Monday, January 5, 2015

So Many Technical Terms for What I Thought Was Simple Belief

A lot of views I hold now were nascent before 2010 or assumed based on what I may have read or been taught but don’t remember learning. What amazes me is that within the essential core doctrines of Christianity, there is immense variety of views on all sorts of concepts one might initially consider mundane, or at least, certainly not a source of conflict. You’d be wrong, at least on the level that people don’t hold different opinions on them. And what impresses me is that every independent view has a technical name for it! This post is meant both as a reflection on nuances of Biblical Christianity that I believe, and to educate readers as to the existence of the diverse views out there. Listed is not an exhaustive explanation of everything that can be believed, but the alternatives that I find most reasonable, to the extent that I do, and short descriptions.

Dispensationalism – the belief that there are distinct periods of time ("dispensations") in human history where God has interacted with humanity in different contexts than at other times.

Pre-millennialism – the belief that Jesus Christ will physically return to earth to reign from Jerusalem for a long period of time, most likely a literal 1000 years, before finally ushering in the beginning of eternity

Zionism – the belief that God intends to one day rule the world from Jerusalem in person, as He once did from a distance, with the inhabitants of and agents of rulership of His kingdom being ethnically Jewish believers. Party to this fulfillment is the likelihood, but not necessity, of Jews to be regathered to Israel. The present state of modern Israel should not be seen as a perfect fulfillment of zionist prophecies, but as representing a partial fulfillment, or as setting the stage for a future fulfillment. 

Dispensational pre-millennialism – the belief that there will be a distinction between the Church, Tribulation saints, and Israel in the Millennium, that the Church and Tribulation saints constitute glorified (sinless) believers from before and during the Great Tribulation, and that Israel constitutes Jewish (and, not yet glorified, therefore sinful) believers in Christ at that time.

Dispensationalism and dispensational premillennialism contrasts in particular with “Replacement Theology,” which holds that the promises given to Israel in the OT are now active for the Church and Christians, in the NT after Christ’s crucifixion. This does not make sense, Biblically, but there is a valid point that in soteriological terms (having to do with salvation), there has never been a distinction between Israel and the Church. Paul writes in Romans 9-11 that “all Israel is not Israel,” to indicate that it was not Jewishness that saved anyone, but faith in God, and this is true both for saved OT Jews and saved NT Christians. This is emphasized in

Covenant Theology, which I also agree with to the extent that it emphasizes that there is no discontinuity in God’s plan of salvation over time. It has always been Law and Grace. Believing Jews and Christians are in the same spiritual class. This is certainly true. Where it’s possible to go wrong in dispensationalism is to get the notion that God changes His mind or treats different people differently, and where it’s possible to go wrong in covenant theology is to get the notion that there’s no difference between Israel’s role in God’s plan and the Church’s role in God’s plan. Hence why I seem to find these two beliefs characterized as being in conflict, but I find aspects of each, as I have read and understood them, that are theologically sound.

Pre-tribulation rapture – the belief that all living (and dead) Church Age believers will be removed from planet earth prior to the final 7-year period of premillennial history during which God has determined to set aside to “judge the nations,” and both chastise those who will come to faith in that time, and to pour out His wrath on those who will not. It is identified as “the time of Jacob’s Trouble,” indicating that the emphasis is on God’s relationship with Israel, and further there is a promise to the Church that “we are not appointed to wrath,” and the Tribulation is referred to in Revelation as “the great day of God’s wrath,” – consequently, there is a theological basis for believing that the Church is not present, beyond the common prooftexts about the rapture itself.

Baptism by immersion – the belief that John the Baptist’s baptism of submerging the whole person under water is the best model to use. The alternative is “sprinkling,” where water is poured or splashed on someone’s forehead. Each refers to different things. I did some research to understand why conservative Presbyterians and Lutherans prefer the sprinkling method, and it turns out they view it as symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s anointing (pouring oil over someone’s forehead was a common OT symbol used to indicate that God had chosen someone to be a prophet or king), so that mode of baptism is meant to symbolize the fact that the Holy Spirit comes to indwell new believers. Baptists generally prefer immersion, because they view it as symbolic of dying to self/sin and ‘being buried with Him, and raised to walk in newness of life.’ The Biblical phrase is “what is buried is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.” It is meant to symbolize the spiritual truth of salvation and glorification (two separate events) simultaneously, (with emphasis on the first), as being a spiritual death to the old way, and new life in Jesus Christ. I believe that the symbolism of death and resurrection, of putting to death the old man and putting on the new Man (JC), is more Biblically consistent and symbolically appropriate.

