Monday, 12 November 2007

Alot can change in 5 years

I've been baptised for 5 years now! Got me thinking about how my theology has changed...

5 years ago:

Hell - Eternal torment and fire


Heaven - A place in the sky


Anglicanism - Boring!


Catholicism - Just plain wrong


The Bible - My interpretation is right, OK!


Worship - Music, music, music (with guitars and drums! Not an organ...)


Halloween - Satan's favourite night


Harry Potter - Satan's favourite story


Communion - Something strange going on here


Baptism - Something strange going on here


Church - Its all about the Baptists


Irenaeus - Who?


Tradition - So what

Women in ministry - I don't think so!

I could go on and on and on


Today

Hell - Separation from Love, worse than fire


Heaven - There's gonna be a great collision with earth1 Live it here and now


Anglicanism - Tempting


Catholicism - So good in so many ways


The Bible - Should everyone have one?


Worship - Love the Lord...


Halloween - Fancy a sweet?


Harry Potter - Take it or leave it


Communion - Something strange going on here


Baptism - Something strange going on here


Church - We are one body, because we all share in one loaf


Irenaeus - What a legend!


Tradition - We indwell it brothers and sisters


Women in ministry - Rise up sisters! We need you!








Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Things that go bump in the night...

It's that time of year again when the witch hunters come out in full force!

Halloween....

I remember only a year ago how I used to get really anti-Halloween. I would rant a bit about how wrong it was etc etc and then search the Bible to back up what I was saying (like the good evangelical that I am!!!).

Recognising now that it was traditionally a Christian festival I figure, why don't we, as the Church, claim it back and make it an event that our whole community can enjoy? Christian and not yet Christian alike?

I also figure that I doubt very much Satan and his demons are gonna step it up at Halloween. If the principalities and powers are going to seek to heighten its attempt to bring death and destruction I figure it is probably at Easter time when the Church of Christ declare loudly 'Christ has Risen! Christ is Lord! Christ will come again!"

The problem that I have with Halloween is actually that young kids are wandering around the streets on their own. I was in a pub Monday night in South London and three kids came in dressed in Halloween outfits all on their own. Are they safe? Bearing in mind this is a part of London that is often dealing with violence on the streets.

I've got a church meeting tonight....think I would rather go and collect a nice big bag of sweets....

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Eucharistic Theology






Eucharistic theology
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Luther

You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe this is a necessary consequence of an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.


Luther


88%

Orthodox


75%

Catholic


69%

Calvin


25%

Zwingli


25%

Unitarian


0%


Losers...?

England Lost....



Lewis Lost...






Christ has Won!!!!



























Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Promised Land

I recently challenged my congregation on what it means to be a Christian. I am increasingly concerned with the 'ticket to heaven' attitude that seems to be promoted ( I admit that this is at times unwittingly, yet it is still there).

I was recently reading a small booklet called 'Why Jesus' written by Nicky Gumbel, founder of the Alpha course. This booklet is fairly typical of the Christian pamphlets that are out there at the moment. It takes you through who Jesus is why He came and why we need Him (many things in this booklet I struggled with but that's another blog another time!). At the end of the booklet there is an opportunity to respond to what you have read and there is a prayer that you can prayer to become a Christian, again, fairly typical of most of these types of booklets. The prayer is along the lines of sorry God for my sin, forgive me God for my sin. Thank you Jesus for dying for me and my sin. Holy Spirit live in me now I'm forgiven. Thank you. Amen! The booklet then congratulates you on becoming a Christian, that its the best thing you've ever done. Make sure you pray, read your Bible, go to church and tell others about Jesus. Bish, bash, bosh!!!

From what I read in scripture, being born again looks very different, and this is why I find these type of booklets increasingly worrying. It, I believe, promotes a 'ticket to heaven' type of attitude. I believe it promotes a Christianity that says as long as I pray this prayer then I'm a Christian and one day I'll float off to heaven and everything will be ok. I believe it promotes a Christianity that focuses on 'me' and not 'us' and I believe it is promoting something very unhealthy in our mission and evangelism. I believe many churches are approaching evangelism in a way that says 'as long as you get people to pray the sinners prayer then that is all we need to worry about.' It is like this sinners prayer is the focus of our evangelism so we can proudly say to all who ask (or don't ask!) that we as a church got 'x' amount of people to pray this prayer. I believe this type of approach to evangelism is far removed from that which Jesus spoke about and showed and continues to speak about and show by His Spirit.

