Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Do You Pray?

It's an important question. I mean, isn't God all-knowing and stuff? Why do we need to ask Him for something when He not only knows what we need, but what we want and what is best for us?

There are so, so, so many ways that this can be answered, and many of them are very good ways to answer them. However, the majority of those answers tend to deal with the question in a way that, I believe, doesn't have the best focus. Essentially, oftentimes we look at prayer as something we do to, more or less, change God's Mind; or, at least change what God was going to allow have happen to us. But...what about us?

I mean, is God the One Who's Mind needs to be changed? Was God looking down upon creation, thinking everything was going hunky-dory, until He heard my prayer for a friend going through a very tough situation, and was completely shocked with this bit of information? Are we God's Little Tattle Tails?

Surely not.

I think we should look at prayer as not something that changes God in some way, but changes us in deep ways. When we pray for others, when we petition God to help those in need, we indicate that at least some part of us cares. It sanctifies us just a little bit more; and then just a lot bit more. Prayer is, in one way, a tool to perfect us, to make us want what God wants. To train our minds in a way that reflects God's Mind.

Now, let's apply that to the prayers we pray.

As a child, I was often told in church that recited prayers were "vain repetition" and thus evil. "Now I lay me down to sleep..." No, sir; none of that, here! So I had to come up with my own prayers: "Dear Jesus, thank You for this day, thank You for dying on the Cross for my sins, I pray for Grandpa and Papa to get saved (because they were Roman Catholics, so *obviously* they weren't "saved"--what?), and that/for X, Y, and Z, and in Jesus' Name, Amen." I kept repeating that formula with no problem...until I realized that I was saying, essentially, the same things, even with my "XYZ's".

Afraid that I might be having "vain repetition" in my prayers, I tried to change it up as much as possible. I ended up being very, very worried that I wasn't praying right because my last prayer wasn't different enough from the one before that.

In other words: I was trying to change my prayers rather than letting my prayers change me.

Today I have no worries for that. I pray recited prayers with absolutely no problem, especially every Sunday. I also pray prayers that are, well, conversational with God. After all, it is a relationship I have with The Messiah. But this relationship isn't a Buddy Christ relationship. One of us in the relationship is the unfaithful wife, the other the Faithful Husband. One of us is the broken and indebted son, the other the Rich and Loving Father. One of us needs to conform to the Other.

That's why I enjoy recited prayers: men and women more holy than I wrote them, and with them I can conform myself to the prayer, rather than the prayer conform to me. That's not to, once again, say that I DON'T pray freely; I still do. I need both types of prayer.

Think about the songs we sing to God in our services; are they not prayers? Do we not all say the same words? The Psalms was the prayerbook for both the Jews and the Early Church, and still is to this day for many within the Faith. Maybe songs and prayers are not very different.

Anyways, it's just a thought.















Thursday, August 7, 2014

I Don't Want Mere Imputation

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."--2 Corinthians 5:21

If you grew up in an average modern day American evangelical church, you likely were taught the Doctrine of Imputation. Imputation is the belief that we are Justified before God because God no longer sees our "(un)righteousness", but rather, Jesus' righteousness. A well-known pastor put it this way: "God puts on special 'Jesus Spectacles' so that He no longer sees our sin."

No longer see our sin.

No longer see our sin?

Do I want the doctor to merely "no longer see" my cancer?

Do I want the Creator of the Universe to, essentially, play "peek-a-boo" with my sin, with my corruption?

Should I be satisfied with remaining in my sin and not being Sanctified by the Holy Ghost?

Shall I continue in sin, that Grace may abound?

Do I want to pretend to become the righteousness of God, or do I actually want to become the righteousness of God?

Should I want something more than mere Imputation?

I don't know about you, but I hate the fact that I sin often. An attitude, however, that does anything to minimize the importance of the fact that I still sin is an attitude that should not be had. Salvation is not merely about going to Heaven when I die. Salvation is a process that is meant to save us from our own corruption. Sin is our corruption; we should want to be rid of our corruption, right?