Believer’s baptism – since baptism symbolizes a conscious choice to surrender in faith to God, it is most appropriate for adults who have been counseled in depth as to the significance of the ceremony. It simply doesn’t make sense to baptize babies, for two reasons: 1) they aren’t mentally capable of belief, and 2) the act of baptizing them does not impart a special measure of God’s grace to them, and with that understanding, that it is merely symbolic and an act of obedience, and not a mystical transfer of power, there is no motivation for baptizing anyone who’s not mature enough to comprehend what it means.

Open communion – the alternative to this is that church leaders are put in a position of pointing out individuals that they believe are disqualified and not permitted to participate. This puts them in a position of judging the content of a person’s heart, which is not in their power nor prerogative. What is better is that communion is available to anybody (save openly professing nonbelievers, one could imagine), and that it is emphasized that one should willingly choose not to participate if they have unreconciled conflict with another person, or unconfessed sin, etc, because of the seriousness and the real danger of incurring God’s judgment on you, in some way, because of faithlessness or irreverence. But from a human perspective, communion should be offered to anyone who’ll take it.

 That communion is symbolic. It isn’t mystical. Like baptism, it is a public demonstration of faith and a way to encourage and edify the Church by your obedience. It does nothing beyond that to increase your standing with God, or improve your spiritual growth, or give you victory over sin, etc. Other views are that “God is present” in the sacrament in some way that is more significant than His normal everyday presence at all other times in a believer’s life or in Church activities. I forget which of the two, Luther and Zwingli, who held this, but all I remember is that they held two differing views on it. Other names for communion are “the Lord’s supper” and “the eucharist.” I avoid the latter term because of its association with heretical wings of the Episcopalian church and the Greek orthodox and Roman catholic churches. In the RCC, the view of the eucharist is the antibiblical belief called “transubstantiation,” which supposes that the bread and wine literally become Jesus’ physical body, so that participants commit cannibalism in the belief that this is spiritually, mysteriously holy. The Bible says that Christ was “crucified once for all,” but Catholic doctrine says that the eucharist perpetuates Jesus’ sacrifice every time it is performed, and so it is in direct violation with the Scriptures.

Calvinism – this is the one view that I did not think I held, and it took me a long time to reason to an acceptance of it, after the misleading introduction to it that I had in 9th grade world history. As it turns out, the common characterization of Calvinism given by anybody who’s not a Calvinist tends to describe what Charles Spurgeon termed “Antinomianism” (‘against the Law’), which is the belief that it doesn’t matter how poorly you behave, because if you’re predestined you’re good to go, you’ve got a carte blanche to sin because you’re already going to heaven. Turns out, that’s not Calvinism.

Under the category of Calvinism falls all of that which is called Reformed doctrine. “The doctrines of Grace.”
The five solas – sola scriptura, solo Christos, sola fide, sola gratia, soli deo Gloria
TULIP – total depravity of man, unconditional election of believers, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints
Fundamental to Calvinism is the doctrine that separates Protestantism (the healthy parts, churches which have not slid into heresy) from all other beliefs, both pseudochristian and pagan: the doctrine that salvation is by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, and not by the works of the believer. In other words, no one can earn their way into heaven. No one can be a good person. No one can be righteous. No one can save themselves, nor does Jesus need their participation in order to save them. Anything contrary to this is not only contrary to Calvinism, but contrary to the Scriptures and contrary to the very core of the Gospel message. In other words, anything in disagreement with this is damning doctrine. And because it’s so solidly Biblical, that is why I eventually found myself in agreement with what I had been educated to think was stupid for a half a decade.

 Cessationism – the belief that the supernatural gifts of healing and predictive prophecy, as well as speaking in and interpreting different languages without having conscious comprehension thereof, have a) totally and utterly ceased because their purpose was specifically for the early Church and there is no point to them now – “we have a more sure word of prophecy (the Bible)”, or b) cessationism lite – that the gifts are in operation in rare cases where new people groups are being evangelized by missionaries where the Gospel has never been heard in their language, and no one knows their language so as to preach it to them.

In both of these cases, however, it is held that whatever the Holy Spirit does in the world today that is supernatural, the sign gifts, as they are called, are not given to people today as they were in Acts, where they were essentially superpowers that could be exercised at the believers’ discretion in the same way as you would flex a muscle, but instead are very specifically ordained for a limited purpose and then do not remain.

In most cases, cessationists still agree that “spiritual gifts” exist and should be pursued, but they are more appropriately comprehended as God-given wisdom or personality qualities that can be developed like any other skill (encouragement, teaching, preaching, discernment, charity), and not as flip-of-a-switch occurrences where a person suddenly begins speaking incomprehensibly in a congregation where everybody knows English. Much more could be said, but this is the basic framework.

