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 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?

Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.

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Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

Romans 14:1-6 and Judging Others

This is a re-post from earlier this year. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Having been in a few different Christian traditions over the course of my life, I am amazed how strongly traditions cling to certain practices to the point of disparaging other traditions that do not have those same practices.  In Romans, Paul tries to delicately navigate between Jewish believers and Gentile believers and the one, new community they have created in Christ in that city.  Jewish believers still keep the kosher food laws

and the Gentiles do not keep them (among other differences).  Then Paul gets to this passage:

Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion.  One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.   Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them.  Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand).   One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own

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convictions.   Someone who thinks that a day is sacred, thinks that way for the Lord. Those who eat, eat for the Lord, because they thank God. And those who don’t eat, don’t eat for the Lord, and they thank the Lord too.

This is a fabulous passage for the situation today.  We have traditions that have a strong practice of fasting during certain times of the year, traditions that advocate abstaining from alcohol, and traditions that have none of those practices.  We have traditions that have numerous holy days throughout the year they celebrate, and we have traditions that may or may not even celebrate Easter as a special day.

What I love about this passage is that Paul does not say which side has the people who have the weaker faith.  The implication is that we assume whoever has a different practice than us has the weaker faith.

You don’t celebrate all the wonderful feasts and festivals commemorating the mighty workings of God throughout history?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.  You don’t understand that God is always at work and no day is different than any other because all days together show God’s redemption?  You must have a very weak faith and understanding of God.

You don’t eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because God has called all things clean.  You eat meat?  You must have a very weak faith because eating meat was a concession after the flood and God intended us to be vegetarians.

You drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because alcohol impedes the growth in grace we are to have in order to be sanctified.  You don’t drink alcohol?  You must have a weak faith because only drunkenness is condemned in the Bible.

Paul writes in 14:13, “So stop judging each other.”  If we have certain practices such as these, and we sincerely follow them out of love for Christ, then we are fine in his eyes.  And it is perfectly fine for others to have opposite practices such as these and sincerely follow them out of love for Christ.  It is not our role to judge Christ’s servants.  We have not been given that authority.

Let us all live in love for Christ.  If we do this, then that love ought to spill over into love for each other–irrespective of our individual tradition’s expectations on issues such as these.

Acts 19:29-31 and Christians Using Common Sense

Christians are supposed to use common sense. It is that simple. We are not called to be doormats or to turn off our brains as we deal with other people and the world at large. In Ephesus, as Paul was preaching and teaching, a riot broke out. Look at what happened next:

29 The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. 30 Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; 31 even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre.

Paul was prevented from confronting the crowd because the crowd would have pulled him apart. This also falls in line with what Jesus said in Matthew 10:23, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next.”

There are Christians who oppose using common sense. Some simply do not want to think. Others want to take one aspect of the Gospel message and apply it to every single situation in the entire world. Life is more complicated than that. This is why Jesus also said, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

If you are a Christian, THINK. Use your God-given brain. Use common sense.

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John 3:17-21 and Christians Should Not Judge

nicodmeusOne of the biggest criticisms against Christians by those who are not Christians is that they are very judgmental. Unfortunately, this criticism is not without reason. We, in the Church, have become very good at thinking we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ by telling everyone else why they do not measure up to what God desires for life. We have decided along the way that one of the best ways of appealing to people is to make them understand just how far away from God they are by pointing out all of the sinful actions and attitudes in which they participate.

Look closely at this passage of John’s Gospel, a part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus:

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The world is already in the dark, and thus condemned. The Good News does not need us to condemn or judge people. First of all, that is not our job. If Jesus Christ was not sent into the world to condemn, neither were we. Second, this is Good News! It ought to be presented as Good!

One way to think of it is that the whole world is drowning and Jesus is the life preserver. What we do not need to do is berate people over why they are in the water having a hard time staying afloat without the life preserver. We do not need to point out that they should have been on a different boat or shouldn’t have gone in the water in the first place. Why? Because according to this passage, we all start out in the water. We do not suffer in sin because we chose to enter that world. The world is already condemned. What we have to offer people is the way out. We have the rescue. We have the salvation. We have Jesus Christ.

If we, as Christians, spent less time trying to make people feel guilty for their actions (which is the Holy Spirit’s role anyway) and point out how bad they are (because we are all born into a world that is condemned), then we can proclaim a message of Good News to all people. In Jesus Christ the evil and degradation of this world is undone. In Jesus Christ our guilt is cleansed. In Jesus Christ we have the ability to live in the grace and power of God to overcome temptation and sin in the future. In Jesus Christ we inherit everlasting life.

This is all Good News. We do not have to package it in a way that requires people to feel completely miserable with themselves and their lives before they can accept it. If we present the reality of new life in Jesus Christ to people, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Finally, remember these words from Jesus to his followers:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:1-2).