2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Life Lessons of a Christian Blogger

Hi, everyone! This is going to be another one of those personal posts. I hope you have enjoyed the Christmas season and have a prosperous New Year!

As many of you know, my first few posts were about theology. They were my attempt at doing theology for myself and by myself. I quickly realized just how dangerous it was, interpreting Scripture by myself.

I am recanting. Not my faith, but my pride. I was very foolish, and I apologize to you all. You see, I learn by writing. The natural side effect of reading is writing, and I read a lot. I learned so many things in the process, and I would like to share the most important one with you all.

When I began blogging in April, I wanted to make a splash with new exciting theology. I thought that I could somehow find something new in Scripture and share it with the masses. The problem is that “there is nothing new under the sun.” I was continuously frustrated because I could not come up with any new ideas. Some patristic writer already said it, and in searching for evidence for my claims, I found their ancient writings. This is comforting now, but I hated it then. I was torn between two thoughts: I could either find something new and risk being a heretic or I could agree with the Fathers and risk being a bore.

Now, I am a happy bore! A bore that has learned to listen to the interpretations of the earliest Christians instead of warping Scripture to fit my own needs. Lord, have mercy on me if I led anyone astray. I am so thankful that I learned this lesson early in life.

Please be careful when interpreting Scripture. Remember the long history of the Bible, and take into account that the Bible would not be in existence without the people who put it together. The Church didn’t create the Bible, and the Bible didn’t create the Church. “They grew up together.”

You may have heard of Sola Scriptura. It is the product of the Reformation (16th century) along with its partners, sola fide and sola gratia. For the first time in the history of the Church, people started interpreting Scripture for themselves. From looking at “scripture alone” (and of course their own life experiences and bias as a filter), they came up with many many new doctrines, most of them contradictory to one another and the historical interpretations. Sola fide and sola gratia are contradictory. Faith alone and Grace alone. Faith alone leads to a completely works based salvation that doesn’t involve much of God. Grace alone leads to predestination and election, which denies the role of faith. But salvation is “by grace through faith.” Removing one or the other creates serious issues. (A topic for another day.) Scripture alone does the same thing. By removing the trusted (and fought for) interpretation of the past, Holy Scripture is put in jeopardy. There must be a standard. I violated this standard, but now I have learned my place. I would much rather trust the word of the very first interpreters of Scripture, the apostles and church fathers. They knew the culture it was written to and they knew the philosophy it was in conversation with. I don’t need to find some new fantastical interpretation of Scripture! I am content to share the unchanging truths of Scripture.

Once again I caution you. If you are in a Bible study and five different people share five different interpretations of the same verse of Scripture, beware! I certainly don’t care what Scripture “means” to five different people. It MEANS something, and I don’t think true meanings are relative.

If you compromise one, you can compromise all.

Again, I am truly sorry. I pray you can forgive me.

In Christ’s love,

Sara

A Quick Look at the Nicene Creed

As we have discussed earlier, the Nicene Creed was created at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. In most Protestant churches, we have no concept of what the purpose of the creeds is or the history of them. Confessions have take the place of creeds in modern churches. The confessions are much longer and go into much more detail. They give reasons for what is to be believed instead of simply stating what the Church believes. The Creeds provide the simplest outline of what it means to be a Christian. The Nicene Creed came before the canon of Scripture was established.

Let’s take a quick look at the Nicene Creed and what it means:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

This puts a stop to any polytheism, which was an issue in the Roman world. This also establishes God as the Creator of the world, not just the architect.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

This establishes Jesus Christ as the Son of God, not created but begotten. He was fully God and present in Creation with God.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

This establishes the humanity of Jesus, and recognizes the means of His humanity, the Virgin birth.

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

This affirms the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and second-coming of Jesus.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

This proclaims the important role of the Holy Spirit and gives the model of the Trinity.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

 

This speaks of our current life in the Church and its importance. It also ends with on a statement about the future resurrection.

 

Amen.

 

Amen is not just something that we say at the end of prayers because it sounds good to echo the speaker. Amen means, “so be it” or “so it is.” Amen takes the words of the prayer of another and makes them your own.

 

Sooooo…. Why am I telling you all of this? Why is the Nicene Creed such a big deal? Well, in the war between Confessions and Creeds, I am in the Creeds camp. There seems to be a very negative stigma involving “creedalism.” The idea that you HAVE to believe what the Church gives you in the form of a creed is seen as a very terrible thing. I have heard it said, “I believe the creed, but I won’t sign it!” So, basically what they mean is, “I believe everything that the Church believes, but betting my life on it is too far.” “No church can tell me what to believe.” Well, let me tell you why I believe not only what the Creed says but also in the function of the Creed.

