Lack of faith

I still have the same faith in God that I’ve always had. I’ve lost faith in church.

Which is to say, I’ve lost faith in people.

And I’m not sure that ritual — however much we may think we need it — is the best way that worship is communicated; that single-use once-a-week buildings and structures are effective or cost-justifiable in getting God’s work done with Him in this world; or that human authorities, hierarchies, teachings and traditions that judge and exclude others glorify Him or draw others to Him at all.

I retired from a short stint in preaching ministry three years ago, but this conclusion is a long time a-comin’. Decades. More than half of my 67-year life.

I can’t apologize for this.

It’s a doubt that is deeply and honestly held.

The Purpose

I don’t believe that the purpose of encouraging people to follow Jesus is to get them to be baptized, or to go to church, or to give to church, or to agree to a certain set of postulates and catechisms, or to observe holy rites, or to memorize sacred scripture, or to vote a certain way, or to engage in a lot of churchly activities, or even to be fanatically worshipful and sold-out about going to heaven.

I believe we should encourage people to follow Jesus for the purpose of following Jesus. Finding out more about who He is; wanting more and more to be like Him; becoming a good person, a better person, a godly person, a person who is more and more like Him.

It’s about becoming less selfish and more selfless. Becoming less hateful and more loving. Less bigoted and more accepting. Less adamant and more inquisitive. Less mouthy and more listening. Less graceless and more gracious. Less judgmental and more equitable. Less helpless and more helpful. Less hopeless and more hopeful.

Jesus mentions church a couple of times in all of scripture. He talks about establishing it. He talks about what to do when something goes wrong in it.

The apostle Paul seems to have to address what goes wrong in it when people try to make it about self and their ideas about practice or theology or eschatology or politics or whatever. We get some lessons about those things in the process, but his undertone is the same as Jesus: love each other, and these things will matter less than your love for each other. And I think the other New Testament writers agree.

Synagogue is never prescribed in the Mosaic law. Church is never prescribed in Christianity. It was assumed, because people who have something wonderful in common like to gather and share it. There was a time when building a great edifice of a temple was part of the plan, but Jesus made it clear that time would pass, and it did. He would build a church, an assembly, independent of place and time and wealth and materiality — and it would be in the hearts of people who wanted to follow Him so He could show them who God really is.

Just, but merciful. Righteous, but gracious. Eager to walk with us. Exactly like Micah 6:8 describes Him.

And people who want to be like Him will want to be like Jesus of Nazareth.

So we’ll walk with Him. Learn from Him. Observe Him. Consider Him. Imitate Him. Reflect Him.

We’ll be people on a journey. Not sitting or standing to praise, pray, recite, assent, ritualize, preen, judge, condemn, divide, demand, legislate or pledge nationalistic loyalty.

People walking. On a journey with the One they adore, the Truth they adore about the Way they adore toward the Life they adore. Every single day and night. Getting a little closer to it. Drawing others with them to that candor and grace and hope.

That’s the Purpose.

And all the sitting in the magnificent buildings, and paying the devout and devoted staff, and listening to the inspiring messages, and giving so that staff members can do the hard work of gathering others, and saying all the right words together won’t bring us an inch closer to that Purpose if we’re not walking. Following.

I’m writing this on my blog-that-nobody-reads-anymore so I don’t have to take as much heat for what I believe. But this is what I believe, and I know these are harsh words for dear people I love; people who are sold on a way of doing church that I just can’t see working anymore; people who are so invested in it that their whole lives are about it and perhaps their income and their student debt and their thinking and their speaking and their actions. All church-centered.

But when church becomes your savior, you will always be in the business of trying to save it. Because we’re all human, fallible thinkers, inconsistent doers — constant screw-ups. And we’ll fail. It’s a given.

However, there is a Savior who is a perfect example of how and whom to be.

And He wants to walk with us.

Really, all we have to do is follow.

Being Church

I get to this time of year, and I still can’t help but remember Angi’s last two weeks.

How brave she was. How much she endured. How quickly her faculties slipped away. How many people loved her.

Nine years ago.

I don’t want to forget. Ever. Not even if the last of my faculties slip away from me in the closing days of my life.

But I may not get that choice.

I also remember how those who loved us clustered around us — locally and virtually — and hoped/prayed for us and ministered to us. People who shared our faith. People who held other faiths. People who held no faith at all, except perhaps in other people.

They were our collective church.

And, ironically, in recent years that common desire of all those dear folks has contributed to the decline in my faith in church.

I’ve come to the conclusion that meeting as church and observing the sacraments and repeating the good words for an hour or three together one day a week has no value at all if we are not serving in the world the entire 24/7. None.

Yes, oddly enough I still have faith in the God who could have answered thousands of prayers and could have come through for Angi but didn’t. I don’t know His business, or how things work in eternity or what’s ultimately good as compared to what I want now. I know she didn’t suffer as long as she could have. I know that we all die; even His Son. I know that Angi was ready because she lived the life of the One she believed in, and served and loved others, often in selfless ways that humbled me.

It isn’t the Father, Son or Spirit I have trouble believing in.

It’s us folks who go to church, but aren’t the church any more or better than folks who don’t believe, but still live out a faith in others with love and compassion and grace.

