Do All Paths Lead To God?

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There is a common illustration that presents all religions as merely different paths leading up the same mountain. The paths converge and unite at the peak: God. The lesson offered is that each path while different leads to the same place. Moreover, the traveler is warned not to worship their path but accept all paths.

Not only does this illustration arrogantly assume a position of god-like knowledge, and ignorantly projects upon all religions a belief in a singular god or any god at all, it also egregiously assumes that all religions serve the same purpose; namely that all religions serve as a means to reach God.

While much could be said concerning how each religion defines its purpose, I will only speak of Christianity. The narrative of the Bible presents a God who left the ‘mountaintop’ in pursuit of us. This is the story of Advent and the story of the Gospels. This is the good news of Jesus Christ.

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices.

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“One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren’t even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in colour, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.

Strangers, people different than we are, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being ‘other.’ Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at ‘those other persons’ as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in being human is an expression of the immense richness of God’s heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.”

— Henri Nouwen, The Spiritual Life

Another lesson from Church history.

Church History, Non Violence

One of the more interesting developments surrounding the formulation of Just War Theory (e.g. the perimeters that outline when warfare and the killing of one’s enemies is justifiable) was how it was also used cement the divide that had been growing between clergy and laity throughout the first 300 years of the Church. 

From Genesis to Revelation the people of God are called a “kingdom of priests.” The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 magnifies this reality with the anointing of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all believers; young and old, male and female, slave and free (not merely kings, high priests, and prophets). The Church community is a priesthood of believers. Yet, this does not mean that all believers are leaders. The New Testament writings acknowledge several different leadership roles that existed in the Church (i.e. Apostle, Elder, Deacon) and outline that these leaders, must among other qualities, be people of exemplary character. How each of these different leadership roles functioned is an issue of great debate throughout Church history. Not to mention that as changes in culture have introduced new forms of social orders and political governance the conversation concerning the structure of Church leadership and forms of Church governance have continued. (This is a topic for further conversation elsewhere.)

The vocational demands of ministry, the call of exemplary character among Church leaders, and the culturally influenced structures of Church governance were all sources of the fracture that was forming between clergy and laity. Then Just War Theory was introduced. It is a theory that began with Ambrose and would ultimately be clarified by Augustine in the 4th century. The theory framed warfare and killing justifiable under particular circumstances and held participants in a military conflict to certain standards of conduct. Just War Theory stood in opposition to the Church’s founding ethical convictions outlined by the words of the Church fathers and exhibited by the martyrs who both clung to Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus taught, and the early Church strongly defended, the uncompromising command to abstain from violence and the call to love one’s enemies. Just War Theory’s introduction, therefore, not only served to establish an alien practice within the Church, it also served as one of the critical defining points that mark the division of clergy and laity into two classes of Christians, each with distinct expectations as disciples.

As the cultural pressure to accept the necessity of war mounting with foreign armies threatening Rome, the Church leveraged the growing divide between clergy and laity to adopt and implement the framework of Just War. The Church concluded that laypersons were allowed to participate in military service and bloodshed, as they were deemed unable to uphold the high moral standard of the Sermon on the Mount. Clergy, however, would remain forbidden to participate in warfare or to bear arms at all. Clergy and laity had undeniably fissured into two distinct classes of Christians.

Then, centuries later as the Protestant Reformation was igniting debates and fracturing the Church—by addressing many of the abuses of the Church—the concept of the priesthood of all believers was refreshed and given new life. In spite of this, the Church as a whole never returned to Jesus’ teaching on non-violence as a standard for all Christians. At best, different groups left the matter of non-violence and participation in wars up to the conscience of individual believers. Although, it is interesting to note that the Orthodox Church still retains the policy that forbids the bearing of arms to its clergy and does not allow a man to continue in the ministry who has shed blood.

Honest Dialogue > Hype

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One of the things I love most about our church is the space that is created for listening to each other and honest dialogue. 

We lack the hype most other churches display in their gatherings. Over 6 years I have seen that this makes a lot of people uncomfortable when they visit. The desire for entertainment, the desire to sink back into a seat without having to acknowledge those around you, or at least the desire to have constant noise clouding out the anxiety of a quiet moment is comforting. Most of us are introverts…we get it. Yet, those who have stuck around find something powerful and transformative in those uncomfortable moments.

If you are looking for something different, you are invited to The Commons Church.

