Sunday, April 5, 2020

Leaving Catholic & Protestant Ideology: In Pursuit of Real Christianity

The pursuit of Jesus over my life thus far has been an ongoing struggle to see clearly, that which is seen in a mirror darkly. I hard grown up looking to Jesus through the mirror of Catholicism. I was raised Catholic, in the Roman Catholic church.  So I looked at Jesus, dimly through the mirror of Catholic teachings, the Mass, the Eucharist, priestly authority, liturgy, the catechism, and so on. Later in life having reclaimed faith in Christ, by God's gifting, I began to look at Christ through the mirror of Protestant ideology. This of course includes the five Solas: Saved by grace alone, saved by faith alone, saved by Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone, and according to scripture alone. 

Are you with me?  Looking at Christ through a mirror dimly.  Starting with the first mirror, Catholic ideology, then to the second mirror, Protestant ideology.  Now there were also two different tints to the glass. The Catholic glass I was raised with was tinted with Roman Catholicism, and the practices and viewpoints of Roman Catholicism.  I've also seen distinct differences in how a Polish Catholic church might function.  And there are other variants like Orthodox Catholic or Greek Catholicism.  Each mirror is Catholic, but tinted a different color based on the subgroup.

And I found much the same was true within Protestantism.  I first began the resurgence of my faith journey in what would be called a Baptist Evangelical church. It had certain distinctives. I've also attended Episcopalian services, as well as Methodist, and now of course The Salvation Army subgrouping.  This would be the mirror of protestant ideology, tinted with the distinctives of each subgroup.

And I would just add that there is nothing wrong with that. While some Christians may find the style of the strict liturgy and organ hymns draws them close to God, others may find that the style of Christian rock, and a pastor in jeans and a t-shirt making cultural references draws them closer to God. I really enjoy both approaches. I love the reverence and awe of the liturgy. I also love the real talk, excitement and emotion of the contemporary service. I love a jump up and down Pentecostal revival service.  I love the reverence and repetition of a Catholic mass.  I love the casual yet deep real talk from the baptist pastor in jeans, talking life stories.  I love the military jargon and brass bands of a Salvation Army service.  

Yet I found myself in both Catholic and Protestant churches to be at time suffocated by the ideology.  And I've gone through my life thus far attempting to discover an answer to a question.  That question is this: What exactly is the truth of the scriptures about who God really is? And how do I really live it out? The battle became one of theology.  

All Christians are in this struggle to one extent or another.  But I found increasingly this problem: Theological doctrine had become more important than scripture.  If we find a scripture that disagrees with our theology, what do we do? Do we try to force the scripture into our theological doctrine?  Or do we adjust our theological doctrine to fit the scripture? 

Particularly within Protestant ideology, I found myself wrestling in the struggle between Arminianism and Calvinism. Which theological viewpoints were correct and which were incorrect?  I struggled between the 5 points of Calvinism and the 5 five points of Arminianism. Of course one could get much more in depth and complicated, here is how they break down:

1. Total Depravity - through Adam and Eve every person is born sinful.
2. Unconditional Election - God saves those he wishes, predestination. God predestines all things and all people. 
3. Limited atonement - Jesus died only for the elect, not for all.
4. Irresistible Grace - God's grace can't be denied, earned or resisted
5. Perseverance of the Saints - what God begins he finishes, it can't be lost or rejected or turned away from. 

1. Total Depravity - Every person is born predisposed to sin in the line of Adam.
2. Prevenient Grace - God's grace is active before we are saved, guiding us to come to Jesus. God foreknows future free actions.
3. Unlimited atonement - Jesus died for all (whosoever), and especially for the elect.
4. Free Will - God offers salvation to all, humans have free will to reject or receive it.
5. Conditional Security - Salvation is secure in Christ, preserved by God, but one can renounce or fall away, losing their position. 

And I'm not here to say one of two fallacies, first being "well I think both of them are true."  These two viewpoints fundamentally contradict, they can't both be true. And I'm not here to say, "I've found a third way."  I'm not saying that either.  What I am saying is I decided, I needed to follow God, the Lord Jesus, as revealed in the scriptures.  

I had to escape Catholic ideology and Protestant ideology.  Yet truly there was and is no escape.  So I thought of it like this.  I was on the beach, at the ocean, and I was in the water, on a floaty.  The floaty was Catholicism, and later the floaty was Protestantism.  And the waves and the water were throwing me all over the place. 

Here is what changed: Today, I still have my floaty around me.  But my feet are planted firmly on the ocean floor. I can use my floaty. But I'm not tossed too and fro, I'm firmly planted on the ocean floor.  The ocean's and waves are the lives we live in this sinful world of struggle. The ocean floor is God's word.  The floaty is my theological system.  In the past I had mixed up the order: I had let my theological system been my basis for truth in the world. And the word of God was the last resort. Now, the word of God is my direct go to, my feet are planted there, and my theological system is submitted to the word of God, but also useful as a help in the world, to balance me in the waves and winds of life.  

