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.

The Echo Chamber

In our everyday lives we have multiple interactions with others, some inside the Church and some outside the Church. We are involved with social media in various forms for politics, religion, music, social issues and we often retreat into that while missing the biggest opportunity for growth.

We sometimes get to feeling like we OWN some particular piece of social media. Bottom line is, the “owner” of our Facebook page is not us but rather the guy that owns that company. He proves that day in and day out by suspending accounts, refusing to allow clerical titles calling them false names, and many other ways. He and his company are simply censoring the content that he wants us to see. If the company decides it is “fake news” because the owner disagrees with it then they censor it or delete the posting.

The Christian life is not supposed to be that way. King Solomon said “I As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NKJV

For iron to sharpen iron, some friction must occur. That isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we learn HOW to say something because it “rubs the wrong way” and as we learn we grow. When I learn how to do something, it might be new to me, it might be of use to others, and asking others if they know how to accomplish something will elicit responses that bring new ideas.

When someone posts something on social media, it is like being in a big room with many people talking. Small groups form, and as you walk through the room you hear what others say. Then there are people sharing, repeating, what someone says.

Some people want to rant, we all have friends that on social media just want to rant. They want their time on the soapbox. They think whatever they’re ranting about is so important that everyone needs to pay attention but they do NOT want any responses.

Some people present the attitude that what they post on social media is their mission in life. The people on their friend list NEED their wisdom and anyone that would try to add to that or ask a question is not worthy to comment.

When you write on Facebook you are not writing your own blog. Yes you can block comments, you can delete comments that you don’t like but seriously, you are in a big room talking and others might actually have insight that you are missing. You are not a sage that has all the wisdom of God. You might have a purpose in stating a fact, quoting something but to limit others’ comments often puts you in an echo chamber. You only hear or see the things that you agree with. Being honest with ourselves there are avenues for that.

Blogs, like this one, are ways for in-depth discussions of what the writer wants to say. This is why I like to write things that occur in my religious life. I’m not perfect, I get it wrong a great deal, but I put myself out there and let others take their best shot. I’m not here writing to debate the issues. I simply put it out there and expose how I feel, what I have experienced and what I learned.

When I finish an article for this blog, I share it on Facebook and in that environment people can discuss and debate the article if they choose. It does not diminish the ideas in the article nor does it threaten my belief structure, it is just a forum where I can share what I have learned.

If you like to post stuff on Facebook so that you can feel good or fulfilled by all your friends agreeing with you then accept the fact that others have equally valid observations about the subject you posted. You might not be the all-knowing sage which you think you are. You might need to hear additional insight.

Lately, politics has colored everything. It depends on what source of information one uses, what they believe. The term “fake news” gets thrown around and no one listens to each other. That is fine because the reality is our opinions do not matter to the politicians. They only care if we vote for them. Most of what we say is meaningless and no one will change opinions based on what someone says on Facebook.

Religion is often the same way, no one will change their opinion by what they read on Facebook.

Blogs give us an extended time to express ourselves. You can open up your heart, and mind, express your feelings, talk about what you have learned, and others can comment if they want to but it truly is YOUR space. You own your blog and can even refuse comments. Everyone knows that going in.

Great Lent is approaching. Soon many Christians will be fasting, using time that ordinarily is focused out for introspection. Many choose to even withdraw from social media in this time. That might be a good idea. At least, if we are seeking enlightenment from God, being away from Facebook and contentious people or subjects.

If you have insight, feel free to share, it’s how we learn.

The Birthday Gift Project

My bride of almost five years is the most important person to me. We went to high school together, dated some, but went our separate ways. We came together in 2012 and planned to marry when she joined me here in Phoenix. While planning our wedding, my priest asked for her baptismal certificate from whatever church she was baptized in. She said she had not been baptized and to his credit he said, “We must baptize her before the wedding” as no one can be married in the Orthodox Church except those who have been baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. His plan was to baptize her, do the wedding and teach her the Catechism afterward over time. 
Over the past four plus years, she has studied and learned, experiencing God through the Divine Liturgy and feasts of the Church. The Antiochian Service Book, usually in the pew pockets at the parish temple has helped guide her, containing the services, and prayers of the Church. The most difficult thing was that often they were taken home by people, or moved to other places in the parish temple so she struggled to get one to use at services. She needed one that was hers, one that no one could “mistake” for theirs, one that would be unique. 

I started with the concept for this project in January 2017. I have always admired the ornamental covers on the Gospel Book and the Epistle Book at the Parish Temple. I checked and those are very expensive. I decided to put a metal cover on a service book and give it to Carol. 

