Archive for August, 2013

Statement of Faith Evaluation: Joyce Myers

I have been asked to evaluate a second Statement of Faith.  This one has been published on Joyce Myers’ web site:

I wish to make a few quick observations before getting started with a point by point evaluation.

Myers’ Statement does not include enumerated points, so I have assigned numbers to each point, for ease of reference.  The structure of Myers’ Statement is that she presents her point and then offers one or more biblical references in support of her position.  She normally cites the Amplified translation of the Holy Bible for her biblical quotations.  I don’t really care for the Amplified translation.  What they choose to “amplify” I too often find to be the wrong interpretation.  Sometimes they have nice phrasing, but I always pull up one or two other translations to get a more rounded feel for the passage.

I frequently check translations against one another, and feel it is a good habit to develop.  Young’s Literal Translation is a quick way to see if more modern translations are deviating far from the classic interpretations of the original languages (typically Hebrew or Greek).  I also like to compare Hebrew bible quotes to those prepared by a Jewish organization, although this can take more time to parse out the meanings.

I found this evaluation to be much easier to make than the previous one.  My opinions still differ on a number of points, but I generally find Myers to offer a more mature sense of spirituality than found in my first Statement evaluation (that of Josh.org).

However, I still think one of the more important tasks we each face, is to bring our theology up to the level of the Rooftop Garden, as spoke of by Prof. Ron Miller (http://www.ronmillersworld.org/tag/theosophical-society/) or as close as we can bring ourselves to this, as often as we are able.  It is a big world and we have to learn to live together peacefully.  No matter one’s religion-spirituality, if we can’t even get that first, most basic “rule” right, we are not even heading in the right direction.

To that end, whilst considering statements of faith and theological premises upon which to base our lives, I suggest we compare these to the two extremes in the Stage of Faith continuum.  One one extreme is the Tribal-Warrior mentality (Ron Miller’s “Basement”) in which everyone who fails to think as we do is seen as an enemy, and the preferred way of dealing with enemies is to kill them.  At the other extreme is Unity Consciousness (Ron Miller’s Rooftop Garden), and here one does not even perceive enemies, because at some fundamental level, we are all the same, and we are all interconnected each one to the other, and to-and-through the Divine.

I find this to be a very effective tool of discernment.  When evaluating a religious-spiritual-theological tenet or proposition, ask with which extreme it is more consonant.  To the degree it resonates with the Tribal-Warrior world view, it is likely to be in error, and damaging to our well being;  and to the degree it resonates with the theme of Unity Consciousness, it is likely to represent highly refined spirituality, and constructive to our well being.

So with these brief words of introduction, let us being the evaluation of Joyce Myers’ Statement of Faith.

1) The Bible is the infallible Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and contains every answer to man’s problems.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Erik’s opinon:  First of all, do recall this is not Paul writing this.  This is another reasonably late letter, and we can expect it to convey more evolved/refined Christian theologies.

You’ll have to spend some time defining “inspired.”  This is the key word in this passage, as I read it.

But as I read the rest of the verses, it does NOT speak to infallibility.  It speaks to practicality and usefulness.  I can agree that scripture is often both practical and useful.  Also inspiring.  But NOT infallible.  In fact, it clearly is not;  at least not in any literal sense of the word.

I supposed one might argue the inspiration is of an infallible nature and any errors are because frail humans are unable to carry the Holy Content perfectly.  But I find this to be a unconvincing argument.  God has to speak to we frail humans, and to do so must use the limited resources we have available to us.  I think this is part of what is being pointed at with the stories of people dropping dead if they see or touch God.  We are like little thin wires that when suddenly exposed to a giant amperage (large electrical current) simply melt in half!  As the thin wire is unable to carry a giant electrical current, we too are unable to carry the full impact of “God.”

2 Peter 1:20-21

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Erik’s opinon:  Another late book.  (Not written by the Apostle Peter.)  Therefore, evolved and proto-orthodox theology will be expected.  As we see here.  I simply disagree.

Go back to the “thin wire” analogy.  There is a thing called a wire-fuse.  All this means is it is a thin wire.  If the circuit flows too much current, it will burn through (melt) the wire.

We humans are thin wire fuses.  We can only understand from the experience of our senses.  It is nice to think otherwise, that somehow God can make our brains non-human, or function at a super-human efficiency, or some how otherwise violate the physical limits into which we were born, in these animal-bodies.

But asserting does not make it so.  And that is how I read this.  It is a circular argument, which I take to mean were we not human, we would be able to understand in super-human levels of comprehension.  Sure, I can agree with that.  But *those* persons are no longer human.  *We humans* must deal within the limits of our ability to comprehend, and we can maybe stretch this a little bit through our apprehension, perhaps because it engages our unconscious to a higher degree.  But this is not going to be enough to suddenly make us super-human and able to understand the direct-feed of the Mind of God.

The main trouble with the argument this scripture presents, is that somehow we need not (worse, in fact, *can not*) interpret scripture.  But this is nonsense.  We *must* interpret scripture.  The printed words have no intrinsic meaning of their own, nor are they able to somehow project us into the God-Mind.  We have to use our tiny human brains to provide the meaning to what we read (and for that matter what we experience).

The only other argument that I see one might make is this refers specifically to, and is limited to, prophecy.  But as we discovered in a previous conversation, we were unable to really define what “prophecy” means.  Waxing metaphoric, I will again bring up the idea that were God himself to sit down and read the scripture to us, *we* *still* have to use our tiny minds to bring meaning to those words.  God cannot talk beyond our comprehension – actually, He may if He so wishes, but we won’t understand what He is saying.

And I do NOT see how this defends the argument for the scripture being infallible.  Is this to say that the Holy Spirit will work with us and within us and through us until we are able to finally “get it”?  This may well be true.  I think I can believe something along those lines – however, that is *still* the human working to reach understanding.  It is not the scripture/Holy Spirit forcing us to a higher order of perception that we are capable of achieving.

In other words, we are created human, and human we remain so long as we are here.  I don’t see how we can easily get around this limit.  (Mysticism is one means, I suspect.  But it is notoriously difficult to understand what a mystic is trying to share of their own experience of the Divine, so this too shares a related difficulty.)

2) There is one God, existing eternally in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

John 10:30; John 14:26; Philippians 2:5-7

Erik’s opinon:  I’ve written to this pretty thoroughly in the past.  I think people make too much of this and worry about it too much.  I don’t think the bible really supports this idea, but I don’t see any great harm in believing it either.  Of course, I’m just as likely to switch to an understanding of the Quadrinity (four-part) of the Divine if that makes for a more useful and practical tool for what I am trying to do in the moment.

3) God is Love and He loves all people. It is His desire to reach out to those who are poor, oppressed, widowed or orphaned, and to heal the brokenhearted.

Erik’s opinon:  Naturally, I would agree.  I would go further, saying this is the entire point!  I do so from a Universalist perspective however.  What limit does Joyce Myers see to God’s Love?  If she feels there is any, it is not addressed here.

Psalm 68:5-6

5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.

And, Psalm 68:21-23, reads:

21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’

Erik’s opinon:  We see God, not as God is, but as we perceive God to be.  This is one part a stage of faith thing, and one part our culture.

1 John 4:16

Erik’s opinon:  1st John is not to be confused with the Gospel of John.  Many scholars find the letters of John to be later, as they describe an established church, and the disagreements between groups, leading to internal conflicts.  In this way, it shares some similarities with books/letters such as 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, 1st and 2nd Peter, etc.  Just recall when reading these, they depict the later stages of the early Christian movement, and after the proto-orthodox views are beginning to exert themselves over other understandings of what it means to follow Jesus.  In any event, I think her case is stronger, citing the entire section:

1 John 4:7-21

God Is Love

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[b] because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters,[c] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[d] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters[e] also.

[b] 1 John 4:19 Other ancient authorities add him; others add God
[c] 1 John 4:20 Gk brothers
[d] 1 John 4:20 Gk brother
[e] 1 John 4:21 Gk brothers

(4) Man is created in the image of God but separated from God by sin. Without Jesus we cannot have a relationship with God.

Erik’s opinon:  So much for Universal Love, or Universal Redemption?  😉 heheh.  She doesn’t say here, just wondering where that question is going.  This point (what I numbered #4) is particularly interesting because what normally follows is we are subject to Original Sin, and therefore vile in some basic way, as opposed to be basically good, and subject to errors (“sins”).

So we’ll hold that question for now.

Quoting this scripture from Genesis is an example of why I like to have several translations available, and when dealing with the Hebrew bible, a translation or two which deal specifically with the Hebrew verses from a Jewish perspective.

Genesis 1:26

Amplified Bible (AMP)

26 God said, Let Us [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness, and let them have complete authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the [tame] beasts, and over all of the earth, and over everything that creeps upon the earth.

Erik’s opinon:  I get suspicious when I see “amplifications” which I do not believe to be scripturally supported.  In this case, inserting the observation:  “Let Us [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]….”  Really?  I seriously *doubt* the Hebrew scripture says that!  Being as they really like that “One God” thing so much 😉 heheh.  So let’s look at a couple other translations to see what we find, and if we think this “amplified” translation really fits properly.  In so doing, we will also recall the Amplified translation is the one to which her web site links, so we may presume it is her preferred translation.  Therefore, it will be useful to see if we agree with her position, and it may be useful in trying to figure out her “stage of faith”:

Genesis 1:26

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind [Adam] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Erik’s opinon:  Hmmmm….. Now we do NOT see a reference to the Trinity.  Nor would we expect to see one.  The NRSV is one of my favorite translations.  Now that we have cleared that up (or may, after seeing another translation or two) my eye is now drawn to the business about “in our image” and “likeness.”  What is that all about?  For *that* we need to look at the Hebrew and see if we can’t figure out what the key words mean in the original language.

Bereshis 1:26

Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)

26 And G-d said, Let Us make man in Our tzelem, after Our demut: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon ha’aretz (the earth).

Erik’s opinon:  My first attempts are to type “Hebrew tzelem demut” into a search engine and see what pops up.  The Hebrew word “tzelem” (image) denotes appearance, while the Hebrew word “demut” (likeness) denotes similarity in form and deed.  Here is an interesting Jewish perspective on this verse, which I think is useful:

http://ohr.edu/explore_judaism/ask_the_rabbi/ask_the_rabbi/4917

So we can now clearly see there is nothing hinted at in the Hebrew speaking of a Trinity or multiplicity in the Person of God.

So that settles that aspect of the verse.  However, I do note that this verse does NOT address or support the point made in her statement of faith.  We will have to read more broadly to get to that point.  I cannot answer why she would choose to show as support verses which do not even address the statement she has made.

Here is one web page that gives a reading closer to the Hebrew:

http://hebrewdivinenames.webs.com/elohim.htm

Or we can use one of the Jewish translations on the Bible Gateway web site (the same site Joyce Myers’ links to).  Perhaps she doesn’t wish us to read the next verse?:

27 So G-d created humankind in His own tzelem, in the tzelem Elohim (image of G-d) created He him; zachar (male) and nekevah (female) created He them.

This brings up questions of gender, as well as how to interpret the use of the word Elohim, which is a strange combination of male, female, and neuter language in the Hebrew.  The subtleties of the answers get into far more ancient Hebrew grammar than I can follow, so I have not been able to form my own solid opinion on this point.  However, I will observe that the early cultures from which this creation myth partially borrows, and changes in uniquely Hebrew ways, suggests to me there may well have been a very early form of polytheism going on during the pre-literate age.  This word Elohim may be a shadow of that.

On the other hand, the rabbi offers a very good point, in that this points us to the active agent aspect of God (or Adam, as the case may be).  So we have to give that serious consideration too.

1 Timothy 2:5

1 Timothy 2

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)

Instructions concerning Prayer

2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6        who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth,[a] I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman[b] learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman[c] to teach or to have authority over a man;[d] she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
Footnotes:

[a] 1 Timothy 2:7 Other ancient authorities add in Christ
[b] 1 Timothy 2:11 Or wife
[c] 1 Timothy 2:12 Or wife
[d] 1 Timothy 2:12 Or her husband

Erik’s opinon:  Started out great!  Kinda blew up at the end and went all Patriarchal on us!  And so we see the need to take these later letters with a grain of salt.  Use that which speaks to love, and leave behind that which speaks to human concerns of keeping others in their “proper” place, or otherwise spreading hate or discontent.  This section is also an example of why I say the New Testament is not the “infallible” word of God – quite the contrary, it holds a lot of fallacies, as well as contradictions and errors.

But refer back to Prof. Ron Miller’s paper on Truth vs. Fact.  We each bring our own set of lenses through which we read scripture.  As did those (humans!) who wrote it, and those (humans) who copied and re-copied the scriptures over the centuries.  We are well advised to discern and understand all these lenses we are able to reasonably identify.