Next, is considering where our focus is.  Let's talk about focus.  And there are three primary areas of focus: Orthopathy, Orthopraxy, and Orthodoxy. 

Orthopathy: Emotions (my emotions guiding my relationship with God)
Orthopraxy: Practice (my behaviors/lifestyle guiding my relationship with God) 
Orthodoxy: Ideas (my beliefs/ideas guiding my relationship with God)
If I'm focused on orthodoxy primarily, I'm focused on my floaty, my theological system, and I'm staring at the ocean floor.

If I'm focused on orthopraxy, I'm primarily focused on the ocean waves trying to live right.

If I'm focused on orthopathy, I'm focused primarily on myself. I'm focused on how I feel, and how God feels, and reaching out with my emotions to sense God. 

We have to find balance in our focus. My primary focus had always been orthodoxy, the truth, the word of God and ideology.  But I realized I had missed out on the practice.  So I started to focus on practice.  Then I realized I'd missed out on the emotion, and I began to delight in God and seek God in a very personal way. 

Focus in on the waves, turn your attention to the ground floor, the ocean about you, others in the ocean, turn your attention to the floaty, and turn your attention to the sun in the sky. Keep that focus floating between truth, feeling, and practice, looking back, looking forward, looking at yourself, looking at God, and looking at others.  

OK, so, we've talked about looking through the two mirrors darkly, protestant and catholic.  We've talked about Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and how we instead look to a primary approach of keeping scripture primary, and ideology secondary.  We've also talked about then balancing our focus between the three spheres of practice, emotion, and truth. And also we've considered adjusting our focus to be adjusting between different realities. 

Lastly, I want to talk about priorities. And this is where we get to the crux of the issue.  The process we just talked about, which I walked through, is what brought me to a stark adjustment in my priorities and emphases.  What I prioritize now, and how that's impacted how I view scripture is stark. 

These are the following conclusions that I've drawn, so far, in my journey to escape ideology and seek God, through the three ortho-realms, seeing scripture first, regarding prophecy, adjusting my focus, and attempting to see God's word as it truly is.  

I no longer look through a mirror darkly. Now, I look through the glass darkly, just as the word of God says: 

1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV) "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

When I look at Christ primarily through protestant or catholic ideology, I am seeing through a mirror darkly.  And the mirror and it's tint distort the truth.

To rightly see God, my primary tool is God's word. And I must perceive God through three realms: truth, practice, and emotion.  These must be balanced.  They must be balanced. Or I will fall into three traps: arrogance of doctrine (my interpretation is right, higher than the scripture itself), arrogance of practice (my practice is right, higher than God's way), and arrogance of emotion (my emotions are my supreme guide, above God). 

However, if they are properly balanced in light of God's word, they will check and balance each other.  If doctrine becomes arrogant, emotion checks it, if emotion grows too powerful, doctrine holds it accountable. If practice takes over, emotion and truth pull it back into it's place.

Now, I look through a glass darkly.  The darkly remains.  The glass is still dark, and fudged and difficult to make out.  That's the reality of our lives in this fallen world.  Part of the equation is the hiddenness of God. Part of the equation is our own inability to perceive things accurately. Part of the equation is the menace of evil we face in this world.

And it's with that caveat that I share with you my deductions and adjusted priorities.  I'm still looking through a glass window darkly.  I could be wrong. God's word is right. But through this process, in communion with God's word, in communion with the Holy Spirit, and in communion with practical living, these priorities have bubbled to the surface. Don't let emotion or ideology or practice guide your response. But God's word properly balanced.

1. Evangelism is the First Responsibility of the Church - Sharing the gospel, fulfilling the great commission is the single most important aspect as our practice as Christians.  It's the primary duty of the church.  It's not worship, or teaching, it's evangelism. This isn't an unpopular idea, evangelism, sharing the gospel.  But how few of us actually do it, and make it part of our daily routine?  

2. Antinomianism is the great heresy of the Modern American Church - Antinomianism is an old heresy by which false teachers long ago taught that all you have to do is believe in Jesus. That's it. You can live however you want to live. They remove repentance from the equation. This is so insanely common in the modern church that it isn't even noticed.  It's like trying to look at water as a fish. It's hard to see. But it's incredibly common. "Just believe, that's it!" Oversimplification. There is more to it than that! 

3. Holiness is the great forgotten Teaching of the Church - Be holy as God is holy.  The great split between Wesley and Edwards was that Edwards believed we always had to keep sinning, we could never be free from sin, an idea you will find nowhere in the Bible, and Wesley, who believed Christ empowers us to live holy lives. But it's not really about Wesley or Edwards, it's about the scriptures, which call us to holiness.

