Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Open-Handed Theology

October 29th, 2012

I’ve been attending Pillar Dumfries for quite a few months, and recently took their membership course.  While I have loved the sermons, I hadn’t read their statement of faith.  When the course began, I quickly turned to Section 2 (p.6 & 7) in the membership book, entitled doctrine, to read it and check if there were any points I disagreed with.  What I found brought me to tears.

– Two –
Doctrine

“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”
– St. Augustine

In the church, unity is of great importance. Churches tend to make primary issues secondary ones, and make secondary issues primary. We feel like it is important to identify which issues are primary (closed handed) and which issues are secondary (open handed).

It is important to note that we are not claiming that “open handed” issues are not important issues. We are, however, claiming that they are not more important than the unity of our church. Some issues are that important; we call those “closed-handed” issues.

Here is a brief definition of how we will use each of the terms:

Closed-Handed Issues represent those issues that we ask every member to affirm and support in good-conscience. Major disagreement in one of these areas makes it difficult to carryout the gospel centered mission of the church. Note, we are not saying that every disagreement within this category separates a Christian from a non-Christian. For example, we have Presbyterian friends that take a different view of the ordinance of baptism, but believe the gospel and we would certainly not argue that they are not Christians because of this disagreement.

Open-Handed Issues represent those issues where disagreement should be discussed and debated but not at the expense of unity around the essential mission of the church.

This laid out an approach to doctrine that was both unexpected and beautiful.  Later the document lists God, The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, Scripture, Man, Salvation, The Great Commission, and Ordinances as closesd-handed issues.  It lists end time views, sovereignty vs. free will, education, giving, and Bible translations as examples of open-handed issues.

I grew up listening to people vigorously defend minor points of theology, and then wonder why the church wasn’t more united.  I’ve seen churches expend more resources and energy working to get their members and other churches to agree with them theologically than reaching the unconverted.  Pastor’s equated their preferred confession with the meaning of the word of God, and made understanding and agreeing with it a prerequisite to church membership.  In practice correctly understanding theology was more important than understanding how it should be lived out.

Being part of a church that truly values the unity of the body of Christ has been a wonderful oasis.  The pastors come from a theological perspective I appreciate, and have spent a lot of time studying theology, but their focus is outward as they focus on reaching the unchurched and stay humble.  Uniting around the heart of the gospel truly is unifying, and it has been wonderfully refreshing.  This beautiful surprising contrast in approaches forced me to fight back tears.  Sometimes crying is good, especially when you know you really are finding a home.

Against Labelism: A Three Part Series on Labels, Love, and Legalism

October 26th, 2012

My good friend, Eric Lansing, wrote an excellent three part series on the current identity crisis, many Christian youth are facing.  With thought and care he addresses the reasons many young Christians are rethinking their faith, and advises them to stay focused on the core of Christianity.  These three brief articles are very worthwhile reads.  Be sure to read them in order.

1. “Conservatives,” “Liberals,” and Social Stigma

2. It’s All About Love

3. Against Legalism

If you enjoyed the series, you may also enjoy “Is Christianity all About Obeying Commands Part 1 and Part 2.”

John 14:6 Part I: The Necessity of the Exclusivity of Christianity

October 25th, 2012

John 14 begins the Upper Room Discourse, Christ’s last message to His disciples before His death. At the very beginning Thomas asks Christ to tell them the way to the father. Jesus response is found in John 14:6.  I would like to begin today a two part series on this verse.  In this first article I will argue that the exclusivity of Christianity is not intolerant, but a necessary extension of a proper understanding of man’s nature.  In the second part I will show how this verse serves to unite the church and give joy to the believer.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

This verse undeniably teaches the exclusivity of Christianity.  It is not just one of many religions that all lead to God. Many people in the ancient world liked to believe that everyone could “tailor” his religion, choosing to worship the assortment of gods that suited his fancy, his ethnic background, or his trade. Today, we like to display a “tolerant attitude” towards all religions, insisting that they are all of more or less equal truth value. However, Christianity does not permit the idea that there are many ways to God, or many ways to achieve salvation. Jesus here is making the bold claim that he is the way, the truth, and the life. The thrice-repeated definite article denotes exclusivity.

