Star Trek and my rejection of Calvin

uss_wells

Star Trek and the Prime Directive

I’m an avid Star Trek fan. I have probably seen almost every episode of each series in the franchise, and all the films so far except for maybe two. One of the major themes that occurs in ST is the Prime Directive, the overarching law made by the federation that no ships encountering a more primitive civilisation shall intervene or interfere with their culture in any way. Later on, we were introduced to the timeships, which came from a future federation, covered by a temporal Prime Directive, which forbade them from interfering in a timeline by changing events, which would affect the future. This is a recurring theme in science fiction, since the possibility of travelling back in time always carries consequences for the future. The very appearance of timeships from the future surely poses problems for the temporal Prime Directive, since who knows what that might change, considering all the possible variables present. To be able to predict accurately, one would need to know everything that was going to happen, forever. This is impossible… unless you’re God. Yeah, only God would have the ability to ‘alter a timeline’. Hold that thought…

Calvinism

117629-004-9f92c82fI was introduced to the basic doctrinal argument/ debate of Calvinism v. Arminianism in Bible College: Laying aside the complexities and details, to boil this down, Calvinism is the belief that salvation is entirely down to the work and choice of God (predestination) and has nothing to do with any decision or effort on our part, since we are all incapable of saving ourselves from our inevitable all-encompassing sin, and salvation is set in stone and unalterable, whereas Arminianism is the belief that we can choose to follow Christ and then choose to stop following him. Coming from a pentecostal evangelical fold that is avidly Calvinist, I was already immersed in that theological perspective enough, and perusing over his doctrine I came to admire and respect it as a wonderfully concise and ordered theology that draws perfect little pictures from scripture; it is very easy to argue scripturally, and very hard to refute. I have never read his Institutes – they’re quite extensive – but they have been boiled down and explained so precisely by his followers, there is little need to, except for his most devoted disciples. However… there were bits of it I was never comfortable with, and I sought to marry the two views, while still describing myself as in the Calvinist camp, due to the enormous amount of supporting scripture in the New Testament.

My main objections were twofold, with a third growing on me over time:

1. ‘double predestination’

Once you adopt the belief that God has chosen his ‘elect’ and that this was done ‘before the foundation of the world’ then you have to agree with double predestination i.e. if God has chosen some to be his elected inheritors of his kingdom of heaven, then that means he has also chosen all the others to be eternally lost/ punished/ burning in hell. The moral compass we all have must scream at us that double predestination is unjust! If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision? The standard answer to this was always that we were not to question God’s ways, decisions or ‘wisdom’ but this dismisses that natural inbuilt sense of right and wrong we have all been given, by God! Had I been told this doctrine before my conversion, I would have concluded that the Christians’ God was a total jerk and had obviously not elected me! I would have refused to even wish to follow such a ‘loving creator’.

2. MY choice

The clear recall I had of the process I underwent myself when I chose to follow Jesus was something I just had to raise each time I was presented with the ‘clear’ scriptures of Calvinism. It had to be rewritten in my memory as something that God had done: this was ‘irresistible grace’ (one of the key points of Calvinism), and I could have done nothing to avert that moment in time or stop it happening, when I made the decision God called me. Each time, though, I felt like I was in a science fiction story as a robot that had never been aware that he was not a human!

I even wondered at times why we were singing “I have decided to follow Jesus…”!!

3. Hyper-Calvinism

In time, I came to the realisation that so often, Calvinists fall into the trap of hyper-Calvinism, as if it isn’t possible to be a ‘moderate’ Calvinist, and one will always end up believing that not just our decision the moment of salvation, but every single event that occurs, and every action we take, is predestined to happen too. Me sitting here typing this has been ordained by God to happen! This takes the robot analogy to an extreme, since every part of our lives has been pre-programmed by an inventor and/or code-writer.

If all this is the case, then why do we bother at all with anything? Once this has become ingrained, certain beliefs and behaviours may follow in some cases, such as;

  • Pharisaism and a superior attitude that ‘we are God’s chosen ones’
  • a belief that moral behaviour is not important since salvation is set in stone anyway
  • preachers who believe that no appeal to others to come and follow Jesus is needed, since ‘his elect will be drawn by the Holy Spirit anyway’
  • the church need not be concerned with society’s problems since this is God’s will and has been ordained by God to happen to a world that has fallen from him – when you add in the prevalent belief that we are in the last days, then no desire to change society for the better can be stirred. Why waste energy trying to bail more water out of a sinking ship?

Any objections I raised that cast doubt on the Calvinist position was routinely shot down. It was as if questioning Calvin was equivalent to doubting scripture! “Is it not possible that God’s ‘election’ of us is based on his omniscience and knowing who will choose to follow Jesus?” was refuted with a clear “No, God the Father is the one who makes all the decisions and chooses whom he will save, from before time began!”

This unwavering adherence to reading scripture in such an unquestioning way has led to some tragic situations, like I blogged on before. However, as with many dogmatic positions, it favours certain parts of scripture over others, though adherents would never wish to admit to this. Just a few verses, off the top of my head, that appear to undermine predestination:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Trying to fit this into the perfect picture of God selecting us before we were even born creates a lot of tight hoops to jump through. Or you can just ignore the hoops as insignificant (which is impossible for fundamentalist inerrantists!)

Quantum theology

I have long tried to present theology as similar to our quantum universe. Without going into the intricacies of quantum mechanics/ physics, let’s just say that it is now known that certain things in the micro-particle world defy logic and present clear evidence for two truths/ facts to co-exist in our universe, at the same time. For me, the apparent ‘contradictions’ in scripture are also contained in a concise way in the mind of God, the Creator of this quantum universe (in a way that is totally illogical to mere mortals).

However, it would be better if we could find things that do fit into a logical understanding, yes? If God wishes to be revealed to us, and that we should know him, then a clearer knowledge of him in our minds must be within his will. I realised that my original idea (most likely not original to me in that nobody else ever asked it) held some weight; what if God, at the beginning of time, knowing all things that were to happen, saw me on that day in 1979, seeking him and asking for him, and decided, there and then, that he would jump ahead of me (like a time traveller going backwards to ‘fix’ a timeline) and provide that ‘irresistible grace’ for me to respond to and so give me the means and the power to be able to follow him, since he would know that alone, I could not do so, and would fail at any attempt to be a ‘faithful disciple’?

