Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 2014

Smoky Mountain Reflections
May 2014
            Words and phrases can mean different things in different contexts to different people. We should be very careful to know what our words mean before we say them.  I cannot change the meaning of a word/s to suit my own needs and desires. I will acknowledge that word usage and meanings can and do change over time, but sadly, some words are used today that mean one thing for one group and a different thing for another. We as Christians should be careful how we use words. Let's look at some words and see how they are commonly misused, and how we might communicate more clearly by saying what we really mean.

            Let's start with the word “tolerance”. According to Dictionary.com, this word has many definitions, but let's exclude its medical and technical definitions, and focus on the second of the three general definitions, which is "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own."   We do not need to pick this definition apart; let's just say one can be civil toward those whose opinions and practices are different than their own. This does not say that you must agree, just that you have a kind permissive attitude toward them. As
conservative biblical Christians these days, we find a strong double standard applied to us when it comes to the word “tolerance”. We are called intolerant and judgmental of others when we stand with the clear teaching of God's word on the definition of family and the sanctity of human life. At the same time those who accuse us of being intolerant are at the very same time being very intolerant of us and our consciences with regard to the authority of God's word. Now some of this is because some Christians try to judge others and tell them how they should act or what they should do. But that is not our call as Christians. We are to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in our hearts; this means that I, as a forgiven sinner, want others to know how great it is to be forgiven, so I stand ready to tell others that Christ died for our sins, and in order to understand what sins are, we must accept God’s definitions and not make up our own. So if you find yourself being called an intolerant bigot, thank the person who says that to you, letting them know how much you appreciate their tolerance of your convictions.

            There are also common words and phrases that Christians use that should be used with caution. You have probably heard me say before "I am too blessed to be depressed". This is a catchy phrase, but it carries, I think, a dangerous assumption that only happy, well-to-do people, are blessed. This is of course not what is meant, but
consider the next time you are sharing your struggles, pains, or anxieties in life, that this is also a time to acknowledge that you are blessed because God's blessings upon us are constant. He is always there caring for us and working for our good even if we are ignorant of it during times of suffering. 

            Another dangerous phrase is "It’s a God thing" not because something is not “a God thing” (because He is in control of everything, so everything is a God thing). Unfortunately, we often use this not to acknowledge that God is in control (and it amazes us how He works through the things in our life to both discipline and care for us), but it is used to recognize things that we feel are good. This again implies that the bad things that we don’t like are not “God things”, but He is working there as well.    

            "God placed it on my heart" is a phrase that implies special divine revelation, when we know God reveals Himself through His word.  When we have an idea or make a decision it is possible, if not probable, that God uses our environment, friends, family, and our prayer to help us come to a God pleasing idea or decision, but to say "God placed it on my heart" implies divine authority behind the words we speak, and unless we are proclaiming biblical truth, what we say is our opinion, not God's Word.   

            There is one phrase, however, that I think we as Lutherans should never use, because I feel it is based on a theology that is not biblical. "Come to Jesus". We as Christians do not “come” to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit plants faith in our hearts at our Baptism or when God’s word is preached and we hear and believe. Either way we are not coming to faith, faith is coming to us.
Ok, enough rambling with words about words. Have a "blessed" (no matter how good or bad it is) :-) Spring.
In Christ,

Thursday, May 1, 2014

April a little late

Smoky Mountain Reflections
April 2014
            Spring is upon us, and as I clear my head from a busy winter I have noticed that I started a series of articles in January that I neglected to finish. Now that it is spring and I am thinking more clearly, let’s return to the series I started on the five historic heresies. We already discussed the oldest (legalism), and right on its heels came Gnosticism and Arianism, so let’s look at these.
            Gnosticism: The word Gnosticism comes from the Ancient Greek “gnosis” meaning knowledge. This heresy first shows up in a number of ancient religions which taught that people should shun the material world and embrace the spiritual world. Gnostic ideas influenced many religions, including Christianity. Gnosticism is basically a pendulum swing away from the first heresy, legalism.  Where the Judaizers combined Jewish practice with Christianity, Gnosticism combined pagan philosophy with Christianity. The Judaizers were holding on to the past, while Gnostics broke with the past looking to be attractive to the society of their day.... sound familiar?
            Ancient Gnosticism is hard to pin down. It requires a “special knowledge” but that special knowledge is never clearly defined, much like today’s New Age movement (which is already decades old, so it is no longer new and therefore has faded from popularity like all fads).  Christian varieties of Gnosticism did not really come into full form until sometime in the second century. That is when we see things such as Gnostic gospels show up. Christianity survived Gnosticism by confronting it head-on. Many of the early church fathers fought for Biblical truth, laying down their lives rather than compromising their faith in Christ by mixing it with Paganism.
            Gnosticism made numerous claims over the years, and as one version was squashed by the church, another would pop up in its place. However, most forms of Gnosticism fall into three categories. Dualism claims that everything in the universe is reducible to two fundamental realities, for example Good & Evil or Flesh & Spirit. Syncretism is the merging of two different systems of belief, for example, modern day Unitarian Universalism, or the beliefs of many Americans who claim to be Christian but will say "all paths lead to God". The last category is Docetism, which claims that Christ only appeared to be human. Modern historic critics make a similar sort of claim when they try to explain away all of Christ’s miracles with human reason, making him an aberration of a collective consciousness or the creation of a deluded individual or individuals.
            Arianism shows us how heresy can arise from within the church. During a climate of tolerance after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Arianism became a movement within the church before anyone rose up to oppose it. This is Satan’s favorite tactic; disguising himself as an angel of light. Arianism is an attack on the deity of Christ. The Arians claimed that Jesus Christ was a created being, higher than humanity, but less than truly God. The Gnostic attacked the church from outside the church, but Arianism brought false doctrine to the church from within. Arius was the heretic for whom this doctrine is named. He devised a view of Christ that made Him a created being, neither divine nor truly human, but a mediator between God and humanity. According to Arius, Christ was the firstborn of all creation, higher than other creatures, but a creature nonetheless. This is exactly what modern Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Jehovah's Witnesses use the very same arguments Arius did.
            The Nicene Creed was the church’s response to Arianism, but it marked the beginning, not the end,
of the controversy in the church. After their doctrine was condemned by the council, the Arians pleaded for tolerance, and they succeeded in infecting the church worldwide with their doctrine. Emperor Constantine was frustrated when the Nicene Council was not successful in quelling the Arian controversy, because he wanted harmony in the church to promote harmony in his land. Arianism became so popular that only one man ended up standing against it—Athanasius (the same Athanasius after whom the Athanasian Creed is named).
            Although Athanasius stood alone against the majority of the church in his day, his arguments won out, because he employed Scripture skillfully and persuasively to demonstrate the error of the heresy. This episode is a classic example of why Scripture, not majority opinion, is the first and last test of every doctrine. This is why we hold to the Book of Concord as the clearest exposition of biblical truth.

            We only have two left, so next month we will address Pelagianism and Socinianism. See you then.

In Christ, Pastor Portier