Jesus could have stopped right there, and His point would have been clear. However, He knew how much His disciples (then and through the ages) have needed important truths hammered home. To make it abundantly clear, He told them that “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This language leaves no room for other ways. Christ could have said, “Most people will come to the Father through Me.” He could have said, “The best way to the Father is following me.” He could have said a number of different things, but instead He chose to state in unmistakable terms that He is the only way to the Father. “No one” leaves no other way. Not for a single person, a dozen, or even elite spiritual 1%.  Christ makes it indisputably clear that there exists only one way to God and that is through Him.

This is not the first or only time Christ explains this concept. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ uses the analogy of a path and gate to describe the way to eternal life. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)  This passage describes two paths.  One path is wide and broad.  Presumably this path could include many paths, or is at least a broad minded and tolerant enough path to include many gods, and philosophies.  This is an easy path.  The gate at the end of it is wide which enables the many people who travel it to quickly pass through the gate However, while this gate is easy to pass through, destruction waits on the other side.

The other gate is narrow, it’s path is hard, but it leads to eternal life.  When examined in conjunction with John 14:6, the gate is clearly Christ Himself.  There is a clear and obvious parallel between the “Me” which we must go through to come to the Father in John 14, and the gate by which we access eternal life in Matthew 7.  That all humanity travels on one of the two paths is clear from the contrast in Matthew 7.  Either enter by the narrow gate, or face destruction.  There are no other paths or gates presented, and only one has a destination that is truly desirable.

Many are offended by the exclusivity of Christianity.  This flies in the face of the modern idea of tolerance.  If this is you, I ask you to listen to what I have to say in these next sentences, and in the spirit of open-mindedness and tolerance simply seek to understand the perspective Christianity comes from.

Imagine with me that you are sick.  You suffer from an unknown and incurable disease.  What began as a seemingly normal illness developed into something which has you bedridden with terrible pain.  For years you have been suffering.  In the beginning you tried simple prescriptions, but as the disease worsened you began visiting specialists all over the nation.  While they all seemed wise, they each gave you a different diagnosis and different medicines, workouts, or diets to cure you.  Every single one of them was confident that their remedy would cure you, but as faithfully as you stuck to their various programs you only saw temporary improvement at best.  The search for a cure has been long, discouraging, and futile.  You go to your doctor because you noticed a slight increase in the pain.  He runs the tests.   Instead of the desired calming response, you find yourself rushed out the door on a stretcher onto an ambulance.  In that moment of confusion you are told that your disease has taken a turn for the worse and your body is beginning to shut down.  You then hear that unless you are cured, you will not make it to the end of the week.

What do you want most in that moment?  One more experimental remedy?  No.  You’ve tried all of them.  One more confident doctor?  No.  They’ve already made you lose faith in the medical community.  What you want most in that moment is a doctor who walks in and says I will cure you, and actually does.  You need someone with the truth.  You need someone with a profound and accurate understanding of science who has studied your condition and will cure you.  You don’t have time for any other proposed cure.  Without the truth you will die.

While this may seem a bit far-fetched, the Bible describes our souls as being in just this position.  In Matthew 9:12 Jesus describes Himself as a Physician who came to heal the spiritual sick.  This was the reason for the many miracles performed by Christ throughout His ministry.  They reflected the fact that God brings people from spiritual death to spiritual life.  “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”  (John 5:21) The Apostle Paul puts this idea in a very stark contrast in Romans 6:23.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Apart from Christ every human lies on that ambulance stretcher facing imminent eternal death.

When viewing yourself the way the Bible describes you, the exclusivity of Christianity is not intolerant, but your salvation.  If Christianity simply offered a way to inner peace, it would be brutally intolerant to insist we should all follow Christ.  If hell only existed for the worst of sinners, murderers, rapists, etc…, or if hell didn’t exist at all, then the exclusivity of Christianity would be mean spirited.  Even a Christianity centered on a promise of prosperity would have no reason to claim exclusivity.  Others could find a more effective path to prosperity.  However, because Christianity offers the only cure to a deadly disease claiming exclusivity becomes not only good but natural.

Is Your Theology Humble?

October 15th, 2012

In the quest to better understand theology, one ingredient is tragically often missing.  

Humility.  

Oftentimes, we become so convinced that a principle we have learned from scripture is right, that we respond with a “how dare you” reaction should someone question it.  We believe our “truth” is self-evident.  We want to understand God better, and in our godliness, we wish everyone else would understand God like we do.  

