A Gathering of All Believers?

Last night I wrote about my theory that the church is not effective in large part because of its divisions, that this ineffectiveness and division leave many people wandering and doing what seems best to them and that in order to counter this the church needs to reconsider its basic conception of itself. Today, I want to discuss a bit further what would/will need to happen for us to overcome our divisions and create more effective churches.

A month or so ago, I was involved in a discussion in the comment boxes over at Jesus Creed where regular commenter (and sometimes fill-in blogger) RJS said this:

I am an evangelical Christian and a scholar – but – I would not teach at an evangelical Christian institution with a restrictive statement of faith beyond essentials, even a statement of faith with which I currently agree. I am also ambivalent about church membership in any restrictive denominational church, despite the fact that I think we must affiliate in local congregations. We are called to be part of the body of Christ – the Church.

Attaching much importance to nonessentials sets a bar for Christian fellowship beyond Christian faith. I think that this has at least three, and probably more, truly negative impacts.

(1) It divides Christians, despite the fact that we are called to unity.

(2) It leads many to an unhealthy ironic faith (borrowing Scot’s term) where one may not really believe that to which one gives nominal assent.

(3) It prevents many of us from ever feeling truly secure in Christian fellowship.”

I have thought about this quite a bit since reading it a couple of weeks ago. Can we Christians simply decide that anyone who is willing to affirm the early church creeds (Apostle’s/Nicene Creed) belongs in full fellowship with us? What would happen if those who believe in eternal hell couldn’t write off those who believe in universal salvation as heretics? Could those who believe women should be in a subservient role abide with a church which affirmed the call of a woman to a leadership position? Can those who believe that the taking of the bread and the wine is symbolic respect the reverence of those who believe in transubstantiation towards the elements of communion? Can those who believe in the necessity of the “sinner’s prayer” resist harassing those who don’t over potentially losing their ticket to heaven?

My first impulse would be to say that it’s impossible. We’ll never be able to agree on these things and people aren’t going to be willing to let them go. However, what if we had no choice? What if our church was like a marriage or a family where no matter how strongly you may disagree with another, there is no “out” clause? How would having to learn to actually love one another rather than simply tolerate each other from a distance shape us as people of faith? It would probably force us into the habit of loving the unlovable a little more freely. It might also force us to concentrate on that love and our bond with each other as a counterweight to the conflict which could tear us apart. We may even decide that the best way to stay together despite our differences would be to focus on serving each other and our communities. Nothing
diffuses conflict like coming together for common purposes. And over time, once we could no longer simply write off someone who’s ideas we find wrong headed or heretical, we might even begin to see a little more clearly why someone else’s ideas might have more merit than you had previously thought.

Ultimately, while all churches claim to be pointing people to God, most of them ask and offer very little to their members. At the worst, they assure their members that if they just believe the right things, doing the right things will get easier and salvation will be theirs. We’ve spent a long time now arguing over what the right things to believe are. And while that can be an interesting parlor game, parlor games don’t change people’s lives. A growing, intimate relationship with God and man does. And whenever something stands in the way of those things, we need to seriously consider if the matter is important enough to justify a barrier. Really, how many of the things we are divided over are important enough to justify separating two believers who are brothers in Christ?

There is so much more to say about this. But if anyone wants to see both the reality of God’s expectation for unity in the body and the difficulties in pulling it off, I would suggest taking a gander at 1 Corinthians. This study of the book does an excellent job of explaining what was going on there. Cliques and religious puffery, competing ideologies and sexual impropriety. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s all been with us since the beginning. However today we so often pack our bat and ball and head home to find others who think like us to play with. I believe that the time has come for us to bring all of our equipment back to the ekklesia and relearn how to play together. There’s too much important work which needs to be done for us not to.

It is my prayer that as our next generation of Christian leaders comes online, more and more of them will be brave enough to eschew denominational affiliations and even restrictive statements of faith. Let’s see what happens when we open our doors to all Christians and really mean it. Because if we could do that, and figure out how to function like that, we really would be offering a peek into the kingdom, for ourselves and for those looking in. I am reminded of Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights nor depths nor any created thing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” If none of those things can separate us from God, who actually does have all the answers, then what right do any of us have in claiming that there is something important or essential enough for to separate from each other?

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6 thoughts on “A Gathering of All Believers?

  1. Lost Bible Books
    In the Protestant church only the 66 books approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, which today is known as the Authorized King James Bible, are allowed.

    Fourteen other books, which were included in the original King James Bible, and 22 other books which were mentioned or quoted in the King James Bible, are not included today.

    There was no specific list or accounting of all the books that made up the Bible until the commission of the first Bible by the Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century AD.

    It is believed there were up to 600 books, taken out by the formation of Catholicism by Constantine; even one lost book is a great loss.

