Posts Tagged 1 Corinthians 13: 1

The importance of Theology and the problem of religion

The problem of religion © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandThe importance of Theology is and has always been needed within the walls of the Christian life. If we sit outside the walls or on the walls we do very little but watch the sun go down and the sunrise. In other words it’s like sitting on the fence, or guiding sheep into a field where there is no grass. They don’t eat and the work does not get done. We and they, are wasting time and energy. Now suppose we do not sit on the fence or outside the walls but rather stand within the walls and not only take in the scenic views, but internalise them and embrace them, as one would do when he or she returns or marries the love of his or her life. We kiss, we hold each other, we embrace. We become one.

Now if we do not make the first move we will never know what lay before us or what we could have had or known if only we would make the move and ask the question, just as a nervous teenager asks a girl for a date. If he never asked, he would never know and that plaque would haunt him for the rest of his life. Now suppose he asked the girl, ‘would you like to come out with me for a date sometime?’ and she replied, ‘Sure, I’d love to’. Would he not be the better for it than if he had never taken the step to ask the question? Of course he would and the same can be said of understanding ‘Biblical Theology’. Asking questions is vital, but more than that, we need to listen to the answer or answers and take them on board. Remember the movie, ‘It’s a wonderful life’ where James Stewart and Donna Reed are challenged by an elderly guy sat on his porch, and he says, ‘Why don’t you just kiss her instead of talking her to death’. James Stewart could talk the ears of a wooden Indian and yet despite his true feelings, he hesitated to act upon them. But little did he know that in time he would marry the girl and raise a family. Thus we do not always know where we are going when we follow impulses but destiny and providence is working its hand in all our lives. There was a time when I was compelled to purchase books, yet all the time a war was going on within me to reject the books and buy something else rather than a book that inspires thought towards the truth of God. The human will would have you follow the world and feel the impulse of the human will, ‘go sin some more’, whereas Christ would say, “Go and sin no more”. Thus the war is underway in the search to find a Theology that can find us and place us where God would have us be. This Theology is the means appointed to us for eternal life. We need it, we should love it, and we should always apply it to every moment of life. But there are times when we don’t. We are men and women and we fail. But that does not mean that we cannot and should not continue to try. We should look at our human nature and say, ‘Wait a minute…if I don’t drink coffee for two weeks, I won’t have the desire to drink anywhere near what I did before’. Thus the nature of the will can be lessened by the practice of a Theology that is both vital and important for everyday living. Not a Theology that can often lead nowhere, but a Theology that can hold us, sustain us, keep us, watch over us, comfort us, bind us and keep us so near to Christ that we can hardly stand a brief minute being away from it. Its something that is practised and enjoyed. Like a Theology of the attributes of God. Who is He? What is He like? What does He talk like or what does He like? What offends Him and do I offend Him knowingly or unknowingly? And if so what can I do about it? This is what I would love to hear belted out from the heart and the mouth of every preacher in every nation. Truth, a Theology of Truth. A Theology that sustains and sticks to every word of the Bible like glue and does not ignore a single text that either contradicts or compliments a single Theology or a single creed. I’m talking about holding on to the word of God in every corner and every last syllable and every last text that our eyes and hearts embrace. Not ignoring a text or pulling out the old context or Greek interpretation ploy whenever its convenient. But asking God and ourselves, ‘What does this truly mean? Have I erred?’ If only humans would truly say to themselves, ‘I don’t care if I contradict a creed or a leader by not swaying from a single text of the Bible’. Or as Luther said, ‘My conscience is captive to the Word of God, and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe’. Thus, a Theology that is put into practice before God, ourselves and man, is far greater than a theology put down on paper or belched out from the pulpit but not lived. There’s only one thing to do with such theoretic blasts of wind and that is to strike a match and burn the stench.