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)

God looks down from heaven on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Ps. 53:2)

As I said, this was rejected by those who had studied Calvin: “No, God chooses us, we have no part in the process!” However, it has always struck a chord in my heart, since we know that in Eden, God clearly gave freewill to Adam and Eve; it was their choice to eat the fruit that was forbidden, and there was no high fence around the tree!

When we go to the favourite passage of Calvinism, we can analyse it quite easily:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30, emphasis mine)

Note those two words I highlighted: the Greek word for ‘foreknew’ is proginosko, but I don’t even need to go into any depth on that. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, and each time simply means what it translates as – ‘knowing beforehand’. The passage states first that God had foreknowledge of us, and then he predestined us! The choice was ours, but the empowering and the process is all his!

Still not with me? Confusing? This is deep theology, and trying to simplify it is an uphill task – I have gone over this a fair bit to make it easy to read, believe me. Let’s try the trusted tool of explanation for these things that Jesus used; the parable.

The Parable of the Determined Son

A father was asked by his children, what he would like for Christmas. He answered them that there was nothing specific that he’d like, except for one thing that he knew was far too expensive for them to buy him, even if they pooled all their savings, and he told them he knew that. They were to buy some smaller presents and not worry about it. The youngest child later told his older siblings that he was going to save up enough money to buy this present by going to all the neighbours and asking them to pay him for washing their cars or tidying their garden. No amount of explanation from them that he’d never earn enough would deter him.

They realised how determined their youngest was as he started putting money into his piggy bank, so they told their father. The father did not wish to dishearten the youngest by telling him to stop his quest, nor let him be disappointed, so late one night he sneaked into the boy’s room and put the amount of money needed into the piggy bank. When Christmas approached, the youngest came to his siblings and asked them to count his money with him to see if he had enough. When they added it up, they of course could not believe that it was all there!

What does this mean?

The youngest child had been the one to decide to get this present and put his heart into achieving it, but he was never going to be able to. The father saw the love and determination his son had, and provided the means for the son to be able to give his father the present he knew he wanted and that the son wished to give. If we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” as Jesus commanded us (Mark 12:30), then this must require effort on our part, borne from love. Such love produces action from us, or it is not love (John 14:152115:101John 2:33:225:3). Yet this action cannot produce any ‘saving power’ (Eph. 2:8-9) or achieve what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). God foresees all these actions, this determination to seek him, and intervenes to save us before we think that we must do these things to save ourselves.

To go back to Star Trek, what then is God’s Prime Directive? Freewill! The answer to the question of why he doesn’t intervene in the world more than he does, is that we know that he always left us to our own will and he will not make ‘first contact’. The ST version can be ignored once a civilisation develops warp drive and is about to embark on space travel, and so God ignores his own Prime Directive until we are the ones to seek him! For God to enter into our lives uninvited breaks that and makes a mockery of our statement that we are ‘left to our own free will’!

c-s-lewisI’m not rejecting predestination, I’m rejecting Calvin’s narrow and shortsighted interpretation of it.

I don’t accept his version, I accept what I read in my Bible.

I’m not saying that God does not ‘elect’ us to salvation by his own power, I’m saying that he doesn’t select us. Scripture teaches election, Calvin teaches selection. After all, when we elect someone, they have to stand for election in the first place!

In Calvin’s defence, though, he didn’t get to see Star Trek!

Grace be with you.free-will

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Star Trek and my rejection of Calvin. (full)

uss_wells

[This is an enhanced and lengthened version of a previous blog for external publication. If you prefer a shorter version, you can read it here.]

Star Trek and the Prime Directive

I’m an avid Star Trek fan. I have probably seen almost every episode of each series in the franchise, and all the films so far except for maybe two. One of the major themes that occurs in Star Trek is the Prime Directive, the overarching law made by The Federation that no ships encountering a more primitive civilisation shall intervene or interfere with their culture in any way. Later on, we were introduced to the timeships, which came from a future federation, covered by a temporal Prime Directive, which forbade them from interfering in a timeline by changing events, which would affect the future. This is a recurring theme in science fiction, since the possibility of travelling back in time always carries consequences for the future. The very appearance of timeships from the future surely poses problems for the temporal Prime Directive, since who knows what that might change, considering all the possible variables present. To be able to predict accurately, one would need to know everything that was going to happen, forever. This is impossible… unless you’re God. Yeah, only God would have the ability to ‘alter a timeline’. Hold that thought…

Calvinism

117629-004-9f92c82fI was introduced to the basic doctrinal argument/ debate of Calvinism v. Arminianism in Bible College: Here I’m laying aside the complexities and details of all the ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ which Calvin wrote, to boil this down to the most basic debate; Calvinism is the belief that salvation is entirely down to the work and choice of God (predestination) and has nothing to do with any decision or effort on our part, since we are all incapable of saving ourselves from our inevitable all-encompassing sin, and salvation is set in stone and unalterable, whereas Arminianism is the belief that we can choose to follow Christ and then choose to stop following him. Coming from a pentecostal evangelical fold that is avidly Calvinist, I was already immersed in that theological perspective enough, and perusing over his doctrine I came to admire and respect it as a wonderfully concise and ordered theology that draws perfect little pictures from scripture; it is very easy to argue scripturally, and very hard to refute. I have never read all of his ‘Institutes’ – they’re quite extensive – but they have been boiled down and explained so precisely by his followers, there is little need to, except for his most devoted disciples. However… there were bits of it I was never comfortable with, and I sought to marry the two views, while still describing myself as in the Calvinist camp, due to the enormous amount of supporting scripture in the New Testament. What has surprised me is how much he is revered, to the point of being almost as ‘divinely inspired’ as the Holy Bible itself! There is not one school of theology that has all the truth, and certainly no theologian who has infallibility. That should be a ‘given’, yet Calvinists usually get very obtuse if you even dare to question any point that Calvin makes. How dare someone as lowly as you or I stand up to challenge him! I knew this attitude existed in a successful church I belonged to for many years – the senior pastor was not to be doubted!