However, we need to be challenged on this perspective, and ask each other some hard questions. For example: does your study of God enable you to look down on other Christians who don’t believe the exact same things you do?  Before dismissing this question out of hand, ask yourself: “Is my church happy that it is better than all the other churches in my region?  Does my theology enable judgmentalism and/or partiality?  Is your church primarily concerned with making sure that its members properly understand this or that doctrine, or is its chief concern telling the gospel–that unites all of Christendom–to those who have never heard it?

Don’t get me wrong. Understanding theology is important, and investing time studying God’s Word is critical.  However, as we do this, we must realize that we cannot completely understand the mysteries of Scripture.  If we could fully understand God, He would not be God.  When we think that we can completely understand God, we will discover that we have made Him in our image, and have not known Him at all.  

We must study theology humbly.  We wrestle with a book we will never fully understand in this life, grappling with paradoxes that we must eventually trust by faith.  How is God three yet one?  How can God be fully God, yet fully man?  How can a good God allow suffering?  How can God be sovereign, yet man still have free will?  I don’t know the answer to these questions.  No one, no matter how much they have wrestled with them, can fully explain these paradoxes.  Yet these paradoxes are central to Christianity, and we accept them by faith.

I Corinthians 13 begins by teaching that something is much more important than having loads of knowledge, that love, in fact, is more important than proper theology.  Humility is crucial to love, and crucial to our pursuit of truth.  We must approach the study of the sovereign, eternal God with humility.  His ways are higher than ours, and there is great to joy to be found in reveling in the mystery of Christianity.  If we presume that every point of theology we believe is unquestionably correct, our arrogance will drive us into isolation.  

God is too big to be put into a box.  So, don’t expect to understand every aspect of Christianity.  Work to understand it better, but do so knowing that some of the things you believe are probably wrong, and don’t lose sight of the deep mysteries of Christianity.

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part II

October 7th, 2012

This is the second part of an article I published a month ago entitled “Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)  This is the tender gentle invitation of Christ to the lost.  In many ways for the lost and weary it is “an offer he can’t refuse.”  It is with this in mind that I would like to continue the discussion on the Bible’s commands from the previous post.

Like any good sermon, I will be making three points in this article.  First I will argue that God’s commands are not burdensome.  Secondly, I will examine the core commands of scripture so that we don’t “neglect the weightier matters of the law.”  Finally, following the Spirit is crucial to obeying God.

I.  God’s Commands are Not Burdensome.

I feel like the preacher the night Charles Spurgeon was converted who had little to say, but stuck tenaciously to his text. The first thing to note from the text is that there is a yoke which we must take upon us if we are following Christ.  There are also things which must be learned from Christ.  Christianity is not about setting someone free from the laborious and heavy yoke of Satan to do whatever they would like.  God does command.  The invitation to the weary and heavy laden is to take on the yoke of Christ.

However, in willingly taking on the yoke of Christ, we find rest for our souls.  Christ promises to be a gentle master who is lowly in heart.  This is much different from the slavedriver, Satan, who we served before coming to Christ, and it is contrary to any view of Christ which paints Him as a slavedriver or taskmaster.  While we are called to take on a yoke, in some way it is easy and light.  In Matthew 23:4 Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”  It would be inconceivable for God to condemn the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on people, and promise an easy burden to those same people to turn around and require His children to spend their time finding every command out of every principle they can find in scripture.

The passage makes it clear that God’s yoke is easy.  God incarnate uses this as an invitation for people to follow Him.  God does not play bait and switch.  He fulfills His promises.  We however, should be careful that we do not make God’s burden heavier than He intended.  To the extent we require more things of Christians than God does, we are loading people looking for rest with a heavy burden.  When God’s commands seem to be burdensome, we must ask whether the commands are truly from God or if they are extra biblical commands from religious leaders.

II.  What Does God Command?

While there are many individual commands in scripture, it is helpful to look at passages where the Bible identifies the most important commands.

In Micah 6:6-8 the prophet asks “With what shall I come before the Lord?”  “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”  These are superlatives of things God commanded and seemingly required elsewhere.  The prophet goes on to suggest a much more valuable offering, seemingly pondering maybe God wants what the people around us suggest God wants.  “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  The answer is a resounding no to those suggestions, and an oft repeated verse.  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Really?  Is that it?  God only requires three things?  Yes fulfilling them takes a lot, but can’t you hear the thankful cry of the person who realizes this truth?  What ease is found in only striving to obey a few commands!

