It is my belief that one’s understanding of God and the things of God is constantly changing, shifting, adjusting, and being refined. Due to the fact that God is infinite and we are finite, we need to accept that we will never totally understand all there is to know about God. He chose to reveal Himself (in His creation, His Word, and His son) so we are obligated to study and ponder Him. It is a task which we need to spend the entirety of our lives (and the afterlife) studying. We need to be almost obsessed with comprehending God’s character and person. If He was a god who existed but chose not to reveal to us who He is, then we would not need to study His Word to gain more knowledge of him. But He did choose of His own free will to reveal to His creation His character and workings. So we must spend time learning and worshiping the creator of the universe. But because of His infinitude we will never fully understand Him. Our specific understanding of God’s character (in my opinion) should always be changing or in a state of flux.
In my upbringing it seems I was taught to not change my theology
I was raised in a conservative Christian home. We were somewhat legalistic (you don’t drink, you don’t smoke, you don’t chew, . . . you don’t go with girls that do) but I did not think at the time that we were hyperlegalistic. But thinking back I recall pondering the mysteries of God and indirectly being told to not change my understanding of that God. I guess the idea was that we read the Bible and have a concept of God and if we then ‘change our understanding of God’ this means that we are changing who God is. For example if the discussion was about God being truth, and then I grow in my understanding of what exactly that means, then some might think that you do not believe God is truth. Which is totally inaccurate, I just understand better the concept of truth and how it applies to God. I assume when you say ‘my theology has changed’ that means I was wrong before and am believing something totally opposite of my initial belief. This cannot be further from the truth. What I am saying is GOD DOES NOT EVER CHANGE, BUT MY UNDERSTANDING OF HIM DOES!
Doing theology is like driving a car
As I pondered this idea of my theology always being in a state of flux, I tried to come up with an analogy to illustrate what I was saying. Here is the analogy I came up with (see if you like it and if it can help you think a little better about this issue).
Imagine God is represented by a totally straight road. And my understanding of God (theology) is represented by a car. As I drive my car (do theology) I am constantly adjusting the wheel to keep the car on the road (stay in line with what the Bible says about God). The road never changes but the steering wheel of my car is constantly being altered to stay on the straight road. If I were to lock my steering wheel (not adjust my understanding of God) it would not take long for me to drive off the road. I must be persistent in evaluating my situation in order to keep moving along the correct path. If anyone who has driven and fallen asleep they know it is a very short time before they are off course. We must be vigilant to keep our theology in line with the Bible.
I have had people throughout my life seem to say they know who God is and therefore they should never change how they think of Him and I just think this is a poor way of doing things. We need to be using every day to better understand our creator and savior.
Has it all been said about Luther and the Reformation?
I put off writing a blog post from this last Saturday (supposedly my normal posting day) until today due the fact that October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. I decided I would wait until ‘Reformation Day’ to give my thoughts on Luther and the beginnings of The Protestant Reformation. So what is there left to say?? Has not everyone everywhere (those who care about this topic at all) said whatever needs to be said??
I guess to some extent that is true. A plethora of books, articles, sermons, videos, and commentaries have been produced to talk about all aspects of Luther, his life, and his significance. So what is it I could say that would be ‘different’?
I want to encourage you (and me) to periodically refocus our lives
Of all the great things that one can discuss about the Reformation, the one that is important to me is the idea of self-evaluation. Consistently and periodically all of us should take a step back from our busy lives and see if what we are doing is matching with what we are believing. We often get so busy with our hectic lives that we sometimes stray off the path, but because we are still on a nature hike we think we are doing OK. I think of all the contributions to Christendom that can be credited to Martin Luther the single thing I applaud him for is taking a stand (no matter what the cost) to show people the church needed to refocus its priorities. Luther was so singularly dedicated to biblical truth that he was willing to be not only an outcast but an enemy of the majority of Europe, if he knew he was OK with God. In essence he told himself he would rather be accepted by God and rejected by everyone else than vice versa. The church needed to examine what it did and why it did those things to see if they had wandered off the path. Martin Luther was one (really among many) to stand before multitudes and declare that he was right and the church was wrong. He encouraged them to refocus their faith in order to be good and faithful servants.
Are we in need of a person (or cultural) reformation??
