Dialogue with Stephen (Church Versus Kingdom)

This dialogue with Stephen about the church and the kingdom is an extension of a dialogue we were having about trinity versus unity.  If you want to see the precise point at which this conversation branched off from that one, look here.

Stephen, I think you have made clear an issue that is very important in our conversations.  The key statement that you made which clarified this issue was “The Church, not the scripture, is the pillar and ground of the truth.”  I want to quote it again in context:

According to the scripture, The Church is the Pillar and Ground of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15).   The Church, not the scripture, is the pillar and ground of the truth.  Just as Christ is the word and the scripture is the word about the Word.  The Spirit taught the church about the understanding of the word.  The Church, Christ’s body was the pillar of Truth not the other way around.  The clear implication of this is that Christ meant what he said when he promised his disciples that the Spirit will lead them into all truth.  He also didn’t mean that the Spirit would only teat the 12 disciples and then disappear.  Apparently at least Paul believed that the Church would be the basis of truth or better said, the Church, led by the Spirit, would lead them into all truth.

This highlights a root difference between us.  Therefore, it’s particularly worth exploring given its foundational nature.  If we can resolve it, it could lead to more common understanding on other issues.  If we can’t, it could save us time because we’d know not to pursue other issues too vigorously knowing that we don’t have a common point of authority to which we can look for resolution.

Therefore, let’s focus on this issue in this post, and let our other conversational threads continue on their own subjects – only to the degree that you’re interested, of course.

Fundamentally, our difference is that while you ascribe great authority to the church, I believe it was superseded by the kingdom of God in a similar way to how ancient Israel was superseded by the church.

More specifically, I believe the church was a transitional organism for the metamorphosis from the age of ancient Israel to the new age of the kingdom of God – like the cocoon that transitions a caterpillar to a butterfly.

In your comments about the Nicene Creed, it sounds as if you ascribe as much authority to it as you do the Scriptures.  And this is consistent for you, given your broader view of the church having more authority than the Scriptures.

For me, no church creed could be as authoritative as Scripture.  Let me deconstruct my view on this for you.  I accept the Old Testament as the word of God because Jesus did.  I accept the New Testament as the word of God because it was written by His personally chosen and commissioned apostles.  I suspect any writing or teaching that contradicts the Scriptures.  This is, of course, obvious where atheistic or anti-biblical teachings are concerned.  But it also is important to recall that Jesus had to chastise rabbis for letting their traditions and rulings make the word of God of no effect (Mark 7, Matthew 15, and Matthew 23).  Just as such corrupting practices – however slight – could occur in biblical times, I believe they can occur in post-biblical times.  I don’t think this by any means encourages us to reject teachings out of Judaism or Christianity wholesale, but it does mean that He is warning us that there are human understanding which can encroach on our understanding of God’s word and that we should beware of the temptations to misunderstand what God is actually saying.  Revelation 22 puts this warning in starker terms, telling of the perils that come with adding to or taking away from the word of God.

For you, I think the Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Scriptures.  If I am wrong about this, please correct me.  The purpose of the dialogue in this post is to have each of us clarify our respective positions sufficiently so that we can find out precisely where the gaps are and see if we can close them.  Therefore, let me lay out for you my current understanding of how our views on this subject compare.  You can then correct, confirm, or challenge as appropriate:

Stephen: The Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Bible.
Mike: The Nicene Creed should be respected for the wisdom and truth it contains but is not as authoritative as Scripture.

Stephen: The church is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.
Mike: Jesus Christ is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.

Stephen: The church is still God’s chosen instrument through which He’s chosen to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ.
Mike: The church was God’s chosen instrument through which He chose to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ in New Testament times, but since has been replaced by the kingdom of God.

I think we really only need to focus on the third pair because the first two are derivatives of its argument.  That is, if we could come to agreement on the third pair, any disagreements on the first two could quickly be resolved.  I only added them for the sake of clarity, not wanting to abstract at too high a level until I’m more confident that I’ve properly understood your view.

22 Replies to “Dialogue with Stephen (Church Versus Kingdom)”

  1. Mike,

    I have a few clarifying questions. What do you mean by church? What do you mean by Kingdom of God?
    My definition of church would be the body of Christ that began with the decent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This group of men then went out and made Disciples of Christ baptizing them in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit: the Trinity. The scripture didn’t need a name for what it clearly posited. Later fathers, Polycarp and the rest that were disciples of the disciples also used the language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What are they possibly talking about if not a triune God? Remember Sebelianism was rejected.
    I then understand the Church to be the body of Christ which is everyone who is baptized into the Kingdom of God. The Church is the Kingdom of God. James was made the first Bishop of Jerusalem and other disciples and followers were made priests and they had local Eucharistic communities. They didn’t sit around by themselves reading the New Testament: a term by the way that was coined by Tertullian. I don’t know who you were referring to that objected to the other term that Tertullian coined: the Trinity. It was quickly embraced by the Church as a good description of what they all knew.

    But let’s back up and look at some of your assumptions. You assume that the scriptures came before the Church. Are you aware of the process that the New Testament canon was collected. Most churches had a small section of a letter or maybe part of a Gospel and that was it. During the 1st and 2nd century many books were being circulated that were not later accepted by the church. In fact, the first attempt to establish a New Testament canon was the heretic Marcion who wanted to throw out the Old Testament and only include one Gospel which he had edited and ten of Paul’s letters. This was obviously rejected… by who, “the church”. Most churches during the first two or three centuries only had fragments or copies of Paul’s letters or parts of a Gospel that someone had copied by hand. Also, the vast majority of the people were illiterate so the only the only chance to hear the scripture was to come to the ecclesia (church) to hear the words and partake of the communion. Some Churches only had parts of the Old Testament which is what Paul was referring to in 2 Timothy when he said all scripture is profitable. Many heretical gnostic gospels were floating around and what held the church together was the doctrine of the apostles and the structure of the church with one Bishop passing down to the next what he had learned straight back to the apostles and Jesus.

    So who gave us and confirmed the 27 books we now count as the New Testament? Of course the same group of men who wrote the Nicene Creed. They also canonized the scripture and agreed upon what books agreed with the doctrines and liturgies and understanding that has been passed on to them from one bishop to the next. It was mainly an oral tradition guided by the Holy Spirit. As I quoted Paul earlier, the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth. The scripture were not the ground of and pillar of truth because there were no accepted scripture at that time. The only scripture he knew was the old testament. Even the Gospels were written a generation latter after being passed down orally to most of the believers at that time. Paul knew that Christ promised them the Holy Spirit who would lead them into truth.

    So, the very scriptures that you claim or the only source of truth came from the very men who wrote the Nicene Creed and they confirmed only the scriptures that agree with what had been taught at all times in all places. It is completely and totally disingenuous to say that we only need the New Testament but not the wisdom and creeds and beliefs about the very scripture which they chose to be correct. And it wasn’t self-evident due to the number of false Gospels and books that were being circulated. So only by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit given to the Church, the body of Christ, which didn’t just disappear, do we even have a New Testament.

    Let’s go further, even after these books were accepted as the canonical New Testament, where do you think people went to hear them? Hardly anyone had a copy of their own New Testament and many churches still didn’t have the complete canon. Christian met together and read the scriptures and interpreted them according to what the Holy Spirit had revealed to the Church. There was no such thing as a private interpretation.

