Monday, April 26, 2010

Pay attention!

I am a Trinitarian. That is to say, I believe that God—the God who is revealed in Scripture—is one, yet three—One eternal God who exists or subsists eternally and simultaneously in three distinct, co-equal Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I have great appreciation for the historic definitions set down in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds and believe them to be faithful to biblical teaching.

In affirming the doctrine of the Trinity, I reject a teaching currently popular in certain Pentecostal, Apostolic and Word-of-Faith circles that maintains that God has “manifested himself as Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, and is the Holy Spirit in the Church.” This teaching--called “Modalism”—rejects the Trinity and asserts that God is one in His Person and has merely changed forms or “modes” at various times. Modalism is contrary to biblical Christianity, and was soundly rejected as heresy by the church around the year 262 A.D. (proving that “there is nothing new under the sun”).

Biblical Christianity rejects any theology which confuses the Persons of the Trinity. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father: three distinct Persons, yet one God in essence. It is important to keep in mind the distinctions between the Persons of the Trinity, as it will save us from much confusion as we read the gospel accounts. For instance, there is this oft-asked question: “If Jesus is God, then to whom was He praying in the garden of Gethsemane? Was He praying to Himself?” The answer, of course, is that the Son was praying to the Father.

Biblical Christianity also rejects any theology that makes the Son out to be anything less than very God. In a society such as ours, in which there are a multiplicity of religions, Christians must keep in mind that Jesus is fully God. In the person of Jesus—the promised Messiah born in Bethlehem to a Jewish virgin named Mary—the eternal Son became a man, without ceasing to be God. 100% God and 100% man: That’s my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No one less than the sinless God-Man can save lost, helpless and hopeless sinners like me.

We must also remember that biblical Christianity rejects any theology which would reduce the Holy Spirit to some kind of impersonal force, presence or emotional feeling. The Holy Spirit is not some kind of pantheistic presence, or a good “feeling” that comes over one when the mood is right. On the contrary, the Bible reveals the Holy Spirit as God, who was active in Creation (Genesis 1:2), present in the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ (e.g., Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:1, 14, 17-21; John 1:32-33; Acts 10:38), and who was the power which raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11). The Bible reveals the Holy Spirit as present and active in the Church as the agent of salvation (e.g., John 3:5-8), creating faith, applying the saving work of Christ, indwelling and sealing the believer (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13-14), and equipping and empowering for service (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

Why do I bring up all this “heavy” theology? Because I am very concerned that far too many professing Christians, in far too many churches and denominations today, are riding loose with theology. The American Church, in general, is not in good shape at all, and some so-called “Bible-believing” churches aren’t any better. For years, I’ve observed a great theological complacency among many professing Christians, fueled in large part, I think, by a gross misunderstanding and misapplication of Jesus’ words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many of these professing Christians are highly reluctant to question any false teaching, lest they be guilty of “judging” (although, interestingly and ironically, I’ve run into a few over the years who will question and vehemently resist sound teaching). For years I have also observed an unbelievable amount of gullibility in some church circles, to the point that it appears some will accept any spiritual teacher who claims to be led by the Holy Spirit (or has the title “bishop”, “apostle” or “prophet”), especially if he or she also claims to speak in tongues.

Some, no doubt, would respond, “So what! What does it matter?” “Doctrine” is seen as a bad word today by a whole lot of people in the pew. Interestingly, the Athanasian Creed begins with this sentence: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [or “universal” Christian] faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” Really? Really! You see, doctrine matters. What we believe can spell the difference between heaven and hell.

The apostle Peter, writing near the end of his life, said, “And we have something more sure [“more sure” than what he and James and John personally saw and heard on that mountain where Christ was transfigured before their eyes, see Matthew 17:1-8], the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention...” What is this “prophetic word” that Peter was referring to? Read on: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21 my emphasis). Peter said we “do well to pay attention” to Scripture. That’s why so many churches and individual Christians are in the sad shape they’re in today: They have failed to pay attention to the Bible!

O reader, doctrine does matter! We must pay attention to God’s written word! Our eternal destiny depends upon it.

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