4. Once Saved Always Saved is a deadly False Teaching - How many in hell today are crying out "Preacher you told me I could never lose my salvation?"  How often this false teaching has been an opiate for sin in the life of a believer.  Pornography addiction, pre-marital sex, lying, stealing, cheating, and living pridefully. And every time they must tell themselves, we always keep sinning, I can't lose my salvation.  And thus the road to hell is paved for millions.  What an irresponsible, unbiblical false teaching.  Forgive me, but it makes me angry to consider how many have been led to the gates of darkness through this opiate. Yes, we can have assurance of salvation in Christ, but obedient faith is necessary, practicing good deeds, and truly living free from sin.  Does it muddy the waters? Sure. But it's all in the word. And I can't deny the word.  Not for any ideology or any comfort I would prefer. 

5. Emphasizing the Feel-Good Verses, Removing the Tough Verses- This is another "hidden in plain sight" heresy of the modern church. We like to tickle the ears of our people.  We've decided that the love of God is the only right motivator for bringing people to God.  We've decided, standing in authority over God's word, that we will create an idol, a very clever idol.  This idol is the idol of carving out all the feel-good verses from the Bible, and then not talking about the difficult verses in the Bible.  We create an idol out of God, we create a false-god who is all love, and no justice.  We create a false god who just wants us to be happy. We create a false god who just wants to bless us.  We create a false god that doesn't judge anybody.  And this god is no god at all.  We must love the verses we love about God, and the verses that make us uncomfortable.  The justice and judgment of God is just as beautiful as the love and mercy of God.  They are glorious parts of his nature.  We can't allow the spirit of the age, the spirit of "be nice" to let us make an idol out of our glorious God. 

6. Heaven and Hell are Real - It seems as the church we don't talk much about heaven and hell anymore.  Especially the reality of hell.  You would be hard pressed to find many pastors today who are brave enough to talk about the reality of hell.  Or if they do, they try to sanitize it by calling it only a place of outer darkness, not referring to the fire, or the wrath of God that is present there.  They over-spiritualize it.  But most just don't even refer to it.  They've decided in their minds that hell is a big turn off, so they don't need to mention it.  Only talk about love, Jesus, forgiveness, and faith.  Those are all great things to talk about.  But heaven and hell are literal and true realities.  There is a hell where many will spend, well, forever.  And there is a real heaven, where those who have lived for Jesus will spend eternity, to get more specific, a new heavens and new Earth, in which is a city called The New Jerusalem, but I digress. Heaven and hell are true destinations for all humanity.  Every human will go to one of those two places.  So we must, must, must talk about these realities and help people understand that they are real! 
Romans 2:6-8, Revelation 21:1-27, Luke 23:43, Matthew 10:28, John 14:2 

7. Jesus will return very, very, very Soon - The return of Jesus Christ is imminent.  We are living in the end days.  Many in the church today don't expect Jesus to return anytime soon, and many in the church today don't believe Jesus will ever return.  Jesus Christ our King will return to gather his people.  He will rule and reign on this Earth for a thousand years in a time we refer to as the Millennial Reign of Christ.  This time is not far off.  This time is now.  The time is very near!  We've seen the Jews return to Israel after 1,900 years of roaming the nations.  We've seen information increase.  We've seen world governments forming.  We've seen technology allowing for the world to communicate instantaneously around the globe. These are the end times. Jesus will return. And I firmly believe it will happen in my lifetime.  No one knows the day or the hour, let's be clear about that. But the word of God also says that if we are watching carefully, and perceiving the signs of the times, we won't be surprised either.  Jesus is real.  Jesus is not just alive "in our hearts."  Jesus is actually alive right now in heaven.  And he will return.  That time is now.  Be ready, and be prepared. For the hour is late, and the time is near.  And if he arrives and finds us without a wedding dress, or our lamp has gone out, we will not enter with Him, we will be sent away. 

In conclusion brothers and sisters, I know I've stepped on many, many toes. I've stepped on Catholic toes, I've stepped on Protestant toes. So let me be clear: The glass that we see through is of course influenced by our tradition.  That is part of the equation we consider.  There are many different expressions of Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, and so on and so forth. Many of these expressions are God-ordained.  Tradition is not a bad thing. 

"Well that wasn't what I was taught at my church." I realize that. But please, regard God's word above the teachings of your favorite pastor or priest. And I'm not saying Protestants or Catholics are just wrong and evil.  Not at all! All I'm saying is, make sure the order is right, God's word first, and make sure you are humbly attuned to the three areas of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy. And make sure your focus and priorities are right. You men and women of God, must teach and preach and properly handle the word of truth.  Don't let ideology get in the way of God's word, and His revelation to us. Stand in the ocean, looking carefully, mind stayed on God, feet planted on the truth of God's word, head in the clouds with deep emotive relationship with God, practicing the faith in truth, making use of the floaty of theology, while always regarding God and His word first above doctrine, emotion, or practice.  Live in pursuit of the real God. Live in pursuit of truth. Live in pursuit of real Christianity. Make that the attitude of your mind and your first pursuit, and you won't fall into error, false teachings, or eternal destruction.  God is great! Amen.