I believe all followers of Jesus Christ need a ‘periodic personal reformation.’ We have difficulties sometimes ‘going through the motions’ and living our faith the way we have always done them, when what we need it to have a serious talk with ourselves to see if we are living biblically. We also need to have the courage to accept our inconsistencies and change what needs to be changed no matter the personal discomfort. As Luther did we need to take an honest look at ourselves and say to whomever will listen, ‘things need to change and I am willing to change them, no matter what’ (OK, I know that’s not a direct quote from him but I was attempting to pretend I know what he thought).
So What’s the point?
Here’s the point – Martin Luther compared his final authority on theology (the Bible) to his next highest authority (the Church) and decided the two did not match up. Either the Church needed to change or the Bible needed to change. The answer was a no-brainer – he decided the Church needed to change, but they refused so he changed himself, thus sticking with his ultimate authority: God and His Word. I wonder if we need to change our understanding of God, Jesus, outreach, giving, and living by faith to better match what the Bible says??? Hmmmmmm, could be!
Let me know what you think.
Comment and tell me a story of how you evaluated your faith journey and changed it to be more pleasing to God.
Everyone has spiritual gifts: when, where, and how do you use them?
As I taught high school Bible class several years ago, we had a discussion about spiritual gifts. The chapters we examined were in the New Testament in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. Among the many gifts listed, these are but some: giving, administration, prophecy, and teaching. The students in my class had several good questions and comments. I informed them it was my understanding that all followers of Jesus are given at least one spiritual gift. These gifts are to be used to further the kingdom and bring glory to God. According to Ephesians God gave people gifts to “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
I informed the students it was my understanding that every follower of Jesus was given at least one gift of the spirit. And according to Ephesians these gifts were given to build up the body of Christ. So then we got into a discussion of where, when, and how one is to use their spiritual gifts. For example I posed the question, “if a person’s gift is teaching and they are not teaching a Sunday School class but instead are teaching in a school setting, are they fulfilling this command of God? Is it OK for one to use their gift in a setting other than the local gathering? Or must they be using the gift inside and outside the church as long as their priority is the place where they worship regularly?
How am I supposed to use my gift?
After years of teaching periodically (at my local church, at a Christian school, at other local churches) I have had to wrestle with this one big question (given the instructions discussed above), that I had seriously been contemplating for years: IF MY SPIRITUAL GIFT IS TEACHING AND I AM NOT USING THAT GIFT IN MY LOCAL CONGREGATION, AM I LIVING IN DISOBEDIENCE?? You see I believe my gift is teaching and I have had the desire since childhood that I want to spend my life teaching others the truths of God. In college I narrowed my field to teaching the Bible (instead of some of my other interests like computers, or math, or history). In seminary I focused on studying Church History and my passion for that topic grew considerably. However after graduating from seminary and not going into teaching as a profession, my teaching opportunities were very infrequent. I taught Sunday School classes when I was asked but rarely was teaching on a regular basis. Was I not fulfilling the command to use my gifts? Is it OK to teach in a school setting and yet not do so also in one’s own church??
I honestly am looking for answers
I know all Christians have spiritual gifts and they are to be used for God’s glory and the edification of the local body, but what happens when that local body had no opening for you? If my gift is teaching adults yet all the church has is openings for 2nd graders, should I teach those students, even though I would be more comfortable and my higher education in theology could be better used in adult classes?? I just do not know what the answer is. I have asked these questions and others like them for years and am not satisfied with the answers.
I am back. I know it’s been a long time (about 4 months) since my last post. I honestly have no excuse. I had a very busy summer: travelling to see relatives out of town (almost every weekend) and working a lot, plus riding with my son while gets his driving hours in order to get ready for his drivers license. But I realize these are not good reasons, they are excuses. They are not truly good reasons to delay posting for months.
Honestly, one of the main reasons I am inconsistent with my blogging is I am not convinced people are reading it and therefore their lives are not being benefited. I do this to aid people in their striving for significance and to improve their understanding of Church History. I simply have doubts as to my importance to these people. We are told by blogging gurus to be consistent in our blog posts. We are encouraged to set a schedule (once per week, once per month, every day, etc.) and this consistency is something the readers can count on. With the theme I have chosen (the history of Christianity) it is not like I will run out of ideas for posts anytime soon. I mean after all, it does involve over 2000 years of people, movements, places, and subjects to discuss. There is enough stuff to write about to take up thousands of posts. Really the bottom line is I am not a very disciplined person and when it is easy to not do something (exercise, read, pray, etc.) I often end up not doing it.
