Blessing Israel

   Many times I have heard people claim that Israel was “God’s chosen people” and they would claim “God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel” and it is almost always put out there as some Axiom among evangelical Christians. It’s important that the issue is viewed clearly, honestly, openly.    The basis for this initially comes from a passage in Genesis. “Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Genesis 12:1-3 NKJV

   The common belief is that Israel is “God’s chosen people” and that comes from ““For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:6 NKJV

   So I feel interested, compelled to see where this really goes. What is the truth? Where does this really go when I don’t make a hasty conclusion?

   Who are God’s people NOW? Who is Israel NOW? Are God’s chosen people a people that are Godly?  

   The country that we know as Israel today is not a religious nation. It is a secular country. There is no Temple where God chose to put His Name. One of the hallmarks of Israel being special was that they built a temple where God chose to put His Name. He was known to reside with Israel while they obeyed his Laws. No other country could be successful against them while God was with them. That did not last. 

   The times where Israel was rebellious, where they abandoned God, they were carried off to captivity. 

   Today’s world does look at Israel as somehow different. I’m thinking there is more sober ways of looking at the country of Israel. As an ethnic identity, the belief that Jews have in their own separateness, is special. It holds them together and gives them a point of contact that they have convinced themselves that they’re special. It gives them a fervor in their military operations. They have created an ultimate spy organization, known round the world as vicious and completely fanatical. That idea of Israel being “God’s chosen people” really is a call for fanatical action. 

   Paul was clear that the important thing is not the genetic connection to Israel but that only those who are Spiritually Israel. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28-29 NKJV

   Looking at the New Testament scriptures we are identified as a NEW nation. Saint Peter said, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” I Peter 2:9-10 NKJV

   Looking at this, we see that Christians are the Holy Nation. Christians are “the people of God” not some nation established under man’s laws. So when people want to claim Israel as God’s chosen people they should consider a few things. The nation of Israel is not a religious nation. The modern nation of Israel is not one established by God’s hand but they were established by the United Nations in 1948, the hand of man. They are not a holy nation, they don’t follow God’s law. While using the name they are as far from God as possible. They’re not a just government and do mistreat those foreigners living among them in violation of the Law of God given by Moses. 

   The modern nation of Israel is not living a Godly life. They mistreat those foreigners that live among them. They were established by man and not God. 

   To support the modern nation of Israel is like supporting every other nation. They are not something special, as Zionists would declare. The modern nation of Israel is just like every other nation that has won wars to establish the nation’s right to exist. They do not have the right to exist because they’re something special in God’s mind, they’re just like any other country. 

   To extend any other importance to Israel is misguided at best and at worst outright heresy. 

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you. How often have we heard that? Sometimes, we ask our friends to pray for us. We are going through a crisis, a health scare, a financial difficulty, a job search, we ask for prayer. The commitment to pray from our friends is appropriate. We want to hear that they are committing to that action. It makes us feel better to know we have their support. 
Other times we hear it and it isn’t the same. I have been told this by people at the end of a discussion. A discussion that was a disagreement. The statement rings hollow, maybe even hypocritical, we disagree on something and the other person says, “I’ll pray for you.” Why would they say that? Often it is because others are going to hear or read this statement. It makes them appear to be “the spiritual one” in the discussion. What is it really? What did Jesus say about prayer?

““And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV

Jesus cautioned his disciples NOT to make a show of their prayers. He identified those that prayed on the street corners as hypocrites because they were doing it to be seen. He instructed his disciples, of whom we say we are, to pray secretly. 

Recently, I had a discussion with a young man about how we interacted. The insistence that he kept adding me to groups associated with his religion. He had on more than one occasion told me that I needed to “meet Jesus” and how he had implied that I could only do so if I went to this young man’s church. This conclusion of his got me thinking. He was making this invitation in a discussion under his control. It was his social media discussion thread. 

The habit expressed by this young man’s interaction with me was simple. He only had such discussions where he could control what others saw. If he didn’t like what I said, or could not adequately respond to what I said, the comments I made would be deleted. This made him appear to have all the answers. He did this in an open discussion forum only. 

I created a closed group, where only members of the group could view what was said between members. This would create a place where each member stands along. Discussion becomes therefore, one of exchange of ideas instead of self-promotion. We would not be able to advertise our strengths, nor the weaknesses of the other. This young man rejected this forum. I was left to conclude that either he was unwilling to discuss ideas unless he could showcase the discussions to friends, he was unwilling to have discussions that he could not control and delete whatever he chose to delete, or that I was not debating and discussing with only him. 

I thought, perhaps, our discussions were viewed by his friends and he was getting a sort of clandestine assistance from others. Perhaps I was really debating with a group of several people with only this young guy as the face that I saw. 

The last discussion we had, after he continuously had deleted my responses, I called him on it. I pointed out how he was doing this. Why would I mention it to him? Truth. Sometimes truth requires that someone be called out when they are doing things to appear something bigger then they really are. 

