Church Write-Up: Deliverance from the Trap; I John 2:9-14

Time for my weekly Church Write-Up.

A.  There was some overlap between the LCMS service and the “Word of Faith” service, so I will consider them together.  Both talked about how we can become free from a trap.

According to the LCMS pastor, we are trapped in sin, guilt, and shame.  We try to make ourselves feel better by assuring ourselves that we are not as bad as some people, or that we keep at least some of God’s commandments.  But we are fully aware that we think and act in ways that are not holy.  What is more, our nature, who we are, orients us towards going our own way and wanting to be God ourselves.  Is there a way out of this?  The pastor likened our situation to that of the boys in Thailand, who could not rescue themselves from that cave but needed somebody from the outside to come into their situation and do so.

The key to our deliverance is that we are loved and forgiven: God chooses not to see our sins and our flaws.  He told a story about a couple that he married years ago.  Both had gone through horrible divorces and had checkered pasts.  He asked a rhetorical question, not expecting an answer: Do you feel holy?  The groom replied that he did, because he is loved by his bride.  I could identify with this story, not because I am married, but rather because I can understanding how feeling loved and valued can redress feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy.  My long struggle has been that, in the past, Christians have said or implied to me that I cannot rest secure in God’s love, if I fall short in certain areas.  It often feels as if God’s love has strings attached.

The “Word of Faith” pastor referred to a conversation that he had with a non-believer.  The non-believer said that his problem with Christianity is that it teaches that we should give credit to God for the good things, while taking blame ourselves for the bad things.  The pastor’s response was twofold.  First, he said that all was made by and for God.  Within this context, there is no “us” to take credit, for it is all about God.  Second, we are not entirely to blame for our sins.  The pastor referred to Romans 7, which states that there is a force within us, pulling us in the direction of sin.  In a sense, “the devil made us do it.”  We are inclined towards idolatry: we make our desire for credit into our idol, or the things that we feel we have to do.  But our idols can lead us to become hateful or jealous towards others, or to work ourselves to death.  The way out is for us to declare and to affirm allegiance to God.  God can transform us in ways that our idols cannot, as can us giving Christ the credit that we try to take for ourselves.  The pastor made this point within the context of a series that revolves around the Book of Revelation.  The Book of Revelation is about how, in the midst of turmoil and persecution, God is creating a world of justice, peace, and love.  Worship can be a place of peace in the midst of this turmoil, as Revelation emphasizes the worship of God in heaven, along with God’s supremacy and sovereignty.

B.  The Sunday school at the LCMS church discussed I John 2:9-14.  The pastor opened the class with a quote by Martin Luther stating that it is not enough not to hate people, but we actually have to do good to them.  The pastor found this to be an apt quotation because we often tell ourselves that, as long as we do not hate someone, we are doing all right, even though we may willfully ignore or overlook that person.  According to Luther, however, love should bubble out of us and overflow to others.  If someone does not want anything to do with us, we can pray for that person and leave the light on, indicating that we are open to that person being in our lives.  Sometimes, for our own safety, we may have to shake the dust off our feet.  These points long have been a challenge to me, as I struggle with resentment, and the question of how often I need to reach out to people to satisfy God’s demand.  I always feel as if I fall dramatically short in the love department.

I John 2:10 affirms that loving one’s brother is walking in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in the one who does so.  The Docetists believed that they had light, that internal meditation could lead them to transcend their flesh and have a spiritual experience.  But they were forsaking the true Christ, who died for their sins, was resurrected, and valued the physical world, so they were walking in darkness.  They were a stumblingblock to believers in that they were encouraging believers to walk on a wrong path.  Christians who walk in the light, by contrast, try not to be a stumblingblock to others.

Were the Docetists unloving, though?  They were teaching others to pursue what they considered to be light.  Ultimately, however, they pulled away from the body of Christ and did not care that they were splitting it up with their doctrine; their doctrine also made them feel superior to others.  Many may think that the same can be said about a number of orthodox Christians.  Indeed, there are similarities: Christians think they have the truth, they try to enlighten others with that truth, and there may be cases in which their commitment to said truth pulls them away from people.  But, somewhere within them, there should be a principle of love.  They do not desire to pull away from the body or the people in it, or even people outside of the body, for they wish what is good for people.  They do not feel superior on account of their truth but recognize their own need for grace.

Then there is the issue of being a stumblingblock.  Simply put: Is highlighting that there are errors in the Bible or one’s problems with a fundamentalist worldview being a strumblingblock to people?  I think that there have been times in the past when I have done so from a standpoint of arrogance, not caring about the spiritual impact of what I was saying.  I was so upset by what I considered to be the arrogance of Christians, and their attempts to exercise power over others on what I thought was a facile basis.  I can acknowledge that I was partially wrong in my approach, but, on the other hand, I do not believe that the right approach is to pretend that everything is well in fundamentalist-land.  If I believe that an apologetic talking-point has problems, then that should be highlighted, even if a Christian may be basing his or her faith on that talking-point.  Now, context and setting are important.  I am not going to go to the LCMS church and tell people that I think that the Bible has errors.  That is not the place for that.  Not only will people dislike me, but church is a place to affirm the faith.  But, on my blog, I may refer to counter-apologetic arguments, as well as apologetic arguments.  That does not mean that I need to be a stumblingblock in doing so.  I need not do so with the intent to destroy or undermine other people’s faith or spiritual lives.  Perhaps doing so can lead people to a deeper level of faith, as Christians present answers to questions and show that there is no question that needs to be feared.  Or it can encourage people to value important aspects of their faith, rather than making an idol of certain talking-points.

I John 2:12-14 may be a hymn that John drew from another source.  John is making these points to reassure a church that has been ransacked by division.  He starts by assuring the people there that they are forgiven.  Our identity in Christ comes before the question of what we are supposed to do.  John addresses fathers, leaders with influence in the church.  But he also addresses young men.  The pastor told a story about a dentist he had who went to a church for ten years before he was asked to serve in some capacity.  It was after ten years that he was married and had a family of his own; when he was single, the church did not know what to do with him, where exactly to put him.  The pastor was saying that, according to John, young men are in a special position to serve, for they are strong, the word of God abides in them, and they have overcome the wicked one.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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