God gives warnings to His people, ‘get it right’ and we only have this life to do it in and then comes the judgement. Not judgement for indwelling sin, but being neither cold or hot. God would have us be one or the other. Same to can be said of our Theologies, are they cold or are they hot. I don’t know about you but I prefer the hot days rather than the freezing cold ones. I’d rather be in the blazing heat than in the dusty old cold cellar where there is little light or beauty. The beauty is in the light of the sun and the light magnifies the beauty of all things good. Thus when we open the pages of the Bible, what good would it be to open them in the dark and attempt to read it? Why not call out for a light as the jailer in Acts 16: 25-31 and fall to our knees and believe? That’s what Salvation is all about, believing and asking “What must I do?” (Acts 16: 30) It’s not a salvation that requires a man or women to sit and simply read or do nothing, it’s a salvation that at first requires belief and second beliefs to good works. Just as the Phipippian jailer believed and then washed the stripes of Paul and Silas and after the event of his baptism continued in good works and made Paul and Silas a meal (Acts 16: 33-34). In other words the Theology I am speaking of is a Theology that is put into practice and one that says, ‘Let’s talk about it over dinner’ and more than that, ‘I will cook the food for you’.

In other words Paul never spoke of a faith that is idle or so stable that it can hardly move. No it’s a faith that is so strong and active that there is little room for inactivity. Paul’s Theology was like a lion, it works best when you turn it loose. It’s not something that can be caged or contained within the limitation of words, books and preaching. It’s something that requires a person to get up off their backsides and do something about. It’s not a Theology that once learned stays behind closed doors or stained glass windows. It something life changing, threatening to authorities and governments, leaders and control freaks. It’s something that once turned loose, can cause a whole City to turn into uproar. This is what we have read about in the journals of Wesley, and the Foxes book of Martyrs. It’s a total uproar, a Theology that once learned must be practised and lived to the point of death. It is something so strong, so powerful, so addictive, so un-measurable that once tasted can never be erased from the taste-buds of our hearts and minds. It captivates people, arrests them and throws them into the prison and binds them in the chains and stocks of Christ. We must hear the word of God, believe all that is written and be astonished at the doctrine of The Lord.

A PROBLEM OF RELIGION, NO JOY

Many people dislike “religion” and view “religious people” as often miserable and tense, extreme and strange. Of course this is not always the case for many people admire others who have faith in something because they often fail to have any true faith themselves. Many find in their own characters and conduct a sustaining faith that influences their own selves, many say to me, “I believe in myself” and “I cannot believe in a God that I cannot see”. And although I can understand and identify with such people, it must be pointed out that such is not the case with “true religion”. One common view is that many people blame the many world religions as the one of the many problems that often provokes world wars? And although there is some if not a very lot of truth in that fact, I must state that true religion is not the cause of world wars. It is the power trips of certain evil dictators that cause war, it is not true religion. There would have been no wars in the Bible times if evil did not wage war upon goodness, therefore we cannot be blinded to true religion because of war. True religion is not a mystical faith that is nothing more than a leap in the dark, and a voyage to nowhere. “True religion” is true faith and true faith is an eye opener and a joy to behold. True faith is not a leap in the dark but is a leap from the dark into the light. It opens our eyes to who we are and who God really is. The problem we face with “religion” today is the many self appointed religious leaders who attempt to lead men to themselves or to God as though they are a necessary channel or mediator to the heavens. We see this with men like the Pope who are presented to the public as messianic type figures who claim to have the authority to anathematise people or bless them. False religions promote a threat that unless you join the certain church you are going to end up in hell. But true religion does not attempt to ensnare the individual into becoming a member of “the denomination church” but invites them to be reconciled unto God and to be at peace with Him through Christ. Religions such as Islam and Roman Catholicism all teach that unless you join the certain denominational church you cannot enter heaven. While on the other extreme some Religions claim that everyone will go to heaven with or without Christ or God. Yet Jesus did not teach this. On the contrary He said, “accept a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” John 3: 3. And no where does the Bible state that a man can only be born again when he or she is part of the denominational Christian Church. Christ said, “come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11: 28. “The truth shall make you free” John 8: 32. You see that Christ pointed people to Himself and not the denominational Church, and offered peace and rest for the individual in Him and not dismal church sacraments and dull services. While on the other hand Christ stated that without Him, there can be no hope of salvation for anyone. Christ did not say, “Come to the church” or “Come and receive the sacraments at your local church and inherit heaven through the church”. On the contrary, if one is truly saved and born of God, he or she will want to join other people of like mind and be blessed and built up by their company. That is what the Bible says is the true church. Thus, the distracting claims that religion promotes often clouds the eyes of many people and the actions of the church distract people from the personal conduct and salvation freely offered to the individual.

