Category Archives: Theology

Are We REALLY Totally Depraved?


total-depravity2Grab the kindling wood and bring your lighters! If you continue reading this post, you may feel the urge to use them!

At least that is what I anticipate with this post on Total Depravity.

Before you light the fire, you should know up front that this post is simply me letting you in on the discussions that take place inside my head!  I’m asking you to consider some of the questions I ask myself while I think out loud about what Total Depravity means.

To start off, let’s define terms:

The Western Protestant church views T.D. this way:   Total depravity is the fallen state of human beings as a result of Adam original sin. The doctrine of total depravity asserts that people are, as a result of the fall, not inclined or even able to love God wholly with heart, mind, and strength, but rather are inclined by nature to serve their own will and desires and to reject the rule of God.

“The immediate concomitant of the first sin was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul.” Louis Berkhof

This means that the fundamental nature of mankind was changed on that day. Whatever Adam’s human nature was before his sin, it became something different after the fall.  As a result, Read the rest of this entry

The Total Inability of Calvin To Explain Man’s Ability to Respond to God?


Man's Inability and CalvinTotal: Completely, Absolutely

Inability: lack of sufficient power, resources, or capacity

It is true that humanity can not come to Christ unaided. The Scriptures and the early church agree on this. Both sides of the Monergism vs Synergism civil war agree on it. Without God’s grace no one is able to come to Christ. Period!

But what does that actually look like and how does it work? The truth of the matter is that no one really knows and those who say they do don’t understand what they are saying. How God works this out in humanity lies within the mystery of God himself.

Calvin and the “ists’ his teaching has inspired believe this means that humanity can not even respond to God unaided. They teach that man must first be born again and then exercise faith in Christ. One can not say “yes” to God until after the new birth takes place.  Which leads them to teach things like this:

“This doctrine of total inability which declares that men are dead in sin does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is equal in itself, nor that man’s spirit in inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead… The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

“The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.”

Essentially, reformed theology teaches that Read the rest of this entry

Contending for THE Faith?


calvinism2Things are slow around here so when I saw this and I just couldn’t resist.

That sound you are hearing?  That is me stirring the pot!

Calvin’s faith is certainly different from the faith of the early church, but is it going to far to say he reinvented or re–delivered a new faith?

You decide.

Play nice, please.

The Early Church Teaches Us…How To Pray! Instructions on the Lord’s Prayer from the 300’s


not for itching ears It's Old but it still goodIt’s old….But it is still GOOD!

Quite good as a matter of fact.

Recently I read through perhaps the earliest Catechism of the church, St Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechism c. 350ad. The only possible earlier one still in existence today is the Didache, though some people dispute that being a Catechism.

Reading through that was simply amazing. I will be sharing a lot on this in upcoming posts. Today, I wanted to give you a taste. Enjoy Cyril’s instruction on what the Lord’s Prayer means. You might be a little surprised! Read the rest of this entry

Are the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Views on How One is Saved Actually That Different?


What-must-I-do-to-be-saved Not for itching ears

Not Really!

I am beginning to think that there is less disagreement between the Protestant view and the Catholic / Orthodox view on salvation than we realize.

The misunderstanding is a result of how each part of the church defines “salvation.”

When a Protestant talks about “being saved”, “getting saved”, “accepting Christ” or any other number of terms we use for this, we are primarily referring to the idea of forgiveness of sins. Our sins are forgiven when we “come to Christ”. We have been ‘saved” from sins eternal penalty.  We can not earn this forgiveness of sins, it is a merciful free gift from God and we resist anything that makes it look like it must be earned.

In this sense Salvation IS an event, we have been forgiven of our sins!  However, Read the rest of this entry

Questioning Our Protestant Tradition of Sola Scriptura


Not for itching ears Sola ScripturaNothing but Scripture?

It is becoming apparent to me that no church, no theologian, no follower of Christ actually lives out their faith based on the idea of Sola Scriptura.

Sola scriptura as a principle states that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian.   The Protestants among us recognize this and embrace it wholeheartedly.  It sounds good on paper.  It really does.  Why do we need anything but the Scriptures to help us form the doctrinal positions that shape our faith?  “WE DON’T” shout the reformers among us!

The problem with their answer is it is demonstrably not true.   I’ve never met anyone who actually practices this idea and neither have you. The New Testament church certainly did not.  Read the rest of this entry

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship….We Need It!


nada-zip-zilchNothing

Zip

Nada

Zero

Zilch

Nil

That’s how much our worship of God adds to God.  Our “worship” doesn’t enhance Him and our lack of worship doesn’t take anything away from Him.  Put another way, God doesn’t need our worship.  In fact God doesn’t need anything from us:  our money, our time, our dedication, our service.

Theologians refer to this as God’s Independence:

“God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.”  Grudem, Systematic Theology.