    By your rule, the only people who could really be Christians were those who lived after the printing press was invented and could get a copy of the bible and go and read it in isolation and hope somehow the spirit would bear witness to the truth. I think that is a total denial of the Spirit who had been bearing witness all along. Christ promised I will never leave nor forsake you and will send you my holy spirit to guide you in all things. He was speaking to believers who would part of his body the Church. Christians are physically part of Christ’s body not an ethereal kingdom that only exists in the air. I’m not even sure what that would mean.

    Ok, I’ll end my rant there and give you a chance to respond. That was all pretty much stream of consciousness so forgive any repetition.

    Stephen

  2. Mike,

    I don’t mean to sound too short or arrogant in my answers. I’m just trying to be as straightforward as possible and not mince any words when we are talking about things you and I both hold to passionately. I genuinely wish the best to you.

    Peace,

    Stephen

  3. Stephen, I am eager to respond to many of the things you have said in your March 3 response above. However, I would first like to focus on the area I identified in my post above it. I think it will take us to the heart of a way to see if we have an authoritative voice to which we can both ultimately appeal (a point you yourself have emphasized). Therefore, I’d like to repeat that portion of my post here and ask if we might focus some attention here first. Here’s the section of which I’m speaking:

    For you, I think the Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Scriptures. If I am wrong about this, please correct me. The purpose of the dialogue in this post is to have each of us clarify our respective positions sufficiently so that we can find out precisely where the gaps are and see if we can close them. Therefore, let me lay out for you my current understanding of how our views on this subject compare. You can then correct, confirm, or challenge as appropriate:

    Stephen: The Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Bible.
    Mike: The Nicene Creed should be respected for the wisdom and truth it contains but is not as authoritative as Scripture.

    Stephen: The church is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.
    Mike: Jesus Christ is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.

    Stephen: The church is still God’s chosen instrument through which He’s chosen to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ.
    Mike: The church was God’s chosen instrument through which He chose to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ in New Testament times, but since has been replaced by the kingdom of God.

    I think we really only need to focus on the third pair because the first two are derivatives of its argument. That is, if we could come to agreement on the third pair, any disagreements on the first two could quickly be resolved. I only added them for the sake of clarity, not wanting to abstract at too high a level until I’m more confident that I’ve properly understood your view.

  4. Mike,

    I’ll give it a whirl.

    1a: Stephen: The Nicene Creed is as much the word of God as the Bible.
    1b: Mike: The Nicene Creed should be respected for the wisdom and truth it contains but is not as authoritative as Scripture

    The Nicene Creed is the not the word of God in the sense of being scripture, but it is definitely is an authoritative statement on how the word of God is to be understood. You say it should be respected for it’s wisdom and truth but then deny that truth that it teaches. It doesn’t have the word “trinity” in it but is obviously is a Trinitarian statement. If you don’t believe this, then you have misunderstood its intent and the Church Fathers who produced it.

    2a: Stephen: The church is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.
    2b: MIke: Jesus Christ is arbiter of differences of interpretation about the Scriptures, truth, and Jesus Christ.

    Yes, the Church is the body of Christ where God’s spirit is present and has been from the day of Pentecost and is the Pillar and Ground of the truth. Remember, I’m not thinking about the Church as 30,000 denominations, but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that became known as the Orthodox Church. It’s teaching, liturgies and canons, saints are the means that the Holy Spirit has authoritatively taught the interpretation of scripture. So, yes, the Church is the arbiter of difference.

    I would challenge your statement that you believe that Jesus Christ is the arbiter. You believe that Mike is the arbiter of the differences. If you believe that Jesus Christ was the arbiter than you would believe Him when he said he would send his spirit to teach all things to his body the Church. This is also evident by the fact that the only support you have for your position is that you feel the spirit bears that it is true but that is a vacuous statement when the no one else feels the spirit bears the same “truth”. It reminds me of college when a boy would tell his girl that he felt that it was God’s will that they get married and the girl would reply that God did not reveal that to her. Is Jesus Christ the author of confusion? Your hermeneutic only leads to confusion and 30,000 denominations claiming that Jesus Christ and the bible only lead to truth. It’s complete and total chaotic hogwash. You have yet to name one other Christian of note that has come to the same conclusion as you about the interpretation of scripture regarding the Kingdom of God, the Church, the Trinity, the General Resurrection etc.

    3a: Stephen: The church is still God’s chosen instrument through which He’s chosen to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ.
    3b: Mike: The church was God’s chosen instrument through which He chose to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ in New Testament times, but since has been replaced by the kingdom of God.

    Yes, I fully support your understanding of my view. Again, I have no idea what you mean by the church was replaced by the kingdom of god. That is a novel interpretation that bares no patristic support not to mention support from any accepted Christian group that I’m aware of. Again Mike has become the Pope or the arbiter of truth. Why would you want to claim that you alone have figured this out? You only have two choices, continue to interpret the scripture as an individual with just you and your bible and subjective feelings and western rationalistic interpreting glasses. (No one comes to the text with an unbiased view of the scripture.) Or… you submit to a tradition. In my case I chose to believe that the Holy Spirit didn’t go back up to heaven to some ethereal kingdom of god and leave believers without hope of understanding anything. Just think about the Eunuch and St. Phillip. The eunuch said to Phillip, how can I understand the scripture if no one explains it to me. Phillip then proceeded to explain it to him. He didn’t say here, take this copy of the New Testament (he actually was reading the Hebrew scripture) and go off by yourself and you will understand it. I think every person today should ask the same question as the Eunuch. The Church comes along and offers that explanation.

  5. Thanks, Stephen. You have provided a very helpful response. I think this allows us to continue zeroing in on the authority question.

    I’m struck by your allegiance to the Orthodox Church (or, as some call it, the Eastern Orthodox Church) as the one true church. What do you think of the Stephen’s in the Roman Catholic Church who are loyal to it because of its claims to be the one true church? Who arbitrates which of those is the one true church and which Stephen’s have made the right choice? And what about the Stephen’s who grow up in one or the other – should they leave the wrong one and join the right one? And how and when do they make that decision?

    And how do you view the fact that of the roughly 2 billion people our of the 7 billion people in the world who consider themselves Christians, only about 10% belong to your orthodox church? What, in your mind, does God think about the 90% of Christians who are not even in the true church?

    These seem to be critical questions because you seem unwilling to accept any understanding of the Scriptures that is not pronounced through the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    By the way, as I understand it, there is actually not one Orthodox Church – that is, they can and do vary by region. That is, each country’s Orthodox churches are governed by bishops who are not under the authority of bishops from another country’s Orthodox churches. Obviously, I don’t know near as much about it as you do. But based on everything you’re saying, it sounds like you think everyone not in the Orthodox Church is…well, unorthodox.

    1. To a degree, you are right in your assumptions. I do believe that the fullness of the understanding of the faith falls in the Orthodox Church, which I believe can easily be traced back to the early centuries of the Church. Its liturgies, creeds, and canons have not been changed. It follows the apostolic fathers such as Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nazianzas, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Palamas and many others who are accepted as Church Fathers or ones who clearly expressed the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church. To the degree that one veers from this understanding, one is cut off from the life of Christ in the Church. Obviously the Coptic church and Ethiopian churches are close in their understandings of the faith. Catholics share many of the same church fathers but from the Orthodox standpoint have some serious disagreements. The Orthodox church would never presume to judge the standing with God of any Christian group, any Christian or even any individual. Will a good Buddhist be saved. God alone knows and if so only through Christ and his work on the cross to destroy sin, death and the works of the devil.

