Monday, December 17, 2007

Agreement from an unlikely source

For years I have been saying that the Christadelphian statements of faith, including the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF), are imperfect. The very fact that the BASF has been "amended" is a clear indication that the original writer(s) didn't get it right, at least in the eyes of the people who made later amendments. And the fact that it has been amended more than once should be a warning that even the amended versions are also quite possibly wrong.

It seems now that I have an unexpected supporter: the editor of The Christadelphian magazine. In the June 2007 magazine he wrote:
"Creeds and human statements all contain inherent weaknesses, because they are framed by frail, earth-bound beings."

Michael Ashton

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrested Scriptures (5) - "another Gospel"

It is often argued by some Christadelphians that any variation from the one true faith falls under this condemnation of Paul:
"If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:6-9)
This text is interpreted to mean that unless someone is preaching the one true faith in its entirety then they are preaching "another Gospel". It's argued, for example, that trinitarianism is "another Gospel". So too is heaven-going at death. Some Christadelphians go even further and accuse other Christadelphians of preaching "another Gospel" if they hold different views on the atonement, the nature of Christ, resurrectional responsibility, inspiration, divorce and remarriage, the extent of the Kingdom, or even the identity of Gog and Magog!

What did Paul mean when he wrote about those preaching "another Gospel"?

The best way to get an overview of Galatians is to read it through in one sitting, preferably in a modern version. The Message is excellent for this purpose, and it won't take long at all to read the whole letter. If you read Galatians this way you will notice that Paul is very single-minded and that he really has just one objective in writing this letter. There was only one issue that he wanted to deal with in this letter and he gets straight to the point in the opening verses.

Paul doesn't leave us in any doubt as to the problem: certain teachers from Jerusalem had visited the churches in Galatia and attempted to bring them under some of the rules and regulations of Judaism. Paul is very outspoken in his opposition to this "Judaizing" of Christianity and makes it very clear indeed that the Gospel he preached, and through which the Galatians were converted, was a message of freedom in Christ. He tells them again that we are saved by grace, and not through the keeping of any rules or regulations. He explains that any human efforts to please God and gain salvation through rituals, law-keeping and 'legalism' of any kind will end in failure. No less than seven times he emphasises the importance of grace.

In contrasting the false teachings of the Judaisers with the message he preached, Paul says "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4). To abandon the Gospel of grace is "apostacy" - a fall from grace. He says that if righteousness could be gained any other way than by grace then "Christ died for nothing!" (2:20-21).

Right from the start of this letter Paul makes it clear that this is about grace versus legalism. He says that the Gospel of Christ which they first heard and embraced was about "the grace of Christ" but that now they were deserting this Gospel of grace and "are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all" (1:5-7).

So its really quite plain here that the "other Gospel" which was being preached was about legalism, rule-keeping and attempting to gain righteousness through "works of the law".

This explains why Paul says that "if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed". Later he said that "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse" (3:10). Legalism brings a curse on those who try to live by rule-keeping.

In earlier posts in this series I noted that many of these "wrested Scriptures" are used by the very people the texts are speaking about and given another meaning contrary to the one that was intended and turned against the believers. Paul wrote: "some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves" (2:4). Not surprisingly then this passage in Galatians 1:6-9 is also often used by legalists in their attempts to rob believers of their freedom in Christ and to bring them into bondage to a doctrinal creed, a style of worship, a manner of dressing, an organisational structure, or some other man-made way of practicing religion.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

God doesn’t tinker with the mind (2)

The following reply by Tim was posted to the Truth Alive forum in response to Russ Brierly's article. Tim makes some good points and I felt they were worth re-posting here.

Hi Russ,

I'm sorry you didn't get your article published, but I agree with much of what you write regarding the Spirit of God. The work of the Holy Spirit in us today is an area that much of the Christadelphian body resist, just as the Pharisees of Stephen's day also always resisted the Spirit of God, because the active working of God's Spirit would mean change that threatened all the human traditions that we find. For taking these verses as they are written and experiencing the presence of God I myself was disfellowshipped. Yet they do mean exactly what you say.

A lot of explanations other than what they say have been presented to me. For instance it has been suggested to me that they only applied to the first century Christians. It is suggested we now only get the action of God's working of His Spirit today through the medium of the Bible. Others suggest that the words really mean the 'spirit-word' a phrase which is to be found nowhere in the Bible. Yet it is hard to see how the direct working of God could easily be replaced by the indirect effect of our reading the Bible and our interpretations of it within the limitation of words.

