Showing posts with label #Theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Theology. Show all posts

Not going to church is heresy.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 June

Yeah, this article’s title, “Not going to church is heresy,” is gonna be provocative. Mostly because most people don’t understand what heresy means. It means “not orthodox”—when people don’t believe what Christians have historically believed, and oughta believe, because to believe otherwise is gonna lead us away from Jesus. Most people presume heresy means “a belief that’ll send you to hell.” No; we’re saved by grace, remember? Not good works. And our belief system (our “faith,” if you wanna call it that) is a good work.

Going to church is one of those good works. Jesus created the church when he picked the apostles and told ’em to go make him more followers. Which they did; which we still do, I hope! And he expects us followers to fellowship. That means we talk about Jesus with one another, share what he’s done in our lives, encourage one another, confess shortcomings and sins if necessary, pray together, worship together, do sacraments together, listen to some teachings about Jesus together… in other words, do church. Go to church!

But people don’t wanna.

Which I get. There’s many times I didn’t wanna. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings like a pagan. I wanted to listen to anything other than my pastor’s sermon series—either it was full of stuff I already know, or it’s full of stuff I don’t believe. I likewise wanted to listen to anything other than the worship music: Our worship pastor didn’t care to stay current with music, and was stuck in the 1980s… as you could tell by his wardrobe. And I wanted to avoid the jerks in my church who just frustrated me about how much partisanship has infiltrated American Evangelical Christianity, and made us less patient, generous, kind, and gracious.

Plus nowadays there are entire church services on YouTube! Didn’t have those 20 years ago; at most we had radio, and Christian radio shows are often just sermons, abridged to 25 minutes, or edited into two or three parts. But I could watch video church instead! I could even watch ’em from the bathroom, during my high-fiber-cereal-induced B.M. I love modern technology.

But. But but but.

All these things are convenient substitutes for the Sunday morning services. And while the coronavirus pandemic was raging in 2020, they were a godsend. But do I need to remind you Sunday morning services are not church? Guess I do: They’re not.

The church is people. Not the denomination, not the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, not the leadership, not the building. It’s people. It’s the collective Christians who make up the Holy Spirit’s temple, and when we got the temple, we got church. Yet usually, those who wanna ditch church don’t even think of the people when they think of church. They’re thinking of the Sunday morning services, the unimpressive pastors, and the uncomfortable building—which is never at the right temperature. Poorly ventilated, or someone went a little bonkers with the air conditioning. Why is the only pastor undergoing menopause in charge of the thermostat?

But I digress; back to the point. The church is people. If you’re avoiding the people, you’re not doing church!

And that’s why we’re instructed to not skip meeting with one another He 10.25 if we can help it. If we’re gonna have healthy and productive relationships with our fellow Christians, and encourage one another to follow Jesus, we gotta interact. The ancient Christians, who spent most of their lives under persecution, realized this support system is absolutely necessary—and intentionally put “the fellowship of saints” in their creeds. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not something they threw in there ’cause it sounds nice. People were ditching church even back then.

Thing is, going it alone leads people astray constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Do I have to emphasize this harder?

People go astray even when we do attend church services faithfully! But when we’re not attending at all, we’re guaranteed to go wrong. Not sometimes gonna go wrong; will. Without fellow Christians to correct one another, reinforce one another, confirm what the Spirit is telling us, it’s a given that we’re gonna develop wrong beliefs and heresies, and become less and less Christian over time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

So no, it’s not just me saying skipping church is heresy. I don’t get to define orthodoxy and heresy, y’know. (Neither do you. Neither does your denomination.) Christianity determined it, centuries ago. They recognized it’s vitally important we interact—because Jesus made it important. It’s why he created the church to begin with.

Unitarians: Those who insist God’s not three.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 May
UNITARIAN ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən noun. A person or doctrine which emphasizes God’s oneness, and rejects the doctrine of the trinity.
2. [capitalized] A member of a church or group which asserts this belief.
3. adjective. Having to do with this belief, or with unitarians.
[Unitarianism ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm noun.]

Christians correctly understand God’s a trinity. One God; three people (or “persons,” as theologians prefer, but it’s bad English) who are the one God. Well, most of us do; there are holdouts who insist he’s not. They tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • MODALISTS. Those who say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God… but really all three of them are just one person. Not three people. Just one person in different modes.
  • UNITARIANS. Those who say the Father is God—and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not.

People are more familiar with unitarians—mostly because there are entire unitarian denominations, like the Unitarian Universalists, the Unitarian Christian Church, and Unity Church. (The United States has even had four Unitarian presidents.) But that’s also because unitarianism is very obviously non-trinitarian, and very obviously denies Jesus is God. Whereas modalists will never say Jesus isn’t God. For that matter you’d likely never even know they were modalist… until you start asking ’em about trinity and they reply, “Well I really don’t like to use the word trinity to describe God…” then go on to explain why they say he’s not.

The main difference, y’notice, is modalists believe Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Unitarians do not. Well, generally unitarians do not; some of ’em are kinda pantheist and believe everyone is God. But for the most part, they insist God is One: One person, one being, one heavenly Father (or Mother; some of ’em aren’t particular); our Creator, the Almighty, and infinitely good. And while they consider Jesus to be Lord and Savior and King, they don’t consider him God. Same with the Holy Spirit—although I’ve known a few unitarians who believe the Spirit is God, but like modalists, don’t believe he’s a different person than the Father. To them, “Holy Spirit” is just one of God’s titles, like when certain indigenous Americans refer to God as “the Great Spirit.”

But unitarian doesn’t just describe Christians. Technically it describes everyone who believes in the One God, and doesn’t believe he’s a trinity. Most unchurched pagans figure there’s one God, aren’t so sure about Jesus, and know nothing about the Holy Spirit—and this description would mean they’re unitarian. Every Muslim would be unitarian: They definitely believe in one God, believe Jesus is a prophet but not God, and believe the Holy Spirit is a messenger of God but also not God. Religious Jews are unitarian, Sikhs are unitarian, Baha’is are unitarian.

But if you’re unitarian and call yourself Christian, you’ve chosen to ignore the scriptures which reveal God as a trinity. Which puts you outside historical orthodox Christianity and makes you heretic. And here I gotta remind you heresy does not send you to hell—but it does greatly interfere with getting to know and trust God, so it always needs to be dealt with.

Hearing God. It’s vital!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

Prayer is of course talking with God: We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea—though Christians obviously overcomplicate it all sorts of ways.

And because it’s talking with God—’cause he talks back—prayer is therefore the most common, usual way God communicates with people.

Yep, even more common than bible. I know; I’m fully aware plenty of Christians claim bible is the only way God communicates with people. They believe this because it’s what they’ve been taught: “God doesn’t talk to people anymore, so stop trying to hear him and read your bible.” And hey, if you shut your ears to everything God tells you in prayer, in dreams, through prophets, or even full-on personal appearances, of course you’re gonna claim he only communicates through bible. It’s like someone who throws out their phone and computer, burns their mail, refuses to interact with anyone in person, and only communicates by carrier pigeon: Okay, guess we’d better get some carrier pigeons. God’s frequently willing to work around our ridiculous arbitrary rules. But for normal people, we pray and he talks back.

I’m also aware there are Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. They’ve tried hearing God, but they got nothing. So they gave up and presume prayer is unidirectional: We talk, he hears, but he says nothing—’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. Such people are easily swayed into believing God only talks through bible. You can find whole churches full of people who claim they never, ever hear God in their prayers.

