Tuesday, April 24, 2007


God believes in consequences. That is, God is aware of the reality of imperfection and willing to work within those restraints when dealing with people.

C.S. Lewis wrote an essay titled "Transposition" in which he effectively described how misunderstanding is possible. In his essay, Mr. Lewis explained that there are multiple levels of complexity in our existence, some more rich and detailed than others. Man has at least four levels of complexity; physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual with each being more intricate than the previous.

Misunderstanding occurs when a higher level expresses itself through a lower level, something with which we're all familiar. For example, when we attempt to write an explanation for and idea we've had, we will frequently find that the words don't quite do it justice. In a similar way when our emotions attempt to express themselves things can get quite confusing. An increased heart beat, sweaty palms and queasy stomach can be evidence of love, fear or disease. It takes effort to determine what's happening.

As an exercise attempt to describe the differences between a dog and a cat. Make sure that your description eliminates confusion between the two so that someone who has never seen either can tell the difference. When you do this, you'll see quite quickly how difficult it is to convey information from one level through a lower level. We all know that a dog and a cat are different and can recognize the difference immediately. However, when it comes to putting that difference in words, the nuances become almost inexpressible.

C.S. Lewis explains that when a higher level is manifested through a lower level certain parts of the lower level end up doing double duty. This is no different than attempting to play an orchestral symphony on a piano. Even if you play all the notes, the variety of the timbres represented in the different instruments cannot be accurately expressed. Something is bound to get lost in the translation. Imagine then, the difficulty of expressing a spiritual truth using simple words.

God knows that He will be misunderstood, but He is patient enough to explain things. Repeatedly if necessary.

But God is perfect; God knows everything. Why can't God put accurate knowledge into people and short-circuit the misunderstanding? Most simply put our free will, the grand gift of self-determination prevents God from turning us into mindless puppets. The very fact that God said to us, "Choose" prevents God from manipulating our actions.

We've all heard the saying, "If you love it let it go ..." Which very clearly tells us that loving someone is the willingness to let it exist without you; sometimes even to the extent of it's own peril. God, by giving us the ability to choose, has let us go with the hope and desire that we will return to Him. Any parent will tell that is no small trick.

So what's the point of all this? Many people say that God doesn't talk any more. Nonsense. Some say that the Bible is God's full expression. Don't be silly that wasn't true when it was written and it isn't true now. Any communication requires a starting point, and scripture is that starting point. God knows He will be misunderstood, and we should know that we don't have enough information, thus we need more (that's what prayer is for).

God knows the restraints of His creation and is willing to work within them. We need to know our limitations and work to overcome them. There are consequences. God is willing to work to minimize them, we need to work as well.

Monday, January 22, 2007

All Wet

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

I thank God that I baptized none of you ... 1st Corinthian

The two verses quoted above are two of the reasons I resisted baptism until well into my adult life. The main reason had more to do with the question "Why bother?" But more about that later.

"He that believes and is baptized will be saved ..." seems pretty straightforward. Belief plus baptism equals salvation. However, "He that believes not shall be damned." It doesn't say he who is not baptized shall be damned, simply he who does not believe. This creates an unbalanced equation.

If belief plus baptism equals salvation, and removing belief from the equation equals damnation, then is baptism really necessary? If salvation is the opposite of damnation, and if belief and baptism are required for salvation, then the removal of either would result in "not" salvation, which is damnation. The logic is unavoidable. Therefore, baptism is optional to salvation.

Add to this the apostle Paul telling the Corinthians that he's glad he didn't baptize any of them. If it wasn't important for Paul to baptize his converts, then how important can baptism be? You would think that a teacher of Paul's stature would be quite emphatic if baptism were necessary.

So, from what I could see baptism may be a good thing, but it was not necessary and could be ignored.

Now, what sealed this view was what I was taught about baptism. I was taught that baptism was an outward sign of an inward change. Baptism was a symbol that said I am a Christian.

Back when Christianity started and baptisms were public affairs the idea that one should publicly identify with Christ seems like a reasonable idea. However, in my lifetime baptisms are typically done in church in front of people who already either know or assume you're a Christian; it seems rather empty.

Without a clear scriptural command such as, "Go get yourself baptized" and non-scriptural reasoning that was non-persuasive, I resisted baptism until I had passed my 30th birthday. As a matter of fact, I had already been ordained and pastoring before I decided to be baptized.

What changed? My understanding of sacraments (which I explained a couple posts ago) and my understanding of baptism specifically.

I wish I could find the book I was reading when I found this information. Unfortunately, I cannot, but trust me, I'm not making this up. The missing book was an interesting history of baptism and how it was used outside Christianity.

