Theology and Essential Tenets of ECO: The Evangelical Order of Presbyterians

These are my notes from the session meeting of the First Presbyterian Church discussing and studying the theology and essential tenets of ECO: The Evangelical Order of Presbyterians. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE ALL IN CAPS.

ECO - A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

This is a sheet we received originally not in October: ECO Essential Tenets – A Summary

See “Theology and Essential Tenets of ECO” (PDF)
Also mirrored here

3 basic questions the interview committee from ECO wants us to answer:

– Why do you want to join ECO?
– What did your process of discernment look like?
– Can your elders affirm the ECO essential tenets for themselves, your leadership and congregation whole heartedly?

There was “infallibility” verses “inerrancy”

– inerrancy typically means everything in the Bible is true at face value (Example: simple inerrant believer would say when Jesus said “the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds” there is yet to be discovered a smaller seed, even if microscopes show otherwise)
– on face value

someone who speaks of the “infallibility” of scripture says the message
– teaching in a parable
– common knowledge of the day included mustard seeds
– this wasn’t a scientific statement to stand the test of time, it is a statement about the Kingdom of God
– Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom, and what Jesus says about the Kingdom in that story is infallibly correct

Fuller Theological Seminarians would say the Bible is “Infallible with respect to faith and practice”

One of the litmus tests in the evangelical / fundamentalists camps
– book “The Battle for the Bible” by Linzell, had been a professor at Fuller and moved to Dallas Seminary in late 1960s
– he claimed Fuller was headed down a slippery slope in no longer holding to the ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible
– it was an in-house battle, most others in the world were not paying attention
– many people

Our ECO document begins saying our overarching belief is God created the human race to bring Him glory (glorify Him) and enjoy Him forever
– the “chief end of man” is singular
– the predicate is plural
– this is a dual answer
– you have to ask why was this worded this way, this was a carefully crafted document
– most reformed believers would say glorifying God and enjoying God are the same answer
– good answer: God is most glorified when we find our enjoyment in him (Jonathan Edwards answer)

Subheadings of doctrine: The authority of God’s word
– authoritative self-revelation
– the God of the Bible is a God who loves to disclose Himself
– He’s not most interested in revealing truths about THINGS, He’s most interested in a relationship with human beings
– His LOVE within the trinity is the focus of God

Augustin’s answer to defining the Holy Spirit in the Trinity:
– Holy Spirit is the vital love union between God the father and God the Holy Spirit

In the West we identify that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (from the Gospel of John), the spirit is not ‘begotten’
– vital to the Council of Constantinople discussions
– this is all human language of course, and in the end human language fails to fully disclose who God is

The bond between the Father and the Son
– when the Spirit lives within us, we have the one who is the window between God the Father and God the Son
– we don’t know of another creature in humanity who has this opportunity: the in-dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts

Before the fall there wasn’t an issue in terms of communion
– we see God walking in the garden, communing with his creatures, including Adam and Eve
– after the fall that was broken
– the rest of the Bible is God’s quest to draw humans back into a love relationship with Him

propitiate means to appease the anger of someone
– this was a key element for pagans in offering sacrifices to try and appease the gods
– the gods were seen as capricious by pagains

The Bible shows us that God is not capricious, his wrath toward is evil is always consistent
– so if we’ve fallen into evil, how can we get out of this dilemma
– in His love, God gave himself (His Son) as
– God propitiate’s himself to do for us what we could not do

We are using terms and language which is bound by time, but God is not bound by time
– everything has happened in eternity
– there is NOT a time before the Son was

The Roman Empire provided ways for news to be communicated in ways that had not been possible in any other era of human history
– for this reason the gospel could ‘get out’ at that time around the world in ways it could not have before that time
– only God knows why this was “the fullness of time” for when Christ came in human time

The Trinity
– we confess this and the incarnation are the “master mysteries”

Jews didn’t believe in God as trinity
– there are hints in the OT about God’s plurality of character and his nature

Genesis 19 when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah–from the LORD out of the heavens.

