They Can’t All Be Correct

Along the Way @

Gentle Reader,

My home group has been journeying through the book of Acts for almost three months. Tonight we’ll be discussing Paul’s final recorded journey to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest. Soon the narrative will draw to a close. I never fail to feel sad when I reach the end of a study. Even though Paul died many centuries ago, I’ll miss him.

Paul gets a hard time. People like to take what he wrote and what he was recorded as saying completely out of context. They spin his words for their own agendas. It frustrates me to no end to see the Bible abused this way. It is so, so important to take the time, to put in the effort, to consider and understand the context of a passage within the chapter, the book or letter or poem as a whole, the overarching salvation narrative and the historical timeline. This is the only way, guided by the Holy Spirit, to rightly handle the text.

Consider one of my favorite scenes from Acts:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

– Acts 17:16-31 (NKJV)

Yes, Paul had a temper. He was an intense guy. He was a very flawed human being, something he declared over and over again. He made mistakes. He knew exactly what sort of person he was and exactly from what God had saved him.

Yet there is nothing offensive in his sermon. He is respectful, learned and passionate. He speaks to his audience in terms they will readily understand. He seeks out whatever common ground he can find and builds on it. I imagine him as the sort of guy that would be willing to sit down with anyone who wanted to talk about faith and God, probably over a good kosher burger.

But he never says that their way is right.

He never says that the road they are on will lead them to salvation.

We would do well to emulate Paul in this way. He never compromised the message. He was not wishy-washy. He did not go into pagan temples and participate in idolatrous rights in order to “connect” with people. He did not preach some mushy, gushy, “all you need is love,” fake, flimsy gospel. He spoke and wrote the truth. It got him run out of towns, separated from friends, whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and eventually (according to tradition) beheaded.

I have no doubt that he stands today among that great and unseen cloud of witnesses and shouts, “It was worth it! The Lord is worth it!”

They can’t all be correct. We do the unbelieving world great disservice when we refuse to reveal the Unknown God to them. When we spout the political correctness of relativism. When we refuse to face reality. When we fall prey to inconsistencies of logic and cognitive dissonance.

There is One way, One truth and One life. Period.

Let us be moved. Not to disdain, superiority or prejudice. Not to unkindness or brutality. Let us be moved, as Paul was moved, to take the Light of Christ boldly into the dark. Let us allow the Lord to break our hearts for the lost, for those who grope about wildly for what He freely and openly offers. Let us be strong and committed. Let us declare truth.

For that is real love.

My journey to faith. (15)

Not the Fundamentals


Gentle Reader,

The history of Christianity is marked by debate.

Each of the Gospel authors records extensive back-and-forth between Jesus and just about everyone He encountered. After the Resurrection, some Jewish and Roman leaders conspired to spread the story that His body had been taken by the disciples.  Acts 15 records the Jerusalem leadership’s decision regarding the conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers over circumcision and (by extension) the keeping of the Moasic laws. Subsequent centuries saw councils and volumes upon volumes written upon crucial topics: What was the nature of Christ – monophyte, apollinarian, nestorian? The answer came in the formation of the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Did the Spirit proceed only from the Father or from the Father and the Son? The answer to this created the filioque controversy, a factor that continues to contribute to the separation of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. How was the Christian life to be lived? An anonymous author or compiler tackled this in the Didache. What books should be included in the canon? (The subsequent question, “how was the canon formed?” is one of the major differences between Catholics and Protestants).

Justin Martyr passionately defended the faith. Irenaeus eloquently dismantled Gnostic heresies.  Origen, regarded as a Church Father but not a Saint, was anathematized (condemned as a heretic) for (among other things) his views on subordinationism, accepted within the Christian community until the final formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Tertullian blasted Marcion across five books, but later became suspect due to his Montanist views, streams of which flow into today’s Pentecostal and Charismatic oceans.

Where am I going with this?

