Article III-The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

Empty_Tomb¶104 The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

Jesus Christ is risen victorious from the dead. His resurrected body became more glorious, not hindered by ordinary human limitations. Thus He ascended into heaven. There He sits as our exalted Lord at the right hand of God the Father, where He intercedes for us until all His enemies shall be brought into complete subjection. He will return to judge all people. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 25:31-32; Luke 24:1-7; 24:39; John 20:19; Acts 1:9-11; 2:24; Romans 8:33-34; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-4.

Free Methodists believe that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. This means that the tomb was truly empty and when he had his encounters with the apostles and disciples for the next forty days, it was with that physical body. This was the same body he had when he was born from Mary, grew, and traveled around Galilee and Judea preaching and teaching. Of course there were some differences–the biggest being that he is no longer dead!

This doctrine of a bodily resurrection has profound implications for us. First of all, we remember that not only did God create us as physical beings (we are not spiritual beings having a physical experience), he cared enough for us in our physicality that he took it on as well. He became a physical being like us. But wait, there’s more! God still valued the physical body enough that he re-created it in a glorified state in the resurrection.

Think about this for a minute. If all we needed was a sacrifice for our sins, then Jesus could have shed his physical body after the crucifixion and just been God once again. He could have been done with the human body and left it to rot in the grave. That is not what happened, though. God is profoundly interested in not only our souls, but also our bodies. The resurrection proves that he is still interested in our physical being. If God is that concerned about our physical bodies, ought we not be as well?

The other point that seems to stand out in this article is the language about enemies and judgment. Read out of context of the entire Christian experience, this could sound like any other call for an us/them outlook on the world that has the potential of becoming justification for holy wars. Yet we have to look at this article more closely. First of all, enemies and people are two different categories. People are not usually enemies of Christ. Why? Because all human beings are created in his image and he wants to have a relationship with them all. The enemies are the intelligent beings in the universe who are in rebellion against him–fallen angels, or demons. Now it is true that people can choose to be in rebellion against Christ and side with the demons in this cosmic war, but human beings are not now, nor are they ever, intrinsically enemies of Jesus.

Because of the reality of sin and fallenness and rebellion in the world, however, there will be a time when there will be an accounting for all that we do. This is actually good news. It means that there will be justice for us. It means that all of the hurt and horrors that people endure in this world will be made right. It means that children who are abused, even if no one ever finds out it happened, will have justice. It means that displaced refugees will find justice. It means that elderly people who are scammed out of their livelihoods will find justice. It means that racism and murder and even revenge will meet justice. Jesus Christ as judge is good news. It means there is a right and a wrong in the world and someone will hold us accountable for it.

When we are in some of our most introspective times, or even our most frustrated times looking at the evil in the world today, the doctrine of the last judgment of Christ is good news because it says that evil will not ultimately triumph and the guilty will not escape justice.

Article II-The Son-His Incarnation

Spas_vsederzhitel_sinayContinuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶103 The Son-His Incarnation

God was himself in Jesus Christ to reconcile people to God. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, He joined together the deity of God and the humanity of humankind. Jesus of Nazareth was God in flesh, truly God and truly human. He came to save us. For us the Son of God suffered, was crucified, dead and buried. He poured out His life as a blameless sacrifice for our sin and transgressions. We gratefully acknowledge that He is our Savior, the one perfect mediator between God and us.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 1:21; 20:28; 26:27-28; Luke 1:35; 19:10; John 1:1, 10, 14; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:17; 9:14-15.

One of the first things to recognize when reading this Article is that we link a lot of titles and names together and use them as synonyms for the same person. The Son, Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Savior. All of these names, and there will be others in other Articles, refer to the one Jesus. For Free Methodists, there is no distinction between the human Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Son of God. They are one and the same being. Some theologians in the twentieth century tried to separate the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith.” We do not believe in such a separation. We worship God who became human.

In theological terms, Jesus was something utterly unique and yet also utterly the same in creation. He is God. Divinity was not assumed by a human being. A Jewish man did not attain to a higher state of being or consciousness. If we were to draw a line between creator and created, he would be completely on the side of creator. He is man. God did not appear to be a human being, sending a kind of avatar into creation. He was fully and completely human. The same as God, the same as man. Yet this existence is completely new and unique. It is so radical that theologians had to come up with a new term for it. Jesus is theanthropos. This is a combination of two Greek words (theos and anthropos) that mean God and man. In English, it would be that Jesus is God-man. Completely God and completely man. Not semi-divine like a demigod. Not an enlightened man. Both God and man.

How this works, being fully God and fully man, is really beyond much of our understanding. The Church struggled to explain exactly what this means for centuries, and we still have a hard time with the concept. Some people say that just proves that we are wrong, since it just doesn’t make sense. Yet how do we explain love? How do we explain thought? How do we explain imagination, poetry, music, and hope? Some things in this life with which we are intimately aware still defy explanation. It should come as no surprise, then, that trying to describe and define God can fall short on verbiage, as well.