      To the degree that one diverts from the truth, one is separated from Christ. In other words, when a Mormon comes along in the 1800’s and says that Christ was just a good man and the book of Mormon is needed to interpret the truth, they have truly cut themselves off from Christ. Does that mean they won’t be “saved”. God forbid I judge anyone. Christ has destroyed death for all and all will have the possibility of being “saved” but finding the path of salvation through a right (Orthodox) understanding of God is certainly helpful in trodding the path towards God.

      The different ethnic churches have their own bishops and structure but they are in communion with one another and share the same sacrament and beliefs.

      This, however, is averting the question of authority in interpreting the scripture. I gladly admit to seeing the Orthodox church as my arbiter of understanding of the Christian faith. What is your authority for understanding the scripture other than your own opinion of what Jesus taught? And again, can you name anyone historically or currently who concurs with your understanding?

      1. This, however, is averting the question of authority in interpreting the scripture. I gladly admit to seeing the Orthodox church as my arbiter of understanding of the Christian faith. What is your authority for understanding the scripture other than your own opinion of what Jesus taught? And again, can you name anyone historically or currently who concurs with your understanding?

        I have no arbiter of understanding the Scripture between me and the Lord Jesus Christ. For as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5, there is only one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. You have chosen to set the Orthodox Church between you and Jesus; I cannot do that, nor do I think you should do so…at least not for much longer.

        I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church but fell away as a teenager and became an agnostic. When I was about 27 years old (over 30 years ago), a friend told me he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. He gave me some Christian books, including Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Although I recoiled at the idea of becoming one of those “born again Christians,” I thought I should read the Bible just for the sake of my own broader education – especially since I had not read it at all growing up. To make a long story short, I read enough of the Bible to see the glory of Jesus, who He was, and what He had done for us. I looked to my friend for guidance as to what to do with my new insight. By this time, he had moved away but was willing to correspond me with me about all my questions. These were, of course, the days before e-mail so these were long hand-written letters between us and I will always be grateful for the guidance he gave me. It would be reasonable to say that for that period of time he was the arbiter of the meaning of Scripture for me. He was Presbyterian but he did not not urge me to go to a Presbyterian church. Rather, he encouraged me to go to a church that 1) emphasized Bible study, and 2) had members who were personally committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. My wife and I found such a church (Presbyterian) and I began directing my questions toward the pastor instead of my long-distance friend. A year later I had made the decision to go to seminary and the pastor’s counsel was a big part of that decision-making process. (He was a Presbyterian and I enrolled in a Presbyterian seminary.) You could say, of course, that the pastor had become the succeeding arbiter of my understanding of Scripture. While at seminary (which was in a distant city to which we moved with our children), we also became involved in a local church, so I now had arbiters both at church and seminary. The common thread of this authority for the arbiter of scriptural understanding was not a specific Presbyterian denomination, but more the broader Presbyterian, or Reformed, theological position.

        As I continued my study of the Scriptures, I eventually came to a point where I was faced with decisions I had not anticipated, nor that I desired. That is, my own understanding of the Scriptures at certain points became different from that which my church guidance was giving me. At some point we all outgrow the spiritual midwife who brought us to our knowledge of the Lord – whether that midwife had been our physical parents, a friend, a pastor, a denomination, or a broader theological tradition. This does not always mean we will depart on a different path. As the citizens of Sychar told the woman who had brought them to awareness of Jesus (John 4:41-42), “We no longer believe because you told us; we now believe because we have seen Him for ourselves.” That is, there is a time to have a nanny and there is a time to put away the things of childhood – if, that is, we are to grow in faith in God. Otherwise, our faith remains in people. Again, this does not demand that we take a different path. It does demand, however, that whatever path we walk, it be in the eyes of the Lord and no longer the eyes of our spiritual midwives.

        Most Christians today are stuck in this faith-in-people mode. That is, their faith is not in God but rather in the people of God (see Jeremiah 17:5-8). That is why discussions of orthodoxy become so important to them. Tests of orthodoxy are tests of who to trust, who to hang around. We should outgrow this, however. Our faith needs to be in God. Do we need to think of Him rightly? Yes, of course. But the goal of right thinking is right behaving. Equally important is that God does not want to us to segregate ourselves from the unorthodox. By that I mean that in the kingdom of God (which He died and rose to bring us), we are all the same in His eyes. Distinctions between Jew and Gentile, or Christian and NonChristian, don’t matter to Him. He wants us to show love to everyone around us without making distinctions between them.

        Therefore, whereas you are content for the Orthodox Church to be your arbiter of your understanding of Scripture, I am only willing to listen and consider its opinion. I consider its opinion to be valuable, but I cannot excuse my conscience in order to follow that church – or any other church or theological tradition. And make note: individual conscience is the root of all that I am saying here. It is not that I became “too smart” to follow someone else; rather, it is that my conscience matured to a point where I had to do the right thing in the Lord’s sight and I had to do it…even if I had to stand alone to do it. I do not say this made me right, for even when we follow conscience we cannot be absolutely sure we are right. God is judge. However, even though following conscience is no guarantee that we’re right, not following conscience is a guarantee that we’re doing wrong. To repeat: we must live according to conscience. It is never safe to disregard it.

        If my understanding of Scripture leads me in a direction contrary to respected figures from the past, I owe it to God and to my fellow man to reconsider my new position before acting. However, once I have reconsidered, and if I have not been able to shake the original conviction of my conscience, then I must proceed on a separate course.

        The point of our lives here on earth is to hear the word of the Lord and to do it. Therefore, reading the Bible is not merely so one can know the right things and be orthodox; it’s so one can know the right things to do so that one can do them.

        Here is a case in point: Our conversations started on the subject of everyone going to heaven. I knew this position contradicted my own theological tradition, so I spent much time reconsidering my new understanding to be sure that I could justify to my own conscience in the sight of God. Once I became satisfied that I was receiving a clear message from my conscience, I moved forward. I spoke differently and I acted differently. Not surprisingly, it has made me a better person in God’s sight. However, there are those from my theological tradition who think me a a worse person in God’s sight – even a heretic. But whom am I to please: God or them?

        Conscience is the most vital organ that a human being has. It is more valuable than our eyes, our hearing, our voice, our sense of smell or touch – even more important than our minds. (Better a few less IQ points and a strong, clear conscience than to be a genius with a dulled or sullied conscience.) That conscience is the arbiter that each of must follow. If our bodies are the Lord’s temple, then conscience is the holy of holies in that temple. You cannot give your church, or any human being, proxy for your conscience. Yes, we all are granted an early stage of spiritual life where we are indeed as dependent on other humans as we were in our original physical life. But we must grow up in conscience just as we grow up physically. We must.

        Thus, my message of “Repent, and follow Jesus Christ our Lord!” That is, everything I say on all my blogs can be summarized in this statement. Note that the first verb in that sentence is a function of the conscience. Conscience is the starting point of any true walk with the Lord. He is most of all interested in righteousness, or what people today would call “morality.” So, if I declare that I see a certain truth (or, more precisely, a theme of truth) in the Scriptures, it is a matter of being true to my conscience – for only with my conscience can I see morality.