The New Testament states it this way:

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  Acts 17:24-25

Is God An Egomaniac?

Think about this:  If God does not need our worship, why does he require that we worship him and him alone?

Is it because he is the ultimate egomaniac?

Is it because he loves to hear the sound of his own name on the lips of his adoring fans?

No.  When we look at God’s acts in history that is not the picture we see.  It must be something else.

We All Worship Something

Humans are pretty predictable.  We are the ultimate evaluators.  We evaluate everything in life and prioritize them according to what we think is best.  For example, I highly value guitars.  But I value my wife and children more.  There is really no comparison; I rank family higher in importance.  What do I value more than family?  Whatever the answer to that questions is, I may value something even more than that.  I can keep going up the ladder of importance until I finally reach that one thing  I esteem more than anything or anyone else.

Whatever that thing or person is, that is what we worship.  We all worship someone or something, even if it is ourselves!

God Doesn’t Need Our Worship…We Need It!

I submit to you that God doesn’t need our worship; we need the worship we offer him.  I think that is why God demands our devotion.  There is no other thing or being more worthy of our ultimate devotion than Him.  It has been said that we become like that which we worship.  God, in his mercy, created us to become like him.  If that is going to happen, then we must actively place him at the top of our Top Ten List of Things I Value The Most.

Looking at worship this way means leads us to conclude that worship, though directed at God, is truly meant to serve humanity.

We are to worship God, not ourselves.

But God demands our worship, NOT for himself but for the good of his people.

At least, that’s the way I see it.

On a side note, that is one of the reasons I am so passionate and often critical about corporate worship.  It has the potential to truly shape us, but we often squander those opportunities because we don’t understand what worship is and why God demands it of us.

Why God Might Not Be Concerned About Our Doctrinal Differences


blog-oh-my-god“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

I asked, as my friend looked on in utter disbelief at what had just been said. We had been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I have lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)

“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!

I can’t argue with that!

What perplexes me though, is that there are so many different types of churches. Clearly a lack of unity within THE church has eluded us. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That is a pretty significant difference. We can’t all agree on how many books are actually in God’s Holy Word! That also seems significant. Some of the churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation, while others teach that it has a lot to do with it, still others are somewhere in-between. Maybe it is just how I think about things, but I would have to say this one is a critical difference of doctrine. We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.

Then we have us Protestants who agree to disagree!

We agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t agree on who is included in “our”. We believe there is such an important and critical thing as the Atonement, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe that people worked miracles, but can’t seem to agree on when or IF that has stopped. We can’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship. We can’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ. We can’t agree on what it means to follow Christ. We don’t agree on a host of important issues.

The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects that argue amongst themselves and who can’t seem to agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is foolish and wishful thinking.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”

Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion.   It would seem the Father didn’t answer that one in the affirmative. Or am I missing something?

Why would God have allowed that to happen?

Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.

If the church is so important to Him, and if the purity of the Gospel and the doctrinal teachings that stem from understanding it correctly matter so much, why didn’t he step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Church? Why would God allow the church to embrace a false gospel that would consign its followers to hell? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.

Of Course Catholics believe that the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church had existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther and the young punk come along and want to change the whole thing. It is understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.

Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. Make no mistake about it; God knew what the result would be of doing nothing to stop these movements. Because of the omniscient nature of God, combined with His foreknowledge, the ensuing doctrinal mess would not have surprised him. He knew it would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!

We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.

But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split. It is not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. In all three cases, God allowed it to stand. In all three instances, The Father had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to. Even when, in the case of the Reformers, God knew that a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal disunity would surely result if He did not act. Still, he refrained.

This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Most assuredly, the doctrinal differences we have killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God?

Before you get the kindling and light the match to burn me alive at the stake for the heretic that I am, realize that I am not saying that God does not care about the Gospel or the church. That is not what I am saying at all. Actually, I don’t know what to think about all this. This is a conversation I have been having, largely in my own mind, for quite some time. I thought I would put it out there for others to interact with and see how you might approach the topic.

Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements?

Read another thought provoking post on worship:  God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!

Two Different Views of Salvation: Protestant vs Orthodox – Which Makes More Sense to You?


If you are like me, you might not even know what the Orthodox Church is!

The Orthodox view salvation and the purpose of mankind through a different lens than most Protestants do. In this short video, you will see a very accurate portrayal of mainstream protestant soteriology which you will recognize immediately. You will also be introduced to the Orthodox view.

After you watch it, come back and share your thoughts about the video. Which view best represents the Gospel in your opinion?

How The Early Church Spotted a False Prophet…Your Answer to Our Poll


Not For Itching Ears-false-prophetHow is your Early Church History?

