Protestant vs. Roman Catholic vs. Orthodox: How Does a Christian Find a Church?

I put the following comment on an article at Conciliar Post, a very interesting interfaith, multi-author blog. My comment is not fully thought out, but I did not fix it because it is meant to prompt discussion&mmdash;at Conciliar Post and now here. Here’s what I wrote:

“A friend was lamenting the lack of interfaith (i.e., Catholic-Orthodox-Protestant) discussion on Conciliar Post of late, so I will comment for the sake of giving this post a boost and perhaps provoking a little conversation.

“I was raised Catholic, but I quit at age 12 or 13 because it didn’t work. By that, I mean I found no power to serve God in it. I found no relationship with God in it. Confirmation was my final disappointment. I had set my hope on it to provide the power to make me a soldier of God, as promised by the pamphlet I was given. It didn’t happen and I gave up. My mother tried to rescue me by giving me Protestant material, which I devoured. I laid on my back night after night for a month, hoping to expose my heart to God better in that position, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. When that didn’t work, I gave up on Christianity and got involved in mystical eastern religion, now generally called New Age.

“At 21, God hunted me down. If I told the story, it would not seem nearly as miraculous to you as it seemed to me. I realized Jesus really was the Son of God, and the first time I admitted it, I was transformed. The whole world changed, and I have gotten up every morning wanting to serve Jesus with all my heart for 34 years straight, something over 12,500 days in a row.
That happened in a Protestant church, but it didn’t take long to get fed up with Protestant dissension and their preference for tradition over Scripture. It’s humorous because they love tradition as much as Roman Catholics, but at least the Catholics admit and defend their position! Protestants pretend that the Bible is their sole rule of faith and practice, but it takes very little time in their midst to find that this is almost never true.

“So here I am. I completely agree with your post on justification from a Catholic perspective. Most Protestants can’t because Luther and Calvin’s teaching is more important to them than Scripture. They cling tightly to eternal security despite the fact that the entire book of Hebrews was written to refute it!

“Yet I can’t be Roman Catholic because the papal claim to “full, supreme, and universal authority over the church” (Lumen Gentium, 1964, ch. 3, sec. 22) is outrageous, and I could never stop attacking it (book coming in the next few months). The removal of the third of the ten commandments testifies to the Roman Church’s guilty conscience over its use of images. (It is not just the Protestants, but the Orthodox as well who would charge the RCC with changing the ten commandments.)

“Perhaps I have brought up too much, but I am not alone. There are many who, like me, do not want to be called a Protestant, but can find no home in Catholicism of Orthodoxy, either, because of questionable (or objectionable) doctrines that are required of their members. This calls for a discussion of the definition of ‘church.'”

Reference:

Lumen Gentium. “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.” Solemnly Propagated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964. Ch. 3. Sec. 22. Retrieved 5 November, 2016 from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html. This wording is repeated in the Catholic Catechism. par. 882.

Posted in Church, Modern Doctrines, Protestants, Roman Catholic & Orthodox, Unity | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Growing in Christ in a Maze of Confusion

1. Depart from iniquity
2. Find pure-hearted people
3. Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with them

Here are two verses that are critically important in this modern era:

“The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the same of Christ depart from iniquity.'” (2 Tim. 2:19, Orthodox Study Bible)

“Flee also youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22, OSB)

The reason these verses are critically important today are apparent with a little consideration. With thousands of Protestant denominations claiming to be scripturally accurate, and the Catholics and the Orthodox claiming traditional authority over your faith, many are confused.

Nonetheless, the solid foundation of God stands. It has not disappeared. You have a simple charge from him. God knows his own, but you … you depart from iniquity.

Secondly, with whom should you be fellowshipping? Since the first century it has been true that you should pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. They exist. Find those. You will probably never find the answer to your prophecy and end-time questions with them. You may never find a church that satisfies you in this era, though I hope you do. You can, however, grow in righteousness, faith, love, and peace with people who have pure hearts.