But you’ll also find that’s what they tell you when other people from their church are around. In private, they’ll confess they did hear God once. Or twice. Or all the time.

And hearing God is confirmed by the scriptures. All over the scriptures. ’Cause the guys who wrote the scriptures heard God, and they’re writing about other people who likewise heard God. The whole reason there are scriptures in the first place is because people hear God. Yeah, certain cessationists are gonna claim prophecy doesn’t work that way; that prophets opened their mouths, God took ’em over like a ventriloquist manhandles a puppet, and his voice came out of ’em. Or his words flowed from their pens. Whichever. But that’s more like the mumbo-jumbo we find among Spiritualists and pagan religions; it’s not at all how God works. The prophets came to God with questions—

Habakkuk 1.2-4 GNT
2 O LORD, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? 3 Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you stand to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all around me, and there is fighting and quarreling everywhere. 4 The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted.

—and God responds with answers.

Habakkuk 1.5 GNT
Then the LORD said to his people, “Keep watching the nations around you, and you will be astonished at what you see. I am going to do something that you will not believe when you hear about it.”

(Followed by an answer they probably didn’t like at all—if you keep reading Habakkuk.)

This is why prayer and prophecy is so closely connected: It’s how God gives prophets his messages for other people. We’ll ask God questions; he’ll give answers, and add, “Tell this to others.” ’Cause other Christians have the same questions, and God’s answer applies to them too.

But of course if you don’t pray—or you think all your prayers are unidirectional—you’re not gonna get prophecies like this. Or have any prophecies in your church at all. Or you’ll have what your preachers claim are “prophecies,” but they’re all angry, political, fruitless, and otherwise inconsistent with God’s character.

Trinity: The paradox in the middle of Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 April
TRINITY 'trɪn.ə.di noun. The godhead as one God in three people: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[Trinitarian trɪn.ə'tɛr.i(.)ən adjective.]

In the scriptures, from the very beginning of the scriptures, it’s strongly emphasized that YHWH, the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, is one. Israel was to have no other god.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 KJV
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5 and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
 
Exodus 20.3-6 KJV
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

One God. No other gods. Got that?

Well, Israel didn’t always get that, which is why the LORD let their enemies conquer them, drag them off to Assyria and Babylon, and keep ’em there till it finally sunk in. After which, idolatry wasn’t so much the problem anymore; hypocrisy was. Still is. But I digress.

Okay, one God. Till we get to the gospels, and the teachings of Jesus, and the rather obvious statements from the gospels that Jesus is actually, literally, YHWH. Jn 1.1 But, y’know, he’s now human. Jn 1.14 He came to earth and walked among his people, and explained who God is so we’d understand him better. Jn 1.18

Yet Jesus talks about his Father, “whom you say is your God.” Jn 8.54 They’re two different people. But wait… wasn’t it spelled out in the Old Testament how there’s only one God? Weren’t the Israelis dragged off to exile because they refused to acknowledge this?

Then Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit. He’ll pray to the Father, who will send us this παράκλητον/parákliton, “helper, assistant, advocate” (KJV “Comforter”) who’s gonna both dwell among us, and in us. Jn 14.15-17 It’s also made pretty explicit this Holy Spirit is likewise God. So there are three different people who are God. But wait… one God, right? Unless the Israelis got sent into exile for nothing.

This idea of three people (or to use the way theologians much prefer to put it—and rebuke me all the time for not putting it—three persons) who are nonetheless one and only one God, is called trinity. And it’s the hardest concept in Christian theology. It’s brought far wiser men than me to ruin. It’s based on two ideas, both of which are absolutely true. And both absolutely contradict one another.

  1. There’s only one God.
  2. Three individual people—Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit—are God.

Got that? Good. Hold both ideas in your head at once. Accept and believe both. Never dismiss one idea in favor of the other, or try to explain away one by using the other. And there ya go. That’s the trinity.

Heresy: When we really get God wrong.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 April
HERESY 'hɛr.ə.si noun. Belief or opinion contrary to Christian orthodoxy.
[Heretic 'hɛr.ə.tɪk adjective, heretical hə'rɛd.ə.kəl adjective.]

In my circles, Christians don’t use the word heretic very much. They usually go with “wrong” or “non-Christian” or “unbiblical.” If they think the ideas originated from outside Christianity, they’ll call them “New Age-y” or “cultish.”

But the terms they really like are “satanic” and “demonic.” Which is nothing new. Anti-heretics have always tried to get the devil involved: These are all Satan’s ideas, aren’t they? You’re just the devil’s pawns, as it tries to lead Christians astray and overthrow churches and ministries and great Christian leaders with its lies.

Satan may be the father of lies, Jn 8.44 but this doesn’t automatically mean it’s the source of all heresy. We humans are plenty capable of coming up with wrong ideas on our own. Enthusiastically, I might add:

  • Some of us really wanna come up with (and maybe become famous for) new God-ideas.
  • Others really wanna debunk all the God-ideas we don’t really like, or struggle to believe.
  • Others really wanna piss off our fellow Christians. Particularly the ones who were mean or judgmental towards us in the past. If we grew up with oppressive Christian parents, Ep 6.4 it’s evil fun to stick it to them by mocking their religion.
  • And of course there are the people who wanna invent their own religion, ’cause when successful, it’ll make them rich and powerful.

Those who wring their hands ’cause they figure there are more heretics than ever nowadays (and surely it’s a sign of the End Times, innit?) aren’t always aware of why there are more heretics than ever: Freedom of religion. Before the first 13 states of the United States put religious freedom into their constitutions, you could be prosecuted and executed for heresy. In many parts of the world you still can. I’m not at all saying we should take religious freedom away: It means pagans and hypocrites can come out of hiding, and now we know who to minister to. But its inevitable side effect is frauds and heretics get to start churches, and we gotta be on our guard against them.

So how do you know whether someone’s heretic? Well, you gotta know what orthodoxy is. Learn the creeds. Read your bible. Get to know Jesus. If you know the real thing, you’ll recognize when something fake comes along.

But too many Christians don’t have time for that, so they usually just follow certain Christian apologists in the countercult movement. Don’t know whether a certain church or ministry is orthodox? Look up that organization on their website, or send them an email, and they’ll tell you. Why put any effort into following Jesus and becoming orthodox yourself, when you can just defer to “experts”?

As a result, Christians largely don’t know what “heresy” means. They think it simply means we’re wrong. And since we’re wrong about God in a whole bunch of different ways… does that mean we’re all heretics? For some of ’em yeah, that’s exactly what it means. I’ve heard more than one preacher claim, “We’re all heretics! But Jesus is right; follow Jesus.” Their hearts might be in the right place (well, unless they actually are heretics) but no, they don’t define heresy properly. We define heresy by how we define orthodoxy. ’Cause they’re opposites. If it’s not orthodox, it’s heretic; if it’s not heretic, it’s orthodox.

Who decides what’s orthodox and what’s not?

by K.W. Leslie, 21 April

I’m involved in a few different online discussion groups.

In one, the subject of Darbyism came up. ’Cause one of the members is Darbyist, and wanted a shout-out from all his fellow Darbyists in the group. To his surprise, turns out most of us aren’t Darybist at all… and in fact a number of us stated Darbyism is unbiblical, and some of us called it faithless… and some of us flat-out called it heresy.