Last week we posted a poll called “Do You Know How The Early Church (pre 150AD) Spotted A False Prophet” (Take the poll!)  In it, we gave respondents 5 answers to choose from and only one choice was correct.  It is important to note that this poll did not include all the ways the early church spotted a false prophet.  Also, the one correct choice was taken from the Didache, a respected early church document written sometime between 50AD and 150AD.  Do you know the right answer?  Let us look at them one at a time:

5.  They Believed The Gifts of The Spirit Had Not Ceased.  FALSE! 6% of respondents identified this as the correct answer.

 4.  They Taught That There Were Two Ways Only: The Way of Life or The Way of Death:  FALSE, and almost 13% of respondents chose this as the answer,

3.  They Taught that People had Free Will and Could Choose to Follow Christ. FALSE!  13% of those polled chose this as the correct answer which would be a popular answer for followers of Calvin.

2.  They Taught that Water Baptism Could be Done Without Immersion, FALSE!  It is not surprising that this answer was chosen by 19% of those who took the poll.  However, the early church did not make as big a deal about this as modern day Protestants.  They preferred immersion in running water, but allowed pouring water over the head if running water was not available.

Fifty percent of respondents chose the correct answer.    So,  how did the church spot a false prophet?  Drum roll pleeeeeease!

1.  They Asked For Money!

“Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel.  Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord.  But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another.  But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet.  And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next nights lodging.  But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. Didache 11:3-6

Think about this.  If they asked for money, they were to be considered false prophets.  Why do you think the early church used this as part of the criteria?  Just as importantly, why do we not use this criteria today and if we did, how would things change?

BONUS:  Here’s another way the Didache instructed believers to recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing:  They did not practice what they preached!

“If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet.”  Didache 11:10

Justin Martyr on Man’s Ability to Obey or Disobey God


3d choice, on white backgroundJustin writing around 160 AD describes the early church’s view on free will  in his First Apology chapter 43 and 44.  It seems to be diametrically opposed to what Calvin taught on the subject.  Hmmm, could Calvin be wrong?

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. …

But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.

Breaking:  Church Service in 2nd Century Revealed

Do You Know How The Early Church (Pre-150AD) Spotted a False Prophet?


Not For Itching Ears-false-prophetTest your knowledge of early church history in our latest poll.

There are 5 answers to choose from.  Only one is correct, based on the “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentles by the  Twelve Apostles” or what is more commonly called the “Didache” and other early church writings.  The Didache is a well received document from the early church.  The date of its writing is hard to determine, but most scholars put it somewhere between 50 AD and 150 AD, very close to the time of the Apostles. It is not part of the Bible, but it is a very good document to read if you want to learn how the early church understood the teaching of Christ and the Apostles.

Can you identify the correct answer?  There is only one correct answer in our poll, but that does not mean there were not other indicators.  There is only one correct answer in this poll.

So, how did the church identify a false prophet in the 2nd century?

 

Take the poll and then go here for the answer

It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays.

Leaders: You Can Make Your Public Prayers More Meaningful


write your prayersWhen I was a new worship leader, I prepared like crazy for Wednesday nights and Sunday Mornings! I made sure the music charts were written out and CORRECT and that everyone had the one they needed. I would play through the songs multiple times on my own and work on any tough parts. I would create interesting modulation changes! This was all before we even rehearsed the team. Probably like most worship leaders, I took it seriously and prepared everything.

Except for any prayers!

Prayer was the one thing I didn’t need to think about ahead of time. I could always pray in front of others. I had no fear of it, loved doing it, and could make it up on the fly. I was good at it. Or so I thought.

Then one day, it happened.

I listened to several of my preaching tapes, and I was horrified at Read the rest of this entry

The Mystery of Our Faith….


cross-with-nail 2Christ HAS Died,

Christ IS Risen,

Christ WILL Come again!  Amen

Teach Us How to…Live? The Early Churches Take on “The Lord’s Prayer” Part 2


“Lord, teach us to pray…”

You would have reacted the same way, I suppose. The disciples had seen Jesus do incredible miracles. They also watched him pray a lot. They put two and two together and surmised that Jesus’ power was a result of his prayer. Now, every first century Jew knew how to pray. But nobody could do the miracles that Jesus was doing. The disciples wanted to know how to do that!

So they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. That inquiry resulted in what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” A short lesson on how to pray that the church has held dear ever since.

But is it a lesson on how one should pray?

“Yes, but”, is how I think I would answer that.

Yes, Jesus taught the disciples how to pray here. But if you look closer at what Jesus taught, I think He was actually Read the rest of this entry

What Do You Believe?