As to this offering support of her statement of faith, at least it *does* whereas the Genesis quote does not.  However, I find this to be another circular argument.  She is using a late letter written from the proto-orthodox perspective to support the orthodox position which survives to this day.  I would prefer to have wider attribution to the claim, and not one who in the next breath is talking about the need for women to sit down and shut up.  So I’ll grant this supports her position, but I find the source suspect.

(5) We can have a personal relationship with God through salvation, God’s free gift to man. It is not a result of what we do, but it is only available through God’s unearned favor. By admitting we have sinned and believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, and accepting Him as Lord, we can spend eternity with God.

Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:1; Romans 3:24

Erik’s opinion:  To frame these letters, we begin by recognizing that Ephesians is a later letter, and was *not* written by Paul.  Among its concerns are keeping the Body of Christ (the Church) “pure.”  There was no such Church in Paul’s day, and he would not have even seen a need for such a thing, given that he appears to have expected the bodily resurrection to happen during his own lifetime.  So like many other late letters/books of the New Testament, Ephesians should be read with the understanding the theology it expresses is fairly well developed, and in some cases is also being used as a suppression of alternate forms of early Christianity.

The letter to the Roman’s *was* written by Paul.  This is the nearest writing of Paul which survives that attempts anything approaching a systematic theology.  It is however, not a systematic approach, and Paul is not trying to outline his full thoughts on Christian Theology.  He is writing to address concerns regarding his apostolic teachings to the gentiles (and in this sense is a type of limited-theological presentation), and also to pave the way for a fund-raising initiative he wishes to pursue upon his arrival in Rome, in the hopes of acquiring funding for a series of missions to the West (Gaul/France, and Western Europe in general; and I would assume the north west coast of Africa as well).

Ephesians 2:8-9

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Romans 5:1-5 (Joyce Myers specifies verse 1)

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
Results of Justification

5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 3:21-31 (Joyce Myers specifies verse 24)

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Righteousness through Faith

21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement [or: place of atonement] by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus [or: who has the faith of Jesus].

27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Erik’s opinion:  There is a lot contained in her summary of these verses:

  •     a) We can have a personal relationship with God…
  •     b) through salvation, God’s free gift to man.
  •     c) It is not a result of what we do, but it is only available through God’s unearned favor.
  •     d) By admitting we have sinned…
  •     e) and believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ…
  •     f) and accepting Him as Lord…
  •     g) we can spend eternity with God.

 

In my view, I ask what one wishes to declare by this observation?  Is this to say there is only *one* way to God?  Is it to say that *only* expressing faith is sufficient?  Is there Universal Redemption, or not?  Are people doomed by accident of birth, or predestined to damnation and therefore predestined to ill-fated births?  These are the types of questions that come to my mind when I hear talk of there being only *one* way to God.  The primary problem is there are now billions of people on the planet.  It is simply unrealistic to believe all them can possibly become Christians, of any flavor.  So are we to say that God damns billions of people?  Most of whom realistically have no chance of becoming Christians?  That seems really cold and unloving.  To my mind it is in fact antithesis to what I imagine to be the nature of God (love).

So this is the backdrop which *I* read into people quoting these kinds of verses.  But let’s try another way of looking at the points she seems to make in her summary.

  •     a) We can have a personal relationship with God…

What aspect of God?  Certainly not the most extreme aspect, that of the Ineffable.  Of the “spark” of the Divine which dwells within each of us?  How so?  Is this in kindling loving relations with as many people as we can?  Or is there another aspect of the Divine, which resides in the realm of Spirit and is able to manifest in our physical realm as well?  Perhaps this is what she means.  I do believe we have the ability to address a personified aspect of the Divine.  When my spiritual back is against the wall, I pray to Jesus;  when working with healing prayers I may invoke the healing power of Archangel Raphael;  etc.  Furthermore, I understand these to be real forces at play in our physical universe; not merely imaginary flights of fancy or metaphoric representations pointing toward a reality beyond our grasp.

  •     b) through salvation, God’s free gift to man.

Is she refining her definition of our personal relationship with God to only that which takes place through “salvation”?  This may be an aspect of that relationship, but I cannot see it as the only access.

  •     c) It is not a result of what we do, but it is only available through God’s unearned favor.

This is a popular view.  We cannot bow enough, say enough prayers, burn enough incense, sacrifice enough lambs and doves, to secure God’s “favor.”  I wonder if she would include securing God’s “love” in this observation?  It seems to me God’s love is a free gift, to everyone, even those – and perhaps *especially* those? – who are wayward souls (thinking Prodigal Son parable).

From that perspective I can see the point.  But the flip side is to say that our actions and intentions mean absolutely nothing.  We can “have faith” and then go on to be a mass murderer, and all is well.  I do not agree.  I, in fact, do *not* think all would then be well.  But I think this plays into the theme of Universal Salvation (or Redemption) much better than the popular view of “being saved by our faith and God’s Grace.”

In the scheme of Universalism, we retain our freedom of choice and the responsibility to pay for our behavior.  I suspect that love is the greater part of this, so that a heart-felt act of redemption may “pay off” more than a single act of hate.  But if one returns to a life of hate, they are no longer walking toward God, and they will at some point have to resume that journey (perhaps from square one;  perhaps not).

So I see the subtle points, the shades of grey, are both important, and instructive.  We *are* saved purely by God’s Grace.  But *we* have to continue upon that path to grasp the redemption.  If we turn away, the Grace remains, but we have not taken hold of it.  Yet it will always be available, for whenever we are ready to live that way of life.

  •     d) By admitting we have sinned…

Yes, if she means “error” which is what the word originally meant.  No, if she means Original Sin.  Because I do not believe Original Sin ever happened.  We are created as we are, full of sin as we are, because that is how we were *intended* to be created.  We are a work in progress.  By learning to overcome our proclivity for “sin” we enter the process and experience of becoming the more evolved spiritual beings we will eventually mature into.  It must be this way.  This is the only way we can become the mature, enlightened spiritual beings “God” wishes us to become.  (I am waxing metaphoric again, heheh….  It can be a useful tool.)

I go further.  I say that God is unable to “create” us as perfect beings.  For us to *be* us, we must undergo the process of evolution, and painfully learning to distinguish good from bad, and to *desire* to choose good over bad.  We are created through this *process* and cannot be replicated by a singular “instant” of creation – not even by God.

  •     e) and believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ…

I wonder what she reads into this?  Is she taking the position of what seems to be Paul’s understanding, that Jesus became Divine upon his resurrection?  Or does she take the view of the author of the Gospel of John and say that Jesus was/is the Logos, and pre-existent before the forming of the universe?

I personally prefer the Divine upon Resurrection idea.  This means Jesus lived a human life, from birth to death.  This means when he says we too can do as he did, and even greater things, it actually *means* something which we can really hope to obtain.  Otherwise, if he said that as God, he was lying to us or making fun of us, and both seem out of character, so I doubt that was the intent.

  •     f) and accepting Him as Lord…

As JHVH?  Most likely not.  Most likely as a hard to define aspect of the Trinity.

  •     g) we can spend eternity with God.

What then, I always have wondered?  Life without growth seems dull and even dreadful if lasting sufficiently long (as would be “eternity”).  My personal assumption is that we continue our spiritual growth.  Either reincarnated in a physical life, or continuing along a one-life existence in the spiritual realm.  But either way, more growth, more refinement of our spirit.  Perhaps to one day become united with the One; with God, perhaps even that Ineffable aspect of the Divine, some distant Age of Age.  We are all guessing about such eventualities.  So there is no point is beating one another up over one’s preferred believe in this regard.  The most likely thing is, we are all wrong, and it will be far stranger and far more fascinating that we can ever imagine.

As strange as it might seem, I think I generally agree with her, but that I mean it differently than does she.  Yet I still feel that we would be in general agreement as the the nature (or ontology) of the Divine.

(6) We believe in water baptism, as taught and demonstrated by Jesus, as the way for believers to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:4; Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 28:19

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Romans 6

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
Dying and Rising with Christ

6 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments[a] of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments[b] of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Erik’s opinion:  This is fine.  I personally see more in the act.  On one level it reaches to our ancestors and the theme of an encounter with the Divine which is set outside of time.  We baptize to die, and in dying, are able to re-shape ourselves into a new creation, and we are in a sense “re-born” when we come “back to life.”  In this sense baptism is a symbolic death.  We are symbolically resurrected (in Christian parlance) into a new life.

In the Roman’s passage I wonder if a psychological reading is useful?  I cannot believe Paul thought he and others had literally died, when baptized, so he must mean something else.  I seem to read this as dying to the errors of our past, and no longer carrying these errors into our future life.

Interestingly, that Jesus was baptized by John is almost certain.  We see this in the redaction cited in Matthew chapter 3:

Matthew 3:13-17

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved [or: my beloved Son], with whom I am well pleased.”

It is presumed that one who baptizes is greater than the one who is baptized.  Hence editing the story to show that John as hesitant to baptized Jesus.

A second note is that some early manuscripts read “And *now* you have become my son” (or even become God’s *adopted* son).  This is a turning point for those who argue Jesus become Divine upon his baptism.  Some, of course, say he was conceived as Divine, or even was pre-existent as Divine.  As I have mentioned previously, I prefer to think of Jesus as fully human from birth to death, and not as pre-existent (although I love the poetry of the opening of John’s gospel, and use it in my liturgy), and not Divine until his resurrection.  I like to think this because I feel it offers us the greatest hope.  We are human.  Perhaps if we strive sufficiently we too may be able to approach something of the life Jesus modeled for us.  Jesus did say we can do even greater things that he did.  I have always taken that as a true statement;  but if he said that as God, it is false.

So, basically I think she and I are in agreement.  Unless she takes this as a requirement.  I do not see that to be the case.  On the other hand, when I finally found a church with whom I could honestly relate, I did choose to be baptized “into it.”  It is, however, symbolic.  This is not to say it lacks importance or that it lacks meaning.

(7) The Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. He helps empower the believer to develop the character of Christ and live every day in God’s will.

Matthew 3:11; Acts 2:4

Matthew 3:11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

11 “I baptize you with [or: in] water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with [or: in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

Acts 2:4

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Erik’s opinion:  I agree.  Charles Perdue once told me he sometimes thinks of the Holy Spirit as the “force” or “energy” of God active in the world.  This is as good a definition as any I have heard.  I certainly tend to think of the Holy Spirit as the “active agent” of God in this world.  It is also a means of thinking about the Holy Spirit without requiring the Trinity, if one is so inclined.

(8) God gives all believers spiritual gifts. They are for the strengthening of God’s people (the Church) and proof of God’s existence and power to unbelievers. The gifts of the Spirit are active and relevant today.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:10

1 Peter 4:10

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

And verses 7-11, read:

7 The end of all things is near [or: is at hand]; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Erik’s opinion:  A couple of points jump out at me.  This passage opens with “The end of all things is near….”  This is similar to Paul’s belief, that he would be alive to see the return of Jesus, and the bodily resurrection of all Christians.  1st Peter is a later book, yet still holds to the “time is near” theme.  For myself, I cannot believe “near” or “at hand” means 2,000 or 3,000 years!  But reading the text within its own context, this is the meaning in which the following lines of advice are offered.  I don’t think I would have used this citation as support for Gifts of the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Erik’s opinion:  This is one of the letters of Paul.  It was written to a troubled group of new Christians, and prefaces the well known 13th chapter – the Love Chapter – and makes some of the admonishments of chapter 13 makes more sense.

This is a fine citation for the Gifts of Spirit.  And one could easily include all of chapters 12, 13 and 14 as support for these assertions.  Paul clearly felt these were a vital aspect of the form of Christianity with which he was experienced.  And I am among those who assert these Gifts may also be a vital aspect of the form of Christianity which we may experience today.  However, I would not go so far as to say that if one fails to have any such Gifts, one is therefore *not* a Christian.  That places too much pressure on others, and could become an instrument of killing their faith; and we are not supposed to stand in judgement of others anyway.

(Dr. Ron Miller offered a useful way of understanding the biblical statements about not judging others.  In his view it means we are not to judge their internal lives.  We do not know what people are thinking or feeling or whether they are being sincerely holy or not, as they understand being holy.  All of that is for God to judge.  We *can* [must!] however, judge behavior.  Behavior is external and may be rationally observed by a third party.  Judgement of external behavior is the basis of civilization.  We require it in order to have any hope of living together in relative peace.  And now for a tricky bit….  This is why Miller says we can judge certain religious behaviors to be “basement” or “tribal” mentality.  The behaviors we may objectively judge.  But we can never judge those person’s internal relationship with the Divine.  Most of us do the best we know how to do.  Most of us try to do good, most the time.  As I read recently, a Hindu yogi observed that the most tribal, magic-based observance of spirituality is that person engaging with the Divine to their fullest ability;  that person is radiating as much as the Divine Light as they are able.  So too the yogi and mystic.  So too you and I.  We all do the best we can, and we all radiate 100% of the potential of the Divine of which we are able, at any given moment.)