        There are many things in the Scriptures I do not understand. There are many things about God I do not understand. These things I do not understand, however, are not issues I write about on my blogs. I only write about things that I have a conviction about in my conscience based on clarity in my mind. Having a conviction of conscience means I cannot defer to any church father just to be able to maintain a label of orthodox for myself. On issues about which I am not sure, I do indeed defer to church fathers and Christian tradition. The truths you see me proclaim on these blogs, however, are issues that have passed a greater test. That is, they are issues where I faced a choice between my own understanding and what that church father was saying. (Not that everything I write is controversial with Christians; I receive as much challenge from atheists as I do from Christians because so much of what I write is the Christian message which atheists have hated for years.)

        Now, let me be quick to add that I will stand down immediately if someone uses the the Scriptures to show me in error. In good conscience, however, I cannot place church leaders on a par with the prophets and apostles who wrote the Scriptures. The historic creeds generally comport with Scripture and so there is generally no need to part company with them. But when the Nicene Creed, for example, says that Jesus has not yet come to do what Jesus and His apostles said He would do in their generation I am faced with a choice. And I have made clear to you in this comment what drives my decision in a case like this.

        That is a small departure when you consider what the totality of that creed teaches. However, it is enough to attract persecution for me – which something I would just as soon avoid. But given all Jesus has done for me, how can I refuse to bear up under a little rejection from people?

        As for who else in history or current times, holds my views, I have answered that question. Nonetheless, I am happy to continue answering it. The answer depends on which position about which you are speaking. There are many in church history and currently who hold to universalism (though without necessarily the same biblical case). There are also many who hold to preterism (again, though without necessarily the same biblical case). (Of course, there are varieties of universalist views just as there are varieties of preterist views.) Then you might want to know how many people hold both these views, as I do. That would be a smaller number, of course – but I have no idea how much smaller. Then you could add in my views on every other subject to find out how many people hold exactly the same set of views that I do. That would take considerably more time and I don’t know how we could get to a final answer. Therefore, there’s probably no single view I hold that hasn’t been espoused, or isn’t currently being held, by someone else. But to point to that group or location of individuals who hold them all is an entirely harder question to answer. Since I didn’t get my views from a group of people, I can’t point to a group of people who hold them. I can point to the Scriptures. That’s where I have gotten my ideas about God and validated my ideas about God.

        But if you’ve taken to heart the first part of my long answer here, you don’t really need and answer to the second part. That’s because your own conscience is the arbiter you need – not some church or group standing to the side who are willing to back you in your belief. You have demonstrated to me in your questions and comments that you have sufficient knowledge, reasoning power, and conscience to depart with tradition when it becomes clear that such tradition conflicts with Scripture.

        Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God (Hebrews 11:1; Romans 14:22-23). That is, faith is between you and God. It has nothing to do with other people.

  6. Mike says,
    “I have no arbiter of understanding the Scripture between me and the Lord Jesus Christ”

    I can’t believe you can type that with a straight face. No one comes to the scripture without presuppositions and no one leaves without them. You may think it’s just you and Jesus reading the scripture but your views are easily described by various already posited views—namely modalism or seballianism for starter. Your view regarding the 2nd resurrection and the return of Christ are gnostic. Again I’m not being pejorative; I’m just stating historical fact.
    I can just as easily and sincerely say I read the scripture and I believe in the Father Son and Holy Spirit as the separate persons of the Godhead whether I ever use the term “trinity” or not. Millions of other Christians who are not Orthodox, Catholic or any particular denomination read the scripture and indeed say just that.
    So, then we’re back again to deciding who “conscience” is write. For now, let’s not discuss your novel interpretations of the Kingdom of God and just narrow in on the Tri-personal Godhead. You are telling me I should put aside all accepted understanding of scripture by Christians of all time (except a small minority who were charged as heretics by all branches of Christianity) and change my mind to agreeing with you because your “conscience” tells you that this is what the bible declares?
    I don’t even know how to answer an absurdity like that. So play this out. Every Christian should just pick up a copy of the New Testament (and Old) and just sit down and clear their mind of any preconceptions, teachings, commentaries, creeds, notions and just let their conscience and Jesus teach them what it means. Any by the way, does your conscience tell you which version to use?
    I have friends that have decided to read the New Testament and decided that Jesus was a just a good man. Their conscience confirmed that it was true. Other friends of mine after reading the New Testament decided their consciences told them it was ok to be in a committed gay relationship. I have other very sincere friends that have read the scripture and they believe that God predestines the vast majority of humanity to literal burning caldron and only a small minority have been elected to go to heaven. Their consciences confirm that this is true. They would agree you to the death that they are right—completely convinced consciences. Other friends have read the scripture, “as if for the first time” and they are convinced that Jesus has taught them that everyone need to be baptized in the holy spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues. Their consciences are certain that this is the truth.
    Should I go on…
    If you have just raised your “conscience” to the great authority of bible interpretation, you have just become denomination number 30,001. It sounds noble that you need nothing but your conscience (and Jesus) to determine scripture but it is delusional. It explicitly and implicitly teaches that the Holy Spirit is the author confusion. You may be completely sincerely and I believe you are, but so is everyone that I have just referred to. The conscience is fallible and changes rapidly. We, you and I have zero hope of knowing what the bible teaches if conscience is the ultimate guide.
    Also, although I personally find you and your questions sincere, your opinion humble and also detect in you an earnest desire to know the Jesus Christ, I have to admit to say that you feel that you can disagree with men like Ignatius, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, C.S. Lewis (a convinced Trinitarian), G.K. Chesterton, Billy Graham, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Martin Luther, Charles Colson, Phillip Yancey, Origin (A convinced Universalist and Trinitarian) because your conscience confirms something different seems at best foolish and at worst quite arrogant.
    I’m sorry if that comes across as mean spirited but I truly mean it as simply an observation.
    The Orthodox Church does not become between me and Jesus. Christ has a body which is his church which has been given the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. Again the Church is the pillar and ground of all truth, not the scripture, and certainly not each individual’s conscience. You can’t possibly put that forward as a serious solution for Christians to understand God’s word and bring unity to Christian.

    Mike says…
     “Therefore, there’s probably no single view I hold that hasn’t been espoused, or isn’t currently being held, by someone else. But to point to that group or location of individuals who hold them all is an entirely harder question to answer. Since I didn’t get my views from a group of people, I can’t point to a group of people who hold them. I can point to the Scriptures. That’s where I have gotten my ideas about God and validated my ideas about God.”

    This highlights the difference in our understanding of Christianity. I believe that God who is three persons and one nature desires unity, communion and a common understanding amongst his followers. This of course is what John 17 is talking about. Your above words are a blatant admission that you are not at all interested in seeking unity. You can’t even name a group of Christians who agrees with you. How sad is that for you. Do you at least have a church family who supports you in your views? At least then you could point to a group that agrees. But instead you believe the scripture teacher that Christ has already returned (another novel interpretation) confirmed by what authority…yes, your conscience. Who cares if no one else’s conscience confirms this or if it disagrees with the almost all Christians! Do you not see the absurdity in your position?

    You started you post by saying that I am putting the Orthodox Church between me and Jesus. I would counter that by saying you are putting your conscience between you and the Holy Spirit who has been speaking to all Christians who have ears to hear through his Saints and his Church. You have chosen to raise your conscience above the Holy Spirit. I would hope that you would see the fallacy of that and do it no longer as well.