Then he said, “I’ll pray for you” which really rang as hypocritical. It seemed pharisaical in how it was delivered. Why would he say that? I had not requested prayer. I did not have a need for which I had requested prayer. No, he was making a show, declaring out in public (for it was only public to his friends) that he was so spiritual that he was going to pray for me. His desire to pray for me was clearly because I disagreed with his behavior and his actions to delete my responses. 

Let’s look again at the passage from the beginning. 

““And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV

If you are going to pray for someone that has not requested it, what should you do. How should we approach it. If we want to pray that God reveals something to someone which we know then how should we pray? My conclusion would be, IN SECRET not as some public pronouncement. If we are agonizing about someone with which we disagree, deciding to pray for them is rewarding but not as a public pronouncement but in secret. Jesus made it clear that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” so pray secretly. 

If You see that I’m in need of prayer, then by all means pray for me. Pray in ur daily prayers for me as often as you wish. You never need to tell me publicly “I’m praying for you” because then the reward for that spiritual effort is robbed from you. By all means pray for me but let God reward you by how he answers those prayers, openly. 

How does what I believe apply to my life?

In Orthodoxy we often overlook this question. We overlook it for a variety of reasons. We are not a group that is legalistic and formula based. We don’t look at our lives in a manner like some who would say “If I do “this” then “that” will follow.” Life with God is not a formula. As I have presented before, the entire “instantaneous salvation” with its “assurance of salvation” teaching and the “sinner’s prayer” at the altar call is relatively new as far as doctrine is concerned. 
In Orthodoxy, we participate in the divine mysteries of God from Confession, both in our daily prayer life and with our spiritual father to guide us, to baptism because as we are taught and we celebrate in song, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ”. We step further to receiving Communion, which for us is not a simple memorial but rather we receive the Immaculate Body and Precious Blood of Christ our True God. We don’t attempt to explain HOW the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, we simply accept that since he said it, it happens. It is translated into the Body and Blood of our Lord. 

These are participatory actions. We don’t baptize people as some response to them declaring their belief, but rather it is all participation in the Divine Life of Christ. We put on Christ in baptism and as such we are buried with Him in that baptism so that as He was raised back to life, we can be raised to walk in a newness of life. We know that baptism itself was never discounted in the early Church. Before anyone tries to bring it up, the thief on the cross next to Jesus does not count as his “Baptism” was his sweat and his own blood and not the same as our Baptism, a Baptism of his suffering. So let’s not try to mangle the truth with minutiae. 

When we participate in the Mysteries of the Church, we are participating directly in the Divine Life of God. We are joined with him. When we pray in our daily prayer rule, a prayer rule we can follow in discipline, we participate in God’s divine nature. 

When we take upon us a simple prayer which we can use anytime our mind is idle, such as the “Jesus Prayer” we are able to defeat temptation and cause demons to flee because this is spiritual battle. Many who read these essays and articles of mine may be asking, “What is the “Jesus Prayer” that you mentioned?” The Jesus Prayer is a simple prayer, similar to the prayer prayed by the Publican in the parable of “the Publican and the Pharisee” which Jesus taught in Luke 18:10-14 specifically the tax collector prayed in humility, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” and so in our daily walk we incorporate the Jesus prayer which similarly says, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

This is arguably the most powerful sentence that can be prayed by the Christian. When temptation confronts is, like in traffic when someone thoughtlessly cuts us off, we can pray this prayer. When some other temptation arises, we can pray this prayer. As long as we are repenting, we are humbly seeking God. Saint Hesychios taught us to utilize this prayer to do spiritual warfare against our enemies because by seeking forgiveness we are continually keeping ourselves participating in that divine nature we desire. 

The Holy Mysteries are important to that participation. We are seeking Theosis, to become God-like, to be Christ like in our daily walk. There are not going to be wrote answers to challenges which we face. I cannot say that anytime I face (whatever problem) I should always say or do (solutions listed in book). Every challenge I face or that you face will be answered by how deeply we are experiencing God’s energy in our lives. We learn as we grow. 

The Mysteries of the Church are not simply rituals to be followed. From the outside looking in on us the Holy Mysteries look like dry or dull rituals. They are rituals, to be certain, but rituals are not bad in themselves. When we baptize a child or an adult convert, we are fulfilling not only the command of the Lord but we are taking that person, whether infant or adult into the presence of God, burying them with Christ in Baptism and raising them up out of that death to sin, into a new life that they must learn. When we follow that baptism with Chrismation, a term many are not familiar with, we anoint them with Holy Chrism and usher in the Holy Spirit as an anointing influence in this new life. We are marking this person as one of God’s people, bringing them into the Body of Christ. Allowing them to begin this life with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is Worshipped and Glorified, He who spake by the prophets. 

The Mysteries, such as Communion also “appear” like a ritual, however when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, it is transformative. It brings with it forgiveness, regeneration, healing of soul and body. It’s not simply a memorial as some would teach, it matters that we continue the practices passed down from the Apostles since this IS the Apostolic Church.