Depart from iniquity.
Find pure hearts.
Pursue holiness with them (cf. Heb. 12:14).

Posted in Evangelicals, Holiness, Modern Doctrines, Protestants, Roman Catholic & Orthodox, Teachings that must not be lost | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The New Covenant at a Glance

I was asked: “What exactly is the New Covenant, and where is it described in the Bible.”

Great question.

The short answer is that the New Covenant is mentioned and described in Jeremiah 31:31-34. That passage is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-11.

If you want a passage that gets right to the point in explaining the New Covenant and the difference between it and the Old Covenant, that passage can be found in Acts 2:14-38. If you want a description of the power of the New Covenant, read Acts 2:39 through the end of chapter 4.

Paul explains the difference between the Old and New Covenants in 2 Corinthians 3 as well as in Galatians 4.

The biggest difference between the Old and New Covenants? Perhaps the most important difference is that everyone who enters the New Covenant receives the Spirit of God, as Peter explains in Acts 2:14-38, quoting Joel 2:28-32. Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit was not promised, and only great people like Daniel, David, and others like them received the Holy Spirit.

There are other differences, too. We have the promise of resurrection was never given under the Old Covenant. We have this promise because Jesus rose from the dead. We get complete forgiveness for our past, good and bad, because in baptism God regards us as having died and risen again in Jesus. We really are risen again, or reborn, because he gives us the Spirit and we thus possess the life of God inside of us.

Great promises! Better, they are offered free in Jesus so that all of us can be made together into a holy people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14), and so that we can fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law by living our lives by the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-14).

Posted in Gospel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Early Christianity in a Nutshell

I’ve been looking for a way to describe the Christianity I see in the early church fathers for many years. In the midst of a discussion with a friend, this outline came to me.

1. The Gospel: They preached total surrender to Jesus as King. Their Gospel centralized on bodily resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus proved he was King, and our resurrection to eternal life is the reward promised to those who obey him.

2. Baptism: Baptism is the entrance rite into the church. Before the baptism, the convert renounces the devil and all his pomp. He renounces the world. He is then baptized, his sins are washed away, and he is thus buried and born again.

3. Laying on of hands: This was done right after baptism by the elders as they prayed for the Spirit to come upon the new convert. They didn’t necessarily expect any manifestation.

4. Extensive catechizing (basic instruction) in the teachings of Scripture.

5. Faith and works: They understood that baptism and being born again required only faith and repentance because there is no more that a slave to sin can offer. After baptism and the laying on of hands converts are both pure and empowered. At that point they can, and must, offer to God obedience and good works.

6. Most teaching centered on continuing in the faith and obeying God. The warning passages in the NT were much more heavily utilized than they are today.

Two other points should be emphasized. One, the Eucharist was a big deal to them and was eaten at least every week. It was never a cracker and a thimble of grape juice, but a meal, or at least part of a meal. Two, the church was seen as the reservoir of salvation. In it, people were saved. Outside of it there was no salvation.

It’s hard to bring that last point into the modern era. We don’t have the one church that existed in the second century. It was a big deal to the early church, however, and the Scriptures, too, emphasize the unity of the church and the fact that the church and the church alone is the pillar of truth.

Posted in Early Christianity | Tagged , , , ,

Decoding Nicea Interview!

I am excited to announce that I am going to be interviewed on the Seminary Dropout podcast. Shane Blackshear has interviewed such notable Christians an N.T. Wright and Max Lucado. I will be interviewed this Wednesday, August 10. You don’t have to listen to it live (and you may not be able to). Simply go to the link above to listen to it after the interview. It’s in reference to my book, Decoding Nicea, and I am very excited.

Posted in Uncategorized

How Did God Pass the Time for 14 Billion Years?

If scientists are correct, and I think they are, then it took between 12 and 14 billion years for humans to appear in this universe. If Christians are correct, and I think they are, then God made the universe, and he made it—or at least the earth portion of it—for man.

If man was the purpose, or a purpose, for the creation, then what was God doing during the 14 billion years between the Big Bang and the evolution of man? Was he just hanging out? It seems like even God would be bored waiting around for humans for that long.