I have all sorts of experience in working, I learned a little about a great number things in the past 58 years. I was once a cosmetic worker in a repair plant that repairs airplane parts. I learned about sheet metal there. 

I created a pattern for the pieces that I needed. 

I found a sheet metal vendor, not far away and chose a shiny brass that’s almost a gold color. I drew and cut patterns for the pieces that I needed from poster board. I took them to the sheet metal superstore and they sent them to the shop that they use to cut specialized shapes. That shop uses a water jet cutter. 

They sent the metal off to be cut. 

I received the three pieces that I ordered cut and then worked with the guy at the sheet metal shop to put the initial bends in each. I need a board that is 1/2 inch thick or a little less to hold the spine piece for drilling. I’ll go to Home Depot Monday looking for that. 

I have most of the parts collected up. I’ll get it all done in a few weeks. I have to work on this when Carol is at work on Monday and Tuesday. 

May 8, 2017 

Today I assembled the portable workbench that I bought to do this project. I got a piece of wood that is almost exactly the right size for the binding piece to slip on the end. I will use this to hold the binding piece for drilling the holes to attach the hinges. I cut the hinges tonight and they are ready for their next step. Plan for tomorrow is to drill the practice metal and do some practice rivets. Perhaps I can attach the hinges to the binding section. It doesn’t appear that I can remove the pin from the hinge so they must be attached in a way that I can work around all of the limitations. 

I finally had the opportunity to start bucking rivets only to learn that the holes in the hinges themselves are too large, slightly, for the rivets. So this week I’ll need to drill 1/8 inch holes in the hinges then drill new holes in the spine section. It should not matter since it will be folded under ultimately hidden from view. 

August 7, 2017

I finally was afforded time to finish this project. I have only been able to work on it when my bride was working on my day off. Sometimes in her job, shifts get cancelled and that makes it tougher to work on this project because I do not want her to know what I’m doing until it’s complete. 

I drilled the new holes in the hinges and completed the rivets for the pieces. Then I bent the riveted flaps under on the spine first. I was a bit surprised by the imprint of the rivets showing on the outside of the spine. I needed to prevent that on the other pieces. I determined that the thickness of a credit card would be enough space. I took one of those advertisements that has a credit card type card on the letter, and I cut it so I could put it under the rivets to prevent it from imprinting on the outside. After folding the flap in this manner, I could remove the plastic card from the final product. 

I completed the bending, now the book is covered. I used a rubber mallet to complete the folding and the book is covered. The outside is marred with finger prints and scratches that could not be avoided due to my working conditions and my makeshift bench, so I’m going to need to polish it up. I got some Never Dull metal polish at Walmart just for that. 

I want a couple bookmarks so my bride can mark places she wants in the book and found a golden cord with tassels on the ends. I drilled a spot on the hidden part of the spine to attach it. It will be a nice addition to the overall book. 

I want to decorate the front with a cross, I have an idea for a gift box to present it to my bride, so tomorrow I will go to Hobby Lobby again. 

August 8, 2017

Hobby Lobby has these real neat gift boxes, I chose shiny gold, and with a bit of foam and some purple satin, and I found a nice cross to use on the front. 

I polished the surface, and affixed the cross using Gorilla Glue. I measured and cut the foam, and covered it in the satin for presentation. 

I want something to cover the inside surface of the covers where the folded metal comes together. I decided to print two icons and laminate them with an adhesive back. I placed Saint Thekla, my bride’s patron on the inside front cover and Saint Paul, my patron, on the inside of the back cover.

I printed the Troparion for the Saint on the print of the icon for her personal devotional use.

My project is complete, boxed and ready for her. Carol’s birthday is the eleventh but that’s a day we won’t see each other except for a few minutes as she gets ready for work. Ordinarily she is unable to consider much conversation when she’s trying to get dressed in the morning. I want this to be a time when she can take it all in. 
After she has come home, while she is eating, this conversation took place:

Me: I have your birthday present ready for you

Her: Let’s wait until Friday when it’s my birthday

Me: well I won’t see you on Friday 

Her: you’re real excited to give it to me aren’t you? 

Me: yes

Her: okay…

Her pleasure and surprise were really the best reward this husband could hope for. 

