Talk about the Trinity often makes Jews and Muslims feel uncomfortable because it sounds as if Christians believe in three gods. And many Christians themselves don’t have a clear sense of how God could be both three and one. Let me offer this beginner’s guide to the Trinity.
Over the last number of weeks, we have been looking at John 6. Just one day after the feeding of the 5000, the crowds became offended at Jesus’ teaching and largely walked away, never to return. They grumbled about Him, argued with Him, and ultimately decided that they knew better than Jesus did. Their final recorded words, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60), stand as a warning to all who would reject Jesus because they’re offended at what He says. While few Christians today are offended by Jesus’ claims to be the “bread of life” (v. 35) or the “bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41), many are offended by another teaching of Jesus in this same passage. The teaching that people find so offensive, today, is the idea that no one trusts in Jesus unless God enables them to do so. Let’s look at the text again and see if that’s what it really says.
I still remember doing a survey of the church building we erected in Japan. The foundation had just been laid and the supervisor walked the perimeter with me and got down on the ground to show me how perfect the angles were. He said, “Get the foundation perfect and you’ll have a stable building. But make a small mistake here, and you’ll always have problems.” Thankfully, they did get the foundation perfect. And we were very happy with the finished product. Over the years, I’ve seen again and again that getting the foundation of Christianity straight is crucial to a healthy relationship with God. The problem is that you can’t get everything straight. There is too much to know in the Bible to know it all equally. So you need to be able to discern what the foundation is and get that straight and then over time do your best to add to it. Do you have the foundation straight? Have you helped your children get the foundation straight? When people ask you about your faith, do you get the foundation straight?
Today's post is by guest contributor, Christian Clement-Schlimm. Because it's the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and because of Christian's background in history, I've asked him to share what Luther might think of the Roman Catholic Church, as it exists today.
Although I grew up with Roman Catholic friends and family, it wasn’t until I began university that I started to have serious theological conversations with Roman Catholics of conviction. These would include Roman Catholic seminarians, converts from Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism, and people who frankly knew their stuff. We would discuss the nature of the sacraments and the positions of the early church, but it would always come back to the issues of the Reformation. One hard conversation I had took place with a Roman Catholic friend who was considering which Roman Catholic monastic order to join. At the same time he was struggling with critical points raised by Protestantism. The conversation ended when he basically asked, “Why can’t Roman Catholics and Protestants just get along? We’re all serving Christ after all.” I think many people struggle at this point. They know that there are differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism but they’re not sure how significant those differences are. What my friend didn’t seem to realize was that our differences were at the heart of our faith. We need to get along, but that doesn’t mean pretending that we’re the same or that our differences don’t matter. Let me explain.
Today's post is by guest contributor, Christian Clement-Schlimm. Because it's the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and because of Christian's background in history, I've asked him to share what the Reformation was and what it means for us today.
Growing up I often faced the question, “What’s the difference between Catholic and Christian?” This was not because I was engaging in deep theological study of religious topics, but rather because from grades 3 to 12 I attended Catholic schools and identified myself as a Christian. While my answers to this question changed as I began to understand more aspects of our Christian faith and the faith of my Roman Catholic friends and family, it was a question constantly asked as the other kids noticed a difference. Due to my parent’s discipleship and Sunday School training, I would noticeably excel in the required religion classes which largely focussed on the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. On the other hand, I would not participate when the class would spend months learning the Hail Mary prayer in Italian or receive communion during the Masses run by the school priest. In university, the question would still be asked but the context would change. At the University of Toronto, I attended the Roman Catholic college, whose chancellor also happened to be the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto. While, to my memory, the Reformation was never mentioned in my days of grade school, at school or church, it would be one of several central topics when speaking with Roman Catholic friends and classmates on campus, especially those in my history program. It was during this time that I came to fully understand what was at stake and how an event now 500 years old was still supremely relevant to my attempts to share and defend my faith on campus.
Yesterday, I had my ordination council. It’s kind of like a bar exam for a pastor. It doesn’t make me a pastor but it licences me as one. Thankfully, after three hours of gruelling questions from a room full of visiting pastors, I was recommended for ordination and am now taking care of some of the paperwork toward finalizing everything. There will be an ordination service at Grace in the coming weeks. I was asked many questions about all kinds of areas of theology and pastoral ministry. There was one question that is often asked of candidates that didn’t come up though, “What is a baptist?” Could you answer that question?
Before my time, the 60’s boy band, the Monkees, recorded a song called Shades of Gray with the following words: “But today there is no day or night; Today there is no dark or light; Today there is no black or white; Only shades of gray.” If they thought there were only shades of grey back in the 60’s, what would they say today? Surely, in our generation there is even more fuzziness in people’s thinking. On Sunday, we had the joy of celebrating a baptism. And later we looked at Revelation 20 and saw that two books will decide the fate of all people. While I didn’t plan to connect that passage with the baptism, ever since I’ve been thinking about the relationship between them. What strikes me is how black and white they are to our world of grey.
An engineer I met in Japan once talked with me about how he had come to trust in Jesus Christ. He shared that when he came to the church he was moved by how welcoming everyone was. He was welcomed to attend. He was welcomed to share meals together with them. He was welcomed to help out in various ways. And he was welcomed into people’s lives. He felt so welcomed, that after a little while, he said he could have gotten the impression that he was one of them. But every month when the church celebrated the Lord’s Supper, explanation was given that it was just for believers – it was the only time when he was ‘not welcome’ to participate. You would think it might have turned him off. In fact, it had the opposite effect. As he attended church each week, he felt himself growing nearer and nearer to Jesus and the teachings of the Bible, but at Communion he was reminded that there was a line he hadn’t yet crossed. He realized each time that he hadn’t yet opened the door of his life to faith in Jesus. And having yet refused to welcome Jesus’ work in his life by faith, he was not welcome to participate in the celebration of the work that the Lord’s Supper symbolizes. His story makes me wonder how many people have thought through who should participate in Communion and why. And why the Bible warns that participating in the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” leads to guilt and even judgment from God.
There was an issue that got a surprising amount of attention in last year’s U.S. Presidential election. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard it mentioned in political debates before. I’m not talking about taxes, or immigration, or public debt or reviving the economy. The issue was the human body. ‘Body shaming’ made its way into the race for political office as people discussed whether it was appropriate for a would-be President to refer to people’s weight in such demeaning terms. Now that the election is over people are thinking about the human body for other reasons. Many of us overate during the holidays and are pondering New Year’s resolutions and gym memberships. Recent studies indicate that a person’s theology of the body – what they believe about the nature of the human body – has a big impact on how they feel about their own body. With all of the negative messages our culture sends about body image, clear biblical thinking in this area could surely help all of us.
Several weeks ago a visitor came to our church for the first time. After coming to faith, he had become more and more uncomfortable with his church’s teachings that you can ‘lose your salvation’ if you don’t keep up morally or spiritually. He didn’t know anyone from our church but had visited after finding our church web-site. That morning I taught on the security of a believer from Ephesians 1:11-14, a great passage that explains how God seals and guarantees the salvation He offers. It had been many months since I had taught anything on this theme. What are the chances that he would just randomly walk into our service on the day I was teaching on the very topic he had been struggling with? And yet it happens again and again. According to the survey LifeWay Research published this fall, 60% of people believe that God knows everything, but doesn’t necessarily determine it. Another 11% were unsure. In the case of the newcomer, they feel that God was aware of the amazing coincidence ahead of time, He just wasn’t responsible for it. While that sentiment feels attractive, the Bible paints a very different picture of God. You may be surprised to learn the extent of God’s rule taught in the Scriptures.