Justification of the Means and the Ends

“The ends justify the means.” Is a pretty scary line of thought. What’s scarier is that it explains Christianity’s historical power throughout Europe and well into early America. Before the Roman Empire collapsed, Christianity was made into the official religion and it’s capital was moved. The power of the Roman empire was broken, but their influence on their former empire did not entirely disappear. When the chaos finally came to an end, the church emerged as a stabilizing force that worked in tandem with the various nation states as they began carving out their territories for what would become Europe. Medieval knights were often baptized into Christianity, but they held their swords over their heads. In effect, God had cleaned souls, but they kept their swords unclean to do the dirty work of fighting for the nobles. This was seen in the Crusades, where the ends of rescuing Jerusalem justified the means of going to war for it time and and time again. In this way, church and state were a powerful ally, one in charge of the people physically, the other spiritually. We see the ends justify the means as African slaves were forcibly converted to Christianity before they boarded the slave trader’s ships. And the ends justified the means yet again as Native Americans were christianized. My question is, did that line of thinking disappear centuries ago, or does it persist?

I’ve been wondering what our culture might have turned out to be like had we not been Christianized from the start – what might we believe about the sciences, gender, sexuality, morality, and pretty much everything else. I think the mistaken approach of our predecessors was the idea that to be Christian, you had to give up certain aspects of your culture. Native Americans, for example, were made to wear normal clothing, cut the mens’ hair short, were given normal names. It was unfortunate that these Christians had not realized that the advice from the book of Acts still applied – it was not neccessary for the Gentiles to stop being Gentiles to be Christians, it was not neccessary for Native American to stop being Native Americans to be Christians.

I said this to say that ‘the ends justifies the means’ is a dangerous line of thinking that isn’t neccesarily true. Sometimes the means are just too cruel, too dangerous, and too destructive to justify any ends. Christians should not have been forcing the conversion of African slaves, they should have been setting them free. Christians should not have destroyed Native American culture, all they had to do was to tell them that God loved them as they are. Christians today should carefully study the mistakes of the past so that they do not relive them. We don’t have to give up what makes us ourselves to be Christians also. Let’s not perpetuate that myth upon those that are not like us.

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Violence

Thanksgiving. For some, a modern holiday where families get together to eat a whole lot of food. For others, a remider of history’s less forgiving moments. Speaking of, at this very moment we’re living what very possibly could be remembered as one of history’s less forgiving moments. Sometimes we can learn from those that came before us without repeating their mistakes. Our world is messed up and now many voices are calling for change – but change starts with ourselves. We have to choose to look at all race related problems with compassion – the roles could very easily have been reversed and things would be no different.

For many of us youth, all we know of the world is what we see from television and the internet, both sometimes find it easier to depend on stereotypes to get a story across in a short amount of time. It makes it seem normal and accepted when you see a teenager pointing a gun at a member of an opposing gang somewhere in a run-down city. It makes the studious teenager who has a plan to open his own business seem like a bizarre departure from normalcy.

Stereotypes are always wrong. They don’t fit everybody and not everybody fits them. So we have to ask the studio executives to choose to buy creative content that defies stereotypes and breaks the status quo rules. That’s why I love the new Annie movie. May it be the first of many shows that give the studio executives reason to choose alternative stars for their shows. Boys will watch shows that star girl characters, girls will watch shows that star boy characters, Caucasians will watch shows that star African-American or Latin American or Asian American characters, just as all people of colors have watched shows staring Caucasian characters. When television shows us how normal it is for people to defy stereotypes, we will no longer need them around to label people.

We do have a very good example about how to initiate change: non-violence. We have seen how often violence derails the conversation and vengeance takes center stage and makes all parties resistant to calling a truce as they can only see red. “If only we had been more violent …” “If only we had killed thousands as opposed to hundreds …” “If only we had burnt down hundreds of businesses as opposed to dozens …” “… then we would have taken our rights / been given our rights more quickly!” Said no one, ever. History shows us that the more violently some people push for a change, the longer it took for that change to actually occur.

We do have problems with the police, but the best way to deal with problems is not to counter violence with violence. It might look good on television, but it’s a really bad idea to play out in real life. We should, as much as it depends upon us, live by obeying the law as much as humanly possible. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you break the law it is only a matter of time before you are caught, therefore it is in your best interest to not run from the law. All actions have consequences, so we should learn to choose actions that have the least harmful consequences possible. If all of us are non-violent and respectful, soon there won’t be a need for so many policemen and women patrolling the streets. There won’t be a need for guns in the hands of youth. They will have no reason to fear for their lives and act in haste, nor will the people they serve. That can only be a good environment in which to raise the next generation.
Please be peaceful. We believe in law and order. We are not advocating violence, I want you to love your enemies… for what we are doing is right, what we are doing is just — and God is with us; At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. – Mahatma Gandhi

