Karl Barth, Neo-Orthodoxy & Preaching

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This blog was an assignment I turned in for a preaching class.  I had been wanting to write I blog post recently but had not the time.  I am sharing this hoping that it may cause someone to become more interested in the mechanics of theology and how it matters in your church.  Quotations out of “Homiletics” by Karl Barth.

Preaching and Barth’s Neo-Orthodoxy

At a glance, it is of no surprise that Barth and some of his contemporaries would come out of World War 1 with a theology of crisis or a dialectical theology. This theology came to be known as neo-orthodoxy and was sparked by the pure evil of the first world war, and was fueled by the grotesque and graphic nature of the second. This stance must be taken into account upon discussion of the specifics of Karl Barth’s theology of preaching as there is a direct connection between the ideology of neo-orthodoxy and practicality of his theology of preaching.

In order to get a solid grasp of what neo-orthodoxy is all about, there must be an understanding of three main attributes: 1) the theology of revelation sits in direct contrast to that of natural theology. The revelation of God is the source of Christian doctrine. All biblical doctrine has been received by humans through divine revelation. The Lord spoke through the mouths of the prophets (2 Timothy 3:16), through the actions and words of Christ, and through the ministry of the apostles. The relation between God’s word and humans is direct: using an imperfect being to communicate a perfect message. 2) The transcendence of God is stressed through an “infinite qualitative distinction”. To look at God through immanence, as opposed to transcendence, was to see God as nothing more than a large human. Transcendence recognizes that God is flowing through all and in all, not to be limited to any one being, existence, or metaphor for that matter. 3) Sin can only be overcome through the grace of God. It is a plague of modernism, existentialism and naturalism to say that sin can be overcome by reflection, a social institution, or reason, respectively. The only format through which we can conquer sin is the matter in which it has already been conquered: through the grace of God in his giving to us the death and resurrection of Christ.

Barth begins his definition of preaching by stating that “preaching is the Word of God.” This definitive statement is aligned with neo-orthodoxy. We must remember that the Word of God is different from the word of God, the latter being the text, the former Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word is God” (John 1:1, author paraphrase). Giving a commentary on the letters and pages of the Bible is not preaching, according to Barth; that is nothing more than presenting research. Preaching must vocalize the Word from the word. Preaching should center our ability to relate Christ using personal inspiration that aligns with the inspired text of the Bible.

Barth’s definition is continued, “ claiming for the purpose the exposition of Biblical text.” In order to understand the Word we are to preach, a realization must be had: the Holy Scriptures are complete and sufficient. The Scriptures are there to make us complete and to prepare us for holy work (2 Timothy 3:17). The Scripture is not to be submitted to our own interpretation, or out of selfish ambition for our own cause (2 Peter 1:20-21). Scripture is sufficient in work and preparation in our sermons.

“…By those who are called to do this in the church that is obedient to its commission.” It is imperative to realize that in order to preach Word, there must be faith in the word. Neo-orthodoxy claims that faith comes from hearing the word, the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).   The natural question that arises is what should our faith be placed in? The resurrection of the Christ is where our faith must be placed (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Our faith holds both as a testimony to the Word we preach and as a connection to that preached Word.

“Preaching is an attempt enjoined upon the church to serve God’s own Word”. In order for our communication and relationship with the Word to be legitimate, we must have an encounter with Christ. We learn this from the disciples in Luke 24. At first when the disciples encountered the risen Christ, they believed him to be a ghost. It was only after the encounter they were positive Christ has indeed risen. A moment of encounter with Christ not only strengthens our faith, it gives our preaching purpose due to the personal attachment and responsibility we receive through our miraculous encounter with the Word.

Through the “One who has called us hitherto, by expounding a biblical text in human words, and making it relevant to contemporaries in imitation of what they have to hear from God himself.” We as Christians, namely, called preachers, have a duty to proclaim, teach, preach, prophesy, and show the Word to the world. We are to “contend to the faith that has been delivered to all the Saints” (Jude 3, author paraphrase). There is a responsibility to give the Word to those who know not what it is. We have been sent because if there was no one to be sent, preaching is impossible (Romans 10:15).

There is a two-part reason as to “why preach”? The answer is out of love for Christ and out of love for those in the world. Our encounter and faith in the Word causes us to love Christ. To Christ is to love his creation. If we love his creation then we must preach. For this love seeks to preach and to reunite them with Christ. This is the pursuit of the church and its preachers.