All such religions as Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, and many branches of so-called Christianity including the Church of England, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses all have one thing in common. They all promote the individual religious and sacramental workings of a man as a necessity of inheriting eternal life with God. But the problem is that true religion should promote the fact that God Himself came down to earth in order to reach man and reason with him concerning righteousness and heaven. God Himself came down onto earth and reasoned with Abraham, (Genesis 18: 16-33) God Himself came down onto mount Sinai and gave Moses the tablets containing Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20: 17). God came down to earth and said “Come now, and let us reason together” Isaiah 1: 18. God Himself came down to earth in the form of Christ and offered mankind the opportunity to reason with Himself and receive the free and unconditional gift of salvation. All man had to do was receive the gift and believe that God has made a way for him to inherit a gift that he was unable to achieve by human efforts. All those who believe in Jesus are saved to good works not by good works. This for me demonstrates that real God given Christianity is the true religion and the most powerful. For all other religions teach a certain way for man to find the truth and not the truth finding him. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). But Mohamed came along over 500 years after Jesus and based all his ideas upon what was already written by Moses centuries earlier. He could not say that he was the truth and neither could Buddha’s The sayings of Buddha for such writings only attempt to point people to human wisdom being nothing more than a form of the truth taught by Solomon in the book of Proverbs and Moses many years previous.

It has to be said that the problem we face today with our current religious and none religious generation is that there is no healthy fear of God and no healthy fear of authority, for religion has blinded many peoples eyes to the truth. In my opinion much responsibility for this is to be blamed upon the theory of evolution as a presentation and enticement that creation account recorded in Genesis is just a myth and evolution is factual religion. But such evolutionists fail to inform their hearers that the scientific world is 50-50 regarding the creation account and the Darwinian theory.

If only man would embrace the God given gift of eternal salvation and eternal freedom and wash away the clouds that religion blows in front of their eyes he would hear and know that what the Bible states is the truth of all hope and pleasure in the glory and beauty of almighty God. Therefore the problem of religion is that it blinds peoples eyes and blocks the ears to the actual text of the Bible beyond disputes concerning, the creation account or the Lords prayer or the virgin birth. Religion never finds the treasure because it never looks up from the map. If only the public of today would know that true religion is a joy to hold, it is an honour and a delight to embrace. It is filled with the spiritual truths, joy, pleasure and insights and unimaginable truths. But religion without joy is like a spare tyre with no jack and a spare tyre without a jack is like a Church without Jesus.

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The Reasonable Christian

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Isaiah 1: 18 by Simon Peter Sutherland

In many theological circles today, particularly amongst many Christians on the internet, blogs, networks and in personal contact, there appears to be a distinct lack of reasonable theological debate. So often uneducated debates conclude with attacks and slanging matches and one goes away offended and the debate is over. One cuts the friendship of another Christian and deems him or her an inconsistent heretic and considers himself as being obedient to the text to cut off the heretic after the first or second warning (Titus 3: 10). Yet, few ever considered the possibility that that person who is ‘cut off’ might not be a heretic in reality, but only a heretic in the eyes of the one who cuts the person off?

Many Christians today are fighting with each other and need to stop doing this if the church today is ever going to move forwards into maturity. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: 11, a passage that is in the context of Christian Love “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man I gave up childish ways”. Paul here takes an earthly and human matter of fact and applies it to the spiritual, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then (when we see Christ) face to face” (Verse 12)

It is possible that some Christians are more mature than others and yet should those mature Christians whip other Christians who may or may not be as mature as they? No. If they do that they are not mature. Any parent knows that you have to wait for a child to grow up and mature, and you have to teach them in the way they should go, not beat them up and condemn them for not understanding something they are not yet capable of grasping.

It can be seen as a frequent problem amongst Christian people when many so-called debaters conclude the debate, before the debate has begun. One person goes in from one theological persuasion and another goes in from another theological persuasion and each one only wants to hear his persuasion met and visa versa, Truth is rarely on the actual agenda, but more what people believe to be the truth.