(9) Sanctification is the ongoing process of allowing God’s character to be developed in us.

Romans 6:19; Galatians 5:22-25

Erik’s opinion:  Both Galatians and Romans are widely accepted as letters of Paul.  Of the 13 letters which cite Paul as their author, seven are considered authentic and uncontested by almost all scholars (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon).  This by the way, means that Paul is the author of nearly 25% of the New Testament!  With regard to the other letters, almost no scholar believes Paul wrote 2nd Thessalonians, 1st & 2nd Timothy, or Titus.  The same is true of Hebrews, few scholars think Paul wrote this book (as I mentioned previously, Hebrews is a sermon).  I personally think Paul *only* wrote the seven uncontested letters.

There is a Wikipedia article which offers some interesting insights to the word “sanctification.”  Among these are that sanctification is a result of doing works, whereas justification is a result of faith, by which I am assuming they mean Divine Grace.  Also interesting is how this may apply to the process of theosis (important to Eastern Orthodox Christianity) whereby humans may evolve to the point of embodying divine properties.  In any event, as is so often the case, we find there are many words with a great many shades of meaning, and this can make it difficult to tease out what specifically others may mean in their use of the word.

If we take a more generalized view of the word “sanctification” I would be in agreement with her premise.  I’m actually inclined toward the Eastern Orthodox view, that of theosis, and in that light see the human life of Jesus as a prime model and example of this process.  If we take the view that Jesus was made Divine upon his resurrection, and not before, this becomes an even greater possibility of each of us.  It may also point us toward an understanding that this process of sanctification is one in which we are engaged for a span of lives (be these in the physical or spiritual realm, or some combination thereof).

Quite interesting.

Galatians 5:22-25

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Fruit of the Spirit

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Romans 6:19

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations [or: weaknesses of the flesh]. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

Here is the full passage, verses 15-23:

Slaves of Righteousness

15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations [or: weaknesses of the flesh]. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Erik’s opinion:  Paul waxes a little poetic here.  We become as slaves to God, and see that on one extreme lies sin and error which lead to death, and on the other extreme is committing our lives to the process of sanctification, of embodying to ever greater degrees those beliefs and behaviors which are modeled for us by Jesus.  I may quibble here or there with a word or how one chooses to interpret a phrase, but with the over-arching meaning, that of theosis, I am in agreement that this is a process in which we are engaged, if we wish to emulate the life Jesus modeled for us.  I see this as an admirable goal.

I myself stop short of beating ourselves up for simply being human.  To err is indeed human.  And let us not forget the other half of that saying:  To forgive is Divine.  I find that does sum up a lot of scripture, and points us in the right direction for proper and useful interpretation of the texts.  Do the best we are able.  Understand that we will err.  Recognize this, and when we become aware of no longer being on the path, return to it.  We are a process of Becoming.

(10) Divine healing is active in the lives of people today through Jesus, who is the Healer. Healing includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual restoration.

Luke 9:11; Matthew 9:35; Acts 10:38; Matthew 10:1

Matthew 9:35

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.

Matthew 10:1

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

Luke 9:10-11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.

Acts 10:36-38

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Erik’s opinion:  I agree.  I personally believe all healing first comes to us as spiritual, and then this sometimes also is carried into our emotional, psychological, or physical experience.  But the healing itself is always initiated in the spiritual realm.

As a sidebar, the subjects of spiritual healing and the role of the Holy Spirit as active agent in the world, are among the few areas which I *disagree* with what I understand to be Bishop Spong’s biblical interpretations.  Bishop Spong presents *all* the miracle stories surrounding Jesus as metaphors, which seek to find “big enough” ways of expressing the Divinity the disciples felt as present, and perhaps emanate, in Jesus.  I find there is a lot of truth in this observation, and it is a very useful means of interpreting much of the New Testament.

(A great deal of which are really re-tellings of stories found in the Hebrew bible, which are then “wrapped” around the person of Jesus, and through which, the rich theological associations of those earlier stories are applied to the reality Jesus presented to 1st century Jewish persons.)

However, I am unable to let go of the “placebo effect.”  There is clearly more involved in our healing and maintaining health than at first meets the eye!  This includes our Intention, Will, and I will argue, that it also includes our Spirit (and by extension, that of the Divine, to which we are connection through the in-dwelling “spark” within each of us).

(11) The Bible describes hell as a real place. It is a place of suffering and a place of permanent separation from God for those who die without accepting Christ. God’s desire is that no one be separated from Him for eternity, which is why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth.

Hebrews 9:27

Erik’s opinon:  This is a sermon.  I do not personally consider it “scripture.”  It may well be the only reason this book was included in the canon was because it was thought Paul wrote it.  However, he did not.

Revelation 20:12-15

Erik’s opinon:  This is apocalyptic literature.  Very symbolic.  It also pertains most directly to the 1st century, and more specifically to the period following the death of Nero (he is the Beast, 666).  Like other literature of this type, it is a message of hope, that no matter how bad things are now, they will get better.  We just need to hold firm.  Therefore, I discount the symbology used should one try to literalize it.  I do not think Revelation should be taken literally.  I do take it as a message of hope;  but not of fear or retribution/punishment.

John 3:16-18 (and through v. 21)

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

[NOTE: Some interpreters hold that the quotation concludes with verse 15.]

Erik’s opinon:  We can cite this if we wish.  However, bear in mind it is John, so it is the last conical gospel, and as such will reflect the more evolved theology present in this group of Christians, circa 90-100 ce.  Sometimes it is less than useful, as in the pejorative “the Jews.”  Other times it is very poetic and metaphoric (for example, the opening verses, which I find are among the most beautiful in the New Testament).

However, I would read this in the sense of the Universalists.  The “condemnation” is not going to be “eternal” as in forever-and-ever.  It is to the end of the “age.”  A long time perhaps, but not eternal as we think of the word today.  But I don’t read the identified verses as speaking of hell, anyway.  They seem to be speaking to our own state of rejection of the Divine.  Of course we are (self) damned whilst in this state!  But I do not see “hell” as the logical conclusion.  I see a state of self-imposed exile, until such time as one desires to return to the Light.  Then one may begin working toward that goal, reunion, and resumption of the state of communion with the Divine.

(12) Jesus will return and take all those who have accepted Him as Savior to be with Him for eternity.

Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:28

1 Thessalonians 4:13-17

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)
The Coming of the Lord

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

Erik’s opinion:  This is an authentic letter of Paul.  It is a fairly famous passage in which he speaks of rising up into the sky to meet Jesus when the bodily resurrection takes place.  Metaphorically, I can read into this “rising up” and “cloud” imagery, themes of ascension, and of raising our consciousness to that of heavenly heights.  It is expressive and beautifully poetic language.  And it conveys the meaning quite well, I believe (the importance of elevating our consciousness to the heavenly level; and eternal spiritual life).

However, if suggested as meant to be understood literally, I have a number of issues with this interpretation.  First, turn to the occasion of the letter.  People were quite distressed that some of their loved ones had died physically before the return of Jesus.  They were concerned those who had died were forever lost to them, and would be unable to live in the Kingdom to come, as would the living, upon Jesus’ return.

They believed this because this clearly appears to be what Paul taught.  Paul himself fully expected to be alive when Jesus returned and the general bodily resurrection took place.  Paul’s prove of this is that Jesus was the “first fruits” and what comes after the first fruits of the harvest?  The rest of the harvest!  This seems to have been self-evident to Paul.  And perhaps were we living at that time, we too would have thought so.  But some 2,000-years later, no.  Clearly not.

With regard to going up into the “clouds” – then what?  And in the same line of thinking, how can we *literally* understand the ascension story of Jesus?  Did he literally go up into the clouds?  Up and up?  And then what?  Into orbit?  Sucked by gravity into the center of the sun?  Or just floating around the vast void of space?

Clearly what made sense to a 1st century mindset, no longer carries any *literal* validity given our understanding of the universe and of cosmology.  If we are to pursue an adult understanding of Christianity we must be able to include our understanding of the universe and world in which we live.

These are the types of questions with which we must struggle as adult Christians.  This is Christianity 300.

Hebrews 9:28

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Erik’s opinion:  I don’t have much to say about the book of Hebrews.  I have previously observed it is really no more than a sermon, and should be given the same weight as any other sermon one might hear today.  This particular verse “toes the party line” of the proto-orthodox of the 1st century and (lower case o) orthodox church dogma to this day.

But I have another thought.  I recently listened to Dr. Ron Miller’s presentation to the Theosophical Society concerning the Gospel of Thomas.  He made a great many wonderfully inspiring observations, as Miller always does.  The one this passage brings to my mind as I write this is that the “second coming” of Jesus, as well as the establishment of the “Kingdom of God/Heaven” may very well be found not in the clouds, but in our own consciousness.  As we raise up our consciousness to parallel that which may be found in heaven, we are engaged in the process of helping to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

I find this to be a fascinating idea.  And it dove tails quite well with that of theosis (essentially embodying the Spirit of Christ within ourselves; using Jesus as our model) and “putting on the Mind of Christ” as Paul said.  In this sense we each are the vehicle through which the second coming of Christ will take place.

And if one assumes Paul’s view that Jesus only became Divine upon his resurrection, we may be able to assume we too have the capacity to be as full of God as was Jesus.  Obviously, this is extremely rare.  There simply are not a great many “unity” minded persons in the world.  There are not many Jesus’ and Buddha’s.  But the important question this line of thought asks us to consider is what is the nature of the differences between us and Jesus?  Are we of a different *kind* (a different type of creature) or are we of a different degree or *quality*?  Or to put it more bluntly, was Jesus always God, and therefore something we may never hope to become?  Or was Jesus a human being -as are we- who so fully embodied and expressed God from the inside-out that he was able to transform a great deal of the world, even to this day?

I certainly do not *know* the answer to this question.  But for me it is far more hopeful, as well as practical and useful, for me to believe that Jesus was born and died human.  This means all of us may hope to attain that same degree or quality of the indwelling Divine.  As Jesus said, we can do even greater things than he!  And I like to take that statement as True.

Acts 1:11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

…or more fully:

Acts 1:6-11

The Ascension of Jesus

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Erik’s opinon:  Much of what I wrote immediately above applies here too.  We have to choose how to interpret this and similar passages.  Do we retain the 1st century understanding of the cosmos and hold to a childish (as opposed to child-like) belief in a three tier universe, with heaven above, and hell below?  (Christianity 100, we might say.)  Or do we read such passages in light of the scientific discoveries of the last 500 or so years, and acknowledge that Jesus floating up and up, eventually places him in orbit around the planet.  And then what do we do with him?

Christianity 100 is simple -as I say, childish even- but it is also very safe, and requires very little time, effort, or thought.  For some this is perfectly comfortable.  And that is fine in so far as it goes.  But there is also Christianity 200, Christianity 300, and for a very few, Christianity 400.

Christianity 200 is within the reach of just about anyone who can read and has access to the Internet or seminary books.  I see this as Dr. Ron Miller’s 1st Floor of Consciousness.  It is mind-logic driven.  Historical-critical studies play a large role in careful examination of the scriptures.  It is a view which takes a strong inclination toward Fact.  It is also aware or, and comfortable with metaphoric representations which are Truth-based.  But I still see it as primarily driven by intellectual curiosity and exploration.

Christianity 300 is where I see Dr. Miller’s 2nd Floor of Consciousness most at home.  This is the world of the soul, and emotions, and empathy.  Here the Truth of scripture takes on an increasingly vital role.  This happens after we realize that the mind and logic can only take us part of the way toward God.  Our intellect plays an important role in that it allows us to approach sacred scriptures as adults, as opposed to being restrained to a purely immature and childish perspective.  But Christianity 300 engages our heart, and it engages our spirit!  I agree with Miller that it really is a more spiritually evolved means of interpreting the world in which we are immersed.

Christianity 300 is also the highest most of us rise, certainly for any length of time.  But we are able to catch glimpses of Christianity 400.  That is Miller’s Rooftop Garden.  That is Unity Consciousness.  Here we have no enemies because we are all one, and it simply makes no sense to hurt yourself (including by hating/hurting others).

(The Hindu Upanishads are a beautiful example of the “Christianity 400” mode of perception.)

But Miller also invites us to consider a future world in which *most* people *do* hold this degree of spiritual evolution.  What kind of world would we live in if it was *normal* to embody and express and experience Unity Conscious all the time?  And that was the norm!  Might we describe this as having achieved heaven on earth?  Might we say that in a very real way Jesus had returned, or been fully re-born in all of us?  It is an interesting point to consider.

