doctrine


What does it mean to be a false witness?

Generally, we think of someone who lies, someone who intentionally swears in court or in similar dispute something that is not true.  That person is a false witness.

If that’s the only explanation, I’m good.  Of course I always tell the truth (except I might shade my comments occasionally, to be nice).  But what if there were a different meaning?

I’m called to give witness to my faith in Jesus as savior.  To God as healer and provider.  Do I? Do you?

I know a church (one in particular, but there may be others) that claims to be warm and open, but the pastor made it clear they have certain standards there and if I was thinking about disrupting what they were doing in that church of 50 senior citizens, I should be on notice.  I assured him I was not there to stir up problems, but was simply searching for a congregation where I might attend and serve.  Only I didn’t feel so welcome after that.

I know a church that is inclusive to a broad spectrum of people, but the opportunities for service seem reserved for the friends of the pastors.

If you look to scripture, Deut 19:19 says the punishment for a false witness is to do to them what they had intended for the other.  This is a natural law, and Xerxes gave Haman the punishment he intended for Mordechai, on the very gallows constructed for the purpose.

Again, Psalms 101:5 says “whoever secretly slanders a neighbor, him I will destroy; the one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.”  I’ve been in churches where they spoke ill of the neighbors who didn’t come to church.  Even on a prayer walk in a dying church, I was provided the commentary of this house or that, where they used to come, but were caught in a sin and left, without any effort from the church to restore the family.  I’m saddened that church faded to nothing, and finally changed their name to remove the stink of their reputation in the neighborhood, with little result.

One method of preparing a church for reviving would be to examine your history, and confess the past slander of the neighborhood.  If God would spare Ninevah, would have spared Sodom & Gomorrah, how much more will he spare and restore a congregation of his children who repent?

As Tertullian quoted John 13:35:  ” Look,” they say, “how they love one another and how they are ready to die for each other”  Let us therefore bear good witness to one another and to our community.

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Is God a god?  Is he the all-powerful supreme god? Even if you accept the existence of other gods (I don’t), our god is the God above all others.

Nemo235 posted an assertion that, since no one else was around when god created the world, we can’t know that it was God that did the creating.

To which I replied:

If I do something and tell you about it later, I am acting as a witness on my own behalf. Even if no one else was there to see it, if I say it happened, and you trust me to be truthful, then because I said it, you know that I did it. When God tells Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Job that He created the world, because God is a reliable witness we know it to be true. (To assume God to be less than a reliable witness makes him less than a perfect god and not worth trusting for anything.) Therefore, there is no “non-existent witness.” God is the witness and that’s all I need.

I can’t prove God.  I can’t prove He does what He says He does.  But I have faith that all He says is internally consistent, and when He says something happened, then it must have happened.

Looking through the Bible, I see a thread where Babylon plays a unique and special purpose to the Gospel.

We see it the first time in Genesis 11, as the city of Babel.  A city of great learning, a storehouse of knowledge.  However, the wise men chose to become prideful in their knowledge instead of protectors of the wisdom of God.

When Balaam was done blessing Israel, he returned home to Babylon, holding the knowlege of God’s greatness.

When Israel sinned and half the population was carried off, Daniel went to the center of learning – Babylon.  There, where the mysteries of God were kept safe and taught , the king needed an answer to a dream, but none of  could interpret it.  The blessing of God to Daniel let him give the answer, and saved the lives of the rest of these wise men, and preserved the messages God would need later in his story.

When Nebucanezzer’s son Belshazzar became an offense to God, he who was “weighed in the balance and found wanting” was replaced by the son of Xerxes, the husband of Esther. 

He was the one who grieved over Daniel in the lion’s den, and when the morning revealed God’s protection, he made God’s name known throughout the land.  And still they preserved the knowledge of God, the prophecies revealed to Balaam.

Kept safe until the stars lined up in a special way that let the wise men know it was time to follow them west.  And when these wise men, these Magi, knew exactly where to look for the promised Messiah.

Not sure what all this means yet.

Jeff Stewart blogs at “Different Cloth.”  A former pastor within the traditional church, he is moving to a different paradigm of ministry.  (He operates out of the Java Journey Coffee Shop  in Hickory, NC.)

In his post on May 17, he quoted Frank Viola – from Viola’s latest book “From Eternity to Here” – as a reference to how he saw being “part of a small cluster of followers who share their gifts and have the freedom to lead and teach as God prompts without conventional barriers in the way.”