My main objections were twofold, with a third growing on me over time:

1. ‘double predestination’

Once you adopt the belief that God has chosen his ‘elect’ and that this was done ‘before the foundation of the world’ then you have to agree with double predestination i.e. if God has chosen some to be his elected inheritors of his kingdom of heaven, then that means he has also chosen all the others to be eternally lost/ punished/ burning in hell. We are all endowed with a moral compass, a sense of justice, and Christians are always arguing with atheists that such a moral compass has to have been instilled in us by a divine creator, or else we would have rampant moral relativism, with no agreed sense of right and wrong within any society. Having this moral compass must scream at us that double predestination is unjust! If your father said to you that your brother would inherit his whole will but you would get nothing, and that he had decided this even before both of you were born, would you not be insensed at such a ridiculous decision? No factor in your (yet to be lived!) life, character or behaviour (or of your brother) would have any bearing on the outcome! You’d wonder why you should have bothered being any sort of good or obedient son at any time, wouldn’t you? The standard answer to this was always that we were not to question God’s ways, decisions or ‘wisdom’ but this dismisses the natural inbuilt sense of right and wrong we have all been given, by God! Had I been told this doctrine before my conversion, I would have concluded that the Christians’ God was a total jerk and had obviously not elected me! I would have refused to even wish to follow such a ‘loving creator’. The problem I see is that many who blindly accept this are safely cocooned in a subculture of fellow believers where their ‘picture’ of God is easy to like and acquiesce to, since God ‘smiles’ on them (and has smiled since the beginning!). It does not produce a very pleasing picture of God to those outside the scope of that smile… but then again, if ‘God has not chosen to smile on them, then so be it’ – my soul cannot help but scream out against that portrayal of my Lord and Saviour.

2. MY choice

The clear recall I had of the process I underwent myself when I chose to follow Jesus was something I just had to raise each time I was presented with the clear scriptures of Calvinism. It had to be rewritten in my memory as something that God had done: this was ‘irresistible grace’, and I could have done nothing to avert that moment in time or stop it happening, when I made the decision God called me. Each time, though, I felt like I was in a science fiction story as a robot that had never been aware that he was not a human!

I even wondered at times why we were singing “I have decided to follow Jesus…”!!

3. Hyper-Calvinism

In time, I came to the realisation that so often, Calvinists fall into the trap of Hyper-Calvinism, as if it isn’t possible to be a ‘moderate’ Calvinist, and one will always end up believing that not just our decision the moment of salvation, but every single event that occurs, and every action we take, is predestined to happen too. Me sitting here typing this has been ordained by God to happen! This takes the robot analogy to an extreme, since every part of our lives has been pre-programmed by an inventor and/or code-writer. Have you seen those scary sci-fi movies from the 70s and 80s where the protagonist in the story only finds out at the end that either they, or everyone around them, has been a programmed machine all along?

If all this is the case, then why do we bother at all with anything? Once this has become ingrained, certain beliefs and behaviours may follow in some cases, such as;

  • Pharisaism and a superior attitude that ‘we are God’s chosen ones’
  • a belief that moral behaviour is not important since salvation is set in stone anyway (though I have never encountered this belief personally, it would seem to have been something Paul had to address (Rom. 6:1) )
  • preachers who believe that no appeal to others to come and follow Jesus is needed, since ‘his elect will be drawn by the Holy Spirit anyway’
  • the church need not be concerned with society’s problems since this is God’s will and has been ordained by God to happen to a world that has fallen from him – when you add in the prevalent belief that we are in the last days, then no desire to change society for the better can be stirred. Why waste energy trying to bail more water out of a sinking ship? (This has also led to some families ‘home-schooling’ their children but with zero education since they see it as unnecessary in a world just about to be overthrown/ redeemed!!)

The Hyper-Calvinist position is surely self-defeating in preaching the gospel to God’s creation! When I was a good little smart atheist (before I decided to become a Jesus follower at 14), I argued with the Christians in my school, throwing up all the philosophical quandaries I knew they hated. A favourite was “if your God is so good and just, why does he allow so much suffering in the world?” This was especially good to use when we had just heard news of some atrocity somewhere, or heard how a little toddler had been beaten to death by their own parents! The answer was always ‘freewill’ – God gave man free will to do as he wished, in Eden, and did not interfere with man’s choice to ‘go his own way’. So all the suffering in the world is down to us, and ‘original sin’, and our foolish desire to continue ‘walking away from God’. However, once you encounter this hyper version of the Calvinist, you have to throw your hands up in horror as you realise that they are rejecting freewill and stating that every event in history is preordained… so that toddler who suffered was because ‘God ordained it’!!! YES!! If I am ‘blind’ to see this ‘scriptural truth’ I am happier to not be as blind as them!

Any objections I raised that cast doubt on the Calvinist position was routinely shot down. It was as if questioning Calvin was equivalent to doubting scripture! “Is it not possible that God’s ‘election’ of us is based on his omniscience and knowing who will choose to follow Jesus?” was refuted with a clear “no, God the Father is the one who makes all the decisions and chooses whom he will save, from before time began!”

This unwavering adherence to reading scripture in such an unquestioning way has led to some tragic situations, like I blogged on before. However, as with many dogmatic positions, it favours certain parts of scripture over others, though adherents would never wish to admit to this. Just a few verses, off the top of my head, that appear to undermine predestination:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Tim. 4:16)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Heb. 10:36)

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 10:22)

Trying to fit this into the perfect picture of God selecting us before we were even born creates a lot of tight hoops to jump through. Or you can just ignore the hoops as insignificant (which is practically impossible for fundamentalist inerrantists!)

Quantum theology

I have long tried to present theology as similar to our quantum universe. Without going into the intricacies of quantum mechanics/ physics, let’s just say that it is now known that certain things in the micro-particle world defy logic and present clear evidence for two truths/ facts to co-exist in our universe, at the same time. For me, the apparent ‘contradictions’ in scripture are also contained in a concise way in the mind of God, the Creator of this quantum universe (in a way that is totally illogical to mere mortals).