The treasure found in the Old Testament

Biblical Studies, Quote

“There are some who have little regard for the Old Testament. They think of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times. . . . But Christ says in John 5, ‘Search the Scriptures, for it is they that bear witness to me.’ . . . [T]he Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read. . . . Therefore dismiss your own opinions and feelings and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find that divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies. . . . Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.”

Martin Luther, written in his preface to the Old Testament in 1523

“Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter…”

Forgiveness, Quote

“I really believe that when someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a chain. Because forgiveness is nothing less than an act of fidelity to an evil-combating campaign. So it’s not an act of niceness. It’s not being a doormat. It really to me is more badass than that. Maybe retaliation, or holding on to anger, about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it.

Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and on some level, even start to become them. So what if forgiveness, rather than being like a pansy way of saying, it’s OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that links us? Like it is saying, what you did was so not OK that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.

Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter, and free people are dangerous people. Free people aren’t controlled by the past. Free people laugh more than others. Free people see beauty where others do not. Free people are not easily offended. Free people are unafraid to speak truth to stupid. Free people are not chained to resentments.

That’s worth fighting for. There really is a light that shines in the darkness, and that the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber

The importance of the Trinity

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“The life of God—precisely because God is triune—does not belong God alone. God who dwells in inaccessible light and eternal glory comes to us in the face of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Because of God’s outreach to the creature, God is said to be essentially relational, alive as passionate love. Divine life is therefore also our life. The heart of the Christian life is to be united with the God of Jesus Christ by means of communion with one another.

The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately therefore a teaching not about the abstract nature of God, nor about God in isolation from everything other than God, but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other.”

Catherine Mawry LaCungna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life

Why Give?

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Why Give?

God doesn’t need our money. What he’s truly after is us. Yet, how we use money is a very accurate indicator of where our heart is and what we value. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Giving is an act of worship and an act of commitment; to

God doesn’t need our money. What he’s truly after is us. Yet, how we use money is a very accurate indicator of where our heart is and what we value. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Giving is an act of worship and an act of commitment; to the the community of believers, and those in need.

 

How Much Should I Give?

God has made us stewards, not owners. Everything we have belongs to God. So when we give something to God, we give him only what he has first given to us. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). When God created humans, He placed them in a position of managing the earth, not owning it (Genesis 2:15). This means the question is not, “how much of my money do I give God?” but “How much of God’s money to I keep?”

Still wondering how much should you give? A good starting point is to give 10% of your income. If that sounds like a sacrifice… Good, it should be. If it doesn’t, consider giving more.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities [giving habits] do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities (giving) expenditure excludes them.”

 

How Should I Give?

You should give cheerfully, sacrificially, and regularly and in response to God’s love. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, “Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.”

 

What Is An Example Of Scriptural Giving?

Acts 4:32-35 “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

The paradoxical necessity of humiliation in exaltation

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Christ’s path to being lifted up (quite literally on the cross and from the grave) was through the means of being made less—taking on the form of a servant, becoming human, and humbling himself by becoming obedient to death by crucifixion. 

Likewise, our glorification necessitates we experience humiliation. The story of our freedom and salvation is not the story of our strength or greatness. It is the story of grace; a free and unmerited gift.  Therefore, if it is not by our strength or merit then we have no control over it. Pride and ego thus experience humiliation. If it is not by our by force or might, but through a crucified God, then human wisdom experiences humiliation.

“The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, and third through humility. If humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, if it is not before us to focus on, it it is not beside us to lean upon, if it is not behind us to fence us in, pride will wrench from our hand any good deed we do at the very moment we do it.” St. Augustine

The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone!” Psalm 118:22

“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

Reframing Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Atonement, Quote

“…by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” Romans 8:3

“Here is a point that must be noted most carefully. Paul does not say that God punished Jesus. He declares that God punished Sin in the flesh of Jesus. Now, to be sure, the crucifixion was no less terrible an event because, with theological hindsight, the apostle could see that what was being punished was Sin itself rather than Jesus himself. The physical, mental, and spiritual agony that Jesus went through on that terrible day was not alleviated in any way. But theologically speaking—and with regard to the implications that run through many aspects of church life, teaching, and practice—it makes all the difference. 

The death of Jesus, seen in this light, is certainly penal. It has to do with the punishment on Sin—not, to say it again, on Jesus—but it is punishment nonetheless. Equally, it is certainly substitutionary: God condemned Sin (in the flesh of the Messiah), and therefore sinners who are ‘in the Messiah’ are not condemned. The one dies, and the many do not. All those narrative fragments we saw in Luke and John come into their own.”

N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began