The issue of freewill is a little bit more complex. If everyone has freewill, then it means a lot of Christadelphians are willfully denying God in their lives by resisting God's Spirit. In my experience that is not so. Many simply do not understand. The idea of God working on our hearts is foolishness to them. they cannot understand how God could work in them and because they have no faith they cannot believe first and understand second through experience. So they are trying to understand something that we learn from within in our hearts with their minds. They are trying to understand too much first without taking the words exactly as they read.

In practice we do not have freewill, yet it is also true that we aren't automatons either. We have a will and we are conscious of having a will and of making choices. Yet we are also under the influence of certain things which cloud our ability to have fullness of will. We are influenced by our religious upbringings and traditions for instance. Certain people can have a bearing on our opinions. Our human nature creates a 'natural thinking' which affects us and the world we live in places pressures on us which affects our thinking and willingness to believe certain things. We are affected by what nutrition we take in, our state of fitness and health and much more. We certainly need strength from above to begin to overcome and challenge all the elements which resist God and his message.

From an Old Testament perspective we most certainly do have freewill, but from a New Testament perspective we do not. That is because the Old Testament was a shadow to bring people to Christ, whereas in the New Testament we find the reality of Christ and his Spirit spelt out more clearly. Since the Christadelphians tend to focus on the Old Testament they frequently miss the relevance of Christ and replace it with a focus on empirical doctrines which do not save. The Spirit of God is very much about Christ and how he and the Father now dwell in us. The Spirit is 'God in us' and 'Christ in us' and the 'Spirit in us' and the Bible says in Corinthians that 'no one can call Jesus Lord except through the Holy Spirit'. We have to have a real relationship with God and not simply one with the Bible that he inspired people to write. It is not the Bible which saves us, but knowing the risen Christ and whilst we can learn about Christ from reading the Bible we have to come to 'know Him' something which is very different.

It is very difficult to get through to many Christadelphians, because they are so entrenched in the idea that they and they alone have the correct interpretation of scripture and no one else can teach them anything. I believe it is this arrogance that has to be overcome before people will understand the issues that you are talking about. In our natural minds we are spiritually blind. None of us can come to God on the basis of our strength or intelligence or ability to correctly interpret scripture and unless we feel God's drawing we cannot come to him, because we naturally think we can see when we cannot, we can hear when we cannot. God has put us all in the same position of helplessness and yet the BASF doesn't recognise this and claims that people who are idiots cannot be saved. That's the inevitable consequence of having a form of religion where salvation is dependent upon your intellectual understanding. Yet in scripture the mentally ill often understood more than the most intelligent leaders of the Jews, because its not about our intellect, but about giving up the heart and to many Christadelphians there is no difference between the two. In essence you are changed by how much you read the Bible and understand it, not by how much you have given up the heart.

It all goes also against the tenor of the scripture, because in the Bible we find it is the poor and weak and despised of this world who are most likely to have faith. That's because they have least reason to trust in the flesh. It has let them down too many times. However they are the ones least likely to have that access to the bible, that training in reasoning techniques, that heightened ability to balance the text. A book-based method is also contrary to what we read in the acts of the apostles and it would have frustrated the fast spread of the gospels. They themselves talked of being 'led by the Spirit'. Yes they had the Old Testament scriptures (the New was not yet written) and they used it to reason with the Jews and see the progression of God's purpose, but primarily it was an oral message spread with a power don't see today in the main. I think it has less to do with the Spirit only being there to give us the New Testament and more to do with the body of Christ not having the necessary faith and wisdom which comes from experience and which we are still learning.

If the spirit comes purely through the medium of the Bible, then a body of people as well read and studious as the Christadelphians should by now have the perfect faith, yet what we see in practice is often a set of traditions and an adherence to doctrine and statements of faith which is stultifying. Something is missing and that missing something is power and spirit and life and every time someone realises that they will be more and more ready to be drawn to the leading of God's Spirit. Whilst they stand in the power of their intellect and interpretations and traditions they aren't ready to turn to God with all the heart. They have no need for Him. They've got the Bible and they can read and they are happy to believe that if they know the Bible enough they have God. That isn't necessarily the case. I could read everything about you and I would know all about you, but I wouldn't know you and more importantly you wouldn't know me. You might be happy to have a relationship with me simply by reading all about me. To me though that wouldn't be a relationship and its not what Son meant by him and his Son making their home with us. It's a little bit more personal and intimate than that.

