Mixed Messages

That year had it’s ups and downs. We had hosted our very first Exchange Student, a Catholic girl who was more Christian than we ever thought possible. She attended our Southern Baptist Church with us every Wednesday, Sunday, and miscellaneous event – she was one of us in every way. But the terms of her stay was for one school year, and so all too soon, the months flew by and one day she boarded a plane for home.
Shortly thereafter, our church hired a real youth pastor (+ his wife who assisted him for free) to replace the one I had known, a well-respected teacher that worked at the local high school (whose wife was a certified pharmacy technician.) These were the ‘Bible Studies’ that I remember from about that time: Kent Hovind’s Dinosaurs and the Bible, The Purpose-Driven Life, and The Truth Project; there were others – I just plain forgot them.
It was then that the tiny cracks began to widen into a big impassable gap. For one, the church was in a christian college town and had no college-aged regular attendees other than the ones that had grown up in the church. All of the college-age regular attendees that grew up in the church actually were from the same area – a town about ten miles away. They were close friends outside of church. One Sunday, the pastor talked about how mixing theology was like suicide – the drink made from mixing different kinds of pop together to get a unique and different flavor – and that was like committing yourself to a spiritual death because you didn’t have the truth because you chose to fill up your cup with a lie. Everybody knows, he said, that rat poison is 99% good food and 1% poison – the parallel is that having mixed theology (suicide) is just like that, only you have less and less good truth and more and more bad lies. His conclusion was that if you didn’t believe a + b + c exactly as the church teaches from scripture, then you were a heretic and everybody knows that heretics don’t go to heaven.
This greatly troubled the older youth, that meant that the Catholic girl wouldn’t go to heaven, and they knew for sure that she was more Christian than they were. They had agreed among themselves that the only thing you need is to believe that Jesus is your savior. Together, they met and agreed on a course of action. They stopped going to their church. I was just younger than they were and caught in-between of the whole conflict. At first I was unaware of the nature of the problem. My parents were also at conflict with some of the adult teachings that were pushing the church in a backwards direction. Finally, I left the church at their Summer picnic, my drink of choice? Suicide.
We were a perfect example of a traditional christian family. Our church was a perfect example of a Southern Baptist Church, quite typical, as I have discovered in it’s theology and administration. Somehow, God showed us that the ‘surface’ of the church was perfect, but the ‘substance’ of the church was deeply flawed. About a year later, we ran into a few of our friends – the teacher that was my youth pastor – and he talked about what had happened. The pastor had appointed himself as a member of each committee. He found a reason to disqualify all the women from serving in all but the cleaning and nursery ministries. He carefully chose a few elders to be his support team, ‘yes men’ to help him move the church in the direction he wanted. By the time the older members realized that something was wrong, it was too late. One day, they gathered in the teacher’s living room saying “I want my church back.” The problem was, their church was ‘gone’ the day the pastor gave his first sermon.

That’s why I pick on the Southern Baptist Church, they are the largest denomination out there and they are taking some of the biggest steps backwards. Worse yet, there are a number of movements within Christianity that seem to want to help them get there faster:
The idea that Christians are losing this country to non-Christians is pretty terrifying to people used to our majority say. Not getting things going in our favor has eroded traditional values. To combat this, parents can chose to raise up a Godly army of children to be their arrows to thwart Satan’s plans for our country by being civil servants with an eye for political interests and (hopefully) one day grow up to be president. In this movement, having lots and lots and lots of kids is seen as the ideal goal. They must be raised up to be Christian from birth because if you let them choose, they might have their own opinions and not become president and all that homeschooling would be useless.
Another movement says that much of America is already ‘lost’ to unbelievers, so the best that people can hope to do is to is to move out into the emptier (and colder) parts of the Northwestern U.S.A – places like Idaho and Montana to live off of the land. By separating from the ‘lost’ regions America, they can create a haven sort of like heaven on earth but not quite. Isolation, cold, and Christianity, what could go wrong?
Yet another movement says that the real problem is that we’re just not traditional enough. We need to go back to the Bible and just do what it says. The real solution to fix our unhappy marriages is for women to cover their heads and for men to … well, they don’t talk about what men should do. This will tell the angels that you’re committed to your husband so that the angels behave themselves.

Talk about mixed-up theology … people have found all sorts of things in the Bible and taken them to extremes. Let’s put Jesus to the side for a moment and ask the tough questions:
Will having lots of kids to use a weapons against my enemy save me? Will moving out in the middle of nowhere to live off of the land save me? Will having a cloth on my head save me? Will being a republican save me? Will being a day-age creationist save me? will being a cessationalist save me? Will Jesus alone be my eternal salvation?
Hopefully all but the last question was a resounding ‘no’ and the last question was a ‘yes, amen.’ As a Christian outsider, I can’t be certain of what’s going on in these and other fundamentalist Christian movements. As an outsider, it looks like to me elements of racism, sexism, and elitism are a driving force in what’s going on. People are getting hurt, marginalized, spiritually destroyed, abused in every way, shape, and form, in the name of a religious idea that seems to have nothing to do with Jesus other than using Him to fear and intimidate people so that they can be controlled – worse yet, it’s done in Jesus’ name.