As I have grown in my relationship with Christ, I have had ample opportunity to define and re-define what it is I believe about Christianity. Over the years, my list has become shorter rather than longer. It is not because I don’t hold strong beliefs in other area’s, because I do. I simply hold these views to be non-essential to the Christian faith. For too long, we have allowed our in-house theological disagreements over these non-essential matters to divide Christ’s body and dishonor Christ’s name. Read the rest of this entry

A Bible Every Christian Should Own: The Orthodox Study Bible


The $5,000.00 worth of bible study and reference books on my library shelf gives my condition away to most people.  But since you can’t see them, let me state the problem:  I love Bible reference books!  Recently, I added a not-so-well-known study bible to my collection that I think every follower of Christ would benefit from having:  The Orthodox Study Bible.

Here’s Why I Like It:

The Study Notes are taken from the Church Fathers of the early church.

If your library is similar to mine, most of your books have The Reformation as a central reference point.  Believe it or not, there is 1500 years of church history prior to this.  Most of our study bibles and reference works do not take much of that history into account.  I find it incredibly enriching to read a passage of scripture and see how the Fathers understood the passage.  This book allows me to do that without going to another book.  That is great!  The Orthodox Study Bible accomplishes this by giving specific attention to the biblical interpretation of the fathers of the ancient and undivided Church, and to the consensus of the Seven ecumenical or Church-wide Councils of Christendom, held from the 4th to the 8th centuries.  This alone makes the book well worth the $30-40 you will spend on it.

The Notes and Commentary Emphasise the Major Themes of the Faith.

The Trinity, The Incarnation, the Church, and God’s call to His people to live righteous and holy lives in Christ.  It sticks to these key areas and what it does, it does well.

The Old Testament is based on the Septuagint.

This is the only Old Testament I own that is!  I am a big advocate of reading the Bible in different translations because of the clarity it brings.  I have been rewarded by the time I have spent reading out of this one.  I think you will be too.  It does have the books that the Protestant Church rejects.  I am actually glad it does.  The early church accepted them as scripture, The Catholic and Orthodox churches continue to accept them.  We reject them, primarily because Martin Luther decided to eliminate them.  I know the arguments for this, but I still think they are worth reading.  This is the only Bible I own that also has the Apocrypha in it.  The New Testament is the New King James.

It Includes Rich Devotional Material.

I don’t come from a liturgical background and so I am unfamiliar with many of its aspects.  Over the years, I have grown to appreciate it more.  This book includes the Orthodox Lectionary, morning and evening prayers and a host of devotional material.  Again, I have been enriched utilizing them

The Orthodox Study Bible is unique, there is no other Bible like this in existence.  It is historical, helping modern followers of Christ connect with our brothers and sisters of the ancient past.  On top of all this, the Bible is very, very well done.   For these and other reasons, this is a great book to add to your library. It is well worth the money. If you are hesitant, do what I did:  check it out from your local library for free.  I was sold from the moment I held it in my hand!

Have You Read the Oldest Christian Sermon Outside of the New Testament? Part 2


I have listened to a lot of sermons in the past 25 years. I have also read many old sermons from the great preachers of the past. I have amassed a huge library of books from great authors, both past and present. Many of these works have impacted my life in big and small ways. But none more than the writings and messages of the early christian church leaders.

In my quest to figure this thing called Christianity out, I have found it helpful to go back and read how the earliest Christ followers understood Christianity. For some reason unknown to me, many of my contemporaries Read the rest of this entry

Have You Read the Oldest Christian Sermon Outside of the New Testament? Part 1


I have listened to a lot of sermons in the past 25 years. I have also read many old sermons from the great preachers of the past. I have amassed a huge library of books from great authors, both past and present. Many of these works have impacted my life in big and small ways. But none more than the writings and messages of the early christian church leaders.

In my quest to figure this thing called Christianity out, I have found it helpful to go back and read how the earliest Christ followers understood Christianity. For some reason unknown to me, many of my contemporaries Read the rest of this entry

Is the “Worship” Centered Church Model Bankrupting Christianity?


Bankrupt. Destitute. Impoverished. Insolvent.  Whichever word you choose, they all carry the same basic idea: They describe the inability to meet one’s obligations.  These  words are used to describe people that have been reduced to a state of financial ruin.  We also use the term to depict an individual or organization that is completely lacking in a particularly desirous quality or attribute.   One might be morally bankrupt or spiritually impoverished.  You get the idea.

While sitting in a church service the other day, I came to a conclusion about the church at large, which has serious ramifications for my life.   It was a long time in coming.   I am not sure why it happened that day, but I can’t ignore that it did.  This conclusion was fueled, in large part, by my own journey through the church world:  I have been a senior pastor, a worship pastor, an associate pastor, a volunteer, and a normal guy in the pew who isn’t doing anything.  Over the last three years I have “worshipped” in close to 30 different congregations with varying denominational or non-denominational affiliations.  I haven’t seen it all, but I think I have seen enough! Read the rest of this entry