- Draft -
Foundation - build reasonable convictions
In Christianity there is the following problem: Many Christians read the Bible very seriously and come to completely different ideas.
Some pray to Mary and saints, some baptize children, some let women teach and lead, some use musical instruments for worship, some keep the Sabbath, some believe, that only 144000 get into heaven, some still have prophets, some women wear a head covering while praying, some local churches have complete autonomy, ...
and others reject these things with equally great conviction.
There is nothing you can think of, that is not done in one way or the other. And yet most of these - including myself, believe to have the Bible as authority and to only implement God´s word.
In general it is according to the Bible a sign of growing up, when one´s convictions become firmer:
Ephesians 4:14-16 "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Now everybody could say with his various convictions, "Ok, I´m firm and I have grown up and examined the other points of view". But this would contradict the unity of the Spirit, wihich is mentioned shortly before (Ephesians 4:1-6)
How to get to this unity of the Spirit?
Ephesians 4:14-16 actually says it all: We shall be firm in our convictions at some point, passing these on with love and the foundation is and will always remain Jesus (see also
What does this mean in practice?
There are many things that are seen differently by different Christians, even when all read the Bible.
On the one hand, there are less important things, such as head coverings, on the other hand there is baptism, which is a salvation issue.
Sometimes issues are emotional, such as leadership by women, sometimes it´s about practical issues such as musical instruments in worship or sabbath.
Topics are differently important to different people.
How can one figure out what is right?
The New Testament again and again refers back to the beginning, which was taught by Jesus and was laid out by the apostles.
After his death Jesus taught for 40 days about the kingdom of God. Then the apostles understood it (Acts 1:3) or at least they understood better than before Jesus´ resurrection (see below what Irenaeus says about this), even if it took a little longer until they figured out the whole truth (John 16:12-13,
John 14:15-31) regarding the question whether Gentiles must be circumcised before they can become Christians.
(The will of God, the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ, the mystery of the gospel, the secrets of the kingdom of heaven were revealed and proclaimed:
Jesus told the apostles and it was given to them to understand it: John 15:15, Matthew 13:11-16 (Mark 4:11-12,
Paul passed it on - just like Jesus: Acts 20:27,
- These were already the last passages on this site, where Jesus speaks directly. Yet we must not forget that he is the foundation upon which everything rests. His words would have priority if there would be discrepancies with the apostles. But he entrusted all to the apostles, so we look how they handled it:
And Paul also expects others to pass it on to reliable teachers:
Others, too, are well aware that everything was already known:
Only in Revelation 10:7 it is said that the mystery of God will be completed later.
This is no contradiction, because some prophecies just have to be fulfilled later.
Only then it is completed in the plot.
The faith was once for all delivered, nothing changes anymore.
This is supported by the following scriptures:
Jude 1:3 "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints."
1.John 2:24 "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father."
Hebrews 2:1 "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."
1.Corinthians 15:1-2 "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain."
(The following scriptures summarize the Gospel very briefly:
2.John 1:8-9 "Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (see also 1.Corinthians 4:6)
1.John 4:6 "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. "
Who is "us"?
Presumably the apostles.
After reading all these scriptures - and there are probably more (Luke 1:1-4,
2.Peter 3:1-3) - it is clear that we should stick to what the apostles taught.
By Jesus these were personally chosen and taught.
Now this was obvious before, right?
However, consistently applied this means, that nothing new can be added to the faith - neither by spiritual revelations, church councils or the pope.
This means: If a new teaching emerges in the Middle Ages, this would be an addition that was at best not considered necessary by the apostles - but often it altered or distorted the gospel (Galatians 1:8-9
, see also 1 John 4:1).
Although Middle Ages is too late, of course - at the latest with the year 100 or the last letter of John everything was already determined.
Interestingly did Paul not get the gospel from the other apostles, but directly from Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12) - though he probably got to know parts of the gospel when he persecuted the Christians.
He knew the Old Testament very well and after his encounter with Jesus he seemed to understand all the prophecies in it.
In any case Paul´s gospel agrees with the one of the apostles (Galatians 2:2, 6-9).
The apostles and early Christians repeatedly point to the beginning because the Gnostics and others tried to bring in false teachings.
But only what was taught by the apostles could have been originally taught by Jesus.
Everything else did not originate in Jesus.
However, not all is set in stone in the Bible.
Thus the reverse is also true: If in the faith something was not forbidden, then you can do it, if it does not contradict the Bible.
How can one listen to the apostles today (1.John 4:6)?
Of course through the Bible, but also by the writings of early Christians in order to get insight about how the Bible could be meant.
Tertullian, who died around the year 220, explains for example how a word in 1.Corinthians 11 would be meant, since in the original Greek text it is ambiguous (info).
This way he helps us not to proceed to our own destruction.
Already Peter warns in his second letter that in Paul´s letters, some parts are hard to understand, "which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2.Peter 3:16,
see also 1.Corinthians 3:10-15).