People – that’s anything but Christianity. Christianity … Christ, as in the anointed one, Jesus and Jesus alone. You know that guy that was crucified alongside Jesus? All he had was Jesus and he went to heaven … that’s all we need.

The Roots of Methodism

Now that I’m switching denominations, I’ve decided to do my homework on the origin of this particular denomination.

The one church becomes the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. (East-West Schism ~1050 a.d.)

The Church of England breaks away from the Roman Catholic Church. (English Reformation ~1500 a.d.)

John Wesley, Charles Wesley and the influence of other reformers, begin a revival movement with the Church of England. This is where Wesleyanism gets it’s start. (~1730’s a.d.)

By the time the Wesley Brothers reached America, their revival movement was called Methodism.

John Wesley stressed the life of Christian Holiness: to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. He stressed experiencing religion and moral responsibility. John was also influenced by the Moravian Churches – which was known for having set up a continuous prayer meeting that lasted 24 hours a day for 100 years. It was also influenced by Arminianism which was opposed to the teachings of Calvinism. They focused on personal faith, experience, and holiness.

Methodism picked up steam during the Great Awakenings, it also was involved a number of small schisms over slavery – many (though not all) denominations were also abolitionists (in fact, some of the early African American churches chose Methodism). Once slavery was ended, some of these denominations re-united.

In 1968, the United Methodist Church was formed by one such reunion. Today, it is the second largest denomination behind Southern Baptists. The services are liturgical, but some churches also offer contemporary services. They also have a social creed which affirms that they care for equal rights for all people an example of how they carry this out in their church is by not being afraid to ordain women. (It seems to me to be the best indicator of equality that they would allow women to hold the same positions and have the same authority as men.)

Now that I know a little more about my new denomination’s history, I’m hopeful that things will turn out well. I know pretty much nothing of liturgy, so I can expect a little bit of trouble integrating with that aspect. I’m hopeful that the church would create a contemporary service – then it would be exactly what we’re looking for. But until then, we’ll have to do our best to learn things as we go.

Murky Clarity

God created each and every one of us as individuals and we have our own different stories (Psalm 139:16B) from start to finish – no two are exactly alike. To try to make us all fit the same unspoken standard of what’s ‘acceptable’ would mean trying to rid us of part of who God made us to be.

Which brings up the question – did God make an error in making us the way we are? If you say that God is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and that He doesn’t make errors (Deuteronomy 32:4), then every ‘bad’ trait must also be ‘good’ or meant to be good for us.

God has given us different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of workings – but we have the same God at work in and through us. (1 Corinthians 12) It also would make sense that he gave us personalities that would help us carry out our gifts, service, and workings.

This leads me to conclude that there’s no one ideal standard for being a christian, no one ideal standard for our personalities, no one ideal standard for our gifts service or workings, and that the variety and diversity that exists honors God. We honor Him by being how he made us to be.

Which is why I can’t stand the concepts of Biblical Womanhood and Biblical Manhood. It defines that ideal Christian in such narrow terms, that most people could never fit that definition without giving up how God made them to be. Traits that are positive for one group and negative for the other, though they are common to both. It bothers me that the people who wrote the idea down seem to think they know a whole lot more about people than God does.

Sure, God does plan for some people to live rather traditional lives, but that’s not his plan for all people, all places, and at all times. If it were, it would have been simple enough to add in another chapter and verse telling us what is expected of us until the end of time. What about the Christians who are meant to live non-traditional lives that are outside of the definition of Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood? Was God wrong? Certainly not … but somebody is.

Church Shopping 2.0: Adventures in Switching Denominations

Finding a new church is not fun, but we’re just gluttons for punishment in that way. We had a good break from church altogether, but breaks aren’t meant to last. So we did some research online and found out that some churches really should update their websites more frequently. We picked up the local paper and didn’t learn anything useful. Finally, it was Sunday and time to go to church.

We had ruled out all Southern Baptist Churches (and thus 75% or more of the churches in the county) because we were at odds with their secondary and tertiary doctrines which they pushed as of primary importance. In doing so, we had ruled out the contemporary services (which was what we wanted) because even if their service style was compatible, their theology was not.

So we arrived at the Methodist church. It was a big, new building – I can’t remember if it was a stone, brick, or wood building, that sort of thing isn’t important to me. Walking into the foyer, I was surprised to see so many people lingering in the hallway carrying on in conversation.

New people always stick out, so a few people had to come on over and greet us. I went head to find us a spot in the back – but before I could chose a seat, the pastor (who was also new to the church) said hello. Now I’m the first to admit that I’m terrible with people – and people freak me out, especially when get too close. I once left a church when it’s members became a hugging church. (Which I’m told is now the norm for them.) So I was less than thrilled when a lady leaned into my personal space to talk to the people sitting just beside me. (I so wanted to say: “Ma’am, I have space issues, stop leaning in! Please go away.” Fortunately, years of boredom and manners in various churches had taught me restraint and I did not say what I wanted to.)