I believe baptism is the means through which proper Christian discipleship begins. I believe baptism sets on the path of Christ and it is through baptism that God's promises of salvation and grace are effected.

At Pentecost Peter addresses the crowd and they are cut to the heart by His message through the power of the Holy Spirit. They ask Peter what they must do and his reply is that they repent of their sins, believe on the Lord Jesus and be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Around 3000 are baptised that very day. Peter's declaration that the people are to be baptised comes from, I believe an understanding of what Jesus taught and exampled in the way of baptism. In John 3 we read of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus and Jesus declares that unless someone is born of water and the Spirit they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I have often been told that Jesus is referring to natural birth (water) and then spiritual birth (Spirit), yet this does not sit right with me, and in light of the nature of John's gospel (Sacramental) then I have to believe that Jesus is here talking about baptism. At His own baptism he declares that it must be done to fulfil all righteousness and it is here that he identifies Himself with us and models to us what must take place.

Yet baptism is so much more than a mere symbolic act. It is not an outward sign of an inward action' but it is a means through which God acts and effects His promises. Paul declares in Romans 6 that we are joined to Christ in baptism. We are joined to Him and His body, the Church in and through baptism. Paul then tells us that we are buried with Christ and baptism and then raised with Him through baptism. Therefore something hugely significant is happening here. Our old selves are buried with Christ, and we are truly raised with Christ through the waters, thus being born again to a new life. Therefore in being buried with Him, being joined to Him and being raised with Him, we will suffer with Him yet one day be like Him!

To see baptism as purely a symbolic act or an outward sign of something that has already happened on the inside is (I believe) a complete departure from what scripture teaches us. I believe baptism is the means through which we are brought out of our slavery to sin, and into a new life with Christ. I must add here that I do not believe baptism is God's prison (as Colwell puts it). God can act in and through any means He likes to give us His Spirit. I would never doubt the salvation of the Salvation Army because they don't (largely) practice baptism. I don't know how God works all this out, yet He is ultimately a God of grace and is able to do above and beyond all we can imagine. The thing is however is that God has not promised to act through another way in the same way that He promises to act through baptism, therefore we must not depart from that which has been laid down for us in scripture. So how does baptism reflect what it means to be a Chrisian?

To be a Christian does not mean that we pray a prayer and hope to leave this terrible place and float off to heaven, rather it is to be made more like Christ and to live like Christ in this world to bring His Kingdom to bear here on Earth. Baptism is, I believe, the means through which we can begin that joruney with Christ and the means through which He gives us His Spirit that we might be like Him in our community, nation and world. To be a discple of Christ means to act justly and bring God's justice to bear right here and right now. It is to invite people to follow the Way so that He may show them the right way to live, and thus live a life that reflects what the future will look like when there is a new earth and a new heaven. To be a Christian means to follow the Truth that we might know the truth and tell others the truth, the truth of love and beauty and peace. To be a Christian means to follow the Life that we might have life and have to its fulest. A life that knows God in Christ, a life that suffers for the sake of the Gospel, a life that cares for God's creation, a life that worships God who is Father, Son and Spirit.

Moses led the people of Israel out of the land of slavery, through the waters of the Red Sea, towards the promised land. John the Baptist came and declared a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and I am sure the 1st Century Jews would have understood his symbolic language as the new exodus. Jesus came and was baptised and declared that it was proper to fulfil all righteousness. We are now invited by Jesus to follow Him through the waters of baptism and march onto the Promised Land. A Land flowing with a River. A Land where death no longer exists. A Land where we will worship God forevermore. A Land where God will dwell with us and us with Him. A Land of Promise and healing. A Land where His Glory will shine forevermore.

Will you join me on that journey into the Promised Land?

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Baptism


I will post shortly about my views on baptism and evangelism.

Evangelist changing

I'm currently at Spurgeon's on my week induction. It's quite strange staring this new academic year as a Baptist Union Accredited Evangelist!!! Sounds quite daunting!