Inheritance

Y-chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve refer to the genetics discovery that basically says that all living human beings can trace back their DNA from father to son and from mother to daughter all the way back to these two individuals that might have lived about the same time a long time ago in Africa. Our recorded history tells us the story of how humanity mistreats humanity, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. Change, it seems, does not come quickly or easily for any of us. We would like to think that we are descendant from the families that were always on the right side of history, but the truth is that real life for them is much as it is for us now, we always have and always will take the ‘hit or miss’ approach when all the pivotal moments take place. We can never fully know how our actions today will be remembered long after we are gone and It also seems that we aren’t given to plan ahead for the succeeding generations. If anything, the news today shows how emotional we are and how emotionless our history appears. Anger, confusion, and disappointment all color the picture that history will recall in a stark black and white of right and wrong. We are only just now comming to understand that the problem is in the foundations and the assumptions our society was built upon. Much of our playbook are modern versions of original plays written according to the rules built into the game hundreds of thousands of years ago. There was a time when classism, racism, and sexism were considered neccessary traits for a society to thrive. There was a time when hatred and prejudice were considered essential qualities for a conquering army to display. There was a time when a handful of people in power declared themselves to be superior and deserving of the right to rule over inferiors. But that time has come and gone. Today we’re re-writing the playbook, but we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board if we want to create real lasting change. Because no matter how much we want a completely equal society in every sense of the word, we can’t have it if we still live with even just a little bit of classism, racism, sexism, or any other -ism. I know, the majority of us are good people who do want change, but it’s not always in our power to make it happen right here and right now. The best we can hope for is to pave the way for the next generations to build a proper foundation. We should stop romanticising the past and accept it for what it was. We should stop looking to the past as the basis of ideal behavior and standards for our modern time. We should have a conversation about what changes we want to see and how we can accomplish them together. We are one human race and we have inheriteded the capability to mistreat other members of the human race, but we don’t have to.

Doubt

It was the book of Romans that changed everything. Jacobus Arminius studied Calvinism with John Calvin’s son-in-law and hand-picked successor. In fact, he was a strict Calvinist. Then one day as he was studying in the book of Romans, he realized that what he believed didn’t exactly fit. Originally, the early Arminians were known as the Remonstrants, only later did the label Arminians stick.

The more I look into these two schools of thought, the more I’m questioning whether or not I should. I sort of feel like I’m try to explain to strangers why it’s not a good idea to open mail written to another and implement the advice it contains or why it’s not a good idea to turn in another person’s prescription and take medication meant to solve their problems. Some people tried to explain to me that to be covenental means that you believe that while the Old Testament covenants were between God and whoever, the church spiritually takes place of that whoever. Some even say that the church is the spiritual Israel.

For that matter, I don’t really know anything about being creedal or confessional either. I have a list of what reformed theology is – but it doesn’t mean anything. It strikes me as being a wrong fit for me and I can’t explain why, it just is. I’ve always seen the Old Testament as being completely fulfilled, a closed chapter that the New Testament occasionally refers to, but ultimately continues the story going in a different direction.

So when some guy said that God would be well within his rights to cause some sickness within me or kill me for having such a different (apparently wrong) understanding of scripture, that just didn’t sound like God to me. The truth is that I’ve never heard of a story where God did something like that outside of the Bible. If he did, most of the denominational differences would be characterized by a major death toll on all sides except for the correct one. I think what concerns me is that to buy into Reformed Theology, I’d have to give up much of the freedoms that Jesus has instilled into my heart.

The truth is that there isn’t a name for theology I have at this present time. It can’t be classified as completely reformed or unreformed, conservative or liberal, right or left, red or blue, Calvinism or Arminianism, Baptist or Methodist, traditional or contemporary, complementarian or egalitarian. It is some mysterious mixture contain generous helpings of some teachings and barely a pinch of others. Because of the mixed messages I’ve been told over the years, I’m finding it difficult to clarify and define what I really believe because I’m not really sure of anything. It also makes it difficult to be receptive of any teaching that’s any extreme of anything which seems to be the normal lately. I may be a theological mixed bag, but at least I know I’m aiming for balance.

 

Everyone is Elected

Calvinism says that Jesus Christ died to save only those who were given to him (elected) by the Father in eternity past. Since Christ did not die for everyone, but only for the elect, his atonement is wholly successful.

Arminianism says that Christ died for everyone. The Savior’s atoning death provided the means of salvation for the entire human race. Christ’s atonement, however, is effective only for those who believe.

I keep on thinking about how this God described Calvinism is such a supremely immense and powerful figure. We already know that he knows who the elect are and that the elect will come to believe and the elect will be saved because Jesus’blood covers their sins. The elect could not ignore or resist this saving faith in God even if they really, really wanted to. It’s a pretty comforting system to think: “Well, I know I’m a believer, so I must be elect. Therefore, no matter what I will go to Heaven.”

