Drippings from the Honeycomb
More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)
Christianity: Simple but not simplistic
Simple but not simplistic is a mantra I developed many years ago to describe what Christianity is (or ought to be).
[It is similar to the illustration Jerome painted of the Bible, “shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologian to swim in without ever touching bottom.” Christianity isn’t a kiddy pool, nor is it an raging ocean; it is like a real graduating pool, the same water, but different depths, with room for maturity but ever with mysterious humility.]
On the one hand it is simple vs. complex. One shouldn’t add to the Faith. This can happen in legalistic or nominal or ritualistic or highly intellectual settings, etc.
On the other hand, it is simple vs. simplistic. One shouldn’t take away from the Faith or make it less than it is. This can happen in popular or folk Christianity, nominalism, emotionalism, etc.
Like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Christianity should not be too hot or too cold but just right, as God intended.
Part of this mantra is informed by my own journey. Growing up in an evangelite denomination, exposed to theological liberalism, etc, gave me a desire for a more “robust” Faith; or one that richly accorded with Scripture.
The rest of the mantra comes from an acknowledgement that Scripture says as much (2 Pet 2:2; Heb 6:1–3), we should live (and hunger) for “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4).
Consider how the Gospel is simple but not simplistic (Acts 2:38):
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel isn’t do all of this to be saved, or understand the depths of Christology to be saved. Nor is the Gospel just believe or any such pithy saying. It is a simple robust call to belief in who Jesus is, repentant of one’s sin, trust in Jesus for forgiveness, baptism and the promised Holy Spirit.
Consider how Discipleship is simple but not simplistic:
While some portions of God’s Word is difficult to understand (2 Pet 3:16) we trust that with the Spirit’s help, all Scripture is for our good (Dt 6:24), even the hard passages. This clarity of Scripture (2 Ti 3:16–17) encourages us to study God’s Word and not settle for over simplifications nor feel trapped as if it is all impossible to understand.
Consider how the study of Doctrine is simple but not simplistic
From the Gospel all Christian theology can be built, one brick at a time.
The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and His will. This is good. God calls doctrine, if it is biblical vs. manmade, good, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” (1 Ti 4:6; c.f. Tit 1:9, 2:1). He wants us to know more about Him and His ways and this does require training (effort). We might not all become elite athletes but we should all be healthy and fit.
Christianity is not trivial nor is it impossible, it is like an exciting adventure that is possible with the Spirit’s help. It turns out Christianity is simple but not simplistic after all.
Conversing with a Mennonite
Recently I had a unique opportunity to speak with a local old order Mennonite (so not a Dave Martin Mennonite) about his beliefs (and many of our common beliefs). He shared how his church holds to the The Dordrecht Confession (1632), and was delighted to learn I had this in a book in my office. (You can read it here).
Having studied Mennonite history and beliefs at a general level I wrote to him some of my responses and questions in the hopes that he or his church leader might be able to further enlightenment me on Mennonite beliefs and practices.
Here are my comments:
Article 2- I was heartened to see you believe in Original Sin as I know some Mennonites do not. This is such a fundamental teaching of the Bible.
Article 4- There is so much here that is right and true. Twice, however, “salvation of all” and “purchased redemption for the whole human race” is mentioned and so I would gather you believe in a universal atonement. I would hold that Christ died for His own, the elect (Acts 13:48; Eph 1:1–6; 2 Ti 1:9; Rev 17:8); however, that the Gospel should be preach to the whole world. Election is a mystery the Bible speaks of for the believer’s comfort. The Gospel an encouragement to those who have not yet believed.
A line at about 60% says “we content ourselves with the declaration which the worthy evangelists have given…” According to Christology I find this somewhat vague as the visible Church (and I think with Biblical merit) has universally and historically believed the Chalcedon Creed that says “one person in two natures.” Creeds are not Scripture but church history does have a helping or ministerial role as Christians articulate their belief. Perhaps Mennonites are interested in the practical vs. the speculative (though probing who God is, I would argue, has great practical benefits).
I was heartened by the last line of this article.
Article 5- What is the Gospel? How do I become a Christian? This is not clear to me. Traditional Protestantism asks “What must I do to be saved.” It seems many Anabaptists ask, “How ought a Christian to live?”
Article 6- Truly, we must heed John the Baptist’s words quoted herein and also hear James that faith without works is dead. However, what is true saving faith and its connection to ongoing faith? (or saving faith and the fruit of faith). It speaks of “amendment of life” which is surely a proof of true faith (Parable of the Sower) but this does seem to have echoes of being justified (or made right with God) through our works. I would say that those who truly believe in the Gospel and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit will persevere in the faith and bear good fruit. You shall know them by their fruit Jesus said in Mt 7.
Article 7- Do you practice baptism by affusion (pouring) or immersion? I know different Mennonites have different practices. We practice believer’s baptism by immersion in the name of the Trinity.
Article 9- I was confused, do you have a tri-fold ordering of officers? We have Elders (oversight, teaching and discipleship) and Deacons (temporal needs and matters).
Article 10- I love the moral outworking of the theology of the cross (yet would still question “His precious blood—for the whole human race” see what I shared above. I would understand such verses in light of the others to mean, “so that…”).