Are other references to the plurality of God, even Genesis 1 in God’s decision to make human beings
– let us make God in OUR own image
– inherent in the creation story, idea of plurality of the creator as well as singularity, and man being complete in duality of being male AND female
– something evocative about this

in NT we have the Father being spoken of, Jesus making his own declarations about his own divine nature and his relationship to the father
– statements about Jesus
– links between OT declarations unique to who God is (YahWeh) applied to Jesus
– when you hear about God being jealous and not sharing his glory, and the portrayal of Jesus in the NT as being the same as the God of the OT
– when Jesus teaches about the Holy Spirit and teaches that the Holy Spirit has the same nature as He (Jesus) does

Also

Doctrine of the Trinity is not written in the scriptures but we find it in multiple places both in the OT and NT
– interestingly you DO in the Koran because it’s trying to ‘disabuse’ people of the

All there persons in the Trinity are co-equal, they ALL share in the divine attributes
– that is why orthodox Christians argue it’s wrong to speak of God in functional terms rather than relational terms
– God is always spoken of as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Father is the enternal begetter of the Son
– the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son

In liberal circles you will sometimes hear and read people use functional language to try and eradicate the personal/relational terms of the

We don’t tend to celebrate “Ascension Sunday” that much in Protestant circles
– Jesus’ bodily ascension is made very clear in Acts 1
– important for the physical reality of the resurrection
– God the Son bears his humanity, his bodily existence, at the throne of God, and He sits on the throne with the Father
– God the Son existed from eternity, but Jesus the incarnate Son of God did not exist from eternity
– something big happened at the incarnation: since his birth, death, resurrection and ascension, his human life has been taken up into the Trinity
– the divine nature of Jesus and the human nature of Jesus are inseparable, and they reside within the Trinity
– this is really mind blowing

“The divinity of the Son is in no way impaired, limited, or changed by His gracious act of assuming a human nature, and…His true humanity is in no way undermined by his continued divinity. This is a mystery that we cannot explain, but we affirm it with joy and confidence.”

In the ancient world there were many men like Hercules, demo-gods, more power than human beings but less powerful than the gods
– demi-gods were seen as half-breeds
– the church wanted to be REALLY clear that Jesus is NOT a divine man, he is not half-God, half-man

The fall: not God’s doing but a result of humanity’s free, sinful rebellion against God’s will

Total Depravity: every sphere of human life / every arena in which human beings can think, will or do something is laced with sin
– there is no part of human life that is untouched by sin
– visual depiction: If human nature is a vial of pure water, you take a drop of ink and drop it into that vial, the ink will color everything
— there is not part of the water NOT touched by the ink, this is the same idea of total depravity
— sin is in every part of our lives
– essential: we are not merely wounded in our sin, we are DEAD, unable to save ourselves

Ephesians 2: We are dead in our sins and trespasses
– we are unable to help ourselves, but God who is rich in mercy sent His Son for us
– one reason we believe in the acronym TULIP ideas (T – total depravity) is because we are powerless to initiate by ourselves
– that is why the U of TULIP is unconditional election (God doesn’t say “I will choose you if you show me some things, like faith”
– God’s election is unconditional, we are completely at God’s mercy

I = irresistible grace
– if we are those whom God has unconditionally elected, we will be drawn into salvation, drawn into relationship with the Son
– no one can resist God’s grace

We can’t say “all are elected” because that would mean
Matthew 22 passage

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The call of the Gospel goes out to the whole world, and everyone is free to respond
– if they wanted to respond, they could
– the key is in WANTING to respond
– that wanting comes from God stirring deep within us
– for reformed believers, this is how we’ve tried to understand these teachings from scripture
– no one can respond unless the grace of God stirs in their heart
– people can hear the truths

Before Mateen became a Christian he had heard the gospel, he could tell what it was but he didn’t believe it: he thought it was nonsense (God becoming a human being?)
– so everyone can UNDERSTAND the gospel
– the question is will people EMBRACE the gospel?
– only those who God woos to Himself, via his irresistible grace

Why God elects some and not others is hidden, we can’t look into that
– we know it’s not whim or capricious, God has a plan and a purpose

Election means God’s choice from before time
– He has decided, outside of human experience

We undervalue the power of the Bible to authenticate itself in people’s lives
– if we can just get people to read it, to put aside biases and suspend their disbelief: read it
– the Bible has great self-authenticating power

[AT THIS POINT MATEEN SHARED A WONDERFUL, EXTENDED STORY ABOUT HOW GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT WOOED HIM AS A STUDENT AT STANFORD, AFTER HE’D SPENT A YEAR STUDYING IN INDIA UNDER A GURU]

disciple means student of Jesus

We are called to widely sow the seeds of the gospel, it is God who causes seeds to grow

