Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Learned I'm Not a Christian

I learned yesterday that I’m not a Christian. I know someone who reads this is probably thinking, “I can tell you how to take care of that.” You may be thinking instead, “I wish I knew how to tell him to take care of that.” In that case, I suggest you read my novel How to Become a Bible Character. It will tell you how you can win me to the Lord.

Okay, enough silliness aside. Yesterday, I read Chapter 7: Our Standards of Thomas Nelson’s company manual. I pretty much agree with what it says. It mentions the type of people they want writing for them.

  1. Communicators who profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

  2. Communicators who embrace the central truths of historic Christianity.

  3. Communicators who seek to live according to the standards of biblical morality.

To each of these, I could raise my hand and say, “Yes Sir, that’s me!” Then I took a closer look at number two. “Such ancient documents as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are simply convenient summaries of these truths and nearly all Christians can agree on them. Beyond these basic truths, we want to allow latitude—and even disagreement!—on non-essential doctrines.” Now, someone reading this is probably thinking, “What’s wrong with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds? We say them in church all the time.” If that is you, you are going to disagree with me, so get your typing fingers ready and leave an angry comment below, but please read the rest of this first. Now it may be that you are like most of my church friends and thinking, “I don’t really have a clue what those things are, but I didn’t see anything to disagree with.” If that is you, you may think I’m splitting hairs. Now if you happen to be named Michael Hyatt, I’m about to trigger that heated argument that I didn’t want to start on you blog.

Before I go too far, let me point out that the Thomas Nelson statement doesn’t actually say that I’m not a Christian. It actually says that I’m disagreeing with most Christians if disagree with those two creeds. But that doesn’t make as good of a blog title.

Until someone smarter than me shows me where I am wrong, I will say that I agree with the first three paragraphs of the Nicene Creed and I believe I can find Bible verses to back it up. As a Baptist, that is very important to me. If you can’t back it up with the Word of God then you might as well forget about trying to convince me to believe it. The problem comes with the last paragraph. “And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

Let’s look at some key phrases here. one holy catholic [church] Is the church holy or set apart? Absolutely. “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” (I Corinthians 1:2) The church at Corinth was called saints (holy), so we can apply that to all churches.

Is the church catholic? Here is where I can already hear some of you saying, that doesn’t mean Catholic, it just means universal. The church is to go throughout the world, someone might say, so it is universal. Okay, here is the problem with that. The Greek word that is used in the Bible is actually the word that was used for assembly. It referred to the local gathering of Christians in various places. Some were in houses, some were in cities, etc. There is no dispute that the vast majority of the uses of the word refer to a local group of Christians. There are a few references that could be referring to the church as all church members as a whole, but these instances could also be referring a local church or local churches in an institutional sense. The best rule of thumb with the Bible is that when in doubt about the meaning of a word, assume it means the same as it does everywhere else it is used. That pretty much precludes the assembly being universal and the frequent use of the plural makes it clear that there isn’t just one church. Yeah, I know some of you are going to disagree, but let’s move on.

Apostolic church Just what does that mean? The way I understand it, it goes back to the belief of apostolic succession. I believe there has always been at least one church that has taught the truth since the time of Christ. I base that on Matthew 16:18, but I don’t subscribe to the idea of the mantle of leadership being passed from one apostle to the next. Protestants should have a harder time with that than Baptists since no one can pinpoint when the first church holding Baptist beliefs came into existence if it wasn’t during Jesus’ ministry, but Protestants all have a date when their churches began. It is a little hard to claim apostolic succession if the “apostles” were all in the church you split from.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. Here’s a big one. How do we take that? If we take it like the Bishops at Nicaea meant it, we are pretty much saying that we believe in baptismal regeneration. The Bible does not support that concept. Anyone who believes salvation is “by grace through faith alone” should have a problem with that concept. Anyone can go get dunked and it won’t do a thing. A similar phrase is used five times in the Bible. In Matthew 26:28, it is Jesus’ blood that was shed for the remission of sins. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins in Mark 1:4. Notice that it is the “baptism of repentance” and not “baptism” that he preached. We see the same in Luke 3:3. When answering the question, “what shall we do” in Acts 2:38, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Notice here again that repentance is required and recall that when the jailor asked, “what must I do to be saved?” the answer was “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Baptism is not required. Then in Romans 3:25 we see that it is through faith in Jesus “for the remission of sin.”

Now I could say that in a nutshell that is why you will never see my name on a Thomas Nelson book, but I don’t think that is the case. That isn’t to say that you will see my name on one of their books, but they have many authors to choose from and while I think I fit within what they really intended by their guidelines, I may never write something they want to publish.