Science has an answer for that.

The Scientific Explanation for the Activity of God for the last 14 Billion Years

I have a scientific explanation for what God was doing for the last 14 billion years. For the scientifically faint of heart, the short explanation is that it wasn’t 14 billion years to God. He’s outside of time. It could have seemed like a second, or he could have enjoyed a week’s worth of time, or a month, or the whole 14 billion years.

The long answer, for those that want to have some fun with me, goes like this.

You’ve heard of the Theory of Relativity? You’ve probably heard a lot about time and the speed of light, but I don’t know how many of you have focused on the term “relativity.” Einstein’s argument, among others, is that time is relative. Relative to what? Time is relative to speed. The only constant in the universe is the speed of light. Time is not constant. The speed of light is constant.

The guiding principle of relativity is that the speed of light is the same for everyone. You cannot run away from light.

Light will catch you, and it will catch you just as fast whether you stand still or fly away from it on solar winds. You can’t speed it up, either. As a planet we may be rushing toward another galaxy at up to 40% of the speed of light. Nonetheless, the light from that galaxy is going to approach us at 186,000 miles per second. If that galaxy is two million light years away from us (in which case it’s the Andromeda Galaxy, the only one that close to us), it’s light will take two million years to reach us whether we race towards Andromeda or away from it.

The speed of light does not change. Instead, time changes.

Here’s an illustration of how that works.

Let’s say there’s this guy in the utter darkness of the void between galaxies. He is in darkness, but a beam of light is approaching him through the emptiness, or almost emptiness, of space.

It turns out this guy is Superman. You know because you found Albus Dumbledore’s magic binoculars, and you can see him out there between galaxies so sharply that you can read the symbol on his chest. Superman, as you know, can fly so fast that he can turn back time as long as he is flying in a circle around a planet. I am unable to explain the science behind this phenomenon.

I can explain the phenomenon of the light catching Superman. He flees the approaching light because as a false savior, he is terrified of the light. He flies away from the light at one mile per year less than the speed of light. Please notice that I said one mile per year, not one mile per hour.

Let’s say the light is a million miles away. As an observer, you see the light chasing Superman at 186,000 miles per second. You also see Superman flying away at 185,999.99999997 miles per second. Because the light is traveling at only one mile per year faster that Superman, it takes a million years to catch him. That’s your perspective.

For Superman, the light is approaching at 186,000 miles per second. That doesn’t change when he tries to run away. From his perspective, the light catches him in just over five seconds.

One million years or five seconds. Which is it?

It’s both. That’s the point of the theory of relativity. The speed of light is constant, but time is not. Your speed, relative to the speed of light, affects your perspective of time. For you, that light took a million years to catch Superman. For him, it took five seconds.

And yes, that means you aged a million years and Superman aged five seconds. Einstein didn’t make that up. He discovered it. Big difference. This relativity, whether we understand it or not, whether we like it or not, and whether we believe it not, happens. Just like gravity is real, so the relativity of time is real.

If we take what I and pretty much all Christians believe as a given, then God controls all this. He’s invisible and he fills the universe, so he doesn’t “move,” not at any speed; however, he has control over the whole process. He’s the creator, he can be above and around it, and he can see any part of it, or he can see it all at once.

That’s why the predestination vs. free will argument is way beyond what we can understand. In Isaiah 46:10, the Holy Spirit tells us that God declares the end from the beginning. That’s because he can see the end and the beginning. Why can he prophesy what’s going to happen? It’s not only because he can control it from before it happened if he wants to, but it is also because he can see that it happened from afterward. He can do both, right now.

I didn’t mean to address predestination vs. free will. It just came up. So let me get back to the point.

The point is that God wasn’t bored for 14 billion years. He could see it all from the perspective of any moment he wanted to. He could slow things down and enjoy watching and experiencing what was happening, or he could make it no longer than a flash of lightning—from his perspective. God could experience it all at once, the expanding of the cosmos to the coalescing of the galaxies to the formation of the earth to the rise of human civilization, none of it incurring any “passing of time” from his perspective.