2 key positions:
– either God’s sovereignty rules in the salvation of human beings, or
– human free will rules

b/c not everyone is going to be saved, that is the Biblical position
– what keeps people from being saved?
– either they haven’t been chosen, or God is doing his best to try and rescue everyone but human beings by their own actions can frustrate God’s desires and actions (God is defeated by human actions)

Jacobus Arminius was a Calvinist but said in the end he couldn’t accept it was God’s decree about who was saved
– he said human beings made the ultimate determination

As Americans we are “incipient armenians” because we live in a culture that celebrates choices, being the ‘captain of your own soul,’ etc.
– the majority of the world isn’t shaped by that vision of life
– much of the world has people who see themselves shaped by forces beyond their control, a cork bobbing at sea
– question about whether God chooses or not, many people outside the USA say “of course God chooses, He does whatever he wants”

Romans 9 deals with idea of people being created out of the same lump of clay for noble uses and some for ignoble uses

Romans 9:20-14 Revised Standard Version

Rom 9:20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?”

Rom 9:21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?

Rom 9:22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction,

Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,

Rom 9:24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Election is also referenced in Deuteronomy 7:7-9

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

When we are generating more heat than light, we need to stop our discussion

Ed Koster article:
– saying we have lost our theology and doctrine because we have refused to apply discipline in ANY circumstances
– anyone can do what is right in their own mind if no discipline is present (author of Judges)

God is the principal actor between justification (we are “declared right” before God) and glorification (we have been made right/perfect before God)

Let’s turn briefly to our questions and how we will answer them…

Women in Authority

I am very challenged by these verses from Paul and do not fully understand them in context. I do not believe God calls women today to avoid all positions of authority and teaching. Neither do I believe God calls those who are enslaved by others via the rampant sex trade or via other financial obligations / situations / relationships to remain enslaved forever. I want to understand these verses better for myself and so I can explain them to others. I feel challenged and ill-equipped to do so today.

Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.

1 Timothy 2:11-15 NLT

http://bible.us/116/1ti.2.11.nlt

Generational Sin Punishments & Works Righteousness

These verses from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel establish the important idea of individual and personal accountability for sin. This was a big CHANGE in how the Israelites understood sin & families. It also reinforced works righteousness, however. Jesus would later affirm the former understanding (don’t kill the children for the sins of the parents) but overturn the latter from a salvation / justification standpoint.

It is important to understand that God still calls us to live lives defined by acts of righteousness. We are called to abandon sinful ways: To confess our sins (which by our nature we continue to commit) and ask for forgiveness. We are saved through our confession of sin and profession of faith in Christ. Our righteous acts which follow these events are expected, required and natural, but they are NOT the cause or source of our salvation from God’s condemnation which our past sins deserve.

Then another message came to me from the Lord: “Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel. For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.

(Ezekiel 18:1-4 NLT)

Also:

“‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done.

(Ezekiel 18:19-22 NLT)

Discipline In The Church & Our Relationships

Discussion of these verses led to a lot of comments today in our Sunday School class. As Amy Schulke pointed out, this passage does NOT say “If your brother or sister sins, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” There are many things Jesus calls us to do when it comes to situations involving discipline.

I added that my experiences as a parent and father have really illuminated my own understanding of discipline and the ways God asks us to approach discipline in our relationships. As a parent I should never discipline my children with a heart filled with condemnation and punishment. My heart in enforcing discipline should always be filled with love. I discipline my children not because I am angry or want to bring them pain: I discipline because I want their behavior to change and come back in line with what is expected. If I did not love my children I would not discipline them. Instead I might ignore them or punish them.
I am called as a parent and follower of Jesus to discern right behavior and act properly in response to those behaviors. Sometimes this means making hard choices and doing difficult things which would be MUCH easier to avoid.
Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
“”If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”See it at YouVersion.com:

http://bible.us/Matt18.15.NIV

Clear Teaching on the sin of homosexual behavior

These verses from the apostle Paul are clear and unequivocal concerning the sin of homosexual behavior.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

See it at YouVersion.com: http://bible.us/1Cor6.9.NLT

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Putting the Passage of Amendment 10-A for Christians Worldwide in Statistical Perspective

Cross-posted from “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.”