Explanation of Biblical Church Excommunication

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This subject has been tremendously imposing itself upon my heart the last few days.  As a Christ follower, let alone as a minister and student in seminary, I always seek to find a way to love everyone I come into contact with, disregarding how it may make me feel, and to drop the temptation to judge them based on how they look, smell, eat, act, talk, live, etc.  So when I heard a story about a person who was recently forbidden from participating in a worship service where Jesus is proclaimed, preached, and remembered, because of his character was not normal, I was not angry.  My heart was completely shredded and I was devestated.  To think that there is a person who is searching for love out in the world, came to a church asking for love, but was told to go away, makes me literally sick to my stomach.  I am not calling out any individual or congregation in this, but I feel as though an explanation of scripture is in dire need and I can only pray that this post gives encouragement to someone.

Without a doubt there are scriptures in the Bible that concern and permit the excommunication of Jews and Christians from religious circles, a.k.a. the Church.  The fact is that there are times when certain individuals without a doubt need to be asked to momentarily step down from church.  Another fact is that excommunication scriptures become a temptation to unprepared and misguided church leaders to wrongfully ask people to leave their congregation.  I will be discussing the most famous N.T. excommunication instruction and attempt to exegete this scripture in a way that keeps the integrity of the scripture, but also creates a check-and-balances realization for church leaders.

Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (ESV)

It is very important here to recognize who Jesus is delivering this message to.  He is delivering this message to the 12 Disciples and roughly 130 other followers of Christ.  What does this mean?  Jesus was delivering this message to the select few who have been selected to start the Church of Christ (not referring here to our modern denomination).  This was delivered in a time where there were countless impersonators of Christ and people proclaiming that they are the Messiah.  There were also people who were actively seeking to kill Jesus, kill the disciples and ruin what little of a following Jesus had at the time.  Jesus was not seen as a respectable person who has the authority to hang our with sinners and proclaim his divinity.

So what does this have to do with this passage?  As Jesus instructed them that some should be excommunicated, there was a real danger that accompanied following Christ.  If infiltrators were so bold to continue in that sin, then the disciples could not risk allowing this person to continue to be with them for fear that they may physically imprison or even kill what followers of Christ there were.  In modernity, specifically in America, this is no real threat.  We do not have to worry about wolves dressed as sheep sitting in our congregation from week to week that are seeking to physically harm us.  Simply put, we rarely have a situation that Jesus would say “they should be asked to leave my church”.

A simple observation that can be determined from just reading the text is that Jesus never said “If a brother sins”, but rather “If a brother sins against YOU”.  There is a huge difference between a brother sinning, and a brother sinning against YOU.  The sin that Jesus was referring to would not have been gluttony, homosexuality, pride, lust, or many others of that nature.  Rather it would have been a sin such as gossip, physical harm, or another directive sin.  The difference in these two sins is that if a sin is committed against a brother, the sin now affects the church community, not just the sinner.  HUGE difference.  Jesus is protecting the spiritual state of his followers here, not their comfort in the pews.

In the last verse we see that if one is excommunicated from the church, they are to be treated as a “Gentile or a tax collector”.  I think it is important here to notice who Jesus hung out with.  If my memory from 1st grade Sunday School is correct, then Jesus made Gentiles and tax collectors the focus of his ministry!  We see over and over again Jesus’ frustration in working with the church (the Pharisees, who were Jews), and his joy and delight in teaching and loving Gentiles and tax collectors.  Jesus was not saying “let us set them aside and mark them unworthy of OUR time and attention”, but he was saying “we need to make these people the focus of our ministry”.  Over and over again people seem to think that Jesus liked to hang out with “good” people.  That cannot be farther from the truth!  Jesus wanted to be with the poor, sick, sinning, the outcast, the prostitutes, the unloved, the shunned, the despised, the wicked, people who needed him!  And if our job as the church is to be Jesus, then that is who we should spend our time with.

In summary, there are very few situations today where this verse can be used as a legitimate reason to ask someone to leave a church.  And even if they are asked to leave, then they are now expected to be the focus of our ministry!  We are never to just throw someone by the side of the rode without extensive deliberation with them on the state of their relationship with Jesus.