In the excerpt, Viola says that Christians are taught to from an individualistic perspective.  While we know we must come to faith each one of us – and not rely on the faith of others to get to heaven – we are called to work out our salvation in community. The fullness of Christ comes in the church, the ekklasia.  Spiritual gifts are given to individuals, for the work of the church.

Viola says some of the problem is that we have an unbiblical view of what church is.

“Church” has been redefined as the place you attend to be educated and motivated to go out and live a better individual Christian life. Sadly, the individual emphasis in contemporary Christianity has overwhelmed and eclipsed God’s central purpose, which is corporate. To compound the trouble, we have been handed individualistic lenses by which to read, study, and interpret everything in the Bible.

The problem it seems is that modern American Christians see themselves as either individual members of an organization that meets as church only in a specific building.

Stewart is right that the organizational structure often stifles the message of authentic faith. (see his discussion here)  But the other extreme  -every man/woman/child as a church unto themselves –  is also clearly wrong.  Those that see themselves as Christian without need of the others that meet in a particular spot lose the strengthening of the gifts given to others they should be meeting with.

Which is what church is all about.

The Barna Group has released a revised look at the religious views of Americans, and finds that half find Christianity to be but one of several valid options.  And 50%of the country questions the notion that we are still a “Christian” nation.

In fact, “a huge majority of adults pick and choose what they believe rather than adopt a church or denomination’s slate of beliefs.”  Even with over 200 Christain denominations, many Americans prefer to customize their faith experience to suit individual preferences.

Not that spirituality is dead.  40% of those not affiliating with Christianity say their faith has “increasing influence on their moral judgments.”

The implications, says Barna include:

  1. Americans are increasingly comfortable discarding those Bible teachings that don’t match their personal theology .
  2. Americans are embracing an unpredictable and contradictory body of beliefs. “Close to half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third contend that Jesus sinned while He was on earth.”
  3. American’s faith is usually a “personal combination of theology drawn from a smattering of world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam as well as secularism.”
  4. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views – in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.
  5. Twenty percent of Christians deny having an individual responsibility to share the Christian faith with others.

Byron Hill summarizes the report well:

In reflecting on this report, I was both discouraged and encouraged. Discouraged that more and more people are choosing not to accept the absolute truth of the Bible and at the same time, encouraged that religious faith is even more important to people than it used to be as a source of objective and reliable moral guidance. People are searching for answers. What are we going to do to help them?

What indeed?

Daniel Aleshire gave a speech to the Unitarian Universalist Association Ministry Council in December.  He’s with the Association of Theological Schools and brings a unique perspective of why “excellence” isn’t what you might think it is.

His speech was called “The Tyrany of Excellence.”  And he led the discussion by suggesting that “excellence” is one of the terms that everyone affirms but no one agrees to what it means.  He illustrated his point with an illustration about art.

Several decades ago, not long after I had finished graduate school, I had an artist friend who showed me a painting. It was abstract, and being a young theologically minded person who knew very little about art, I assumed it should have a meaning. I am wiser now, but back then, I asked him what it meant. He said that he painted it as a “meaning magnet.” He had intended no real meaning, but was pleased when people brought their meanings to it. The painting had no meaning; it just attracted them. Similarly, “excellence” is a meaning magnet more than a conveyor of its own meaning.

The trouble, he says is that no one is ever against excellence, even if they can’t define how good the thing has to be to stop improving it.  Not that we want to stop at “mediocre”, but there should be a way to get to “excellent” without letting the pursuit overrule all other ministry actions.

Do you want to be excellent in your musical performance or responsive to the Spirit?  Both, but if you have to choose, isn’t “good enough” good enough?

Do you want to be letter-perfect in your hermeneutics or relevant to your congregation?

Do you want to demand perfection in your pulpit supply and wait until the teenager gets it right, or mentor him to maturity?

We are to be “workmen not ashamed” of what we do for God, just not so Pharisaical in our pursuit of excellence.

The books of Edward McKendree Bounds remain the definitive sources for why and how to pray.  Of the hundreds of books about such a simple topic, his stand high and are effective not just for his home denomination (Methodism) but for all modern Christendom.

The Christian Classics Etherial Library has collected  his eight books on prayer in  one location, to be read on-line or purchased.  Here are the titles:

I commend them to you.

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