The Pagan Path

Those who wonder are not lost; they are trying to awaken! 'The Sleeper must awaken!'

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Conversations from the bull-frog's perspective ( Begotten of the Father? )

I hadn't talked to my friend for some time, so I decided to give him a call. I realized that I had been kind of an annoyance to him, and that he had been fairly busy lately, but I had been reading his articles, and had some questions about a few things that he seemed to be purporting.

Unusually ( I think, sometimes that he screens his calls ); he picked up the phone on the first ring, like he was glad to hear from me, or something! 'Hello, brother Jeremiah; I'm glad you called: I've been thinking about you lately, but I've been so busy...........'. I was a bit surprised to hear this, and so did not reply for an almost stunned moment, so he said again, 'Hello?' I quickly gathered my thoughts, and responded with a slightly hesitant, 'Hi Chuck?'

'What's up, brother?', he asked. I told him that I'd been reading some of his articles in which he seemed to be denying, rather than affirming, as the 'church' has for years ( 2,000+ ), the doctrine of the Trinity. 'What about all the instances where Scripture seems to name three distinct persons, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?'

'What about them?', he asked. As he went on to explain that, while Father and Son could be perceived as two 'persons', the 'Holy Spirit' was not ( necessarily ) any third member of a God-head, or 'Trinity; I interrupted him at once, reminding him that, while the term 'Trinity' is not found in the Bible, the principle of ( and the term ) 'the God-head' most certainly is!

'Believe me', Jer, he said, 'I have thought, studied, listened, and prayed abut this; I realize that there is a God-head, that much is clear, from Paul's statement in Colossians 2:9, 'For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily'. I realize too, that, in places like Genesis 1:26a, where God said 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness', that there is an obvious reference to a 'person' other than Himself, yet not really other than Himself, for we know there is only one God........................

My friend continued, 'did you realize that, by many historical accounts, the doctrine of 'the trinity', or three persons in one god, existed long before Christianity, and that the Christian doctrine was only fully 'theorized', or set down, by Tertullian, in the 3rd or 4th century ( AD )'?

'Yes', I replied, 'I had heard that, and there is not only that evidence which seems to detract from its canonization, but also the fact that parts of I John 5:7 & 9 do not appear in the older Greek manuscripts, nor in the passage as quoted by many of the early Church Fathers'. As this is the clearest evidence, besides the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19, for a 'Trinity'; I believe that we can safely question the doctrine.

'Even though there may be something to this' I asked him, 'should we be debating, or trying to debunk, this doctrine, since there are so many brothers and sisters out there, who hold on to this doctrine for dear life, and if we only upset them, or  ( God forbid ) cause them to stumble, by refuting it, should we even try; is it really that dangerous of a doctrine, that we should risk alienating the brethren, by denouncing it?'
He had a good point, I had to admit, but when I reminded him that, although it was not a matter for division, but for discussion, there was always the danger of focusing on a singular aspect of the God-head, or 'Trinity', and in the process, worshiping a different 'God' ( although not really a different God, but only a different perception of Him, often a false, humanistically boxed-in one ), I think he began to see my point as well.

'I realize that we can find numerous examples of a trinity in nature as well,' he said, 'but are these really occurrences, or symbols/signs of a 'trinity', or are we projecting our idea of a 'trinity' onto nature? Sure, we can see that our sun is one body, but has three different aspects, those being that we can feel the sun's heat, even though we can't ( necessarily ) see the rays, it gives us power ( in many different ways ), and it gives us light'.

I had to remind him at this juncture that he had written several articles a number of years ago, in which he had tried to show that even the creation account itself ( Genesis 1 & 2 ) was merely symbolic of God's covenant with His people, and that this would seem to point toward a projection of the notion of 'three-in-one' ( trinity ) onto nature, rather than perceiving it in nature.

'I see what you're saying, my friend', he replied, 'but though nature itself does point us to our Creator, my point in writing those articles was not to prove this, but to show how the 'creation account' was, not so much a literal record of the creation of the universe, or even of the physical earth, but rather, was relayed in such a way as to reveal His covenant, and the spiritual nature of His workings'.

I had to concede his point, but I didn't want to give to much assent to his postulation, not wanting him to get any more 'puffed up' than he already was! ( by this time; I've begun to see that its usually best not to praise his efforts over-much ) As he had made his point; I reminded him that, although this may be true, it was not ( necessarily ) a matter for debate, or division, and while this view could potentially be, and has been dangerous to our theology, as orthodoxically portrayed, was not ( necessarily ) harmful. Having said my piece; I told him goodbye, thanked him for calling, and hung up.

Faith; what is it? ( work of man or work of God? )

According to Hebrews 11:1, 'faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' That seems simple enough, or does it? The 11th chapter of Hebrews is best known as 'the faith chapter, and for good reason the author, or compiler of this book has deemed it necessary to rehearse for us the several, even manifold examples of the faith that God granted ( John 6:65, Acts 11:18, Philippians 1:29 ) them, and which they had faithfully practiced. The question before us, and has been batted back and forth for centuries, albeit maybe unconsciously, is ' is faith a work of God, something that He must give us, which we only then exercise, or is it altogether a work of man, a choice that he makes, and actions that he performs because of that choice?'