This post is by no means an exhaustive argument against forbidding “different” people from our church services.  Neither is it an exhaustive exegesis on the scripture; it is more of just a quick skim.  This is nothing more than reading scripture.  If a church is willing to be so radical and extreme to ask a person to leave then comprehensive study of scripture cannot be overlooked.  And when that study is complete, and there has been much prayer and petition to the Lord, seeking wisdom, then a decision may be made.

What to do with Women in Church?

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Without a doubt, the best way to start a fight in the church is a discussion about where and if women belong in leadership in church.  There are traditional opinions and there are progressive trends that stand head to head and neither are willing to give an inch on the issue.  This has caused countless quarrels and debates from within Christians, causing divisions in the brotherhood, all the while ignoring the core problem and reason we are having this debate.  When this issue arises, the question we need to ask is not do women belong but “are we enabling our women to use their spiritual gifts for Kingdom?”

There is not a serious Christian or leader that would deny that women are given significant spiritual gifts.  I will abstain from making an “absolute statement” (which is incredibly dangerous not only in Christianity but in life) but a significant amount of time a woman’s spiritual gift is different than a mans.  1 Corinthians 12 tells us that the Kingdom of God is a body.  The eyes cannot perform the task of the hands and the nose cannot become the feet.  There is an equal need in the Church for an accountant as there is for a secretary type person, and there is a need for both a children’s teacher and a student ministry leader.

Let us take an example of ministry that is needed in every congregation: an accountant/book keeper.  In the corporate world, there is division no between male and female accountants. The hiring corporation is not looking for a man or a woman, but are searching for someone who is gifted and able to perform the job.  Many churches when looking to hire an accountant, even if it is only a part-time position, will not consider a woman for one of various reasons, usually because of the relative scripture interpretation of that congregation.  I am not per-say condemning that decision, but I would ask the leadership of that congregation if there is a woman there who has a gift and the heart to work with numbers, and if so how is the leadership of that church enabling her to use her gift that she is passionate about?  

What is more important that allowing women to use their spiritual gifts is whether or not we are helping our women grow so that others can see the Holy Spirit being active in their lives.  This point is shamefully obvious but often overlooked.  Race, wealth, attitude and gender should have no effect on our mentoring of people.  I believe and have seen Christian churches put too large of an emphasis on reaching middle class, white men and basing their success on how many middle class white men they can reach.  Since when as church leadership have we put an emphasis on one person over another?!  If we cannot get this  straight, then we might as well shut the doors of our church.

Another point I would like to bring up is that passages about women in the Bible are not “absolute” statements, but are directed as specific statements to special situations attempting to lead certain groups of individuals.  What does that mean?  It means that Paul did not write Corinthians for us to read, he did not intend for us to be his audience.  Sure we can use Corinthians to find out about God and nurture our relationship with him, but the content of Corinthians is not directed for us and was never intended to be our word for word guide in the 21st century.  This being said, we need to be very careful when we tell others what the Bible means, because if we are not reading the Bible through the correct “lens” then we are not reading what was written.

On the other side of this argument, I have heard from multiple women who want to be active in church ministry and I usually hear something along the lines of “God gave me the gift of preaching!  This church I am at right now needs to recognize my gift and let me preach no matter what they think about women!”  I have many problems when I hear this.  Sometimes we have to face the fact that even if we believe that women can preach and lead a church, some congregations do not want a woman and having a female preacher will prohibit the learning of that congregation;  no matter if they are right or wrong in their opinion, it would not be beneficial for a woman preacher to reside there.  The truth is that there are many places in America and in the world where female ministers are not only excepted but needed!  As a minister myself, I recognized that my gifts do not work well in some congregations, and that is not a bad thing at all! I needed to move and find a ministry that God can use me in to reach lost people.  If women want the responsibility of being a pastor, then they need to realize that it is ok, and sometimes even necessary, for them to move locations in order to be used by God.  Men do this all the time.  So women, do not be held down by location.  God cares about all his children.

In summary, I believe that women most definitely have spiritual gifts.  It is the church leaderships (male of female) responsibility to enable their congregation to use what God has given them for the Kingdom.  Women are responsible for finding a way for their passion in life to be effective in the Kingdom in a way that is beneficial for them and for whomever they may be leading. Finally, in the end we do not have to agree with one another.  Paul and Barnabas had a severe disagreement but were both able to work in unity for the good of the Kingdom.  If we disagree with one another, let us do so out of our love for God but focused on His glory, not focused on our own misunderstanding of His word.

