I visited two churches last Sunday. I will write about one service today, and the other service tomorrow.
The first church that I visited last Sunday had a guest speaker, since the pastor was away. This person belongs to the congregation, and I think he is a lawyer. Last Sunday was Memorial Day, so he was talking about memorials in the Bible.
Here are some points that he made, along with my thoughts:
A. The speaker talked about II Peter 1:16-21. This passage talks about the transfiguration, in which Peter, James, and John saw Jesus’ glory, and a voice from heaven told them that Jesus is God’s son and that they should listen to him. But the passage goes on to say that the Scriptures are a surer word of prophecy, presumably surer than the transfiguration.
I remember a conversation that I had in college with a Christian who was in the process of deconverting from Christianity. At least that was the end result of his search: he became an agnostic. I was talking with him on the phone, and he asked: “How come people in the past saw all these miracles, and all we get is a book?”
I think that is a good question. At the same time, I do appreciate the Bible. In my opinion, when we want to learn about God, we can go to the Bible and read about him. God has given us something tangible and accessible to feed upon for spiritual nourishment on a regular basis: the Bible. Miracles are probably good for periodic encouragement, but the Bible is good for the long haul.
B. The speaker then talked about how the rainbow is a sign that God will never again flood the earth. The speaker made clear, though, that God will one day destroy the earth by fire, in accordance with II Peter 3:7, 10.
In college, an atheist friend of mine was reading the Bible, and the Flood story puzzled him, a bit. In the Flood story, God promised never again to destroy the earth by water. Yet, according to II Peter 3:10, God will destroy the earth by fire. What value is God’s promise to Noah, my atheist friend wondered, if God is going to destroy the earth anyway?
Again, a good question. During the service, I was thinking about this interaction. My mind went to something that C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: that there will come a time when the play comes to an end, and the author goes out to take his bow before the audience. God’s promise to Noah applies to human history. But God’s eschatological plans transcend human history: they concern the end of human history. Maybe that response is unsatisfactory, but I think that there is something to it, even if it needs to be developed, somewhat.
C. The speaker was talking about his legal work. He said that there are cases in which a person can break the law inadvertently, and the person will be considered innocent in a court of law. For example, suppose that a man is pretending to be a police officer and tells someone to do something that may be technically illegal. The person who obeys the pretend police officer will be declared innocent in court, because he thought that he was obeying an actual police officer. I may be mangling some details, but the speaker said something to that effect.
I do not know how that point actually fit into his sermon, but I somewhat liked it. I have attended conservative Christian churches in the past, and the pastor says something like, “You can be sincere, but sincerely wrong!” His idea is that God will condemn people to hell who are sincerely wrong, especially if they have the “wrong” religion. Well, at least our judicial system takes into consideration people’s sincerity and motivations in deciding whether to pass judgment, in certain cases. It was refreshing to hear the speaker point that out.
D. The speaker was saying that, in order to be transformed, we need to acknowledge our need for a Savior. We need to realize that we are sinners, and we need to receive God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Of course, the speaker was bringing into the equation that God is perfect and, in order to be in God’s presence, we need to be covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ, almost as if God needs to be appeased before he has anything to do with us.
Still, the way that the speaker phrased the Gospel intrigued me, somewhat. For us to be transformed, we need to recognize our flaws. I was thinking that maybe the Gospel is as it is to educate and to transform us, not so much to appease God. God wants us to have insights that can transform our character. Which is more conducive to good character: pride, or a humble recognition of our flaws? The latter, I think. Why is it that God in the Old Testament had a decorum for people to enter his presence, or for God to dwell among them? Because God wanted to impress on their minds God’s holiness: that God is above them, that God is not just one of the fellas but is set apart, that God is majestic. Believing in a power greater than oneself can also lead to good character.