A Line in the Desert Sand

There is a tendency in certain religious circles to create a doctrine from a single phrase or sentence found in the New Testament. One such instance has been the movement called the “Prosperity Gospel” which often is based on 3 John 1:2 and little else.  
Other doctrines are floating around simply based on one sentence or phrase. This is often why there are so many thousands of churches calling themselves “Christian” that do not agree or are not in communion with others.
From the beginning of the Church, there were teachings and these doctrines were settled from the beginning as “The Apostles Doctrine” and were taught by the Apostles to the first overseers of the first churches. Dogma was settled long before the New Testament was collected and organized. The Scripture references for the doctrines of the Church were later referenced. 
In the early fourth century, a presbyter named Arius decided that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there must have been a time when Jesus did not exist. His conclusion was that Jesus was not God at all but a created being. The confusion which this line of thinking created spread quickly. It finally reached the capital city of the Empire, Constantinople. The Emperor Constantine realizing that the State Religion was in danger of disarray, asked the Patriarch of Constantinople if there was a way for this to be addressed. The scholars of the Church knew, from the example in history, (we see it in Acts with the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem) that those who were overseers of the congregations should meet. They could each expound on what had been taught and passed down to them. 
This brought forward the Ecumenical Council of Nicea. After exhaustive explanations from each bishop in attendance concerning what they had been taught from the beginning, the decision to write it down was made. 
The first two sections of the Creed was crafted. This defined the Church’s belief in God the Father and his role as well as God the Son and his role. It also clarified that the Son was “begotten not made” and was “of one essence with the Father” and that by Him all things were created. 
Once the first two sections of the Creed were accepted, they were duplicated and taken to all the local churches with instructions to read them, study and learn what they taught in case anyone was under the mistaken ideas previously heard. 
The Church progressed for several decades when a dispute seemed to be raised over the Holy Spirit. Was He God and a person or simply the effect of God’s presence in the World. Once again the Church leadership met in a council, this time in Constantinople in 381 and when all the speeches and teachings were expounded, the decision to add to the Creed was made. The inclusion of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, with his role in creation, as well as Baptism and t teaching concerning the universality of the Church and its descriptive foundation. 
When the Creed was accepted as complete by the consensus of the bishops, they collectively declared that anyone that changed it at all, without the entire Church leadership in council was to be accursed. This was the anathema that they attached to identify how serious these foundational doctrines were. 
In the year 386 a committee of scholars and bishops began the task of collecting all the works that each local church had which were thought to be scripture. Many books that were called “Gospels” purported to be written by anyone. The writings of any Apostle were also collected. This collection of books were compared, studied and those found to be consistent with all teachings accepted previously were organized into what we now refer to as The New Testament. This final canon of scripture was accepted in the year 389. 
Now if we look, each part of the Creed, finalized in 381, is consistent with scripture that was canonized in 389. 
The Creed in Scripture:
I believe in One God, (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29, 12:32; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6)
The Father Almighty (Genesis 17:1-8; Exodus 6:3; Matthew 6:9; Ephesians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 6:18)
Maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1; Job 38:1-30)
And of all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:15-16; John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11)
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ (John 20:28; Acts 11:17, 16:31; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5)
The Son of God, the Only-Begotten (Matthew 3:17, 14:33, 16:16; John 1:14, 3:16)
Begotten of the Father before all ages (Psalm 2:7; John 1:1-2)
Light of Light (John 1:4, 1:9, 8:12; Psalm 27:1; Matthew 17:2, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5)
True God of True God (John 1:1-2, 17:1-5; 1 John 5:20)
Begotten, not made (John 1:1-2, 16:28, 1:18)
Of one essence with the Father (John 10:30)
By Whom all things were made (Hebrews 1:1-2, 10; John 1:3, 1:10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36)
Who for us men and for our salvation (I Timothy 2:4-5; Matthew 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Colossians 1:13-14)
Came down from heaven (John 3:13, 3:31, 6:33-35, 38)
And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35)
And became man (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14)
And He was crucified for us (Mark 15:25; I Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 2:24) 
under Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:15)
And suffered (Mark 8: 31; Matthew 27:50)
And was buried (Luke 23:53; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Matthew 27:59-60)
And He rose again on the third day (Mark 9:31, 16:9; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4)
According to the Scriptures (Luke 24:1, 45-46; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
And ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10; Mark 16:19)
And sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55; Luke 22:69)
And He will come again with glory (Matthew 24:27; Mark 13:26; John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
To judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:5)
His kingdom shall have no end (2 Peter 1:11; Hebrews 1:8)
And I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Acts 1:8)
The Lord and Giver of life (Acts 5: 3-4; Genesis 1:2; John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6)
Who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26)
Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified (Matthew 3:16-17)
Who spoke through the prophets (I Samuel 19:20; Ezekiel 11:5; 1 Peter 1:10-11; Ephesians 3:5)
And I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church (Matthew 16:18, 28:19; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Ephesians 1:4, 2:19-22, 4:4, 5:27; Acts 1:8, 2:42; Mark 16:15; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17)
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins (Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12-13; Acts 22:16)
I look for the resurrection of the dead (John 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-49; Romans 6:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
And the life of the world to come. (Mark 10:29-30; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)
Amen. (Psalm 106:48)
 Now, understanding this builds the doctrine of the Church, the foundational teaching of the Church, with references in scripture. That’s a completely different way to establish a teaching or doctrine. In the beginning of this article, I referred to taking a phrase and creating a doctrine from it. The reference I made was to the expressed good wishes from the Apostle John that “I would that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers”. The groups known under the banner of “The Prosperity Gospel” preachers tend to build this up to declare that God wants me to be wealthy. If I perform everything that is a commandment, tithing and giving primarily, I will prosper and be in health. 
Over time we have seen how flawed this thinking can be considering that God never promised us a mansion or a jet or a Rolls Royce. If we look, usually it is found that those preachers experience that kind of monetary prosperity often to the detriment of their followers. The regular guy is often told to keep giving and if he REALLY believes he will prosper. When he doesn’t get wealthy, the conclusion he reaches is that he just doesn’t believe enough. 
Years ago, close friends of mine were seduced by this kind of preaching. They were also pointed to an investor that traded gold internationally. They believed so deeply in the people that they followed that they took out a second mortgage on their home. They invested all of that borrowed money into this fund that was supposed to be managed by this investor in international gold trading. A market correction caused his fund to collapse and last I heard from my friends they had lost not only their investment but when the second mortgage came due they could not pay it, they lost their home and assets in bankruptcy. 
There are several preachers from that belief system who have died of cancer in the past decade. I have the question in my mind, if they spent years telling their congregations that sickness was caused by lack of faith, how do those congregations explain their pastor’s death? It seems to be a difficult place to be found. The foundation of their belief was not really God, rather it was a man’s interpretation of scripture. 
There are many such flawed teachings. Another one that is prominent is that presbyters, pastors and priests (all the same kind of minister) should never be referred to as “Father”. This is based on a statement of Jesus in Matthew 23:9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9 NKJV
Based exclusively on this one sentence, entire doctrinal statements concerning the title “Father” have been built. They obviously ignore that the title Father has a specific use in history, the man who raises children is the FATHER to those children. The history of the term is exhaustive and can be found in any language. Saint Paul writing to the Church in Corinth identified them as his children “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” 