Back in August of 2006 I created the blog “Eyes Right” as a Christian team blog where I (and others) could share posts related to Christianity and our walks of faith. Since that time, I’ve generally shared posts focused on religious, spiritual, and specifically Christian topics there rather than here on my main blog, “Moving at the Speed of Creativity.” This decision followed a post here in which I shared my personal testimony of faith, which remains linked in the right sidebar of this blog. The reason for this separation of blog posts by topic is definitely NOT a lack of desire on my part to publicly profess and share my faith, but rather my sense that most readers of my main blog “are coming” not to read and learn about issues of faith but rather topics more closely related to learning, educational technology, leadership in 21st century schools, etc. With that ongoing understanding in mind, I’ll make this post brief.

As you may know as a reader of my blog, I am a Christian and a Presbyterian. The recent passage of “Amendment 10-A” by Presbyteries of the PCUCA denomination represents a significant change in the historic doctrine of the Presbyterian Church. The 11 May 2011 CNN article, “Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to allow gay and lesbian clergy,” highlights some of the events and actions which led to Amendment 10-A. This chapter in our denominational history represents and reflects a continuation of a broad cultural war which continues to be promulgated on many fronts. In this post I want to principally commend to and amplify for you two posts written by Dr. Mateen Elass, author of “Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book” and pastor of our Presbyterian church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Mateen’s two most recent blog posts, “Historic moments, Part 1” from May 14th and “Historic Moments, Part 2” from May 15th express multiple perspectives in response to the Amendment 10-A passage which deserve careful consideration. In the second post, Mateen attempts to put the ‘historic significance’ of this action in statistical perspective considering the numbers of professing Christians worldwide. He writes:

The PCUSA has joined 3 other American denominations (the UCC, Episcopal Church, and ELCA) in embracing homosexuality as a lifestyle blessed by God. Rounding upwards generously, this group represents a maximum of 10 million people. Estimates place the worldwide Christian population at roughly 2.1 billion people. There are no other major denominations or Christian movements worldwide which support the ordination of practicing homosexuals, but let’s add another 5 million to cover liberal, post-Christian Protestant Europe. That means that with our recent vote, the PCUSA has moved from siding in this matter with 99.8% of the institutional church on earth to that representing 0.2%. I’d say that qualifies as a momentous change and historic moment for the PCUSA, but it hardly registers on the scale statistically for the worldwide church. Even if you lump all 2 million Presbyterians in the pro-homosexual ordination category (which is obviously not the case), we account for less than a one tenth of one percent shift of view in the worldwide Church on this matter. Hardly historic.

While this decision of Presbyterian denominational leaders may not be statistically significant on a global scale, it certainly is (as Mateen points out) for our denomination. Jesus’ commandments to love the sinner but to hate sin are clear. We live in a world which, however, increasingly places the values of tolerance and moral relativism on a transcendent altar of worship. The definition and even existence of “sin” is contested and rejected by many. I share Mateen’s perspectives and passion in his May 14th post, in which he wrote:

My prayer is not for unity with a culturally syncretistic leadership, but that God will gather all orthodox, evangelical Presbyterians together to pool our resources and use them to forward the great ends of the church, rather than support a bureaucracy and system which has been manipulated regularly to blindly underwrite a post-Christian cultural agenda. I’m not sure exactly what such a gathering would look like, but I hope to find out. I’m not interested in leaving the PC(USA); I’m interested in our taking back the city, and instituting sweeping changes.

The culture wars of the 21st century continue, and the battle lines have been drawn across my front yard. Don’t worry, I’m not going to use “Moving at the Speed of Creativity” as my principal media channel for writing about this and other topics relevant to the Christian faith. The separate “Eyes Right” blog will continue for that purpose. I do want to share with and recommend to you Mateen’s posts, however, and observe that the passage of Amendment 10-A does not represent my beliefs or views as a Presbyterian.

Just in case you were wondering.

Vote!photo © 2008 Kristin Ausk | more info (via: Wylio)

How would you begin to respond to Fake Steve?

From time to time, I like to check in on the blog of the Fake Steve Jobs. Although I do not like and disapprove of his periodic use of profanity in his posts, much of what he writes is funny and on target with things happening related to Apple. The recent post, “Hate-spewing “Christians” need to listen up,” makes some good points but also leaves me asking, “How should I respond to this?” After starting with an initial denial of Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, fake Steve (a.k.a. Daniel Lyons) shares with a great deal of accuracy the stories of the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, and the prodigal son. His points on the first two stories are on the mark, he seems to miss that grace definitely IS a huge part of the prodigal son story, however. In his older post, “FWIW, Jesus didn’t always tell the truth, either,” he reveals a clear background in Bible study and awareness citing the scene of Jesus before Pilate prior to his crucifixion. His conclusion, that Christ lied frequently and was inconsistent in discussing his identity, is off base, but I find it noteworthy Daniel reveals some background in Biblical study but BIG misunderstandings about major points.