So who’s lost and who’s not in this scenario? I’m glad I don’t have to sort it out, because I’m not qualified to judge. Just love.

Just love.

I haven’t been to church in a year now. That’s not an indictment of anyone there; they are among the most wonderful and dearly-loved people in the world. They are my family, fellow believers and siblings in Christ. But I have to recognize that they are not the only ones who are children of God, dearly loved by Him.

I’m just not comfortable being in church and saying and doing the right things there, knowing that I’m not saying and doing and being what I should when I am not there. It’s an indictment of me.

But it’s also a deeply profound questioning of how we do things as church. How our time and resources are spent. Whether worship is for God or us. Whether service is for others or ourselves. Whether we need to spend on big buildings for 1-3 hours a week, or homes for the homeless and meals for the hungry and clothes for the shivering. Whether we need to spend for staff, lighting, projections, music in order to worship … or live out our worthship in service to others and reflecting God’s grace.

I think He’s big enough for me to be able to ask where He was when Angi needed Him.

I also think He has every right to ask me where I was when one of my neighbors needed me.

So, at least for now, I have pretty much lost my religion.

But I still have my faith.

Except, maybe, some of my faith in myself.

I am apostate

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

Or at least abstained from gathering with the saints.

It has been six months, two weeks and two days since I have been to church.

I have forsaken the assembly.

Well, not totally. I still pray for my church family. I still pray for people who are not in my church family, but who feel like family. Surely they need Your help as much.

You see, that’s where I’m having this problem. I haven’t lost faith in You, Father; nor your Son; nor your Holy Spirit. I’ve lost faith in your church. The Bride of Christ. At least, I’ve lost faith in the way we’ve conducted ourselves.

As if we’re just married one or two hours of one day every week.

But that’s not all, either. I also feel like when we gathered to worship, it’s all about us. The songs we like to sing. The scriptures we like to read. The prayers we like to repeat. The sermons we like to hear. The gifts we like to put in the collection plate. The potlucks and activities we like to participate in. All in the building we like to have around us with the pews we like to sit in.

I’m just not at all sure that’s what You meant by “church” or “assembly.” I’m not convinced You intended for it to happen once or twice a week, every week, with the same rituals played out over and over with the same words spoken and sung and prayed. I’m not positive that the gifts we give should be largely funding a building and its expenses or even a ministry staff. I’m not certain any of that equates to worship.

Because it feels like, if that’s what worship is, we can only do it then and there and when we’re all together, and I don’t find that to be the case in scripture.

And I have to wonder if the time of worship in a specific place at a specific time with everyone gathered was supposed to end when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed just as Jesus of Nazareth, your Son, predicted. That worship was to be constant, and prayer was to be constant, and singing was to be constant in our hearts — whether we’re alone or together in our homes or a borrowed place or on a seashore or a mountainside or a plain or wherever.

I get the picture that our gifts should be blessing the hungry and sick and poor and homeless. That there wouldn’t be as many of them and the destitution wouldn’t be so extreme if we weren’t spending our gifts otherwise. Mostly on ourselves.

I’m just not comfortable with the way we’ve been conducting ourselves as your family and the Bride of your Son.

I don’t preach anymore because it feels that my life should be the sermon seen and heard by those who aren’t familiar with You, or have had an awful experience with people like me who preached You but didn’t live You or love like You or bless others like You do.

I can’t see myself doing it the old way anymore. I’m spending more time, I think, with people who don’t really know You; people who feel like family whom You would love to hear calling you “Father,” and trying to drop hints to them that they’re loved and You’re listening and that You care.

I feel more at home among my fellow sinners, Father; You know I do.

And I don’t even know whether to be sorry about that.

I know that your family still gathering will be fine without me there. They don’t need to see my doubt and hear my lack of faith in church as they love it. I still love them, and I miss them, and I just can’t be there for them the way I used to be any longer. It’s not their fault or your fault or anyone’s fault, as near as I can tell — not even mine.

I’m just different in my doubt now.

I still believe in them, too; and that they will do much good and their hearts will worship You and people will be blessed.

That’s what I needed to confess. I will never forget what your Son said or did or gave for us, nor cease to be grateful for it, nor will I ever give up on church altogether.

I’m just with a different church now. The one that doesn’t really know You yet. The one willing to shake any preconception of the way church is or must be in order for You to be pleased and worshiped.

I want to hang with them, and be less of myself and more like You. Loving. Accepting. Gracious. Forgiving. The nonconformist who fishes for men and shepherds people and shares meals and tries to help heal brokenness.

That’s my confession, Father. I may be totally wrong and off-base, and if so, I’m doubly triply sorry. But I can’t believe in church as church is done right now, and I have to try something else.

Lord, help my unbelief.

You’re Not Doing It Right

I’m a firm believer that if you don’t have so much real dairy butter and jam, preserves or honey that it’s dripping off your buttermilk biscuit and on to your plate or your lap, you’re doing it wrong.

My goal is for that to be as far as I will go about things that I tell people they’re doing wrong when they’re doing their best to be doing it right.

You don’t have to cruise the ‘net very long to see that one of the worst problems in posting society is that we all think we’re experts on pretty much everything and it’s our right and duty to tell everyone else that they’re doing it wrong.