Why are we so comfortable with a minimalist "Gospel", wherein going to Heaven when we die is the only thing we care about?

Why do we constantly excuse our sin?

We are more than conquerors; we are fellow heirs with Christ. We have received God's Holy Spirit, and are being Sanctified day by day. We have a mission: to represent Jesus, to be the Face of Christ.

We should not be satisfied with a minimalist "Gospel".

We should live and embrace every atom of the Gospel.

The next time temptation comes, rather than allowing the back of your mind to tell you, "It's okay; I'm still going to Heaven when I die," allow your whole being to say, "No; I'm better than that."














Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Simplicity of God

One of my favorite Christian apologists has an interesting line he says from time to time:

"Theology matters."

What does that mean?

Well, what we believe about God, what we believe about Scripture, what we believe about the Church, what we believe, period, affects our lives in a very pragmatic way. If, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, there is no Resurrection, then let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die. What we truly believe affects how we really live. There should not be--and I don't think there ever is, actually--a disconnect between our actual beliefs and our actions in life. They are interrelated.

That being said, the topic for today is the Simplicity of God.

Two thoughts probably spring from this phrase for many people, somewhat opposed to each other. The first one is a sentimental one, perhaps along the lines of "God is love! It's so simple, don't you see? He loves you!" While that statement is true, and is connected with the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, it is far more complicated than that.

The second thought would be more along the lines of, "What? I thought God wasn't simple. I thought God was really difficult to even comprehend." Yes, this is true as well, but not the entirety of the story. The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, ironically, is somewhat complicated.


The idea is this: God is not made up of parts or pieces. There is no division in God. This is not only true concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is One Being, not three gods, nor is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost three parts of One God), but true concerning what we ascribe to God in action and even in will. God's Love and God's Wrath are not opposing attributes of God; they do not go against each other (more on that). In fact, they are ultimately the same thing. As A.W. Tozer said, "All that God is does all that God does." This doctrine is largely agreed upon throughout the history of the Church.


While this Doctrine can be explored in a myriad of ways, I want to focus this doctrine on one particular point that is rarely talked about: that of the Will of God. If Divine Simplicity is true, then God cannot have contradictory wills.

First, let's back up a bit and mull over some thoughts touched on earlier. God's Love and God's Wrath: are they opposed to one another? With the Passion of Jesus Christ, was God trying to "work out" some internal struggle where part of Him really loves us, but part of Him really wants to destroy us for our sin? No, not according to Divine Simplicity. God's Love and God's Wrath are both essentially the same thing. God is a consuming fire. When gold goes through the fire, it is refined. When wood goes through the fire, it is burnt up. God's Love/Wrath is that Divine Fire, and it affects people differently, just like the wood and the gold are affected differently. It is important to remember that God's Wrath, just like God's Love, is not like ours. As implied before, this is not a controversial understanding of God; in fact, this is largely considered the orthodox position.

How does this work with the Divine Will? As well, there cannot be contradictory wills in God. God can't genuinely desire that it rain and not rain in the same place and moment. Yet what does Scripture say?

"As I live, declares the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live," Ezekiel 33:11

God takes absolutely no pleasure whatsoever in the death of the wicked; in fact, God wants them to turn from their wickedness. Yet, unless one is a universalist, there are people who are wicked who will die apart from God, people who do not turn away from their wickedness.

The Ezekiel 33:11 passage alone presents a major problem for many Christians. There is a famous Reformed Baptist pastor who has a well-known article dealing with this and similar passages, and reconciling his understanding of sovereignty, predestination, election, and regeneration with what is clearly explained in Scripture as God's genuine desire for all to be redeemed. The way he answers it is such: God has two wills for humanity. God genuinely desires each person turn from their wicked ways, but God also genuinely desires to be fully glorified, and God can only be fully glorified by "passing over" some and electing them to damnation. With this understanding, you have, well, two competing wills in God: the one that wants you to be redeemed, and (if you were foreordained by God, without foreknowledge of your actions, to be damned for eternity) the one that wants to be glorified in your damnation. This cannot be reconciled with Divine Simplicity.