I'm really very aware though of the responsibility it is being minister of the Gospel. I'm very aware of how utterly in need of God's grace and mercy I am. I recognise the need to approach this work with reverence and respect and with my eyes firmly on the One who is the great Servant of the Church. I seek to serve. I need Jesus to show me how.

I am excited about the future and the possibilities before me that God has for me. I feel more than ever that I am called to be an evangelist. I feel a passion in my heart to see many won for Christ. I want to see God's justice brought to bear here on earth. I want to see people equipped and sent out declaring God's justice and love and being instruments in bringing His love and justice to bear. I want to see God's Kingdom come.

I am your servant Lord God. Mould me, shape me and use me for the glory of your name.

Mercy


Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus, Son of God.

Lord Jesus.

Lord.


Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Grace



"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me."

As I come to the Table, feed me Lord Jesus
As I am fed at the Table, may I become more like you Lord Jesus
As I drink at the Table may I share in your Passion Lord Jesus
As I eat your flesh and drink your blood may Your story become my story
As I see you Christ, Risen and Victorious, may I share in the Joy of the Trinity
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Glorious and Perfect
Abounding in Love

Amen

Monday, 13 August 2007

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Do I spend time in Sin City?

The other day one of my congregation came round to chat and while we were talking he noticed that I had a copy of Sin City on DVD. He was surprised that I owned it and said that he didn't think 'an evangelist' would own a film like this. This got me thinking and subsequently Sam put me in the direction of his response to whether we should spend time in Sin City. Here are my musings...

I believe with all that I am that if Jesus were here now He would be on the streets with the drug dealers and the prostitutes, talking to them and transforming them. Because Jesus would be there I am called to be there. I am called as a follower of Christ to spend time in Sin City. I am not called to be out of the world, I am called to be in it and to be salt and light. Yet equally I am called to be holy. While I believe I am called to be in 'Sin City', is it right that I spend time watching films that may in some way reflect society yet ultimately are not society. Should I fill my mind with films like this?

I don't know but I do know need to know what this Sin City society is like if I am going to preach the good news to that society. It saves me from bouncing around in a church bubble.

What intrigues me was that this guest of mine was somewhat 'disappointed' that the evangelist owns Sin City, yet did not seem bothered by the various 'teen rom coms' that my wife enjoys. For me, while Sin City may paint a violent a brutal society on screen, it does so with a grasp on reality. For there are places in the world I am sure are worse than Sin City. What these 'rom coms' do is paint an unrealistic picture of life and presents a way of life that builds hopes and dreams in peoples lives that will never become a reality. There is no redemption at the end of these films, there is only the lust for sex, fame and unrealistic relationships. Those who watch these films can be sucked in to thinking that this how people really should be and a result could be brokenness, failure and a greed for something more, always something more. I believe Sin City presents sacrifice and selflessness. Rom coms present take, take, take!

Should I spend time in the world of the 'rom com'? Never! For here I become self-obsessed and blind to my weaknesses and failings, believing I should always be getting something.

I am called to think about pure, holy and honourable things. I am called to be holy as God is holy. I pray for the mind of Christ. Therefore should I avoid certain films while still walking the real streets of 'Sin City'? Should I spend time in Sin City? I don't know but I cannot throw a stone for my sin is no worse than the sin on the streets of Sin City.

Search my heart O God and find any offensive way within me.
Lead me into the way everlasting.

Thoughts on penal substitution

I'm writing this in response to reading Sam's Blog on penal substitution.

I too was at Beach Club and I too heard that story (see Sam's blog), and I too cringed! Yet it seems to me that a vast majority of Christians that I know hold to this doctrine. What is even more worrying is that they believe that they can hold to this doctrine and still believe that this fits with the God of the Bible. I, like Sam, am horrified by this doctrine and would never follow a god who acted in this way.

For me the doctrine of penal substitution paints a picture of a schizophrenic god. One minute he is angry and must punish us, the next minute he is loving and cares for us.

We must see the wrath of God as an outworking of His love, not as an an opposite to His love. For it is through His wrath that He seeks to restore and transform people and communities (surely the account of Pharaoh and the plagues is one such instance). For God is love, and it is because of His love that He gave over His Son to redeem us.