The fact that baptism was not a Christian invention was quite profound to me because it meant that when people were told to be baptized, they already had an idea of what was being talked about. Baptism was not an uncommon practice.

For the Jews, there were three types of baptisms (washings); sprinkling, pouring and immersion. Each had a specific meaning and purpose ranging from preparing a sacrifice to consecrating a priest to initiating a convert. To Jews who became followers of Christ, baptism was nothing new.

Outside of Christians and Jews, baptism was, in effect, a public signature. I found it fascinating that certain contracts were sealed with baptism. And even more profound was when I read that it was not unusual for some of Rome's high ranking soldiers to be baptized in the name of Caesar.

In a contractual context, baptism publicly stated that the person being baptized formally submitted to the terms of the contract. In the case of the Roman soldier, he was publicly affirming that through this baptism he became the property of Caesar.

Learning that a sacrament was an oath of allegiance and that baptism was a public signature of submission made the rite something I wanted to do rather than something I had to do. Through baptism I could publicly sign an oath of allegiance to God. Rather than confirm what was already assumed, I could willingly give myself to what I knew was good and right.

The equation is not as unbalanced as it looks. A person who believes and understands that belief will naturally get baptized. How could they not? Belief and baptism are two sides of the same coin and the commitment of baptism confirms the salvation which is why he who believes not is damned. And he who is baptized and doesn't believe is all wet.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Something Is Wrong

Many Christians have blogs. Some of them are pastors. In my experience, pastors' blogs are the most tedious and least interesting to read. I frequently read blogs of other Christians looking for new understandings; different ways of seeing God and His interaction with creation. Why is it that those who are, theoretically, trained to communicate spiritual truth are (by my measure) the most ineffective?

The layman is not expected to educate; he is an amateur. Yet it is the layman who asks the real questions; searches for real answers; truly finds God in his daily life. It is the layman who seeks truth. It is the layman who attempts to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. It is the layman who must confront the world and defend the faith. The evidence and documentation of these realities is in their blogs.

It is the pastors, the professional Christians, who are charged with preparing the laymen. It is the pastors who are responsible for seeing that their charges have the tools necessary to accomplish their tasks. It is the pastors who are accountable for the effectiveness of their laymen.

But what do we find in the writings of pastors? For the most part, I've found little more than drivel; sappy platitudes, the latest preaching technique and rah rah cheering (much of which seems forced).

"I feel as if God is moving ..." is a common phrase used by professionals. What, pray tell, does that mean? If the pastors do not KNOW what God is doing how can they possibly lead with any confidence. Are they so afraid of being wrong that they hedge their bets? Or, are they so unfamiliar with God Himself that they are incapable of knowing God's intentions?

Where are the leaders of the faith? I am not referring to those who are most popular or respected, or those who "name it and claim it," but those that proclaim God with a backbone. Those who see that arguing about the placement of a Nativity scene is a waste of time. Those who are training effective disciples and not being encumbered by political (secular and denominational) nonsense.

My Bible says, "...all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) I will sadly admit that I have never suffered persecution. By that I mean that I have never been threatened with loss of anything other than social esteem for my belief in Christ. I view this as my failure. With all the talk of a "War on Christmas" and the anti-Christian media, you'd think that persecution would be a bit more common. Where are the persecuted? (And for clarity sake, I'm speaking of only North American Christians)

Twenty years ago I was a new pastor. I applied to the denomination I grew up in and eventually was told that my participation was not desired. During my tenure, I looked for ways to bring life to my church. I read books, went to seminars and took classes. I find it most sad that the same issues that were prevalent then are still prevalent today. And I find it even sadder that the same solutions (that apparently didn't work then) are still proffered today.

Something is seriously wrong. It was wrong twenty years ago, and is still wrong today. Why?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The God I Want

Writing computer systems allows me the opportunity to create a world where activities are bound by rules, yet free to act in order to accomplish their assigned tasks. To a computer program, I am God.

Now writing systems and creating an environment for activity requires that I be aware of quite a few different things. If I want my system to be stable and effective, the rules I create need to be consistent and predictable. The components need to relate to each other without violating the rules. The rules, components and activities must mesh in such a way that the system does not crash when something unexpected happens. In the end it is a pretty complex process and at times it makes my head hurt.

There is an old story about three blind men who are asked to describe an elephant after examining it. One man was at the trunk, another at the leg and the third at the tail. As you can expect, each came up with a different description and none of them were right. The lesson is that each was wrong because each only had limited knowledge and experience of the elephant. They could not see the whole picture.

Those who say things like "If there were a God He would ..." are like the blind men and the elephant. These people attempt to define how God should act based upon their limited knowledge and experience. (And their selfish motives)

Let's face the fact that as humans, our knowledge is limited. We are simply incapable of knowing all the interactions between the components of our existence. And, if we were to take seriously the requirements for God proposed by some and expand them to a universal scale, we would find that many, if not all, of these requirements just won't work.