  7. One more reflection:

    You said you grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. I understand if you are a bit hesitant of someone who claims the “church” is the arbiter of the scripture. The RC church and the Orthodox Church are extremely different in many areas. Though they share some common saints and creeds, the understanding of the faith between the Eastern Church and western church were/ are very different. The Eastern Church saw sin as a wound that was imposed on man as a consequence of the fall. Therefore its cure was seen as Christ defeating our enemies of sin, death and the devil. Christ is seen as the great physician to heal our souls and the Holy Spirit adopts us at children of God. Salvation is not juridical or seen term of western style justice. The atonement is not seen as a pay off to a God who is full of wrath at the disobedience of his creatures but merely Christ destroying our enemies and bringing us back into life giving communion with the Father through the Holy Spirit. We then enter back into communion with the tri-personal God who is love.

    If God is not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three divine persons sharing one divine nature than he really cannot be defined as love. Love always denotes relationship. If you say God is love as it does in the scripture this could have no meaning if God was a monad. Just like saying you are in love but say you are single. Saying you are in love would only make sense in the context of having a wife or best friend or some other person who is the object of love. To say that God is love is meaningless without an object of love. God is eternal love meaning he was a communion of Love before the world was created. That’s why Genesis says; Let us create man in our image. The image of the trinity. The Old Testament makes many allusions to the tri-partite nature of God and there is quite a bit of typology of the trinity such as the three visitors of Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre. The fathers always interpreted this as a foreshadowing of the full revelation of the trinity. Much could be said about the revelation of the trinity in the Old Testament. However, God chose to reveal himself in movements to his people starting with Abraham. God chose to fully reveal himself in Christ. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. Remember before that it says, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. God and the Word (Jesus) were not the same person. When Christ came and taught, he clearly revealed the Spirit who is also talked about in the Old Testament. Before he left he promised to not leave us orphaned but to leave his Spirit. He didn’t mean that he would leave and then return as the Spirit. If that was the case, then who descended on Christ in the form of a dove after his baptism–just for one example.

    What sets Christianity apart from all other religions are these two unbelievable truths. God is love. His very existence is a communion of divine person who live in love. Out of this love they created us in their image. In other words, many persons sharing a common nature. But since we tried to become like God without God, (eating the apple) we lost our communion with God and that brought dead since God is life. The second unbelievable truth is that God the father sent his son to dwell among us and bring divinity to us to show us what was the true nature of the Father. If you have seen me, you have seen the father. He didn’t mean he was the Father, but merely that Jesus showed perfectly what the Father was really like. Any honest soul after reading the OT may conclude that God doesn’t love his enemies but Christ reveals the true nature of God. In former times he had to dead harshly with a rebellious people but now in Christ, God the Father revealed his true nature and then demonstrated his love for us by dying on the cross and destroyed our enemies. He rose with a resurrected body and ascended into heaven. His holy spirit descended at Pentecost to establish that his kingdom with have no end. Sure the disciples thought he was coming back and he did through his spirit but only to inaugurate his kingdom through his church who he promised would do greater works than He. He promised to one day return and physically resurrect all people good or bad from the graves, some to a resurrection of life and some to a resurrection of condemnation which brings us back to our original topic of universalism. When Paul talks about perishable and imperishable bodies or spiritual bodies, he doesn’t mean non material, but merely bodies that are finally not capable of perishing.
    God loves all but his is also a consuming fire, those that are filled with the fire of his love by the cure of their passions (sins) will find his very presence to be paradise. Others who lived lives antithetical to his love may find that being in his presence is gnashing of teeth. Will this lashing of teeth last forever? Who knows. You site has some good discussion on the word eternal.
    God never stops loving sinners and his desire is that all come to the knowledge of truth but He also completely respects our freedom. He is completely free and never coerces or forces anyone to love him. I guess hell which we know is gehenna may be just people living eternally trying to find happiness in sin which be it’s very nature cannot satisfy.

    At any rate, that is a taste of how an Orthodox would look at Christian truth and scripture which I thought might be more appealing than just disagreeing and calling your method of interpreting scripture wrong. Does that appeal to you in any way?
    I think and my conscience is convinced that this is what the scripture teaches and it is backed by thousands if not millions of believers from the 1st century to this present day. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable joining a host of believers who feel that have been clearly led by the Holy Spirit and found this to be confirmed by other believers who century after century passed this down from believer to believer in all parts of the Chrisitan word. Sure there were splinter groups here and there. At one point St. Maximus the Confessor after being thrown out by a number of heretics said, “then I alone am the catholic church.” Catholic with a small c meaning wholeness. But the truth of the Nicene apostolic doctrine always prevailed. I would invite you to enter into a relationship not only with Jesus but the Father and his Son, the trinity one in essence and undivided the source of all love and life.

  8. Stephen,

    You said, “Your view regarding the 2nd resurrection and the return of Christ are gnostic.” Please be more specific and elaborate about your sources as to what is “gnostic” in my thinking. I made this request before, but I didn’t come away from that exchange satisfied with your answer. If you want me to believe that your use of the term is not merely pejorative, please substantiate the charge with some references for how you are defining gnosticism and how you think such definition applies in my case. My own experience in trying to understand gnosticism is that it is either defined as a set of beliefs so varied as to defy categorization or else a belief in an evil material world with a demiurge creator. In neither case can I find my beliefs characterized. Yet you’ve made this charge a second time, so I am hoping expand upon your charge so that I can take it seriously and not just pejoratively.

  9. Mike,

    I’m thinking of gnostic in terms of the radical dualism in your view of the 2nd resurrection. Specifically in seeing a great divide between earth and heaven (or the kingdom of god). It was also the Gnostics as I understand it that believe that the general resurrection was some sort of merely spiritual event as opposed to actually resurrection where the real body is transfigured into a spiritual/material body. Gnostics would also posit that the earth would be destroyed and that the kingdom of god would be in some other realm. Early Christianity taught that the earth would be transformed, not destroyed. Everything God made was good. The body was created good and though fallen, it will not be destroyed but renewed in the resurrection.

    You are right though, it was unfair of me to throw out the term gnostic since it encompasses a lot of things. Maybe a more fair term would be platonic or dualistic.

  10. Stephen, when I search Wikipedia for “radical dualism” it takes me to a section of its article on “Gnosticism.” When I read through the section, I do not recognize my views there. Instead, I’m confronted with philosophical and theological terms with which I am not familiar. Therefore, I don’t know how much good it does to withdraw the accusation of gnosticism if you’re going to put in its place “radical dualism.” I am willing to have you show my how my views match that section, but I cannot see it myself.

    As for “the 2nd resurrection,” I am not sure what you mean so I will explain what I mean. Jesus was the firstborn from the dead (I described this in The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven in Chapter 7 – The First Resurrection). The rest of the dead would be raised in the great resurrection that occurred at Christ’s Second Coming (I described this in The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven in Chapter 8 – The Resurrection of the Rest of the Dead). It was a heavenly event with earthly consequences. I believe that when all the dead were raised that they received the same kind of body that Jesus received and that they continue to dwell with Him in heaven as they will forever and ever. I believe that every person who dies since that time joins them, and joins them with the same kind of body. The only way that this varies from a traditional Christian point of view (and therefore yours) is the timing and population covered. That is, you say that great resurrection is yet future while I say it is past. And as for the population covered, you say it is a subset of the human race and I say it is all of the human race. I am aware of no other material difference in views. Are you aware of any others?

    So much for an introduction. Now let me try to respond specifically to what you’ve said.

