Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Elders' Meeting Scriptures (see previous post)

The Scriptures that I shared with the elders were from those quoted below (can't remember exactly which ones we read in full on the night)  in the hope that they might see that a Biblical basis for my view is at least possible.  
(Indeed, I mentioned that I can find many more verses to support this view than I can find to support many other mainstream Christian doctrines which seem to be held as non-negotiables, like the Trinity, the rapture, the millenium, etc.)

From Jesus .....
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.  John 12 : 32

From Peter .....
He (Jesus) must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  Acts 3 : 21

From Paul .....
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  Romans 3 : 23 - 24
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  Romans 5 : 18
And so all Israel will be saved, ....  Romans 11 : 26
For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.  Romans 11 : 32
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever.  Romans 11 : 36
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Cor 15 : 22
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. .....  2 Cor 5 : 19
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment - to bring all things  in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.  Ephesians 1 :  9 - 10
That at the name of Jesus every knee should 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.  Philippians 2 : 10 - 11 with 1 Cor 12 : 3
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1 : 19 - 20
We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  1 Timothy 4 : 10

From the author of Hebrews .....
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  Hebrews 2 : 9

From John .....
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.  John 1 : 9
He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 2 : 2

The New Testament has other relevant verses, but those listed above are the only ones we visited at the elders meeting.

I believe it is very difficult to read these verses with an open mind and not admit that a Biblical basis for the view that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and that all will eventually, one way or another, be reconciled to the Father, to the glory of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, is at least possible.  Peter said that we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope we have, and I have shared these Scriptures to show why I hold to this wider hope of Jesus drawing all to himself eventually.

As a result of questions I was asked we also touched on .........
1.  The Biblical evidence for salvation beyond life on this planet.  We visited Peter's report that showed the population of the earth prior to the flood were judged and "executed" physically at the time, but were subsequently made alive spiritually after Jesus preached to them before his ascension. 1 Peter 3 : 18 - 20 and 1 Peter 4 : 5 - 6
One elder suggested this may also have some connection with the ascending captives in Ephesians 4 :  8.

2.  Death was the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15 : 26) and so when death disappears, there can only be life remaining.

3.  Two "opposing" Scriptures were raised by one elder - the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 , and Matthew 25 : 46.
Although I was accused of ignoring or dismissing a part of the Bible, I tried to explain that the Luke 16 parable is a perfect example of the gulf between the righteous and unrighteous in the Old Covenant era before Jesus provided the means to bridge that gulf, and should not be used to form our post-Jesus' death and resurrection theological views.
I also mentioned there were translation-to-English difficulties and inconsistencies associated with Matthew 25 : 46 and suggested it was better to allow verses that were clear and undisputed to form our theological views, rather than problem ones.  Even so, I believe the Greek of this verse does not introduce the difficulties that are caused in the English, and therefore this verse is not such a strong "opposing" verse at all.

I trust this is an accurate record of the study we did.  I didn't have any notes, nor did I take any during the meeting.  We just skipped through the NT quickly as I did not wish to waste any of the time I had been allotted.

In trying to sum up our different views in the simplest way, I suggested that while the elders believed that punishment in hell was forever, I believed it was not, and was for the purpose of restoring the Father's wayward children, as all loving parental discipline should be. One elder openly agreed that this was the bottom line difference between us.  In any case, the length of time God's wayward children might spend in hell is hardly a core belief-issue for Christians, so whether we agree on this issue or not must not become the cause of any lack of love, respect or fellowship between us.  Barry

Shoot the Messenger

Here I am, back writing sooner than I thought I would be.

As you know I am interstate looking after a church while its pastors are away on holidays. I had four sermons to preach and I planned to use the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons from Luke 15 as their underlying theme.  The four messages were to focus on (1) the loving and forgiving father, (2) the behaviour and fate of the two sons, (3) a more appropriate response from the elder brother (personal mission) and (4) the mission of the local church.

In my first message I aimed to paint the biggest picture of God I could and to invite the church to paint their own personal biggest picture.
I preached about the correct meaning of "prodigal" and how the father was so prodigal in his attitude and behaviour - recklessly extravagant with his love, forgiveness, grace, restoration, etc.
I applied this to God, while pointing out that most Christians don't see God with such prodigality as Jesus' parables paint Him.
To illustrate, I briefly described Calvinism and Arminianism, and showed how these two most common Christian positions fell short in their views of God compared with the views expressed in Luke 15.
I then shared my own view of God as a God of unconditional love and sovereignty who could and would do whatever was necessary to ensure that all of his children eventually returned home.
I finished by encouraging the church to create their own biggest view of God.

The response was interesting.
Several people clapped when I finished speaking.
Several others came and thanked me for a message they "really needed to hear".
A couple came and asked questions because the thought that God might eventually get all of his children home was new to them and they wanted to know more, and a couple of others came and politely said they disagreed with that view.
The elders requested me to attend a meeting as they said many people were upset with this idea, it had caused division in the church and some were not going to return to the church until I was no longer in the pulpit to share such ideas.

At the subsequent elders meeting, which was cordial and respectful, I was told I could not continue my preaching assignment and indeed, it would be better for the congregation if I didn't even attend the church in the remaining time I was in town.
After agreeing to these, and since there had been no discussion up to this point of my offending view, just that it had caused problems, I asked if we could discuss the view, or at least if I could share the Biblical basis for my view and was politely, but cautiously, given a short time to do so.  Disappointingly, one elder, in reluctantly giving assent to my request, also said that whatever I said or showed him would make no difference to his opinion -  a sad opening statement to a study of the Scriptures by the spiritual leaders of the church.

One elder recorded the verses I shared, one other said he would like to give them some more thought, the others remained fairly silent.  I was asked a few questions, one of which was how this view of God and his possible success had changed my life, and I think they were surprised that my answer included my increased motivation for sharing the gospel with those who are currently lost.  (I will put the verses I shared with the elders in a separate post, as this one is getting too long.)

The whole episode has been a sad and disappointing one, and given that "the length of time wayward children might spend in hell" is hardly a core belief-issue for Christians, I guess I was as surprised as I was saddened by the elders' dramatic response and the course of action they took without even discussing the matter with me.

I would have expected such a strong reaction and subsequent course of action if I had shared an idea that belittled God or discounted the work of Jesus on the cross in some way, but getting that response after sharing an idea that enhances our concept of God's love and grace and which gives Christ's work on the cross its fullest possible scope and effect really surprised me in a Christian church, and especially one that so openly and frequently preaches grace.

Why am I sharing all this with you?

As much as you may be convinced of the love and sovereignty of God, and of his success in restoring all his creation to himself eventually, there are many who find more comfort in a lesser and less successful God and will emotionally and vehemently defend that position no matter what. 
If you are brave enough to publicly state your belief that Jesus does indeed save the world, as He came to do, be prepared to duck for cover if there are good Calvinists or Evangelicals nearby.

Personally though, although I have been so saddened and disappointed, I have had this incredible peace on the inside, which just has to be God's doing.  Barry