When I write a computer program which consists of three components and maybe 100 lines of code, there are complexities and interactions to be considered, but for the most part they are manageable. When I write a computer program that consists of thousands of components and hundreds of thousands of lines of code, the complexity exceeds my ability (and probably most programmers') to maintain alone.

Each potential event starts a string of activities and activates a series of interactions that must function consistently in order for the system to operate correctly. Any modification to the system creates the possibility that one of the relationships will break and cause the system to crash. Any competent programmer will tell you that it is near impossible to know every interaction within a system. And computer systems are really quite simple in comparison to the universe of human interactions.

People who say "God should ..." are people who don't know how much they don't know. Logic demands that if God exists, that He be infinite in every way. And if these people who make demands on God knew anything at all, they would quickly realize that it would take infinite intelligence to produce a system like our existence that operated as consistently and predictable as ours does.

When people say "God should ..." or "God would ..." they don't really want God, but simply a genie that they can command so that they don't have to deal with reality. People who attempt to define God in their image are people whose idea of God is too small.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Luke 22:19 KJV

The Last Supper; Holy Communion; the Eucharist. These are the most common names given to the rite initiated by Jesus at His last Passover before His crucifixion. Regardless of the name, this ritual is a cause of both unity and division.

It divides denomination between those who believe in the "Real Presence" and those who see a powerful symbol. And yet, it unifies all Christians who accept that through this act they are sharing in the life of Christ. It was a profound experience for the original apostles and it continues to be an important practice for believers today.

But, what does it mean?

Communion is first and foremost a sacrificial meal, the eating of a sacrifice. This is a common practice throughout history in many, if not most cultures. Participants believed that by eating the sacrifice, they physically and spiritually became joined with that sacrifice. This was important because a sacrifice was typically offered at the consumation of a contract. Thus, by both parties eating the sacrifice both parties became the sacrifice, and as a result, both parties became each other. The eating of the same food effectively made them the same person.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that sharing a meal with someone was considered a very high compliment in ancient times because doing so was sharing your life. And, by contrast, to withhold food from a guest is an insult because by doing so you are depriving them of life.

So, Communion is joining ourselves with Jesus as our sacrifice, and becoming part of His death. Additionally, we are joining ourselves with the other participant in the contract, which is God the Father. By participating in Communion, we are expressing our desire to be one with God.

To the original apostles, this rite was a Passover meal; a very important Jewish observance. Passover was instituted when God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. This ritual regularly reminded the Jews that they were specifically chosen and rescued. Each aspect of the meal had a particular meaning which can be seen in the Communion rite (the details are for another time).

Now, when Jesus presided over this Passover He did something that was revolutionary. In addition to the breaking of the bread which Jesus equated to His body, Jesus also offered them wine which He related to His blood. This must have shocked, if not disgusted the apostles. You see, the Jews were, and still are, forbidden to eat or drink blood or anything with blood in it.

Why? Because, "the life is in the blood." To a Jew, to drink blood was to drink the very life of whatever provided the blood and to extend your life at the cost of another's is, well, bad form. So you can see why the apostles would have been taken aback. Yet, their experience with Jesus allowed them to understand that He was doing something extremely important; He was giving them His life to enrich theirs.

In it's initiation, Communion provided identification with the sacrifice through Jesus' body; the bread, and also provided a source of life through Jesus' blood. The apostles saw that by Jesus offering Himself, he was showing Himself as the Passover personified; He was their deliverance.

Today, we don't sacrifice very often. We've lost a lot of the understanding of sacrifice and too many of us have reduced the intimate rites initiated by Jesus to symbols. Meaningful, maybe, but symbolic nonetheless. This is a bit of a problem.

A symbol is really nothing but a pointer and is empty in itself. Symbols can be attended to or ignored with minimal peril, if any at all. A symbol is meant to lead to whatever it symbolizes and should not be confused for anything else. To stop at a symbol is to not go far enough.

In I Corinthians 11:29 & 30 Paul says, "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."

Paul is saying that many are sick and dead because they mishandled Communion; they did it wrong. Symbols don't kill. I find this a very convincing argument against a symbolic rite. It is this understanding of Communion that has caused many to avoid it out of fear, and many congregations to refuse to serve it to outsiders. Right understanding, wrong application.

Why is Communion so powerful? Because of what Catholics call the "Real Presence"; that is the understanding the the very essence of Jesus is present in elements of Communion. Some, like the Pharisees in Jesus day, have a hard time accepting this.