So what is the will of God towards humanity and its redemption? Does part of God desire or will to save us, even as an individual, while another part desire and will to destroy us? Don't those Christians who aren't Reformed monergists have the same problem, since people are damned in their scheme as well? In short, no: in many other non-Reformed monergist understandings, God's desire is still that they genuinely and freely repent and turn to Him. That cannot be forced; it's logically impossible to force someone to freely do something. But that's perhaps another topic for another day.

But back to that whole "theology matters" bit at the beginning: it does matter what you believe. If Divine Simplicity is not true, and people like that Reformed Baptist pastor are correct, then God could genuinely "will" that you be damned, and genuinely "will" that you genuinely act and talk like and even believe that you are one of the elect. You would never know it. God is, in this scheme, no longer trustworthy; it's actually demonstrated in the fact that, from His Scriptures, He tells us that He desires--genuinely desires--for all of the wicked to repent. Yet the wicked do not repent, even though, in this scheme, the wicked can be made to repent irresistibly. This is, sadly, the case for countless people, if in fact this scheme is true. At best it's double-talk, word games, and deceptive. And aren't we supposed to emulate the character of God?

Just something to think about.





















Friday, July 11, 2014

What is the Gospel? (And Other Questions)

Growing up in a good ol' Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (well, quite a few of them), I learned a lot about the Christian Faith. I think that--no, I know that--any sort of love I have for the Faith was imparted to me by the Grace of God through my mother, father, siblings, and many of the churches I attended. From Sunday School teachers with their flannel boards to crazy Youth Directors at in-church all-nighters to Hellfire Preachers screaming and spitting on the first three rows of pews, many of them instilled within me a love for Christianity, a love for God, a love for my Savior. I am eternally thankful for them, each one, and the good that they taught me.

However, no one (well, except Jesus and any completely sanctified Saints) is perfect. I certainly am far from perfection, myself. There are some things taught that, while given with the best intentions and the greatest love and respect for God and the Church, were either not taught with the correct emphasis or were simply in error. Far be it from me to be the Judge of all the earth. While I state what I consider to be erroneous doctrines, understand that I am not doing so as an arrogant authoritarian who assumes that he is right on target with everything (some of my friends might be snickering; hey! I'm working on humility, k?). If you find these different angles opposed to your understanding of the Faith, please challenge yourself and delve into the Scriptures, the Spirit, and the History of the Church--that cloud of witnesses we have before us--and be willing to ask yourself what may or may not be tough questions. I had to do that myself, obviously.

Many of these, while taught by many IFBs, are not exclusive to them. Many in modern day American Christianity are teaching these things as well. I want to preface that I don't think any of these are cause for division save the last one, depending on the intention and understanding of the one(s) teaching it. If nothing else, think of them as different perspectives on the various topics.


The Gospel
What I believed then:

The Gospel was the "good news". Jesus, who was God, died on the Cross for our sins and if I pray the Sinner's Prayer and ask Jesus into my heart, I can go to Heaven when I die. Once I ask Jesus to come into my heart and save me, no matter what I do, I'm still going to Heaven when I die.


What I believe now:

The Gospel is not about me. It is not about my salvation, at least primarily and directly. The Gospel is about Jesus. It is about the Incarnation: that God Himself would take the form of man and dwell among us. It is about the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth, started by the Ministry of Jesus Himself. It is about the death on the Cross: Jesus takes upon Himself the sin of the world. It is about the Resurrection, the conquering of both sin and death. (Oh death, where is thy sting?! Oh grave, where is thy victory?!) It is about, as N.T. Wright so elegantly says, "How God Became King".