    I’m thinking of gnostic in terms of the radical dualism in your view of the 2nd resurrection. Specifically in seeing a great divide between earth and heaven (or the kingdom of god).

    I don’t see any more or less of a divide between heaven and earth that what the prophets and apostles portray. I’m not sure how you mean “the kingdom of God” to be understood in that sentence. I believe the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven, which is merely a synonymous term) is a present reality in creation which means it rules heaven and earth (see The Kingdom of God Is Here and Now.)

    It was also the Gnostics as I understand it that believe that the general resurrection was some sort of merely spiritual event as opposed to actually resurrection where the real body is transfigured into a spiritual/material body.

    As I’ve said above, I believe the dead received bodies just like the one Jesus received.

    Gnostics would also posit that the earth would be destroyed and that the kingdom of god would be in some other realm.

    It should be obvious to you that my views do not match theirs on this point. How could I believe the kingdom of God is in some other realm if I say it is “here and now”?

    Early Christianity taught that the earth would be transformed, not destroyed. Everything God made was good. The body was created good and though fallen, it will not be destroyed but renewed in the resurrection.

    This is exactly what I teach. It is modern Christianity that departs and says a new physical earth is going to replace the current physical earth when Jesus comes again in the future.

    You are right though, it was unfair of me to throw out the term gnostic since it encompasses a lot of things. Maybe a more fair term would be platonic or dualistic.

    I am not so much concerned with the fairness or unfairness of your doing this. Rather, I am concerned about advancing our discussion in a productive way. I am not trained in philosophy and I therefore cannot interact with you if you tell me my ideas sound “platonic” or “dualistic.”

    If you want to show me where I am wrong, please use words I can understand. Besides, how could I be borrowing thinking from fields of study with which I am not familiar?

    Alternatively, if you want me to understand how you think my teaching matches gnosticism or some subset thereof, give me a little more guidance to sources that will help me understand what you’re saying.

  11. Mike,

    I think I’ll bow out of this current discussion on the kingdom of god. I may not understand your position well and should just not try to characterize something I’m not sure about. What I can say fairly definitely is that the majority or Christians now and in of course in the early Church believed that Christ’s return would be future and that the bodies would then be raised. My mother died 15 years ago and according to you she has a physically resurrected body in heaven. That would mean her real body is still in the grave and has not been resurrected. To me that seems to carry certain aspects of dualism and Gnosticism. In other words, it doesn’t seem to speak to the transformation of the body but really just a new “spiritual body” unrelated to the her earthly body. Again I may misunderstand your view.

    I would be much more interested in returning to the understanding of God as tri-personal. I think this issue is much more important in understanding Christianity and it’s implication for understand the character of God. Do you have any comments of this? It’s possible we just disagree on how Christian truth is to be perceived: you believe the conscience is the ultimate guide and I feel that the Tradition of the Church which is the voice of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages is how I choose to interpret doctrine and scripture. Let’s not get sidetrack by my carless use of the word gnostic.

    If you want a better pejorative, I could just say that your view of God is modalistic and therefore considered heretical by the early church and by all the men I mentioned in my earlier post. Would the Holy Spirit lead your “conscience” to a position that I believe that the body of Christ that is alive through the Holy Spirit clearly condemned as a heresy in the early centuries of the church. Again no church or denomination has disagreed with this until the JW’s or Mormons or One-ness Pentecostals come around and you said you don’t really agree with them which puts you and your conscience out on a limb. Do you have a response to this?

    1. I’ll continue our discussion about the Trinity over on our Dialogue dedicated to that topic.

      Since you’re bowing out of this discussion about the church and the kingdom of God, let me make a few closing points.

      First, I want to repeat what I’ve said about the inability of the church to qualify for the kingdom of God due to its divided state. No kingdom divided against itself can stand.

      Second, the kingdom cannot be the church because if you read the New Testament, you see that the church was looking for the kingdom to come. For example, note that Peter writes to the church in 2 Peter 1 telling them how to prepare for entering the kingdom of God. Such an instruction would not make sense if the church was the kingdom of God, for they would have ipso facto, already entered it. The whole thrust of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25 and its parallels in Mark and Luke) was to teach the New Testament church how to prepare for the kingdom. I could say more, but I trust this will suffice to show that the NT church was taught to seek the kingdom – not that it was the kingdom.

      Since the church (neither in New Testament times nor today) is assuredly not the kingdom of God, the question is then raised: which is greater? That is, which are we to pursue…assuming both are in reach? It seems clear from Jesus’ teaching and the balance of the New Testament that the kingdom of God was what He died and was raised to give us. Therefore, we ought to be seeking it and not church (Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church).

    2. As for your specific comments here, they really have more to do with the church and the kingdom than they do the Trinity per se, so I’ll go head and address them here.

      I would be much more interested in returning to the understanding of God as tri-personal. I think this issue is much more important in understanding Christianity and it’s implication for understand the character of God. Do you have any comments on this? It’s possible we just disagree on how Christian truth is to be perceived: you believe the conscience is the ultimate guide and I feel that the Tradition of the Church which is the voice of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages is how I choose to interpret doctrine and scripture.

      As I’ve said, I think the kingdom of God replaced the church in the same way that the church replaced Israel. Therefore, for me to defer to the church on interpreting the Scriptures would be to grant it higher authority than the kingdom of God. Using your logic, you’d go ask all the rabbis whether they think Jesus was the Messiah before you decided whether or not to accept Him as such.

      If you want a better pejorative, I could just say that your view of God is modalistic and therefore considered heretical by the early church and by all the men I mentioned in my earlier post. Would the Holy Spirit lead your “conscience” to a position that I believe that the body of Christ that is alive through the Holy Spirit clearly condemned as a heresy in the early centuries of the church. Again no church or denomination has disagreed with this until the JW’s or Mormons or One-ness Pentecostals come around and you said you don’t really agree with them which puts you and your conscience out on a limb. Do you have a response to this?

      Yes, as I’ve said, I do not believe churches and denominations after the New Testament represent God and therefore their rulings have no authority in His kingdom.

  12. Mike,

    I have appreciated dialoging with you. We have two very different views of the scripture and of the nature of God. You somehow believe that the descent of the Holy Spirit which inaugurated the Church era was something different. You believe that Jesus already returned and that there is no Church. It’s again an interesting understanding of scripture that you have come to with the conviction of your conscience. My conscience convinces me after reading the scripture that Christ has not yet returned and that Holy Spirit speaks through his Church most clearly through the Orthodox Church. Since we both sincerely follow our conscience, the only solution is that we are both correct and the Holy Spirit is the author of confusion.

    Even excepting the Orthodox Church, I have named major modern Christians who do not believe like you about the kingdom of God and especially your understanding of God. You have again not been able to name any group however big or small that agrees with you so I can only conclude that you think that your view, based solely on the convictions of your conscience, are the correct one. Of course as I have said before, your hermeneutic (that of relying on “bible only and one’s conscience” had let to thousands of denominations all claiming to have the correct interpretation. You have not offered any explanation for this phenomenon– that of numerous denominations with wildly different interpretation, all claiming that the Holy Spirit led them to the truth. The only conclusion that I can draw is that if I suddenly decided that you were correct, then I would be relying on your interpretation of scripture which would be my “tradition”. Do you not see the trap that modern Christianity is in if it keeps up this madness of “individualistic” interpretation?