Especially in matters concerning church.

If others aren’t doing church the way we’re doing church, and have always done church, and the way we’re daggum sure they did it in the first century anno domini, then they’re doing it wrong.

And I’m afraid I am no exception.

But what if we are doing it wrong? Or, not so much wrong, as just … poorly? inefficiently? in a badly organized, overly organizational, super-institutional-and-democratic way?

Do we really need to grow into mega-churches? with huge fulltime staffs and preaching ministers and boards of elders and passels of deacons?

Or do churches just need servants of Jesus Christ?

Could we avoid a lot of heartache and heartbreak over hiring, firing, salary, benefits, office space, governance, authority, ego and id … if we all ministered? If our ministers all had fulltime jobs and careers, where they witnessed for Christ daily, and all of our members were ministers?

I don’t know if it would work everywhere, or even could anymore. We have centuries of tradition with hierarchies of leadership and professional ministry and authority roles and authority games and authority divisions and church divisions and legislation of rules and breaking of rules and breaking of hearts — including God’s.

How could we possibly consider giving up such a long and rich tradition?

We’re doing church right, aren’t we?

Then why ain’t it working?

No, maybe the small-and-humble way doesn’t work and wouldn’t work. Now. Everywhere.

But I know it works in the little church family with whom I worship. They have a church building (actually, they’ve been deeded at least a couple of others in other towns that have ceased meeting). They have four deacons, who oversee certain areas of service.

No budget to speak of.

No paid fulltime minister.

No elders.

The preaching still gets done. The Sunday school classes get taught. And everyone looks after everyone else; everyone is a shepherd for everyone else.

Missionaries are supported. People in need of prayer are prayed for, with bold and powerful prayers. Rides are provided for those who can’t or don’t drive. The sick are visited. Those in need are provided for, sometimes with affordable housing.

And a year ago, as my dear wife Angi lay dying, my little church family saw to it that we were going to be moved into a beautifully-renovated house that I would be able to afford, and where we had hoped she could convalesce and get around more easily.

Maybe we’re an anomaly. Maybe it wouldn’t work now, and everywhere.

But there’s a good chance that it did, maybe for many years, in that legendary first century — where only two instructions are given about elders among all those epistles to different churches in different cities. And nothing was ever said about ministers who were paid to stay at a church and do the work that the members should be doing, or about elders hiring and firing them, or about finances and ownership of buildings.

Maybe the way it’s generally done today is fine.

Still ….

Is it working?

Is it bringing people closer to Christ?

Is it growing the kingdom in quality as well as quantity?

Or is it just the comfortable last bastion of defense for the status quo and for generations of conviction that we’ve always done it the right way as long as anyone can remember ….

… until they read the scriptures, and there it is?


A Spirit-Filled Church

Do you worship with a church that is primarily concerned with getting it right and doing it right and not doing something wrong?

A church that is a little afraid to do anything because it might not be directly authorized by scripture and might be wrong?

Do you gather with saints who speak mostly of duty and law and authority and judgment?

You’re not alone, and there are many more like you who yearn to be free to worship every day.

Here is something you are free to do and it’s authorized by scripture:

Pray for your church.

Jesus prayed for His church, with some of the last breaths He took as a mortal (John 17).

Paul prayed for the churches in Rome (Romans 1:8-10), Ephesus (Ephesians 1:16), Philippi (Philippians 1:4), Colossae (Colossians 1:3), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2),  He prayed for them constantly, always, without stopping — those phrases characterize his descriptions of his prayers for them.

Pray that your fellow believers will receive the Holy Spirit, and receive power and wisdom through Him, just as those in scripture did (Acts 8:15; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:9).

Pray in the Spirit (Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 1:20).

Pray in faith (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24).

Pray boldly to be able to speak boldly. Pray for God to stretch out His hand. Pray for your church to be shaken (Acts 4:23-31).

Ask for the Holy Spirit for yourself, as well (Luke 11:13). He is a promise made to you (Acts 2:37-39).

Then have the courage to start being the answer to your prayers (1 Corinthians 16:13).

It’s important! Vitally, crucially, eternally important!

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who livesin you.” ~ Romans 8:9-11

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit of God and of Jesus Christ is now just a passive, passe, common enthusiasm like the “Spirit of St. Louis,” then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit is now just present in you only through your reading of scripture, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit will stop living within, working within, comforting from within, empowering from within, then it’s not true.

If you can’t see words in scripture that say the Holy Spirit “living in you” is just a metaphor; just a simile; just a manner of speaking, then it’s not true.

No matter how many times you hear it; no matter how loudly it’s repeated; no matter how hard the pulpit is pounded when it’s said, it’s not true.

It’s a lie. And it’s from Satan. And it’s designed to de-emphasize, demoralize, and de-energize the church that Christ died to empower with the gospel of truth: the Spirit is His free gift to us, and through that Spirit, life without end.

That life begins in the here-and-now; a life that lives in Christ, for Christ, through Christ by the power of His Spirit living in you.

The utter, plain, inarguable truth of that is the reason that Paul could claim:

I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. ~ Colossians 1:25-28

If you want to worship with a Spirit-filled church, be a Spirit-filled person.

