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Monday, 31 March 2014

The Danger with Doctrine

Knowing about God and knowing God are two very different things
Those of us who come from a tradition of doctrinal Christianity, for which we are grateful, can very easily turn doctrine into something that harms us. We can do this in two ways. Doctrine can stumble us if we confuse knowing about God for knowing God himself. Doctrine is meant to be a means to something else, not an end in itself. Knowing about God is infinitely easier than knowing God. The former is merely an intellectual activity, the latter a serious and costly engagement which transforms mind - yes - but heart and life also.

Primary doctrine, secondary doctrine
Doctrine can stumble us in another more subtle way - it can stunt growth. If for example, we pursue a doctrinal understanding of where we stand on every single issue we can think of, including what Paul calls those "disputable matters" in Romans 14:1, how then can we grow the rest of our lives? If we know everything, what is there left to know? And worse, what if we settle too early on certain positions only later in life to be totally resistant to change, resistant to where God might be leading us then? Either we will never change, never grow, or we'll be stumbled by the change because we thought we knew for sure, and now we're doubting (not central truth, but disputable matters). 

When I was a younger man, I worked out every doctrine one could. I knew where I stood on spiritual gifts, translations, the gifts of the Spirit, eschatology, you name it, I had nailed it. This is because I went to a church that emphasized (no, over-emphasized) doctrine, at the expense of love and grace.

The last 30 years have been spent, little by little, unknowing what I "knew" as God has challenged almost every single of the secondary doctrines on which I was so sure!

Don't get me wrong, there can be no change on the primary doctrines, no change on atonement, no change on the trinity, no change on justification by faith, on heaven and hell, and so on. But there are a lot more secondary doctrines than primary ones, and year by year I find myself discovering from Scripture that what I nailed as a zealous 20-something is not so nailed anymore. I have so many "not sure about that one's" on my creaking shelves these days.

Desperate need for doctrine today
Don't get me wrong, there is a desperate need for doctrine in the church today.  We live (at least in the UK) in an age of tremendous theological shift - large areas of what would once have been called evangelicalism are succumbing to the liberalism-in-sheep's-clothing of men like Steve Chalke and his teacher Tom Wright. We live in perilous days. But the answer to doctrinal indifference is not indoctrination. It is a gracious humble teaching of central doctrines, prayerfully seeking to know the God they attempt to describe, and an even humbler teaching of secondary "disputable matters" in a way that builds up, not puffs up.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Dangerous Sacrament

The Corinthian warnings
There are hardly any more serious warnings addressed to Christians in the New Testament than the warnings that surround communion in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Paul says in chapters 10 and 11 that the wrong taking of the bread and wine stirs up God's jealousy and can lead to weakness, illness and even God's final discipline - death ("falling asleep").

Some Christians have read these with fear and trepidation and even avoided communion because of them - or shall we say possibly because of a misunderstanding of them.

We guard what is precious
What is precious we surround with a hedge of protection. The more precious, the more protection we build in. This is what Paul is doing. He is guarding the table with warnings because it is so precious. That's how to understand the severe nature of the warnings - they point to the precious nature of the ordinance.

What is so precious about Communion?
Two features of this ordinance are precious. First, in some wonderful way we are communing with Jesus Christ, "participating in his blood and body" (10:16). We are going beyond obedience, "do this in remembrance of me", we are going beyond revealing our trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which the elements speak of, we are in some mysterious - and even mystical - way communing with our Saviour. Communion, perhaps, is as close fellowship as we get in this world with Jesus - there shall be no cup in heaven, for then we shall see him face to face.

Secondly, tearing a piece off the one loaf of bread is  a symbol of our one-ness in Christ (10:17). We each take a piece which came from one loaf - we are each one part of the one body of Christ. And so, again, in a wonderful way, we are being reminded that we are all one in Christ, one Lord, one faith, one Spirit, one baptism.

See why the warnings?
So now we can see why all the strong warnings! Fellowship with Jesus is precious! The one body of Christ for whom he has died - the unity of it - is precious! How can we partake of cup of the Lord and the cup of demons? How can we take communion on one day of the week, but commit spiritual adultery another day by loving and offering ourselves to another? That will rouse God's jealousy (10:22). How can we take of the one loaf, but then go on to neglect the body of Christ or harm it in any way? These are dangerous contradictions, lethal hypocrisies.

And hence we are called to examine ourselves before we eat and drink.

Do we love Jesus Christ more than any other? 
Are there rival idols in our hearts or lives?
Do we love our brothers and sisters?
Do we freely forgive them for offenses?
Do we do nothing to harm the body?

The purpose of these warnings is not to scare us as we eat, but to wake us up before we eat, and to encourage us to repent of our sins and by his grace get ourselves right with God and our fellow man.

So that instead of being a dangerous sacrament, communion becomes the precious blessed one it is meant to be.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Science and Christianity: friend or foe?

A western urban myth
One of the most persistent western 'urban myths' of modern times is the view that Science and Christianity are at war with each other, or at least incompatible with each other. So if you are a scientist you couldn't be a Christian, for example. Or in its most militant form, science has disproved Christianity, made it redundant.

An urban myth is exactly that - a view held strongly by many people as being true, but on inspection a view that turns out to be more wrong than right - a myth.

A plug for a talk
This blog is plug for a talk I am giving on this subject. This is roughly where I will be going to show, to prove that far from being enemies, Christianity and Science are friends:

Outline reasons for friendship between Christianity and Science

(1) The Bible itself greatly encourages us to examine (and take care of) the natural world - which is God's world.
(2) All the founding scientists were either Christians or theists.
(3) Christianity encouraged the flourishing of science in the west
(4) Any conflict is a result of either a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of either science or the Bible
(5) All the historical "examples of conflict" can be shown to be nothing of the sort
(6) Any conflict is superficial, agreement is deep.
(7) If there is any conflict, it's not between Christianity and Science, but between Science and Naturalism. Naturalism is the add-on-to-science idea that teaches that everything happens/can happen without God.

On this last point, one of the world's finest minds, Professor Alvin Platinga puts it this way in his brilliant book, "Where the conflict really lies":

"there is a science / religion conflict, all right, but it isn't between science and theistic religion: it's between science and naturalism."

Come to the talk and hear for yourself, or read the talk in a future blog....

Friday 14th March, 2014, 7.30pm Dines Green Primary School, WR2 5QH