However, it would be better if we could find things that do fit into a logical understanding, yes? If God wishes to be revealed to us, and that we should know him, then a clearer knowledge of him in our minds must be within his will. I realised that my original idea (most likely not original to me in that nobody else ever asked it) held some weight; what if God, at the beginning of time, knowing all things that were to happen, saw me on that day in 1979, seeking him and asking for him, and decided, there and then, that he would jump ahead of me (like a time traveller going backwards to ‘fix’ a timeline) and provide that ‘irresistible grace’ (one of the key points of Calvinism) for me to respond to and so give me the means and the power to be able to follow him, since he would know that on my own, in my own strength, I could not do so, and would fail at any attempt to be a ‘faithful disciple’?

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:13)

God looks down from heaven on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Ps. 53:2)

As I said, this was rejected by those who had studied Calvin: “No, God chooses us, we have no part in the process!” I do know why they maintain this; they are keen to stand on the truth that it is grace from God that saves us and nothing of effort, so to admit that we make the choice might undermine Jesus’ perfect work. However, it has always struck a chord in my heart, since we know that in Eden, God clearly gave freewill to Adam and Eve; it was their choice to eat the fruit that was forbidden, and there was no high fence around the tree! My proposal was not that salvation is achieved by our effort, but by God’s empowering of an initial choice we make that we wish to turn around (repent) from the walking away and walk towards God. With no grace, that desire would come to nothing, like the alcoholic who might desire to stop drinking but find no strength to do so. The desire to become righteous will not produce righteousness, but God stepping down to meet us at that point where we turn and look back is the way he imputes righteousness upon us.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matt. 5:6)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Rom. 3:22)

When we go to the favourite passage of Calvinism, we can analyse it quite easily:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30, emphasis mine)

Note those two words I highlighted: the Greek word for ‘foreknew’ is proginosko, but I don’t even need to go into any depth on that. It is used 5 times in the New Testament, and each time simply means what it translates as – ‘knowing beforehand’. The first line of verse 29 states first that God had foreknowledge of us, and then he predestined us! The choice was ours, but the empowering and the process is all his!

Still not with me? Confusing? This is deep theology, and trying to simplify it is an uphill task – I have gone over this a fair bit to make it easy to read, believe me. Let’s try the trusted tool of explanation for these things that Jesus used; the parable.

The Parable of the Determined Son

A father was asked by his children, two sons and a daughter, what he would like for Christmas. He answered them that there was nothing specific that he’d like, except for one thing that he knew was far too expensive for them to buy him, even if they pooled all their savings, and he told them he knew that. They were to buy some smaller presents and not worry about it. The youngest child later told his brother and sister that he was going to save up enough money to buy this present by going to all the neighbours and asking them to pay him for washing their cars or tidying their garden. No amount of explanation from the older siblings that he’d never earn enough would deter him.

They realised how determined their youngest was as he started putting money into his piggy bank, so they told their father. The father did not wish to dishearten the youngest by telling him to stop his quest, nor let him be disappointed, so late one night he sneaked into the boy’s room and put the amount of money needed into the piggy bank. When Christmas approached, the youngest came to his siblings and asked them to count his money with him to see if he had enough. When they added it up, they of course could not believe that it was all there!

What does this mean?

The youngest child had been the one to decide to get this present and put his heart into achieving it, but he was never going to be able to. The father saw the love and determination his son had, and provided the means for the son to be able to give his father the present he knew he wanted and that the son wished to give. If we are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” as Jesus commanded us (Mark 12:30), then this must require effort on our part, borne from love. Such love produces action from us, or it is not love (John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1John 2:3; 3:22; 5:3). Yet this action cannot produce any ‘saving power’ (Eph. 2:8-9) or achieve what was accomplished by Jesus on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). God foresees all these actions, this determination to seek him, and intervenes to save us before we think that we must do these things to save ourselves.

To go back to Star Trek, what then is God’s Prime Directive? Freewill! The answer to the question of why he doesn’t intervene in the world more than he does, is that we know that he always left us to our own will and he will not make ‘first contact’. In Star Trek, the Prime Directive can be ignored once a civilisation develops warp drive and is about to enter space and travel at faster than light speed, and then any space-travelling civilisation can make contact (as the Vulcans did when they were the first to see Zefram Cochrane’s warp signature). So God ignores his own Prime Directive once we are the ones to seek him! For God to enter into our lives early and uninvited would break that and make a mockery of our statement that we are ‘left to our own free will’! However, the moment of our decision, seen by God from his vantage point at the beginning of time, is the moment he is able to fill our piggy bank with all the grace we need to be righteous enough to be saved.

The Calvinist can come back with a retort like the quote from Jesus’ own lips: You did not choose me, but I chose you… (John 15:16), but this must be taken in context (as always). Jesus was addressing the Twelve, the close apostles he had called to… “follow me” and in his words and prayers, he draws a distinction between his present disciples and those who are to come after (e.g. John 17:20). Even if you do take ‘you did not choose me’ to literally apply to every Christian in all eternity, you can still ask the question ‘what caused Jesus to choose this one but not that one?’ The Calvinist, in their headlong rush to destroy any vestige of belief in ‘salvation by works’, insists that it is purely the choice of God alone and our decisions have zero bearing on that. In that I see God with a hand-cranked basket of lottery balls, lifting out names as they turn and land over the rest, and God must roll up his sleeves like a magician to show ‘look, no trick!’ as he ‘proves’ to us all that there is no reason to it other than pure fortune. There has to be some mechanism by which God makes the choice, and I propose it is as I have laid out.

c-s-lewis

I’m not rejecting predestination, I’m rejecting Calvin’s narrow and shortsighted interpretation of it.

I don’t accept his version, I accept what I read. To be fair to Calvin, though, he didn’t have Star Trek.

I’m not saying that God does not ‘elect’ us to receive salvation by his own power, I’m saying that he doesn’t select us. Scripture teaches election, Calvin teaches selection, and these have a subtle distinction. After all, when we elect someone, they have to decide to stand for election in the first place!

Grace be with you.

Biblical literalists don’t exist!

