West Seattle Pastoral Collective

I have a huge heart for churches from various denominations working together for the greater glory of God the Father in Jesus’ name.  God is so good.  He loves us despite our various backgrounds of belief.  And He is glorified when Jesus loving pastors and their flocks come together for prayer and worship.  And this Sunday night at 6:00pm is such an opportunity:

I was talking with a friend last night and he mentioned his non-Christian co-workers have asked the questions, “Why are Christians so segregated? Why do they have so many different denominations?”

Well, there are multiple reasons.  Some good.  Some not so good.  But the heart of this generation is to unite on essentials without dividing over non-essentials.

So here are reasons why there are so many denominations: History of European State Churches and Free Churches having congregants move to America; we agree on 97% of doctrines and tend to divide over 3%; some churches chose to divide over non-essentials; and finally, people tend to hang out with people just like themselves.

History of European State Churches: At the beginning of the Church, the early Christians fought hard for one church with one message.  Whenever there was a new doctrine or a group of people claiming to have a new gospel, the leaders of the churches would examine that new doctrine or new gospel by measuring it against the New Testament writings.  So when the Gnostics claimed Jesus didn’t really have a body, the Christians across Europe and the globe thought it was ridiculous and refused to recognize the Gnostics as being a part of The Church.  When Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire under Constantine, he called for the Bishops of various churches to come together for a council at Nicaea to decide on these various issues and establish official creeds and Orthodoxy (325 AD).  In the following years The Church had multiple councils as debates would arise to determine what Christians believed based on the Scriptures of the New Testament.  The early Church tried hard to remain “catholic” or united.  Eventually the Emperor thought it was a good idea to combine Church and State, which resulted in the Emperor corrupting the Pope and the Pope trying to control the State.  This combination of Church and State became known as The Holy Roman Catholic Church, or The Holy Roman Empire, or Christendom.

By the 1500s, the Church had become so corrupted by the State (and by non-born-again-Christians claiming to be Christians and working in influential positions) that educated monks and priests (presumably born again) who saw the contradictions became emboldened to speak out against the Pope.  People like Luther and Zwingli and Calvin brought about a Reformation basing the authority of the Church in the Scriptures, not the Pope or the Bishop or a Priest.  Many followed these brave leaders, and new churches were established.

For the most part these new churches were State Churches, like the German Lutheran Church, or the English Anglican Church, or the Swiss Presbyterian Church.  And in some cases there was still corruption, and when people challenged their leaders they were forced to hide their worship and they went underground forming “Free Churches.”

Many people from the State Churches and “Free Churches” moved to America.  The “Free Churches” developed a congregational model because they had a mistrust of authority.  That sad reality, though, is that many of these free churches mistrusted people so much that they kept dividing. The main line denominations, however, had a central authority they were accountable to. When they would move to a town they would create “First Lutheran” or “First Baptist” or “First Presbyterian” or “First Episcopalian” church of Boston, or Portland, or Seattle, or Minneapolis, or Boulder, etc.  They would tend to speak their mother tongue at the beginning, and would eventually plant churches in which people would speak English.

Now, take the kids and kid’s kids and put them together in a school. Even though their parents or grandparents were staunch German Lutherans or Swedish Lutherans or English Episcopalians, the kids would not understand the differences and would see the divide as being over non-essential issues. At school they would look at each other and say, “Why are we divided? We agree on 97%.  Why don’t we just create a new church and worship together?”  And hence, for example, the Evangelical Free Church of America was born in the 1950s by combining Swedish Free Church and the Norwegian-Danish Free Church who had Lutheran and Baptist backgrounds.

So when a new denomination is born, it’s not always a bad thing.  Often it is because people desire unity. Hence the “Community” or “Non-Denominational” churches that keep springing up. But you need to realize that these churches will eventually realize they need a curriculum to teach their children and people to make disciples, and so eventually they might use Willow Creek material or Saddleback material or Multiply material. And each of those materials has a denominational flavor. And eventually, even if they claim to be non-denominational, as soon as a bunch of churches start using their stuff if becomes an association, which is the beginnings of a denomination.

But we have to realize something, biblical Christians agree on 97% of doctrine.

We divide over 3% of doctrines: The core essentials of the gospel are in the 97%.  With these people I can worship.  Even with the churches that disagree on the 3% I can worship. But as soon as a pastor says the Bible is not the authoritative word of God. Or as soon as a pastor says Jesus is not the only way to salvation. It is then that we need to divide, because that pastor is not teaching biblical Christianity, rather that pastor is succumbing to human philosophy or elevating human opinion to the level of authority alongside God’s word, and in that situation it becomes a philosophical free-for-all.