Reasoning has lost its place amongst debate, yet is a huge part of theology and is very consistent with Biblical narratives.

We see in Acts 17: 2 that Paul “as his custom was” he “reasoned with them (the Jews) from the scriptures” Note that he reasoned with them from the actual text of scripture and not from argument alone but from argument fixed upon what the Biblical text says.

Today we see that there is plenty of evidence to suggest a distinctive lack of ability to reason through doctrines and topics can be found amongst many Christians and church leaders because people almost instantly appear to get their backs up and rebuke or attack a doctrine that makes them feel a certain way. What often follows a debate is that people assume a doctrine to be a heresy when in actual fact it may not be a heresy but an actual Biblical truth? Thus, a debate forms, people get aggressive and condemn or cut a fellow Christian off and more division has occurred when it need not have happened in the first place. Debating can be very frustrating and it is vital that a person learns not to put another person in their framework which they have created and then judge another person by it.

Theology is much larger than many suppose. God works through much wider circles than many suppose. But He always brings that which He has started to a conclusion it is rarely left worse off than when it started. But a debate which ends in rage is no debate at all, but a mere gun fight or contest to prove who can win the argument. That is not good scholarship or good debate. A good debate should be aimed at learning from each other and reviewing contrasting debates and examining them and concluding when each person has had time to think it over. If we are ever going to see things change within Christianity today, we must train ourselves to reason again and to reason properly without getting all angry and fired up. Likewise, we cannot conclude a debate with one person saying, “Well, I don’t believe that” as though your stance on something is going to stand fast and strong. It will do little, certainly not to anyone who has understanding. All such an action will do is present you as a person who is stubborn and unwilling to learn.

For example a debate may occur between two Christians; one person may present the narrative according to his theology and will judge the Biblical text according to that framework. While the other person may present the Biblical narrative according to his theology and will judge the Biblical text according to that framework. Another person may claim to be somewhere in the middle of both theologies and he will thus being judged “inconsistent”. Both parties having a number of proof texts for their theologies and arguing them throughout. Somehow, a debate like that can seem more like a game than an actual reasonable discussion with Truth as the ultimate aim. This type of debate seems more to me like a battle of wits than it does an honest truth seeking talk, and I say this because truth is not divided.

Neither can truth be discerned according to how it makes you feel. Truth can make any one of us uncomfortable and our attitudes towards truth cannot be taken as a basis of truth. Neither can the way we read truth be deemed as absolute truth. For example; A person can read something spoken by a person, be it in a book or otherwise, yet he or she really reads that text in their own voice, thus, if they are English, they read in an English accent, if they are American, they read in an American accent and so on. Thus, each of us reads in our own voice, yet that voice may not be accurate in itself. If a person reads a text in an inner angry voice, the narrative will be aggressive. If one is slow and relaxed, the text will be read in a slow and relaxed way. Thus, I suggest that debates are far better to be restricted to actual debate in the flesh and not by the letter only. This way a debate can be taken properly and understood as the person desired the argument to be understood.

Obviously this cannot happen at all times, but we live in an age of modern technology and people can talk voice to voice even if it is by computer or phone. I prefer to debate or talk in person, this is much better and one can handle things more properly than if one is dealing with a computer screen and a bunch of words which can be taken this way or that way.

Thus, to conclude in this matter of a few words which I offer to all people, permit me to suggest a few points worth considering for any future debates you may have with fellow Christians.

7 SUGGESTIONS FOR DEBATING

  1. If you have a debate, then train your mind and heart to be reasonable and not over judgemental.
  2. Always ask the person you are debating with to clarify what they are saying.
  3. Knowing the theological position of a person is helpful, be they Liberal, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Reformed, Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, 5 point Calvinist, hyper Calvinist, Arminian and so forth.
  4. Never judge the person you are debating with by your own framework. A person may be part of a certain theological persuasion, but may not agree with all of that theology.
  5. Never say or even think that you have a perfect theology. Learn to reason with an open and willing heart and mind.
  6. Always be willing to admit when you are wrong.
  7. Pray before every debate. Ask the Lord to open all our hearts and minds to His truth.

 

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