    Also many do not know that the Apocryphal books were actually included in the King James translation until they were officially taken out by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885.

    I will now give you the names of some of the other Holy books, mentioned in the Bible.

    Book of Jasher. = Joshua 10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher?

    2 Samuel 1:18 (Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.)

    Book of Enoch. = Jude 1:14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,

    Book of Samuel the seer, = Book of Nathan the prophet, = Book of Gad the seer.

    1 Chronicles 29:29 Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer,

    There are many more Holy Scripture books named, which can be found mentioned in the Bible. As Paul said “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” 2 Timothy 3:16 :: King James

    My conclusion is that if these books mentioned by God’s people in the Bible, was good enough for them to read and to study, and to accept that it is the word of God, then I to accept that these other books mentioned in the Bible is the word of God. And to reject them would be a grave loss to me. But we do know that if man has any involvement in writing God’s Word, he makes mistakes and sometimes changes the Word of God, therefore we must always seek the Holy Spirits teaching when we are reading holy scriptures today, for the Holy Spirit will always lead us into all truth as Jesus said.

    EVANGELIST BILLY BOLITHO

    http://www.evangelistbillybolitho.blogspot.com

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  2. Hmmm….this reminds me of The Screwtape Letters, when Screwtape instructs his nephew that no sort of dissension between people pleases him so much as disagreement over religion.

    And to an outsider like me, even though I understand the philosophical basis of the differences of opinion among the churches, they all smack of stemming from “the narcissism of small differences.” (I think that phrase is from Jung, but I am not sure.)

    Oh, and C.S.Lewis, in the introduction to the book where he explains Christianity (can you believe I’ve forgotten the title?), equates Christianity to a large house, and the different groups within it to its rooms. The main thing, he claimed was to get into the house; which room you chose wasn’t as important.

    Mere Christianity – that’s the title…

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  3. I am one of those heretics who quit believing in the doctrine of eternal torment. Apparently the church stuggled with it for 500+ years before it was made an article of faith. I am convinced that when the word is properly read and interpreted, there is no basis for belief in eternal torment, but many reasons to believe in the salvation of all of humankind. I put the following together the last few days. See what you think

    GRAND ASSERTION

    ALL OF MANKIND WAS DECLARED RIGHTEOUS BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST AND ALL OF MANKIND WILL COME TO BELIEVE IN JESUS AS LORD AND GOD AS SAVIOR FOLLOWING THE NECESSARY DISCIPLINE OF THE CONSUMING PURIFYING FIRE OF GOD.

    Mal 3:2b “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap;”

    SUB-ASSERTION #1

    MANKIND WAS DECLARED RIGHTEOUS BY THE BLOOD OF CHRIST HAVING BEEN RECONCILED TO GOD BY HIS DEATH

    Rom 5:6-10 “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?

    Note that a summary of these verses could be the following:
    While we were helpless ungodly sinners who were His enemies, Christ died for us, declared us righteous by his blood, will save us from God’s wrath, and reconciled us to God through His death.

    Helpless ungodly sinners who were enemies of God and Christ may be words written to those of Rome who were currently believers, but here Paul is obviously referencing their status with God prior to their becoming believers. Therefore the being reconciled to God and declared righteous occurred prior to belief since these descriptions are hardly of believers.

    At the foot of the cross were many helpless ungodly sinners who were the enemies of Jesus, yet He said, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”. I believe the Father was in agreement with this prayer of Jesus and so their sins were or will be forgiven on the merits of Jesus alone. Mankind was declared righteous, or justified on that day. Paul reinforces the fact of being declared righteous was for all mankind a few verses later in Rom 5:18, “Consequently, just as one offense resulted in condemnation for everyone, so one act of righteousness results in justification and life for everyone.”

    SUB-ASSERTION #2

    NO “PUNISHMENT”, “DESTRUCTION”, “PERISHING”, “LOSTNESS” IS ETERNAL; RATHER GOD’S “PUNISHMENTS” OR “DESTRUCTION” ARE CORRECTIVE IN NATURE

    Now, we do need His discipline to make us fit for His kingdom. This discipline will not be “eternal”, but it will be “aeonian or eonian”, the English equivalents of the Greek “aionios”. “Aeonian” punishment as referred to in Mt. 25:46, one of the proof texts for those who hold to the heresy of the eternal torment of non-believers, is the type of correction that God will administer to the unbeliever. The noun being modified by aeonian is the word punishment, which is the Greek “kolasis” which has been used in reference to “pruning” a plant for the purpose of better production. “Kolasis” punishment is the corrective type, whereas, “timoria” punishment is the retributive type. The “aeonian” life in Mt. 25:46 is the life given to the believer by God beginning at the point of belief. This is that life we enjoy as believers which blesses us now as we deal with this physical life and also blesses us with the promise of immortality and therefore everlasting communion with our Father.

    Aeonian destruction as referenced in 2 Thess. 1:7-9, “…who will be punished with aeonian destruction from the presence of the Lord,…”, is the kind of destruction necessary for God to administer for the fulfillment of His purposes. Destruction is equivalent to death in that it is “from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power”. Jesus was “destroyed” at the cross, but as in His case, so with all cases of destruction or death, there is no sense of “eternal” associated with them as Jesus rose to life and “the last enemy to be eliminated will be death”.

    The “lost” sheep, coin, and son of Luke 15 referred to a condition that did not last forever. The word “lost” is the translation of the Greek “apollumi”, from which we have the translations lose, lost, perish, destroy, etc. As we can see in Luke 15, the sheep, coin, and son were only “lost” until they were found. This harmonizes with the fact that Jesus said He came to “seek and save the lost”.

    Note that the following verse tells us that there is a special benefit for becoming a believer now, but that God will save all of the “lost” unbelievers also. 1Tim 4:10 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” The Greek word that got translated “especially” here is “malista”. Checking its usage in other verses makes it clear that especially is a good choice for English since it does refer to extra special attention to something, but not to the exclusion of other items mentioned in the context.

    The Hebrew word “olam” has as its Greek equivalents “aion” and “aionios” in the Septuagint. An analysis of the approximately 440 occurrences of olam in the Old Testament suggests that it means a period of time without the end in sight but not necessarily “eternal”, or “everlasting” or “forever”, if it should ever be. Olam was only 3 days in the case of Jonah’s duration in the fish, even though the “traditional” translation has been “forever”. Also, the length of time a person would be the slave has been referred to as “forever”, which we know is literally only for their physical lifetime. Some versions never use eternal, everlasting, or forever for olam. Have you noticed some versions use the phrase “forever and ever”. Have you ever given thought to the absurdity of adding the words “and ever” after you have already said forever? What’s more than forever? That’s like saying something lasts for an eternity and then for another eternity. The absurdity of this should add to our awareness of the bias of those translators who consistently translate olam, aion, and aionios as eternal, everlasting, forever, or the absurd “forever and ever” phrase.

    An analysis of the word “hell” is quite revealing. Jesus used the word “geena” or “hades” and tradition (KJV, Catholic church, etc.) has had the ignorant audacity to use this Anglo-Saxon word “hell”, which means “unseen” (a-des), corresponding to the Hebrew “sheol” and attach to it a meaning out of pagan mythology of a place of eternal torment. Dr. Thomas Thayer in his book “The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment” traces this myth of eternal torment that became associated with the word hell to ancient Egypt. Geena (sometimes Gehenna) was the Valley of Hinnom which became a garbage dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem where carcasses of criminals were burned which Jesus metaphorically referenced as a future potential punishment with no sense of “eternal” punishment inherent in its meaning. This refers to aeonian punishment which again is God’s corrective punishment. Gehenna should have been left untranslated because it is a geographical location that the Jews of Jesus’ audience knew exactly what he was referring to. Hades should have also been left untranslated or translated as “unseen” or “the grave” as some versions do, as Hades definitely has no inherent punishment connotation. There are a number of versions that don’t use the word “hell” even once, realizing the bad rap the word has gotten with the erroneous connotation.

    SUB-ASSERTION #3

    ALL HUMANITY WILL COME TO BELIEVE IN GOD AND WILL WORSHIP HIM SOONER OR LATER

    The following are 5 witnesses (scriptures) from 4 of God’s servants: DAVID, ISAIAH, PAUL, and JOHN.

    NOTE: Nowhere in the Word do we have any evidence that one must come to belief in this lifetime, which is another myth of man; contrariwise, we have much evidence in the following verses and many others that some will only come to belief after their physical death. At this point some might think of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable. Parables must be discerned spiritually as they are not to be taken literally since they are fictional stories to convey a spiritual message. Consider this, Rich Man = Jews and Lazarus = Gentiles and the spiritual message is that the Jews will be disciplined for their attitude toward and treatment of the Gentiles.

    Keep in mind that belief is granted by God in His time not in man’s. God grants belief to some in this lifetime and others after their physical death. The myth that one must come to belief in this lifetime is something man dreamed up or more than likely got from the pagans and added to his traditions, but God’s word does not speak of it.

    John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

    Phi 1:29 “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,”

    THE MASTER PLAN OF THE MASTER COULD BE SUMMED UP IN A COMPREHENSIVE SUMMARY OF HIS WORD AS FOLLOWS AS ATTESTED BY MANY WITNESSES.