Without the Spirit of God we are really serving God through the fleshly mind. We may have learn through mental discipline to keep the body physically in check, but it's an arduous and unrelenting way to try to serve God. You won't keep up your mental progress unless you read the Bible enough for instance. You have to be sure that you have the right interpretations and read the right translation of the Bible and balance it rightly. It is not like a relationship with God where you can feel your closeness and distance from him. You will always feel as if you aren't good enough and feel you must always read more and try harder. If you should have a mental breakdown you are in real difficulties, because it's only with a strong mind that your method will work. If you cannot absorb the Bible or get strength from its ideas you are now in a very helpless situation. In fact this constant pressure to move forward through knowledge could break you mentally, because without the Spirit of God we are under law and the object of law is to get you to give up and have faith. To deny the conclusion as an organisation is to make it very difficult for people to come to the real heart knowledge of God which matters.

God will not take this resistance of his Spirit lightly I don't believe. I hope he does find a way to draw the Christadelphians forward and it may happen as the world closes in as it is doing and we find we need more than words and interpretations and find we need God's real presence.

Much love and blessings in Jesus, your brother,


God doesn’t tinker with the mind

The following article by Russ Brierly was recently posted on the Truth Alive forum. Russ makes some really good points and I personally think this article is a good contribution to the discussion of the Holy Spirit in the Christadelphian community. The article is re-posted here with his permission.

He wrote: "I recently submitted the following article to one of the Christadelphian magazines. I got a pink slip on it and while I am not surprised at the pink slip on the one hand, I believe it’s indicative of a serious problem we have in the community, and that is the fear to discuss openly with Bibles in hand anything which resembles teaching on the subject of the Holy Spirit."

I agree with his conclusion that Christadelphians generally avoid this subject, probably through fear. As a result there is a great deal of ignorance about it in the Christadelphian community. Consequently I also feel that the Christadelphian community is impoverished through its neglect of a very important Bible subject.

I know that Russ would value feedback, and discussion is welcomed at the Truth Alive forum.

God doesn’t tinker with the mind

When discussing how God works in our lives recently with a group of brethren, the statement was made by one that “God doesn’t tinker with the mind.” I found this rather troubling for three reasons:

1. It leaves my spiritual growth and progress totally up to my own intellectual abilities.
2. My three-score and ten years on this earth has demonstrated that I possess a mind that does need “tinkering with” in a supernatural way.
3. It is not in accord with numerous scriptural passages, or perhaps one might go so far as to say, in accord with a total Biblical theology.

God works with us in many ways; through the words of wisdom and righteous examples we find in the scripture; through circumstances, something which we often refer to as providence; through our counsel with loving, God fearing friends; and through the direct impression of thoughts on our mind.

When we look at the concept of God working with us by direct impression of thoughts on our mind, we are talking about God bringing about a change of attitude from the worldly to the spiritual, from the natural to the Godly, from the un-holy to the holy. We are talking about God helping us overcome sin in all its forms. We are talking about God helping us deal with addictions and those things to which human nature can so readily become a slave.

In exploring this subject we are looking at the concept of indwelling – God and the Lord Jesus Christ dwelling in us in such a way that our thoughts, our resultant speech and actions, our very being and mindset are representative of Jesus Christ, the one whom we claim to be our Lord. When someone looks at us he should see the Lord Jesus in us just as the early disciples could look at Jesus and see God because God dwelt in him. Jesus spoke of this indwelling in the following manner when the disciples wanted to see the father; “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

Temple of the Holy Spirit

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Cor 6:18-20 NIV). Though most of the spirit gifts appear to have died out over time, the gift of the spirit that Peter refers to in Acts chapter two is very much alive. Paul talks about it as the “earnest of the spirit.” Another version terms it a “deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Perhaps Paul was making the transition in his own thinking away from the Jewish concept of the temple being the temple made of stone in Jerusalem as he listened to Stephen. Shortly before the witnesses who stoned Stephen laid down their cloaks at his feet Stephen cried out the words of Isaiah the prophet. These were words stating that the “most high does not live in houses made by men.” He was telling the stubborn Jews that their beloved temple is not the place where God chooses to dwell. As Stephen continued the quote from Isaiah, God himself asks, “where will my resting place be?” The Jews that knew well that prophecy of Isaiah would have know that the answer to that question is found earlier in that same prophecy: “For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isa 57:15 NKJV) Perhaps it was here that Paul began to see that God would dwell in the hearts of man and that his work would be accomplished through this indwelling, a teaching which shows up so strongly in his writings.