Let it begin with you.

Stand for the truth.

The Verse Where I Once Lost My Faith

“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 24:34 (also its parallels, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32. And don’t forget Luke 9:27.)

“This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” (Essay “The World’s Last Night” (1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385)

It was a dark time in my life almost thirty years ago: my first marriage was failing and so was my faith.

Like Lewis — one of the most profound Christian thinkers I’ve yet encountered — I read what Jesus said about (as many Bible editors knowingly add as a subhead) “The Destruction of Jerusalem and Signs of the End Times.” And I reasoned that, since it had not happened in Jesus’ generation as He had predicted, He was wrong; and if He was wrong about that, He could have been wrong about a lot of things.

I had spent my due diligence time in the Harding University library (no Internet then) reading the theories and explanations: that “generation” might also mean “race;” that He might have been referring to the generation of the end times rather than the generation of Jerusalem’s destruction; that He wasn’t necessarily referring to the end times when He said “all these things” … and all the rest.

I read the systems that explained which verses referred to which parts of the prophecy; and which were already fulfilled and which were yet to come; and the reasons they were all jumbled up in Luke 9:21-27, 17:20-37 or chapter 21 but not its parallels Matthew 24 or Mark 13 where Jesus stuck to the system; and why perhaps He skipped about among them and …

None of them was persuasive.

None of them agreed with each other (possibly because there are no book deals to be made in agreeing with what is already published), and none of them was complete and none of them strictly adhered to both the scriptures and the rules of logic.

And for a time, I lost my faith. Like my first marriage, it simply ended. I had moved to another city and had no church home for a time, and for a shorter time I didn’t even attend church sporadically. Sunday became a day of rest and contemplation and recreation as it is for most of the not-believing (and quite a bit of the believing) world, and I liked it that way.

But my one-year assignment in that city came to its close, and I moved back. I missed my church family, and I went back home there, and I tried to forget the one-verse tripstone that had catapulted my faith and me heels-over-head-and-flat-on-my-fanny.

As the Internet became a part of my intentionally forgetful world, though, I one day stumbled across that quote by Lewis. And I crept back into the due-diligence mode, because … well, if you’ve read my self-description at this blog for the past seven/eight years, you already know … I am “someone who questions reality and won’t settle for an evasive answer.”

Rejecting virtually everything I had read and rejected before, I read and rejected just about everything else I could find — and for the same reasons.

And I just meditated on it. I had time. My marriage was — still is — flourishing wonderfully, and I felt no pressure nor desperation. There was plenty of other scripture to believe in even if I couldn’t accept this one, was my reasoning at the time. So I believed again. Mostly.

In time, as all of the authors/writers/thinkers I had read, I put together my own best guess.

And it goes like this:

What if there is no system, no separate prophecies, no skipping around? What if the subject Jesus spoke about in all of these situations (and through His Spirit, in many many other instances of scripture) was in fact one, just as He and the Father are one? Just as there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism … you get the picture.

What does it do to the prophecy if Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem as The Day that He returns on the clouds/is revealed and judgment takes place and fire destroys and deliverance arrives but it is One Very Long The Day? What if — just as each sin we commit is connected with the sin of Adam and Eve and the salvation we receive when accepting Christ is connected with the cross and the tomb — what if the moment of each individual death is also connected with the moment of His return and revelation (and also in a temporally-inexplicable way)? What if He began coming in His kingdom then and still comes when each believer dies and along with his angels gathers His elect from the four corners of the earth, taking one and leaving the one next to him or her behind? What if it is not so much an event in this world, but in the nearby world of eternity that Stephen saw before the first stone flew at him? What if it’s not so much an event at all, but a process?

In my reasoning, this theory does nothing in contradiction to the prophecy.

But, you see, that is my theory’s greatest flaw and weakness: in my reasoning.

Reasoning got me into a loss of faith and I doubt very much that reasoning is going to bring anyone’s faith fully back because I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows exactly what it means.

Nobody knows exactly how or when the world ends, or even for sure what that means. Even Jesus didn’t, when He still held a mortal form and breathed the air of this world and loved life in it and dedicated Himself to living it and losing it and receiving it back from the Father so that the rest of us could, too.

Now, you can hang your hat on that truth. Anyone can understand it. Anyone can — and should — bet his or her life on it. It is simple and true. But while everything Jesus said was true, not all of it was simple.

And not one of the authors I read — Lewis included — had what it took to just say, “I don’t know.” Instead, they reasoned. Then gave their reasoning the weight of scripture.

It’s painfully ironic to me that C.S. Lewis — who wrote his children’s novels of Narnia, a world where time passed at a different rate than here on earth — could not grasp the possibility that eternity’s The Day might pass at a different rate than a day on earth. Surely he did not forget the paradox stated by Peter:

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. ” ~ 2 Peter 3:8

Peter’s talking about the Lord’s return here. You can tell by the subhead that many Bible editors knowingly put over the paragraph: “The Day of the Lord.”

So Lewis made an assumption, that “this generation” meant “this generation” and that was it; it could not mean anything else. It was to be a single-day event, taken or left behind: clouds are clouds, days are days, stars are stars, the sun is the sun, the moon is the moon, trumpets are trumpets. All of that in spite of hundreds of years of prophetic language (and the Revelation to John yet-to-come) where virtually nothing is literal.