These are universally understood truths. The Catholic nature of the Church, that universality of application of truth and practice is not understood simply by understanding that definition. The secular definition of “Catholic” is certainly part of it but the spiritual application of the word “Catholic” would follow that the Church is whole, complete, lacking in nothing. That’s why the local parish, each local parish is whole and complete, lacking in nothing, and is also part of the larger Catholic Church. This is not to connect the Orthodox to the Roman Church, as we know we have no connection. That is a discussion for a different time. Suffice it to say that we are talking about the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” and the truths we teach are not ethnic, or nationalized, regionalized, but are truly known to be universally applied making us one, complete, lacking in nothing Church. One Body of Christ speaking the same thing as we were instructed by Saint Paul. 

Formula does not apply to God. It cannot apply to God. God is not a created being and therefore, logic and formulae do not apply. I cannot say, “If I do (this) then (that) will be the result. God deals with each of us where we are. We are participants of the Energy not the Essence of God, by our belief, our baptism puts on Christ, our prayer builds us as Christ-like but it is fluid. God works in us, as the Scripture says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV

The uncreated God cannot be reduced to formulas. It’s not a recipe that we each follow. It’s a relationship that we develop, not alone but in keeping with the established teachings of the Apostles passed down to those overseers they ordained. Worthy men who could teach others also. Those men were not perfect in themselves but we see, looking at their lives, in the history of the Church, they all spoke the same. They all taught the same truths. 

The uncreated God cannot be reduced to formulas. If your idea of God can be reduced to formulas that guide your counseling then you have created your own god. A while back I discussed this kind of religion, where each person has created God in his own image. The attitude of “I don’t believe THAT” whatever “THAT” might be. The groups that will call anyone that declares the phrase “Jesus is Lord” as a member of some unseen Body of Christ. If Jesus was visible, I must accept that His Body is also visible. It’s not made up of people that believe differently but they all believe what the Apostles taught. It’s not made up of people that believe new doctrine but Apostolic teaching. 

So what does it mean? In my last article, I explored “Salvation” and how that’s the end result of this Theosis that we seek. It is the result of the Final Judgement, not the result of us following a formula, reciting a prayer which looks much like an incantation. So it isn’t that I’m declaring that “You aren’t saved” it’s simply that I’m trying to show you the way to find Theosis. The path to God is not a formula but an open door. The path is narrow, it’s not a big wide highway to God. It is odd that in the twentieth century there were songs in popular culture about a highway to Hell and a stairway to Heaven. I wonder if that’s a way that people understood it at the time. Jesus did say that narrow is the way and narrow is the gate that leads to God. So if you look around and find a crowd, maybe you should question why. Why are there a bunch of mega-churches with these new doctrines?  

I cannot tell you that you CANNOT ultimately be saved while following the heterodox belief systems, who God chooses to allow salvation is for Him to decide. I CAN tell you that the Body of Christ is visible and has been since the Day of Pentecost in 33ad. I CAN say that the Jesus which is preached by the ancient Church, that Church that produced the New Testament, that Church that gave us The Creed, the Jesus preached by this Church said, “Upon this Rock (referring to the testimony of the Apostles) I will build my Church and the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. That Church never needed reformation, restoration, or otherwise rescued from apostasy. If you are in a church that teaches you that at any time since 33ad the Church lost her way and needed to be reformed, that church is preaching a different Jesus. That church that teaches you that the ancient Church was lost and needed to be redirected is really teaching that the Gates of Hades prevailed against the Church that Jesus built on the Apostles’ testimony. If they’re teaching you this, they are saying that Jesus lied. They’re also teaching you that man’s will is greater then the power of God and the Holy Spirit was powerless to prevent this.  

So then, to return to the beginning and the title question, How does what I believe apply to my life? What do I do? What about evangelism? Should I not be concerned with the salvation of others?  

If I grow in Theosis, become more like Christ, in love, in compassion, in knowledge then the Holy Spirit will be working in me. My life will be as a beacon and others will be drawn to me. My primary job, function, desire is to be like Christ. Jesus saves people, not me. I need to concentrate on getting close to Him and being like him. 

One more thing that I think needs to be addressed. This subject will soon get its own article because the subject is too broad to be handled quickly but here is a taste. Many heterodox make a big topic of having a “Personal” relationship with God. It is often said they ask if you have received Jesus as your “Personal Lord and Savior” and these questions tend to chain into others. So in the context I have started let me address these kinds of questions. 

I have two sons, they are adults with family lives. Neither of them has ever ask me for a “Personal Relationship” and for good reason, it’s a meaningless request. Of course we have a personal relationship because they’re my sons. A son never needs to question his relationship with his father, at least not a son in a healthy family. This is also true of an immortal soul, we know that we have a personal relationship with God by virtue of our creation. We don’t need to ask. There are references that people declare “My Lord and My God” but nowhere in scripture are we instructed to seek such a “personal” as in ownership of a relationship. 