Heresy is taking it too far. Those who called it heresy got some backlash from the rest of us. ’Cause while we might disagree with Darbyism (often profoundly), we’d call it wrong, but we won’t call it heresy. We don’t throw around the H-word so casually.

Of course there are plenty of Christians who use it all the time. There’s a pastor I’m thinking of (and no doubt you can guess who he is) who drops the H-bomb every chance he gets. If you’re not Protestant, Calvinist, and Darbyist like he is; if you claim miracles still happen; if you have women in any positions of leadership in your churches; if you in any way support members of the opposition party… well you’re heretic and going to hell. The way he describes it, nine-tenths of humanity is going to hell, and God is somehow pleased with this idea. No surprise, he doesn’t talk a lot about how God is love. In his mind, God’s really not.

I think he’s profoundly wrong too. And yet I won’t even call him a heretic.

See, there’s a difference between being wrong, and being heretic. Guys like this pastor don’t recongize any such difference: Heresy is whenever we get anything wrong. Understanding the trinity wrong is heresy… and so is mispronouncing “Habakkuk.”

Okay. If every wrong belief is heresy, does this mean any wrong belief might send us to hell? Well few of them will ever go that far. They’ll make distinctions between minor sins and mortal sins. Little heresies are forgivable, big heresies not so much, and the biggest ones are so grievous you instantly forfeit salvation and are doomed. For that matter, in Dante Alleghiri’s Inferno he tells of some people whom he was surprised to find in hell—he thought they were alive! Turns out they committed such grave heresies, they were instantly extracted from their bodies and put in hell… and their now-dead body is actually being puppeted by a demon. (Yes this is pure mythology; the bible teaches no such thing. But some Darbyists have borrowed this idea for how they imagine the Beast is gonna someday be taken over by Satan.)

When I was a kid, I grew up among people who defined heresy like this. Get God wrong just enough, and you’re outside the pale of God’s kingdom altogether. But this thinking is largely based on faith righteousness—the belief we’re saved by “faith,” only they don’t actually mean faith; they mean the faith, i.e. orthodoxy. Get the faith wrong, and you’re not Christian. So even if you have actual faith, and trust God to save you… whoops, you got the trinity wrong, so he’s not gonna. His grace is wholly contingent upon our good work of getting our theological ducks in a row.

Of course it’s the wrong definition of heresy. I go with the historical defnition: Heresy is any belief or opinion which goes against historic Christian orthodoxy.

If we believe and teach contrary to what Christianity has taught since the ancient church—long before Christians split into the Orthodox and Catholic camps, and way before Protestants ever came around—that counts as heresy. Whenever theological issues became particularly divisive, ancient Christians convened church councils, hammered out their differences, and defined orthodoxy. They didn’t do it comprehensively, but they covered pretty much everything vital, and did it really well.

Church councils since antiquity.

But after the Orthodox/Catholic split, Christians don’t do these councils anymore. Not because we can’t; ecumenical Christians certainly make an effort. But none of these councils can claim to speak for all of Christendom.

The Roman Catholics hold councils every few centuries. Their most recent, Vatican 2, took place in the 1960s. They call their councils ecumenical, and claim they speak for every Christian. Thing is, no other church, no matter how much they respect Catholics and consider them our sisters and brothers in Christ, considers these councils anything but internal Catholic matters. I may like several of Vatican 2’s reforms (particularly the one which acknowledges Protestants as fellow Christians), but I still feel free to ignore their idea of a male-only priesthood. I affirm a priesthood of all believers, like the scriptures describe. ’Cause I’m not Catholic.

So can any new councils determine something is orthodox Christianity, and condemn beliefs contrary to theirs as heresy? Only if we can get all the Christians together. Good luck with all that; only Jesus is gonna be able to pull it off.

And yet individual churches, and individual Christians, are gonna point to some council or conference, and claim it’s applicable to every Christian everywhere. Some Christian political activist group is gonna gather, write a manifesto denouncing the death penalty, and anathematize every Christian who doesn’t agree with them. And the rest of us who have no problem with executing dangerous criminals (though we may absolutely have a problem with the way the death penalty is implemented!) are gonna feel entirely free to ignore them. Because they don’t speak for Christianity. Nobody but Jesus does, anymore. They only speak for themselves.

Sometimes these groups are gonna have a lot of supporters. Fr’instance in 1978 the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy put out their “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” in which they defined what biblical inerrancy means to them. A lot of Evangelicals have decided this council does speak for them, and require anybody who works for their organizations to sign off on the Chicago Statement. If you don’t believe in inerrancy the same way they do, they’d call you heretic, or certainly treat you as one. But again: That’s only among these Evangelicals. You can of course find other Evangelicals who have their own views on inerrancy, who want you to sign off on their statements; or no statement at all. In fact you’ll find a number who chafe at the whole idea of agreeing with someone else’s statement, ’cause once again: These guys don’t speak for Christianity. Why are we ceding them any authority? That authority only belongs to Jesus.

You see the problem. One conference or church doesn’t speak for all of us: We’re no longer functioning as one church. Jesus may ignore all our denominational barriers, but we don’t. Heck, sometimes an individual church will choose to disagree with its own denomination. So how can any church council speak for all of us anymore?

Not that Christians don’t try. Many a preacher, many a church board, many an individual Christian, thinks they can. They’ve read their bibles and are pretty sure they understand it perfectly. They’re pretty sure certain issues are non-negotiable—they certainly are non-negotiable to them!—and therefore anyone who disagrees must be heretic. So they’ll use the H-word. And figure they’re entirely right to.

And they’re not. Orthodoxy and heresy aren’t defined by individual Christians, nor individual churches. They’re defined by Christendom as a whole… and since we’re not a whole anymore, we’re limited to the conclusions we came to when we were a whole. And if you don’t care for the ancient Christians’ conclusions, or wanna add new heresies to the list, I would say you fall in the very same boat as those people who wanna add books to, or take ’em out of, the bible: That’s not for you. That’s been decided long ago.

Later councils, later “heresies.”

What individual Christians, and individual churches, do get to do, is define our own limits. We have the freedom in Christ to decide, “This is what I believe; this is what I’m gonna teach; if you wanna teach otherwise, there are other churches to teach it in, but not mine.” We’re perfectly free to draft faith statements and tell the world where we stand.

In fact it’s probably best we do. If people are gonna worship with us, they oughta know what we and our churches believe! And if they happen to disagree, they may wanna worship elsewhere. I certainly do.

Let’s say I find out my church leaders have embraced cessationism, and use that lens to interpret everything they teach. Um… that’s a big problem. God still does miracles; he ceased nothing. So I can no longer trust a thing these church leaders teach me. I may respect these people’s character, personal behavior, personal devotion to God, but I certainly can’t respect their teachings.

I won’t feel comfortable inviting newbies to such a church, because I’ll have to refute and correct so much. It’ll be a massive stumbling block. Yes we’re all following the same Lord Jesus; I’m not gonna call them heretic! But I can’t stay in such a church. Not unless Jesus personally directs me to reform them—and man alive is that gonna suck, ’cause it’s such a gargantuan task. Not that Jesus can’t easily do the impossible, but still.

Now, that’s me. To many a cessationist, they’re mighty quick to call me heretic. Because they firmly believe miracles are of the devil, so either I believe as they do, or I’m following the devil. I can’t be Christian.