Let me start with a shocking statement: the Bible actually does support slavery! Or maybe I should qualify that with this: the Bible can be used, and has been used, to support slavery!

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) worked tirelessly to abolish the slave trade, driven by his own Christian convictions. In April 1791, he gave a four-hour speech to parliament where he had served as MP for Kingston-upon-Hull since 1780, before delivering his first abolition bill. After the vote was cast, church bells rang out in victory across the country: he had been defeated 163 votes to 88! It was only three days before his death in July 1833 that he received news that the groundswell of opinion he raised had changed public opinion, church theology and parliament and he had finally succeeded. We 21st century Christians shake our heads in disbelief that the majority of believers in that day could be so pro-slavery, but there you are; they were! Wilberforce has become so revered now, that both liberals and conservatives are scrabbling to claim him for their own, yet he was an independent! He was certainly not alone in his quest for abolition, but he was part of a new way of looking at the world and he certainly was challenging the ‘accepted norm’ within Christian viewpoints; a minority viewpoint at first, most definitely. Modern theologians who try to draw differences between slavery in the Bible and the slavery that Wilberforce was against, miss this whole point (as well as fumbling over semantics on just parts of scripture, not the whole topic!); slavery was taken for granted to simply be something that was allowed and sanctioned by scripture!

Here’s a brief account of his campaign and work, and his faith.

So we’ve moved on from that and no longer see it as an issue to be debated. I have never come across anyone in my lifetime who has made any argument for slavery from the Bible. What has this got to do with us now?

Well, I blogged recently on the irony (which I found quite humorous!) that a known Creationist who argues for a literal understanding of the six days’ creation is languishing in jail for actually disobeying one of our Lord Jesus Christ’s clearest commands!

So often I have heard it said from pulpits, from the day I first entered church right to maybe just a month ago that “unlike many churches that have gone before us, we keep to the truths of scripture, and keep it all, every word!” Investigation and a small bit of analysis left me long ago realising the abject irony in these statements since I came to the conclusion that absolutely nobody does this, and indeed, nobody truly can!

I laughed (inwardly) at men who told me that tattoos were forbidden in scripture yet the vast majority of them shaved all their facial hair off every day! – Lev. 19:27. I would also hazard a guess that their shirts are of mixed cloth! – Lev. 19:19. Both these laws come right before the one about tattoos!

I argued with those who ‘kept 1 Corinthians 11’ about making women put on hats in church that Paul was talking about Middle Eastern veils, like many Muslim women wear, and not fancy Ascot-style hats or little headscarves, but never got any recognition that women should then actually go and get some ‘proper’ veils! Their cultural understanding had excluded them from seeing any further than the hats they were used to seeing for years, and somehow my words literally fell on ‘deaf ears’. The standard response was truly silence, changing the subject, or “I have to go now. Nice talking with you.”

Don’t worry, I won’t even mention what sleeping arrangements are prescribed for married couples once every month!

You see, Christians don’t like being told that their reading or interpretation of scripture is shaped by the culture they occupy; whether that is allowing the greater culture of ‘the world’ to reshape their thinking, or tacitly accepting that the micro culture of their denominational bent dictates just what they can and cannot question, the simple truth is that we all do it!

These examples may be dismissed by anyone as of minor importance, which is very true, but the original issue I raised here about slavery, an extremely important issue, falls into the same category of ‘your interpretation, not mine!’ Secondly, I am talking of experiences of those who make such boastful claims that they do keep every word of scripture, yet there they are ignoring little bits.

Okay then, so you decide that you are really gonna do it! You’ll make sure you stick to it all. Go ahead – good luck! Unfortunately there are actually some laws that seem to just contradict each other; one example being that monthly womanly thing (that I said I wouldn’t mention, yes!) – does a man who is ‘with’ his wife at that time just accept that he’s ‘unclean’ for seven days (Lev. 15:24), or has he done a heinous thing and deserve to be cut off from his people (Lev. 20:18)? That’s not important? Well, slavery is, yeah? So can fellow Israelites be enslaved (Ex. 21:2-11) or not (Lev. 25:39-43)?

Such difficulties are what led to the rabbinical tradition, where scholars debated these seeming contradictions and tried to find practical ways through it. This is why various people came to Jesus and asked him probing questions: did he side with this school, or that dogma, or the teachings of that old rabbi? The fact that often Jesus would not answer them as they wished to hear, and left them maybe even more confused, leads me to a place where my own confusion is just something I embrace as a fascinating facet of my faith. I’m actually allowed to be unsure about some things. If they remain unresolved until that day, so be it!

You see, if you do decide to go the whole hog and start obeying every jot and tittle, you’ll end up like the Amish. Or then again, you won’t, actually, since they haven’t moored themselves in the culture of the first century, they’ve stuck themselves clearly in the way of life of 18th century colonial North America! You’d need to give up your car and iPhone just for starters! The Amish are so far removed from our century that they will burn a barn to the ground if it has woodworm, in accordance with Mosaic law, rather than get a handy treatment that any of us would buy from the shop.

And right away, their law keeping has set them on a wrong path. How many of you realised this all along, I wonder? If we choose to obey the whole law as laid down in the Torah, then we incur the wrath, yes, the abject anger, of Paul the Apostle. Galatians alone would make that clear to you, but here’s just one easy example: the fourth commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath holy, yet Paul lays out his view to the Romans:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.

And to the Colossians:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

So by choosing to return to law keeping, you actually contradict what is laid down in the Pauline epistles! Confused? I actually believe you should be! For this drives you to ‘work out’ your own faith ‘with fear and trembling‘. Just don’t keep pursuing the way of the literalist, for it’s not doable, not possible, nor do I believe it is healthy at all to allow any pulpit preacher (even the very good ones!!) to dictate your life for you. Find your own path with Christ, who should be your Lord, Saviour, Foundation, Truth, Way. And your very life.

Grace be with you.

Why I hate testimonies!

This will conclude with what I have come to believe is one of the greatest faults within evangelical churches, which serves to actually undermine discipleship with Christ! In a recent discussion around two songs, both entitled ‘Take me to church’ I stated that just as I, as an imperfect individual, need to accept fair criticism, so also an imperfect church needs to do the same.