And he could not see the possibility of my theory.

Which gives me comfort, because it helps me see possibilities. But what if I’m wrong.

I probably am. I pretty much expect to be.

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know, and here’s what I’ve learned: Belief is not contingent upon full comprehension.

Some things God shows and some things God hints at and some things God hides for another day.

So believe anyway.

It won’t do you any good to stand defiantly right where He can see you and demand to know all of His secrets while standing on one foot before you are willing to believe. Trust me on this.

Been there. Done that.

Well, now you know what I’ve learned, and about the verse where I once lost my faith, and the reason why my blog is titled “Blog in My Own Eye” and about the absolutely arrogant idiocy that’s involved in thinking that you know enough to judge God based on your own understanding.

Just be willing to say, as I will now say for the third time: “I don’t know.

“Yet I believe.

“Lord, help my unbelief.”

He just might, you know.

He did for me.

Sermons and Chimes: The Ark and The Church

Alfred Ellmore, my Great-Great GrandfatherI’m coming to terms with my heritage in Churches of Christ through the person of my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, one of the early preachers in the Restoration Movement that yielded this fellowship. This is an installment from his 1914 book Sermons and Chimes, and my reactions to it in the form of a dialogue with him:



“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them, and behold I will destroy them, with the earth. Make thee an Ark of gopher wood, rooms shalt thou make in the Ark, and pitch it within and without with pitch.” (Gen. 6.)

If a man who had never heard of the Bible were given the Old Testament to itself, he would be surprised at the many wonderful things he had read, but he would also be surprised at not finding the object of his search. He had been told that there was a golden thread running entirely through the book, promising the world a great king, a deliverer, and a conqueror — ah! a Savior — but having read the book through, he found the history of many great men, but the great one promised he found not.

But if he were given a copy of the New Testament, having never seen nor heard of the Old Testament, he would find at its beginning, and running all the way through the book: “It is written, it is written in the law, it is written in the prophets, it is written in the psalms,” etc., and he would wonder who wrote those books, and where he could find them.

One of the many strong evidences that the Bible is divine, is its types and its anti-types. The Old Testament abounds with shadows, the full meaning of which would never have been known, if the New Testament had not been written. For example, what would the world know of the deeper meaning of the opening of the side of Adam, and the means taken therefrom to form for him a wife, if the side of Christ had not been pierced and the elements been taken therefrom — the water and the blood — to form and cleanse for him a bride, the church? God has given the world but two lawgivers, Moses and Christ, and we should never have had the deeper meaning of the finding of the former in the little basket in the rushes, if we had not heard of the finding of the infant Christ in the manger! And the world would never have seen the deeper signification of Adam and his one wife being required to populate the whole world with his offspring, if we had never heard of the wonderful transaction of Christ, through his one wife, the church, populating the whole world with Christians.

Great-great Grandfather, the metaphor of the bride being made from the side of the first Adam and the last Adam (as Paul phrases it in 1 Corinthians 15:45) is deep and visceral and invaluable. Thank you for that.

A few of the many types of Christ, are Adam, Moses and Isaac. Adam, the progenitor of the human race, foreshadowing that Christ would bless the world, the whole world, through a spiritual family which he would bring forth. Moses leading fleshly Israel from Egypt to Canaan, through the wilderness, foreshadowing that Christ would lead the spiritual hosts through this world of sin, to the land of rest. Isaac being made a sacrifice, in a figure, was the type of Christ, who was made the atoning sacrifice of the world. A few of the chief types of the church are the Ark, the Tabernacle and the Temple. And when these types are deeply studied and their corresponding anti-types in the New Testament are found and fitted, and a few prophecies added from the Old Testament, they form a bulwark of testimony that men and demons can not shake.

But I beg leave to deviate for just a few minutes, to adduce a golden thread as evidence from the work of Moses. Moses rose up 2,200 years this side of creation, and without a word of written history, in a few brief chapters covered that period perfectly and accurately. Then he went upon the mountain and received the law of ten commands, which he delivered to the people of God. Then he became prophet, and covered 1,800 years with a few prophecies, reaching to the coming of Christ, hence this man Moses, whose flaming words Ingersoll and a few lesser lights delight to mar and stain, became historian, lawgiver and prophet, and covered a period of 4,000 years, and he has never made one mistake that any one knows of. And how could he, with no date written, give an accurate history of 2,200 years? And how could he look down th[r]ough the ages and give accurate prophecies which are indorsed [sp.] by the later prophets, by the Savior and the apostles, if he had been only man? No wonder that Ingersoll, at death, cowered when considering his tare-sowing, and looking into the future, realized that he must reap as he had sown. What a future he will meet. Josh Billings, the humorist, gives my sentiments when contrasting Moses and Ingersoll. He says: “I wouldn’t give five cents to hear Ingersoll on the mistakes of Moses, but I would give five hundred dollars to hear Moses on the mistakes of Ingersoll.”