Which church council decided all us continuationists are heretic? Well you’ll find cessationists don’t know squat about Christian history. (They’re way more interested in the future than the past.) So they have no clue that church councils determine orthodoxy and heresy. In fact most of ’em assume all the ancient church councils were Roman Catholic—and they’re not Catholic, so these councils don’t apply to them. Or anyone. Heresy, they figure, is only defined by bible, and thanks to their harebrained interpretations, they’re entirely sure it tells ’em they’re orthodox and we’re heretic.

Now they’re not entirely wrong the bible determines orthodoxy and heresy.

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

But when the scriptures don’t clearly, bluntly say something’s true or false, Christians gotta use wisdom to figure out whether something’s true or false, good or evil. We dig through the scriptures, find proof texts which defend a point of view (hopefully quoted in context!), and take a stand based on them. Same as the Christians of the ancient church councils did: They searched the scriptures for themselves, bounced their ideas off one another, and came to consensus about them. It wasn’t just one nut making binding declarations, nor one faction or party prevailing in a popular vote. It was a diverse bunch of Christians coming to the very same Spirit-led conclusion.

But after the Orthodox/Catholic split, we don’t have diverse bunches of Christians doing that anymore: We have factions. We have denominational councils. We have Catholics who figure they speak for everyone, but really only speak for themselves. That’s one thing the Protestants get right: Their denominations recognize they only speak for themselves, and won’t claim otherwise.

Well, most won’t. Like I said, there are those Calvinists who like to refer to the Synod of Dort, and act as if their ruling applies to all of Christendom. Which is just as loopy as claiming Vatican 2 does likewise.

We’re not in charge of defining orthodoxy.

If Christians could actually get every church on earth (or at least a serious majority of us) to set aside our differences for the sake of our common Lord and his gospel, maybe we could hold a definitive church council again. And maybe we could officially, universally decide certain new controversies count as heresies.

But don’t hold your breath. I expect we’re just gonna have to wait for Jesus to return and rule on these issues personally.

In the meanwhile I’m not wholly sure we do need such rulings. The universal church had seven centuries to sort out the really necessary stuff. Most present-day problems are simply those old heresies with new names, or hypocrisy disguised as righteousness. We don’t have any desperate need for a church council; if we did, the Holy Spirit might actually put one together! But as it is, we can denounce sin, confusion, delusion, and stupidity just fine without another one.

And we Christians need to resist the temptation to seize the reins of orthodoxy, and claim we get to set new standards for who’s in God’s kingdom and who isn’t. That’s not our call; never was. That’s always been up to Jesus, whose judgment is infallible and trustworthy. Us, not so much.

The Apostles Creed.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April

Whenever I bring up the Apostles Creed to Christians, I tend to get one of two reactions: Positive and negative.

I tend to get the positive response from Christians who grew up in formal, liturgical churches. Most of ’em can recite the creed right along with me… though the version I memorized is the Book of Common Prayer version, and most of ’em tend to know one of the Roman Missal versions. Minor wording differences.


Third Day and Brandon Heath perform Rich Mullins’ “Creed.” YouTube

If they didn’t grow up in such churches, or their churches never taught it to ’em, they might still know it. ’Cause they learned it as lyrics from a Rich Mullins song. Or someone else’s cover of that song. Or John Michael Talbot’s song, though that’s lesser-known.

Negative reactions typically come from anti-Catholics who get weirded out whenever I dare bring up any form of ancient Christianity they don’t recognize from bible. (And sometimes not even then.) They don’t see the point of creeds. Yet at the very same time, they’ll go on and on about the need for necessary foundational beliefs… which is exactly what creeds are.

The Apostles Creed is Christianity’s simplest, most basic creed. Here it is… in my translation from the Latin. As far as I can tell, the Latin’s the original.

I believe in God,
the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit;
born from the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the afterlife.
The third day, he was resurrected from the dead.
He ascended to heaven;
he sits at the almighty Father’s right hand.
From there he will come;
he is judging the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
communion of saints, forgiveness of sins,
bodily resurrection, and eternal life.
Amen.

The Nicene Creed.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 April

If you consider yourself an authentic orthodox Christian, you should be able to read the following creed, and easily agree with it 100 percent. If not, you gotta work on that.

I believe in one God:
The Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things, visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord, Christ Jesus,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all ages.
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God, begotten not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the Holy Spirit was incarnate from the virgin Mary.
He was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures.
He ascended into heaven.
He’s seated at the right hand of the Father.
He’ll come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father [and the Son].
He, with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified.
He’s spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
I recognize one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

When Christians define orthodoxythe doctrines Christians oughta hold to, as opposed to heretic beliefs which lead us away from God—we often do it subjectively. We presume we get to define what’s orthodox and what’s not; we have bibles and the Holy Spirit, so shouldn’t we easily able to do this? We fix the standard.

I know; loads of us are gonna claim it’s not really us who fix the standard; the bible does. Which sounds humble enough, but it’s still tommyrot: Our interpretation of the bible is what sets the standard, which means it ultimately comes back to us. Still subjective.

Others are gonna point to their denomination or individual church’s faith statement. Sounds slightly less subjective, ’cause most of the time they didn’t write these faith statements. Thing is, while I didn’t write my church’s faith statement, I totally wrote one for TXAB. No doubt you can write one for yourself, as well as any ministry you start. And again: Subjective.

So this is why I point to creeds. They’re the first faith statements. The ancient Christians hammered them out in the first seven centuries of Christianity, way back before we formally shattered into denominations. They predate me by about 1,650 years, so I can’t claim I define them.

The very first formal faith statement is this one, written in Nikaía, Asia Minor, Roman Empire (today’s Iznik, Turkey) in the year 325, and updated in 381. We call it the Nicene Creed, although the Orthodox and Catholic churches call it the Symbol of Nicea (Greek Sýmbolon tis Nikaías, Latin Symbolum Nicaenum) or Symbol of Faith. Nearly every other creed is based on it.

The second coming of Christ Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 February

After the tribes of Israel were dragged off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, they really started digging into and holding onto the prophecies of a coming messiah. Messiah is what they called their kings; it means “anointed person,” ’cause at his coronation they poured a hornful of oil over him to represent the Holy Spirit coming to empower their king. (Presuming the Holy Spirit did empower their king. Some of those kings, not so much.) Anyway, they figured God would restore the kingdom of Israel and give ’em a really good messiah. The best messiah. Better than King David ben Jesse; he’d rule them righteously and victoriously, and defeat all their enemies easily. Maybe even conquer the whole world, just like the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were kinda trying to do.

Jesus the Nazarene did not meet their expectations. But to be fair, the ancient Israelis overlaid a whole lot of their prejudices atop all the messianic prophecies: They wanted him to destroy their enemies with death and carnage. He wants to destroy his enemies by getting them to repent and become his friends. God is love; we humans most definitely aren’t.

The first step in Jesus’s conquest of the world was defeating sin and death, which he achieved in the year 33. The second step is what he’s currently doing now: His followers, us Christians, are meant to apply that salvation, be the light of the world, love our neighbors, and win ’em to Jesus’s side.

And the next step is when Jesus comes back to earth, personally, to continue that work in person.

