Wednesday, July 22, 2009


When ill health forced us to retire I had time to do a post mortem on the years of preaching and teaching, which had so swiftly become history.

Ephesians 4:11ff became an intrusion into my thinking, because it constantly raised the real consideration of questions, which for a large part of those years, the busy-ness of “ministry” in the traditions of my development and training, didn’t allow.

I had no doubt in my heart and mind that I had a strong calling as a “pastor and teacher’. How could I, when my pastor and the membership of the congregation to which I belonged affirmed that inner persuasion.

But had I actually equipped “ the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ”?

Were they “ no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” , as a result of the Holy Spirit taking the theology, doctrine and example in which I had been trained, and to which I had faithfully adhered, and causing it to become life and function in the congregation?

Do they really “ walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”?

If the evidence, which is clearly available for us all to see, especially as we read the writings of cyberspace, then the answers to those questions in the majority of situations is rather dismal. As a result, if my years have produced the same kind of evidence, which we see in that of most “ministries”, then it has been a dismal failure.

Can we really say that, apart from the individual exceptions, the confessing members of congregations have, " in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. "?

Isn’t what Paul is speaking about not, even remotely, connected with any denomination, theological “ism”, or elite group of Christians, but is, in reality, a ministry to all believers?

Why can we not see the dangers inherent in the, almost universal, tradition based, party line approach to Christianity, can we not see that much of such teaching has evolved into the sort of false teaching Paul writes about to the Christians of Colossae in 2:6-20?

And we continue to develop new party thinking, which is developing new traditions, which are becoming central to the existence of such groups. When will we ever learn?

Paul identifies four major problems touching the life of the Christians in Colossae, each of which have a large bearing on the Christianism of today.

The false teaching infiltrating the Colossian believers was tradition based philosophy. The traditions were identified by Paul as having their source in that which was merely human, but even worse, the powers of evil.

Such teaching actually undermines the central position of Christ to the Christian faith by consistently drawing God’s people to focus on something other than Christ, such as a particular adherence to anything other than Christ, denomination, doctrinal position, confession, church covenant, and the list goes on.

It is NOT in some such distinctive that we find our development as a believer, but IN Christ, “For IN Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and IN Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority”( 2:9,10).

Attached to these philosophies is the monstrous ogre inherent in all false teaching about which Paul wants the Colossians to be aware, legalism. For the follower of Christ, who has their reality in Christ (2:16,17), legalism has NO place but a dim dark memory of past horror, struggle and hard effort.

Hidden amongst the mire of the forgoing is often found the obscure and irrational forms of mysticism, where visions and angels etc., etc. (2:18,19) , are put forward as a means by which to know God, which shifts the focus from the ONLY way to know God, relationship with the ONLY HEAD of the family of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. .
As if the believing recipients of his letter were those of this century, Paul shows that accompanying all of this false teaching was the doctrine of rigorous self-denial and active self-restraint through full renunciation of worldly pleasures which was purported to lead one to achieve a high spiritual state. This is the doctrine of asceticism, which Paul says, even though having “the appearance of wisdom”, Paul maintains are of “no value against fleshly indulgence. “

Look at what is being emphasised in sermons,in cyberspace, books etc! Will we ever learn?

Maybe someone has as the more recent entry in Paul Burlensons blog seems to show.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Display of Religionism

I recently read an article from Time Magazine on the net about a court case in Iowa's Black Hawk County Courthouse, where the court was asked to answer the question, What is a Christian? It was all about a $75,000 will.

I don’t know when it was written, but the date of the case suggests that it was sometime about 1949-50.

The will of a prominent Methodist layman, who died in 1939, directed that the income from $75,000 of his estate should be distributed "to persons who believe in the fundamental principles of the Christian religion and in the Bible and who are endeavouring to promulgate same." His wife died in 1949, ten nephews and nieces sued to break the will. Their argument: "There is no common agreement as to what constitutes the fundamental principles of Christianity."

As I read the article I was forced to think of the antagonism displayed between those who call themselves evangelical Christians, who comment on a SBC pastor’s very thoughtful, and carefully written blog.

Some commenters have the amazing ability to turn the subject of an article into a chase after a red herring.

The ascerbic nature of some of the comments of others, the insults and acid sarcasm, towards the pastor and other commenters, are a wonder to behold and cause me to unfavourably compare them with the courteous debates and comments I read and hear from those who vehemently declare they are not Christians.

Many of those commenting on the SBC pastor’s blog seem to have received, or developed a gospel with so many add-ons, it bears no resemblance to the genuine Gospel.

They don’t seem to believe Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast”.

Some appear to believe that their particular add-ons must be included for one to be a genuine Christian: Grace plus;a declaration of Arminianism, Calvinism, egalitarianism, complimentarianism, legalism, liberalism, perfectionism and any other ism which strikes their fancy, but which turns the results of God’s work in the heart and mind of a human being into nothing more than another belief system or philosophy, religionism. With some there is a strong implication that if you don’t believe, exactly, what “I believe I don’t accept you, and I’ll have your guts for garters if you disagree with me!”

Many equate a personal ism, or opinion, whether derived from the teaching they have received, or from their own assumptions, or those of others, into words equivalent to Holy writ, and have not the slightest respect for those who trust in the same person and finished work of Jesus Christ, but think differently about a non-salvation issue.

Thankfully there are those who exhibit grace and the humility of accepting the possibility that they could be mistaken and will consider other opinions.

Fifty years ago, when I began to teach and preach, I was one of those, so sure of myself and the historical and traditional position in which I still stand. During the intervening years, as I read the Scriptures, I began to understand some things differently, nuances which I had missed, and which some great men of God had also missed, and others hadn’t. The historical gurus from which much of my information came had to be tested by the Scriptures.

At seventy years of age I’m finding that there are still adjustments being made to my understanding, and I’m surprised that some long held assumptions must be changed.

There are Galatians and Galatians, just different laws, circumcision and the ones mentioned above.

One thing I do know, I am still a sinner saved by the grace of God, through His gift of faith in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ, who is my Advocate with the Father. I know that no ism changes that position for me or any brother or sister who stands on that same blood bought ground.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

I don't want to nullify the grace of God anymore, for if righteousness comes through the addition of isms, then Christ died needlessly.