The Orthodox are said to “bristle” at the question and some think it is because we are not comfortable with the question. The most likely reason some think we bristle at the question is because it really isn’t Orthodox. We were born of water in baptism and the Spirit through Chrismation when we were received into the Body of Christ. The immortal soul cannot ask for what it knows exists. We are children of God and that relationship exists. 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we begin it, not MY Father but OUR Father because our relationship to the communal family is where we focus. When we pray we sometimes mingle the community with us singularly but that’s not the same thing that is stressed by the heterodox when they ask us about a personal relationship with God. 

I find it odd that those people who stress such ideas and fads, never find a scripture reference that declares that we must seek this relationship. The people that say that “if it is not in scripture then it is not a valid teaching” yet there’s no place in scripture that even THAT is stated. If it is important for our life, shouldn’t it be there?

Important teachings that are clearly stated, believe and be baptized for the remission of your sins. Jesus said, “Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you have no part of me.” So communion is shown as necessary, not simply a memorial. When Jesus gave bread and wine to his disciples at their last supper He told them it was his body and blood. It became clear to them that this is what He was teaching them and it became part of what they taught the Church. 

So now we see that each person in the Church has a clear mission, to become Christ-like, Theosis. Each person is not tasked with immediately going out as an evangelist, but their theosis will bring others to Christ. They don’t need to “save others” by going out into the street “witnessing” because Jesus takes care of bringing others. Their primary focus is to build their knowledge and draw closer to God. Walking in their daily life, exercising under the direction of the people God has placed in their life. This “exercising” isn’t physical as in running etc. it is learning to pray, fast, study, experiencing God in the Divine Liturgy. Orthodox life is experiential in nature, it isn’t static but dynamic, it isn’t abstract. 

Orthodox worship is different then most are aware of. Is there “ritual”? Yes. Man is designed for ritual, a prescribed method or pattern in worship. Sometimes people recoil from “ritual” as if the word has some negative connotation. Ritual gives us a pattern so that we can experience God. The Church has been liturgical from the beginning, many books have been written to address this and it follows the fact that all religion before was also liturgical. The disciples were Jews and had a pattern in their history of how to worship. The ritual of pattern gives us a foundation. In times of doubt, stress, even in times of plenty we have a foundation.  

As the newly enlightened people, those who are building their knowledge and experience with God, grow, they learn first the basic Liturgical patterns. Later we all focus on what is needed for our own lives. We apply what we are taught to our lives and we grow. Theosis is becoming like Christ, we don’t get to experience God’s Nature or Essence but we experience His Energy in action in our lives. Each of us is gifted in different ways. Just like the early Church, there are spiritual gifts that build up the Church. How terrible would it be if our church offices only had Pastors and Teachers? There needs to be managers, administrators, people who can budget and handle different business items as well. Just like God provided to Moses when he was building the Tabernacle in the wilderness, God provided craftsmen to do all the special things needed. 

Are You Saved?

This question is one of the Protestant Evangelical questions that often starts conversations. I know it has been for decades even when I was an evangelical. To the Protestant Evangelical the belief in a “Salvation” that is instantaneous and tied to a moment in time is essential.

My friends in that community are often put off by the teaching of the ancient Church. Many times their answer is “If that’s what you believe then in your eyes I’m not saved.” That conclusion often leads them to be instantly offended. Let’s look at that belief.

The idea of an instantaneous salvation began with Martin Luther. It was not taught before the reformation. The teaching was firmly rooted in Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura which said that Scripture Alone was the basis for all teaching.

First to understand is that the New Testament was collected and canonized in 386-389ad clearly 356 years after the Church began. The Church did not wait to teach until there was a New Testament, as a matter of fact the Book of Acts, history of the beginning of the Church says: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Acts 2:41-42 NKJV

It’s notable that in these two verses that after Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost, those who received his words (nothing says receive Jesus) those people were baptized and they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. The focus I am putting on the Apostles’ doctrine is intentional. There is no place where St. Luke (writer of the book of Acts) defines this phrase. We simply know they were taught and continued in that teaching, that doctrine.

The areas where the Apostles went, they preached this Gospel and baptized. The local churches needed overseers and the overseers (otherwise called bishops) were ordained to care for and teach the local churches. Timothy and Titus had been left behind by St. Paul with instructions to take all that he had taught them by word or example and teach faithful men who could teach others. These are two that we know about because he referred to this task. If St. Paul used that plan in those two places, I think it is safe to conclude the other Apostles either did it themselves or had others serve that function for them. After all, the twelve were special, we are certain, but there is the reference to the seventy that also were sent out by Jesus. History tells us they also went out preaching and founding new local churches also. Zebedee the father of James and John, who also was referred to in history as Aristobulus took a group of disciples to the area now known as the British Isles.

The Church was seriously concerned and the apostles made sure to tell the local churches that all of the people spoke and believed the same thing. The letters from St Paul were ways that he redirected the local churches when they strayed from his teachings. He made sure to tell the Corinthians: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

I Corinthians 1:10 NKJV

The Apostles were not allowing divisions, denominations or other separations in the local churches so that the Church could be ONE. Jesus prayed for his disciples before the crucifixion that they would be one. So divisions were not tolerated and teaching was uniform throughout the Church.