I am trying again
But part of life entails knowing when you do not succeed in your goals and attempting to rectify the situation. So that’s what I am doing now – getting back into blogging. Here’s what I have decided, though. I am going to try to blog every other week on Saturday. I will see if I can be consistent with this schedule.
Please send me some comments and let me know if these posts are helping you.
Please tell your friends to read this blog IF you believe they can benefit from some of the things talked about here. My goals is to serve my readers and answer questions they may have about theology or the history of Christianity.
If you were wondering why I have been doing so many postings on the history of the Baptist denomination the answer is a simple one. I have a friend who attends a local baptist church and he is the historian for that particular church. He is putting together a history of that church for an anniversary celebration. Since he knows I am interested in church history he wondered if I would put together these brief posting to help others understand their church’s beginnings. I accepted the challenge.
From Rhode Island to Grand Rapids, MI
This should be my final post about the Baptists for a while. Previous posts have dealt with the very beginnings of Baptists and we last left them coming to the new world. Eventually they settled all over the colonies of America but the person most recall from their studies is Roger Williams, in Rhode Island.
Roger Williams and John Clark are attributed as starting the first Baptist church in the Americas, that church was in Rhode Island. The Baptists spread quickly to all over the new world, and that’s where I would like now to concentrate on Michigan in general and specifically Grand Rapids, and even more specifically Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids. Many left the colonies and moved their families and lives west into the vast unknown of what we call the mid-west.
The first First Baptist Church and beyond
Records indicate that a man named Orison Allen moved with his wife into what is now Pontiac, Michigan around 1818.
In 1822 the Reverend Elon Galusha started the first baptist church in Michigan on the homestead of the Allens. Galusha was not a resident of Michigan but an itinerant preacher.
The 1st resident Baptist preacher was Lemuel Taylor, who lived in Stony Creek, in Oakland County.
The New York Convention sent Elkanah Comstock, a missionary, to take charge of the Pontiac church in 1824. Under the direction of Comstock a baptist church was started in Troy in 1825 and one in Farmington in 1826.
The Michigan Baptist Association was formed in 1826.
Baptist preachers and missionaries moved all over the state. There were churches established from Kalamazoo to Sault St. Marie.
In 1846 the 1st of Michigan’s theological seminaries was founded in the town of Kalamazoo.
The 1st missionary work done on the Grand River (Grand Rapids) was done by the Reverend L. Slater in 1826-27. He was sent by the Missionary Union to labor among the Ottawa Indians.
In 1842 the Reverend T. Z. R. Jones was sent to western Michigan by the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
In 1860-61 the first Baptist church in Grand Rapids was founded.
In 1861 the second Baptist church was started. It was began by a group of people who left the 1st church to form their own church.
Over a few years the attendance of the 2 churches dwindled so they merged to form the Baptist Church of the City of Grand Rapids. From April 1869 until January 1870 they did not have a pastor to lead them. On January 1, 1870 the Reverend S. Graves D.D. from Norwich, Connecticut became their pastor.
In 1869 Fountain Street Baptist Church was founded.
In January 1885 R. K. B. Tupper became the next pastor of the Baptist Church of the City of Grand Rapids.
In 1886 a daughter church was started on Wealthy Avenue.
In 1889 another daughter church was started, now called Calvary Church.
The Berean Mission was re-organized and The Chapel at north Coit Avenue was started.
These churches were looking at the spiritual needs of the city and tallied the attendance of church goers. The total number of Sunday School attenders in the city was recorded as 250 in 1869. This number had risen by 1894 to 1,814.
Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI
On June 5, 1892 a number of people, 50 in all, started Berean Baptist Church. They called Reverend D. M. Cartwright as their first pastor.
That’s all folks
There’s obviously more to the story of the founding of Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. There is also much more to tell of what an impact it has had on the city and the world since 1892. But that story is for another day. I will leave that for the historian of the local church to pontificate on.
I have discussed in previous blog posts 3 of the 4 commonly understood theories of the origin of the Baptist Church. Now we come to the 4th and final possibility. Many believe Baptists came directly from the English Reformation movement. To be sure the actual beginnings are unclear for there is no record of a person or group of people deciding to start their own denomination called “Baptist”. Like most of the origins of denominations the specific groups were labeled by outsiders with the name for which they would later to be known.
