Sunday, January 30, 2022

Toward a more Complete Christian Walk: 7 Things I Learned from Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Apologists, Pentecostals, & Wesleyans

I really enjoy reading books and studying ideas from outside my denominational framework. I believe God works through many different denominations, not just the one that I'm a part of. So I like to see, what am I maybe missing that other denominations are doing? What do they believe?  How do they practice their faith? 

In my faith journey I've gone from being raised Catholic, to being Baptist, and then to The Salvation Army, and I've experienced many other traditions as well in various ways, from reading books to watching sermons. 

So today we're looking at the topic, how can we follow Jesus better by looking at what other faith traditions do and believe. That's a mouth full. 

We're going to look at 5 groups, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptist Evangelical, Apologetics movement, and Pentecostals. And a look at Wesleyan holiness. 

I'm a truth seeker. I'm always looking for the truth, sifting through the word of God, seeking to understand it more clearly and practice it more faithfully. I think we should all be truth seekers. So as we consider these 7 areas, I want you to put your truth seeker cap on. Take what you can, to apply to your faith practice, so it's more beautiful and more biblical in Christ. 

You see the beautiful cathedral, the beautiful architecture, the stained glass windows, the candles burning, the incense. You hear the organ playing, the altar, the paintings and statues. It's so very different from what we do here isn't it? 

Catholicism and protestantism are the two major categories of Christians in the world today. We fall under that protestant umbrella. Catholicism is something completely different. 

Here we find the value of liturgy, and physical manifestations of faith. The touching of the senses. Candles burning. Confessions of faith repeated over and over with the lips. The smell of incense in the nostrils. Stained glass windows with light shining through, beauty to the eyes. The wafer and the wine in the mouth, to be tasted. Statues and artwork to be seen. 

I was raised Catholic, but I never really connected to it. Going back into a Catholic church later in life, I discovered a great joy in the reciting of the truths of the scriptures. It can be Spirit-filled, is what I learned when reconnecting with it later in life.

The beauty of the physical is at work in the ornate chapels and basilicas of the Catholic faith. The reciting of the truths of the Christian faith bring a fresh theological depth to an increasingly luke-warm, shallow Christianity of today based on simplistic Christian rock choruses that tend to glorify love more so than the God who is both merciful and holy. The repetition of liturgy can help guide us toward a more theologically deep and meaningful practice of our faith. Physical manifestations can remind us that God is a God of our world. 

Next, Lutheranism. I studied Luther and the reformation a great deal in college at Liberty, and graduate school at ONU, and on my own, reading books, and reading his essays. I think in studying Martin Luther, the great reformer, and the reformation, when Luther really established the protestant movement, away from the Catholic church, I find the value of the all-sufficiency of Christ. 

Christ is everything. Everything is about Christ. Jesus is the savior. He's the one who washes away our sins. Of the millions of sins on record, there is not even one I can scrub away on my own. I could scrub all day. I could scrub and repent and do good deeds, all day long. But I can't wash away sin. Not even one. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus is the reason. Jesus is the hope. Jesus is the atonement for sin. Jesus is sufficient. Thank you Luther, for that.

Next, we consider Calvinism. What is Calvinism? Well it's an off-shoot of the reformation movement started by Luther. John Calvin was very focused on pre-destination and developed the TULIP, the 5 main points of Calvinism.

Really today the majority of the most popular preachers and speakers in the United States today are Calvinists. These include speakers like John Piper, John MacArthur, John R.W. Stott, Alistair Begg, DA Carson, Wayne Grudem, Mark Driscoll, Paul Washer, Tim Keller, I could go on and on, basically every big name in evangelical Christianity is a Calvinist. So I found myself heavily influenced by these speakers in my faith walk. 

Though I strongly disagree theologically with all five points of the calvinist TULIP, there was a lot of good to learn from Calvinism.  

The most important truth I took away from Calvinism was the utterly highest regard for scripture. They call this biblical inerrancy. 