We make a mistake when we assume that the Christian faith was handed down in toto one afternoon. The centuries of wrestling, of struggle, are certainly evidence of human frailty in attempting to combine antagonistic philosophies into one; there is no holding on to false belief (not forever, at any rate) when God has won a person over. It is also evidence, to be sure, of the Enemy’s activity in taking truth and manipulating it into a lie. However, in these debates and worries, we also see evidence of the working out of salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). The person devoted to God longs to please Him, and therefore desires to know what is right.

This longing and desire often leads to legalism.

Confession: I like legalism. I like lists of rules. I like knowing exactly what the standards are. As an anxious perfectionist, I like to be able to point to something and say, “There. I did it.” For some, the appeal lies in pride and the hope of controlling others. For people like me, the appeal lies in fear. If I’m keeping the rules, then I’m okay. People like me are terrified that God’s grace will run out. We are afraid that He will wake up one day and no longer love us – because we broke the rules one too many times.

I’m not an advocate for the other extreme – the cheap grace of libertinism – but a rule-bound life is stressful in the extreme. It is that stress we are going to examine through the Not the Fundamentals series. The title is drawn from a four-volume set of 90 essays entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth, published between 1910 and 1915. (Volume 1 is available in PDF format here). What the authors of The Fundamentals set out to do was re-articulate key positions in orthodox Christianity in a shifting culture that had given rise to historical criticism and the social gospel. Unfortunately, that re-articulation led directly to a rigidity of focus on the externals among many Christians. It is to this we turn our attention.

Before we part ways, allow me to make one thing clear: This series is not directed at any individuals or churches. If and when I link to any sites or blogs, I do so only to illustrate a point from the source itself. We will not walk in a spirit of condemnation here. Remember, I group myself with those who are drawn to rigidity and legalism. I understand. What I want is to live the abundant life Christ offers, free of fear and based in love. This is the end we strive for.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all the posts in the Not the Fundamentals series, go here.

In 2014

Gentle Reader,

I’ve come across several entries on the interwbes discussing the idea of one word for the new year. While I don’t believe that words carry any kind of mystical power, I do believe that the ideas contained within the lacing together of letters can be impactful. Deeply so. I also believe that God speaks to us through all available avenues, including blogging fads. Thus, I pondered, prayed, and kept arriving at this:


This word pulls at me. It prompts many questions. When to speak and when to not? When to let the music flow and when to turn it off? When to plunge in with the crowd and when to pull away? When to write about ________ and when to let it go? When to share and when to keep secret?

Silence…I’m good at that. And so maybe the Spirit brought this word to the surface as a reminder that silence is not always golden.

I’ve also seen posts detailing a verse chosen for the new year. Usually, I would roll my eyes. Scripture is deep, complex and fascinating. How can one (or two) verses be enough to ponder for an entire twelve-month cycle?

And then I read this:

Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” – Luke 7:50 (NKJV)

These are the ending words in a fantastic scene involving a self-righteous man, a woman with a bad reputation and an ever-wise Savior. They ring around the corners of my heart. I am often guilty of worrying about whether or not I’m really saved; whether or not God could truly forgive someone like me. I know my failings all too well. And you, dear reader, know all about my incessant anxiety regarding…everything. So, what a pronouncement! “Marie, your faith in Me has saved you. That issue is settled. Walk with Me in peace.”

What this new year holds, I don’t know, but I’m already intrigued by the intersecting of silence, faith and peace. And I have a sense of power, of being uniquely and specifically equipped for the battle I face. Any time fear comes up, I can recall those words. I can remember that Jesus assured that “wicked woman” of her place in Him. I can be sure that the same applies to me.

I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know if you’re glad to see 2013 roll away or if you’re dreading the turning of the calendar. I don’t know if you’re feeling lonely or elated, sad or blessed. But there is one sure thing as we step into 365 sparkling days: God is. God is there. God is good. God is faithful.

God loves you.

My journey to faith. (15)