I am fairly certain I have mentioned this before in bits and pieces across all my previous blogs, but I’m just wanting to lay down something a bit more concrete. Yes, I do hate testimonies!

34 years listening to them and seldom not just wanting to fall asleep! Also getting to the point of missing our New Year’s ‘watchnight’ services because they’d be a total of four hours (with a welcome tea break, mind you) mainly full of… testimonies!

Not that I doubt the individual testimonies of my brothers and sisters! Nor that their own stories are unique and do testify to the saving grace of God. I just got tired of the same old, same old… [for those who maybe do not practice this cultural phenomenon, you are asked to speak before the church and relate what God has done in your life, how he saved you from the consequences of your sins, changed your life, provided for you, answered prayers].

Yes, they certainly can be valuable. I was even asked myself to testify for a Father’s Day service, and asked specifically to tell of how I was miraculously healed from a brain haemorrhage and stroke, and it is a story of how I faced death, spoke with God, received assurance that I’d not die in intensive care, and yes, I would see my grandchildren (first granddaughter born only two years later!).

So why and how do I find myself just hating them and dreading the next round of them? As with many religious things we participate in, they’re more cultural than scriptural  – just for example, where do our two services on Sunday come from? Testimonies that I hear tend to take on a pattern, human nature being what it is, and follow an unspoken, unwritten code and definition that people tend to fall into in order to fulfil the ‘criteria’ that make it what it is. I often hear preambles like “I’m honoured to be able to stand here and testify for my Lord Jesus” or clichés like “he died in my room instead” (which I somehow always hear as ‘room and staid’ since it might almost make as much sense to an unchurched person as the ‘proper’ one that rolls off our tongues!), or worse: “he’s now my own and personal saviour” since both ‘own’ and ‘personal’ mean the same thing, and create a redundancy, and I believe it to be a corruption of ‘my Lord and personal saviour’ and leaving out ‘Lord’ (whether intentionally or not) leads to a belief I shall come to later.

No, I end up purely anticipating a formula that sounds roughly like this:

“I’m honoured… [see above]. I was a terrible sinner. I was

a) raised in a Christian home,

or b) not raised in a Christian home but was made to go to Sunday school,

but I turned my back on all that when I grew up.

I lived a life of [insert various vices here. Common ones like smoking, drinking and going to pubs are fair enough, but feel free to add in ‘greater’ sins if applicable e.g. cheating on (or better, beating) your spouse].

I carried on in this miserable life until one day, I gave in to this guy at work/ friend from schooldays/ uncle or aunt who had been asking me incessantly about going to church with them, and I attended the gospel service. I was so moved by the message and felt God calling me. I raised my hand, said the sinner’s prayer, and now I no longer [smoke, drink, go to pubs… as applicable from above] and I’ve never looked back, even though that was x years ago. [END].”

[N.B. Add in a few clichés as noted above when describing your moment of salvation]

Many seem to almost revel in just how bad a person the testifier was before their encounter with Jesus, to the point that it can sound like a glorification of sin to me! I thought this was peculiar maybe to just my Northern Ireland culture but a bestselling book years ago was ‘Hell’s Angel’ by Brian Greenaway, an English believer who went around testifying to the violent life he lived in a chapter of bikers before becoming a Christian. He related in an interview how an old lady came to him after a service and said “oh I wish I had a testimony like yours!” Greenaway said that he felt like punching her in the face (yes, God’s grace takes time to work on some of us!). He could not believe that she’d been listening to how awful things were for him and still wish that she had experienced a similar life. There it was, a clear desire to have something terrible from which to have been ‘saved’ in order to lend kudos to one’s testimony! Heaven forbid we should have a boring one!

Yet no testimony should be boring! If we only were to recount to ourselves all the great things in which we have seen God’s work and hand in our lives, and what we have learnt along the way, it should never be mundane to listen to; that is, if we have a walk to recount…

1. I AM a sinner!

First point I wish to make about these ‘off the shelf’ testimonies is that they seem to talk about being a sinner until that day we changed and never went back to the ‘life of sin’ yet nowhere do I read of us achieving perfection this side of heaven! The righteousness we have is imputed to us through Christ’s perfection, once we accept him. We are just deemed righteous by God through Jesus. If you’re not sure what this means, look up those two words in a dictionary. It should be clear. We are all sinners and continue to be so. I have thought of my life as being suddenly changed in a flash, yes, that moment I accepted Christ as Lord and saviour, but I saw no instant change in myself. That has taken time and is still ongoing, every day, every year. Like that day 27 years ago that I made vows to my wife in love, and I became a married man, my life changed, but it has been a journey of ups and downs, good and bad, ‘for better, for worse’ with Karen that is still ongoing, and my marriage was not set down in concrete form on that wedding day. I’ve made mistakes in how I’ve treated my wife, as has she with me, as has any married person. The same applies to the Christian life, and by focussing purely on that one day and stopping your testimony there, you imply that you have been a good saint ever since. This was not my experience; I was a well-behaved boy of 14. I’d done no more than a few detentions for not doing homework, looking curiously at certain magazines we found on a disused railway, and trying to light cigarettes with my best friend without puffing on them, and thinking it was just our luck to purchase a pack that were all duds! I can safely say I have been more of a sinner since my conversion than before. Hence why I can also not sing certain songs that talk of “sinking deep in sin, sinking to rise no more” or that “my life was full of sin and confusion” – that certainly is the experience of some, but not all of us, and so these ‘expected’ testimonies become the preserve of those who can declare such a life, leaving others feeling somehow short-changed. No, I am thankful that I have no real bad past to haunt my dreams and disturb my sleep. I got enough of that conviction when I experienced Holy Spirit revival (blogged here) – again; after my conversion!