Attributes of a Godly Church Leader, PT. 2

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In the previous post we talked about church leadership and how it becomes easy to view leadership in an inappropriate way.  It is tempting for us, especially Christians, to get caught up in complaining and discouragement, instead of being motivated by Christ’s love and grace to bring people to his feet.  This post will be used to show what a God-centered church leadership looks like.  Once again I would like to point out that if any example of any kind is used in this blog, it is in no reference to any church leadership or congregation.

Here are five attributes of a Godly church leader:

1. Leadership must enable spiritual gifts.  Part of the grace of God is that we ALL get to share in having a unique set of spiritual gifts that is exactly like no one else’s.  This can be teaching, service, music, language, love, encouragement, a mission-oriented heart, finances, and countless others.  The purpose of these spiritual gifts is so that we might use them for the glory of God.  The hard reality of life is that we do not always know what our spiritual gifts are, let alone how to use them in a God honoring way.  The loving church leader should not only be a companion to the church goer, but should also enable, encourage, and even find opportunities for the person to use their spiritual gift.  It is not likely that we (church leaders) have discovered our spiritual gifts on our own and have found a ministry for them on our own, so how can we expect our Christian community to do exactly what we didn’t?

2. Leadership offers companionship.  We have all had different lives, come from different homes, backgrounds, cultures, families, etc..  None of us have lived life like another.  When we have people come to us needing advice on how to live, or what decision to make, we tend to encourage them by telling them the decision we have made and advising that they should do as we have done, or the opposite.  The truth is that their life is not ours.  We do not have a complete understanding of their circumstances, and even if we did, our life decisions are different than theirs.  People do not need a decision maker for them, but they need a decision companion.  Someone who is going to offer friendship, love and encouragement no matter what decision they make or the consequences of that decision are.  People need companions more than they need a life guide that has taken a different path.

3. Good leaders always move toward relationships.  This seems simple doesn’t it?  It seems simple that in order to be a good leader we must have meaningful relationships with those people we are shepherding.  Though it seems simple and obvious, there is a serious neglect of deep personal relationships between the people and the leadership of Christian churches today.  Discipleship can only be achieved through an avenue of relationship.  In football it is crucial for the quarterback to have a real world relationship with his linemen.  If there is no bond, then there is a limit on how they can communicate and trust each other.  The point is, there is no doubt that church leaders MUST HAVE an active personal relationship with the people in the congregation.

4. Leader relationships will involve submission.  This may seem a little confusing.  When in a relationship with someone, there is always going to be an act of submission.  When I want to go to Red Lobster and my wife wants to go to East Coast Wings, one of us will eventually have to submit to the other in order to continue having the strongest relationship possible.  When in a relationship with a leader, the congregation must sometimes learn to be submissive to their wishes.  This is not fun.  Think: if we were to do what we wanted to do as a child and never submit to the wishes of our parents, we would probably be in pretty bad shape.  On the flip side, leaders must realize that people are not always going to listen to us, no matter how smart, old or nice we are.  We must learn to not be stubborn, to submit to the consequences of their decision, and be with them in companionship through the whole process.  Submission is never easy, but it is crucial in any relationship.

5. Leaders create leaders.  This is very simple.  Leaders do indeed create leaders.  It is one thing for a disciple of Christ to create another disciple, but it is another for a leader to lead and guide another person to become a leader who enables spiritual gifts, offers companionship, moves toward relationships, submits and creates yet another leader.  If the real Godly leader is incapable of creating a leader, then the effectiveness of that leader no longer matters, because there is not another generation to take over once the current one has passed.  Christian discipleship is about multiplication.  If the leader understands that, then he will create new leaders to step up and lead the new generation of young Christians.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of attributes a Godly church leader should have, but I do believe it is a list that many leaders have never considered.  In the end, when a leader acts out of pure love then there is not much that can go wrong.  In the end I encourage leaders to act and lead out of Godly love and to pour all of your heart, soul, mind and strength into the will and worship of God.  If that is done, then we have accomplished God’s will.