Help Those Who Are Being Tempted

God would indwell in the hearts of men through his power or spirit and this would be channeled through the Lord Jesus Christ to whom he had given all power and authority. In the same passage in Matthew where Jesus states that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him he also states his promise to his disciples that he would be with them always, a promise that we can claim today.

In John chapter fourteen Jesus talks about a “comforter” or “counselor” that would be sent to help the disciples. The Greek word is ‘parakletos’ and it refers to one who stands along side of another to comfort, aid and help. In John 14:18 Jesus indicates that he would not leave them as orphans but would come to them, this time in another form, a spiritual being with all power and authority and a desire to “help those who are being tempted” and provide strength to the weak and encouragement to the faltering. He is there to help us in our time of need as the following portion of scripture teaches us:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16 NIV).

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

Paul the Apostle writes many times of the uncommon power and energy at work in himself and the people he is writing to that is from God and the Lord Jesus Christ, a power that helps the disciple in his new life:

· Paul said, ”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
· In writing to the Colossians he says, “To them [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
· In talking about his work of admonishing and teaching everyone so that he may present everyone “perfect in Christ” he talks about “struggling with all his [Christ’s] energy which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29)

God Who Works in You

Paul writes some very warm words to the Philippians encouraging them to continue in the faith. In doing so he assures them that God is working in them toward a good end and that good end is their salvation.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)

To the Colossians he writes these words:

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Col 1:10-12 NIV)

The God Who Gives You Endurance and Encouragement

Romans chapter fifteen is a powerful chapter. Paul is encouraging the Roman brethren toward a spirit of unity so that they might glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with “one heart and mouth.” He starts verse five with the words, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity….” We do not know the exact mechanics of how God will work to bring about the desired attitudes, but we do know that Paul states quite clearly that endurance and encouragement, which are attitudes or mindsets, are things that God works with in accomplishing his will among his people. Verse thirteen is a wonderful expression, found at the beginning and end of many of Paul’s letters, which conveys Paul’s conviction that God and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, work with the attitudes and spirit of those who would be disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. NIV

Paul constantly recognized a power within himself that was not of himself that drove him to accomplish the things he accomplished for Christ. Consider this verse:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NIV)

We’d like to look at one more passage before we end our tour of a few of those passages that speak to the concept of indwelling. That passage is found in Romans eight, a chapter all of which speaks quite profoundly to the subject. We will look at verses six through eleven:

“The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:6-11 NIV)

The question of free will.

This verse not only deals with indwelling, but it also deals with the question of free will. Fearing that the concept of indwelling takes away a persons free will is probably the biggest reason why some have difficulty with the concept of indwelling. It may appear to take away ones free will and make them into an automaton.

The opposite is the truth. We have free will and can exercise it as we choose. To choose to empty ourselves and let God work in us is a choice we make of our own free will. To refuse to allow God to work in us is also an exercise of our own free will. We have the choice all along, just as Jesus had the choice in his life.

We readily accept the concept of miraculous healing. We take the medications, we do what the doctor says, but we still look to God for the healing. We all know of times when the prognosis of the physicians has been very pessimistic yet the miracle of healing has taken place. And when it does occur, whether anticipated by the physicians or not, we give glory to God and recognize that he is the ultimate healer.

Why do we then have difficulty with the concept of God working with the mind or our thinking processes? Why do we work so hard at keeping God out of our mental processes? The answer of course is our human nature. To deny that God will “tinker with our minds” because we do not theologically accept the concept is far different from not letting God work with us because of our human weakness.

The concept of indwelling is seen not only throughout the scriptures but it is also firmly embedded in our statement of faith. It is part of the fabric of spiritual growth and faith-building. It is perhaps exemplified best in the words of David, a man after God’s own heart yet a very human being whose human nature too often ruled his being; “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NIV)

Russ Brierly