Maybe this is a fluke.  Surely the commands of God can’t be few.  That is just a minor Old Testament prophet.  Maybe… Let’s look at the book of Acts and how the apostles dealt with this issue.  Acts 15 relates the story of the Jerusalem Council.  Following the conversion of many of the Gentiles, men from Judea came around telling the new converts that in order to really be a Christian they must be circumcised.  This caused quite the controversy, and Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles and elders about this issue.  Some belonging to the party of the Pharisees argued that Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.  (v.5)  Peter however stands up and retells how God used him to begin bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.  He then reasons against laying the command on the Gentiles by saying, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  (v.10 and 11)  The council listens to him and as a result decides to send a letter to the Gentile churches with four commands: “To abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”  Make what you want of the four particular laws, the decision was that the Gentile believers should not be burdened with numerous unkeepable laws and they intentionally decided to keep the yoke of the believers light.

Nothing is more burdensome than numerous laws.  Both in Micah and Acts the commands of God are few.  When multitudinous laws are written and imposed, the individual is forced to constantly double check whether his actions violate some law.  Keeping commands few makes the yoke light.  Interestingly as well, Jesus alludes to the importance of the simple commands found in Micah when He refutes the Pharisees.  Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the “weightier matters of the law” Jesus says the Pharisees neglect when crafting their multitudinous unfollowable laws.  (Matthew 23:23)  God’s commands are intentionally few and simple so that they won’t be burdensome.

III.  The Role of the Holy Spirit

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  This is the great promise found in John 16:13 following Christ’s promise he would send a Helper, a Helper it was more advantageous for the disciples to have than Christ Himself.  The Bible clearly that the Holy Spirit has a central role in sanctification.  (2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:4+13, etc…)  If we believe the Holy Spirit will guide us, and sanctify us, we must leave the Him the ability to convict different individuals in different ways.  Martin Luther famously stated at the Diet of Worms “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”  As the Spirit guides and convicts He shows us our sin and leads us into truth.  This is the distinction of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and repeated in Hebrews.  Arguing that the Holy Spirit tells you to do something contrary to the Bible is absurd.  However, if He does not illuminate and convict He has no purpose.  This is a work performed individually in the heart of the believer, not a special guidance to a “spiritual leader” who then has the authority to tell others to live as the Spirit may have guided them to live.

My Pastor Colby Garman delivered a very helpful sermon on the relationship of the law and the Spirit in his sermon on Romans 7.  In it he argued that while “The Law is good, it cannot achieve growth and personal transformation in righteousness.”  This is the crucial role of the Holy Spirit.

Romney v. Obama Round 1: Liveblog

October 4th, 2012

I figured I would take a cue from Jeremiah Lorrig and put all my thoughts on the debate in one place.  In the middle, I hit my limit on tweets so I switched to facebook.  The change will be clear.  Bill Maher’s tweets are also very enlightening.

You can watch the entire debate here as well.

…and so the games begin #romneyryan2012

Watching @BarackObama I already need drinks… #romneyryan2012#denverdebate

@BarackObama‘s #economicpatriotism sounds like #communism#denverdebate #romneyryan2012

Sound like #communism? RT @TylerStockton: “Economic patriotism”?

#BarackObama and #romneyryan2012 #trickledowngovernment#denverdebate

@BarackObama on the #trickledowngovernment question… Here are the gov programs we need… #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@JoelGrewe He is. He is listing the government programs he wants in#trickledowngovernment

@ElissaRoberson He is answering the #trickledowngovernmentquestion by tellign the government programs he believes in.#denverdebate

Enjoying the free swinging debate format #denverdebate

@BarackObama wants more government and a reduced #deficit#nologic #trickledowngovernment #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

Mitt Romney is being specific and agressive. #denverdebate

RT @cameronetchart: “BTW, I like coal.” -Romney #denverdebate

@BarackObama response to Mitt Romney We’ll we’ll… lets talk about taxes… #denverdebate #ouchIgotsmoked #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama putting people to sleep after @MittRomney blistering attack #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney virtually everything he said about my tax plan is inaccurate #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney is crushing @BarackObama this isn’t even fair.#denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney for me this is about jobs. #denverdebate