How much do we trust the word of God? In my experience, our regard for the word of God is so utterly low, it's absolutely appalling. We turn up our nose at scriptures we dislike. We skip over the difficult scriptures, and emphasize the lovey-dovey ones. We white-wash and blot out the scriptures about hell and judgment. We second guess Paul, John, and even Jesus. It's sad.

Calvinists I disagree with on a great deal, and I believe their "once saved always saved" doctrine to be no less than a doctrine of hell itself, but I'll give them this, they have the highest regard for the word of God. Sadly, in our tradition they see it as "sufficient for Christian faith and practice." What a sad, limiting refrain. The word of God describes all of reality. It's perfect, glorious, beautiful, a depiction of the truth about all of reality, not just matters directly related to faith and practice. Inerrancy shows the highest regard for the word of God. If only we loved it this much, and had such a high regard for it.

But often I find that Christians give lip service to the word of God, but instead seem to live by whatever the latest pop philosophical or psychological trend is, or by whatever the news media and pop academic establishment repeat enough times.  

Next, the Baptist Evangelical movement. This for me really encompasses much more than Converge Great Lakes or Converge international, or E-Free, or non-denominational churches. This is really the "in between the lines" representing so many churches across the country.  My grandpa got saved in a baptist evangelical church. So did my mom. And I later joined a baptist evangelical church and attended faithfully for several years where I was baptized and born again.  

From the Baptist evangelical movement I really took the importance of sharing the gospel.  Usually we think of sharing the gospel as the job of the minister or the elders. But that's not biblical. It's the job of every single Christian to know the gospel individually and to share the gospel with others. 

This lit my faith afire, realizing the great need of the world for Jesus. And I learned to be "evangelical" to be an individual who makes it his mission to pop a Christian bumper sticker on his car, to post my faith on Facebook, to pray for the people in my neighbor, to talk to strangers and tellers and cashiers about Jesus, and to hand out tracts and give out Bibles.  

Do you have that attitude of sharing the gospel everywhere? Are you a one man or one woman soldier of God blasting that word of God out there everywhere you go?  I learned that in the baptist evangelical movement. Share it! Get it out there! Any possible way you can! It's your job, nobody else will do it for you. 

Next, the Apologetics movement. This isn't really a denomination per say, but a movement within a lot of churches, seminaries, and particularly on the internet. 

About a year after I became a Christian I asked the Lord a simple prayer: Lord help me understand my faith.  And God led me to learn apologetics from some of the greatest Christian apologists of today and the past, people like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, Dinesh D'Souza, John Lennox, and Lee Strobel. 

I learned the key arguments for the existence of God, the kalam cosmological argument, the argument from design, the moral argument, the ontological argument and so on. I learned about the historical evidence for Jesus, the manuscript evidence for the Bible, and scientific evidence that confirmed the Christian God's existence. It was an incredible time in my life and I still draw on that wealth of knowledge as I grow in my faith.  

Next, Pentecostals. I began to learn to experience God directly. For a long time I had an over-abundance of orthodoxy. I had a great deal of head knowledge, that's how I thought of Christianity, like it was a text-book set of concepts, philosophies, and ideas. It was very formulaic. And with many calvinists and christian apologists I turned my nose up at the supernatural in many ways. But over time I came to realize, there was something there, that I was missing, a passionate, deep, experiential relationship with God. 

I've come to realize that I can experience God, and indeed I must experience and be deeply connected with God. It's more than a relationship, it's a romance, a marriage. There's no word for it. But it's joy. It's love, a special love, between creator and creation. We ought to have a Pentecostal faith, a faith that believes and expects more from God than we do now. 

We ought to expect the supernatural from God. God is still at work. And the heights of connection with him are still to be found and explored, if we'll dive deeper and further, and believe God on His word. It's a dangerous level of experience, which can make us feel uncomfortable, but we often say "it's about a relationship" and then we don't really live that out. It is a deep, experiential relationship and God pours into that relationship if we'll just dig deeper and stay longer with Him.