A problem, we tend to divide over non-essentials that are not doctrinal:  Many people tend to divide over style of music or how to dress or “That person hurt my feelings so I’m moving on to a different church.”  This makes me sad.  I can understand disagreeing over theological issues that are part of the 97%, but to divide over style issues doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  When we elevate preferences over the value of people, we cease to live by good, biblical doctrine.

People tend to hang out with people just like themselves: This relates to the above.  People like to hang out with people who make them feel comfortable.  But the church is called to be multi-ethnic, which is hard to do when so many people come from so many different backgrounds.  But this is not an excuse.  Jesus said, “They will know you by your love for one another.”

This Sunday night is an example of people cutting through the differences and agreeing that Jesus is Lord.  I would love to see you there.

GODSPEED

Why learn? Why learn the Bible? Why learn theology?

Why learn? Why learn the Bible? Why learn about yourself? Why learn about God? Why learn about how theology intersects with reality? Why learn theology?

The Bible says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Why would we want to be transformed? Changed? Because we were created by God in His image and likeness for a particular purpose (Genesis 1:26-27).  The human race was created by God to steward the earth as God’s representatives.  Being God’s representatives requires knowing God’s character and living in line with His purposes so that we would steward of the earth and care for each other as if God Himself were doing all the work.  But because of sin the image of God is tainted, corrupted, and our minds use human logic and reasoning affected by our fleshly passions to make decisions, which results in perversions.  (By “perversion” read: what was right has gone askew.)

Example of a perversion resulting from sin #1: Sex is good; God created sex, and God created sex to happen in a certain way and in a certain context for certain reasons.  When done God’s way there is a healthy view of the body on the part of the man and the woman.  There is a healthy self-esteem sexually and in relation to intimate relationships.  Men view women rightly and women view men rightly.  And this produces closeness (and satisfaction) between monogamous complimentary partners in heterosexual marriage, which produces offspring, and a healthy image of family for the children who have (by design) a continuous relationship with mom and dad and siblings in the same home.  Everyone learns respect, patience, care, commitment, roles, responsibilities, and how to relate to authority and peers.

But when the use of sex has gone askew there is emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual pain, potential of disease, children born into a broken home with only one parent present, or parents fighting for custody, or no parents present, or two moms or two dads (one or more of which is not the biological parent), and promiscuity (and more pain), and lust for more sex without ever really being satisfied. When sex has gone askew a man looks at women with a perverted view, and women view their bodies wrongly and dress accordingly to be able to attract a man.  And when the man dumps the woman because he got what he wanted, he moves on to the next challenge leaving a broken woman behind in confusion.  When sex is perverted (not used as God designed and intended) there is tremendous brokenness that follows.

Example #2 of a perversion as a result of sin: When food is used wrongly it can damage the body.  Now food is good and when food is used rightly it energizes and heals the body.  Wrong kinds of foods or eating junk food or too much of a certain kind of food introduces toxins into our bodies, which damage the liver, the immune system, the skin, the nervous system, and the results are we grow tired, have eczema, dandruff, headaches, swollen joints, we can become obese, we can develop type 2 diabetes, acne vulgaris, irritable bowel syndrome, develop high cholesterol, have bad breath, etc.

So Why Learn? Why learn the Bible? Why learn about yourself? Why learn about God? Why learn about how theology intersects with reality? Why learn theology? In the Bible we read that every human (with all our thoughts, actions, passions, etc.) is affected and tainted by sin.  In fact all of creation groans because of sin and longs for everything to be put right (Romans 8:19-23).  And the Bible says, “For in this hope we were saved…” (Romans 8:24a). The hope is our eternal salvation in Jesus and consequently that there will be a day when all of creation will be renewed to the way it was meant to be from the beginning.  And this renewal starts in you when you realize (in your mind) that you have been saved by Jesus and therefore are a “new creature” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  After your individual salvation is solidified in Christ, you are called to be a mouthpiece for God to help other people become new creations in Christ as well (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  As that passage states,

“We [Christians] are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

So when the Bible says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing, and perfect will” – what the Apostle Paul is saying is that your transformation begins in your mind by hearing God’s message (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration – or – God designed us for a certain purpose; but sin has changed everything; but in Christ everything is being restored starting with your personal salvation; and ultimately Jesus will restore all things).  We need to realize the Apostle Paul was saying that your transformation is to continue by the transformation and renewing of your mind.  Your mind needs to know the mind of God and therefore inform and override the passions and perversions (skewing things) of your heart.