As an illustration from type and anti-type, take the following: Some morning in autumn a farmer goes into his field and sees his shocks torn, and there are tracks in the soft soil, such as he has never before seen. On looking to the east he sees the fence is broken down, and also upon the west. His conclusion is that some wild beast has done the damage. He tells his neighbors of his loss, and they say: “Perhaps it was a cow that has broken into your field.” “Oh, no, I know it was not a cow.” “But did you see the animal or see any one who did see it?” “No.” “Then how can you be so positive that the animal was not a cow?” “I know it by the track left in the soil.” Calling in some of the neighbors, and all deciding that the animal was a foreigner, they decided to call a man who was a great hunter, who had seen all kinds of animals on the American continent, who, when he saw the track says: “That is the track of a black bear! Sure, ask a number.” “May it not have been a grizzly or a mountain lion?” “No, sirs.” “Not having seen the animal, how can you be so positive as to the kind of a bear?” “I identify it by the extra toe in the track.” Now if this hunter is not mistaken as to the track, you are sure there is a black bear roaming somewhere in the community. There is no other animal known which makes such a track.

Dear ancestor, in your era the debate over inspiration may have been so well known that your listener / reader could discern your intent and easily deduce your support of the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing about the scriptures. But those of us in later days — and even disinterested unbelievers of your time — might have benefited from a clear statement of it.

In Noah’s time, the world having become desperately wicked, and every imagination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil continually, and refusing to hear the counsel of God, he concluded to destroy them, and said to Noah: “I will destroy the world with a flood; make thee an ark to the saving of yourself and your house.”

1. Now what was the object of the Ark? Salvation from death. From what death? Physical death. Physical death by what means? By drowning. And if there had been no flood, there would have been no need of an Ark. Where no loss is involved, there can be no salvation. This is true of every salvation spoken in the Bible. There could be no salvation from the grave if there had been no grave, and no salvation from sin if there had been no sin, and there can be no salvation from hell if there is no hell. The loss of the antediluvians may reach further than physical death, but this is the salvation promised by means of the Ark.

Now, let us take a view of the church. Christ said: “I will build my church.” Christ is the head of this body, and no man can come to the Father but by him. To him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. But some say the church can’t save us. But did the Ark save? Yes, those who went into it, and remained until the flood was over. And I think there is one class whom the church can save, those who go into it, remain in it, and do their duty.

There is a problem with this metaphor — that of the ark as type and church as antitype — and that is, of course, it is not strictly scriptural. It’s one that you, Great-great Grandfather, have devised. While it may be illustrative, it is not what one would call authoritative. That’s the purpose of a metaphor or parable: to clarify, rather than justify. They make truth clear; they do not make truth true.

When Peter speaks of Noah and salvation (1 Peter 3:19-22), he’s talking about how the resurrection of Christ pioneers the way for our own; how the waters of baptism wash away the world’s sin as the waters of the flood did so in Noah’s day. It is a chapter about imitating Christ, even through suffering as He did. The church — strictly speaking — can’t save us; we are saved into it. We could vote each other in and out all we want, but it would not save anyone.

2. How many Arks did Noah build? Only one. But since there were a great many people, why not make several Arks? And you know “all people can’t see alike,” and one Ark might not have suited all, with so many tastes and notions. And some might no like old Noah, he was a pessimist, clear and simple, no way would do but his way. And some of the women might not like some of Noah’s family. No, we can never join such a crowd as that! And I have no doubt but if we had a history of the suggestions made by men to Noah’s sons, and made by women to the sons’ wives, we would have something like the following: “Your father is old and he is becoming childish; we hardly think there will be a flood — it has never rained, and there is not sufficient water in all the seas and oceans to cover all these mountains; and why require Noah to labor more than one hundred years to build an Ark? And if he must bring a flood, he can point out to Noah the highest mountain and have him collect all the required creatures to that mountain, and take there of all food and preserve life as well there as in an Ark, wich would become musty and very unpleasant, and saved your father all this work? And if none are saved except those in the Ark, there will be very few saved.” And the women would approach the three wives of these three sons and suggest: “Now your father is a good man, but he is narrow in his views, and thinks nobody right but those who believe as he believes, and by his rigid preaching he has become very unpopular. Now, have the old man to exercise charity for the views of others, there are others who are as good as yourselves.”

Great-great Grandfather, I think you may have been as much a fan of Mark Twain as I am.

Then we might hear something like the following from the faithful old Patriarch: “Dear daughters, I would be glad to please all, and would be far from preaching a doctrine purposely to displease any one, but I have a message, not from man, but from God, and if I refuse — nay, fail — to deliver that messages, strictly and perfectly, to the minutest detail, we will all go down into the dark waters of inconsolable grief, with the rest of the disobedient.”

And how many churches did Christ build? But one. The church is the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, and we can not think Christ was a polygamist. The word “church” is in the singular, except when various congregations are meant; the seven churches of Asia mean simply, the seven congregations. The followers of Christ are commanded to be of one heart and of one soul, to speak the same things, and there must be no division among them.

3. The Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet in height, and had three stories, and yet it had but one door, which was in the side, and everything that went into the Ark went in through that one door. There was not one door for the admission of the large animals and one for the small animals, and another for the birds. Jesus says of the door into his church: “I am the door.” Then we must go in through Him. And when the side of Jesus was opened thence forth came the water and blood, the cleansing elements from sin, and no man can get into His church except through the water and the blood. We are immersed in water, into Christ’s death, and there we come in contact with His blood, and we are washed, cleansed and saved.