The Gospel is about the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth, starting as a mustard seed. The center of that is the Cross, but the Cross is not all that was done. The Incarnation, Life, and Resurrection of Jesus are all integral to the Gospel. FROM that, we are given salvation from our sin, and ultimately salvation from death when we are Resurrected. But we are given salvation from sin specifically because we are called to be ambassadors of God's Kingdom. We cannot represent our Lord if He is not our Lord. Repentance and Faith, powered by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, is what brings us to Him as His representatives. That translates into a very pragmatic need for emulating the life and morality of our King. We are not all called to be single, but we are all called to be devoted entirely to Him. We are not all called to be homeless, but we are all called to be aliens in a foreign land. We are not all called to be executed, but we are all called to carry our Cross.


Salvation

What I believed then:

In my childhood, the Gospel and salvation were essentially the same thing. The emphasis was on going to Heaven when we died. With my then-understanding of salvation as a child, it was a one-time act done at the moment my Sinner's Prayer was finished.


What I believe now:


It is arguably true that there is not a single passage in Scripture that says when we die we immediately go to Heaven, or even go to Heaven at all prior to the Resurrection. That is a topic for another post, though. While I can certainly argue that Scripture is not as clear as we'd like to think on this point, for the sake of this article I will not bother with making the case against it. Regardless of what happens immediately after we die, there are two things we need to keep in mind:


1) Salvation is not primarily about going to a disembodied spiritual place called Heaven when you die. As the angel said in the Gospel of Matthew,

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21, ESV)

Salvation is from sin. Salvation is from the imperfections that plague us, that contradict our status as Image Bearers, that make us a perversion of what we are supposed to be. It is not an escapism from a sinking ship known as the universe. We need to remember that, lest we decide that we do not need to worry about expanding God's Kingdom on earth. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven," is an important reminder of where the Kingdom is and is supposed to be.

2) Our hope is in the Resurrection. Without it, we are worthless.

The entire 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of the most under-preached chapters in modern day American Christianity. It puts in perspective the priorities and hopes of St. Paul. Look at this passage for a moment:

"But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV)

Do you understand? St. Paul's hope was not that when he died he would go to Heaven. Far more important to him, the "make or break" of Christianity if you will, is the Resurrection. If, in St. Paul's eyes, we are not Resurrected, if there is no Resurrection, if Christ has not been raised, and from that we will not be raise, if everything that he taught about Resurrection was not true, then Christianity is worth absolutely nothing, and its adherents are worthless, pitiful liars and fools. 

That means you. That means me. The Resurrection is far more important than going to Heaven when we die. St. Paul did not place the truthfulness of Christianity on going to Heaven when you die; he placed the ENTIRE Faith upon two facts intricately connected: the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, and from there the future bodily Resurrection of the Saints.

Why is that important? Why make a fuss over going to Heaven when you die vs. the Resurrection? Well, that's another topic for another article for another day.

Also, salvation is a process, not a one-time decision for us. But that's another topic...well, you know the rest.


The Lordship of Jesus

What I believed then:

You don't need to make Jesus the Lord of your life when you pray the Sinner's Prayer; you only need to make Him your Savior. If you make Him Lord of your life, you're trying to do a works-based salvation.


What I believe now:

Whether actively taught or passively taught, this is something that hurts much of the Church in the U.S. today. Jesus Himself demanded repentance repeatedly in the Gospels. Romans 11:11-26, James 2:14-26, Hebrews 10:26-31, and a myriad of other passage speak emphatically against this error of believing that you can make Jesus your Savior without making Him your Lord. This easy-believism is quite possibly the worst error hurting the Church today, and it fits so well with our American mentality of getting the "best deal": a little prayer for eternal salvation, and no need to repent or abide within the Messiah. If you are wondering why so many Christian children leave the Faith once they get out from under their parents' roof, you can in part thank this erroneous doctrine right here.

If you are under a pastor actively teaching this last one, my advice is to confront him first about it in a humble way. If he refuses to, speak with the deacons or elders of the church about it. If no changes occur, then it may be time to rethink what church you are attending.