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus ( Ephesians 2:8 & 9 ), 'by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; [ it is ] the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast'. Aside from being one of the most mis-quoted, and thus mis-understood verses in the Bible, this passage has been argued over in the past ( and probably will be ever ), debating whether Paul was saying that faith is a gift of God, or whether he was referring to salvation as that most precious of gifts. Undoubtedly; salvation is most obviously a gift of God, and one which man obviously could not accomplish on his own, but when it comes to trusting ( having faith ) in what Christ ( God ) accomplished for us, and believing, at the very heart of the matter, that Jesus was who He claimed to be, 'very God of very God', or the Son of the Father, the fine line gets a little blurry! Philippians 1:29, referenced above, says 'to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake'. It seems pretty clear that Paul, at least, believed that even our faith, our ability to believe in Him was granted, and is granted by God. Except in several cases, notably, Deuteronomy 32:20, which says 'I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end [ will be ], for they[ are [ a perverse generation, children in whom [ is ] no faith', and more famously, Habakkuk 2:4, which reads 'Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith' ( Young's Literal Translational renders the Hebrew as 'stedfastness' ( more in keeping with the context of Scripture, I believe ), the Old Testament Scriptures make no mention of 'faith' ( as a noun ), referring instead, to the 'faithfulness ( or lack thereof ) of the covenant people of God, and of the enduring faithfulness of God Himself ( II Timothy 2:13 ). Throughout the Psalms; David extols the faithfulness of God, and the prophets, even Solomon in the Proverbs, condemn the people of the covenant for their lack of faithfulness towards the covenant that God had made with them.

Phrases like 'I have faith in you', or condemnation of a lack of faith, as, 'your faith just isn't strong enough', are easily bandied around, without consideration of where that faith comes from, or even what exactly 'faith' is. To most, probably; faith is simply believing, and as a noun, what one believes, but truly, faith, particularly as the Bible, or Scripture, defines it, involves, not only belief ( 'Even the demons believe—and tremble!' ( James 2:19 ), but trust, an unfailing trust, in the promises of God. As we can see throughout Scripture; it is not in man ( Alone ) to be constantly, and unfailingly faithful: man can always fail, but God can never fail; God will never fail!

Faith, as we saw above, defined by the writer to the Hebrews, 'is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen'. I used to, when I was more of a deterministic Calvinist, believe that this was to say that faith, as a gift of God ( I still believe that ), was simply the evidence ( in nature, and elsewhere, that God was truly who He says He is ( John 4:24 ), but have come to see that he was speaking, not only of the faithfulness of God, but of the faithfulness of His elect covenant people, of the actions, through the faith God had granted them, of those who God had predestined ( Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:3-6 ) to salvation in the Christ. In the very next verse of Hebrews 11, we read that 'by it the elders obtained a [ good ] testimony'; do you think, as many seem to think, that they simply 'obtained' this testimony ( Genesis 15:6 ), that this occurred just because they believed, or because they acted on that belief? James elsewhere wrote 'as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also'; thus our 'faith' does us no good if we do not act upon it, and before someone objects that I a, contradicting myself; let me clarify by saying that, though this is a gift of God, and stands on its own, we do not benefit, particularly in this life, will be of no benefit to the people of God, if we do not do what that faith purports.

Let me end here, by saying, in other words, that though this 'faith', or trust, is only available as a gift of God; it is our responsibility, and ours, to exercise, though through the power of God, that faith, but acting our beliefs out in our daily lives. May we all, especially me, begin, more and more, to 'Just do it'!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Politics of Theology

German-born American physicist Albert Einstein said 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them'.

A friend of mine has recently adapted this quote to say 'our problems can't be solved by the theological mindset that created them'. This quote could be adjusted to cover a number of different equations. One iteration that has been proposed concerns politics. Most of us are used to thinking of 'politics', as having to do with secular government, and usually local, state, or federal governments. The Wikipedia article, though, that I found on this subject, says, 'Politics (from Greek πολιτικός, "of, for, or relating to citizens"), is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions.' Put simply; the Merriam-Webster Dictionary ( on-line ) defines 'politics' as 'the art or science of government'. As can easily be perceived in both of these definitions; religious ideals, both the theorization and propagation of them, fall under the definition of 'politics', maybe most noticeably in the past several hundred years ( except maybe for those more familiar with Church History ), but have been pervasive throughout the entire history of the Church, beginning with the political situation that Peter was faced with at Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 11. Throughout the book  of Acts, we can read of numerous instances where the apostles are 'called on the carpet' for challenging the theo-political mindset of the day ( they also, along with Jesus, dared to challenge, not only the  prevailing social, but geo-political perception ). 