The service was traditional, but at least there was no thumbing through dusty, half-broken, well-used hymnals, the words were displayed on screen. One song I didn’t sing because I didn’t recognize the tune to it. I was surprised to see such variance in ages – in my last church, I was the only one my age. In this church, there were more young people. I sometimes wonder if it works for them because they didn’t know church could be different – contemporary.

The preaching was based on the parable of the soils, the idea was that we ought to be a plow to the difficult people around us and find a way to help the seeds that are planted by the farmer grow. My thoughts:

1.) Plows operate by cutting through hard soil, bringing up the bottom of the soil to the surface and up-ending the surface soil. In doing so, some nutrients are brought up to the surface (for the plants) and any crops or weeds from last year are able to break down into nutrients for next year. It sounds o.k. in theory, but it doesn’t really build up the soil to become healthier overall. What nutrients are taken out by the plans are replaced by the weeds and left-overs breaking down, but that’s breaking even. It’s not improving the condition of the soil for the next crop to do even better. The very act of plowing makes some of the surface soil (and the nutrients therein) easily blown away by the wind or removed by erosion.

2.) Difficult people aren’t difficult just because they woke up that morning and decided to be difficult (I know because I’d classify myself as ‘difficult’ in some senses of the word, though not all). It’s what happens over time because of bad experiences they’ve had with other people. You bought a good used car, they bought a lemon. You made a good investment, they got taken in by a con man. You never met a person you didn’t like, they never met a person who didn’t take advantage of them in some way. Asking pointed questions to drudge up what they keep buried isn’t your job – it’s more important to be the one person who isn’t like everyone else they’ve ever met.

3.) Sometimes I think I just know too much and think too much about these things. I probably shouldn’t have watched the documentary about the Dust Bowl that mentioned the film ‘The Plow that Broke the Plains’ which blamed farming techniques for being partially responsible (a severe drought / heat wave was also partially responsible) for that particular disaster.

The service concluded with communion. The one interesting thing about communion is that no two churches handle it exactly alike. Coming out of a Southern Baptist then Non-Denominational background, I’m glad to say that we sat this one out, as we’d never seen it done with kneeling before. Add to that a gluten allergy and you can see how awkward it is to be a guest in a church of a different denomination.

(I used to like to joke that I’m so Non-Denominational, I don’t mind going to a Southern Baptist Church. Now I’m so Non-Denominational, I’m trying out a Methodist Church. Here’s an interesting historical note about the two churches, the Southern Baptists split from the Northern Baptists over the question of Slavery, they wanted to keep the institution intact. Some of the Methodists were Abolitionists and helped the Underground Railroad, in my book, they get 100 bonus points* for valuing people over the system that was oppressing them. *the bonus points have no actual value, I just hold them in higher esteem.)

Overall, it wasn’t down-right terrible. It was just … different. Coming to terms with the fact that the sort of church we want just doesn’t exist in this county (theologically compatible contemporary) was pretty tough, having to find something we can all settle with won’t be easy – this whole region seems to want to stick to traditionalism and our experience is that too much tradition can be a very bad thing.

I’ve had a whole day to think about the experience and I’m still not sure how I feel. Will it be the perfect church? No. Will it be good enough? Only time will tell.

The History of the Trinity

“Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God” ~ Athanasius, at the Council of Nicæa (c. 325)

When it comes to teaching the Trinity, most churches teach it as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When Saint Patrick tried to explain it, he held up a three leaf clover and pointed to each leaf and taught about each person, but showed them that the whole clover was like God. These days, people don’t really ask questions about it. For many, ‘The trinity is made up of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.’ is enough. Anything more than that is a headache.

Just how did we come to understand the trinity? Christianity had to define it’s own theology and find a way to standardize what they believed among many churches in other parts of the world. To do that, they’d have to call in everybody to talk about the various issues the chrurch was facing.

The first council was in Jerusalem, in about the year 50. The main questions settled there were accepting Gentiles and not requiring circumcision. Back then, they didn’t talk about the trinity as the idea hadn’t begun to exist.

The second notable council was the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325. Here the Nicene Creed was established, they decided when to celebrate Easter, and they argued about Arianism among other things. Arianism said that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. Arians also believe that Jesus Christ (the Son of God) did not always exist but was created by God the Father. People who believed in some but not all of Arius’ teachings were Semi-Arians. At the First Council of Nicaea, Arianism was branded to be a heresy and dealt with accordingly. Athanasius was there, as an assistant, taking notes.

Athanasius was not satsified with how things turned out, more specifically, with the explanation of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He spent many years developing what later became known as the Athanasian Creed:

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.”

Athanasius chose his words carefully to thwart the heresies of his day: Arianism, Sabellianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism. He made it clear that he chose the the word homoousious (‘one substance’,’one in being’) to describe the divine nature between Father and Son and to describe the human nature between Jesus and Mary. Arianism was eventually accepted into orthodox teachings, then it was branded a heresy again before being made orthodox again.

Over the deacades, Athanasius fought against the herisies of his day with his orthodox teachings, trying to gain the support of other Christian leaders around him. His teachings would be made officially orthodox at the Council of Constantinople in the year 383. And that is who, what, why, how, when, and where the Trinity came to be understood and accepted as we know it today.