Penal substitution presents the wrath of God as an opposite to His love and thus sees the cross as a 'hands tied behind your back' scenario. As if God could not do anything about forgiving us unless some kind of mechanism was given and then 'Voila!', the cross is thought of and God has a get out of jail free card! 'Hooray', says God, 'I don't have to punish them now because the cross has arrived. Phew!" What rubbish!

Furthermore, we treat justice as if it is god or in some way holds sway over what God can and can't do. Perhaps Abraham's prayer highlights this,

'Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25)

It is like there is a list of 'right' and surely God will only do what is on that list?

Even worse...

As Sam rightly points out, penal substitution presents a God who is at war within Himself. The Son is loving and caring, while the Father is angry and vengeful. The Father demands justice, so the Son appeases His anger by taking our place. This view goes against Christian doctrine of who God is as Trinity and needs to be refuted. God, as Triune is in perfect relationship within Himself, He is not at war. The Father giving way to the Son. The Son giving way to the Spirit etc.

For me, divine self-substitution is a better view, whereby God gives Himself willingly to forgive us. He endures the cost of human forgiveness, stands in our place, represents fallen humanity fully and is thus able to fully restore us to be the people that He has intended us to be.

I believe one of the problems and reasons that the doctrine of penal substitution is out there is that we view sin as a long list of things we have done wrong. If I steel then I have sinned or if I lie I have sinned and God who is Holy cannot stand and look upon our sin. Rather, we should view sin as a broken relationship with God and an outworking of that broken relationship is that I steel and lie. The cross is there that I might be restored into relationship with God and share in this amazing community who is Father Son and Spirit. I believe that the sinful things we commit is because of the ultimate sin, a broken relationship with God.

Romans I believe presents this powerfully.

Therefore God gave them over (paradidōmi) in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (verse 24).

And again,

Because of this, God gave them over (paradidōmi) to shameful lusts (verse 26).

And again,

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over (paradidōmi) to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done (verse 28).
For our broken relationship with God means that He has given us over to our sinful lustings, yet how then does God respond?

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up (paradidōmi) for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

He responds by giving up His Son that we may no longer be given up to our sin! This is grace! Here is forgiveness! We are no longer dead, but alive in Christ!

Priase be to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Sam cries 'Damn this diabolical doctrine (penal substitution) to hell.' Amen brother! Amen!

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Promise and Presence


This is an outstanding book on the nature of the Sacraments. God spoke in many ways to me through reading this book. It struck me through the reading of this book and subsequently a re-reading of Scripture, how powerfully God meets with us in and through the Sacraments.
A must read for all in my opinion.

A personal reflection on my own spiritual journey in the light of the Sacraments

As someone who was, day-by-day and week-by-week, actively involved in the modern day culture of binge-drinking and late night clubbing, a quick fix of good feeling was a regular ‘pot of gold’ that I searched for. Endless days and nights were spent in search of the best way to feel good for the longest time no matter the cost materially and emotionally. So when I encountered a form of Christianity that tapped into my feelings and delivered a ‘high’ that seemed to deliver this quick fix that I was constantly searching for, I was naturally intrigued. Soul Survivor was where I encountered this Christianity and it was here that I first ‘experienced’ God. Yet it would be some months later when I was baptised and this desire for ‘quick fixes’ would be taken from me. Four years later, as I now reflect on that time, it seems that until my baptism, not much changed in my attitude or actions after Soul Survivor when I first ‘experienced’ God. I certainly believed in God, certainly believed in Christ’s work on the cross, yet still believed in a quick fix of feelings, and now believed in a God who, along with alcohol, could supply me with this quick fix. Yet at my baptism I encountered God in a completely different way than before. At my baptism the things I had heard, the promises that I had read, and the forgiveness that I had been told about, seemed to finally make sense, they seemed to become real for the first time. What happened at my baptism that did not happen when I had my ‘experience’? It is from here that I want to reflect on my own spiritual journey in light of my baptism and subsequently in light of Communion.