As the Church grew, many more local churches grew up and the organization of the Church solidified around the local bishops. History shows us that as the local churches grew up, administration of the overall Church was organized. Why do I mention this? Because many in the modern world want to disregard the organized Church in the ancient world. Saint Paul mentioned various spiritual gifts in his letter to the Romans and still others in his letter to the Corinthians. In his letter to the Romans he made specific mention to a gift of administration or government (depending on who translates the passage) and it is clear that God gifted some to do organization.

If we look to ancient Israel, when Moses was being given the task of creating a Tabernacle (a temporary place for worship) and God told him there were already people gifted to accomplish each task, metallurgy or fabric or anything else. If God took care to provide artisans for the image in the desert for those people, it is clear that since the Apostle Paul noted there was a gift of administration, that the organization of the Church, and by extension the local churches, was similarly provided for.

The growth of the Church, the adding of local churches, continued into the beginning of the fourth century. After Christianity was made legal, and Constantine made it the official religion of his empire, a new division cropped up. A preacher named Arius decided that he could interpret teachings his own unique way. He began teaching that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there was a time in eternity where Jesus didn’t exist so Jesus was a created being. This caused great division among local churches and distressed the whole Church. The only way to settle this division was to bring all the bishops together in a council to examine the issue. This was the pattern shown by the twelve apostles in the early church when they examined a seeming division between Paul and Peter.

The Council of Nicea brought the bishops of the Church from all over to examine and expound on the teachings of the Church. They each were afforded time to declare what they had been taught from the beginning and basically compare notes. The teaching of Arius was deemed to be heresy, and refuted, and all who had taught it were afforded the opportunity to submit to the teaching of the Apostles or be expelled as heretics. The year this happened was 325ad and the council wrote the first two sections of the Creed and sent it out to all local churches to be taught to everyone so that the Church could “speak the same thing” and uniformity in doctrine was possible. NOTE: they still had not collected the entire New Testament and many local churches did not have most of the writings of the New Testament that we have today

In 381ad another Council was called this time meeting in Constantinople to address a new teaching that was dividing and confusing the Church. The teaching about the Holy Spirit that claimed He was not God, not the same as the Father and the Son in essence and being. Some were saying the Holy Spirit was simply the effect of God being around. So the bishops, once again compared notes, expounded what they had been taught from the beginning. The last parts of the Creed were written. The group of the Church leaders finalized the Creed so that the written doctrine of the whole Church was clear, then they committed that none of it could be changed. The consensus was that anyone changing any of the Creed was to be accursed and labeled a heretic. This would mean that they could not be part of the Church as a whole. The local churches all agreed and taught this Creed. Finally the overall Church had doctrine that conformed to what had been taught and passed down from the Apostles.

The last action of the Council of Constantinople was to commission a committee or board of scholars to examine all writings that claimed to be scripture. All of these writings were examined for three years and compared to what the Church taught and thus some were found to not be consistent with the knowledge of the Church. Only those books that were consistent with previously established revelation were kept as scripture. From that collection, we have the New Testament. This was then canonized as the New Testament Scriptures and disseminated to the whole Church.

So what happened? Why did some people abandon centuries of unity to create doctrine of their own? In the 16th century, Martin Luther came along. He was part of the Roman Church. They had separated from the rest of the ancient Church in 1054ad and shortly thereafter started changing the teaching all had been following. They changed the Creed, many argued then and some argue now the change was minor but it was not minor and the Great Schism became part of history. Jumping forward and Luther was trying to reform the Roman Church. He decided that he would translate the New Testament into German for his German parish. This way he got to decide what books were included and also could use his translation to make sure the German translation fit his own doctrine. Kind of stacking the deck and do it was on.

One of those convenient teachings was one that said that only SCRIPTURE could be used for doctrine. A kind of idolatry that makes the written book superior to everything and everyone. If it’s not found in the pages of the New Testament then it’s just not valid. Odd but that teaching itself is not found anywhere in the New Testament. People rolled with it anyway. Then, there came another Luther-created doctrine, instantaneous salvation. If someone professed faith in Christ they were declared “Saved”. It is real convenient since the ancient Church never taught that.

In the ancient Church, someone heard and believed the Gospel and they were baptized and chrismated being received into the Church. The newly enlightened person would begin to learn and participate in the sacraments of the Church, the chief among them is communion. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sin and healing of soul and body. The Christian would then seek to grow and become continuously more like Christ, a process the Church came to refer to as Theosis. Salvation was the end result when at the Final Judgement the Christian would hear Christ say, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant”

Luther came up with this idea that if someone professed faith and said the right things they could be declared “Saved” making it an instantaneous event.

Following that reasoning, modern Evangelical Protestants have evolved over the past few decades to a point that it goes something like this. A person feels guilt for being a sinner, they’re told they need to be saved, they respond in some fashion and are then told they must receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. They are often led through a prayer often called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and afterward they’re told that they’re “Saved”. So the result of reciting this incantation means they’re saved and often they’re told that all sins they committed in the past and any that they will commit in the future have now been forgiven. Nice neat package.