Complementarianism – in contrast to egalitarianism. The former holds that husbands and wives have different, but complementary roles, and the latter holds that they perform exactly the same roles as each other with no differences. Complementarianism further holds that the church leaders identified as biskopae in the Greek (called pastors, elders, bishops, ministers, etc) are roles that are to  be held by married men, only. The church leaders identified as diakonae (pardon any misspellings, I don’t know Greek endings), or deacons, can be both men and women, since there are examples of them in the NT. The two classes of Church servants perform markedly different roles. Much has been said on the subject of why women should not be allowed to hold positions of spiritual authority over men, but the one thing that is undeniable is that the Bible clearly teaches this, and that there is no room for confusion over the fact that complementarianism is the Biblical view.

Sublapsarianism – I hadn’t realized that there were different views on the order of events of God’s decision making process in planning history from eternity past, but there are. To my best knowledge, infralapsarianism says that God determined to allow the Fall, then determined to save some of the fallen, then provided Jesus Christ as the substitute. Sublapsarianism says the God determined to allow the Fall, then provided Jesus Christ as the substitute for sinners, then chose which of the fallen to save through this atonement. (I could have these two switched by accident—check GotQuestions to be sure). And Supralapsarianism says that God determined who should be saved, then determined to accomplish salvation through Jesus Christ, and lastly created humans and allowed the Fall. I can think of at least one other order of events, namely that God determined first of all to demonstrate His love for sinners by dying in their place, then determined to create humanity, and then chose those He wished to save. I personally prefer putting Christ at the very beginning, because even though God is eternal, it’s logically coherent to note that the Son was self-existent prior to any consideration of the creation of humanity. So the desire to demonstrate unmerited favor must have been there “before” the decision to create beings who would fail to merit this favor, so that they could be loved unconditionally, to God’s glory. What to call this? Archae-lapsarianism?

At any rate, this is included to show just how much nitty-gritty-ness exists in Christian theology, not because which of the three (or four, if you like my alternative) you choose is of severe doctrinal significance. Lapsarianism has yet to become an issue that divides denominations or leads to religious persecution, to my knowledge. And every one of them is a Biblically supportable view, and hence, it is the epitome of a non-essential doctrine.

Monergism – the belief that God saves sinners. He alone gets the credit. He needs no help. Synergism is the belief that God and sinners work together to achieve the salvation of the sinner. In other words, this makes salvation impossible without the participation of the sinner. This makes salvation dependent on the sinner, and in other words, makes God dependent on man’s choices. God hardly gets the credit for whom He saves, this way. The truth is that “I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” and it has nothing to do with how they respond. God will never save someone who responds by refusing to be saved. It’s a logically impossible state of affairs. So God will always succeed in saving whom He will, and He alone gets the credit for it.

Young-earth creationism – the belief that based on the Bible’s genealogies and lack of evidence of gaps in the storyline, that the age of the earth from Adam to Christ must be roughly 4,000 years, and consequently, the state of the natural world and universe must be explainable from a framework that deals faithfully with the Biblical account of how God created the world, and, key to much of it, the Noachian Deluge. The evidence that confirms a recent creation is pretty astounding, but the most solid proofs thereof are Biblical, and it is these that are and ought to be the most convincing supports for this view, to anyone who has a high view of Scripture.

Fundamentalist – believer in the inerrancy of Scripture, and the authority of Scripture (sola scriptura). A doctrinal conservative. The belief that Christianity cannot be put on the back burner in favor of politics or other secular concerns, but must be the central thing that guides a person’s behavior.

“Literalist” – there’s no theological term I know of that describes how one should read scripture, but the scholarly method is called “the historical-grammatical method,” which is a multisyllabic way of saying that you read Scripture plainly, and interpret it in the way that it is intended to be interpreted. There is a term called “exegesis” which means to read out from the text, in contrast to ‘eisegesis,’ which means to take outside ideas and ‘read into’ the text. Literalism is a misleading worldly term that is often used condescendingly. The simple truth is that good Biblical interpretation takes literal passages literally, poetic passages poetically, parabolic passages parabolically, prescriptive passages prescriptively, historical passages historically, and prophetic passages prophetically. Every part of the Bible isn’t literal. But you read it the way it was intended to be read by the writer (the “historical-grammatical” angle), and you will be “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

That's it, for a compilation of epithets and descriptive titles that fly around inside and outside of soundly theological circles, that can help you gain a better understanding of how reasonably, or else wonky, someone's beliefs about the Bible happen to be. 

~ Rak Chazak

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