Theology, or 'the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially : the study of God and of God's relation to the world' ( again, according to Merriam Webster's ), of course, has been around since the beginning of time, and especially since the beginning of the creation of God's covenant with His people. Though differing to a greater or lesser degree, man, through his perception of his Creator, has always carried his own theology of that Creator. The physical children of Israel ( Jacob ), from their conception, had a fairly collective idea of Who God is, and what He required.  Whether or not, or to what extent, their perception of YHWH ( more commonly known as Jehovah ) was correct could be argued, but it is clear, from the stiff resistance that Jesus and the apostles confronted; that their theology, through their adherence to the letter of the Law, was somewhat lacking. Paul outlines for his readers, only secondarily, and throughout his letters, the opposition that he fought against from this prevailing theology.

We face much the same situation in the Church today, striving against a faulty theology, although, except in the realm of eschatology, or the study of last things, our picture, or ideological perception of God is much the same. Though our theologies are fairly orthodox, for the most part; our differences, as pertaining to eschatology especially, do have far-reaching implications, even where it comes to discerning the nature of God. Is Jehovah a God that keeps His promises to His people, when He says He will ( Matthew 24:34 ) and how He says He will ( Matthew 16:27 )? If not; how can we really trust anything else He says or does?

What's wrong with our socio-political mind-set?

Our political mind-set, of course, has, at it's core, our perception, and thus conception of who and what God is, our theology. Depending on this perception/conception; most people will live their lives accordingly. If one believes that those with whom he comes in contact have, like oneself, been created in the image of an ultimately loving and care God, the Creator and sustainer of life Who also stands as our Father; we will most likely treat our fellow human beings in much the same way, as siblings, belonging, ultimately, to the same family. If we believe that God is no different, no better than us, reneging on His promises, or just plain being mistaken, and even powerless when it comes to His own creation, with a petty and vindictive nature like ours; we will most likely treat our brothers and sisters accordingly, treating some as better than others, depending on their social or religious status, and will end up proving in our own lives, both public and private, our very perception of God. Is this to say that those who sometimes fail to act upon their purported beliefs, pettily and vindictively treating others differently then they themselves would wish to be treated, have a faulty theology in their view of the nature of God? That's not what I'm saying at all: we're all human, after all, and prone, by our nature ( human, not fallen ( Adamic ), to be selfish, petty, and vindictive. However, through the grace of God, and depending on our perception and reception of that Grace; we can over-come our innate selfishness, and treat our brethren as brethren, ultimately, again, through the grace of God, reconciling His people with Himself!

The institutional church ( or Church, as some might say ) has failed, in the social arena, and in fellowship and love, it's ministry to share the Good News of the Kingdom with many of the less than desirable creatures in society, namely those that do things with which we, whether for a 'solid' Scriptural reasons or not, do not agree or associate ( except maybe secretly ) with! As has been shown through the writings of quite a few authors; I believe that much of the Church's failure can be blamed on a certain theological factor, or even factors, and that the only way that we will fix the 'problems', not only in today's society, but in today's church, is to change, even expand, through the Holy Spirit, and the strength of the Body of Christ, our theological  views, not only of eschatology, but the trickle-down effect that it must have on our ministry.

What's wrong with our theological mind-set?

More and more today, the Church of God is either re-examining the prevailing and orthodox view, especially eschatology ( and its far-reaching implications ), or acting as the Church should in many arenas, in spite of that theological mindset. I see this as a positive thing! Through these actions, which are geared toward building God's Kingdom on earth, and is a step in the right direction ( though we may label these brethren 'futurists'; they still have an eschatology of victory ), I believe that we will see God's Kingdom, His people, continually increase, as prophesied in places like Isaiah 9 and Daniel 2!

For far to long; the idea that Christ will return to solve all of our problems, has led many in His Church to isolate themselves from the 'world', reasoning that Christ will take care of it, when He returns and sets up His Kingdom on earth, thus bringing in the new heavens and earth, that Isaiah wrote of ( Isaiah 65:17 ). The thing that we seem to have forgotten ( speaking collectively here ) is that God, in Christ has already solved our problems, the main problem being sin, which no one can truly deny, Christ took care of in His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross! Many have missed the fact that we ( the Church ) are His Kingdom on earth, and that, through the power given us by the in-dwelling of His Holy Spirit, and as the 'Israel of God' ( Galatians 6:16 ), have been made rulers with Him, and that, like the first Adam in the Garden, have been given the dominion over the rest of His creation! 

Because of our latent laziness and apathy ( selfishness ), the prevalent theological mind-set present in much of today's institutional church has further encouraged us, again, collectively, to become even more selfishly apathetic, and to hand over more and more of our God-given rights and freedoms, and caused us to cede much, if not all, of our duties to the secular state and federal governments, rather than doing what we have been enabled to, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and having the dominion that He gave us anew, over ourselves, our families, and our society.

In the Spirit of Holiness,
Charles Haddon Shank