Well, to those who want to be part of the Body of Christ I want to tell you, it’s not reciting a prayer like an incantation. It’s not going to happen in an instant. You aren’t saved until the end when Jesus welcomes you into that salvation. You aren’t saved now.

Here, now, today you can choose to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Christian Church and begin to become more like Christ. You can begin Theosis. You will be part of the Body of Christ.

I cannot tell you that in the end you WILL or WILL NOT be saved by your religion. I can identify whether a religious belief is or is not Orthodox. To be Orthodox, something has to fit the definition of that word. Orthodox is a compound Greek word meaning right teaching. So correct teaching makes some religions Orthodox and others not Orthodox. It’s not just another school of thought or theology that is equal to others. There are multiple schools of theology and thought that are equal. For all intents and purposes that group would be called heterodox which would be multiple teaching. If you are thinking that the thousands of religious teachings that call themselves Christian are equal then that is heterodox thought. The baptists of various flavors and the charismatics of various flavors and the Pentecostals of various flavors all accepting each other as Christians are a group of heterodox churches. Can you still “make it” in the end? I cannot presume to tell you that. No one can because who God chooses to save in the final analysis is exclusively in His prerogative. Anytime someone claims to be “saved” they are presuming on God’s exclusive prerogative to decide.

So what CAN be said? I know that the best place to find the path to Theosis is the Body of Christ. This is not some invisible group as some would claim that is made up of “all true believers in all churches and denominations” it is a defined, visible, and easy to find Church. The Church says the same thing no matter what ethnicity you find it, no matter what nation you are in, that’s what is meant by the word CATHOLIC. Catholic means UNIVERSAL. Catholic is not a trademark of the Roman Church. While in the USA it seems like it. The Creed is clear when it says: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”

Jesus established His Church. It’s not mine, it’s not created by a specific man, it is Christ’s Church. If you want the full experience of God, you can be part of it. It is genuine.

So if you get offended in this, that’s really something you should examine in yourself. I am often told, “I can go to God directly, I don’t need a priest.” Well everyone can, you’re not special. However, I can also fulfill the scripture that says “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you can be healed.”

Theosis is not about concentrating on a few singular ideas and fulfilling those and forgetting the others, it is about concentrating on the whole counsel of God. Letting Him work on each area of your life and making you a little more like Him every day.

Christian Hinduism?

 
There is a belief among the Protestant believers that as long as someone declares that “Jesus is Lord” they are part of “The Church” the “Body of Christ”. There’s no real common doctrine and no real historical roots tying the modern evangelicals to the Apostles. 

The Church that Jesus built was founded on the confession of the Apostles that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” and he only referred to ONE Church. That Church was a defined entity, a group of people, yes, not a specific building, but definitely a physical organism that PEOPLE could find. God knows the heart so HE doesn’t need a physical description to find the Church. MAN needs the Church, not an organization per se but a physical entity with definitions of what makes up the Church. How does anyone know what the Church is? What does the Church believe? What of Salvation? Is Salvation only available through the Church? Are we able to know about all these other groups that call themselves Christians?
Well, let’s first realize that the Church existed for 356 years before there was a defined New Testament to refer to. There were books and letters that were shared and read in the Church, but there wasn’t a collection like we have today that people knew was Holy Scripture. That itself made it necessary for the Church to make some definitions, list parameters of what a Christian is. At the time, early fourth century, there was a preacher that was traveling around preaching something different. He was preaching that Jesus, being begotten of the Father, was a created being. If that were true then Jesus couldn’t be God. 

After considering the input from all the teachers and bishops of the Church, the first part of the Creed was composed. It defined the belief about the Father and the Son. The first council of the Church closed with instructions to take this Creed and make certain that everyone in the Church was aware of and agreed to it. This was so that everyone in the local churches spoke the same, believed the same, and communicated it abroad. 

A couple of decades past when someone began trying to teach about the Holy Spirit. The exact teaching is unimportant to this current discussion but the solution was another council where the leaders of the Church gathered again. They considered carefully all the teachings and once again identified the teaching that was correct and common among the local churches. They then composed the completion of the Creed. 

Now they had a defined list of teachings, passed down from the Apostles, taught across the known world by the local churches, defining the Christian Church. This completed Creed now was prescribed to be read and recited and taught to everyone in the Church. It was not optional, if someone was to be part of the Church, THIS was the belief that they must hold. To do anything else was to be outside the Church. 

In the Creed, there was the definition of the Church, that there was ONE Church. Yes it was made up of many local churches but they all believed the same thing, that was defined in the Creed. 

The Church was HOLY. The people being made Holy, sanctified by God, set apart by God, the Church was HOLY. 
The Church was CATHOLIC. Today many recoil from that word but there is nothing connecting the word “catholic” in the Creed and the group that today call themselves the Roman Catholic Church. That individual group divided itself from the Church in 1054ad and bears little resemblance to or even the same doctrine to the original. The word “catholic” means universal. It was to clarify that the Church and her doctrine applied to anyone in any land. No culture was unable to receive forgiveness and redemption in Christ. The teachings of the Church would not exclude anyone who repented and wanted forgiveness. Jesus had overcome death by death and anyone who willingly came to Him could be received into the Church. 
The Church was defined as APOSTOLIC. The Church foundation was the testimony of the Apostles. Jesus had told the Apostles that he would build his Church and that the “Gates of Hades” would not prevail against the Church. 