Yes of course he’s coming back. He made that clear in the beginning of Acts:

Acts 1.1-11 NRSVue
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Based on this and other scriptures, we Christians expect—once God decides the time is right—Jesus will return to earth. In person. As the head of an invading army of angels and at least 2 billion newly-resurrected Christians. To personally supervise God’s kingdom on earth, which he will rule himself as king.

We call this the second coming, or second advent, or in theologian-speak, parousia (Greek παρουσία/parusía, “coming”) of Christ. His first coming was when he was born, of course, and shared the good news of the kingdom with first-century Israel. We don’t count any of the many other times he visits people on earth, like he did with Paul, Ac 9.3-5 as formal “comings”—formal as they might feel to those people whose lives are significantly changed by seeing him.

Jesus’s second coming is an orthodox Christian doctrine: It’s something all true Christians are expected to believe. Various Christians insist it’s really not, but it’s in the creeds—so if you claim he’s not returning, you’ve gone heretic. Doesn’t mean Jesus can’t and won’t save you regardless; it only means you’ve rejected something the scriptures plainly teach, ’cause your doubts won you over. There’s nothing wrong with doubting, but there’s everything wrong with not trusting Jesus. He said he’s coming back for us, and he is.

John 14.1-3 NRSVue
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
 
Revelation 22.12-13 NRSVue
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Word!

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

John 1.1-5.

Many Christians are fascinated by the word “word.” Mostly ’cause of the following passage. It tends to get translated into past-tense verbs, but the aorist verb tense has no time; it’s neither past, present, nor future, but just is. So without other past-tense verbs to set that context for it, I just go with present tense.

John 1.1-5 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning.
The word’s with God.
The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God.
3 Everything came to be through the word.
Nothing that exists came to be without him.
4 What came to be through him, is life.
Life’s the light of humanity.
5 Light shines in darkness,
and darkness can’t get hold of it.

“The word” John speaks of, existed in the very beginning, is with God, and is God. And around 7BC became the man we know as Christ Jesus of Nazareth.

Why’d the author of John (whom, for tradition’s sake, let’s call St. John) use “word” to describe the pre-incarnate Jesus? For centuries, the assumption was λόγος/lógos came from Greek philosophy. Blame the gentiles: The early church’s writers didn’t know what the Pharisees taught, but they did know Greek philosophy, and insisted on interpreting bible through the lens of their own culture. Christians still do the very same thing today… but that’s a whole other rant. Let’s get back to criticizing ancient Christian gentiles.

Just our luck, ancient Greek philosophers had written a whole bunch of navel-gazing gibberish about the word lógos. ’Cause they were exploring the nature of truth: What is it, how do we find it, how do we prove it, how do we recognize logical fallacies, and what’s the deal with words which can mean more than one thing? For that matter, what’s a “word” anyway? Is it just a label for a thing, or a substantial thing on its own? Maybe that’s why God can create things by merely saying a word. Ge 1.3

And so on. Follow their intellectual rabbit trails, and you’ll go all sorts of weird, gnostic directions. Which is exactly what gentile Christians did.

Now let’s practice some actual logic, and look for once at John’s culture. What’d Pharisees teach about what “word” means? Apparently they had their own interesting ideas behind it.

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 December
ARIAN 'ɛr.i.ən adjective. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods.
[Arianism 'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm noun.]

I’ve written on unitarian beliefs—namely how there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, certain folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT and claim to abide by it… and yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We call these folks heretics. (And of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go.)

One of the first major anti-trinitarian heresies Christians bumped into, is Arianism—a word pronounced the same, but is not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’s Arius, and that’s usually what he’s called in history books. Arianism is based on Áreios’s insistence Jesus isn’t YHWH. He’s a second god, created by the Almighty, who does godlike things, but he’s not the God, but a lesser god. ’Cause God’s not a trinity.

You gotta understand where Áreios was coming from. When you read the gospels, Jesus is clearly a different person than his Father. His Father is God, Jn 8.54 and the usual, natural conclusion you’d come to is that God’s one person, and Jesus is another. Which is true! The hard part is the idea God is more than one person, and for Áreios and other Arians, that’s an impossible part.

Thing is, in the scriptures there are verses which bluntly state Jesus is God. Jn 1.1, Pp 2.5, What’d Áreios do with them? Simple: He allowed that Jesus must be a god. But not the God.

You gotta also understand where Áreios came from. Third-century Egypt was predominantly pagan and polytheist. They believed in Egyptian gods, Greek gods, Roman gods, and any other gods which sounded worth their time. Christianity, in contrast, is monotheistic: One God, and all the other gods are probably demons. The idea of trinity—of Jesus and the Holy Spirit being God exactly the same as the Father is God—rubbed Áreios the wrong way. To him it sounded way too much like weird gnostic polytheism. But two gods?—he could live with two gods.

Áreios was hardly the first to believe this. But he was the first to successfully spread the idea around. Largely through the use of catchy worship songs which taught his theology. Here’s a bit from his song “Thalia,” quoted by then-deacon (and Áreios’s chief critic) Athanásios of Alexandria. De Synodis 15. My translation:

The First One made the Son—the first thing he created.
He made the Son himself, giving birth to him.
Who doesn’t have any of God’s being nor uniqueness,
For he’s not the same. He’s not the same stuff as him.

The lyrics don’t sound all that catchy to me, but the music must’ve been way better.

Hence for a while there in the early 300s, Arianism was rapidly becoming the main form of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Even the emperor, Flavius Constantinus, had become Arian.

Okay. You might be going, “Why on earth are you writing about a 17-century-old heresy? Those people got condemned by the ancient Christians and died out.” And man alive would you be dead wrong. Arians are everywhere.

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 December
MODALIST 'mod.əl.ɪst adjective. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity.
[Modalism 'mod.əl.ɪz.əm noun.]

Some Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity. For a variety of reasons, but mostly because they can’t fathom the idea (and to be fair, it’s a difficult one), or they’ve been raised in an anti-trinitarian religion or church. Fr’instance if you were raised Muslim and later become Christian… well now you have to follow Jesus in a whole new way than you’re used to, plus there’s the fact he’s God. It’s a hurdle. Not an impossible one, but it’s not all that easy for some.

Because it’s not easy, these folks can sometimes slide into one of the usual Christological heresies which make him something other than God… or human. I keep bumping into modalism because I’m Pentecostal, and certain Pentecostal churches have full-on embraced modalism. They teach it instead of trinity. They think it’s mighty clever of them. I’m sure Sabellius of Rome thought the same thing when he came up with the idea in the 210s.

Modalism doesn’t claim Jesus isn’t really God, or isn’t really human. He is; he’s both. Jesus is absolutely God.

But… he’s also God the Father. And God the Holy Spirit. Y’see, God isn’t three persons; modalists insist he’s only one person, and there is no trinity. God is one. But he looks like he’s three, from our limited human point of view.

Why’s he look three? Time travel.

No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel is still theory, and hasn’t yet been scientifically documented. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how time travel works.

Ancient heretic theories about Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December

Because the New Testament never bluntly spells out, “Here’s precisely what Christ Jesus did and how he works,” Christians have had to deduce a number of things about him, based on various things we gleaned from the bible.

Fr’instance most of us wanna know what he looked like. And while John, in Revelation, actually does say what he looks like, Rv 1.12-16 too many of us insist that passage isn’t meant to be taken literally. Mostly because Jesus has bronze skin and white hair, and too many of us expect a more conventional depiction of White Jesus.