You see. In the past, people have asked me to tell them what I believe and why I believe it. I would stumble around trying to give a synopsis of every doctrine I believe. They would soon write me off completely. When I found the Nicene Creed in its beautiful simplicity, I was delighted! Everything that I believe is summed up for me, created and confirmed by the Church in AD 325. Now, I can answer with confidence: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…

 

I’m not saying that Confessions are evil or that they are not useful. Confessions expound upon the Creed and explain the intricacies of what is believed. This is necessary, but try to recite it some day. I find that the Creed is the best way of telling someone what it means to be a Christian. It isn’t full of fancy church words; instead, it is precise in saying exactly what is needed to be a Christian and to fight heresy.

 

The Nicene Creed was created in the midst of Arianism and Gnosticism. It affirms the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ and every event in His life and the life of Christians through the ages. This profound piece of Christian history is still used in the Church every Sunday around the world. It is the perfect reminder of exactly what it means to be a Christian.

This is the end of my history of the Bible. Next week, I will sum up with why it is important that we know how the Bible came to be.

Faith as a Noun and a Verb (History of the Bible, part 13)

What do you think of when you hear the word, faith? Does it sound like what crazy people claim to back up their belief in God? Blind faith? A leap of faith? Kind of sounds like jumping off a cliff and hoping someone catches you, right?

Faith is characterized in many different ways in Scripture, but they make a cohesive picture of what our faith should look like.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

This word, substance, or hypostasis, is bursting with philosophical meaning. Substance is probably the most difficult philosophical word that is used and is regularly the point of disagreement between very intelligent people. In short, substance means, “that which stands under” something else, making it what it is. So faith is that which stands under our hope. How awesome is that?

Faith is our foundation.

Hypostasis is used in defending the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was the violation of the substance of Christ, either that He is not fully God or not fully Man. Both Arius and the Gnostics violated the “substance” of Christ. The Fathers of the Church took great pains to protect the doctrine of the Incarnation. Anyway! Faith is not blind. Think about it like this. You have heard the expression “a leap of faith” right? Well, in the context of Hebrews 11, faith is not our leaping but what we actually land on. Faith is what holds us up after we jump. God asks us to jump on faith and promises to catch us. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen! Abraham is the perfect example of this kind of faith, and the author of Hebrews uses him as a prime example. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Abraham’s faith in God led him to leave his home. He didn’t know where he would end up, but he went willingly. God rewarded him for his faith.

Faith is action.

Hebrews is not the only book that talks about Abraham’s remarkable faith. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23 say, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” A lot of people, non-Christians and Christians alike, have trouble with faith. In my first paper at college, I decided to write about faith for my New Testament class. Of course, I always choose very personal topics for my paper writing. I wanted to know the definition of faith and how it is to be worked out in the life of a Christian. I found that faith is not only a noun (as we discussed earlier) but also a verb. The noun form of faith is pistis; the verb form is pisteuein. Pisteuein means to believe. What are we to do with this belief? Hang it up on our wall and notice how delightful it is? Occasionally call other people over to notice it?

No. This is not what faith is meant for. Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine that you are in a car on an interstate. What do cars need to be properly functioning vehicles of transportation? They need an engine with all of the necessary parts (sorry, I’m not a mechanic). They need a frame to hold the engine. They need wheels to roll when propelled by the thrust of the engine. They need a driver. They need a surface to drive on. They need fuel to make the engine fire. They need a cooling system so as to not over heat. They need an exhaust pipe to let out the toxic fumes.

Now, I know you are wondering why I just gave a semi-detailed description of a car…Let’s imagine that we are driving that car, but this is not a real car. This car is only propelled forward by our faith. Belief is the fuel that we put in the engine, and the direct product of that belief is action. The car begins to roll forward. Some people have all kinds of beliefs that they never put into action. A lot of Christians are just sitting at the gas station pumping fuel onto the ground. They go to church. They listen, and they believe! Those beliefs just have no impact on their actions. This is what we call “nominal Christianity.” Belief without faith. Having a tank full of gas, but never putting a foot to the petal.

James says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:14-26

 

Wow. I don’t know about you, but this slaps me in the face every time I read it. How many times do we act this way? I know that I talk about some deep stuff, and I try to point out weaknesses that I see. But, I do not have my life together either. No one does, and that is okay! It is in our imperfection that we see God’s perfection. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

In no respect does God expect us to be perfect or to somehow work enough to earn our salvation. He does, however, expect our faith to produce good works. This is the natural side effect of faith. It cannot be contained! Just like our little car needs fuel to move forward, we must maintain our core beliefs. Everything is interconnected and reliant upon the other parts to function properly.

Abraham displayed his faith by moving to Canaan when God told him and being willing to kill Isaac as a sacrifice. We know that Abraham had faith because it was evident in the way he lived. These “acts of faith” or “good works” were not what saved him or made him righteous. But we know that he had the necessary faith because of his works.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

 

Next week, I will take a look at those core beliefs as seen in the Nicene Creed. We are almost done with the History of the Bible! Until next time!

