not all, struggle with the heavy burden of self. Our hurts and disappointments and the hidden world of our experience crowd in on the truth of who we are in Christ as we stumble and stumble again. For some of us, that one word of belief, that single word of freedom, is all we have in the struggle. But it is enough; it is the seed planted in good soil which is not strangled.

Our confidence is in God, as in Christ we are new creations hidden in him. As we set our hearts to forgive and be kind, yet feel nothing; as we seek to serve others and only feel failure, we know that, even so, in Christ we are saved. God may invade us with supernatural revelation but he will not take control and enslave us to it. He may reveal himself through miracles and supernatural encounters but he will not take away grace and bind us to the repeat of transient experiences. God limits his sovereignty for the glory of his wonderful grace so that we might freely bind ourselves to his will.

When everything else falls around our ears, the word of faith; the still, small, quiet voice, speaks, …My burden is easy and my yoke is light. He does not say pull yourself together and cheer up he says, …Come to me (Matthew 11:28-30). He knows your heart; it is his new creation and he will never let go (John 10:27-30).

This is love, that I am free to love. This is power that I am free to take up my cross and follow Christ. This is grace that I am freed to live in Christ.