Others have known the Apostles, like Ignatius (info), Polycarp (info) and Clement of Rome (info), who was probably already mentioned in the Bible (Philippians 4:3).
The later something was written, the more false ideas could have crept in.
This means: In this sense I would not attach much value to letters after the year 325.
(We know this principle from the game "Chinese whispers".)
Yes, at first the apostles thought that Jesus is coming back quickly, but in the end they realized that it may take a while (2.Peter 3:1-9) and this has changed nothing in their faith and preaching.
On the contrary, they ensured that it was written down (Peter realized that it was slowly leading to an end and he was aware that it is important to remind the Christians about the foundation (2.Peter 1:12-15).
Mark, who was with Peter, worked with him on it (1.Peter 5:13) and wrote down the Gospel accordingly.
But - was it not a completely different time about 2000 years ago? Must not something be adjusted?
What are the advantages of the early Christians compared to us?
They spoke Greek respectively they even had the language of the Bible as their mother tongue
They could ask the apostles
They knew what the apostles told additionally (Mark 16:9-20
is missing in the early manuscripts and was perhaps added later, since it may have been told anyway after reading Mark´s gospel. However, to my knowledge there is no evidence for this and it remains my guess).
They saw how the apostles put the faith into action (2.Timothy 3:10-15)
They knew the culture and phrases of the time
Topics that were not in the Bible, but were dealt with by the early Christians, could be valued too high or could be misunderstood.
On the other hand one could mistakenly prohibit things that were not practiced during the times of the first Christians, although they do not contradict the Bible.
(For example: In former times women were probably not part of the leadership team - but today it is possible, because it does not contradict the Bible, if they do not teach and exercise any authority over men.)
This balancing is not always easy.
How do I personally ensure a safe foundation (If you have further ideas, then please write me) ?
It is especially helpful when one is in a church community where all members know and practice the Bible very well.
This is not a guarantee against something wrong being preached or done at some time, but it will be discovered very quickly.
Prayer for wisdom and humility.
have the entire Bible read in various translations (and even different languages) - best several times,
regard the book "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" (Fee & Stuart).
There are different types of passages in the Bible that must be considered differently:
Letters with instructions for all or only some?
(For example: You can no longer bring the cloak from Troas (2.Timothy 4:13). Although this is a clear order, but very clearly only directed to Timothy, not to us!)
Descriptions without any instructions ("... Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people ..." (Acts 2:42-47)), ...
Putting the Bible into practice (Matthew 7:24-27)
If a question arises - for example: "Should we still keep the Sabbath today?"
The end result should be a conviction that does not have to sweep any biblical passage under the carpet and which does not change.
(As the first Christians show, who regarded the whole Bible and applied the Word of God literally and seriously, without explaining away anything.)
The Bible was not written for theologians but for ordinary people.
One can easily understand and live the message, if you leave theological heresies out of it. (Some things are not so easily lived out, like the command to love your enemy - but you know, what I mean.)
I read all the scriptures about the subject (word search).
I look at Greek and Hebrew words in the original text.
(I look also how they are used in other parts of the Bible.)
What does the New Testament say, what says the Old, what does the Bible as a whole say?
I look especially what Jesus said about it - Jesus is our Lord, the King of Kings, the Son of God - he has all authority (Matthew 28:18) - It is a good exercise to think about which sayings of Jesus writers of New Testament letters had in mind, when they clarify issues.
This way supposed contradictions between Paul and James are easily resolved.
Another good exercise is to look at how the Old Testament already points toward Jesus´ words.
("Eye for eye" (Matthew 5:38-42)
is also found in the Old Testament in the context of compensation (Exodus 21:22-27). Paul sums it up simply: Romans 12:17-21"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." But that´s nothing new (Proverbs 20:22, Proverbs 24:29), but expresses confidence in God, which Jesus demonstrated on the cross.)
I read whole letters in one sitting to get a feel for the letter.
I read books about the time and culture.
I look what a study Bible says about it.
I summerize my ideas into a html-file, where the scriptures are easily called up again.
I identify conflicting scriptures and try to clarify this.
I ask others, who cross my path, even Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, Muslims and Jews, when appropriate (example: Trinity), ...
(Perhaps one should ask these, how they build their foundation?)
I write an email to very biblical scholars, like Douglas Jacoby, John Oakes and Glenn Giles.
Or search on their websites (http://www.douglasjacoby.com/ , http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/) for the subject.
I discuss in a forum and in Bible talk meetings.
I read books and commentaries about the issue and try to find - behind all the polemic - new arguments or questions, which must be answered.
I consider the implications of my view or how respective repentance would look like and ponder whether it really can be meant this way.
Since some time (late 2007) I listen to the things of David Bercot (http://www.scrollpublishing.com/) and then I am very encouraged, because the first Christians share the same views like me and even explain them very well.