Heresy (History of the Bible, part 12)

You may not know what the word heresy means. I didn’t know it just from growing up in church. Of course, I heard expressions concerning “those heretics” or “blasphemers,” but no clear definition of what a heresy actually is was given to me. A heresy is any belief, teaching, or practice that contradicts orthodox belief. Now you ask, “what does orthodox mean?” Orthodox means following or conforming to the traditional set of beliefs of a religion or philosophy. We should also note the meaning of heterodox, which just means not conforming to the traditional set of beliefs.

Okay, so in the 4th century, the Christianity at the time, which was known as the Way, was absolutely booming! Constantine recently made Christianity legal and began promoting it within the Roman Empire. The empire converted very rapidly. Yeah, this is great right?

Well…. Rapid expansion has its issues. With the sudden safety of being a Christian, there were no martyrdoms. You would think that this would be a good thing for the Church, but it caused some doctrinal issues. Suddenly, the Christians had time to think, to organize their doctrines without the threat of instant death. New ideas began to surface, ideas that weren’t orthodox. In 367, St. Athanasius wrote his (AMAZING!!!) book On the Incarnation of the Word in defense of the Incarnation of Jesus against the heresy that had sprung up under Arius. Arius, in an attempt to safeguard God’s holiness and otherness, claimed that Jesus was not fully God. He affirmed that Jesus was fully man and that he was born of the Virgin Mary, but he taught that Jesus was God’s highest creation not His only begotten Son. This of course is a huge problem. If Jesus is not fully God and fully Man, He cannot save us. I know that I said this last week, but I will say it until I am blue in the face.

“That which is not assumed cannot be saved.” – St. Athanasius.

Now, the other major heresy of the early church is Gnosticism. You may recognize the word “gnostic” from the modern usage of agnostic. Gnosis simply means knowledge. Gnostics prescribed to the belief that there were two powers: Light and Dark. They were constantly at war with one another in the world. Sometimes Light won; sometimes Dark won. The world was created by the evil Demiurge, and everything physical was considered evil. They affirmed God as the supreme power and Jesus as His divine Son, but they did not affirm Jesus’ humanity. They claimed that Jesus only appeared to be a human being, but he was really just a spirit. The perfect, spiritual Son of God certainly would not enter into evil matter. St. Irenaeus fought this in AD 370, “He [Jesus] fought and conquered. On the one hand, he was man who struggled for his fathers and through his obedience cancelled their disobedience. On the other hand, he bound the strong one and freed the weak and bestowed salvation on his handiwork by abolishing sin. For he is our compassionate and merciful Lord who loves mankind … Had not man conquered man’s adversary, the enemy would not have been conquered justly. Again, had it not been God who bestowed salvation we would not possess it securely.” This is from his famous book, Against Heresies, which I have only partially read. It talks specifically about Gnosticism.

These heresies did not rise nor die instantly. They had their own churches. The Way was no longer exclusive enough to distinguish right doctrine from heresy. The Church who denied Arianism and Gnosticism called themselves Orthodox, and this name remains today in the Orthodox Church. They have managed to survive and thrive through centuries of attacks from within (heresy) and without (the Turkish Invasion).

You may be wondering why it is even remotely important for you to know anything about ancient heretical beliefs. But if you don’t know the issues of the Church in the past and how they overcame them, then you cannot defend yourself against heretical teaching now. What? Heretical teaching now? Yes! Within the last six months I have come into contact with real, live Arianism. And get this! The person who expressed those opinions was pastoring a local church. Ummmm…. I think this is a major issue. Not that Arianism is running rampant on the streets of our cities, but just the fact that no one in his church has been aware enough to dispute what he is preaching to them. If pastors have the autonomy to interpret Scripture for themselves, they can lead their congregations astray. Gnosticism is harder to pinpoint, but I have had conversations with people who displayed some gnostic thought. The idea that spiritual is good and physical is bad, if pushed to the extreme, is Gnosticism. When someone does as the gnostics did and say that physical is bad, this applies to Jesus Christ, our Lord, who became a Man. This creates major MAJOR theological issues. I see this suppression of all things physical in churches all the time.

Try to be vigilant. If someone tells you something, and it doesn’t have Church history to back it up, check the facts! I know I’m a cynic, and I’m super critical all the time. Experience has made me this way. I don’t trust people just because they can prove something with a few verses from the Bible. I will, however, check what they are saying against the entire context of Scripture and the historical interpretation of that specific Scripture. If it matches up with what the Church throughout history has deemed orthodox, I will happily endorse it!

 

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge.” 1 Timothy 6:20

 

Guard yourself.