I Corinthians 4:15 NKJV
He obviously identified to them that he was their father in the Gospel because he had begotten them. I wonder if that reference would lead me to believe that he was their spiritual father and they identified him as such?
References to fathers weave through the New Testament. It is clear from context that the Apostles writing referred to fathers on earth and the Father in heaven. There was no general prohibition on referring to any man as “Father” and the apostles many times talked to the Church as “my children” so to make some blanket statement that based on the one sentence that it is recorded that Jesus said “call no man father” is ignoring the history and practices of the Church. We know who our father is, who our spiritual father is and who our Heavenly Father is, we’re not stupid. One line reference to build a doctrine from seems without foundation. 
The Great Schism 1054, where the Roman Pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and all those who were remaining in communion with Constantinople, saw the biggest division of the Church. After the Schism, the Roman Pope began making up doctrine never accepted before. Some could be easily reversed if Rome ever chose to return to the community of believers that are in the Eastern Church. Other doctrines are more difficult to reverse. One of those is the addition of what is known as “the Filoque” which is the corruption of the Creed. In reference to the Creed, presented above with scripture references, I refer to the identification of the Holy Spirit. The Creed makes a point of saying the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”. The Roman church added the phrase “and the Son” to that sentence. They read that “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” thus subordinating the Holy Spirit in some hierarchical way. This is not a doctrine of a one-liner but rather a part of a larger doctrine easily seen in scripture. This is why it became so important. 
The idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father was derived from the teachings of the Apostles. When the canon of scripture was finalized, the Gospel of John made it clear because only there do we find the specific of where the Holy Spirit comes from. Many want to reduce this to a mere semantic argument but it being so much part of the larger teaching in the Creed makes me believe that it is of great importance. 
The authority of the Creed was the authority of the Church. The bishops (overseers) were the voting members of the Church Councils. Those same bishops were the authority for the Canon of the New Testament Scriptures. Effectively, the Church coming first, has the authority, and the New Testament Scriptures, being produced by the Apostles, is higher than the Creed but the Creed is a collection from scripture of the basics of Christian belief, they are intertwined and inseparable. It is possible, and common in the modern day, to accept the New Testament and reject the Creed but impossible to be a Christian and reject the Creed. 

Is it possible to get “saved” when you are in some religion that denies the Creed?  That’s God’s choice, no man can decide that. What we DO know however, is that if you are INSIDE the true Church, founded by Jesus on the Testimony of the Apostles, you stand a great chance since you are following the Apostles’ Doctrine just as the early Church did.