“The message of Jesus changed the world, until the world changed the message.” - Bruxy Cavey
Over the last decade my beliefs have changed quite a bit on a number of topics. This might be alarming to some people but I contend that there is a very good reason for the change in so much of my thinking. Let me go back to what I see as the crossroad where all of this started and explain.
I had a Charismatic upbringing complete with all of the bells and whistles but in my mid-twenties I became restless with the general lackadaisical attitude around me and started searching for something else. I soon found myself in a church that could best be described as Armenian/Reformed (if that is even a thing?), we did not hold to TULIP but Calvinistic undertones to our thinking were everywhere. We viewed ourselves as the church that was destined to save the world from false doctrine. We constantly studied doctrine, taught doctrine and were self described as a church centered around sound doctrine. I took pride in being the go-to guy who had a Bible verse for anyone who needed one in any situation. Despite the many areas where both of these churches were lacking, God was still working in them both and I took a lot of positives out of both experiences.
It was around 2008/2009 when the contrast I saw in the book of Acts to the church today became too much to ignore. I wanted more, the emotional entertainment driven-church had left be frustrated, the intellectually superior/performance driven approach had left me disillusioned and I was not confident that the more traditional models centered on rituals would be any better. And so after much prayer my wife and I started meeting simply with other believers in our home. There was no program or clergy, we just got together around the dinner table to talk about life and God. If someone had a song, question, teaching or word to share we encouraged them to do so. This was and still is awkward and difficult at times but has been deeply rewarding over the years.
While a change in my intellectual understanding of what the church is as well as the practical application of living it was intently done, I was very much naive as to how far the ripple effect would reach. We never set out to recreate the ‘Acts church model’, what we did set out to do though was let Christ build His church, let Him be the head and let the Spirit lead us, what we discovered very slowly is that the church starts to exhibit ‘book of Acts like qualities’ organically rather than artificially. People start getting together more, praying, ministering and looking out for one another naturally. Now this is not a post about ecclesiology but I did want to lead up to this point. In the past my faith was centered around various church traditions, church meetings were central to my faith and the head-pastor was central to the meeting. The Bible was central to the sermon and the seminary-trained orator was the authority to interpret it for us.
I never realized it at the time but Jesus, despite the songs we sang and the prayers that we made, was sharing His throne with a host of things that I had put up there with Him. My faith has changed and is changing. By taking a step back I was able to start seeing things more clearly. This Jesus is not just a good role model to be imitated; He is not just your ticket into heaven or just the right name to use at the end of your prayers. He is the One in and through which all things were created and continue to exist. He is the Light, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Word, the Firstborn, the Head of the Body, the All in All, the Alpha and Omega, the Lion and the Lamb and the Great I AM.
GOD, who at various times and in various Ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).
I used to employ a flat reading of the Bible; I believed that the best biblical hermeneutic was to let scripture interpret scripture, actually I unknowingly mostly let Plato and Augustine interpret scripture but that is a story for another day. Nevertheless, I would like to boldly suggest that letting scripture interpret scripture is good practice but is actually only the second most important rule of biblical interpretation. The first rule of hermeneutics I would say is to let ‘Jesus interpret scripture’, the one whom the author of Hebrews says that God has spoken to us through in these last days. Moses and the prophets gave us a glimpse of God’s glory (Exodus 33:23) but Jesus IS the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). How does this work practically? Let me borrow a quote as an example from a friend who recently made a comment about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as it relates to Deuteronomy 25:1-3 and the message of fairness or as he called it, 'the principle of reciprocity'.
“An eye for an eye does not make the whole world blind, as Gandhi suggested, but enforces relational and social justice. Put differently, it forces us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us by putting us at the receiving end of our own actions. Thus, the law and prophets are never abolished in Jesus’ famous statement in Matt 7:12, but fulfilled. If we can do unto others as we would have them do unto us, then we will no longer need the restraint of a written code that exists to protect our neighbors from our selfish unjust actions (and vice versa), neither the penalty of an “equal measure” to restore the scale and also serve as a deterrent for further unjust actions”.
Jesus is the truth and in Him we are confronted with the rule of faithful thinking about God. Using Jesus as the lens to which we approach all of scripture will cause us to rethink much of what we have previously assumed to be true in much of our theology. Acknowledging Christ above all as the center, the Word and our final authority permits us to see that. Why do I now think differently and write about such things as the church, the atonement, heaven and hell and so on? To answer that let borrow a piece from one of Baxter Kruger’s recent articles which resonated with me.
“The Christian church is summoned to be the sphere within creation where this Son is known, embraced and taken with profound seriousness. The church is called to be the community in which the light of Jesus Christ is allowed to shine, where the truth of all truths is allowed to question every assumption... The Christian church is called to proceed in earnest faith and joy, obediently bringing every thought captive to Christ. It is the church’s great privilege and calling to think through the implications of the stunning reality established in Jesus Christ for every sphere and discipline of human thought, from theology proper to ecology and international politics, from sin and human brokenness to economics, education and healing. No leaf is to be left unturned until the staggering implications of Jesus Christ’s identity and existence are understood and received in all joy. In this calling the Christian church is the witness to the human race and to the cosmos of Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, the Anointed One, the rhyme and reason and the Lord and life of all creation, until the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.