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.]

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