My goal with this post isn’t to debate Daniel Lyons’ ideas point by point, but rather to raise the startling point that in this widely read, written for laughs blog – Christianity is being not only discussed, but also brazenly attacked. Certainly Christ is maligned and mis-interpreted by Daniel. It strikes me as quite remarkable, however, that this kind of frontal attack on core ideas of Christianity and the gospel is being carried out on this blog. The 199 comments on this post (as of this writing) also reveal an engaged debate about many of the issues Daniel raises, with people chiming in from multiple vantage points.

My main response to this is to pray. It’s not ultimately up to me to change Daniel’s mind about Jesus and who He is, it’s in God’s hands. That does NOT, however, mean I should disengage from this discussion or shy away from sharing Christ with Daniel as well as others in my life. I know prayer is the right path in every circumstance, and these messages from Daniel are so challenging prayer seems to be the natural, reflective response. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to also pray for Daniel Lyons: That God would reveal himself to him, that he would read the Words of Christ in the Bible again and be transformed, that (like Saul who became Paul) he would stop persecuting the church on earth and instead be transformed to become its agent and champion.

Daniel is 100% correct that Jesus and the Bible do not command us to hate other human beings. We are, however, commanded to hate sin. He is also correct that the Catholic church historically strayed FAR from the teachings of Christ. I’m pleased indulgences are no longer for sale, but it’s understandable many are disillusioned by the checkered past of “the church” and those proclaiming to act in God’s name as well as the name of Jesus.

Overall, reading this post as well as others in which Daniel takes jabs at Christians as well as Christ reinforces my conviction that we must be vocal and speak out in the world about Christ and for Christ. This is a basic idea behind the “3 Minutes About Jesus” video campaign. In our lost, postmodern world, we need to shine as lights in the darkness.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1: 4-5

We’re not called to shine alone. We’re called to shine together.

Let Your Light Shine

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Initial Christian focused videos with Storyrobe

Cross-posted to BLASTcast.

Encouraging 10 and 11 year old students in fifth grade to think deeply about the ways God speaks to us in our lives, what the Bible means for our lives, and how we should respond to challenging situations in our lives using the words of Jesus is hard work. We are continuing to encourage our students to share their understanding, their thinking, and their questions about their Christian faith through multimedia in our 5th grade Sunday School class. Today we used the iOS application “Storyrobe” to create short videos about several topics. Students worked in pairs and were given the challenge of creating short videos (using five still images and finger puppets) which illustrated either:

  1. Bible Verses (explaining their meaning, application to their life, or special personal significance)
  2. A SINtuation (a real-life situation they have seen or encountered which involves fear, temptation, action, and consequences)
  3. Questions (challenging questions about God, faith, the Bible, or other topics related to faith)

Story Options

Students were required to create a plan for their story and write down some ideas, and explain it to one of our four adult teachers / shepherds who were present for today’s lesson.

Finger Puppets and Story Scripts

We had four groups out of eight complete their stories in class today. We’ll share and debrief these next week.

Kelly and Suzie created this video about “The Birth of Jesus.” December and Christmas time often presents confusing messages about the birth of Jesus as well as Santa Claus and consumerism. We’ll discuss these topics in upcoming weeks.

Another group (I didn’t get their names written down but will add them later – if you know please comment!) created this video which I’ve titled, “The Good Samaritan.” This story references Luke 10:25-37, which is very relevant to the way we live our lives and treat others. It also connects to questions one of our students asked last week, about “Who decided who got to go to heaven and hell before Jesus came?” We discussed that a bit in class and will talk more in the weeks ahead.

Sarah and Hannah created this video which they titled, “Building Problems.” This is based on Ezra 4. Rather than select and explain a verse they have studied previously and has personal significance, they chose to just select a random verse from the Bible and illustrate it. We’ll discuss next week how this example not only missed the purpose of our assignment, but it can also be confusing for people watching it. What does this mean? What is the main idea of this verse and the lesson we should take away from it? While this particular video didn’t meet our lesson objectives, it does provide a great opportunity to further discuss our purposes of doing this activity and how we want to both seek and share truth in our lives, rather than random ideas that can be confusing.