2. We cannot keep ourselves

I saw a graph for usage of gym membership over the months of a year, put up on Facebook for a laugh. Of course, January has the highest peak, decreasing over the year to maybe a short peak before the summer months (must get back into that swimsuit!). We all know why. How many New Year’s resolutions last into February, really? I decided some time ago to stop making resolutions just once in the year because our nature will always disappoint us, and not just at the expected time (we do expect to break those resolutions sometime, don’t we?). I make resolutions when needed and if I don’t keep them, I just try again. Finding that it has been a mistake to put trust in our own nature to keep to it just makes the devil on our shoulder laugh while the angel on the other shoulder commits hara-kiri in dishonour! So it is with many new converts. Too many, I fear. When doing door-to-door work in my native East Belfast, which has a church on every street corner, I lost count of the people I encountered who said “oh, I tried all that church stuff and became a Christian x years ago, but I couldn’t maintain it.” This probably outnumbered those who said their reason for turning their back on churches was ‘other Christians’ which were numerous too! It is a wonderfully simple concept that I grasped early on; that it was nothing to do with my efforts but all rested on the finished work of Calvary and it was Jesus that kept me forever, forgiving me of all my sin repented of (in fact, I memorised 1John 1:9 before my salvation!), and not up to me to keep myself; I cannot do it, but he can, praise his name. This misconception has led to many making that ‘resolution’ to follow Jesus, only to fall at some natural hurdle, and say to themselves “well, I tried it, but I couldn’t do it. It’s not for me!” In other words, it’s for ‘religious’ people, for those of us who have the resolve to live like monks in a perpetual state of piety and self-denial. This is where I take a second issue with these ‘standard’ testimonies, since they only add to this confusion and misunderstanding, by inadvertently implying that once the sinner’s prayer is said, everything is rosy and we ‘live happily ever after’ – saying “I’ve never looked back” says that to me, that the testifier has had no problems following Jesus, and so a new convert who encounters issues in their walk is likely to feel themselves inferior and unworthy of Jesus; yet we are all unworthy (Romans 5:8). Were a testifier to say that they have encountered problems and doubts in their life since following Christ, and discuss it openly, my ears would most certainly prick up! But, no, testimonies are meant to be just all positive and gushing!

3. The story isn’t over!

A major problem that is present in most Protestant churches derives from where they came from. The first protestants opposed some of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church, and the general feeling, borne from Luther’s assertion that “the just shall live by faith alone” (Galatians 3:10-12) was that Rome had imposed an ongoing dependence upon the priesthood and their administration of sacraments deemed vital to a believer’s life. This was rejected since we are believed now to all be saints, as Paul addresses all believers in his letters, and each of us capable of coming to Christ on our own, serving him in our individual lives without meeting the requirements of any church or denomination (or church leader). I can safely say that you’d be hard pressed to find a protestant church that would deny this: whatever rituals or ordinances they may require of a member would be qualified as not vital to one’s salvation or relationship with Christ. However, from this stance comes a mindset that tends to reject any attempt to state how we need to serve Christ by good works (which our salvation is not dependent upon):

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8,9)

even though in the following verse God fully expects them from us:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)

Here is the problem I alluded to at the outset:

While salvation is dependent solely on Christ’s work on the cross, this does not mean that we have absolutely nothing to do for him! We can find the extreme doctrine that we need not worry about any acts of service after that initial decision, not even praying or reading our Bible (yes!). Thankfully, most evangelical churches will reject this nonsense, and preach that we must repent from sin and live righteously, but the call to ‘live right’ simply falls into trap #2 mentioned above. It implies, yet again, that one must make an effort to avoid certain things or behaviours, or the company of ‘sinners’ (even though Jesus sought to sit, eat and drink with them!).

No, new converts must be taught that our decision to follow Jesus is exactly that: we start following him! It is that simple, even though it brings many problems and dilemmas into our lives. Note that ‘the sinner’s prayer’ is found nowhere in scripture! Just saying it does not make you a follower of Jesus; your salvation may hinge upon the decision, but your earthly life does not just come to an end as you take up your selected pew and sit out the rest, waiting for death or his return! To me, many believers look like they’ve done just this, even with their personal pew cushions to comfort their long-suffering butt! Your salvation decision is a glorious moment, never to be repeated, but it is only the start of a long and wondrous journey, with just so much to learn. And like that one leper out of the ten, should we not go back to our saviour, fall at his feet and offer thanks, and seek to know just how we can thank and serve him? We need to make him our ‘Lord and personal saviour’! Did Paul not admonish us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”? (Phil. 2:12)

Yes, I approach my life with such fear and trembling, since many times I have found myself challenged and made to feel uncomfortable. Remember when your parents scolded you for bad behaviour or a wrong attitude? A good child will feel remorse, and want to do better, and please their parents. So are we with God: let us take up our cross as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, listening intently to his words and trying to emulate him. You have problems with sin in your life? Welcome to the club! If you want a good lament on that read about Paul’s ongoing struggle in Romans 7. In that brain wrestle, he goes through the tensions that exist in churches and individual believers… surely we cannot just live an entire life of reliance upon Christ based on one event outside of our control? We must have something to live by, and this is what the law was given for, so… we must turn back to it for instruction on ‘right living’… but, that in itself held us captive to nothing but the knowledge of sin, and I find myself at war within my own spirit over this… how do I get out of it? He reaches his answer in the following chapter: we who have his Spirit within us, who experienced the change of heart at that moment and didn’t just mouth some words in a ritual, have this ‘law of Christ’ working in us, and indeed, his own work imputed to us, not just his achievement for our salvation, means that our striving is not required (not by works) but our acceptance of his perfection grants us victory:

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)

We can reject the idea that we need to religiously strive after our salvation and gain it on merit. Surely we can also refute the notion that it’s all about just one raising of a hand? Here’s my favourite word again: balance. The truth of our walk, The Way, which is actually him (John 14:6), is that beautiful middle choice of simple surrender to his will. My journey started not with a raising of a hand or a formulaic prayer, but it was a prayer, to a God I was not certain was there. His reply has never left my ears. As I complete this, I’m listening to ‘What a Friend I’ve Found’ by Delirious: “Jesus… friend forever.”

Grace be with you.

[As an aside, when I think about all the testimonies I’ve heard, another implication is that the only way to ‘win’ someone to Christ is to invite them to a gospel service. I cannot recall even one that said they found Jesus outside of this formula, yet there I was, praying for God to accept me, long before I set foot across a church door! Was I, like Paul, just one ‘abnormally born’ (1 Cor. 15:8)? Can we not witness in all areas of our life? The three people I have led to Jesus in my own life were not in such a gospel service.]