How does this relate to examples #1 and #2 above? For #1, if you learn God’s sexual ethic, then you will use sex rightly and personally reap the benefits.  You will share in these benefits with your spouse.  Your kids will experience these benefits.  Our families will be healthier.  And in turn our culture will be healthier.

So what does God say about sex? God created male and female to have offspring (Genesis 1:26-27).  God created male and female as complimentary beings to work together, to be one flesh, to be one spiritually, to be intertwined in vision, values, and the mission of family and pass on a legacy from generation to generation (Genesis 2:18-25; Exodus 20:12; and Deuteronomy 7:12-14).  Sex is forbidden before marriage (Hebrews 13:4).  Sex is only permissible in a heterosexual marriage (Matthew 19:4-6 and Hebrews 13:4).  Divorce is wrong (Matthew 19:3) but permissible when adultery has happened (Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:7-8).  And Jesus defines adultery as lust and/or the act of sex outside or before marriage (Matthew 5:27-30).  There are many more scriptures on this subject, for this only scratches the surface.  So if you want to know more, please write me.  The bottom line is if you follow God’s ways, life will go well for you.  And following God’s ways specifically about sex begins with actually reading all the scriptures I posted above and then purposing to live by God’s Word.

For #2 above about food, what we need to realize is eating a hamburger, fries, and coke from McDonalds is not sinful per se, but rather the results of eating such foods are that your body is harmed either slightly or more severely depending on your body type, metabolism, blood type, food allergies, and based on how much you eat. And the consequences of what you eat affect your quality of life and length of life.  These are the result of living in a fallen world that is tainted by sin.  We can minimize the effects of a fallen world (experienced through eating processed wheat or Twinkies or pop or too much coffee – I just threw myself under the bus with the coffee statement) and likely live longer with a better quality of life if we eat right and exercise.  And again this begins with being transformed through the renewal of our mind to know God’s will (Romans 12:2) concerning foods and stewarding our bodies.

So what does God Word say about food? I write this with caution because some would see this as controversial.  So I will start with God’s vision, which He sent to the Apostle Peter of food coming down from heaven, which was considered by Jews to be unclean.  Peter saw the vision and heard a voice say, “Get up Peter, kill and eat…” (Acts 11:2-10).  To Peter this meant all foods were made clean.  In Acts 15 we see the restrictions of the laws related to food lifted (with the exception of a warning about eating food sacrificed to idols, eating strangled animals and blood – Acts 15:28-29).  So Scripturally we can eat any type of food, it is not a sin to eat various kinds of food, but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23).  So while the Bible does not specifically say, “Don’t eat Twinkies! Don’t eat McDonalds!” we can assume (based on our scientific knowledge about Twinkies and McDonalds) that eating such food introduces toxins into our bodies, which is harmful.

Is it a sin to eat these things? No.  But one of the effects of sin is suffering and physical death, and we can suffer more and die sooner based on what we eat.

God’s Word calls us to steward the earth (Genesis 1:26-30), and this includes how we farm food, process food, and what things (foods, pills, injections, medicines, drugs, alcohol, etc.) we put in our bodies.

A reason why our culture is not healthy on many fronts (sexually, morally, ethically, physically, emotionally, psychologically, religiously, etc.) is because people don’t think from God’s perspective. We as a culture don’t have a biblical worldview.  Rather we have a pluralistic worldview, which does not call us to a consistent way of looking at things, and so we Americans hold many conflicting views and perspectives in tension.  Since we don’t know how to resolve these issues we tend to live in contradiction, which is evidence of sin affecting our whole world.

So what is the solution? We need to know the mind of God, turn to Him and His solution for our personal and spiritual salvation, and then continue to strive to be renewed and transformed in our minds by learning a biblical worldview to live by.

So why learn? Why learn theology and how it intersects with reality? Because you will find purpose, you will find peace, you will see your life change, and you will see the positive effects of a transformed life in Christ, which will positively affect our culture.  And hence the reason for the foundations class at Grace Church starting tonight at 6:45pm or Sundays at 9:00am in room 129.  The class is called, “Live.”  And the purpose is to learn how theology and the Bible intersects with real life.  We will study practical theology in a systematic way.  If you plan to attend either Wednesdays or Sundays, please RSVP by email to prfaust@gracechurchseattle.org.

GODSPEED