Posted in Evolution, Evolution and Creation, Miscellaneous, science | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Honesty, Boldness, and the Subordination of the Son of God

I have been listening to David Platt’s _radical_ as I drive. I applaud him for his bold defense of the words of Jesus. It embarrassed and convicted me. It moved me not just to sorrow, but to repentance. It made me remember that it is God who must drive truth home, not me. I have to say what Scripture says whether men like it or not. We all know that, and I have done it often, but not always.

Changing my attitude and bowing more completely to the truth, and thus to Jesus who is the truth, I’ll go ahead and comment on the following:

I ran across a guy who defends “eternal subordination,” which is the teaching that the Son was always subservient to the Father, even before the incarnation. That seems such an obvious truth from Scripture that I’m surprise anyone opposes it, but apparently the idea that the Father and Son are exact replicas of one another is one of those “taboo” doctrines of evangelicals. It can’t be questioned even in areas where it is obviously wrong. Why is there a Trinity if the three members are identical triplets?

Bruce Ware is willing to embrace the obvious eternal subservience of the Son to the Father, a truth that we should honor Jesus for and a truth that Jesus seemed proud of. But Mr. Ware is very careful not to suggest that the Father is in any way ontologically greater than the Son. (Ontologically means in their being, but the concept is rather ethereal and hard to define.)

Perhaps because they are of the same substance/essence, something that was taught from the days of the apostles onward, they are ontologically equal. If we wish to be scholars, however, we cannot honestly claim ontological equality without letting our hearers know that the early churches, those who still held the teaching of the apostles, did not see that equality exactly as we do.

I can make an excellent scriptural case that every appearance of God before the incarnation was a Christophany, an appearance of the Word, not the Father. The early Christians would take it one step further. God (the Father), they taught, CANNOT appear on earth. He CANNOT be confined to one spot. Only the Word can be found in one place. The Father fills all things and cannot be confined. Compare this idea to John 1:18, which tells us that God has never been seen by man.

The following is from Theophilus, bishop of Antioch around AD 170, but you will find the teaching multiple times in the second-century writings of the church:

“You will say … to me: ‘You said that God cannot to be contained in one place; how do you now say that he walked in Paradise?’ Hear what I say: The God and Father of all truly cannot be contained, and is not found, in a place … but his Word, through whom he made all things, being his power and his wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God and conversed with Adam.”

Is that an ontological difference? Ontologically equal is an impressive theological term, but if it doesn’t allow for the Son to be confined to a place while the Father, who fills everything, cannot be, then the term describes something that is not true.

We need to add one more difference between the Father and Son, this one from Scripture. Mark 13:32 tells us that the Father has a time in mind for the end which is unknown to the Son.

I suppose this does not have to be an ontological difference, but it is a difference that I suspect evangelicals will not allow, no matter what Jesus said. In evangelical eyes, he’s not allowed to be less than the Father in any way except while he was on earth. It borders on silliness to suggest that Jesus was so distanced from his divine role as the Word of God during his time on earth that he didn’t know things that he knew before the incarnation, then suddenly knew it again after the resurrection.

When Jesus said the Son does not know the day or the hour because it is in the Father’s determination, he is saying that the Son will not know until the Father sends him back to rescue us from this corrupt world and from our almost useless theology.

We cannot honor the Son by teaching things about him that are not true from Scripture and from his own words. When we deny the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father and we turn our heads away from differences between the Father and Son that were taught by the apostles, then we are dishonoring the Son, not elevating him.

Posted in Evangelicals, Modern Doctrines | Tagged , , , ,

The Lord’s Portion [of the Nations] Is Israel

I showed a brother a verse yesterday that I find fascinating, and he was surprised by it. He’s been a Christian for 40 years, and he didn’t know about it. Why? Because it only reads the way I read it to him in the Septuagint.