If there are hints of this being taught in your pastor's sermons, he still needs to be confronted. Remember, any talk to or with him needs to be done humbly, with meekness. Abrasiveness is not what solves the problem; humility and love will.


These are some of the larger differences that I have shifted to, having learned from men and women much wiser than myself. I do not claim to be perfect, or right, even with every aspect of all that I have said here. At the least, this will spark a discussion within the Body of Christ concerning just what we are teaching our disciples.





Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Who I am. What I Believe.

I think the best way to start my blogging is a bit of an explanation about myself; who I am, what I enjoy, what is important to me and most importantly, what I aim for this blog to be about:

My name is James, although many also know me as Adam. I was raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, became a Southern Baptist when I left my parents' house, flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox, and as of a year ago was confirmed into the Anglican Church (ACNA, part of GAFCON, if that means anything to you).

I used to absolutely love politics and hate theology. Now, I absolutely love theology, and only recently have started warming up again to politics. I plan on becoming a priest in the Anglican Church--with my parish and Bishop's blessings, of course!--if only I can finish my undergrad (two more semesters! I can do it!) and move on to seminary.

I'm a bookworm, and I love my Kindle. I'm also an Amazon junkie: in fact, I just bought about $70 worth of stuff on Amazon; most of it was towards gifts for my family. *pats self on back* I'm also a gamer; I love my Xbox 360 and 3DS. I'm probably not going next-gen, though; I barely have enough time to play the games I have now.

Oh, and this is incredibly important: I am a HUGE Star Wars fan. I read the books, play the games, and know more than just about any one of my friends about the lore of Star Wars. I love the many stories of the characters that can be found in the EU (Expanded Universe): Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Anakin Solo (NOT Anakin Skywalker: Anakin SOLO), Cal Omas, Nom Anor, Marka Ragnos, Darth Bane, Naga Sadow, The Qel-Dromas, Nomi Sunrider, and my all-time favorite: Boba Fett. Expect some blog posts about Star Wars in the future.

I plan on giving this a more in-depth look in one of my future blog posts, but for now I will give a brief explanation of what I mean by me being a "Wesleyan Anglo-Catholic Annihilationist with Eastern Orthodox leanings":

Wesleyan: I love John Wesley (he died an Anglican, after all!). Wesley's understanding of salvation is much more than the "salvation in a moment" understanding so prevalent today in Western Christianity. Sanctification is a major part of our salvation process.

Anglo-Catholic: As Rome is Roman Catholic, we are Anglo-Catholic. We look at ourselves as continuing in unbroken Apostolic Succession from the Apostles themselves, just like Roman Catholics and many of the various Orthodox Churches in the East. A High Church liturgy, coupled with traditional practices, and a great respect for the accumulated wealth of knowledge of the 2000 years of Christianity is what we're all about.

Annihilationist: I believe that Hell is the destruction of the wicked. Those who are unrepentant will be killed by God, as opposed to being tortured for all of eternity. Remember that the wages of sin is death, not eternal conscious torment. (This may seem at odds with my position concerning the importance of Church History; I will further explain in a future blog post, but there are many Early Church Fathers who held to such a view, my favorite Saint, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, being one of them.)

Eastern Orthodox (leanings): Basically, I love much of the liturgical tradition found in the Byzantine Churches, as well as the theology there. I cross myself at every mention of the Holy Trinity, I don't confess the Filioque, I love the Trisagion Prayers, I still on occasion go to Vespers at the local Orthodox Church on Saturdays (more so in the past few months than before), and I absolutely love the iconography of the Eastern Churches. As I had implied prior, I almost became Antiochian Orthodox. That blog post is for another time.

As for the aims of this blog? I love to write, and I figured at least one or two other people out there might want to read what I say. This is largely for me; I want to put on paper (fine; onscreen) what I think about concerning my Faith, with occasional dips into rants on books, games, sports (don't get me started on soccer), movies, music, women, politics, etc. Okay, maybe not rants. Okay, maybe, like, one rant once. At most. I dunno. We'll see.

James Gadomski.