When discussing this blog series with a member of my church staff, he commented: “You’re opening quite a can of worms here, Art.”
He’s right, of course. So, why bring up such tough issues?
Each of the topics covered in the blogs to this point have been MAJOR sources of controversy within the Body of Christ over the centuries. Some of them, such as answering the question “Who do you think I am?” took centuries to reach any sort of consensus. The resolution has led to the theology that most of us follow today. Even then, disagreement and disputes remain. “Baptism,” it’s purpose, meaning, method and timing, remains as one of the major differences among various denominations today.
For many of us, we have arrived at our personal beliefs based on our upbringing. For some, we have just accepted what we were taught as children. In some cases we have studied the foundations of our own positions and have become satisfied that those foundations are correct. And in some cases, we have actually explored differing views in order to understand their foundations.
In many cases we have become content or comfortable with our beliefs. There is a huge difference between being content and being complacent. We need to continue to grow in our faith through study, learning, discussion and, of course, by our actions as guided by the Holy Spirit.
One of the great difficulties of going outside the community of believers to proselytize to others is that they point to our internal differences. Gandhi said that the biggest difficulty with accepting Christianity was the bickering among Christians! (paraphrased) Now, that is a powerful statement.
I believe that we need to understand the foundations of our beliefs and practices. Some have said that by taking this approach, that I am questioning God. I view it very differently. I see it as asking God questions. Even that is highly controversial in some denominations. Asking fosters doubt, they say. I’ve found just the opposite. Asking questions of God, as opposed to questioning God’s existence or sovereignty, has strengthened my faith immeasurably!
Over the centuries, differences in understanding of each of the issues raised so far in this series have gone far beyond mere debate among theologians. They have led to the founding of governments, wars and events such as the Spanish Inquisition. “Winners” in the debates have often declared the “losers” as heretics. Literally millions of people have been burned at the stake or otherwise killed because they were on the “wrong side.” For example, Martin Luther faced a death penalty because he questioned. He was saved from execution more by politics than theology. Hundreds of thousands died because they were baptized more than once. In the Americas, native people were given the option: Accept Jesus as your savior and be baptized or face enslavement or instant death. This was supposed to be a “believer’s baptism,”, but they were seldom given any information upon which to make an intelligent decision.
I deeply appreciate the way this blog series has been received and the nature of the responses. this is dangerous territory to be sure. Discussion could quickly have become debate and bitter argument. I knew coming into this that the danger was there, and that danger could easily have been extremely damaging. That is the last thing any of us would want.
THANK YOU to all who have read and responded to these blogs!
Alive in The Word