What if we prayed for hours like many Pentecostals do? What if we really believed that God does heal? What if we dare ask God for the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues? What if we believed that God still speaks in dreams and visions and prophecy today? Is that unthinkable, terrible? But I found myself sneering at such suggestions today with many top speakers and apologists. I don't sneer anymore.  I'm done sneering. I'm listening, and learning a deeper more rich relationship with God, while also testing all things by the word of God and prayer. 

I've read books like Heaven is so Real by Choo Thomas, and A Land Unknown: Hell's Dominion by Brian Melvin. I've listened to speakers like Mary K. Baxter, Sid Roth, Mark Brown, Howard Pittman, Ken Peters, Sarah Boyanga, Angelica Zambrano, Pastor Robert Clancy, Tomi Arayomi, and others. And I would've missed out on so much if I hadn't gone down these ancient roads.

Lastly, we consider the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. And of course I'm part of The Salvation Army, which is nestled within the Wesleyan Holiness movement along with denominations like Church of the Nazarene, Methodism, and Wesleyan churches. 

I had gone through basic Christian training from Christian Leaders Institute. I had studied the Christian religion in my bachelors studies at Liberty University. But it wasn't until I attended The Salvation Army training college seminary, and later ONU graduate school, did I learn about something that changed my faith forever. 

I had inerrancy. I had Arminian theology. I had the missional approach. I even had apologetics to arm me to defend my faith. Not only that, I was learning to experience God in deep relationship. But despite all that, I felt and knew, something was missing from the equation.  

Despite all these beautiful elements of faith, why did so many churches look so much like the world? Why were so many Christians living in active sin? Why were so many pastors addicted to pornography? Why were Christians departing from the faith left and right? Why despite our missional attitude did we see so little fruit and why did the church have so little impact on today's culture? Why did sex scandal after sex scandal flow out of evangelical Christian megachurches? Why did I feel lukewarm, one foot in and one foot out, why did I feel that God was calling me toward some sort of maturity beyond my muddled state?

And the Lord brought before me Wesleyan-holiness theology. The radical idea, that Christians today were not only washed clean from sin's penalty, but that in Christ, Christian's can live holy and pure, victorious over sin. This was a radical proposition to me. Because every Christian around me including myself was living in various active sins of the flesh.  And I had always been taught Christians will always keep sinning in this world. They can't stop. 

But soon I discovered in the word of God that again and again Jesus, Paul, John, Peter, all across the New Testament I never saw a single Bible verse that gave me permission to remain in active sins. Instead I saw time and again, that we're called to live pure in Christ, called to the process of sanctification, called to growth in conforming to the image of Christ, called to "be holy as God is holy" 1st Peter 1:14-16. 

I realized that if I as a Christian died living in active sins, and came before God, I would be judged, and condemned to hell. Not because I had failed to do works or something. But because after putting on the perfect garment of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, I had dirtied my robe, and had refused to repent of active sins, because I'd been taught sinning was OK.

This was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to think I could go on sinning. I wanted to think I could never really be pure. I wanted to think that I was eternally secure and I could sin all I wanted. But I realized with fear and with great hope, that I was called to live out purity in response to what Christ had done for me.  I had found the missing piece of the puzzle, holiness unto the Lord. 

I knew Jesus Christ had paid off my debt of sin. I knew I could not add a single work to any of it. My job then was simply to not dirty the perfect garment he had given me. And if I did, to repent, turn to Jesus, and he would wash me clean again and again along the way. And that was the missing piece. It brought it all together beautifully. But I continue to grow as a Christian. And I'm excited to see what God teaches me next. Thanks be to God, for the pilgrims progress, the journey we walk as Christians.  That is my theological and practical journey thus far, and what I've learned by exploring various traditions.  What can you learn and grow in here? How can you grow closer to God and believe and live out his word for fully? That is the question I leave you with today.