Another point to recognize in this Article is that the God-man came to save us. We are stated as having sin and transgression from which we need to be saved, and Jesus does this by becoming the mediator between us and God. This means that we have a problem that we cannot eliminate on our own. Later Articles delve into the human condition more fully, but the stage is set to understand that our problem of sin and transgression cannot be solved on our own.

This is a major point! This means that our problem is not a lack of education, or inequitable distribution of wealth, or exploitation of the 99%, or racism, or sexism, or discrimination of any kind. Those things may be results of our problem, but they are not the problem. They are not the problem because we could fix those problems ourselves. It may be painful and it may take time, but all of those problems can be solved by more education, or better laws, or sensitivity training. No, our problem cannot be solved on our own. We need someone who can redeem us from our sins and transgressions.

As we continue through the Articles, we will see a more full picture of the human condition and how Jesus is the only one who can solve our problem for us; he is the only one who can bridge the gap between God and us.

This is what we believe about Jesus.

Article 1-The Holy Trinity

As we begin this series on the Articles of Religion for the Free Methodist Church, let me give a little background information. First, these doctrinal statements are called Articles of Religion because when Methodism first began as an independent Church in 1784, John Wesley took an abridged version of the Church of England’s doctrinal statements for that new Church. In the Church of England today, they still have their Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Also, in our official denominational book, the Book of Discipline, these are designated by paragraph numbers, so this first Article is actually ¶101. Finally, at the end of our Articles is one final section that gives Scriptural references for each Article.

For this series, I will give the Article, the Scriptural references, and then some brief commentary.

¶101 The Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, the maker and preserver of all things. And in the unity of this Godhead there are three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one in eternity, deity and purpose; everlasting, of infinite power, wisdom and goodness.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Genesis 1:1-2; Exodus 3:13-15; Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19; John 1:1-3; 5:19-23; 14:9-11; 15:26; 16:13-15; 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Shield of the Holy Trinity

Shield of the Holy Trinity

By affirming that we believe in the Trinity, we say that we stand in the historic flow of the Church. The doctrine of the Trinity is how the Church, through history, has explained the reality of God’s action in the world and in our lives. This belief sets us apart from Judaism and Islam in our basic and fundamental understanding of who God is. This also distinguishes us from Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses in our belief in God.

The reason why this doctrine must come first in our list is quite simply because Christianity is a relationship with the Living God, and we need to make sure we are talking about the right God. Belief in the Trinity also forms our beliefs in the ultimate reality of the universe. This is because, from before all time and unto the end of all things and beyond, there is a relationship. Our God is not a solitary, lonely being. We claim, with the Bible, that God is love. We can do this because the Father, Son, and Spirit are ever and always in relationship with each other. Before time began there was love. Even in the midst of the world today, there is love. When everything comes crashing down, there will be love. For all eternity, we have the potential to be with love.

Free Methodist Beliefs

CCC-Primary-Logo-DistressedHello everyone! It has been quite a while since I have posted a blog. We were in a transition time in our family. I am now happy to report that we have moved to Kansas, and I am the new Chair of the Ministry and Theology Department at Central Christian College in McPherson.

Now that the transition time is over, I plan on blogging once again.

I will be starting a new series on Free Methodist Beliefs. Once a week I will post a new article on one of the Free Methodist Articles of Religion. These are doctrinal statements that help shape and guide this particular branch of the Christian family. For many people who are not Free Methodist but come from another denomination in the Methodist family (United Methodist, Wesleyan, etc.) many of the articles will be familiar.

Look for a new post each Monday morning.

God bless you all!

Polarization Damages the Church

conservative-liberal-281x300In America we are seeing the increasing polarization of our country. This is especially clear in this election year. The polarization, though, is not just in politics. It is in the Church.

The right/left divide is harming the Church in subtle ways. Christians who are on the left of social issues mistrust Christians on the right, and vice versa. We now have a Church culture where people who advocate for evangelizing and converting others are suspicious of the motives of those who want to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Those who want to help the immigrant and foreigner among us are wary of those who adamant about the fundamentals of the faith.

Christians paint caricatures of each other as either being so open-minded their brains fall out or so closed-minded that they want to establish a theocracy in the US. (Unfortunately, there are fringe groups on the extreme right and left that live up to these pictures, but the vast majority of Christians do not.)

Now, I do not believe that unity is a virtue that ought to be held no matter what anyone believes or how anyone acts. Denying the divinity of Christ is not Christian, nor is killing an abortion provider. But we in the Church have allowed the political polarization in our culture to affect us.

It is now uncommon to hear from the same Christian that we have a bounden duty to not only offer Christ to the lost, but to seek justice. We not only are called to proclaim the Name by which all may be saved and offer a cup of cold water in His Name. We are to care for the widow, orphan and loose the bonds of oppression as well as seek and save the lost.

We have a responsibility to care for the poor and to protect the unborn.

If Christians do not find ideas, policies, and platform points from both the right and the left with which they agree, they are not reading the whole Bible. If Christians do not find ideas, policies, and platform points from both the right and the left with which they disagree, they are not reading the whole Bible.

Put another way, Christians ought to equally offend the right and the left as we follow Jesus.

Think about this and listen carefully to what each side is saying, in politics and in the Church. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.

Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.