Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love Wins...Everyone Take a Deep Breath

After having read Rob Bell's "Love Wins", I have come to some conclusions. One of those conclusions is that there are probably many people that owe Rob Bell an apology for their scathing, derogatory and unecessary comments. Being critical is one thing, and it can be good. But some have simply gone overboard. Some have read the book and wrongly dismissed it as a benign distraction, while others have railed against it with venomous tirades. We should pause, chew on it in our generation, seek to understand and then opine if we desire, regardless of our denomination biases (yes, I use the word 'bias' on purpose).

It's crucial to understand some of the elements of the book in light of orthodox Christianity as well as, and most importantly, the Bible itself. Concerning orthodoxy, we HAVE to look at reality and know that this debate is not new. One of the early church fathers named Origen is a favorite of pastors and authors to quote. Origen was a believer and teacher of the concpet that all would be saved. His contemporary Clement of Alexandria was as well. Really, they were. Not only that but none of his contemporaries ever labeled them as heretics or sought to excommunicate them. They were not alone in their persuasion either. On top of that, there were several church councils that were held to uphold and establish for the Church right doctrine, truthful teachings and eliminate heresy. While Origen and others were quite outspoken of their beliefs in this matter, not one church council ever condemned their beliefs. I find that absolutely fascinating.

On the orthodox note, I bring up Martin Luther. He's the 'father of the Protestant Reformation'. If anyone's orthodox, it's Martin. But do we all understand what he really believed and accept it? Did you know that Martin Luther was very elitist in his approach to ecclisiastical authority? Did you know that he continued to believe in transubstantiation (the belief that communion bread and wine literally turned into the actual body and blood of Christ)? Martin Luther, in a letter to Hans Von Rechenberg in 1522 wrote concerning the possibility that people could turn to God after death, "Who would doubt God's ability to do that?" Origen, Luther, both men lived in times where they came to conclusions that, to them, what they were taught to believe was not necessarily entirely rooted in truth. Both men read the same Bible and came to understandings that shaped them and, consequently others. Both men are held by many to be heroes of the faith.

Orthodox preachers the world over hold to a 'literal interpretation' of the Bible and yet when Rob Bell disects the literal meaning of words in the Bible and comes to a conclusion that is not necessarily 'mainstream' he's verbally crucified. Here's one of America's younger and very educated contemporary pastors who has paid his dues with his nose in the books to find understanding being, what I think, totally mischaracterized. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he is misinformed, hasn't done his homework, not prayed or sought God and has not been led by the Spirit on this one.

Case in point, the Holy Spirit saw fit to use the Greek word 'Hades' in Luke 2:27,31 (the first time it's used in the New Testament). This first time it's used is THE time to clarify what it means in context and how the Holy Spirit wanted us to understand it. It is used in quoting Psalm 16:10. It reads "For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy One see corruption." The word used in Psalm 16:10 is 'Sheol'. Both 'Sheol' and 'Hades' literally mean "grave". By that I mean, hole in the ground, covered in dirt - grave.

I, like millions of others were taught that it means 'hell' and by that referring to fiery torment. Rob Bell is simply initially asking, 'does it really mean that?' By the study of the words used, we have to conclude that it does not in this context (Don't get upset with me yet I'm establishing things based on the meaning of words and not jumping to my own conclusions). Then in the other times the word occurs, it seems to be, time and time again a similar meaning. Could it be that we're not entirely right in how we think about things? Is it no coincidence that none of the apostles ever preached to unbelievers the notion of fiery torture? I'm just asking because Rob Bell is asking. Instead of brushing things off as illegitimate, I think it wise for us to examine, re-examine and refine what we believe in light of new information.

So now, the book. As there are several things that seem to upset many, there are also some very crucial things that I think give it merit and these things should be examined.

First of all, when speaking of believing in a fiery, tormenting hell, Rob Bell writes on page 110, "Not all Christians have believed this, and you don't have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives."

Concerning Christ and his work on the cross on page 129 "the point then, as it is now, is Jesus. The divine in flesh and blood. He's where the life is."

Concerning the nervous assumptions that he is telling us that Jesus doesn't matter anymore, the cross is irrelevant, he says on page 155, "Not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unilaterally not true. What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody."

At the end of chapter seven, Bell reiterates the the only thing that saves us is the atoning work of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we've done, but because of his mercy. It's the gospel.

In the end, Bell champions the work of Christ on the cross as the source of our salvation and nothing else. We cannot ignore God's statement of judgement upon those that reject his ways. But, as I think all would agree and Rob Bell concludes, God's judgements are redemptive in nature. The Old Testament is replete with examples of this. He subscribes to the train of thought that the Bible says that all will be saved (eventually) based upon people's eventual response to the immeasurable mercy and love of God which he bases upon numerous scriptures. It's a conclusion that he and other learned believers in the faith before him have come to.

If people are going to take a stand against Rob Bell for his beliefs, then in the same breath they should denounce Origen, Clement and Martin Luther for the very same reasons. We have to be fair afer all.