John Colwell writes in Promise and Presence that ‘baptism…is not so much a first step on the pathway of discipleship and obedience as it is the means through which we are set on the pathway of discipleship and obedience in the first place.’ Certainly this rings true in my own experience of baptism, for it was after my baptism that any notions of living a life worthy of my calling came to pass. Indeed on the day of my baptism I was recovering from a night of heavy drinking and came to the church smelling of cigarette smoke. My perception of these acts was not of disobedience to this God I was now being baptised in the name of, nor did any doubts over my ‘suitability’ to be baptised enter my thinking, rather it was from this point that I sought baptism, and it was my hope that, from baptism I would begin walking on the right ‘pathway’. I came to baptism with the hope and expectation that I would meet with God in a way far above that which I had already encountered him. I was hoping for more than an ‘experience’ of a quick fix, but I was seeking something that would be the beginning of a process whereby I was made more like Christ. It was at baptism that my addiction to cigarettes and alcohol was taken from me, and it was at baptism that my desire for a ‘long fix’ became my focus, that is, I desired to know God and his ways. So what happened at my baptism that ‘cured’ me of my addictions and, more importantly, caused a real desire to cast off the old and walk in the new? It is here that I want to continue this reflection.

In Acts 2 Peter addresses the crowd after the Holy Spirit has been given to the disciples who had been ‘together in one place’. After Peter has addressed the crowd Holy Spirit moves among those listening and they are ‘cut to the heart.’ Subsequently they call out to Peter asking what they should do in response to this ‘cutting’. Peter declares that they are to be baptised for the forgiveness of their sins. He then goes on to tell them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a promise not only for them but also for all who are far off. The Acts narrative then goes on to describe around three thousand of them responding and getting baptised. What is interesting in my own experience is that I too had a cutting of my heart prior to my baptism. I certainly had a conviction of my need for God and I responded, not with baptism, but with a prayer. This prayer was not led by anyone, it was not a ‘sinners prayer’, but a prayer I prayed quietly to myself after I had recognised my need for Christ. Yet it was at baptism that a very real sense of forgiveness and inclusiveness occurred and it was here that from my own experience, I believe I was given the Holy Spirit. So this promise that God has made through baptism came to be at my own baptism, not because I could manipulate God to fulfill his promise, but because God is a God of grace, and baptism is a means through which he administers his grace to us. The giving of the Spirit at my baptism resulted in a change of attitude and behaviour. A very real conviction over my lifestyle resulted after my baptism and things began to change, in thought, word and deed. However, if baptism and communion (of which we will look at shortly) are those means through which God has promised to meet with us and administer his grace, if these sacraments are the ‘signs and seals of a promise’, why do we seemingly seek God through other unmediated means? If at communion we participate in his body and his blood, why does there seem to be a desire to participate in Christ through other unmediated methods? If at baptism God has promised to give us his Spirit, why is it commonly only seen as a symbolic event pointing to a work that has already happened in the person’s life? In my own spiritual journey baptism was not presented to me in this way. The assistant Pastor of the church I attended told me that at my baptism I would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He told me to expect much from the day and to be sure of God’s promise to meet with me in and through my baptism. The result was a day that, for me, defines my Christian walk and I believe was the moment when I stepped onto the ‘right path’. However, the view that baptism comes with a promise of God’s mediated presence is not, I believe, a common view within the life of the church. Indeed, moving onto communion, it seems that a common view of communion is that it is only an act of remembrance and that nothing happens in the partaking of the meal. Yet baptism and communion come with a promise of presence and action from God. These are the means through which God has promised to meet with us and act, yet it seems that we seek God’s action through other unmediated means. A recent event I attended seems to highlight this point.