@BarackObama trying to out math a well experienced businessman in @MittRomney #epicfail #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama Donald Trump joke fell totally flat. #denverdebate

If I had a drink every time @BarackObama said “uh” I would be drunk.#denverdebate

@BarackObama Jim Leher please get me off this topic so I don’t keep getting creamed #denverdebate

@BarackObama says closing loopholes won’t work his friend@TimKaine agrees. #denverdebate #rpv

@MittRomney schooling @BarackObama on #history #denverdebate#romneyryan2012

@MittRomney going forward with the status quo won’t cut it#denverdebate

@MittRomney deficit is a moral issue. immoral to force children to pay for our debt. #denverdebt

@MittRomney speaking about the importance of raising rate of growth to solve the #deficit #denverdebate

@MittRomney is promising to be an agressive spending cutter#deficit #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama is on the ropes in this debate. Let’s hope this carries over to the #generalelection #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama distorting @MittRomney plans again #denverdebate

If @MittRomney would campaign as well as he is debating,@BarackObama would be losing the election in a #landslide#denverdebate

@MittRomney the revenue I get is more people working getting higher pay and paying more in tax money. #denverdebate

@BarackObama attacking #bigoil #denverdebate #csdebate

#MyWife to @BarackObama “Well then why didn’t he fix it three years ago.”

@BarackObama “they are using textbooks that are 10 years old.” I did in #homeschool #csdebate anyone else do that? #denverdebate

@MittRomney sure is flowing this debate well. #denverdebate

@MittRomney really preaching the importance of a small federal government and states being lab of democracy #csdebate#denverdebate

@MittRomney the brilliance of our system relies on the people and states not the federal government #denverdebate #csdebate

@BarackObama #socialsecurity is structurally sound. What are you smoking? #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama is getting nailed on twitter for saying that#socialsecurity is structurally sound. #denverdebate #csdebate

@60plusassoc @MittRomney Oh I just thought of one, the president is cutting money from #medicaire #csdebate #denverdebate

#csdebate #denverdebate RT @gwbertsch: RT @guypbenson: Romney primed for this answer on entitlements. Here we go. #Debate

@MittRomney should just say “there you go again” to@BarackObama #ronaldreagain #denverdebate #csdebate

#csdebtate #denverdebate RT @gwbertsch: RT @kirstenpowers10: I’ll be interested to see how media spins this debate as an Obama win.

@60plusassc @BarackObama is quoting #AARP as a credible source again

Then is @BarackObama racist? #cdebate #denverdebate RT@EWErickson: I remember when the left told us “obamacare” was a racist code word.

#csdebate RT @JLorrig: True this: RT @daveweigel: This is like watching a tax law professor debate an investment advice infomercial host

@MittRomney “I just as soon not have the federal government telling me what kind of #healthcare to have.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney “I believe in #competition.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama is saying #profit like it is a #badword #csdebate#denverdebate

@MittRomney and @BarackObama agree “voters have clear choice on #medicaire” #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama the master of the rhetorical #longpause. not having a #teleprompter will make you think #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney “That’s just not the facts.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney #DoddFrank wasn’t thought through properly#denverdebate #csdebate. he actually knows what the bill says.

Jim Leher seems to find warm and fuzzies by finding differences between the candidates #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney fighting for #medicaire by repealing #obamacare.#csdebate #denverdebate @60PlusAssoc

@Jesse_c_estrada #MyWife just made me #peachcobbler to eat as I watch the #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney the role of government is to promote the principles of the constitution and declaration.

“Mr. President, as president you are entitled to your own house and airplane, but not your own facts.” ~Mitt Romney

This was a great debate format. They actually debated.

Everyone including Bill Maher, Joe Trippi, Larry Sabato and others down on Obama’s performance.

I am watching Maddow and she is saying Romney really owned the format.

Maddow and Schultz-“President not properly prepared” “Wasn’t that the president’s job tonight?”

Watch MSNBC Schultz and Maddow are bashing on Obama they are mad at him for his performance. Other MSNBC table member saying Obama lost, and “if he could have gotten a draw they would have put this away.”

MSNBC Reporter asking O’Malley “If you had ten mins to prep Obama for next debate, what would you tell hi to do differently?” Not the kind of questions from someone happy about a big win.

When Matthews is furious with Obama you know Barack Obama didn’t do well.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia