Getting Out of the Box with Christ

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. -John 3:16 (NRSV)

For some time now I have been attending an evangelical church nearby and have made friends with some of my fellow ‘parishioners’ along the way. A big part of the appeal was [and is] the emphasis placed on Bible teaching and the man (pastor) who does it. I find it refreshing and, at the same time, accurate (to the best of my researching capability). This particular church is somewhere between being fundamentalist and charismatic in its theology. They make an effort to avoid labels– another thing I find appealing in my journey with Jesus. Somehow, I don’t think He would be overly fond of labels, either.

I went from the Lutheran background of my childhood to a Pentecostal church, a Southern Baptist church and settled into an American Baptist Church for several years.  (There was also a sprinkling of others thrown in for good measure). I would say much of my “church life” has taken place in more mainstream (some might call them liberal) churches. Somewhere along the line (in my teens) I met Jesus as my Savior. (My best guess is during the summer of 1975). I believed in Him since childhood (because I was taught to) but didn’t have the type of personal relationship I have with Him now until many years had passed. I allowed my personal stuff (struggles) and the legalism I was subjected to in early life to influence me and retard my growth. I suppose some (who must use labels) would have called me a ‘carnal Christian.’

A few years back I attended my first “Purpose-Driven Life” program at the church I currently attend and was, to my surprise, taken back with a few simple facts: it’s not all about me; it’s all about God. I also learned to love that fact and acquire an even deeper appreciation for Him in the process. As I move along on my personal journey with Him, I have come to see more and more of how self-centered I can be and how much work there remains for me to do, even after passing the half-century mark of human existence a few years back. This is not said to allow Satan to beat me up and try to make me ineffective for Christ; if anything, it makes me a more effective witness for Him because he loves me despite all of my shortcomings!  I endeavor today to spend time in the Word and know Him better.

I suppose, from an evangelical standpoint, I might be considered somewhat liberal in my approach to certain theological matters and interpretation of the Bible. From a mainstream Protestant view, I might be considered somewhat conservative– perhaps even a tad fundamental, in my views of the Bible and what it teaches. So what do I believe? What are my views on things like inerrancy, heaven, hell, etc.?

Here it comes…

First and foremost, I acknowledge God as a Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe Christ came to this earth as a man, was crucified and rose from the dead. In His death, He became the sacrifice for our sins and when we call upon Him as our Savior, He saves us. I believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting for those who embrace Jesus as their Savior. I am not a universalist and acknowledge that people have the right to make their own choice and either receive Him or reject Him. I am also not a cessationist and believe that the gifts of the Spirit are available today. I am not what one would call a Pentecostal but am somewhat “charismatic” in my beliefs and worship. I suppose you could call me an ecumenical person, since I am happy to worship with people from a variety of Christian faith backgrounds and acknowledge that Christians are everywhere (the ‘invisible’ church). I believe that Catholics may be every bit as much ‘Christian’ as I am– provided that they acknowledge and love Jesus as their personal Savior and know they can’t “work their way into Heaven.” It’s all about His grace. I have no problem with women being preachers and teachers. I love to listen to Joyce Meyer and others like her who have an in-depth knowledge of Scripture and share it in practical, everyday ways. By the same token, I learn much from people like N.T. Wright, whose books I read with deep appreciation for his insight and agree with a great deal of his theology. I make an effort to avoid mean-spirited, overly judgmental Christians who put down their brothers and sisters in Christ, denouncing them for some theological differences they may have– differences which, at the end of the day, aren’t going to matter all that much. I avoid “KJV-onlyists” and similar folks like the plague. I fear that some of them spend more time worshiping a book than they do God. I have a problem with too much talk of hell. The Bible teaches of its existence, so I believe it.  Let’s call it a place of separation from God and leave it at that. I would much rather win people to Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit [and portrayal of God’s love] than try scaring them into some “confession of faith at gunpoint.” Some of our culture has adopted an almost ‘paganesque’ view of hell and take as literal depictions from Dante’s Inferno. When you come right down to it, while the Bible spends some time discussing hell, more time is devoted to the glory that awaits us. In regard to the Bible, it is God’s Word to us– as relevant today as it was when its pages were first recorded. Some parts of it are meant to be taken literally and others are more metaphoric in nature. The Holy Spirit will make its meaning clear to the believer who reads with that understanding in mind. Spend more time discovering its meaning, rather than just focusing on its words or individual sentences. It will enrich your life in ways unimagined. I read the Apocrypha and find much inspiration and knowledge contained within its pages. Some consider the books of the Apocrypha to be inspired (canonical) and others do not. To what degree they are accepted as canonical depends on the church. Catholics accept certain books and Anglicans and Orthodox revere still others. All I know is that I find much of value within them and am pleased to have them contained in my Bible for ready reference and encouragement. They have certainly inspired me from time to time. Find a translation that you are comfortable with and find engaging. I personally like the New Revised Standard Version. You may prefer something more conservative, like the New King James or English Standard Version. There are many wonderful translations out there. They will deliver to you the same message as the King James Version did to our forefathers who asked. They will tell you what you need to know about Jesus. There are one or two oddballs that I would avoid, but almost all are fine. (I suggest that you look for recommendations from your pastor or fellow church members).

Too often, I think we focus on the “world to come” and miss that which is right in front of us in the “here and now.” So many of us look forward to the resurrection– when we will live forever in a perfect place and disregard this world because we see it as evil or, at least, broken. I have come to realize that eternal life is not something which begins later, it is a process we are already committed to and involved in right now. It is in progress. Live in His kingdom right now.

To wrap this up, it’s all about Jesus. Love Jesus and do what He tells you to do: Love God and love others. Die in Christ and rise with Him. How can you go wrong?

Let me sum up my beliefs with the Apostle’s Creed:

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

11. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

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