 

Pay your taxes!

Isn’t it wonderful when you come across something in scripture that just answers a question with no enigmatic musing to be done, nor produces a battling of souls over various interpretations? Unfortunately, these bits are rare, such is the vast complexity of the mind of our God, and his instruction manual only naturally includes our dilemmas and the ethical mazes we find ourselves in as adults in Christ. In my humble opinion, once you’re past the basic tenets of faith in Christ, black-and-white answers are usually only for babes in the faith (spiritual milk), but a few do exist! Here’s one for you:

In a Facebook debate, I heard of a creationist who was currently in jail, and it sparked my ever-present curiosity. A quick wiki discovered he’s in jail in the USA for tax evasion. He has made six appeals against the ‘government conspiracy against him’ to no avail. I was left dumbstruck: here was a Biblical Literalist, who has made it his life’s work to prove the exact six days’ creation account in Genesis is true, who has actually chosen to ignore a literal command of Jesus!

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matt.22:15-22)

There you are, plain as the nose on your face!

Grace be with you.

Things I detest….

Here are 6 things I detest, 7 that I despise [see what I did there?]…

in no particular order…

Ties

Country Music

Inconsiderate drivers

Cold, wet summers

Cruelty to children

Cruelty to animals

People who say that the Bible has been altered and edited by “the church” (as if there ever was only one single ‘church’ on Earth, other than the physically intangible true church known only to God), in order to make it conform to what “the church” wants to preach. Such people know nothing of the Bible or its history, and just repeat what some idiot said, like bleating lambs. There is so much tradition and so many practices within churches that can be wiped away with just one brush of a proper reading of scripture, so my Bible does not serve self-seeking preachers or pedlars of falsehood (or practically any denomination you care to name – not one of them has the monopoly of truth). In fact, self-serving charlatans truly fear those of us who know it well, so keep reading it, brothers and sisters, and challenge them!

These same naysayers of scripture often then go on to say “sure it contradicts itself!” SO, what is it, then? IF it has been doctored and edited, how come there are ‘contradictions’ in it? We certainly didn’t do a very good job, then, did we? These difficult passages that seem to cancel each other out are just the complexities within the mind of God that we see as contradictions, when in fact they are truths that balance to create the universe around us. Nonsense, you say? Ask any quantum physicist about the duality of light, and be prepared for a wacky conversation!

When a Muslim says to me that his Koran goes right back to the seventh century and is attestable, I do not deny that or try to undermine it; I am certain it actually recorded the very words of Muhammad. I can make better arguments against Islam than “oh your Koran is all made up by scholars over the centuries!” Please afford my scripture the same respect since it is all attested back to the first century. That which could not be attested was rejected!

Grace be with you.

P.S. we actually had a pastor in our church recently who converted from Islam. We couldn’t record his face or name since he is in danger in his native Pakistan. He said that he memorised the entire Koran, and nowhere did it say that infidels must be killed, but it has been the interpretation of a verse or verses about the wrath of Allah that has led most of the main schools of thought within Islam to state that such a death penalty should exist. Same problem there, then?

The plank in my eye

‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’

– Matthew 7:3-5

We often like to quote these words of Jesus, as long as it applies to someone else, eh? A very strange thing has happened to me this week. Yesterday, I unfollowed a fellow blogger, telling him he was biased and hateful. I had come across his blog as it was highlighting atrocities committed by ISIS that world media seems to be oblivious to. I had a good debate with him, but in the end I realised he was not going to answer points I made about my faith that I thought he got wrong, nor was he going to post a link I had sent him (that he had asked for from someone else!) because it challenged his own bias. I got a bit of abuse for telling him plainly that I was the fool for believing he was committed to truth and not just one side of a story. He had allowed his righteous hatred of the acts of extremist jihadists to become a foil for condemning Islam and everyone who followed it. I may see it as a false religion, but that doesn’t make almost 2 billion people on Earth all evil!

While I was dealing with this hater, I was facing my own jury, unaware of the links and the similarities. My hatred of political doctrines had seared my conscience to become a hater of persons, one person in particular, whose face I cannot see without feeling anger. I had posted a meme of my own on social media, thinking I was just expressing my opinion, which I was entitled to do. Entitlement comes from many sources, but maybe the worst is when it arises from a sense of superiority or pride. That is something very prevalent among Christians, since they know that they do have the truth. I cannot comment for other religions, I only know what I know. Paul addressed the Ephesian church with an admonition:

‘In your anger do not sin’: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

– Ephesians 4:26

Now the Ephesian church is the one in Revelation that was praised for its correct doctrine; they “hated the practices of the Nicolaitans” but our Lord had one thing against them – they had “left their first love.” I can think of many evangelical churches in this country that fit that description. Why was Paul addressing this to them? Did he know how they had become? So full of their own self-righteousness that they had become little more than a people who knew who to hate, and how and why?

It took many… many fellow believers to rebuke me before I saw clearly (my wife was the first, but I tend not to listen to her enough – ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – true!). My post was offensive and unchristian, and unthinking (which is the very thing I pride myself on). And there it was… my pride, in my ‘superior’ intellect. Our Lord does not address others with his words, he addresses US!

I look back on the past few days and see a self-righteous man, unaware of the huge plank in his own eye, not even thinking for one second that self-righteousness was a trait he had. Yet in this instance, this area, he was! Now that the plank has been removed, I can see it clearly, and should it present itself to enter my eye again, I should be better equipped to recognise it.

The oft-quoted mantra “hate the sin, not the sinner” is something we need to remind ourselves regularly, while not allowing it to become no more than a twee sentiment, or a mask for genuine hatred.

Forgive me, everyone. My imperfection was laid bare and I was the last to see. This does not feel good right now, but it will in the end. I am grateful for those who can and do address things they see as wrong, and all your comments got through in the end. I always welcome dialogue. Keep addressing sin as you see it, but please beware of your own anger, as Paul admonishes us. Don’t go where I have been; I am a more wary believer now (and more aware!).

Grace be with you.