Attempting to ascribe a particular Stage of Faith to Joyce Myers’ Statement of Faith…

I’ll plot a horizontal line for each of Myers’ points, 1 through 12, and then along a vertical series of columns mark where each point seems to me to fall along the ranges of psychological-spiritual-consciousness continuums as described by several models of what may loosely all be called “stages of faith” development.  As a reminder, the following is a brief description of James Fowler’s Stages of Faith:

  • Stage 2:  (Mythical-literal)  Orientating oneself.  Relating to local community through stories.
  • Stage 3:  (Synthetic-conventional)  Expanding faith community;  becomes source of identity and values.
  • Stage 4:  (Individuative-reflective)  Self-identity is refined.  Meaning becomes categorical, systematic.
  • Stage 5:  (Conjunctive)  Encounters paradoxes of faith.  Universalize ideas.  Orientate to others.
  • Stage 6:  (Universalizing)  Extremely rare!  Extremely altruistic.  Sense of unity with all beings.

The first vertical column is for Basement-Tribal-Mythic-Literal modes of faith expression.  This is the most inflexible stage of development.  Things are black or white;  right or wrong.  Conflict resolution is achieved through violence (either physical or emotional or spiritual).  This is what I have designated Christianity 100, following the lead of Ron Miller, and I believe Elaine Pagels.  Scripture is assumed to be infallible and the literal Word of God.  To disagree with people of this mindset is to (them) to disagree with God.  God is frequently anthropomorphic:  a white-bearded God sitting on a throne in the clouds;  God is very hands-on, causing plagues and floods and bountiful harvests.

The second vertical column is 1st Floor thinking.  This I have designated as Christianity 200, and this is where the logical mind begins to critically examine one’s beliefs.  Fowler’s stages 3 and 4 seem to transition on Ron Miller’s 1st Floor:  at the early stages the person is purely or mostly “synthetic-conventional.”  This means they are simply adopting what they are told.  Later, as they move into stage 4, they will begin the process of internalizing these beliefs and struggling to make up their own mind about whether a given point is likely to be true.  In the early stage of 1st Floor thinking (Fowler’s stage 3) the person’s beliefs tend to be pretty common for the community in which they find themselves.  In the later stages of 1st Floor thinking (Fowler’s stage 4) the person will “see the other person looking at them, and they looking at the other person.”  This kind of “reflective” thinking promotes a multiple-perspective influence, and begins to move them into the next stage.

The third column is a Miller’s 2nd Floor, and what Elaine Pagels called Christianity 300.  By now we have discovered that the mind can only take us so far.  If we are to progress in our spiritual development, we must begin to engage our heart and spirit.  Empathy for others is a hall mark of this stage of faith.  As we begin integrating how we imagine others feel, we also begin to integrate others views of the world with our own.  This can be a very confusing and chaotic period, and may last for many years, as we try to discover and then incorporate a vast amount of new and often conflicting spiritual apprehensions.  It is common to switch back and forth between two or three stages of faith (Fowler’s stages 3, 4 and 5;  Miller’s 1st and 2nd Floors).  Coming out the other side of this confusing period, a person tends to gravitate toward unifying themes.  Increasingly the integration in taking place internally, and it is my opinion this is the stage (Fowler’s stages 4-5) that one turns to esoteric, or inner, forms of spirituality;  largely due to the large number of conflicts and contradictions one now sees in the outer-exoteric-dogmatic traditions of one’s religion.  And seeing these outer trappings as “religion” and what is happening inside oneself as “spiritual” is I suspect one hall mark of this shift in perspective.  (This is preparatory to beginning to tickle the “mystical” or “unity” level of consciousness.)

The last column is extremely rare!  This is Ron Miller’s Rooftop Garden, Christianity 400, Fowler’s stage 6, and engaging on the path of the mystic.  Unity of All is perceived as the ultimate reality.  Enemies are no longer able to exist.  This is Christ Consciousness or Buddha Consciousness.  Most of us will do well to catch occasional glimpses of this beautiful Rooftop Garden!

——–Basement——–1st Floor———2nd Floor————Rooftop
——–Christ. 100——-Christ. 200——Christ. 300———-Christianity 400
——–Tribal————–Logic-Exoteric–Empath-Esoteric–Mystic-Unity-Transcendent
——–Stage 2————Stage 3-4 ——Stage 3-4-5 ———Stage 6
Point—–|——————-|——————–|———————-|
1)–A—Myers—————|——————Weaver—————|
2)–D—Myers <====> Myers   [ Weaver: not particularly important. ]
3)–A—–|——————–|—————–Myers+Weaver—–|
————|——————–|——————–|———————-|
4)–D—Myers—————|—————–Weaver—————-|
5)–D—Myers—————|—————–Weaver—————-|
6)–a? —|———–[<=== Myers+Weaver ===>]—————|
————|——————–|——————–|———————-|
7)–A? —|———–[<=== Myers+Weaver ===>]—————|
8)–d?–Myers <=======> Myers———–Weaver————|
9)–A? —————–[<=== Myers+Weaver ===>]————–|
————|——————–|——————–|———————-|
10) A———————————–Myers+Weaver
11) D—Myers—————————Weaver
12) D—Myers—————————Weaver
Point—–|—————|—————|—————|
(Value)–(1)————-(2)————-(3)————-(4)

As you can see, I also took a guess as to where my own beliefs stand in comparison to Joyce Myers.  Now I have to point out there is *great* risk of misinterpretation when I try to read into the very brief summaries Joyce Myers has written about the points contained in her Statement of Faith.  So we really do need to take my assumptions about her internal world with great heaps of salt! 

I cannot read her mind nor hear heart, so I may be completely misrepresenting her opinions.  I can only read her statements and plot them against my own, as best I can guess her position, stated and unstated.

Immediately following the point number (1 through 12) I have added one of the letters A, a, d, or D.  Sometimes I have also added a question mark (?).  The question mark indicates I feel uncertain about whether I am properly interpreting her position.  On the points without the question mark, I have a higher confidence that I do understand her position reasonably well.  (I may, of course, be mistaken in my appraisals.)  The letter “A” means I believe she and I are in strong agreement on that point.  A lower case “a” means I am less certain we are in agreement, but I think it is more likely we agree than disagree.  Similarly with the D and d.  In each case I believe she and I disagree on that point, and the more-so when I use the capital D, than when using the lower case d.

On the very last horizontal line I have added a “value” 1, 2, 3, or 4.  This is because I am of the “Thinking” psychological type (as per Jung), and would like to describe these comparisons in some logical, enumerated fashion.  Having plotted Myers’ view and my own on the chart, I can then assign a point value to each of us, for each point, and then compare these to one another.

Point    Myers    Weaver
=====—=====—======
1)…..    1 …………    3
2)…..    1.5 ………    3
3)…..    3 …………    3
4)…..    1 …………    3
5)…..    1 …………    3
6)…..    2.5 ………    2.5
7)…..    2.5 ………    2.5
8)…..    1.5 ………    3
9)…..    2.5 ………    2.5
10)…..  3 …………    3
11)…..  1 …………    3
12)…..  1 …………    3
=====—=====—======
Total..    21.5 …..    34.5
Ave. ……. 1.8 ……….. 2.9

Population Distribution:
1 ……….    5 …………..0
1.5 …….    2 …………..0
2     (none for either person)
2.5 ……    3 ………..    3
3……….    2 ………..    9
3.5  (none for either person)
4     (none for either person)

So, it would seem on average that Myers is solidly on Miller’s 1st Floor of Consciousness, and I would seem to be solidly on the 2nd Floor.  When we look at the population distribution, we see the primary difference between the two of us.  My scoring for Myers place nearly half of her values under the Basement-Tribal column, whereas most of my scores are on the 2nd Floor.  This is primarily the result of my opinion that taking a *literal* interpretation of the New Testament is usually a poor choice.  I do not believe the Hebrew bible or the New Testament ought to typically be understood literally, and it appears to me she does.  This is clearly seen in that nearly half of my 3’s coincide with *all* of her 1’s and 1.5’s.  So on about half of her Statement of Faith we are pretty far apart.

So I believe I would characterize this Statement of Faith as being primarily written from a 1st Floor-Christianity 200 perspective.  However, significant portions fall into the Basement-Christianity 100 view of the world.  Thankfully not in what seems to be a violent interpretation, as with some groups, but in frequently taking a very literal view of the bible (both Hebrew and New Testament).  And there are a few jumps up into the 2nd Floor-Christianity 300 view of the world too.

In that regard it is rather interesting.  I have read that people can “float” one stage of faith, but not really two stages.  And this makes sense to me.  I would expect that the majority of persons drawn to her teachings are in the 2nd Floor stage of faith.  The potential clashes and misunderstandings between those in the Basement and 2nd Floor might be quite interesting!

I am totally biased, of course, and perhaps even more importantly, she is not here to define her position.  And I would observe that the numbers do *not* mean anything beyond a means of scoring the results mathematically – in other words, neither a higher nor a lower score is “better” – they are however quite different from one another.  And that is I think the safest conclusion to draw.  Myers and I share a small number of views, and differ on most of our views regarding Christianity, specifically; and I suspect regarding spirituality in general.

Of course, this is just my opinion.  I may be mistaken.
Erik+

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Statement of Faith Evaluation: Josh.org

I have been asked to respond to a Statement of Faith document, published online at Josh.org:

http://www.josh.org/about-us/statement-of-faith/.

The PDF version is  dated May of 2008, and I am responding in July of 2013.

I am finding great difficulty in doing so.  Not so much in formulating my response to the individual points of the following Statement of Faith, but doing so in such a manner as not to sound dismissive of their assumptions and conclusions.  Nor do I wish to come across as sounding arrogant.

Yet, as I re-read my responses, I cannot help but see these may be reasonable reactions to my positions, as seen from what I imagine to be the author’s perspective.  This is because I really do think the vast majority of the content and background which one must assume in formulating their Statement of Faith comes from a younger stage of spiritual development, as compared to that from which I like to think I operate; and certainly as compared to that stage of spiritual development (or in a word “faith”) into which I hope to mature.

So, yes, on one hand, I really do think they are presenting a rather limited perspective of God;  an understanding which lends itself to repression and even violence.  But, no, on the other hand, we *all* *grow* through stages of spiritual development, very much as we grow through stages of psychological and emotional stages of development.  We cannot help it – it is part and parcel of becoming a human being!  Seen in this light, I cannot fault their understanding of God any more than I can fault a 5-year old, or 10-year old, for being a kid!

But because our physical development is obvious, we all know that kids are kids, and they will become fully grown adults at a later stage of their development.  Physically this is a certainty.  Emotionally and psychologically the process becomes more complicated, and may or may not take place, and may or may not take place to a greater or lesser degree.  Spiritually this is even more difficult to discern, and I feel many people wish to deny the truth of this observation.  Yet I believe it is true that humans tend to fall into several major categories of spiritual development, and depending upon in which we currently reside, our views and expectations of God will vary, as will our reaction when encountering other understandings of God.

So I feel I am in a difficult position.  It is OK to be young.  We all either are, or have been.  On the other hand, we have to grow up at some point.  Additionally, many of us wish to strive for our highest and greatest degree of personal development.  My assertion is our spiritual development is properly included in these processes.  And while we cannot find fault with a person for simply holding a less complex model of the Divine than we do ourselves, at the same time, I feel we ought to be permitted to (respectively) challenge one another to reach for more sophisticated models of the Divine.

Mathematically, we are able to arrive at a given answer using just addition and subtraction;  but this does not stop us from teaching multiplication and division!  Furthermore, we offer increasingly abstract understandings of mathematics, such as geometry and calculus.  I am suggesting we approach religious and spiritual teachings with a similar expectation.

With this introduction, I would offer two additional perspectives addressing what I am attempting to convey.  One is a short quote from one of Ken Wilber’s blogs:

[Quote]

Put bluntly, there is an archaic God, a magic God, a mythic God, a mental God, and an integral God.  Which God do you believe in?

An archaic God sees divinity in any strong instinctual force.  A magic God locates divine power in the human ego and its magical capacity to change the animistic world with rituals and spells.  A mythic God is located not on this earth but in a heavenly paradise not of this world, entrance to which is gained by living according to the covenants and rules given by this God to his peoples.  A mental God is a rational God, a demythologized Ground of Being that underlies all forms of existence.  And an integral God is one that embraces all of the above.

(http://www.beliefnet.com/Wellness/2004/09/Which-Level-Of-God-Do-You-Believe-In.aspx?p=2)

[End-Quote]

Seen through this lens, most of the Statement of Faith to follow is written from the 4th level of God:  the mythic God.  As I evaluate myself, I feel I clearly reside in the 5th level of God, that of the mental, rational God, who has been demythologized, and which permeates all that is, yet is of an alien, Ineffable ontology.  And I strive to embrace that of the Integral God;  I wish to be able to readily move amongst all these understandings of the Divine, and to do so respectfully, yet critically, because I hope to offer myself as a Spiritual Sherpa to those who wish to climb the spiritual mountain offering a clearer, more expansive vision of God.  My desire is to better apprehend the nature of God, as best I can, and to offer a hand-up to those who wish to join me;  and to seek out those who in turn are able to offer me a hand-up so that I too may continually reach for a more refined apprehension of the Divine.