    Do you really think your understanding of God is more accurate than Charles Swindoll, John MacArthur, N.T. Wright, John Stott, Carl Henry, Charles Colson, C.S. Lewis, John and Charles Wesley, Charlie Pinnock (a universalist), Martin Luther, not to mention all the other well known and accepted patristic scholars? You are willing to say that your individualistic understanding of God, not supported by almost all who considers themselves Christians is more accurate. Do you not see the hubris in this view? Are you really expecting me to be won by the argument of your conscience? You have not come across as arrogant so I know you don’t expect me change to your views. But, I sincerely ask, why anyone would change their views after reading your thoughts. If they did they would be following you and not the Holy Spirit and their own conscience. You are stuck in the same hermeneutic trap that has fractured the protestant world into oblivion. Do you not see this?

    Also, when I spoke about how the bible was put together and the fact that hardly anyone had their own copy until after the printing press was invented, does that matter to you? People came to the church to hear the scriptures and only then bits and pieces. So then am I to believe that Mike Gantt comes along in the 21st century and finally has his own copy of the bible (which is probably a vastly different translation than was used in the early church since the version you use was translated by men who has very specific theological ideas) and he comes up with the correct understanding of who God is based on his conscience while claiming to honor the saints who gave their lives and blood to teach that God was uniquely Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God in three Persons. I ask you these questions in sincerity. I honestly do not see one what basis you can hold to these positions with intellectual integrity.

    I don’t really expect you to have answers for these questions so we can end our conversation here if you would like. I do wish you the best and that you would at least consider looking at the opinion of the Orthodox Church. I could send you many good links to godly men who have studied scripture their whole lives and who believe the Holy Spirit has actually be active in teaching the Saints of the ages. You’ve admitted that your conscience could be wrong. Maybe it’s time to look into a more accepted view of God and learn how much the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love you and want to enter into more full communion with you and in turn with the saints of old that are part of this wonderful communion.

    1. Stephen, you said:

      I have appreciated dialoging with you. We have two very different views of the scripture and of the nature of God. You somehow believe that the descent of the Holy Spirit which inaugurated the Church era was something different. You believe that Jesus already returned and that there is no Church. It’s again an interesting understanding of scripture that you have come to with the conviction of your conscience. My conscience convinces me after reading the scripture that Christ has not yet returned and that Holy Spirit speaks through his Church most clearly through the Orthodox Church. Since we both sincerely follow our conscience, the only solution is that we are both correct and the Holy Spirit is the author of confusion.

      Of course, that is not the solution for the Holy Spirit cannot be the author of confusion. The correct answer is that one of us is wrong…or both of us are wrong. It cannot be that both of us are right. Of course, we may each be partially right and partially wrong, but what all these conditions amount to is that any confusion originates with us – not Him. I trust you would agree with this.

      Such an understanding does not mean that clarity is beyond our reach, for we are able to grow and mature and learn. Therefore, we can always keep the posture of a humble disciple before the Lord. Over time, there it is possible that we can come to see things the same way on this side of death. Of course, on the other side of death we will surely see things the same way.

      Even excepting the Orthodox Church, I have named major modern Christians who do not believe like you about the kingdom of God and especially your understanding of God. You have again not been able to name any group however big or small that agrees with you so I can only conclude that you think that your view, based solely on the convictions of your conscience, are the correct one.

      I do not call myself a Christian; I am just a human being, saving by grace just like every other human being. I can’t point to a group who believes like I do, because anyone who believes like I do won’t form a group. The days of group (i.e. church) ended with the Second Coming of Christ.

      Of course as I have said before, your hermeneutic (that of relying on “bible only and one’s conscience” had let to thousands of denominations all claiming to have the correct interpretation. You have not offered any explanation for this phenomenon– that of numerous denominations with wildly different interpretation, all claiming that the Holy Spirit led them to the truth.

      What has led to thousands of thousands of denomination is thousands of leaders seeking followers. The only person I want to see people follow is Jesus Christ. That’s why I don’t form a group, don’t keep a mailing list, don’t have meetings, etc. I am proclaiming Him who loves us all. I hope that those who love Him will be encouraged by what I say, and that those who don’t love Him will change their minds.

      The only conclusion that I can draw is that if I suddenly decided that you were correct, then I would be relying on your interpretation of scripture which would be my “tradition”.

      You should only follow where the Holy Spirit leads you. Nor should you rely on my interpretation any more than you rely on any of the other people you mention. All of us are relying on the Scriptures, and the God who inspired them.

      Do you not see the trap that modern Christianity is in if it keeps up this madness of “individualistic” interpretation?

      Modern Christianity is already caught up in madness as I write in Spiritual Christianity Versus Social Christianity. It is the madness of following each other instead of following the Lord.

      Do you really think your understanding of God is more accurate than Charles Swindoll, John MacArthur, N.T. Wright, John Stott, Carl Henry, Charles Colson, C.S. Lewis, John and Charles Wesley, Charlie Pinnock (a universalist), Martin Luther, not to mention all the other well-known and accepted patristic scholars? You are willing to say that your individualistic understanding of God, not supported by almost all who considers themselves Christians is more accurate. Do you not see the hubris in this view?

      Each of these men you mention think a great many things about God – as do I. Therefore, your question should be applied specifically to the issue before us: that is, did the kingdom of God replaces the church? I think all of these people you mention support church as an essential element of serving God in this age. While I agree with these men on a great many important issues (most of all that Jesus is Lord), I cannot agree with them on this point. I was once attached to the church as much as they were; in some cases, even more so. But showed me, and through the Scriptures, that I was ignorant of His kingdom which I should have been seeking. Perhaps none of these men were as fortunate as I to have the particular set of circumstances necessary to come to this realization. I certainly respect them and thank them for their faithfulness to Christ. But if I were to subordinate the kingdom of God to the church, I would not be faithful to Christ – and thus I would dishonor the very legacy that such men have left me.

      Are you really expecting me to be won by the argument of your conscience?

      No, I only expect you to be won by the prompting of the Holy Spirit in your own conscience.

      You have not come across as arrogant so I know you don’t expect me change to your views. But, I sincerely ask, why anyone would change their views after reading your thoughts.

      Actually, I hope that you and everyone reading will seek the Lord’s kingdom instead of church.

      If they did they would be following you and not the Holy Spirit and their own conscience.

      On the contrary, if someone reads my words and responds to the Holy Spirit’s prompting of their own conscience, they are not following me at all. When I read Martin Luther, Chuck Swindoll, N.T. Wright, John Stott, John Bunyan, John and Charles Wesley, and practically every other name you have mentioned, and heed their counsel that I should exalt Jesus Christ above all and regard the Scriptures as His holy word, I am following the Holy Spirit’s prompting of my conscience. If I subsequently follow them instead of the Lord Himself, then I become followers of them. However, I don’t do that because they have right taught me to follow the Lord.

      I taught all of my children to follow the Lord. Their weaning from me to the Lord was a gradual one, of course. Nonetheless, the time came when I expected them to cease following me at all and follow the Lord fully. If they have truly come to know the Lord, why would they need me as an intermediary?

      You are stuck in the same hermeneutic trap that has fractured the protestant world into oblivion. Do you not see this?

      On the contrary, I am freed from the trap of church. I am not concerned about the fracturing of the vase because I am clinging to the Vine which has outgrown the vase. Let the vase be discarded.