You or I may have not come to the same conclusions as Rob Bell. Does that make one right and him wrong? Does it make one more right? Does it allow one to be just right enough because people happen to agree?

'Love Wins' at the very least should remind us of just how merciful and gracious our God is through Christ and urge us on to hope for that very thing that Rob Bell seems to be hoping for with everything that is in him that "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (I Timothy chapter 2). It seems he's really hoping God gets his way. If that's what God's love does in the end, well, that would be a win for everybody now wouldn't it?


Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Debate Over Love Wins

I have heard much of the fuss over the book "Love Wins", most of it coming out against the content of the book. What is surprising to me is that in almost every case, the book has not been read by its detractors. That is a sad commentary in itself.

Now that the book is out, there is opportunity to actually buy it, read it, understand it and come to grips with the message that it is presenting. I plan on doing that very thing. I had the book in my hand, paroused it a bit today and placed it back on the shelf. The reason being is that I'm reading some more Bible and doing more research on some of the questions that have been raised before I ingest its contents.

I plan on reading the book and giving my own 'two cents worth' for a variety of reasons.

First of all, I believe that many, perhaps thousands of clergy members HAVE to come against the contents of the book based solely on the fact they would lose their ordinations and perhaps their jobs if they didn't.

Second, a very respected, and one of my favorite authors/bloggers failed (in my opinion) after I suggested, to deal with the topic in a manner worthy of scripturally addressing it at all. He continues to be a favorite of mine, however if there are serious questions raised, why not tackle them and deal with them?

Third, and finally, we have a responsibility to read, know and understand the Bible and its teachings, and are not free to interpret for ourselves. If "Love Wins" is a catalyst for people to open up the pages of holy writ for themselves instead of being spoon-fed a Sunday morning sermon, then I'm in! That's where I'm at.

So, I'm engaged in this. I'll get back to you on this one.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Touch Not My Anointed Ones and Do My Prophets No Harm

When reading this section of a verse from Psalm 105 (verse 15) it seems to stand out. It has an authoritative ring to it. That is because it really is authoratative. The tragedy is that the real authority of this section of a verse is often misunderstood and applied in abusive manners.

Several times I have heard of pastors and/or leaders being questioned or opposed in something and what has become a default answer to disagreement or opposition from someone in the body is "touch not my anointed ones and do my prophets no harm." If you have heard of this response, or have had it used to you, it's high time we look into the Word and understand it and expose this for what it really is...a scramble to hold power or authority in an unduly manner over members of the Body of Christ.

To misuse the section of Ps. 105:15 in this manner does several things. Allow me to outline them.

1. It takes the Bible out of context.

The verse is in the middle of Psalm 105. When studying it for what it is, it is a declaration of God's greatness and goodness to Isreal. It outlines God's protective plan to raise up a nation from the promise of Abraham, preserve it through the life of Isaac, plant it in Egypt through Joseph and liberate it to it's full promise by Moses. God's protective declaration to those nations around Israel when she was young, small and vulnerable was, "touch not my anointed ones and do my prophets no harm." The anointed ones and prophets were Israel and the individuals God used along the plan to nationhood.

2. It mistakenly elevates 'leaders/pastors' as God's anointed ones.

God's anointed ones in Psalm 105 is Israel, not New Testament pastors and/or leaders. It is incorrect to assume otherwise based on the text. We cannot allow ourselves to put our own meaning into the biblical text. Where does it stop? The text is clear and understandable. The anointed ones and the prophets were Israel. Nowhere in the New Testament writings or the gospels do we see the elevation of church leaders to a class of special anointed ones. It just isn't there. The apostles lived and worked among their brothers/sisters in planting churches. They labored hard to teach them, love them, all the while being one of them. While establishing deacons and elders, not once were they encouraged to rule over anyone. Conversely, there is a whole lot of 'one another' in Paul's writings. The 'one another's' are all of God's anointed ones.

3. It mistakenly belittles the members of the Body of Christ.

For a leader/pastor to actually utter the words 'touch not my anointed ones and do my prophets no harm' as a defense mechanism from a member of the Body of Christ is to assume that they (leader/pastor) are the real anointed ones and the other they (follower/church member) are not. This separation of clergy/laity (and I hate the use of the word 'laity') is not the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the model of Paul, any of the apostles or Jesus himself (Matthew 23:8-12).

I John 2 tells us that all believers have been anointed by the Holy One and because of that we all have knowledge. There is no separation or classes or echelons of Christians. What this means is that the person that is involved in leadership among a group of believers as well as the one that is being led are all on the same level...that of the cross. It means that when there is disagreement, love is displayed and unity is to be sought. It means when there is opposition, humility is displayed.

"Leaders" can forget that the same word of God they read can be used to rebuke, reprove and correct them as well. That correction will ultimately come from the Word of God through someone else in the Body of Christ. The end result? A better believer more equipped for every good work. Now how can that be a bad thing?