Effective Church Leadership, pt.1

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To be honest, church leadership is not a topic that most people enjoy discussing.  Either we are a church leader and we are about to hear ways that we need to do a better job, we are not a leader but part of the church community and talking about leadership means putting your own leaders down, or you are not part of a Christian community and you had a bad experience with a church or leader one time and it is painful to bring up.  Of course there are times when talking about our leaders is encouraging and joyous, but I am willing to bet the majority of our conversations on the issue have been on the negative side.

(Let me be clear in saying that if I bring up a specific example in this forum of a leadership situation, I am not talking about a specific person or community, only a generic and common issue with Christian church leadership.)

When it comes to a God centered life, we Americans are at a disadvantage in every area (except that of resources) to understanding a proper submissive and content lifestyle that allows us to wholly surrender our lives for His glory.  America has perhaps the healthiest economic and corporate system in the world, or certainly we used to a few years prior.  We are outrageously good at enjoying the life we want to live, making good use of the liberty given us, and pursuing all the things in life that make us “happy”.  And all of this began and thrives in our American corporate system.

So what does this have to do with our church leadership you might ask?  Well, to put it bluntly, American success does NOT equal biblical leadership.  The church has a really bad habit of selecting leadership based on success because everyone KNOWS (sarcasm) that success in one system automatically means success in another system.  This is not true!  There is nothing wrong with success in the American way as long is you are following the will of God, I am not saying anything bad about that.  What my point is is that a corporate system does an excellent job of creating systems of achieving a high level of work quality, but is not concerned at all about personal growth.  People, which is what the church is all about next to God, is what the emphasis of the church leadership should be.  That is the opposite of corporation structure.  A corporate structured system in the church will not include discipleship which is the key to personal change and growth.

My mentor and our lead servant at CITYChurch Winston posed this question about leadership: if you required a major surgery, would you rather have the surgery in a hospital that has a superb organization system but doctors with a mediocre character, OR be in a hospital where the doctors have great character and care for you personally but are organized in a mediocre system?  I think 95% would have the same answer.  Let us take another example: lets say we went to the mall and decided to return some clothes to a department store and there is a fantastic system and we are able to return the items with no problem.  Nothing bad happened, but we were not encouraged at all either.  Now lets think about if a store had a bad system, but the associate is very encouraging and sensitive to our needs, even if we had to wait in a long line.  We can leave the store feeling refreshed and encouraged by the kind words of the clerk, not caring about the system.

Once we are living under the grace of Jesus Christ, the church’s primary job is to take care of people.  This not only includes giving to and loving the less fortunate outside the church, but also mentoring and giving companionship to all those that are already part of the community.  Each one of use are constantly experiencing pain and struggles in our life that we have never dealt with.  This tries to pull us away from our faith in Christ and the realization of the actuality of his grace.  What is also true is that there are others in the church who have been through the exact same pain and hurt.  This experienced Christian who has been through the gauntlet has a duty to mentor the younger, weaker Christian whose soul quite literally hangs in the balance.  There is ALWAYS a need for mentorship and discipleship from our church leaders because they should be the ones who have held onto the faith of Christ and grown out of their pain.  That is why we need leaders who are concerned about people, not operations.  Without these leaders, we lose people, and unfortunately, that often means Christ loses them as well.

When it comes down to it, church leaders need to be focused on discipling the people that they have and not be as concerned about money, growth, conflicts or other issues.  It is not only my words that place emphasis on people opposed to all else; check out Hebrews 10:23-15, Matthew 16:18, and Matthew 23:8.

So what does a healthy, biblical church leadership look like?  Be on the lookout for the second part of this forum post where we will discuss the answer.

Do churches need visionaries?

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As a young Christian I struggled with my home church.  I was aggravated at the lack of emotion, care, time, love technology, worship and many other things that simply did not exist in my congregation.  As I became more spiritually mature I began to have a serious and legitimate passion for bringing others to Christ.  Without any spiritual or relational mentor I began to ask myself the question “what could my congregation and church do differently in order to get people here?”  I asked that question out of a fervent passion and desire to proclaim the Word (which is Jesus).  I came to the conclusions that everyone else in my generation simultaneously arrived at: we need better worship, we need more lights, more sounds, more videos, better sermons, younger teachers, more outreach; but most importantly that out church needed someone to be a visionary and direct us in this process.

I had every intention of using these ideas to bring Christ to others.  I did not want to become some church “rock star” or to be famous…or did I.