I have written before about the phrase “come in contact with His blood,” and since writing then (I Can’t Find It), I still have found no preponderance of evidence for saying it.

4. There was but one window in the Ark, and that was above, or upon the top, and here we see the sideom in so arranging the light. If the window had been near the base the heavy freightage would have kept it inundated, or if half way up, the spray and the waves would have darkened the window much of the time. But being upon the top, all the light possible could flow into it. And when we come to consider the light brought into the church, it all comes in through the one window. And what is that light? Some say it is conscience. No, if this be the light, then we would have as many windows as people, and no individual would give light to another.

But another says it is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. No, the gospel was often preached by the apostles, and people were saved, in the absence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit never converted any one, was not given as a condition to pardon. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit fell upon men to enable them to work miracles, and this occurred but twice, once upon the Jew and once upon the Gentile, and following this miraculous power men were baptized in water for the remission of their sins. (Acts 2 and 10.)

“But twice”? Then, dear ancestor, you would write off Acts 19:11, 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 3:5, and Hebrews 2:4? You know, there is such a thing as pushing a metaphor too far.

Clearly, then, it is the Bible which brings the light from heaven. Where this revelation has never been given, people are in darkness, but where delivered and accepted, the inhabitants become enlightened and rejoice in this heavenly light.

5. All the food was in the Ark. The command to Noah was: “And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and gather it to thee, and it shall be for food for thee and for them. Thus did Noah, according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” After the waters covered the earth there was no food for man, beast nor fowl.

But now men have become wise. One church, one assembly, one altar, is not sufficient. It has become necessary to have in addition to this perfect Holy Place, a separate gathering for the young men, another for the young women, another for the young people, and still another for the children! But look here, my zealous but misguided brother. Christ has but one body, and in this divine body — the church — dwells the Holy Spirit, in this one body is the blood, which remains in this body. And the grace of God, all of it, comes to the Christian through this divine medium. And every parable spoken by Christ where a blessing is conferred, it is within, and not without. And he formed the parables from things with which they were familiar, that the most unlearned could grasp his meaning. It was in the net that the fishes were caught, in the vineyard that the laborers must work, in the meal the leaven was placed, in the field that the seed was sown, in the field was found the pearl of great price, in the garden the mustard was sown, in the field the treasure was found. Let us be careful, very careful, that we do not direct some soul astray.

And here, I would say, is where the metaphor is taken too far — in the direction of painting the church as a place, rather than as a people. The wooden ark surely makes a fine metaphor to a wooden church building as typical of your day, but it is not an accurate metaphor in that way. Thinking of the church as a single edifice has led many to conclude that people meeting in a different building from their own cannot be a part of their church, and that is simply erroneous. When we so judge, we are judging, and that is not our place. Our place is to love, accept, and share the gospel — and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

6. There was one family in the Ark, and they must eat and drink to perpetuate life. If one had decided to fast during their stay in the Ark, he would have fasted longer than Dr. Tanner fasted. They were in the Ark a year and ten days. They went into the Ark on the seventeenth day of the second month in the six hundredth year of Noah (Gen. 7:11-13.). and they went forth out of the Ark upon the twenty-seventh day of the second month in the six hundred and first year of Noah (Gen. 8:13). During that period, in the one Ark, the one family prayed at the one altar, and ate at the one table. And we can not satisfy the longings of the soul at heathen altars nor gluttonous feasts.

7. The conditions of salvation by means of the Ark and of the church are the same. The first thing necessary in Noah’s case was a revelation. If God had not made known to him the coming destruction, Noah would have known nothing of it, and would have made no preparation for his salvation. After being informed of the approaching flood and of the terms of salvation, Noah must believe the revelation. The next thing was works, faithful works, complying with the terms offering salvation. He must build the Ark, go into it and remain, and be faithful to all the duties incumbent upon him as governor of that divine family. So in the salvation proposed in the church. As to the means of transition, bearing Noah’s family from the old world over into the new world, Peter says: “Wherein few, that is eight, souls were saved by water, the like figure wherein baptism doth now save us.” (1. Peter 3.) The water picked them up, and by means of the Ark, they were carried over and put down into the new world, so baptism takes the subject from the kingdom of sin and puts him into Christ, his church. He is then born again, born of God, born of water, born of the spirit, born (begotten) of the word, born anew, taken from the world and put into the church — saved. And the man of a very common intellect would say the birth was not of water alone. But some of the “called and sent” clergy now tell the people that baptism has nothing to do in saving men.

Baptism has much to do with saving men — but it is not the only thing God wants for us, and gives us, and wants to bless us with that is salvific; of His saving grace and power. Seeing baptism as a work of man — like building an ark — is an error that has seduced millions. Jesus built the church; not us (Matthew 16:18). And baptism is a gift from God (Matthew 21:25); ours to accept or reject. But in rejecting baptism, we reject its power of testimony to one’s immersion into the life of Christ and resurrection from one’s old dead person of sin.