In that, you can see the common problem among Christian theologians: We all have our biases. We come to the scriptures with an idea already in mind, and wanna find proof texts to back us up. Sometimes the scriptures won’t do that! And that’s okay; we’re wrong, and the scriptures are meant to correct us when we’re wrong. 2Ti 3.16 But too often we won’t admit we’re wrong; too often we’ve convinced ourselves our clever ideas are really God-ideas, so the scriptures have to prove us right. If being right is more important than being scrupulous (and for too many people, it absolutely is), we’ll subtly tweak the scriptures this way and that till they do “prove us right”—and that’s how we get heresies.

The ancient Christians ran up against a whole lot of heresies, ’cause the Roman Empire largely practiced freedom of religion. No really: As far as the Romans were concerned, you could worship any god you wished. True, they persecuted Jews and Christians—but that’s largely because we told people you couldn’t worship any god you wished. Wasn’t very liberal of us. But in any event, you could worship any god; you could even introduce new gods and build temples, and start synagogues and teach newbies about your god. A number of gnostics did exactly that, and taught all kinds of weirdness. Some of these gnostics claimed to be Christian, and had all sorts of weird heretic things to teach about Christ Jesus as well.

In our day we also have freedom of religion. And, yep, gnostics. Who teach all sorts of weird heretic things about Jesus, and start churches and sell books. They make some pretty good money at it; they get fans, which feed their pride and make ’em think they’re all the more clever and inspired. But they’re leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. These aren’t little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God.

Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed about himself. They figure either God’s revelations are wrong, or misinterpreted—whereas they got it right, and how clever of them to see what others don’t. How wise of them; how inspired; what special favorites of God’s they must be. And all the other delusions pride can trick us into.

Heretic theories tend to fall into one of five categories:

  1. JESUS IS ANOTHER GOD. Most heretics figure Jesus isn’t the God, but a god. Another god. The God created Jesus as another god under him, like his vice-God, or prince of all the angels, or demiurge who does all the work while he sits back and rules. Jesus is some powerful being who’s not the very same One True God.
  2. JESUS ISN’T REALLY GOD. Jesus gets called “the son of God,” but that’s just a title the Hebrews gave their messiahs, their ancient kings, to indicate how these guys weren’t gods, but only worked for God. And same as all we other humans are daughters and sons of God. Like us, Jesus is another one of God’s creations. He’s still Messiah, a great teacher and prophet; he’s gonna rule the world; he’s the best human God ever made. But not God.
  3. JESUS ISN’T REALLY HUMAN. Jesus is in fact God; he’s definitely God. But he couldn’t fully give up his divinity to become human (and why would he?) so his humanity was only pretense. He appeared to be human, lest he freak people out too much. But he’s fully divine, wearing what appeared to be a human form.
  4. JESUS IS A DEMIGOD. In pagan religions, gods and humans bred and made demigods, half-and-half hybrids who were either supermen or lesser gods, like Herakles and Perseus and Aeneas. Demigod heresies describe Jesus these ways—part-God instead of entirely God, part-human instead of fully human.
  5. JESUS IS GOD—AND YOU CAN BE GOD TOO! A number of pantheists have wormed this idea into Christianity: Every human being has a divine spark in us, and Jesus fanned his own spark into full-on divinity. Now he’s teaching us to do the same thing. Follow Jesus, and you can become God too.

Whereas, to answer these theories, orthodox Christians aver:

  1. Jesus is the same God, Pp 2.6 and God is One. Dt 6.4 There isn’t another God.
  2. Jesus is as God as God can be. Jn 1.1-2
  3. He’s human; Jn 1.14 more human than humans are, ’cause we sin, which dings us quite a lot.
  4. True, to become human, Jesus was depowered, Pp 2.7 and had to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 But godlike power doesn’t make you God; it’s like saying arms and legs make you human. Divine nature does, and Jesus absolutely has that. He 1.3
  5. There’s only one God, and we’re not him… and Jesus is.

When God became human.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December
INCARNATE 'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt verb. Put an immaterial thing (i.e. an abstract concept or idea) into a concrete form.
2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form, i.e. Hindu gods.
3. ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective. Embodied in flesh, or concrete form.
[Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun, reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃən noun.]

Most of our Christian theology lingo tends to come from Greek and Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. When you literally translate ’em from Greek and Latin, they make people flinch. Incarnate is one of those words: In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.”

Yep, put into meat. Nope, it’s not a mistranslation. It’s an accurate description of what happened to Jesus. The word of God—meaning God—became flesh. Meat.

John 1.14 KJV
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Not temporarily; not for just the few decades Jesus walked the earth. When he got resurrected, he went back into a flesh-’n-bone body. When he got raptured up to heaven, he still had, and has, his flesh-’n-bone body; he didn’t shuck it like a costume. God is now meat. Flesh, blood, spit, mucus, cartilage, hair, teeth, bile, tears. MEAT.

Not just look human. Not take over an existing human, scoop out the spirit, and replace it with his Holy Spirit. These are some of the dozens of weird theories people coined about how Jesus isn’t really or entirely human. Mainly they were invented by people who can’t have God be human.

To such people, humanity makes God no longer God. It undoes his divinity. He’d have to be limited instead of unlimited. And they define God by his power. It’s what they really admire, really covet, about God: His raw, unlimited, sovereign might. Not his character, not his goodness, not his love and kindness and compassion. F--- that; God has to be mighty, and they can’t respect a God who doesn’t respect power the way they do.

So that, they insist, is who Jesus really is. Beneath a millimeter of skin, Jesus was divinity incognito. He only pretended to limit himself, for the sake of fearful masses who’d scream out in terror if they ever encountered an undisguised God. He feigned humanity. But underneath that humanity, really omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omni-everything.

To such people incarnation soils God. It dirties him. Meat is icky. Humanity, mortality, the realness of our everyday existence, is too nasty for God to submit himself to. Sweating. Aching. Pains and sickness. Peeing and pooping. Suffering from acne and bug bites and rashes. Belching and farting. Sometimes the trots from bad shawarma the night before. Waking up with a morning erection.

Have I outraged you yet? You’re hardly the first. But this, as we can all attest, is humanity. Not even sinful humanity; I haven’t touched upon that at all. Just regular, natural, physical humanity. If God became human, he became that. And people can’t abide it.

Yet it’s true. And God did it intentionally. He wanted us to be with him. So he made the first move, and became one of us.

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 November
DOCTRINES OF GRACE 'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs noun. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

A number of Calvinists are uncomfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer: They claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who was comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

Others concede not everything Jean Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas Calvin had which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell, and thus be a contrast to God’s love and grace by showing off God’s hate and rage. Calvin acknowledged it’s a necessary logical conclusion of his system… but understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and try their darnedest to reason their way out of it. With varying degrees of failure.

Regardless the reason, many Calvinists prefer to call themselves “Reform Christians”—with a capital R, because they’re speaking of the Protestant Reformation, and not just any reformed Christian group. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, they’re the only truly reformed part of the Reformation. The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism much too much for their taste.

The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every Reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists certainly aren’t. If you’re Protestant, Reform means your movement and theology go back to the reformers of the 1500s, and you embrace the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though people in their church leadership might insist otherwise.