A product of the Protestant Reformation in England
This origin theory traces Baptist thinking and practice back to just after the Protestant Reformation movement. As reformation thinking and ideas spread throughout Europe, major religious changes were on the horizon. The Reformation impacted most European countries, such as: Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, France, Spain, and England. There was growing dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church in England. King Henry VIII of England got into some trouble with the Catholic Church due to various marital difficulties so in order to solve his problem the best solution was to break from the Roman Catholic Church and start his own church. This move would give him the freedom to do what he wanted (even if the pope refused his request) because the new ‘church leader’ would be greatly influenced by the king. So Henry established what is now called the Church of England or the Anglican Church.
Henry VIII contribution to Baptist history
During these times of unrest and reform in England many of those following the ideas of Martin Luther and John Calvin were hoping Henry’s break with Rome would give them the reform and freedom they desired. This was not to be. Many English protesters agreed with Luther and Calvin that salvation comes by grace through faith and not through a decision by a local representative of God (the local bishop). But these same people disagreed with the Reformers about certain other issues. Some of these issues of disagreement were: church governance (who made the decisions for the local assembly?); the Eucharist (how were Jesus’ body and blood represented in the communion elements?); and baptism (are infants to be baptized into the covenant community or was it strictly for confessing believers?). These issues, coupled with the need they felt to ‘purify’ English Christianity, were specifically what caused a group of English reformers (called Puritans due to their stress on purifying Christendom) to emphasize believers baptism and therefore be unique in the ever changing landscape of growing denominations.
English Puritans leave for Amsterdam
This purification process failed under Henry and many followers of Jesus were persecuted because of their ‘other’ beliefs, so some fled to a different country in order to escape the abuse coming from either the Roman Catholic Church or the Anglican Church. A group of people led by a man named John Smyth escaped the English persecutions and fled to Amsterdam. He was the pastor of a group of believers who taught and preached these new ideas, noting the idea of believer’s baptism. Some of the documents from that time mention this man John Smyth and call him a Baptist, this may be where the term ‘baptist’ was first used to describe a different group of Jesus followers. Smyth had originally set up an Anglican Congregation but in 1609 he and a fellow separatist, Thomas Helwys, being so convinced of the need for baptism to be by confessing believers they baptized each other and the rest of their congregation. They were shortly after called Baptists.
Life after John Smyth
John Smyth not long after this left his ‘Baptist’ congregation and attempted to join the Mennonites partially because he had changed his thinking about infant baptism and apologized for baptizing himself (which he admitted was the wrong way to go about his altering of interpretation on that issue). Without Smyth, Helwys and his congregation drafted the first Baptist confession of faith in 1611. Following Smyth’s departure the ‘baptists’ grew in numbers in Amsterdam. Some of this newly formed denomination decided to move to the new world (America) and when they did the Baptist church grew eventually to become one of the largest denominations in America. Thomas Helwys returned to England as the pastor of the 1st Baptist church in England, this was in 1612.
In the Americas
One prominent name that comes up when discussing the history of Baptists in Americas is Roger Williams. He was a baptist for a short time and founded a Baptist church in Providence, Rhode Island in 1638. He held to many Baptist beliefs, but later left the Baptist church not affiliating himself with any specific denomination. His church in Providence, however, was the first Baptist church in the new world. The Baptists grew in number and prominence becoming very well known in America’s history. Baptists eventually started a wide variety of subgroups within the denomination. Because of the controversy of owning slaves the Baptist churches split into a northern larger group and a southern larger group. There are a myriad of subgroups but they mostly come from either the Northern Baptists or the Southern Baptist Convention.
What is my opinion of the history of Baptists?
It is probably pretty obvious, but I find this particular origin story of Baptists to be the legitimate one. It makes sense that some English Reformers looked at specific doctrines written about by the Reformers and made up their own minds what the Bible said concerning them (which went against almost all other Christians).
Let me know what you thought of this series on the History of Baptists.
If you are member of a specific denomination or would like me to write a short history of that denomination let me know.
It is an interesting phenomenon, especially in western post-enlightenment, modernist thinking that we hate paradoxes. People have been so conditioned to abhor logical contradictions that when it comes to pondering the mysteries of an infinite God, contradictions cannot be accepted. This hatred of paradoxes goes far to explain why many good, well meaning followers of Jesus ‘got it wrong’ when explaining some of the difficult concepts in Christianity.