Jesus said explicitly that to have eternal life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Many claim that Jesus was speaking symbolically, yet the Pharisees did not understand Him that way. Neither did many of His followers who left Him when He made this claim. And the telling fact here is that Jesus did not correct any of them, which we would expect if they misunderstood Him. After all, Jesus corrected Nicodemus when he misunderstood about being born again (cf John 3:1-12).

It seems to me that the trouble accepting that Jesus is present in the Communion elements results from too much confidence in physical existence. It's too easy to think that Jesus' body was finite, and thus would eventually "run out." We need to remember that when dealing with God, we cannot limit our experience to what is physically possible.

Also, when partaking of Communion, we are eating regular bread and drinking plain old wine. The elements do not change into flesh and blood. Again, our physical experience clouds our vision of a spiritual reality. It's interesting that when we take medication, we identify the pills we take as the prescribed drug. Yet, the majority of the pill is in fact filler. Generally speaking, the active ingredient in our medication is not readily recognizable in the pills we take. So, we are familiar with the concept of an essential quality as an identity. This is not totally dissimilar to the Communion elements.

It is not so farfetched to accept that when we partake of Communion, we are partaking in the body and blood of Christ.

In Communion, we are making a contract with God to identify with Him while recognizing that Jesus is the sacrifice that connects us to Him and that participation is necessary to our well-being within the body of Christ.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Giving or Getting

Sac·ra·ment : noun

Etymology: Middle English sacrement, sacrament, from Anglo-French
& Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin sacramentum, from Latin, oath of
allegiance, obligation, from sacrare to consecrate

a : a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed
to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace
or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality

b : a religious rite or observance comparable to a Christian

from Webster.com

Sacraments, in a Christian context are those practices of special significance. To most non-Catholic Christians the sacraments (baptism and communion) are rites that are required by Christians; they are symbols of obedience, yet not necessarily affective. To Catholics, the sacraments (they count seven) are actions that allow them to receive specific grace from God.

I think both are missing something important, though I believe non-Catholics are at least looking in the right direction.

In the definition quoted above there is a phrase that I've never noticed before; "oath of allegiance." As I came to understand Christianity, I came to realize that the sacraments were more than mere symbols. I could not, however, get comfortable with the idea that I performed these rites to get something. The sacraments became practices that I respected and desired to perform.

Not until I found the phrase "oath of allegiance" did I have some way to understand my desire. It is allegiance in particular that strikes a chord with me. I am familiar with oaths, promises, vows and commitments; I understand these things. But the idea of allegiance is what make both Catholic and non-Catholic perspectives of the sacraments incomplete.

You see, you can get obedience through intimidation. But even with perfect obedience, you do not necessarily have allegiance. You can buy cooperation with gifts, but that cooperation does not naturally lead to allegiance. Allegiance is something we choose and cannot be coerced.

We pledge our allegiance to someone or something because we see that it is right and good. We are loyal to what we see as true. We dedicate ourselves to those people and ideas that represent the standard that we desire to live up to. Allegiance comes from deep within us and causes us to go contrary to the crowd. Allegiance cannot be cajoled or forced.

The sacraments are an oath of allegiance. Baptism is an identification with the truth as lived by Jesus. Communion is a participation in the very life and death of Christ. These are actions that make statements about who we are and who we want to be. The sacraments are not acts of obedience, or a way to get something. The sacraments are the most profound acts a Christian can perform.

Friday, September 08, 2006


I didn't write what follows, but it is well worth reading. From C.S. Lewis' "God in the Dock"

We have recently “discovered that we exist” in two new senses. The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are “ideologically tainted” at the source.

Now this is obviously great fun; but it has not always been noticed that there is a bill to pay for it. There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?

If they say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course, we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it.

The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not - which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone’s wishes, in every respect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is “wishful thinking.” You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant - but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method [Note: This essay was written in 1941.] is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism.” Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father - who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third - “Oh, you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment,” E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that “the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world.” Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that “the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting.” For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds - a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning - never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology.

Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy, in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate. The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend of reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more - for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.

The alternative then is either sheer self-contradicting idiocy or else some tenacious belief in our power of reasoning, held in the teeth of all the evidence that Bulverists can bring for a “taint” in this or that human reasoner. I am ready to admit, if you like, that this tenacious belief has something transcendental or mystical about it. What then? Would you rather be a lunatic than a mystic?

So we see there is justification for holding on to our belief in Reason. But can this be done without theism? Does “I know” involve that God exists? Everything I know is an inference from sensation (except the present moment). All our knowledge of the universe beyond our immediate experiences depends on inferences from these experiences. If our inferences do not give a genuine insight into reality, then we can know nothing. A theory cannot be accepted if it does not allow our thinking to be a genuine insight, nor if the fact of our knowledge is not explicable in terms of that theory.

But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called “a reason.” Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the results of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.