If you have time, I also highly recommend watching this 30-minute homily offered by Bishop Spong:

Bishop Spong introduces the ontology of God as one of Progression.  But it is not that God is changing, rather it is our human perspective from which we discern what we may of God, which changes.  And as Bishop Spong points out, we see the progressive changing of God’s nature throughout the Holy Bible (who’s growth transitions across the Hebrew bible into the New Testament).

Bishop Spong introduces us to several “levels” of God:  Tribal-Warrior;  God of All Peoples;  God of Love.

The Tribal-Warrior God hates the same peoples -enemies- the tribe hates;  assists joyfully in the murder of all those the tribe wishes to murder.  The God of All Peoples is a giant shift in our human apprehension of God, because we come to recognize that *all* people are of *one* tribe!  This critical shift, in Bishop Spong’s view, is best seen in the books of the minor prophets, and he offers four short illustrations in his brief presentation.  Jesus brings us to the apprehension of the God of Love.  Jesus tells us we must strive to *love* our *enemies!*  This is a leap very few of us are able to make.

As a race, we have made some progress over the last 2,000-years.  There is less slavery, less oppression of women, less reviling of homosexuals, less murdering of those who’s understanding of God differs from our own.  But we still live with all of these terrible shortcomings!  We still murder in the name of God (which is to my mind among the greatest sins one may commit).  We haven’t even gotten that right!  We still have a very long spiritual journey ahead of us.

But exactly who is changing?  Is God changing?  Or have human beings changed?

I think the answer is clear.  Combining the perspectives offered by Ken Wilber and Bishop Spong, we find a critical understanding which I feel we all need to come to regarding, not the nature of God, but of ourselves!  We must first come to an understanding of our own natures before we may even attempt an apprehension of the nature of God.

The Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes observed that if horses could draw, they would draw their gods as horses;  oxen gods as oxes;  dog gods as dogs.  Religious anthropomorphism means we construct our gods in our own image.  Arguably, we have no other choice, because we are only able to experience the world as whatever kind of animal we happen to be.  Now I am not trying to say horses, oxen, and dogs think about their gods.

Humans however, are self-reflective and we *do* think about our God.  But in so doing, we do well to remember we are only able to do so *as* humans!  Thus, our apprehensions of God and the Divine are governed by our very nature and the limitations of our perceptions.  We tend to imagine God as human, because we are human.  To a greater or lesser degree, we must create God in our own image.  And this is fine so long as we recognize it serves us only as a limited model of what we imagine the Divine might be like.  But this is *not* God.  To *literally* construct a god in our own image, and believe this accurately defines (and thereby diminishes and limits) the “true God” -let alone the “only God”- this is a form of idolatry.

Continuums within continuums

I also wish to offer a few thoughts concerning the differences between the outer and inner expression of one’s religious observations (be that practice or belief based).

I have previously introduced the subject of Stages of Faith on my blog “Discovering the Divine Center” (https://eriksholisticcornucopia.wordpress.com/), so I’ll not repeat that material here.  But I do wish to observe there is a continuum of faith expression ranging from the very simple and superstitious, to what some call Literal-Mythic, to more abstract and unifying modes of spiritual experience.

Another continuum which closely parallels this is whether people of other faiths are viewed as enemies with whom one should do battle, or whether others are viewed as expressing their experience of the Divine as best suits their current level or stage of faith.

At any given moment, we can each only “hold” so much of the Divine within ourselves.  We are able to increase our capacity if we devote our attention and intention to doing so, but this takes some time, thought, effort, and reflection.  Each of us -right this second- has a certain capacity or “volume” of God which we are able to hold.  This is true of everyone, so those we see as holding a “smaller cup” of the Divine, we have to realize are holding the largest cup they have available to them, in this moment.  And so too, ourselves.

These points I have introduced above.

Yet another continuum is that of the outer versus inner expression/experience of one’s faith.  The outer -or exoteric- expressions of faith are readily seen in the dogmas, teachings, scriptures, architecture, and liturgy (worship) of the religion.  The inner -or esoteric- is primarily comprised of that which goes on inside oneself.

The outer teachings are generally available to interested persons of other faiths, however sometimes esoteric (inner) teachings are provided only to those within the faith.  In terms of sets of continuums, this is another… the depth of teaching, and its progression from that which is readily understood even by outsiders, to that which may really only be well understood by those who have begun to make the faith tradition their own.  (To some degree this is a function of becoming familiar with the symbols employed in the faith tradition;  and some of it is found in the human proclivity to share most deeply with those one deems as sharing common interests and beliefs.)

But there is yet another consideration.  Are the teachings and expressions of faith looking outward, or are they looking inward?

We find here a point of subtle confusion.  Esoteric may mean “hidden” as in secret teachings which are only given to those who have been initiated into the faith, and esoteric may also mean “internal” in which case it is an introspective means of apprehending one’s faith and spirituality.

So inward-looking expressions of faith may properly be called esoteric, but I find they are more frequently characterized as a form of mysticism.  This means they will steer one toward an inner revelation of the Divine through one’s personal experience of the Presence of the Divine.  The key word in this understanding of mysticism is “experience.”  Theology and dogma can be very abstract and very much mental concepts.  One may read about theology and “get it.”  Mysticism is not like this.  Every reliable report I have come across all boils down to the same central point:  mysticism is found in the experience;  God is found in one’s *experience* of the Divine (not in one’s theory of the Divine).

It seems to me, persons residing in early stages of faith generally express the outer modes of their faith traditions.  And this makes perfect sense to me, as these are more basic concepts, and address the concerns of the faith tradition with a broader, more general application of the tenets of the faith.  When “religion works,” persons residing in the elder stages of their faith are more likely to express inner, more subtle, and more mystical modes of expression of their faith.  When religions “fail” or “get stuck,”  people are discouraged or unable to progress to more refined, subtle apprehensions of their faith.  This is an approach to religion which is unable to grow in its apprehension of God.

Among the contrasting characteristics of these two extremes, is that the young-outer mode tends to see great differences even among others of their own religion;  let alone persons of other religious expressions.  On the other hand, elder-inner-mystical experiences of one’s religion trend toward unity consciousness;  not only among various groups within one’s own religious traditions, but also of mystics of other faith traditions!  One of the interesting results of the differences in perspective from the exoteric to the esoteric, is that mystics often better relate to mystics of other religions than they do with exoteric/dogmatic members of their “own” religion.

Personally, I believe this inward-looking spiritual journey is part of what Jesus was pointing toward when we said to “turn the other cheek.”  We are not to see others as enemies;  rather we are to see others as expressions of God and of ourselves.  Stated in terms used earlier, we are to see all persons as members of the same tribe.

Advance apologies for beating up the dogmatic & exoteric!

I have offered these introductory comments in part because I wish to convey there is a wide range of levels or stages of faith from which we each may respond and relate to our own faith and the faith of other persons.  And I wish to underscore that younger understandings of one’s faith will tend toward being myopic;  barely aware of other faith traditions;  and lacking depth and breadth of understanding.  This is understandable, as those young to their faith, or those residing only in the earlier stages of their faith, still have a lot to sort out within their own faith tradition – thus the myopic focus.  But as they mature and grow in depth and breadth of understanding they are in a position to better relate to other faiths, and are better prepared to begin their own inward spiritual journey.

The other reason I am making these preliminary statements is the Statement of Faith which follows is, in my opinion, primarily constructed from the Literal-Mythic stage of faith development.  As I have indicated, it is not one to which I am particularly inclined.  So, I may seem to be “beating up on” this Statement of Faith quite a bit.  And, to be honest, from a certain perspective, I will.  However, I ask that one consider my commentary as a guide book intending to direct one toward a more mystical expression of one’s faith tradition.

With that said, let us proceed….

Below I will parse the document, adding my thoughts item by item.  The very last thing I will do is include the original text of this Statement of Faith in its entirety (as published the date I made my observations), just in case the online source become unavailable in the future (http://www.josh.org/about-us/statement-of-faith/), and to make reference to it’s original form more readily available.

Let’s begin with what I will call the preamble:

[quote]

The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.  We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians. Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any  interpretation is based upon the Bible alone, and that no such interpretation shall become an issue which hinders the ministry to which God has called us.

[end-quote]

Reading this opening position statement, I am given the impression the author resides among what most call the Fundamentalist movement.  As a cross-denominational group they tend to be Protestant, highly concerned with the actual text of the Holy Bible as the single most important article of their faith (as opposed, for example, to the liturgy, church traditions and history), and they tend toward a very rigid and literal interpretation of the texts which comprise the Holy Bible, while holding a very low opinion of any texts outside the Holy Bible.

In terms of Stages of Faith, members of most Fundamentalist churches tend to fall into the younger stages of faith, some within the Warrior/Tribal levels, and some ranging into the opening stages of the mythic levels of faith.  The Warrior aspect tends to prefer to “do battle” with those who disagree with their interpretations of their scriptures, and tends to paint people outside their group as enemies, and in extreme cases as evil, or as influenced by evil forces.  The mythic aspect lends itself well to the literal interpretation of their sacred texts.  (Persons residing in later stages of faith tend to read the same myths as unifying, rather than dividing, differing religious traditions.)

This is actually a fairly common Stage of Faith for people in the United States, and elsewhere.

With regard to specific claims, there is actually quite a bit of theological ground covered in these opening two paragraphs, both stated and assumed.  I would have preferred to see these points broken out as part of the Statement of Faith.  I also believe the first paragraph may be found to stand in contradiction to the second.  The first paragraph states the assertions the author holds about the Christian bible.  The second is a blanket statement concerning all other sources of information, ancient and modern.

The author’s assertions about the Christian bible are:

  • A. The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible.
  • B. This is defined as 66 books of the Old and New Testament.
  • C.(i) These writings are as defined as God’s infallible written Word.
  • C.(ii) These 66 books are uniquely, verbally, and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit.
  • C.(iii) These 66 books are written without error (inerrant);
  • C.(iv) …in the original manuscripts.
  • D. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

As one may readily see, these are commonly held assertions of Christian groups which have come to be collectively called “Fundamentalists.”  Many more main-stream Christian churches subscribe to the majority of these assertions.  As I indicated above, I personally consider these beliefs to be solidly in what have been called the Literal-Mythic stage of faith.  (See the works of James Fowler, Scott Peck, Rev. Paul Smith, Prof. Ron Miller, and others.)

My response….

A. “The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible.”

I actually find this to be a very poor idea.  The Hebrew and Christian bibles were written across a specific segment of human history, and there are existing documents (or more accurately, hand-written copies of copies of copies of copies…) from this era which may better inform us of the context in which these texts were written.  Furthermore, I find it *is* important to attempt to understand what other persons and other groups (both Christian and otherwise) thought of the key ideas and ideals expressed throughout the Hebrew and Christian bibles.  Better understanding the public and private positions of the Church Fathers on theological matters at times adds a great deal of insight as to how the early Christian church understood itself, and others during the developmental period of the early Christian church.

And I would emphasis that last point… ‘during the *developmental* period of the early Christian church.’

The Holy Bible did not just drop down out of the sky upon the resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, there *was* no agreed upon bible for nearly 400 years!  The very first time we even find an authority (a bishop in this case) identifying the same books of the New Testament which appear in most bibles today -and no others- was 300-years after most of the books and letters which comprise the New Testament canon had been written!  And after that it took many more decades of heated debate to hammer out the accepted New Testament canon.

This is really important to understand.  And I have to think that one is well served to understand there are books which barely made it into the New Testament canon, which very well may not have, had it been understood they had not been written by an apostle (Hebrews, and Revelation, for example).  Other books are clearly not written by the authors which were assume in the early centuries of the church (1, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, for example).  Had this been known, they too may not have made it into the New Testament canon.

Alternately, were they still accepted, other books which were left out may have been included after all, such as “The Shepard of Hermas.”  But it was known to be a 2nd century text, and was therefore not considered eligible for inclusion in the canon despite its popularity.

Now for the apparent contradiction between the two paragraphs.

To some degree the author appears to agree with me, because as I understand their statement, they contradict their stated position in the first paragraph in their second paragraph, saying they *do* accept those non-canonical texts which happen to agree with their understanding of Christian theology.  Therefore, they do accept some non-canonical texts are important and relevant to our better understanding of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.  I would simply argue we should accept more of them.  And at the same time, look at those books and letters which are found in our Christian canon with a more critical eye, accepting what reasonable guidance we may, from modern historical biblical criticism.