      The problem of individual interpretation that bothers you is indeed going to continue until the church is completely deconstructed – and that is as it should be. What will hasten its decomposition is when individuals stop trying to build “better” churches than the ones from which they depart. For when such individuals try to build followers they perpetuate the mistake that led to the errors of the church they left. When humans try to lead a church they are trying to take the place of God. The Orthodox Church has made itself the mediator between God and its members. This is a terrible mistake. Jesus Christ came to be the mediator between God and men – He Himself does not need mediators between Himself and humanity.

      New Testament times were the day of church; this is the day of the Lord (see Isaiah 2:11, 17 where it says “The Lord alone will be exalted in that day”).

      Also, when I spoke about how the bible was put together and the fact that hardly anyone had their own copy until after the printing press was invented, does that matter to you?

      This matters a great deal to me and I think about it a lot.

      People came to the church to hear the scriptures and only then bits and pieces.

      When the apostles preached, there was no New Testament. Almost every time they mention the Scriptures in the NT therefore (which was often), they were talking about the Old Testament – in most cases, the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). As Paul wrote letters, they came to be circulated among various churches – which were actually synagogues because Christians were, for the most part, Jews during New Testament times. Yes, when people came to these Christian synagogues they could only hear a portion of the Scriptures read and expounded on any given day. However, it would have had a powerful effect because this was Christianity preached in its most pristine form.

      So then am I to believe that Mike Gantt comes along in the 21st century and finally has his own copy of the bible (which is probably a vastly different translation than was used in the early church since the version you use was translated by men who has very specific theological ideas) and he comes up with the correct understanding of who God is based on his conscience while claiming to honor the saints who gave their lives and blood to teach that God was uniquely Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God in three Persons. I ask you these questions in sincerity. I honestly do not see one what basis you can hold to these positions with intellectual integrity.

      I have no way of knowing that I am the only one who holds to the views I have. In fact, I don’t believe that I am the only one who has been shown these things. I believe God has revealed these truths to many people. There are almost 7 billion people in the world today. I have no way of connecting to all of them or saying definitively what they have and haven’t heard from the Spirit of God. All I can do is testify to Him as He has revealed Himself to me. Regarding what I believe about the nature of God, I have much more in common with you and all the Christian luminaries that you name than with the vast majority of the world’s population.

      Nonetheless, our superior knowledge is only of value to us relative to the rest of the world’s population if we behave in a way appropriate to that knowledge. In fact, we will be judged more strictly than the rest of the world because of this knowledge of God we have. Yet if we act properly on it we will bring blessing to the rest of the world.

      I don’t really expect you to have answers for these questions so we can end our conversation here if you would like.

      I am happy to answer questions you have as long as you have the interest to ask them.

      Jesus told us to seek His kingdom and yet the majority of people who profess interest in Him park their souls at church, neglecting pursuit of the kingdom He suffered so dearly to bring us. Today, church has become a huge obstacle to seeing and pursuing the kingdom of God. This was true in Martin Luther’s day. May God bless him forever that he did something about it. However, that he merely formed another church to take it’s place is not something I can commend (See The Protestant Reformation Fell Short.)

      I do wish you the best and that you would at least consider looking at the opinion of the Orthodox Church. I could send you many good links to godly men who have studied scripture their whole lives and who believe the Holy Spirit has actually be active in teaching the Saints of the ages.

      I appreciate your good wishes and I certainly feel the same toward you, Stephen.

      There are good things being taught in every one of the 30,000 plus Christian denominations, yours included. However, the one thing I am not likely to find in any of them is an exaltation of the kingdom of God above church. In other words, I am likely to find True Christianity adulterated with the admonition to serve the kingdom of men, a kingdom of this world (see 2 Corinthians 11:2-3). Though such admonitions may come from sincere men, they are sincerely wrong on this point…no matter how right they may be on any other. We are to serve the Lord’s kingdom and His only (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 9:6-7; Daniel 7:13-14). Therefore, God says to them, “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.” Will church leaders heed this call, or will they cry out for more bricks from the slaves?

      You’ve admitted that your conscience could be wrong. Maybe it’s time to look into a more accepted view of God and learn how much the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love you and want to enter into more full communion with you and in turn with the saints of old that are part of this wonderful communion.

      Yes, I may be wrong to exalt the kingdom of God over church. Christian would say I am. Just as Jews would say I am wrong to exalted Christ over Israel – the people of God. God will judge us all. And it is precisely because I am fearful of the judgment of God that I hew to this path of promoting Jesus and His kingdom above all rule and authority. I can ill afford to temper my praise of the kingdom for the sake of the approval of men. We are called to love our fellow human beings – not seek their approval.

      I came to my point of view while abiding fully in the more accepted view. That is, it was my zeal for the accepted view that led me to find this pearl of great price. Jesus Himself is the kingdom. We pursue the kingdom when we pursue Him. Knowing God – that is eternal life. Belonging to a church is an immeasurably poor substitute for serving the kingdom of God.

      The cocoon is a blessing when it brings forth a butterfly. But if it smothers and chokes the butterfly, and won’t let it free, then the cocoon becomes a curse. May the church perish and may the kingdom of God prevail!

  13. Hope I’m not jumping into the water with both feet tied to a rock here.!?
    Something that has bothered me for quite a while….
    There is a sense that the Church as we know it has moved away from Scripture has created a “New”Gospel IE Purpose Driven etc.
    Now one of the things I have noticed is the raised expectation that members of the Church honour and protect their Pastor leaders by being submerged in everything they teach and also cutting off ties with anyone who dares question the validity of what they are taught…even life long friends….this we have seen with our own eyes.
    Now the question is this…I personally find great holes in much that is being taught in Churches whatever the denomination…because of their desire to woo people in and be non offensive…so out goes great chunks of Scripture.,. that then must mean that Scripture has automatically taken a second place behind the teachings of the Church.
    The interesting thing is that when reading Scripture I see a nation or group called the “Church” not groups of denominations….I also see the “Family unit” as the basis of this body called the Church.
    I also see the modern Church…walk over the authority given by God in the household ie the authority of the Husband and wife over the teaching that come to their home….that little part of the “Marriage covenant” “what God has brought together let NO ONE put assunder”…even the modern church, many do a good job at trashing that covenant.
    We have preachers with false doctrines riding into town fleecing the locals turning the heads removing the faithful from their positions in the body…telling that this “New” modern Church is preparing the way for Jesus.
    Jesus NEEDS NO ONE His Church will be the body of believers spread out and found in every denomination the ones and two’s faithful to His Word who cry out over this apostate condition they see….also those that have walked away and meet in their homes with their wives and children or alone in their bedrooms while their family still attend the local church (of the apostate kind).
    It will include those who pick up the Bible and find Christ of the Word on their own in the wilderness….my experience….taught the way by a believing parents never went to Church and met Christ while herding cattle.
    This is the issue…WHAT IS the CHURCH that the Bible speaks of…is it the self proclaimed houses made by men….or the loosely spread out hidden body created by God???

        1. In word and deed.

          In word, by always bearing witness to the ever-present Christ who fills the heavens and earth.
          Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church
          Practicing the Presence of God
          You’ll find these links and more at this page.

          In deed, by living in this world as if Christ truly owns every inch of it.
          Matthew 5:16
          Genesis 17:1
          Colossians 2:6

          Also, I love these quotes:
          “Only one life and soon ’twill be past; Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
          “To know Christ and to make Him known.”

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