“The doctrines of grace” is the other label both “Reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty and power undermines God’s character. And in so doing, it undermines much of the grace in his system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

God is very different from us.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 November

Humanity has many religions. Many views on God. Some figure there’s One, some figure there’s none, some figure there’s two (a good guy and a bad guy), some three or more, some figure the universe collectively is God, and some figure there may be gods out there but they’re not relevant to what we deal with as humans.

Yeah, the Unitarians and Baha’is are gonna insist all these differences are irrelevant, so let’s just focus on what we have in common and worship that Higher Power. These two religions were developed in Christian and Muslim cultures respectively, so they’ve got a lot of bias in favor of Abrahamic monotheism, but they’re flexible… and from every other religion’s point of view, too flexible. Each religion has a lot of non-negotiables. (Even Unitarians; ask ’em sometime if they’re willing to let an unrepentant Nazi join their church.) Each religion is pretty sure they understand God best. You’re not gonna see the Unitarians and Baha’is consolidate into one church anytime soon.

Why are all these religions so different? Dark Christians are gonna insist it’s because every other religion is an invention of the devil, or wannabe prophets whom the devil has managed to lead astray. All these religions are therefore the product of power-mad humans. And yeah, that’s partly true: A lot of religious founders were only trying to get themselves worshiped, or gain power, money, and sex. Any good intentions got corrupted by human depravity. Heck, that’s true of too many Christian churches as well.

But I would insist it’s because God is awfully hard to figure out.

I know; Christian claim God is really easy to get to know. All we gotta do is crack open a bible! Or have a conversation or two with him. Or something simple like that.

But if God really was just that easy to get to know, he wouldn’t need to reveal himself in so many different ways, at so many different times. And we wouldn’t have to work at getting to know him, at listening to him, at growing his fruit, at obeying Jesus. For that matter, Jesus wouldn’t’ve had to come to earth to explain him better.

God is hard to figure out, ’cause God is significantly different from us humans. Significantly. In ways which make getting to know him, not so easy. In ways which means we’re often not gonna figure him out. And we need to be okay with that and trust him. Problem is, people aren’t okay with that, because people don’t trust him… so they come up with their own explanations, and these evolve into new religions.

God has made efforts to bridge the gap between these significant differences, and us. If we make a little effort on our part (with his help; we can’t really do it unless he empowers us), we can bridge it wholly, and can get to know him. But not enough of us care to. Much easier to presume we have him figured out already—and never realize we’re wrong.

So let’s work at bridging that gap.

“Jesus sightings” in the Old Testament.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 August

From time to time I hear Christians claim Jesus makes appearances in the Old Testament.

And he does. All the time, really—because Jesus is YHWH. When God created the universe, when the LORD singled out Abram ben Terah and renamed him Abraham and relocated him to Canaan, when the LORD had Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and give ’em the Law and covenanted to be their God and they his people: This is Jesus. This isn’t just the God the Father person of the trinity doing stuff, while the Son and Holy Spirit hid in the background, and peeked out once or twice, and made minor appearances. This is the triune God. And Jesus is this God.

John spelled it out in his gospel: It wasn’t the Father, and the Father alone, who created the universe; it’s God. And Jesus is God.

John 1.1-3 KJV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Because in the beginning God created the heavens and earth, Ge 1.1 a verse all John’s readers knew quite well; and stating the Word of God created everything means Jesus created everything. But no, this doesn’t mean God the Son alone created everything, instead of God the Father: Again, this is the triune God. The LORD God created everything.

So yeah, when you read about the LORD in the Old Testament, that’s Jesus. And when you read things into the LORD’s character and motives, which are inconsistent with Jesus’s demonstrated character and motives in the gospels, you’re misinterpreting the LORD. Jesus came to earth to show us what God is really like. Jn 1.18 He’s our lens. Don’t use others.

Okay, but back to these Christians who claim they’ve sighted Jesus in the OT. Rarely, if ever, do they mean they recognize Jesus is the LORD, and recognize Jesus’s character and motives in the LORD’s actions. Nope; they’re claiming one odd figure or another in the Old Testament is Jesus.

Fr’instance that one time the LORD had lunch with Abraham. Ge 18 That’s gotta be Jesus, they figure, ’cause he appeared as a human, and Jesus is human. (Nevermind that he hadn’t become human yet.)

Or the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah… but since we’re gonna insist on using their slave names, okay; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Daniel 3.23-25 KJV
23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. 25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

Oooh, we Christians respond, it was the Son of God. It’s Jesus!

Thing is, would this truly be what the pagan Nebuchadnezzar meant by his statement? The original Aramaic, בַר אֱלָהִֽין/var Elohín, can either mean “son of God” or “son of the gods,” which is how the ESV, NASB, and NIV chose to put it. The NLT has “looks like a god.” Remember, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t yet know God, much less Jesus, and had no clue what he was seeing.

But we have a clue as to what he was seeing. And let’s be fair; maybe it was God. He hadn’t yet become human, but same as he appeared to Abraham as a human, he appeared to Nebuchadnezzar as a human, ’cause he can do that of he so chooses. If it was God in the fire beside them, it’s Jesus, ’cause Jesus is God.

But more reasonably it was an angel. Same as God later sent an angel to rescue Daniel, Da 6.22 or sent an angel to rescue Simon Peter Ac 12.7 instead of showing up to the prison personally. Yeah Jesus could have done it himself, but he seems to delegate this duty to angels—all of whom were probably really eager for the job anyway. Wouldn’t you be?

Pre-existence: Did you exist before you were born?

by K.W. Leslie, 25 June

We Christians believe in Jesus’s incarnation—that Jesus wasn’t created, ’cause he’s God and has always existed. But he’s also human; at some point in time he became human. Before that point Moses could correctly say “God is not a man,” Nu 23.19 but after that point no he couldn’t. God’s a man now.

And every so often you’re gonna find some Christian who claims everybody existed before they were born. They won’t claim we’ve always existed, like God; they figure he created us at some point. Possibly at the beginning of creation. Then, one at a time, he sent all these pre-existing ghosts to earth to be embodied. Or incarnated, to use the Latin-based term.

Latter-day Saints actually believe this. They claim God makes these pre-babies in heaven, and billions and billions of ’em are sitting up there waiting to come to earth and be born Mormon. They call it premortality.

Now when you ask Mormons how God makes ’em: I’ve found their “elders” (which is what they call their kids who go door-to-door to share their version of the gospel) either get really quiet, and tell me I really oughta ask their bishop… or they blurt it right out, then quickly realize they really shouldn’t’ve done that. ’Cause Mormons believe God used to be human eons ago, and eventually became God. And back when he was human he got married, and got to take his wife to heaven with him… and they make babies like we make babies. Which usually raises a ton of new questions from both potential converts and skeptics, which is why the elders suddenly realize they really need their bishop there, to explain it in a way which doesn’t invoke outrage, mockery, and unbelief. Well, much outrage, mockery, and unbelief.

But LDS beliefs about prolific heavenly procreation aside, Christians who believe in pre-existence figure it just makes sense—to them anyway—that God created something of us before our parents and biology made our bodies. Because the scriptures say multiple times that God knew us before we were born—and how could this be true, unless we existed before we were born?

Fr’instance Jeremiah ben Hilkiah. Prolifers love to quote the following verse to prove a fetus is a person. And a fetus is a person, but this verse isn’t actually about that. Nor does it actually say that.