8. I will now touch upon the destruction which followed the dispensation of God’s mercy, which lasted over one hundred years, but my pen is too feeble to portray that awful catastrophe. No heart can conceive, nor tongue describe, the horrors which fell upon that disobedient people. The Ark being finished, and the creatures all shut in, the windows of heaven were opened and for forty days and forty nights the waters fell in torrents, the low lands were covered, people’s hearts were faiting, they were being forced out of their homes. God is infinite in mercy. Many as devout prayers as were ever heard were offered, but the rains continued. People go up the hillsides. They were drenched and hungry. Children cried for bread. God is infinite in love! He loved all these people, but a God possessed of all the attributes can’t save people in disobedience. Poor old grandma’s strength had failed, and she had to be carried. O the cries and lamentations! Where are the children? Some had starved, some had fallen into the dark sea. God was able.

But see that group upon the highest hill; their provisions are exhausted, and they are ankle deep in water. God had said if they did not repent he would drown them; it looked that way then; they make their last appeal for help. God is infinite in all his attributes, and one of them is justice, and he will render to every man according to his works. Another is vengeance, and he will punish all who trample his righteous laws. If God had commanded Noah just then, saying, “They have suffered enough, push the Ark to those people and take them in,” would it have required a strong discourse, and a touching exhortation to induce them to enter the Ark? But it was too late — ah! too late.

But, my slothful brother and my heedless neighbor, let me once more remind you of that awful destruction, more fierce that this one, which I believe will fall upon the world in the near future. Peter says: “The world which then was being overflowed with water perished. But the heavens that are now, and the earth, by the same word are stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” [2 Peter 3:6-7] He says: “The elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” [2 Peter 3:10] Now, sinner, do you not believe this? Then eternal fire awaits you. But we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. O that great day. We shall all be there.

There may have been a time when addressing one’s listeners and readers as “slothful” and “heedless” had an air of authority to them, but these days, insults simply come off as insulting. (I have to wonder if they did back in your day, too, Great-great Grandfather.) At any rate, I cannot recommend the use of them.

In fact, I have to question the whole psychology of pointing an accusing finger down from the pulpit of authority … trying to terrify someone out of hell and into doing a bunch of things that leads to trying to always do the right thing … lest one slide right back down a hell-bound slope. Does that really lead a person to become a devoted, life-long disciple and example of Christ? Fear?

Or does perfect love cast out fear? Doesn’t it make more sense to come alongside someone whose life-path wanders aimlessly … lovingly share the message of the dying-yet-living love of Christ with them … and teach them what it means to be like Him so that others can see His promise in our lives?

Friend of Institutional

I decided I needed one of those logo bugs for my site. You know, like “Friend of Emergent” or “Friend of Missional.” So here it is!

Actually, I’m a friend to all kinds of churches and all kinds of followers of Christ and seekers after God.

I’m even a friend to some folks who don’t want to have anything to do with the idea of God. Good folks. Good friends. Not Christians. Not seekers.

So I post this at the risk of looking like one of those people that my late uncle Gene Ellmore more than once described as those who “like to choose up sides and smell armpits.”

It’s not that I’m being exclusive.

It’s just that I wasn’t sure how many logo bugs I could fit on my site, and somehow it seemed like no one was creating one for good ol’ institutional church – like the one where I work and worship.

Institutional church ain’t better. It’s just different. Just like us Christians ain’t really any better than folks who ain’t Christians. We’re just better off, in the long view of life and blessings and relationship with God.

So here’s to good ol’ institutional church: You’ve got your own logo bug, now.

I think what my college roommate Steve Leavell said about our alma mater can be said about church, and just as flippantly:

“She’s a great institution. But who wants to live in an institution?”

Folks who are crazy about Christ, I guess.

‘Either-Or’ and the False Dilemma

I know I’ve railed about this before, and if you’re tired of it and wish to pass on this post, please forgive me and feel free to move on.

John Alan Turner, at his Faith 2.0 blog posts Ministry vs. Mission and Defining Missional describes what – to me – are false dilemmae phrased in “either-or” terms.

In the “Ministry vs. Mission” post, it is phrased by an elder interviewing minister candidates: Are you a minister or an evangelist? (In other words, is your focus “inner” or “outer”?)

In the “Defining Missional” post (the earlier one of the two), it’s found in the comments as a description of the differences among traditional, contemporary and missional churches.

I think the choice is artificial.

Minister candidates should answer that elder’s question, “Yes.”

Churches should avoid labels like “traditional,” “contemporary” and “missional” like they were invented by Satan himself. In fact, I’m not so certain that …

Okay, I’ll back off. But isn’t the purpose of labels to divide (and conquer)? To say one is better than the other? More necessary? Morally right? Scripturally defensible?

And shouldn’t all churches be concerned about keeping their members, attracting non-members to Christ AND serving the Lord and the communities they are in?

Shouldn’t all ministers?

I respect John Alan and prefer the way he asks his question: “Which way does your church lean?” It’s more realistic; less absolute. And it has, implicit within it, an expression of danger that “leaning” too far in any given direction will put a church off-balance.

Now I have a question.

Why do we try to limit ourselves, our ministries, our success and God’s preferences by phrasing things like this in mutually-exclusive, “either-or” terms?