One metaphor I really liked on the subject was asking about God’s power. Is he always set on ‘full power’? Or does he chose to limit himself to ‘partial power’? As I’ve said, Calvinism seems to ignore the concept of free will, instead stating that the elect can’t resist God. Even if one of the elect goes through a time of doubt and walks away from the faith, at some point before death, God will see to it that he or she returns to the faith. Arminians believe that God is so powerful, he can control his power and is letting free will help people to make their decision one way or the other.

But it comes down to: How do you read the Bible?

“For God so loved the elect, that He gave His one and only Son, that the elect believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the elect, but to save the elect through Him.” (John 3:16-17, where ‘elect’ replaces ‘world’)

That doesn’t sound quite right to me. I really do believe that Jesus’ blood was powerful enough to clean away the sin of all men and all women, past, present, and future. But like a stain remover, it does absolutely no good if it never leaves the bottle – you have to choose to use it. That is ultimately a matter of belief.

Grace: Unmerited Favor

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
Freely bestowed on all who believe!

Calvinism says that God extends his common grace to all mankind, but it is not sufficient to save anyone. Only God’s irresistible grace can draw the elect to salvation and make a person willing to respond. It cannot be obstructed or resisted.

Arminianism says that through the preparatory (prevenient) grace given to all by the Holy Spirit, man is able to cooperate with God and respond in faith to salvation. Through prevenient grace, God removed the effects of Adam’s sin. Because of free will men are also able to resist God’s grace.

One of the things that bothers me the most is the need to redefine the same term and classify it. Grace no longer is just one thing, it’s common grace or irresistible grace or prevenient grace.

This teaching brings up all sorts of questions. How does Jesus’ death provide grace? Is this grace for all or only for those who will believe? Is it irresistible? Can we in our free will resist it? Did Jesus bleed too much for those who would not believe? Did he bleed for everybody, but grace only ‘works’ to save the elect?

The problem that many Calvinists have with the Arminian idea is that it allows for Pelagianism or Semipelagianism. Pelagius taught that the original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing Good over Evil – it is the idea that human beings can choose salvation by their own efforts. I think the issue is that pesky question of free will, Calvinists believe that the elect will be saved because they can’t resist God’s grace – they in and of themselves cannot chose to be saved unless and until God enables them to. From what I’ve seen, free will isn’t really free in Calvinism. Arminians would realize that Jesus paid the price for Adam’s sin and that enables their free will to choose grace and their free will to not choose grace. They choose to believe, Jesus is the one that saves them.

Looking at the Bible, Calvinists see all people as being either dead in their sins or alive in Christ. Only the elect, through grace, are capable of going from the dead state to an alive state. Arminians would believe in a grey zone where anybody who is dead in their sins is actually separated from God by sin but are capable of choosing God when grace enables them.

It sounds like it all comes down to: what grace is, what it can do, what it can’t do, and how people react to it. It’s not easy to figure out how to define it because there are so many different kinds that do so many different things. I would still agree with the assessment that trying to define these system of beliefs is trying to know the unknowable and define the undefinable.

Return

I’ve always been in ‘once saved always saved‘ churches, so the idea that might not be true was news to me.

At one point, I read of a church that came under particularly severe persecution so much so that many believers agreed to give up the faith. Once the persecution had ended, many of them decided to be believers again. The church wasn’t sure how to deal with these lapsed believers, after all, they had publicly denounced Jesus. All of the leaders got together and debated the issues: they denied the faith but they want to come back, they hurt the church witness but severe persecution was going on, they failed Jesus but Jesus won’t fail them, they weren’t really believers but they are believers and they are human.

Calvinism says that believers will persevere in salvation because God will see to it that none will be lost. Believers are secure in the faith because God will finish he work he began.

Arminianism says that by the exercise of free will, believers can turn away or fall away from grace and lose their salvation.

One question that comes to my mind: If free will is so important that you must choose to be a believer, then why must it vanish once one becomes a believer? 

Perhaps it’s the optimist that hopes that believers are turning away from a false understanding or practice of Christianity and into a truer way of being a christian.

I remember one person says that Jesus won’t let anyone snatch a sheep (soul) from his hand, but he won’t prevent any from jumping out of his hand either.

Not everybody walks an easy path. sometimes the road they are on is uneven, rocky, full of potholes, snares, obstacles and dangers. There are days, weeks, and months when your faith is really being tested.

But I see a lot of young people that grew up in the church turn their back to it every day. Some were brilliant minds told that they had to stop thinking too much. Some were expecting promises to be fulfilled only to watch them be broken. Some heard one message from the church but saw them live out something different. Young people are walking away from the church and somehow not their faith. And some walk away from both.

But that optimist realizes that though the story is already written, it has yet to play out. We have no idea at what point we are in on our own stories. Are we being tested? Have we failed? Are we in the process of restoration?

The church ultimately decided to reconcile and restore it’s lapsed believers. After all, Peter denied Jesus three times and he was in charge of the church – the least they could do was show grace to these prodigal believers that wanted to return home.