Children are taught from a young age that there are certain laws of nature (also called laws of logic) which cannot be broken. These children are not taught logic explicitly but the worldview in which they are raised does not allow for paradoxes. While I agree that most of life does not defy the laws of logic, I would assert that God being who He is has the ability to go against well understood natural laws. I will discuss these laws of logic briefly then attempt to support my statement that God can and has broken some of these laws.
The 3 laws of logic (a brief summary)
The 3 laws of logic are: the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of excluded middle. The Law of Identity, simply stated is: P is P. This seems an obvious statement therefore due to its nature is confusing but all this means is that a statement is, and is NOT something else. The second law, the Law of Non-contradiction, asserts that it is not possible for something to be and not-be at the same time in the same place. For example, it cannot be raining and not raining at the same time in the same place. The third law (that of the Law of excluded middle) states simply that one has either P or not P, there is no 3rd option. In the example of it raining outside this says it is either raining or not raining, there is no other option for that statement. These three laws hold true for the universe at all times and in all places (except when it comes to God).
So what’s the point of discussing laws of logic when talking about God? I brought up the ideas of the laws of logic in an attempt to have us understand what the phrase, ‘it does not make sense’ really means. When someone says that an concept makes no sense what they are saying often is that the idea being pondered does not fit into their worldview which denies allowances for contradictions. Having said this little bit about logic and how our minds work when it comes to contradictions, I would like to make the assertion that much of Christianity does not make sense, thus is illogical, yet true nonetheless. God has and does defy the laws of logic and sometimes ‘God just does not make sense’.
Does the biblical view of the Triune God make sense?
When pondering some of the basic doctrines that are unique to Christianity, we must come to the conclusion they are biblical, even though they are illogical. One of the fundamental teachings in both the New and Old Testaments is that there is one and only one true God. Genesis 1:1 states “in the beginning God . . .” stressing to readers the monotheistic religion of Judaism (and later Christianity). Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, states positively “the Lord is one”. Yet there are hints in the Old Testament and explicit statements in the New Testament asserting there is more to the unity of God, there is a triunity. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christians use these 2 verses and many, many others to show the equality of God the Father, Jesus (God the Son), and (God) the Holy Spirit. If they are equal then they are all God, however, there can only be one God so the doctrine of the Trinity does not make logical sense. Nevertheless for one to be dogmatic on the ‘Oneness’ of God while rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is unbiblical. The Bible teaches there is One God, yet Three persons are ascribed with divine attributes.
Arius got it wrong, but his way does make sense
A bishop (pastor) of a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt around AD 300 (his name was Arius) thought he had solved the difficult doctrine of ‘how to better understand the person of Jesus and the assertions that Jesus is God.’ Arius said God is one and therefore Jesus must be a created being (albeit the highest of all created beings). To Arius’s mind and worldview Jesus could not be fully God or there would exist 2 God, which is contradictory to the teachings of the Holy Bible. Arius is quoted as saying, ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’, which would mean He is not eternal, ergo not God. This was logical to Arius and his many followers, however it is unbiblical. In the New Testament we have many, many accounts of Jesus accepting worship that is only fit for God. Arius attempted to put forth a doctrine that was ‘logical’ to him. At the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 3ooish bishops gathered to discuss the idea of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). Their conclusion would later be refined into what is called the Nicene Creed, which states, concerning Jesus,
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
As you can read they were very intentional and specific on the wording as to not confuse the statement. The orthodox view of Jesus would forever include this understanding of His person.
I believe this statement gives a precise description of the ‘begottenness’ of Jesus. I believe Arius was not intentionally unbiblical, he just wanted to ‘wrap his mind around’ these ideas and his aforementioned statement was the best way for him to understand a very complex (yet ESSENTIAL) doctrine.
So what’s the point?????
Here’s the point of my discussion: Christianity is full of things we just cannot fully comprehend and may not make sense, WE JUST NEED TO EMBRACE THE MYSTERY and do our best to understand it as biblically as possible. I had a seminary professor once (shout out to Dr. Albert George “Joe” Crawford (who I refer to often as Albertus Magnus)) who said one thing in relationship to mysteries of God that has always stuck with me. Dr. Crawford said we as followers of Jesus are to say all the Bible says about any certain topic, no more and no less. And we are to leave the rest up to calling it a mystery that we will never fully understand. We are to be comfortable in living with the tension that exists concerning these issues.
Please give me your input and comments.
Question: Who are some of the people from your past that have made a lasting impression on your thinking. I would love to read a brief description of the person and the ‘words of wisdom’.