(Sidebar: The “biblical canon” is a list of books considered to be authoritative scripture by a particular religious community.  Different religious communities can, and do, define different books and letters as either canonical or non-canonical.)

There is another point I think worth observing.  This attitude, of accepting only that testimony which agrees with one’s presupposed positions, is *exactly* one of the determining factors which decided what books and letters were included in the New Testament canon!  I find therefore find this statement of the author of the Statement of Faith to be somewhat ironical.

Biblical scholars are in wide agreement that in order for books and letters to be considered for inclusion to the New Testament canon, they primarily were judged on four points:

  1. They had to be ancient (written within 100-years of Jesus’ crucifixion).
  2. They had to be written by an apostle or apostle’s close associate.
  3. They had to be widely used and considered catholic scripture by most Christians (catholic, means “universal”).
  4. They had to agree with the proto-orthodox beliefs.

Of these points, it is really only the last one I personally find strong disagreement.  It’s primary fault is that it forms a circular argument.  It is saying to be valid scripture, the text must agree with what those in power say is valid scripture.  Another way of saying this, is they only accepted texts written by “true Christians” into the canon.  (As we can see, some hold the same opinion 2,000-years later.)  This of course requires mere humans to correctly discern the Mind of God.  I do not believe anyone is able to do so with perfect clarity.

The other main problem with point number four, is that in light of the other three points, it is an unnecessary, and artificial, requirement!  Therefore the *only* reason to make it a requirement is in an attempt to exert controlling influence over others.  This seems like very human reasoning, and I understand its motivation on that basis;  but it seems quite alien to my apprehension of Divine Reason, and an extremely poor measure for determining Holy Scripture.

(The word canon derives from a word meaning a ruler or measuring device, and is carries the connotation of measuing the “span” of a body of work;  so we may properly speak of the canon of Shakespeare, for example.)

For a similar reason, I do not personally ascribe to the Nicene Creed because it was largely written to *exclude* persons from the Christian Church. (As is seen in its many lines defining Christology;  which lead to the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches.)  I find this effort to exclude Christians from the Christian Church to be fundamentally alien to ethical Christian thought.  Therefore, I personally ascribe to the Act of Faith in its place.

I feel this is related to another statement which concerns me:  the off-hand remark about “true Christians.”

This brings me to the assumption that in the author’s opinion the only “true Christians” are those who happen to agree with his opinions (an attitude shared by the proto-orthodox Christians 2,000-years ago.)  This strikes me as a polemic attitude (which, by the way, renders a piece of evidence suggesting they may occupy the Tribal/Warrior stage of faith).  Furthermore it leads us uncomfortably near a slippery slope which all too often in the past has lead to acts of violence.  Perhaps I am reading more into this off-hand remark that was intended, but for me comments such as these always raise a red flag.

Labeling others as either true or false Christians is particularly troublesome when studying ancient texts.  Early Christianity was even more varied than Christianity today.  To best understand these early writings we are well served by maintaining a degree of objectivity, and allowing room for the texts to freely speak in their own voice.  If we limit our attention to only those texts which already support our existing opinions, we have nothing to learn from studying them!

B. “This is defined as 66 books of the Old and New Testament.”

I have several opening thoughts on this point.  Which translation?  Does it matter?  I suspect it must, because not all translations of the Hebrew and Christian bibles have identical number of books in them.  Furthermore, while modern translations tend to be quite good, they do differ.  Is this important to the author?  If so, how is this to be resolved?  (This point is not addressed, so I don’t know how the author may respond to this question.)

But more generally, I suspect I know what they intended – most Christian bibles do contain 66 books, and it is one or more of these editions which they ascribe doctrinal authority to, and no other versions of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

And no documents which may ever be dug up out of the sands of the Middle East shall ever be considered doctrinally authoritative, unless they are in full agreement with the current theological position held by the author.  This is an important consideration because there were two major discoveries in the mid 20th century, which were (and are) quite exciting to those who find this period of history of interest or importance.  Namely the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library.

Hebrew and Christian bibles?  Why do I keep saying that?

There are important differences between the Hebrew and Christian bibles.  Most Christians call the Hebrew bible the “Old” Testament.  And most Christians, if they think of this at all, understands this to mean the covenant God made with the Hebrew people is no longer valid;  that the covenant understood to have been brought forth by Jesus supersede it.  (The words testament and covenant mean the same thing – essentially these are contracts human beings have entered into with God.)

I find this to be both insulting and dismissive of the Hebrew bible.  While at times it becomes wearisome typing “Hebrew and Christian bibles” instead of just saying “THE bible” (as if there were only one), I make the effort to do so as a means of granting respect to the Hebrew bible, and allowing for it to stand on its own merits, and as a separate work from the New Testament.  I feel the Hebrew bible is due this degree of respect.  On a more practical level (as there often is with me) it serves to remind me they *are* in fact two different bibles, sourcing from two different religious traditions;  and while Christianity shares much with Judaism, there really are important differences.  (Some of these differences will no doubt surface in the following discussion – for example, is the world fundamentally good or evil? And why is this such an important, and fundamental, question?)

C.(i) These writings as defined as God’s infallible written Word.

This really requires greater clarity.  Fortunately it is provided and itemized across points C(i) through C(iv).  What primarily needs to be answered is in what way is God understood as having provided the authorship of the combined Hebrew and Christian bibles?  How can we defend or define “infallible” to fit within the actual contents of the Hebrew and Christian bibles?

C.(ii) These 66 books are uniquely, verbally, and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I am still somewhat uncertain what the author intends with this definition.  Did the Holy Spirit speak each word of the written bibles into the ear of the human being writing the original texts?  Did the Holy Spirit do so again when each copy was hand-made?  (This is why the earliest documents are called manuscripts – they are manually written by hand, one letter at a time.  Until the invention of the printing press this was the only way to originate and reproduce any written text.)

Did the Holy Spirit literally hold and guide the hand of the ancient writers of these 66 books and letters?  Did the Holy Spirit perhaps possess the person and take over their body, to produce the writing Itself?  Or did the Holy Spirit “channel” the work mentally, so that the person was forced or compelled to write exactly the letters and words the Holy Spirit desired or dictated?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these, then we must also ask why are there so many differences, and out-right errors, among the thousands of earliest copies?

If the Holy Spirit *did* whisper into the ear of each and every scribe who originated or copied a manuscript of one of the books of the combined Hebrew and Christian bibles, then the Holy Spirit either made a lot of errors, or changed It’s mind quite often.  Of the over 5,400 oldest copies of the New Testament in Greek, *no* *two* are identical!

In face of this evidence offered by scholars who have held many of these documents in their hands or compared photographic images of them (some of which are now available online) we simply cannot claim that the Hebrew bible, nor the Christian bible, is infallible.  They are not even identical, let alone infallible.  It is very clear these documents were produced by human hands.  Mistake-prone human hands.

(Doubters -most of whom are today much better educated than the best educated persons in the ancient world- may test this themselves.  Buy a notebook and by hand, one letter at a time, copy your favorite Gospel.  Then see how many mistakes you have made along the way.)

Editing (also called redaction) is important in the modern world, and it was important in the ancient world too.

C.(iii) These 66 books are written without error (inerrant);

This is patently false.  And I cannot help but feel making such blatantly false statements only hurts the ability to convey the most important aspects of the Christian faith to others.  After all, why should someone believe us, or trust our insight upon subtle matters, when we tell bold lies?

In addition to the types of scribal errors discussed above, we need only look to the birth story of Jesus.  A somewhat important story to Christianity, one might think?  Then again, neither the gospels of Mark or John even describe it.  Matthew and Luke both offer a description, but they are each quite different, in a great many details.  They can’t both be literally true and factual accounts.  (I personally agree with the majority of modern scholars who deem neither are literal, factual accounts.)

Anyone who cares to see this for theirself need only read the gospels of Luke and Matthew “horizontally.”  We normally read books “vertically” starting at the beginning and reading until we reach the end of the story.  This is how most read the synoptic gospels too (Mark, Matthew, and Luke;  synoptic means “seen together”:  Mark, Matthew, and Luke are very similar to one another, whereas John is very different).  Horizontal reading is done by finding the same story in as many gospels as relate it, and then read them all together.  This is very useful in highlighting both their similarities as well as their differences.  And this offers some interesting insights as to what each gospel may be trying to convey to us, and gives us some insight as to what the author felt were the most important aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus.

And what about the very idea of an ancient document being literally, true, and factual?  It is hard for us to understand, but this was not of primary importance to ancient writers.  There were no recordings of events, nor even people waling around taking notes of events which may someday be of historical interest or importance.  So even were this a concern of the ancient authors, they had no objective references against which to verify their work.  Ancient writers wrote their accounts to emphasize what aspects of the events they felt were important to convey to others.  And they usually did so decades if not centuries after the actual, historical event.  “Fact checking” -as we understand this process today- simply do not happen in the ancient world.

One of way of explaining this is to point out they were concerned with Truth but not Fact.  Since there were no recordings of the speeches of famous persons in the ancient world, an ancient historian would put those words they felt were appropriate to the occasion, into the mouths of the person for whom they were providing the historical account.  And this was normally taking place many years or even generations after the actual event.

C.(iv) …in the original manuscripts.

Oh, how I wish we could!  This would be great!  If we *had* the original manuscripts of these books it would be an amazing discovery, one far greater than all the other discoveries of all the other copies put together!  However, the originals are long lost to time.  They were either lost, destroyed, or simply worn out with use (and replaced by a copy – which we may only hope was very carefully copied so as to minimize the inevitable errors which would crop in, even by the more careful scribe (which not all were)).

I can only hope this was an error by the author of this Statement of Faith!

Because if they really think the original documents of any of the books and letters of either the Hebrew or Christian bibles exists, they are under a great misunderstanding of a great many circumstances surrounding our foundational Christian documents.

D. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

This too is highly problematic.  Are we then to stone to death persons who violate ancient laws?  No one can seriously suggest we in fact should do so.

Furthermore, none of these books are infallible nor incorruptible.  They were all written by human beings (almost all of whom were men) who made mistakes, just as we do today.  We certainly should *not* blindly accept them as representing any kind of supreme or final authority.  These are *not* the Words of God (meaning they are not literally written by God).

They are words expressed or penned by one or more human beings who are trying to convey something of their apprehension of the Divine (which is *not* a *comprehension*).  We, in turn, assume the original author (whomever they may have been) had a vital and personal experience of the Divine, which they are trying to relate to others through the very limited medium of the spoken and written language.

Above and beyond this, no text is capable of interpreting itself.  The person reading the text provides the interpretation.  And we obviously interpret the same texts in very different ways!  Were we to all interpret these texts in the same way there would be no disagreement over interpretations.  This is obviously not the case.  Therefore, the “text” cannot be considered a “final authority” in any case.  That a fairly significant number of adults seem to think otherwise, I believe indicates we must grant extra attention to our own interpretive processes.

Summary of preamble

This then is our properly understood starting point….  We are not discussing the actual Words of God (neither spoken nor written).  We are not dealing with documents which are free of errors.  In no case are we in possession of the original texts.  We are dealing with very human texts, written in the ancient world, which attempt to convey something of the mystical encounter with -experience of- the Divine.  Some of the texts discuss historical events, some discuss mythic events, and sometimes metaphoric or allegorical language is employed.  I believe we may presume that all of these texts are attempts to present the author’s apprehensions of Truth.

It is fair to point out this preamble appears to be firmly rooted in what has been called the Triable-Warror and/or Literal-Mythic stage of faith (see the work of James Fowler and others).  This is a reasonably common starting point in the development of one’s faith.  It offers a large number of concrete touching points which are used as foundational statements (as we have seen in these first two paragraphs).  It is often characterized by the personification of Divine Beings, and interpretations of the text tend toward the literal, as opposed to the metaphoric, mythic, or allegorical.  Such views are frequently inflexible, and those who disagree are often labelled as heretics or worse.

(As a sidebar, I would remind the reader that a “heretic” is one who chooses to believe the wrong belief.  And more importantly, what is considered to be the correct belief is defined by those who call them selves (small-o) orthodox.)

When a person is ready to do so, one of the reasons I encourage them to strive beyond the Literal-Mythic stage of faith is it becomes increasingly easy to open one’s heart to another person, even when they hold beliefs which differ from one’s own.  I feel it is very important to move past intolerance as soon as possible.  To at the very least enter a state of begrudging tolerance for others and their views, beliefs, and observances.  It is only along this path that we may one day graduate to genuine acceptance of our differences, and perhaps eventually even appreciation for certain aspects of our differences.

This is the only way I see to eventually evolve past our predilection for violence when encountering the Other, and those who we deem to be Different.  I also think the later stages of faith more readily lend themselves to loving encounters with others, as the path toward Unity is centered in love;  and antithesis to hate and violence.  And we clearly need less violence in our world, and more love!