So now the Church had a defined description of what she believed. This was a foundational document. It was not until eight years later that Church Leaders collected a catalog of the books contained in the New Testament and began publishing that to the local churches. To be clear, without the Creed in its original form, calling oneself a Christian is a false statement. 
So we have, within the Creed the specific definition of a Christian. We have a definition of the Church, ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH. A single entity, visibly definable, (ONE) a church that is sanctified, set apart by God (HOLY) a church that is universally applicable, it fits into any country or culture (CATHOLIC) and it is founded on the testimony of the Apostles (APOSTOLIC). 

Now, fast forward to today. Some people have many different definitions of a Christian. Interesting we also have many in the heterodox community, the many teachings of the Protestant or evangelical religions, who first cling to the teaching known as Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. This teaching originated with Martin Luther. He was an interesting study, a Roman Catholic Priest that wanted to reform Rome. He translated the Scriptures into German for his followers in Germany. He actually got to decide what books he would include in his Bible, and he even chose how some words and phrases were translated that fit into his doctrinal statements. So he came up with this idea that ONLY scripture could be used for Doctrine but there’s no place in the Holy Scriptures that this teaching is taught. 

Today we have many different groups that call themselves “Christians” without definition. If you are with them long enough you can find out that each individual is their own church. They each are the leader of their own religion. They each take a verse or a passage and they read it and then THEY decide what “God is saying TO ME” in that passage. Each person is like the Roman Pope, they just decide that they speak for God. There is no authority, no community that can decide, each person is his own arbiter of what God says.  

So what do we have? We have 30,000-50,000 churches in the USA and each person in those churches is deciding for himself or herself what God is saying. Then they are joining together only because they might agree on some points that the group thinks is important. They “fellowship” with other groups around holidays or other special events because, even though these others don’t agree on the “important” Doctrine they DO declare that Jesus is Lord. As long as they do that, we are able to worship together. 

If the Church is truly a single entity, should it speak the same in whatever group I find it? If it is founded on the testimony of the Apostles, following the Apostles teaching, won’t that teaching be universal? If as we are able to read, the Church is the “body of Christ” then how is it that Joe can leave this church he grew up in, move down the street and found a NEW church and BOTH of them be the “Body of Christ”?

Well I have presented many questions that need to be tied together. The New Testament was canonized, meaning the table of contents was finally decided in 389ad. The Church had begun in 33ad and had spread out over much of the known world. The Church had passed all teachings down both verbally and in written form for 356 years before beginning to get the New Testament disseminated to all the people. When the New Testament was disseminated the Church began to interpret scripture in the life and Liturgy of the Church. The teachings in the Church were already there, the icons, the stories and how to interpret these truths was already part of the Church. This made it a simple idea, a logical or reasonable plan to interpret the Holy Scriptures through the “Lens” if you will, of the life of the Church. 

So within the Ancient Church we see that the biggest reason that each person was not defining what God was saying is the simple truth that the life and Liturgy of the Church was the lens by which everyone read and understood the Holy Scriptures. 

If we could all define God our own way, as is common with heterodox religions, then Christianity would be nothing more than a different form of Hinduism where each person has his own god and everything is equal. With that in mind there would be no real reason to attend ANY Church. There’s nothing sacred, nothing of importance and if one doesn’t attend there’s no consequences. However, the Church is diminished by loss of community. There is no strength unless it is a community, (Jesus and US, not Jesus and ME). That is what was always understood by St. Paul’s encouragement that we not neglect the gathering together. We need the community the communion of the people from the common cup where the Body and Blood of Christ is granted to us and He abides in us as he promised and we then can abide in him. 

Bumper Sticker Christianity

Quoting Holy Scripture is a pastime of many in the multitude of heterodox churches. That’s not intended to be demeaning, it is a fact. Often times the quotation is a single verse or two. It usually came from their pastor’s Sunday sermon or from a Bible study and it just “clicked” with them.

We can all fall victim to this action, we get a favorite scripture passage and think EVERYONE needs to agree that this is earth-shaking information. It usually isn’t. To me, it might be but not necessarily to my brother. The slogan that I heard seems moving and powerful but in truth, it’s not.

One thing I was taught in evangelical exegesis was “Scripture interprets Scripture” which sounds good on the surface but in reality it’s falsely applied. Scripture is truly interpreted within the Life and Liturgy of the Church. It is through the whole life of the Church that Holy Scripture is interpreted and applied.

Saint Peter instructed us that: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” II Peter 1:19-21 NKJV

I may read a passage, I may think it applies specifically to me or to my circumstances, really I’m just trying to make it justify my actions. It does not matter what we read and want to hang up on the wall, tens-of-thousands of religious people that call themselves “Christian” have done that and started churches by doing it.

