Article XXVIII-Last Things-Judgment

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):

¶129 Last Things–Judgment

God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness in accordance with the gospel and our deeds in this life.

¶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 25:31-46; Luke 11:31-32; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 2:15-16; 14:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Hebrews 9:27-28; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 3:7.

I know several people who think the concept of God’s judgment is a bad thing. In fact, they see this as a perfect excuse not to follow God. After all, who wants to be subject to a being that is going to judge us in the end, anyway?

The reality is, though, I would not want to serve a God who did not judge. Think about it. If God did not judge, there would be no difference between Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa. All of the evil and the hurt in the world would never be resolved. When the rich get richer because of immoral practices and the poor are ever more trapped in death and destruction, our very being cries out for a righteous and impartial judge. When children die of starvation while others scrape nearly-full plates of food into the trash, the world cries out for a judge. When women are abused and subjugated while their perpetrators roam free we cry out for a judge who will be true.

The fact is that we need God as a judge because there is so much that is out of balance, so much that is wrong, so much that is sinful in this world. We are all a part of the world and, try as we might, we can never completely be impartial. We are also implicated in the injustice of the world even when we strive to rise above it. The Good News of God requires him to be a judge, to actually put all things to right in this world what need to be done, to let justice roll down like a mighty river (Amos 5:24), and to bring comfort and peace to all victims of all crime, injustice, oppression, and sin.

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Article XXVII-Last Things-Resurrection

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):

¶128 Last Things–Resurrection

There will be a bodily resurrection from the dead both of the just and the unjust, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. The resurrected body will be a spiritual body, but the person will be whole and identifiable. The Resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of resurrection unto life to those who are in Him.

¶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. John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 51-57; 2 Corinthians 4:13-14.

This Article is a very healthy reminder that the goal of our life is not floating around on some cloud playing a harp. When the end of all things occurs, there will be an everlasting physical existence. We will have bodies because of the resurrection of the dead. Christians in general, and Free Methodists along with the consensus, do not believe in a disembodied existence for eternity. We believe that eternity will be bodily. Jesus took his body out of the tomb. We will have bodies as well.

The confusion comes with the term spiritual body, from 1 Corinthians 15. In that passage Paul is contrasting the flesh with the spirit, but he is using the terms theologically. Flesh, in this case, is for the sinful tendencies and nature we have. Spirit, then, is what is renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit. A fleshly body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the flesh. A spiritual body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the Spirit.

Article XXVI-Last Things-The Return of Christ

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):

¶127 Last Things–The Return of Christ

The return of Christ is certain and may occur at any moment, although it is not given us to know the hour. At His return He will fulfill all prophecies concerning His final triumph over all evil. The believer’s response is joyous expectation, watchfulness, readiness, and diligence.

¶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 24:1-51; 26:64; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 17:26-37; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16; 22:6-7, 12, 20.

This Article  is one in which the entire Church has affirmed from the beginning. Jesus Christ is coming back at some point in the future and those of us who are here need to be ready for that fact. One problem with this particular Article, however, is that we have waited for so long, we have lost the sense of urgency in the world and our lives.

It is interesting. Creation has continued for the last 2000 years (give or take) since Christ and he did not return yet. Because of this, lots of Christians tend to forget that he is going to come back. “It didn’t happen yet, therefore I’m not going to trouble myself with the idea of his return,” seems to be the attitude. There is a logical fallacy in this line of reasoning, though. The world may have continued for 2000 years since Christ, but individuals do not.

Every day I am alive I am one day closer to the return of Christ. And even if he does not return in my lifetime, I am one day closer to my death. This means that each day I am one day closer to the end of all things, either for the world in general or myself in particular. I can get lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that Jesus will not return for another 2000 years, but I have no clue how much or little time I have left in this world. I could live until I am 104, or I could be hit by a car today and die. Either way, my time is much shorter than what has gone on in the past waiting for Christ’s return.

If I am going to be faithful and honest with myself and God, I am going to try and live my life in such a way that I am prepared for the end, whenever it may come. Jesus may not return for another 2000 years, or he may return in the next five minutes. I may live for another 50+ years, or I may die in the next five minutes. Either way, I need to be ready in my own life for meeting my maker.

Another byproduct of this kind of thinking about the end is that it renews my compassion and passion for the people I know who are not ready for Christ’s return. The mission statement of the Free Methodist Church is Love God, Love People, Make Disciples. I cannot profess that I love people if I keep the reality of Christ’s return and coming judgment a secret. If I never share the reality of Christ’s return with those whom I know are not ready for it, how much could I love them?

Article XXV-Last Things-The Kingdom of God

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):

¶126 Last Things–The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is a prominent Bible theme providing Christians with both their tasks and hope. Jesus announced its presence. The kingdom is realized now as God’s reign is established in the hearts and lives of believers.

The church, by its prayers, example and proclamation of the gospel, is the appointed and appropriate instrument of God in building His kingdom.

But the kingdom is also future and is related to the return of Christ when judgment will fall upon the present order. The enemies of Christ will be subdued; the reign of God will be established; a total cosmic renewal which is both material and moral shall occur; and the hope of the redeemed will be fully realized.

¶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 6:10, 19-20; 24:14; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:19-23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-25; Philippians 2:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Peter 3:3-10; Revelation 14:6; 21:3-8; 22:1-5, 17.

This Article holds to the theological truth of “Already/Not Yet.” This is the idea that the kingdom of God is already present in the world, having first arrived in the person of Jesus Christ and continued through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church to today, but it is not yet fully formed. In other words, anywhere the will of God is followed and people deny themselves to walk in the ways of the Lord, the kingdom of God is present. Any time a denomination or congregation or even a small group of Christians (or individual) follows the guidance and direction of the Head of the Church (Jesus Christ), the kingdom of God is present.

Yet the reality is that the Church does not perfectly live out the will of God. Beyond the Church, the world is still full of death, decay, and corruption. The kingdom is not fully here, and will not be until Jesus Christ returns and the New Creation is completed.

This is an Article of immense hope, but also an accurate and realistic reflection of the state of the Church and world today.

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.

Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.