The more I live in this terrible, fallen world, the more I see and despise our human nature and tendencies.  I have grown up to realize that there is nothing pure that my human heart and soul desires; everything is filth, despicable to the creator and causes spiritual dissension between us, God and our Christian communities (The odds are the many readers of this will be offended by that, and my response is to prove to just one human tendency that has no selfish motivation).  As scary as this may be, I am starting to realize that modern church vision and ambition are human desires that bear no spiritual fruit.  Although I may say and think that I want to change the worship in the church for the benefit of others, what is all the motivation?  Sure there may be some concern, but for the human there will be a selfish ambition to be recognized for that idea, the desire to receive admiration from peers and subordinates, the pride of being right when the plan does actually bring people into the church building, and the potential of becoming a Christian “superstar” in the community or in the world.

Some of the leadership at CITYChurch Winston have been going through Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and using this practice as a measuring stick for our church community.  He claims that “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of (church) demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with his own demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren, God and himself accordingly.”  I could not agree more.  As church leaders we need to be careful not to adapt our own ambitions as the plan for the church, or we will strive to please ourselves with our church plan, instead of using our church as a tool for TRUE Christian Community and service for God.

I am not naive enough to say that churches should never change, they definitely should.  In fact that was the purpose of Jesus; he came and changed the religion that so many were content with abiding by.  Instead of having visionary meetings and creating creative committees that make a plan for church structure, instead church leaders, read the Bible; and I do mean that quite literally and simply.  Read the Bible in large sections together with one another, pray that you will see what his church used to do and that you can once again do that for his glory.

In the end, none of my plans for church change would have worked, and I know that.  The reason I know this is because many of my suggestions have been heard and adopted, but yet the congregation is no closer to God or the idea of the Biblical church.  Changes have been made, but they were made out of selfish ambition covered with a disguise of cheap Christian love.  Large churches and mega-churches may grow and may appear to us as successful even though they employ literal “visionaries”.  The fact is, any decision that is our own cannot be considered righteous, because we do not have the ability to meet God in any way.  It is only though Jesus in us that we can meet God.  So we must find ourselves at the feet of Jesus, not in the realm of our own ambitions and pursue a relationship with Jesus, not with our church identity.

Reformed v. Open Theology

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How many times have you gotten into a conversation with someone over free will?  If you’re a religious person, the chances are you probably have.  This past week in our Words About God discussion, our small group at CityChurch Winston decided to discuss Free Will and Predestination through the lens of a practicing believer.  As with any other theological discussion, this has the ability to be offensive to anyone who shares a different opinion.  But the point of this post is not going to be to defend reformed theology (referring to Calvinism and the view of predestination) and attack open theism (belief that God lacks absolute foreknowledge, giving us complete free will) or vice versa.  The point of this post is to simply discuss the two, not defend or attack either stance.  Instead we will be discussing what God loses with predestination and what we lose with predestination; conversely what we both lose with open theism.  My goal with this discussion is not to convince you of anything, only to have a discussion about truth, then hopefully you will begin to decide for yourself what you believe.

Assuming that God gave mankind free will, there was obviously sacrifices on the part of God (and please note this is not an exhaustive list).  First, he sacrificed knowledge.  Some may ask “well can’t God know what is going to happen and we get free will to choose that?”  My answer to that question is no.  With God’s foreknowledge comes his omnipotence, they cannot be separated.  If God were to know what most certainly will happen, then His power is connected to that and ensures the action.  So yes, with our free will God sacrifices his knowledge.  God also loses control.  Now that he has given over the reigns to another, God is equivalent to a passenger, though a much more qualified driver than the one in control.  A third sacrifice, and most definitely the most significant, is people.  He has now given them the choice to accept Him or not; if they choose to abandon Him for eternity, He must accept that as so.

With our free will, we also lose.  One thing we are deprived of is safety.  If we believe that God loves us, is in absolute control and will make our decisions for us, then we have confidence in the fact that we are safe, very safe.  When we take the responsibility of being the driver, we are put in danger and we do not know what the outcome of our decisions will be.  Another loss of ours is the ability to live life without stress.  Any adult can testify that there is no running away from the stress of life.  With free will, we will encounter much more stress because we will not alway make the right decisions.  And the last thing we lose is catholic salvation.  There will obviously be people that will now turn away from God, there is no way that all humans are going to choose to follow God.