I was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have witnessed this first hand. From Oral Roberts’ “seed faith giving” to Ken Hagin’s “prosper and be in health” or whatever.

In recent history I find that many people that I know live in a kind of Bumper Sticker Christianity and Monday is a particularly annoying day on Facebook. The catch-phrase from the preacher’s sermon on Sunday or one single verse that was preached on suddenly became a monumental truth that they may have learned. They rush out to Facebook so they can impart this wisdom to us unwashed heathens that weren’t in their church to hear it. If we don’t jump right in with an “amen” or if we ask a question or even add to what they say, we will find that they delete our comment and turn off comments from us. What’s the cause of that? Arrogance? A sense of control? “After all, it’s MY page.”

Discussion is how we learn from each other. It’s two-way communication. Preaching is one way communication. There’s no comment block at the bottom of a sermon. Party lines like Facebook are where we interact at small levels. Twitter is where we can only use 140 characters. When we stop interacting the medium we are using causes a loss of interest.

Some of the people that I hold in highest regard do not say anything on Facebook. They have accounts and occasionally they post events or podcasts but they don’t comment. Why? It’s a waste of time. They post their blog articles, their vlog or podcast but they leave the commenting to others.

Sometimes I question the reason some folks post anything. They don’t respect questions, they like the comments that agree with them but truly they don’t want to interact on the subjects that they have posted. They only like their bumper sticker Christianity and feeling good.

That’s not how this works…

There is a popular TV commercial where a little old lady has mounted photos on the wall of her living room and has several friends over to share the photos with. Another little old lady stands up and says, “That’s not how this works…” and sometimes I want to stand up and say that to folks about Christianity.

I recently challenged someone and asked them if they knew how to do something that they were talking about in Holy Scripture. The response surprised me, I was told I was bringing condemnation, not exactly sure how I was because there were no specifics, and then I was told, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” to which my mind popped up the vision of the little old lady in the TV commercial, “That’s not how this works…”

The scripture the person was trying to apply was, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1 NKJV

A Baptist preacher once told me, “Anytime there is a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to back up and read more to find out what the ‘therefore’ is THERE FOR.

The passage in Romans 8:1 that was referred to, was being applied to try to shield from criticism. A kind of “get out of jail free” card like in Monopoly. That’s not even close to its application. It was being used as if to say, you cannot question me or criticize me because there’s no condemnation in the kingdom of God. Well that’s not what St. Paul was teaching in Romans 8:1.

Let’s look back, St. Paul was expounding in Romans 7 about how the Law of God brought judgement and starting in verse 13 of Chapter 7 he explained how in his mind he wanted to obey God but his physical body with its passions, desires, hungers were at war with his mind and he was feeling torn and battle weary in all this. THAT is what immediately preceded Romans 8:1 where he said that THEREFORE there is now no condemnation (from God) for us WHO WALK BY THE SPIRIT. That really is the operative thought, those who aren’t under God’s condemnation are those who walk by the Spirit and not the flesh or physical body with its weaknesses and desires.

That does not free us from criticism, if we are wrong in something, anyone in the Church has the responsibility to point it out. If you were to observe another Christian involved in something that was wrong, you shouldn’t just ignore it. They are part of you and when they hurt, you hurt.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 NKJV

Restoration requires identification and honesty. This will sound like criticism. If you question someone, because it appears to you that something isn’t right, it will sound like criticism. That’s not wrong, it’s how this works. It’s how ALL of this stuff works.

Imagine the situation that was presented in the Corinthian Church, a man was shacked up with his step-mother. The people in the congregation knew what was happening and were trying to pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant. Saint Paul wrote them about how sad he was over this because they were allowing it to go unchallenged. That congregation was told to put him out, not to allow him to be part of the community, not to allow him to receive communion with them so that HOPEFULLY he would repent, change his ways, and be restored. After he repented, St. Paul told them to let him back in.

Imagine, if you will, if that man had said, “there’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” and tried to convince the congregation that they could not judge him. Imagine the confusion that the Church would have to correct if he said, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…”

It is like the people that say “Judge not” where they ignore the rest of the verse. Jesus specifically warned that whatever judgement you apply to others is how you will be judged. In the Corinthian Church, referenced above, St. Paul instructed the congregation specifically to judge the situation because HE had already judged it and he gave them instructions on what to do. He told them that “We” would Judge the angels so our judgement must be sound and practiced.

So I’ve rambled a bit but in conclusion I must say, we cannot be ignorant children, refusing any question or criticism but we must evaluate our words and actions soundly. To reject any challenges simply because we think we are above them is the height of arrogance and childishness.

Saint Peter told us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” I Peter 3:15 NKJV

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope in you. Can we expect to just slide through? Are we free from challenges? The religious leaders of his day challenged Jesus all the time. They sought the authority which he claimed and he showed them by the very miracles he performed that he was authentic. I suppose if someone came along performing miracles, there would be some deference given to their words but if they didn’t speak in line with already accepted teaching from the scriptures they would not be respected by most.