Rather than quote the LXX version, I’ll let Clement of Rome quote it for you::

“For thus it is written, ‘When the Most High divided the nations, when He scattered the sons of Adam, He fixed the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. His people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, and Israel the lot of His inheritance’ [Deut. 32:8-9]. And in another place it says, ‘Behold, the Lord takes for Himself a nation out of the midst of the nations, as a man takes the first-fruits of his threshing-floor; and from that nation shall come forth the Holy of Holies’ [Num. 18:27; 2 Chr. 31:14].” (1 Clement 29)

The second part is a bit of a concoction (i.e., a borderline mistake) by Clement, but the first is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 32. The nations were divided up among ruling angels, but Israel became the Lord’s portion. Clement then compresses two verses together to say that the Messiah will come from the nation that is the Lord’s portion. We all know the Messiah came from Israel, so we don’t need to argue over whether Clement’s compression of the two verses forms a legitimate prophecy.

Clement follows that quote by saying:

“Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking youthful lusts, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride.” (ibid. 30)

What a thought! God divided up the nations and assigned them to ruling angels, but Jacob he kept for himself. We who follow Jesus, whose circumcision is of the heart and of the Spirit, we are Israel, the lot that fell to our Lord Jesus (Rom. 2:28-29). We are the true circumcision, the ones who worship God in spirit, rejoice in the Lord Jesus the Messiah, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Posted in Bible, History | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

I Pledge Alliegance …

Last week I went to my son’s military basic training graduation. Hundreds graduated, but four were also honored with US citizenship for graduating. In order to get that citizenship, they had to renounce all alliegances to all other governments, foreign or domestic, reserving their allegiance for the constitution alone.

When they swore to uphold this standard, the crowd burst into applause. It seems that a sole alliegance to the Constitution is very popular.

Jesus asked for sole alliegance to the Kingdom of God when he preached the Gospel. I don’t know how popular that sole alliegance is because it is rarely preached in US churches.

It seems that even in churches we are excited for the servicemen who submit their lives to the US government, ship out with a few hours notice, and even give their lives meddling in the affairs of other countries. On the other hand we seem embarrassed about the demand of the eternal King of the universe that his followers hate all other alliegances and forsake all their possessions (Luke 14:26-33).

In 34 years as a Christian, I’ve heard a number of sermons on counting the cost, the subject of Luke 14:28-32, but only two that mentioned the surrounding verses, 26 and 33, which actually detail the cost that we must count..

Posted in Gospel | Tagged , , ,

Encouragement from the Septuagint

I’ve been reading through the Septuagint (the Orthodox Study Bible’s English translation of it). This morning was rich. I kept running across passages I wanted to share. Here are some of them:

Thought: God’s interested in simple obedience, not sacrifices:

How shall I come to understand the Lord and devote myself to the Most High God? Shall I reach him with burnt offerings? with year-old calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of Rams? or with a myriad of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my ungodliness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. Or what does the Lord seek from you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to be ready to walk with the Lord your God. (Micah 6:6-8)

Thought: It is God who justifies and makes us what we ought to be, even though it sometimes happens by discipline:

I will endure the wrath of the Lord, for I sinned against him, until he pleads my cause; for he will execute my judgment and will bring me out into the light, and I will perceive his righteousness. (Micah 7:9)

Thought: I’ve had some depression, despair, and hopelessness lately that I think is leftover physical damage from all the chemo I’ve had. So I loved this:

From the end of the earth I cried out to you when my heart was discouraged. You lifted me high on a rock. (Ps. 60:3, Ps. 61 in Masoretic)

Finally, from Psalm 61 (which is Psalm 62 in Masoretic text):

God spoke once; I heard these two things: Power is of God and to you, O Lord, is mercy. For you will repay every man according to his deeds.

Note on the last quote that being repaid for our deeds is a positive thing. God will reward us for the life we live in submission to him. The power of that life is from him, not us, and mercy belongs to God. It is his way.

“Shall not my soul be submissive to God? For from him is my salvation.”

—Psalm 61:2, LXX

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