It was a ‘youth event’ that I attended and the music group led the congregation in a time of music worship. This lasted for some twenty minutes and there was a continual ‘invitation’ for God to come and join us. While the music was good and while I have no problem with music worship and see it as a valuable gift from God, this is not the means through which God has promised to meet with us. Over and over the leader was singing to invite God into the meeting and it struck me that night that music worship has become a ‘sacrament’ within the life of the church. John Colwell writes, ‘Whenever there has been a belittling of the sacramental dynamic of the Church’s life, other symbols, events and experiences – themselves neither divinely ordained nor pregnant with a divine promise – have assumed a pseudo-sacramental significance. The proclamation of the gospel, instead of being accompanied by baptism, is accompanied by ‘alter calls’ and ‘decision cards’. Christian assurance is sought, not in the divine promise inherent in baptism and the Eucharist, but in pious feelings or ecstatic experiences.’ This dynamic of replacing the sacraments with other events and experiences seemed to come across very strongly at this youth event and, after reflection, seems to be an all to common experience in my own church and many of the churches I have attended. Granted, my Soul Survivor experience was after a long period of music worship, yet it was not after this experience that any real change happened in my life, it was through my baptism that I met with God on a far deeper level than before. Furthermore, not only did I meet with God through my baptism, God mediated his gracious presence through my baptism, by the Sprit, and an indwelling of the gospel story took place. Jesus death and resurrection were no longer a part of history; they became a reality to me in the present. Moreover, this indwelling of the gospel story happens each time we come to the communion table and it is at the communion table that my most significant encounters with God have happened. Certainly during the times where words run dry, feelings grow cold and God seems somewhat distant, communion has been valuable and vital in my Christian walk. To share in Christ and know his faithfulness, even when I am faithless, is a promise more precious than gold. Therefore, this knowledge of God’s promises made through baptism and communion are paramount in our walk with God, for whenever our feelings fail us and deceive us, God’s promises are there to hold and stand firm in.

Baptism was the means through which my journey with God became a living reality. The experience that I had at Soul Survivor was a stepping stone in my journey and certainly had an impact in my journey towards God, yet it was at my baptism that I encountered God in such a way that the desire to follow him and his ways brought with it a conviction over the lifestyle I was choosing to live in. There was an expectation at my baptism of the fulfilment of the promise that God has made through baptism and the subsequent giving of the Spirit at my baptism was a fulfilment of the promise that God has given, not because of my expectations, but because of God’s faithfulness and gracious presence in and through baptism. Furthermore, my journey with God deepens and evolves each time I come to the communion table. His story becomes my story as I eat the bread and drink the cup. The reality of the death and resurrection of Christ is known at the table, regardless of the place I am in as I come to the table. In the same way, at baptism, the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ was known and indwelt as I was buried and raised in the water. This reality and indwelling happens through these means because these are the means through which God has promised to act. The reality and indwelling of the gospel story is not promised through music worship (although God is able to act through them) therefore, it is at the sacraments that I will continue to seek to indwell the gospel story and it is through the sacraments that I will continue to know the reality of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

It's all about me...isn't it?

I was in my car today and I decided to listen to a CD that I brought when I became a Christian in 2002. It is a Soul Survivor CD and is a recording of their music from the 2002 event that took place in Somerset.

As I was listening to it I realised that a lot of the songs seemed to say things like 'I....' and 'me....'. It was all about what God has done for ME! It struck me that there was hardly any songs that mentioned US...

The more I think about it, the more that this worries me. Christianity seems to have become 'all about me' not all about HIM. I recognise that Christ died for me and that I will stand before God at judgement, but the faith that God has given me to believe in Him, the grace that He has poured out upon my life, means I become part of a community. I step into a community of believers that stretches back thousands of years. Christians are a part of a diverse, exciting, historical, present and future community. We do not believe in isolation. It is not all about what God, in Christ did for me, it is about what God, in Christ did for US!!!!

We need to sing songs that declare this community that we are a part of. We need to pray prayers together that reflect this community. We need to come to the Lord's Supper, for this is where community is properly and amazingly expressed and shared. Not only does God, by His Spirit, unite us in a mysterious way at the Table, but at the Table we share in the community of God, that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I think we need to retrain our minds, seek God to change our hearts, and step away from this individualistic faith that we have adopted and step into the richness of a faith consisting of a community of people brought together by a God who for all eternity has been and will always be a community within Himself.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Hell ,fire and ...?

Sarah (my wife) and I were talking the other day about hell! Not a usual tea time chat but our discussion raised a lot of questions in my own mind about the nature of hell and what it is. Before we begin, I'll briefly explain how the discussion ended up where it did.