    “ALL IS OUT OF ME AND ALL WILL COME BACK TO ME.” — GOD

    Rom 11:36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
    1Co 15:28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

    GOD WILL BE ALL IN ALL = GOD WILL BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE

    OUR SPIRIT CAME OUT OF GOD AND WILL RETURN TO GOD

    DAVID was inspired to write:

    Psalms 22:27-28 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations

    ISAIAH was inspired to write:

    Isa 45:23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
    Isa 45:24 “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him.

    PAUL was inspired to write:

    Phi 2:10-11 “…so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow
    — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

    Rom 14:11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.”

    JOHN was inspired to record:

    Rev 5:13 “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

    SINCE AFTER A CERTAIN TIME DEATH WILL CEASE TO BE, LEAVING ONLY LIFE AND HENCE NO MORE SEPARATION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN, ALL OF THESE WITNESSES CAN TESTIFY TO THE SAME THING:

    NOTE: The feeble attempt to downplay this worshipping, bowing, and confessing as somehow “forced”, is born out of bias for eternal torment. Note particularly in Phil. 2:11 the phrase “to the glory of God the Father”. It is obviously not giving God glory to say Jesus is Lord without meaning it and you might also recall what Paul said about saying that Jesus is Lord, that “…no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3b)

    EVERY CREATED BEING WILL SOME DAY PRAISE AND GLORIFY GOD!!!

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  4. Well, you are right about one thing, every knee will bow and will confess that Jesus is Lord, The righteous will, for they will know that indeed the blood of Jesus has washed them clean.
    The wicked will also bow thw knee and confess that Jesus is Lord, but they will then be dragged away, by the holy angels into eternal fire, to be tormented forever.

    That is where all the murderers, deceivers and those who hurt children will burn forever. Only those who confess that Jesus is Lord on this earth will be saved. There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved.

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  5. For the record, I am 100%, firmly on the side of Don Hicks on this one. The bible clearly does not teach eternal hell when translated properly, has many, many, many scriptures which speak of the eventual salvation of all mankind in no uncertain terms and universal reconciliation of all mankind was the commonly accepted teaching in the vast majority of the churches outside of Rome until after Augustine. (Anyone interested in finding out more should go to the link for Tentmaker in the sidebar above and look through their “Scholar’s Corner”.)

    However, I cannot call for unity in the church, only to pick a fight when my line in the sand is crossed. When I first learned about universal reconciliation, I was eager to share what I had learned with others. I assumed that they would be as excited as I was to learn that God and His love were much more great, powerful, and victorious than we had been lead to believe. However, as Don has surely found out, while you won’t run into anyone who can seriously refute the evidence of the biblical teaching of universal reconciliation, most people aren’t happy with the good news. An emphatic “Un-uh” is the usual response.

    At first it did bother me that rather than being a force for unity, reclaiming the Christian teaching of universal reconciliation seemed like it would be one more thing which divides us. However, about a year ago I was praying about this and God basically told me that while He didn’t want me to hide His teaching of universal reconciliation, He also didn’t want me to fixate on universal reconciliation either. It could be something which I spoke of when it came up, but people have many needs and universal reconciliation is just one answer among many to the needs people have. God is working in the church and thankfully this beautiful teaching of God’s true power, grace and victory is becoming more common. (I was pleasantly shocked to see the position of universal salvation well represented in a conversation about hell which took place on Jesus Creed recently.)

    We do not need more division, even over something as important as this. I believe it is up to those of us who have rediscovered the ancient Christian teaching of universal reconciliation to live out our faith in love with our brethren who do not yet know how great God is in this regard. We need to follow Jesus’ example and speak and act in humility, not looking for arguments. I think we can speak our peace and leave it at that, not engaging in conflict or becoming belligerent about it. While universal reconciliation is important, we have many other things to share with each other and we need to spend more time in those places while leaving the rest up to God.

    And in that spirit, I am giving warning that I don’t want this comment string, or my blog to be taken over by this argument. If someone from the eternal hell camp wanted to put together and actual defense of their position, I might be willing to let that stand. However, at this point I think we can consider commentary on the subject closed. Back and forth, tit-for-tat is really not useful or edifying for anyone. And in my experience that is precisely what these conversations dissolve into. If you want more info, or have a question, I would again encourage you to check out Tentmaker. Or you can email me (my addy is on my about page). There’s really no objection or scripture I haven’t looked at regarding this topic, so I can answer you if you need. But I am not interested in debate. There are many other places you can go if that is what you are looking for.

    -Rebecca

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  6. Rebecca,

    Thank you so much for your comments. I do appreciate your desire for unity. I struggle with my attitude and approach toward false doctrine. I need to find a balance. I see my Lord lashing out at the religious leaders. I see Paul not sparing the language toward the Circumcision. The doctrine of hell is a message of fear and I want to offer a message of hope. There can be no real unity between a message of fear and a message of grace. My ministry, at this point in my life, is to spread the message of love and grace to counter the message of fear and despair.

    God bless you in your ministry.
    Don

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