Given this Statement of Faith appears to be primarily written from a mix of Tribal-Warrior and Literal-Mythic perspectives, and that these are perspectives from which I attempt to wean persons, one may rightly anticipate my views will usually be quite different than those expressed in the document upon which I am commenting.

In some cases, the views offered in the Statement of Faith are demonstratively mistaken and there are no reasonable biblical scholars who would disagree, or they are of an extreme and tiny minority.  There really are errors and contradictions in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles – asserting otherwise will not change the existence of these discrepancies.

Other cases are better understood as simply relating different perspectives as seen from different stages of faith.  I can imagine God walking with Adam in the Garden of Eden.  This is certainly far more accessible than trying to think of God as something fundamentally Unknowable.  Both perspectives may offer a truth, as seen from their own stage of faith, and when applied usefully to promote a better understanding or apprehension of our existence, and to what we strive to become, and the evolution of our spirituality.  At the same time, one is inherently more limited in its flexibility and facility in serving others.

This concludes my remarks concerning what I have called the Statement of Faith’s preamble.

We may now consider each point of their Statement of Faith in turn….

[quote]

1. There is one true God, eternally existing in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — each of whom possesses equally all the attributes of Deity and the characteristics of personality. Jesus Christ is God, the living Word, who became flesh through His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. Hence, He is perfect Deity and true humanity united in one person forever.

[end-quote]

I recently addressed the subject of the Christian Trinity on my blog “Seeking the Divine Center” (https://eriksholisticcornucopia.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/reflections-on-the-triunity-of-god/).  Underscoring one of the key points in that longish blog post, I would offer the suggestion that ultimately “God” is Ineffable.  This means totally, completely, in all ways outside and beyond the scope of the universe and our senses.  This perspective informs us that no matter what we have to say about God, “God is all that and more!” as my friend Charles Perdue says.

So really, in my opinion too many people get too hung up on this issue.  Besides, ultimately the church theologians declared it is a Divine Mystery – it is a paradox, without resolution.  If you find it useful and instructive to think of God as three-in-one, do so!  If you find it meaningful to think of God as a Quadrinity (four-in-one), do so!

No matter your construct, the reason for using it is to bring greater clarity to the Divine Mystery.  And specifically for *you* – not me, not your minister or priest.  So I advise using what works, and if you find a situation which is better suited to another understanding, use that for awhile.  God is Everything-Nothing Simultaneously-Never, so feel free to use whatever apprehension from which you derive meaning, knowing that too is included somewhere between or betwixt All-That-Is-Shall-Be-Never-Am.

[quote…]

2. He lived a sinless life and voluntarily atoned for the sins of men by dying on the cross as their substitute, thus satisfying divine justice and accomplishing salvation for all who trust in Him alone.

[end-quote]

Another very complex “point” in the Statement of Faith, which would have been better suited to being broken down into several points.  I’ll address each sub-point.

I am not certain we can categorically state Jesus lived a sinless life.  Sin, simply means “error”.  If we assume Jesus was pre-existent God from before the Creation, we may based such an argument in this, or if Jesus were conceived as Divine, we may open such an argument.  However, if at some later time Jesus became invested-adopted with Godhood, then we cannot reasonably make such an assertion.  (These topics will be addressed in more detail at a later point).

This is also a very Literal-Mythic perspective.  As a rule, to interpret such positions literally is a mistaken point of view.  Alternately, one might say, they are a younger, less sophisticated perspective, which takes metaphor literally.  Useful for an early stage of growth, but one which is to evolve over time, and grow in subtlety.

This admittedly widely popular view, is rooted in the sacrifice cult of the Temple period, which was very active during Jesus’ life (which came to a crashing halt when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE), and it is also derived from the highly dualistic views of the 1st century of the Christian era, namely Apocalypticism, and more distantly the influences of Persian Zoroastrianism.

The basic idea is that God needs to kill Himself because humans ate a piece of fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and the Knowledge of Evil;  thereby gaining the Knowledge of the Gods (the plurality in Genesis is usually dismissed out of hand;  mistakenly I think, but this is a separate discussion).  So we have to presume that Knowledge was good.  Any who disagree with this assertion, ought to volunteer to have a lobotomy performed on them, so as to return to a more Godly state – that this is a patently absurd idea tells me Knowledge is in fact Good;  in fact, Knowledge is one of the traits we inherit by being made in God’s image.

So the premise that by obtaining Knowledge humankind inherits “soul death” or something equally terrible (“Original Sin”) is a foolish premise, in my opinion.

Perhaps most importantly, this teaching is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Hebrew bible, for several reasons:

1. Creation is in fact a *good* thing!  Genesis opens with God declaring a number of times that creation is good.  We live in a fundamentally *good* creation.

2. Any “sin” which may have been committed in the Garden of Eden is in fact simply an “error” and would not result in the permanent Fall of all Humankind (there is no “Original Sin”).  When one errs, one is to recognize this and commit oneself to better behavior in the future.  And adopting this process throughout one’s life is being a righteous person.

So where do we get this idea of Original Sin?

Any strongly dualistic religion offers this as a fundamental tenet.  There is a Good God who is opposed by an Evil God.  Sometimes the argument is weakened to the point of absurdity by making the evil god so impotent as to simply be a straw man.  If the Evil God is unable to defeat the Good God, there is no point to the myth;  or perhaps better said, the myth may be more usefully constructed so as to depict some range of development through which the beings pitched between these two Forces of Good and Evil are to traverse, perhaps impelled along the way by the (now more properly diminished) forces of darkness.

Our Christian tradition has several sources of such dualism.  The first is that which we inherited from Zoroastrianism when the Hebrew people were captives in Babylon, and following their release by the Persians who defeated the Babylonians.  This appears to have later grown to be a formative feature in later Judaism during the Roman occupation of Israel-Judah.  (More properly, Israel was the former Northern Kingdom, Judah the Southern Kingdom;  upon their return the Hebrew people were said to returning to Judah.  As a result, it is after their return from the Babylonian exile that the Hebrew people may properly be referred to as Jews  (persons from the land of Judah).)

The second source may have been influenced by the first.  This is the development of Ha Satan into Satan.  Ha Satan is a title, and is an agent of God working on behalf of God.  This Ha Satan is encountered in the Hebrew bible in Numbers and most famously the book of Job.  We might think of this as God’s Prosecuting Angel.  Centuries later, this position evolved to become understood to be an individual.  Gradually this individual was seen as the personification of Evil itself, and became the fallen angel named Satan.

A third major source of severe dualism is found in some forms of Gnosticism.  Gnosticism is a problematic term, because the range of beliefs which were held by people who their enemies named Gnostics (we know of no ancient group who named themselves Gnostics) was quite large.  The groups scholars have named Gnostics range in differences more widely than do today’s various Christian denominations, which is a very diverse group, considering it includes Eastern Orthodox, Snake Handlers, United Methodists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, and a number of churches under the authority of Independent Bishops.

But setting aside the difficulties of fine accuracy when employing the name Gnostic (which is Greek for Knowledge), we find there were some Gnostics which held very dualist views.  Some believed the God of the Hebrew bible was an inferior God, who imperfectly created the world, and all our problems stem form this.  Some viewed this flawed God as malevolent.

As these views were more widely held they were absorbed into the culture and teachings of the Church.  Even more important is the reason we have inherited so many of these views today.  It is because they were popularly held by the leaders of what became the strongest group of Christians (called the proto-orthodox in their formative period, and simply orthodox once they dominated the other types of Christianity (this is small-o orthodox, not to be confused with the groups of  Eastern Churches known collectively as Eastern Orthodox or more causally as Orthodox)).

(Sidebar:  It is worth noting that in many cases the early church fathers held one set of views in public and a different set in private.  Many of the most offensive Christian views seem to have this pedigree:  eternal hell and damnation;  original sin;  lack of universal salvation.  See “Universalism” by Dr. Hanson.)

So the whole idea of the “Fall” of man is itself a conclusion required by the misplaced idea of Duality.  It does nothing to promote a better, clearer understanding of why Jesus died on the cross.

Now to be fair, early manuscripts which survive do indicate some early Christians held the view that Jesus died on the cross as a Passover sacrifice is true.  The Gospel of John is a shining example.  In that gospel, Jesus’ time of death was changed to exactly coincide with the slaughtering of the Passover Lambs (a point which is in contradiction to the synoptic gospels).  That the later letters seem to support this view, is an indication this was the view held by the proto-orthodox, and naturally the orthodox Christians.

I personally do not like this explanation.  It is based on mistaken apprehensions of the Hebrew bible, and then in order to make sense of these mistaken ideas, it becomes the cause of further misunderstandings and misapprehensions.  All because the starting point in the chain of logic is faulty.  *If* we *are* lost to Original Sin, we can do nothing about it.  Therefore, the only act able to correct it, is for God to kill Himself.  Because only one without sin is able to offer a valid sacrifice of their life in payment for our evil state of perpetual sin.

But, if we are to hold to this view, the Gnostics have a valid point.  God should have made us better to begin with, and since He failed to do so, He must actually be an inferior god (sometimes named the Demiurge;  Greek for Maker or Craftsman).  Therefore, Jesus was sent as a representative of the True God, to redeem us from the trap of the flawed Demiurge-god.  The logic is reasonable.  If you grant a flawed starting point, as did the proto-orthodox, and the orthodox who have controlled most of Christianity for some 2,000-years.

These are not easy things to think about.  The ground is less than stable and much of it is quite strange.  It also requires a fairly large degree of investment in study to be able to appreciate the subtle details and shades of meaning.  The scholarship upon which much of the alternate argument rests is debated in universities.  The history and ancient roots of the languages in question are also debated.  In a word, it is complicated.

So I do understand the appeal of submitting to the orthodox views.  This is where the majority of Christians are comfortable, and they have support in a number of their traditional books and letters.  (Of course, the proto-orthodox and early orthodox ensured those *were* the very texts admitted into the canon, so the argument is circular.)

And I do feel one may reasonably hold the view that Jesus died as a replacement for our deaths, if that provides an easy to understand entry point, and one is not ready, or does not have the time, to think about the problems this creates.  There is nothing wrong with stopping at this point.  However, I would also observe that due to this being a imperfect solution, one must also allow that others may wish to expand on the themes and explore them more deeply.  One cannot be vehemently opposed to those engaging upon such a line of questioning.

But for those who *do* with to think about the problems this gives rise to,  I would suggest the following points for consideration:

  1. There is no “Original Sin.”
  2. Our “errors” (sins) are temporary set backs.
  3. Error is corrected as we adopt proper behavior (including restitution, as needed).
  4. Our earthly existence is fundamentally a good thing.
  5. God had the option of making us “better” but chose not to do so.
  6. Our lack of perfection somehow serves our highest good.
  7. Our striving for perfection is a course of learning in which we are to be engaged.
  8. We may not be “evil” so much as simply young!
  9. Jesus provided us a model, through which we may hope to obtain theosis.

Theosis is a fascinating tenet of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  I think it is one of the greatest losses the Western Church faced after the great schism created by the formulation of the Nicene Creed separated the East and West.  I would ask that it is considered in view of the previous thoughts and concerns about the formation of the proto-orthodox and orthodox church.  I feel it may offer an alternative conclusion to some of the difficulties we have been considering.

Theosis is a transformative process.  The objective is to attain as high a degree of likeness to -or union with- God as we are able during our lifetime.  Theosis is understood to come about as a result of katharsis (purification of mind and body) and theoria (contemplation).  In the Eastern Orthodox apprehension, the process of theosis, and attainment of it’s goal (unity or one-ness with the Divine) is why we are on earth, living a human life.  It does require the assistance and grace of God to be extended to us.  Yet, we too must strive for theosis.

[quote…]

3.  He rose from the dead in the same body, though glorified, in which He lived and died.  He ascended bodily into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, where He, the only mediator between God and man, continually makes intercession for His own.

[end-quote]

Another point which would have been easier to manage broken into its constituent elements.  But rather than discuss each point, I’m just going to observe this falls within the ancient understanding of the three-tier model of the universe.  There is heaven up “above” somewhere, the earth, and the world of the dead down “below” somewhere.  Anytime we see this model being expressed, it is a signal to us that we have switched to a metaphorical mode of expression.  Truths are being explored, but these are not to be taken as if they were literal, empirically based facts.

It is also an extremely mythic expression.  Here we find God is the old guy with a beard sitting on a throne in the sky above us.  If taken literally it is nonsensical.  So too with the idea of a literal bodily resurrection – a “glorified” body of meat that will live in the heaven above the sky somewhere.  The “glorified” bit is supposed to circumnavigate all the logical inconsistencies with this model.

But these are all overly simplistic representations, lacking meaning to modern readers.  We need to find or develop a more subtle mythos.  To evolve our spirituality we have to take points such as these metaphorically.  This is the proper place of a mythos, to allow us to grasp a larger Truth, and thereby elevate our consciousness.  When myth is taken literally, it demeans our intellect.