Sarah has always believed in God. She has, for as long as she remembers, always believed in the saving work of Christ and has no 'conversion experience'. She just always believed. She did say however that one thing always was a stumbling block for her and that was the belief in a place called hell. She told me that she has always been taught in her church (Baptist) that hell is a place of fire and eternal torture, and for her that is a great problem. Why would God, who is Love, allow someone to suffer such torment for all eternity? Does the Bible actually say this is what happens? I have always believed this is what hell is like, and then I actually started to think about it and realised how little I had thought about it and how I just accepted what I was told without ever really looking in Scripture about it. I have to say, my views have changed...

I believe that God is holy, and sin is something that He cannot stand for. I believe that the work of Jesus on the cross means that sinners like you and me are able to stand before this holy God clothed in the righteousness of Christ. I believe, because of the grace of God, I will be welcomed into His presence with great joy and share in His glory for all eternity!! WOW! But I also believe that there are those who can resist His Grace, not be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and for them, 'something' else awaits. But, what is this 'something' else? What is hell?

Colossians tells us that 'all things hold together in [Jesus].' For anything to exist, God has to will it to exist. Whether it is you or me, angels or demons, Satan, the universe, the cold virus, it only exists because God allows it to exist. Our souls, whatever they might be, only exist because God wills that to be so. We are not God, we do not exist independently of ourselves. Therefore, if someone is 'sent to hell' God has to allow that to happen and they can only continue to exist because, again, God allows that to happen. If hell is a place of fire and eternal torture, then God must willingly allow that to happen and continue for all eternity. I hope alarm bells are ringing for those of us who believe in the God of the Bible! For me, this flies in the face of the crucified God. God is a God of grace and mercy, the cross demonstrates this unambiguously and powerfully. The view of hell as described above completely contradicts this view and I would understand why there are many who, when confronted with this view of God and hell, reject Christianity. I know that God cannot look upon sin, and if we stand before him still 'sinsick' then we're in trouble! But I know that a loving God will always deal with us out of love, His wrath is an expression of His love, so, what is hell?

I'll now go into my revised view and, while my view may be somewhat limited, it sits better for me in light of the cross and in light of what I read in Scripture.

We often use the book of Revelation as the source of a description of hell. It is from here that many of our views of fire and eternal suffering stem from. Certainly this is the book from which most of my views of hell came from. However, I think we are faced with a problem when we do this. This is an apocalyptic book and its language is very symbolic. Christians do not believe that, for instance, Jesus actually looks like a lamb, bleating His way around Heaven, because we recognize that the references to Jesus as a lamb is symbolic and used that way in Revelation. Why then do we accept symbolic language here (and many many other places) but not when Revelation talks about hell? Why do we suddenly take that as literal? For me, this is inconsistent reading of Scripture.

What about when Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Again, are we to believe the Prodigal Son, workers in the vineyard or lost sheep are real events and people? Of course not, they were parables. Why then use this parable as a literal description of hell?

What about when Jesus talks about hell being a place where the 'worm does not die and the fire is not quenched'? This is reference to a passage in Isaiah and in the context of that it is about God's divine judgment, rather than a literal description of what hell is like. The word that Jesus uses for hell here is 'Gehenna' which is reference to Ge-Hinnom, a place outside the city walls of Jerusalem where rotting bodies were dumped and burned continually. In reflection of this it seems likely that this is what Jesus was referring to as a means of describing hell as a place of judgment and disintegration, rather than a place of eternal torment. What does hell as place of disintegration mean though?

In Isaiah 6 the prophet sees the Lord and cries out 'I am ruined!' His sinful eyes seeing a holy God causes him to cry out in despair. The original reading of this passage in the Hebrew actually translate better 'I am disintegrated!' Therefore hell could be seen as a final encounter with God. Hell is looking at the beauty, majesty and love of God and knowing, through one's own rejection of Him, all this has been lost. Hell is the loss of God and knowing you will never be with Him. God is the source of all life and the loss of Him means we can no longer exist. This is not a 'kinder' version of hell. It is dark and uncomfortable. God's eternal purpose is to know Him and be in relationship with Him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and hell is a reality of knowing this can never happen because we have willfully rejected Him.

As an evangelist I desire to invite all people to come and share in this relationship with God, and not suffer this eternal loss of God. What is Joe though? Only He who makes it grow is anything.