(It is no wonder that they are the same views, because we considered the entire Bible and apply the Word of God literally and seriously without explaining away anything - without knowing it, I had the same approach and it is reassuring to see that you can still come to the same conclusions, if one reads only the Bible.)
I verify the summaries of Bercot David in the Bible and read the first Christians.
In general, it makes sense to verify all statements of people, to whom one listens or whose emails or books one reads.
I try to put my findings into practice.
For teacher types like me this is fun and on a regular basis I enjoy when suddenly the puzzle fits together and all the Bible passages explain each other, ...
But what does one do, if one does not have the time or the opportunities to study an issue so deeply?
An own opinion is good, but everyone has to ask himself whether he already has fundamentally researched everything enough to argue against other opinions.
Is it not better to ask questions?
And if one is asked, to say humbly that one has not studied much about it - instead of promoting an unfinished opinion?
Maybe one should first look for teachers who one trusts?
Who one knows and whose lifestyle one can see?
But ask them, on what they build their foundation, before you take over their opinion.
Better in my opinion is always to build an own foundation.
(The following has helped me: daily Bible reading, praying and pondering about it - in the beginning I was a forum manager (5431 entries - 1164 by me) of my website, where I discussed the faith (talks about faith are in general very helpful for constructing a foundation, if one researches arising questions) - hearing at least one sermon (or CD about first Christians) per day - Biblical Study tours (seeing the biblical evidence itself and getting it explained by scholars) - International Leadership Conferences (see trip reports ) - European Bible School (where current topics are discussed in-depth) - generally I am a logical and clear thinking person, as tested and confirmed by my previous career. - At first I was sometimes unsure, because I let myself be distracted from the foundation, as I took some passages out of context and was confused by studied theologians, but now things become clear.)
It remains a spiritual battle: Just as God gives clearity through the early Christians, Satan attempts to cause confusion by Gnostic writings, which, for example, were found in Nag Hammadi in 1945 (Gospel of Thomas).
In 1970, the gnostic Gospel of Judas was found and latest the movie "Da Vinci Code - Sakrileg", which very much draws its information from gnostic writings, confused some superficial "Christians".
It is especially confusing, when Satan uses a lot of biblical truth and only twists minor issues or when he interprets the Bible incorrectly (this way he tempted Jesus in the desert).
We need to be as firm in the truth as Jesus was then.
By the way: A valid conviction can also be, that a theme should be handled flexibly.
How does one deal with the findings then?
But: Actually it really is all about a relationship with God, to know him better and better and to understand his grace, his love and his omnipotence more and more.
It is not about fighting about theological subleties.
Fortunately, we now have a better spirit of unity and patience in our church.
Findings must be communicated in humility, with heart, patience and wisdom so that they do not lead to separation, as it was customary in the churches from which we split off.
Nevertheless, one usually encounters at least one of three reactions when one has built up a very strong foundation and shares this with others:
Fighting back: people refer to you as overbearing and arrogant, because you teach such things with confidence. They push the teachings away and look for errors to appear smarter. (Pharisees)
Succession: People are happy that someone took the trouble to research things in detail and ask more questions, in order to learn more - of course, they check also whether the teaching is correct.
They see the teacher as a doctor who helps them to stay spiritually healthy.
Some may begin to study the faith as deeply as the given example. (Disciples of Jesus)
Indifference: "Good for you, I will continue as it suits me." (The World)
The following scriptures apply equally as 2.Timothy 4:2-5 and 2.Timothy 2:24-26:
1.Corinthians 8:1-3 "... Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.
But the man who loves God is known by God."
Romans 12:9-18 "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with God's people who are in need. Practise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (see also 1.Peter 3:11, 1.Peter 3:14-16. ATTENTION - The consequences of ruthless knowledge, like hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy lead to exclusion from the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-25).
It is better to proceed according to Colossians 3:12-17.)
Ultimately, Jesus is the King of Kings - we are only Christ´s ambassadors - if the clarification of a topic is particularly important to Jesus, then he will arrange it somehow (2.Corinthians 4:3-6 is also interesting).
The first Christians were not persecuted for preaching the truth, but because they put the faith into action and did not submit to worldly orders, if they contradicted God´s instructions.
They did not fight about theological details.
Now, at the end let us hear one of the first Christians.
Irenaeus was bishop of Lyon and lived from the year 130 to the year 200.
In his youth he heard Polycarp (69-156), who was a disciple of the apostle John.
In his third book against the heresies (Contra Haereses), he writes in the 1. chapter (link ):
"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed perfect knowledge, as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia."
(I am glad that I found this writing only when the webpage was almost finished, because this underlines what one reads from the Bible, if you were not distracted by false theology.)
Sounds as if Irenaeus understood the above scriptures as it is explained on this page:
The apostles knew all that was necessary, they communicated this sufficiently and their teaching needs not, can not and should not be improved by us.