On a related point, which may have been made but is not….

Is this the moment when Jesus became Divine?  If not, we have to answer this question to our own satisfaction.  Broadly, the choices are as follow…

  1. Pre-existent, prior to Creation itself.
  2. Upon Mary’s conception by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Upon Jesus’ baptism.
  4. Upon Jesus’ resurrection.

Our most poetic-mythic gospel (John) states the position that Jesus was/is the pre-existent Logos (Word).  However, while beautiful and in many ways one of my favorite gospels, we have to be careful assigning literal meaning to poetic-metaphorical language.  I feel this weakens this interpretation.  But it is in the running.

Was Jesus conceived as Divine?  This means he was a little goo-gooing baby, toddler, adolescent, and all the while knowing he was Divine.  We don’t have reliable accounts of these childhood years, so we are free to think of them as we wish.  But to my mind, the idea of baby Jesus cooing and pooing all the while knowing to himself he was the Incarnated God, seems unreasonable.  It is a bizarre thought, too bizarre for me to believe it.  So I personally do not rate this as very likely.  This automatically disposed of the pre-existent Logos too.  (Too bad – that is such a lovely expression!)

Did the Holy Spirit enter him upon his baptism, and if so, is this the same thing as being imbued with the Divinity of the Christ?  I rate this as possible, as do some of the gospel writers.  The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus like a dove.  In one account only Jesus is aware of this taking place;  in another account everyone present is aware of this event.  So this rate a “possible” in my book.

But is the Holy Spirit the same thing as the Christ?  Another way of stating this question is, when the Holy Spirit comes into a person, are they Divine?  I tend to think not.  Turn to the Pentecost – were these people made Divine?  This is *not* thought to be the case.  I agree.  Therefore, I also tend to think that the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus would *not* make him Divine.  Or no more Divine than when it happens to anyone one of us, is another way to think about that.  So I tend to discount this apprehension.

Or did Jesus become Divine upon his resurrection?  There is an understanding that God at that point names Jesus as “today you are my Son.”  We might consider this as an option.

So some considerations are ruled out, some more likely than others.  How might we find a means of sorting this out?  I think one of the best ways is to ask another question….  How might this relate to us?  Are we able to receive the anointing “fire” of the Holy Spirit?  Are we empowered to facilitate healings?  Discern spirits?  Speak in tongues?  Be offered prophetic visions?

Some say “no” to all of the above.  I, however, say “yes” to all of the above.  I see these as functions of our facility with, and nearness of, the Holy Spirit.  I suspect this is what happened with Jesus too.  He was operating at a much higher level than most of us, that is clear if we believe the scriptural accounts which have survived.  But did Jesus’ miracles make him Divine?  John says, yes.  But the synoptic gospels suggest, no.

What is the pay off in this line of thought?  Does this just demote Jesus to human-life, human-death;  Divine Resurrection?  How is this useful of beneficial to us?

It means to me that we too may strive to embody the Holy Spirit as much as did Jesus…  and that is a big pay off!

And we have scriptural support for this view – Jesus said we would do even greater things than did he.  If he were Divine his entire life how is that possible?  Jesus said there was a great deal he was unable to say to us, and that even if he had tried, it was more than we could now bear.  But the Holy Spirit would come, and through the Holy Spirit all things would be revealed to us.  I suggest that part of what this points us to, is the understanding that it is through the indwelling Holy Spirit we work with the Spirit while on earth.  This is true when performing healings, speaking tongues, or having the meaning of scripture revealed to us.

So there is a big pay off for *us* if Jesus was as human as are we, and only became Divine upon his resurrection.  This is a perspective which better empowers us while we live our life in the here and now.  And all we have to work with at any point in time, is exactly what we have and are, right now, this moment.  This too is meaningful.

[quote…]

4. Man was originally created in the image of God. He sinned by disobeying God; thus, he was alienated from his Creator. That historic fall brought all mankind under divine
condemnation.

[end-quote]

These points I addressed above.  I would add, however, that God does *not* *hate* us!  God *loves* us!

[quote…]

5. Man’s nature is corrupted, and he is thus totally unable to please God. Every man is in need of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

[end-quote]

The first sentence I believe to be an error.  See the above discussion.  The second sentence I can agree with in principal.  I believe we *do* need the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the Shakinah, the Shadow of the Presence of God in our midst.  We are unable to attain theosis without guidance and grace granted by God.

And in less cosmic concerns, we benefit from the influence of God in our daily lives, even in the simple things, and the small choices we make.  Do we smile or growl?  If we are contemplating God we are more likely to smile.  This is one reason to do so.

[quote…]

6. The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or in part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His
righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justified them in His sight.

[end-quote]

I understand the author to be promoting the idea that all one need do is profess Jesus as one’s salvation, and one is saved.  That no act on our part can force this to happen.  We are saved by grace, not by works.

I do not think it is this simple.  And I am not alone.  While the point is debatable, the author of the book of James is said to be Jesus’ brother.  Whoever this author is, they very strongly believed one *was* required to offer good works, in addition to faith:  “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”  (James 2:17).

I suspect the best course is a balance of the two.  But to just mouth some words and then do nothing to shape our lives into that which we feel better matches a Divine way of life, I think that is foolish.  Perhaps we will be “saved” simply by mouthing the words.  But we will best thrive by taking actions to improve our lives, the lives of those we love, and by making a real and sincere attempt to attain theosis.  We may well miss this mark too!  But I have to think we are better for trying.

[quote…]

7. It is the privilege of all who are born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior. This assurance is not based upon any kind of human merit, but is produced by the witness of the Holy Spirit, who confirms in the believer the testimony of God in His written word.

[end-quote]

I read this as a restatement of the previous point.  I would add however that the scripture is somewhat unclear, because in the Greek language the same word means “born” as “above.”  This is the root of the confusion over how one can possibly be “born again.”  It may be that the scripture meant to say one must be “born above” a second time.  In other words, one must undergo a spiritual rebirth.  This makes sense, and is even the emphasis of the scripture when the other understanding of the word.

[quote…]

8. The Holy Spirit has come into the world to reveal and glorify Christ and to apply the saving work of Christ to men. He convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts new life to them, continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth and seals them until the day of redemption. His fullness, power and control are appropriated in the believer’s life by faith.

[end-quote]

I think I generally agree with this point!

[quote…]

9. Every believer is called to live so in the power of the indwelling Spirit that he will not fulfil the lust of the flesh but will bear fruit to the glory of God.

[end-quote]

I really need a clearer idea of what is meant by this point.  I *think* his point is to be an ascetic?  I assume he is speaking of refraining from sex outside marriage, and not self-flagellation, and other forms of mutilation which were practised in centuries past.

If I understand the thrust of this point properly, while it is not necessarily a bad idea, I would not be inclined to worry about it overly much.  It feels to me like it is rooted in self-hate and the overarching theme of we are vile, fallen creatures.  (Which I do not believe is true.)

[quote…]

10. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, which is composed of all men, living and dead, who have been joined to Him through saving faith. God admonishes His people to assemble together regularly for worship, for participation in ordinances, for edification through the Scriptures and for mutual encouragement.

[end-quote]

Generally speaking, this is not a bad idea.  However, it is a better idea for exoteric Christians and those young in their faith.  The first because it is their nature and the second because being young, there is a lot they may learn as a result of the exposure to others teaching the scriptures (of course, they may also be exposed to misapprehensions).

But for a mature esoteric Christian this will be less important.  It is not their nature, and psychological-behavioral norm, and they may have progressed to the point where solitude and contemplation has more to offer.

[quote…]

11. At physical death the believer enters immediately into eternal, conscious fellowship with the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting glory and blessing.

[end-quote]

I do not have a strong opinion on this point.  It is a debatable point, however.

[quote…]

12. At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation from the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting judgement and condemnation.

[end-quote]

 

Again, a debatable point.  And it is clearly in opposition to that of Universal Salvation, so the conclusion is mistaken.

[quote…]

13. Jesus Christ will come again to the earth — personally, visibly and bodily — to consummate history and the eternal plan of God.

 

[end-quote]

 

I am not at all convinced this is correct.  Revelation is most likely the basis for this, but the proper understanding of Revelation is *not* as a prediction for our future.  It offers a message of hope for those caught in times of terror, turmoil, and oppression.

Personally, I doubt this is correct.  More likely is we are engaged in a process of refining our attainment of theosis, so that we might find reunion with the Divine.  Seen through the lens of Universal Salvation (again, see “Universalism” by Dr. Hanson), this may take a long time, and need not happen in one lifetime.  (Whether the “other lifetimes” take place physically on this earth, or elsewhere, physically or spiritually, is not clear.)

[quote…]

14. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded all believers to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world and to disciple men of every nation. The fulfilment of that Great Commission requires that all worldly and personal ambitions be subordinated to a total commitment to “Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

 

[end-quote]

 

I am not convinced of this either.  I suspect this was added to the manuscripts at a later date.  My thoughts cannot help but turn to the Ineffable God when presented with such proclamations.  They make the presumption they perfectly understand the mind of God, and that their apprehension of the ideal religious approach is best for all persons, across all spans of time and culture.  I do not believe this.  There are in excess of seven billion people on the planet right now.  It is impossible they will all be Christians.  To say the majority are therefore doomed for eternity is a misapprehension, and a misunderstanding of the original Greek passages (once again, see “Universalism” by Dr. Hanson).

In my opinion is one wishes to share their religious and spiritual observances with others who are receptive, that is fine.  But to attempt to shovel your religion down the throat of another is unnecessary and rude.  God will appeal to each person as best suits their nature and level of spiritual awareness.  There is no rush;  we have all the time in the universes.  Ultimately, there is only One, and eventually we shall all find our way back to Unity.

The important thing is to find your own means of building a connection with the Divine.  Any level or stage of faith that facilitates this connection for you, and nourishes your spirit, that is where you should engage the process.

Offered with blessings,
Erik+

[ Beginning of original document, dated May 28, 2008, posted on the web site:   http://www.Josh.org ]

Statement of Faith

The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

We accept those areas of doctrinal teaching on which, historically, there has been general agreement among all true Christians. Because of the specialized calling of our movement, we desire to allow for freedom of conviction on other doctrinal matters, provided that any interpretation is based upon the Bible alone, and that no such interpretation shall become an issue which hinders the ministry to which God has called us.

1. There is one true God, eternally existing in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit —
each of whom possesses equally all the attributes of Deity and the characteristics of
personality. Jesus Christ is God, the living Word, who became flesh through His miraculous
conception by the Holy Spirit and His virgin birth. Hence, He is perfect Deity and true
humanity united in one person forever.

2. He lived a sinless life and voluntarily atoned for the sins of men by dying on the cross as
their substitute, thus satisfying divine justice and accomplishing salvation for all who trust
in Him alone.

3. He rose from the dead in the same body, though glorified, in which He lived and died. He
ascended bodily into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father, where He,
the only mediator between God and man, continually makes intercession for His own.

4. Man was originally created in the image of God. He sinned by disobeying God; thus, he
was alienated from his Creator. That historic fall brought all mankind under divine
condemnation.

5. Man’s nature is corrupted, and he is thus totally unable to please God. Every man is in
need of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

6. The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or
in part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His
righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby
justified them in His sight.

7. It is the privilege of all who are born again of the Spirit to be assured of their salvation
from the very moment in which they trust Christ as their Savior. This assurance is not
based upon any kind of human merit, but is produced by the witness of the Holy Spirit,
who confirms in the believer the testimony of God in His written word.

8. The Holy Spirit has come into the world to reveal and glorify Christ and to apply the saving
work of Christ to men. He convicts and draws sinners to Christ, imparts new life to them,
continually indwells them from the moment of spiritual birth and seals them until the day
of redemption. His fullness, power and control are appropriated in the believer’s life by
faith.

9. Every believer is called to live so in the power of the indwelling Spirit that he will not fulfil
the lust of the flesh but will bear fruit to the glory of God.

10. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, His Body, which is composed of all men, living and
dead, who have been joined to Him through saving faith. God admonishes His people to
assemble together regularly for worship, for participation in ordinances, for edification
through the Scriptures and for mutual encouragement.

11. At physical death the believer enters immediately into eternal, conscious fellowship with
the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting glory and blessing.

12. At physical death the unbeliever enters immediately into eternal, conscious separation
from the Lord and awaits the resurrection of his body to everlasting judgement and
condemnation.

13. Jesus Christ will come again to the earth — personally, visibly and bodily — to consummate
history and the eternal plan of God.

14. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded all believers to proclaim the Gospel throughout the
world and to disciple men of every nation. The fulfilment of that Great Commission
requires that all worldly and personal ambitions be subordinated to a total commitment
to “Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.”

[End of original document:  11 July, 2013.]