Article 11- I applaud the spirit of humility in this article and the picture of true washing by Christ’s blood, however, is there really justifiable evidence that foot-washing is an ordinance? Does it merit a whole article? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are quite emphatically put forward as signs of the New Covenant. Is not the main point of Jesus’ footwashing the principle of humility and service?
Article 14- This is certainly a noble belief and I have the utmost respect for those who carry it out. But is it not to confuse the future peace we will know with the present where sin reigns? Surely in Mt 6 Jesus is speaking of personal insult and not personal harm. I would allow suffering injury for the sake of the Gospel but, the justness or injustice of wars aside, what man would not protect his wife and children from a murderer or thief? Jesus even commanded his disciples to carry swords for legitimate cases of self-defence (Lk 22:36). The 10 Commandments speak of “thou shall not murder” not “kill.” In rare occasions I would see defence as a reasonable use of force.
Article 15- I agree with this interpretation of Mt 5, however, why make it a major statement of faith? May it not be a remnant of an important issue in the 1500s and not so much an issue today?
Article 16 and 17 (which are similar)- Likewise, I am a believer in what we would call church discipline (as a believers’ church), rightly dismissing members who persist in erring in doctrine or practice and do not show repentance after brothers seek to reach him (Matt 18:15–20). Likewise it is for their amendment and not their ruin. However, I wonder about the language of “sin unto death.” If they truly repent and show they were genuine believers do they really lose their salvation only to regain it or grieve the spirit whilst in rebellion and loose visible assurance? Also “have nothing to do with them” must be taken in its various contexts. Certainly we should avoid divisive people (Tit 3) and even apostates, yet wouldn’t to treat the average backslider like “tax collectors and sinners” mean we cannot have fellowship with them but that we treat them with mercy and try to convert them? What in practice would shunning look like?
Article 18- I agree wholeheartedly with what is stated here, the Resurrection, etc, yet even though Scripture speaks of being judged based upon our deeds, does it not go still further and speak of our faith, or what we have done with Jesus (Ro 14:23; Heb 11:6; Jn 12:48)?
Aside from many smaller questions the biggest question that I am not clear on, and what I would deem as the most important, is “What is the Gospel” and “what is true faith?” Likewise, what is the relationship of faith and works? If you could help me understand these I would be grateful.
We live in a changing culture. It isn’t changing from Christian to post-Christian (that change occurred in the 1960s–80s). We’re changing from a post-Christian culture into an eddy of the unknown.
Now as the under-dog (yet with an Almighty Captain, the Lord Jesus Christ), how do we as Christian churches engage with our culture?
At a recent conference a non-Christian and Christian help was offered to answer this question. I thought it was worth restating with some of my own commentary.
The Christian faith used to be the worldview and moral code of Canada. People would ask: does this honour and glorify God; what does God think about this; what does the Bible say; is this good or bad; does it love God and love others, etc…?
As people came to hold the Christian faith nominally these questions were asked, not through reason, but through intuition: that is, because of what we’ve received, I don’t feel comfortable with X, Y, or Z.
Today, most people still do not use reason to inform their worldview, rather they subjectively rely on intuition.
Because of this shift Christianity went from being celebrated, tolerated or viewed as quaint to now being seen as increasingly dangerous.
In “Righteous Mind: Moral Intuitions are Different,” social psychologist explains what our culture’s new moral intuitions are:
If we simply speak louder (like in so many language quandaries) we don’t actually facilitate understanding. If we simply give a straight up yes or no answer, our view will likely clash with theirs.
While sometimes we’re left with no other option than providing a straight up answer without an explanation (and know that God will use such faithfulness), we need to learn to be better listeners:
If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. (Prov 18:13)
The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out. (Prov 20:5)
When pressed for a yes or no answer on any moral or theological question we might respond, “I think your question deserves more than a one syllable answer.” Ask questions. Attempt to figure out what ethic (see above) they’re operating from. Build trust through listening. Where have they come from that has led them to this place? Finally help them understand why something is right or wrong (harmful, oppressive and unjust) and tell the better story of how Jesus’ way is better, freeing and just.
In apologetics and evangelism we must learn to speak the truth in love or blend grace and truth as the Bible teaches.
Lessons from 1860
Recently I took my Historical Theology class to Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto. It was a wonderful fall outing. We used the old Edgeley Mennonite Meeting House (b. 1824- the oldest remaining log meeting house in the province) as the backdrop for the day’s lectures. (The meeting house would have been nearly identical in simplicity to early Baptist meeting houses). It was the first time I’d lectured with a toque on and the poor lighting made me appreciate the convenience of electricity as I sought to read my lecture notes!
Historical Theology is “the study of how the church past interpreted Scripture and formulated its doctrines and practice.” As such, we had one lecture period where students were able to explore the Village with this question, “from your exploration, what can we learn about what these pioneers believed” (in 1860, the era of the Village, culture was generally Christian).
When we debriefed their visit to the village a number of interesting observations were made:
What about today? If you think about our community and culture, what do they believe? What do you believe? How might this knowledge help you influence them for Christ?
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