The last group to finish a video in class today was Gracie and Darla, who created “John and Lily.” They wanted to illustrate a situation which challenges faith, when a person is dying. In addition to illustrating the scene and the role prayer and faith can play in giving hope, they tried to explain this in the end of the video.

Overall today’s lesson was MUCH more successful than some others we’ve tried using media and technology, in part because we used mobile devices (iPhones with cameras and Storyrobe pre-loaded) to create our stories instead of more cumbersome, larger cameras and computers. Next time we do this I’m going to prepare an empty storyboard for students to complete, which lists spaces beside the five photos they plan to take and has room for character dialog planning. This may have been the first time many of our students had a chance to create a video project like this in Sunday school, and there is a LOT to learn both for students and adult facilitators. Next week we will definitely praise and recognize our students who DID complete their projects, because it took focus and work to get done in just 30 minutes! I’m hopeful this process will help us do even better next time. Many of our student groups worked hard in the time we had, but there’s a lot to do here in just 30 minutes!

If you have comments or feedback about this activity or this process please share them on this post!

Have a blessed week!

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Is Jesus the only path to salvation?

The following comment and question was posted on my main blog on a recent entry, “Message for Oklahoma Christians: Muslims are NOT our enemies.” The comment was:

I have one thing to ask of the people who claim their respective religion is the “only” path to God, and that is to ask themselves what happens to people who are atheistic or of the “incorrect” religion, but are truely [sic] good people? Does this mean that they are never saved, never loved by God in heaven (or whatever you believe happens when you die)?It is an interesting question, one that I have wondered often, especially when some christians claim that the path to God is only through embracing Jesus.
Jeff – a high school student who stumbled on this article

Here’s my response:

Jeff: Great question.

In the case of Christianity, I go back to what CS Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity.” A lot of people want to put Jesus in a box and say something like, “He was a good moral teacher but not the Son of God.” Lewis says Jesus was either a raving lunatic or exactly what he said he was: God on earth. Jesus in his teachings was clear about “the path to salvation” being through a narrow gate. This is a HUGE stumbling block for many people who consider themselves Christians today, but have a more unitarian / universalist view of salvation. It may sound much nicer to say “all religious roads lead to the same path” but that is not what you’ll read in the Bible. So a fundamental question to answer for yourself in this regard is, “Who do I believe Jesus was and is?”

Jesus, of course, did not endorse a terrible list of evils which have been perpetrated throughout time in his name: the inquisition, the crusades, actions by white supremacists, etc. These are big issues that keep many people from understanding Jesus and his message as well.

Christianity is differentiated from all other religions in the world in one significant way: Grace. In every other faith, you’ll learn about how you need to work and “do things” to earn your way to salvation. For the Christian, a transformed life is one filled with good works for God– but salvation is not a result of works. You don’t find this in Islam, Hinduism, or any other mainline religion but you do in Christianity.

My encouragement to you is to keep seeking the answer to the question you’ve asked here, keep asking other people, and keep praying to God to open your eyes and reveal Himself to you. Read the Bible and seek God’s spirit through it, especially reading the gospels.

Ultimately there are MANY things we don’t know and can’t answer with certainty, even when we have a strong faith and conviction in knowing God. He is infinite and so definitionally He’s beyond our limited abilities to fully understand. This is not a cop-out, I think it’s actually wisdom which you will find with many “religious” people, Christian and non-Christian alike. This does NOT mean truth is relativistic and “unknowable” either, but it does mean we aren’t going to get everything figured out while we’re still all mortals on this planet.

If you see or hear someone who claims to be a Christian espousing damnation and a condemning judgement on others, in a hateful spirit, be wary. When you read about the life of Christ in the Bible, you learn he never acted that way toward everyday people. He was most severe and condemning when he criticized the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees. Believing that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and the “narrow gate” through which we are able to be forgiven and accepted by God does NOT mean we are to go around condemning everyone we meet who doesn’t believe the way we do. Jesus simplified all the laws in the Old Testament in these two commands: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. There’s not any condemning in those commands.

What would you say in response to Jeff’s questions?

Memorial at Ponte Vedra Beach
Creative Commons License photo credit: minds-eye

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