Jeremiah 1.4-5 NIV
4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

The LORD didn’t tell Jeremiah, “When I formed you in the womb,” but “Before I formed you in the womb.” Before Jeremiah was conceived. The Hebrew word בְּטֶ֨רֶם/be-terém isn’t one of those loose participles like the בְּ/be- prefix at the beginning of the word, which could mean “in, on, among, over, through, against; when, whenever,” as the Kohlenberger/Mounce Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary defines it. Terém is an adverb meaning “not yet.” Jeremiah’s body was not yet made before the LORD fully knew who he was and determined he’d be God’s prophet.

So if God knew Jeremiah before he was born, it stands to reason Jeremiah existed before he was born. Right?

Nah. You probably figured this out right quick: God knew Jeremiah because he’s not limited by time. He’s currently present at every point in our entire eternal life. Simultaneously here right now, and 50 years from now, and centuries after we’ve been resurrected in Jesus’s kingdom, and trillions of years after that, and so on forever. And he’s present before we were ever “a gleam in your father’s eye,” as the creepy popular saying goes—knowing all that stuff about us before ever creating us. The LORD’s talking about his own infinite omnipresence-based all-knowingness, not/i> Jeremiah’s pre-existence.

But God’s state of filling time is a brain-bending idea. And we humans much prefer to adopt ideas which we can more easily grasp. Like the time-based idea Jeremiah musta existed before he was conceived and born. You know, like Jesus. Or like Mormons believe… minus 7,000,000,000 acts of heavenly coitus at least.

Jesus’s resurrection: If he wasn’t raised, we’re boned.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 April

Of Christianity’s two biggest holidays, Christmas is the easier one for pagans to swallow. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene was born. That, they won’t debate. There are a few cranks who think Jesus’s life is entirely mythological, start to finish; but for the most part everyone agrees he was born. May not believe he was miraculously born, but certainly they agree he was born.

Easter’s way harder. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene rose from the dead. And no, he didn’t just wake up in a tomb after a two-day coma following a brutal flogging and crucifixion. Wasn’t a spectral event either, where his ghost went visiting his loved ones to tell them everything’s all right; he’s on a higher plane now; in time they’ll join him. Nor was it a “spiritual” event, where people had visions or mass hallucinations of him, or missed him so hard they psyched themselves into believing they saw him.

Christians state Jesus is alive. In a body. A human body. An extraordinary body; apparently his new body can do things our current bodies can’t. But alive in a way people recognize as fully alive. Not some walking-dead zombie, nor some phantom. Jesus physically interacted with his students, family, and followers, for nearly a month and a half before physically going to heaven.

That, pagans struggle with. ’Cause they don’t believe in resurrection. Resuscitation, sure; CPR can keep a heart going till it can beat on its own, or doctors can revive frozen people. Returning from the dead happens all the time. But permanently? In a new body? Which he took with him to heaven? They’re not buying it. They’re more likely to believe in the Easter Bunny.

But that’s the deal we Christians proclaim on Easter: Christ is risen indeed.

It’s not the central belief of Christianity; God’s kingdom is. But if Jesus didn’t literally come back from the dead on the morning of 5 April 33, it means there’s no such kingdom, and Jesus is never coming back to set it up. And nobody’s coming back from death. There’s no eternal life; at best an eternal afterlife, which ain’t life. There’s no hope for the lost. The Sadducees were right. Christianity’s a sham. There’s no point in any of us being Christians.

No I’m not being hyperbolic. This is precisely what the apostles taught.

1 Corinthians 15.12-19 KWL
12 If it’s preached Christ is risen from the dead,
how can some of you say resurrection of the dead isn’t true?
13 If resurrection of the dead isn’t true, not even Christ is risen.
14 If Christ isn’t risen, our message is worthless. Your faith is worthless.
15 Turns out we’re bearing false witness about God: We testified about God that he raised Christ!
Whom, if it’s true the dead aren’t raised, he didn’t raise.
16 If the dead aren’t raised, Christ isn’t risen either.
17 If Christ isn’t risen, your faith has no foundation.
You’re still in your sins, 18 and those who “sleep in Christ” are gone.
19 If hope in Christ only exists in this life, we’re the most pathetic of all people.

No resurrection, no kingdom, no Christianity. Period.

I am not the baseline. (Neither are you.)

by K.W. Leslie, 10 March

Whenever I have a God-experience—i.e. when he tells me stuff during prayer time, when he confirms stuff through one of his prophets, when he cures the sick right in front of me—my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God, y’know. As much as I interact with him, I can’t imagine growing indifferent or jaded to the fact God’s doing stuff. He’s still awesome, and it’s incredibly gracious of him to let me be around, or even get involved in, anything he does.

Of course, I say stuff like this and various other Christians respond, “Excuse me, God does what around you?”

Um… well, yeah. I’m Pentecostal, which means we aren’t just continuationist, i.e. recognize God still talks to people and does miracles. We don’t treat God-experiences like something that might potentially or theoretically happen; we treat ’em as part and parcel of the active Christian life. It’s much like the difference between saying, “Y’know we could go visit Grandma in the retirement home” and never doing it, or calling Grandma every day and planning frequent visits. And sometimes she drops by our house and brings brownies; the homemade stuff, made with the very best medical-grade cannabis. Aw yeah.

Kidding; I don’t do weed. But y’see, depending on one’s expectations, one’s Christian life in practice is gonna look mighty different. So I’m fully aware my experiences aren’t necessarily your experiences. I wasn’t always Pentecostal.

Sometimes the differences are based on higher or lower, strict or loose, iffy or false, expectations. Sometimes sin and fruitlessness. Sometimes a combination of the above. I know dark Christians whose unkind, judgmental, fearful, and ungracious practices turn Christianity into something terrifying, and God into someone to hate. I know unscrupulous Christians who bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate the scriptures so they can justify their desires and excesses. Their response to God is far from humble: If anything, they act as if why wouldn’t God endorse them. They remind me of the spoiled kids of rich people; trust fund babies who were born on third base and act as if they hit a triple. In this case their father is God, whom they totally take for granted. Humility never occurs to them.

Yeah, on TXAB I bring up these people a lot. Otherwise I very seldom dwell on them. I have better things to do. But of course they exist.

And because I seldom dwell on these guys, a few years back I found myself in a bible study, very nearly saying, “When we experience God like that, our usual response is humility…” I had to back up and correct myself: My usual response is humility.

Plenty of other Christians I know, likewise have a good sense of our relationship with God, and likewise respond with humility. But yeah, there are Christian jerks out there who aren’t humble at all. They figure God better come through for them. I can’t relate. But neither should I go around talking about my experience as if it’s the norm. I have no proof of that.

And this, folks, is how we’re supposed to do theology: Don’t go round declaring our experiences, our norms, our preferences, are true for everyone. Unless we’ve done a scientific study or have a properly-interpreted passage of scripture to back us up, we’ve no leg to stand on. We’re claiming a subjective experience is universal.

This is precisely the reason so many people automatically doubt “absolute truths”: Far too often, it turns out they’re not absolutes. They’re just the old prejudices of lazy lecturers—and there are a lot of lazy lecturers out there. Heck, I get lazy sometimes.

But it’s because people like to imagine we’re normal! We don’t wanna be unusual; many of us even fear being weird. So we try our darnedest to find a crowd which is most like us, then claim what we think and like is what everybody thinks and likes. Or what everybody oughta think and like. Our worldview oughta be everyone’s worldview—because we’re “normal” and they’re “not.”