Now that we have discussed what God and us lose with free will, we will discuss the losses concerning predestination.  God will most definitely lose His grace.  God is defined by grace, the idea of the Holy Scriptures is centered around Jesus, who is grace.  If God made us follow Him and not sin, there would be no need for Jesus, meaning God loses his identity in grace.  By taking away our choice, God will lose His joy.  It is common knowledge that God created humans to worship Him, and that brings God joy.  True worship cannot be given upon command, so if God were not to allow us to worship Him freely, then God would have no joy in His creation of man.  Not only will God lose grace and joy, but by taking free will from us He will lose servants and create slaves.  We would no longer be able to serve God, but would rather be working under His own command.

Just as God lost His joy when he took our free will from us, humans will also lose their joy.  In the same way that God can no longer experience true joy out of our devotion, we can no longer take joy in our lives.  It may be easy for one person who has been given everything they could need to be occasionally joyous, but the poor, sick, broken and suffering will never have that opportunity.  Second, we also lose our autonomy, meaning able to accomplish things on our own.  God is defined by being a creator.  If God made us in His true image, Genesis 1:27, then He made us all to be miniature creators.  Without our free will we can no longer truly create ourselves, we are only sub-creating under God’s direction.  Lastly, with our loss of free will, we lose control of everything.  It is through our control that we are able to love, serve, live, work, worship, and everything else.  I propose that if we lose control then we simply become drones in a disintegrating world.

By seeing what we lose, we can also see what we gain.  For instance, if God loses grace with predestination, then he gains his grace back by giving us choice.  I am willing to bet that there are things that both we and God would lose one each side of the belief system that you feel uncomfortable with.  The facts of theology is that in order to be critical, we will almost always become personally uncomfortable.  With this post I do not want you to decide if you are reformed or open.  What I do wish to accomplish is to jump-start your mind and your spirits so that when you pursuit Godly truth, it will be out of an honest will that wishes to do God’s will no matter what it may be.

 

 

How should we suffer?

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This past week our church held a theological small group that met and discussed suffering through the eyes of a Christian.  We began the experience by taking a moment of silence and gathering images in our mind that connect to suffering.  Personally, my mind went to times of struggle and severe hardship that I had witnessed in the lives of loved ones around me.  I assumed that the majority of the other  discussers would have brought up the same image, but I was very surprised to hear what people from a different culture of my own connected suffering to.  I came from a very fortunate middle class family that suffered very little hardship compared to many others.  Of course I have experienced the death of relatives but no one that I had an extreme emotional bond to.

Naturally, the largest question we all have concerning suffering is why? Why me? Why them? Why so soon?  The point of this thought is not to give an answer to the question of why with suffering, but rather how should we suffer.

There is an inconceivably massive struggle to understand suffering in our postmodern society.  In this 21st century that we are all equal members of, there is an incredible sense of self entitlement to improve the physical nature of our existence.  We fight tooth and nail with co-workers for that promotion, we believe the left driving lane is for our use only, we have the right to get the largest discount possible on those shoes we have been waiting to buy!  The point in this blog is not to criticize this specific, American ideology we have established for ourselves, but to understand that when we run into a situation of suffering, we believe that our sole responsibility is to comfort ourselves.

Christians, whether we like it or not, suffering will happen and suffering will have an effect on our lives.  Allow me to pose the the notion that perhaps part of the reason we suffer is so that we will be rebuilt stronger than we were before.  Maybe that we are not yet strong enough to fulfill God’s will until we have been broken and rebuilt.  For instance, I ( having never lost a child) would be completely incompetent in sustaining the faith of young Christian parents that just lost a child.  A person who has experienced extreme suffering and has been rebuilt after that knows the emotions and the true needs of someone in that position.  For anyone who has ever had a comforter during their time of suffering knows the importance of that experienced encourager.  So perhaps one reason we suffer is to be prepared love the suffering ones.

With that in mind, if we are currently going through a time of suffering, how should we suffer?  How should we change our mindset, knowing that there is hope and that we can use this suffering in the end to love others?  In John 9 we see that no one was responsible for the man being born blind, but he was made that way in order that god’s glory might be shown upon his day of healing.  When we are suffering, it is impossible for us to see the end, just as it was impossible for the blind man to see Jesus approaching to heal him.  We must keep hope that the end is near and realize that if we allow God, he will use us to change the lives of the suffering.