It is without apology that I take to writing my beliefs in what the Word of God, the Bible, says about various subjects that seem to be dividing those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These beliefs are not what I “feel” it says. Nor are they what I just blindly accept because others follow this or that particular viewpoint. These are actually what I know based on my own reading, research, and study within the covers of the Bible alone.
I know that many things are considered subjective. One might believe one particular way about a topic, when someone else may perceive it quite differently. When you look at the history of theology (the study of God and His Word), it is very clear that there has been, and still are, divisive understandings about what is actually being conveyed to the listener/reader. Since the Bible came together, some of the greatest minds have perused through every jot and tittle looking for the truest and deepest meanings that God in His providence is telling the people.
On certain points, most scholars and students of Scripture have a common understanding. Most will certainly state that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to be the sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Most will claim that Jesus came in human form, born of a virgin, taught His message through His disciples, and that after His death on the cross rose from the dead 3 days later…appearing to multitudes…and then rising to the heavens, is seated on the right hand of God’s throne. Many still agree that there will be a return of Jesus to claim His own (believers) who will go to heaven with Him forever. But, it is when we get to the periphery things of theology that lines blur, ideas differ, and dissension erupts.
Some of the points of contention that are often debated are things like; how are we saved, when are we saved, did God elect some and not others, when is Christ returning, will He come a brief second time for saints but then return for the end battle, is the coming pre/mid/post tribulation, is there a literal or figurative millennial period, and do we reside on the new earth or in heaven or both?
I have written in the past of my understanding on a few of these questions. A few points I admittedly can say that I do waffle between views because I can understand both (or multiple) explanations making sense from what others claim it says in the Bible. Since I am no formally trained scholar, theologian, seminary graduate, or am extra-versed in the Bible, I will say that all of my approaches come from trying to see what the Bible says about a certain subject without adding in too many outside views or slants.
Which leads me to labelling. One of the greatest wars that has raged since the early 1600’s has been what our level of involvement with the salvation process really is. Between the defined views of Jacobus Arminius (Arminianism) and John Calvin (Calvinism) came a rift that deepened as the reformation was steaming through Protestantism around the world. I do not want to delve into the specifics of all that historically was going on, other than to say that a multitude of factions were created and followers of particular ideologies labelled themselves according to their defined group. What I will say is that, though I may lean particular to certain teachings or understandings of interpretations from the leaders long ago, I do not commit to any one as definitive.
Examples are that some say I am a Calvinist. Some say I am a Puritan. Some label me based on my eschatology (end times) views. Some label me purely a heretic because I don’t read their version of the Bible. Some say I am simply ignorant and should not espouse an opinion.
Whatever the view of me, I will say in my defense: you don’t know me.
But, to satisfy those who want to pigeonhole me, label me a particular sway, I will put out what I see as Biblical truth. Be warned though, as some views of mine have changed over the years…because experience, learning, and understandings have grown and shaped my belief system. I will also warn that if you really believe that your view, way, ideology, and stance is the only and right way…then you are either the first person in the history of theology to fully nail the exact truth that God is teaching us, or, you are a self-centered narcissist who stopped up your eyes and ears, set your feet in concrete, and yell foul at everyone else who may differ from you. In the Bible, many of those folks had their own labels: Pharisees and Scribes. Self-righteous people who thought they knew everything, but in reality missed out on the Savior that they “thought” they would find. Nowadays, I call them “arm-chair theologians”. People who, with or without formal education, have settled in their minds and hearts that they are right and that everyone else is wrong…unless they agree with them.
If the greatest and most learned men in history have had differing views of particular areas of study, (such as has been listed above), what makes you think that you have the absolute and accurate understanding?
I will say this about those topics. People need to understand that there are aspects discussed in the Bible that do NOT change the salvation of a person. Salvation is a gift from God and we have no power to change God! Certain aspects of Scripture are pure black-and-white…no grey, debatable areas. But most of the topics that are (still) hotly contested really don’t change our standing before the Holy God! Believing that the rapture comes before the tribulation or after does in NO WAY change whether you get to heaven or not! Standing on all 5 points of Calvinism versus agreeing with only 4 of them does NOT change your status if you are a saved believer or not!
The fact that people get so heated over periphery matters really baffles me! If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ as your savior, then Hallelujah! But to get violently angry with each other over whether or not the book of Enoch should be studied within the Scriptures is utter nonsense! And speaking of books…this ridiculous mentality people have that if you don’t read the King James Version of the Bible then you are wrong, that you are studying the devil’s words, and that you are now going to hell! This has become the most ludicrous debate I have ever heard. If you read the KJV only…great! It is a great translation from the original languages! Yet, it always amazes me that people really think that anything outside of the (rehashed from the Geneva Bible) 1611 translation, God can’t communicate with you. That if you’re reading any translation OTHER THAN the KJV, you are getting the wrong Word. What that really tells me is that; a) the KJV-only crowd has never studied or understood how translations come about and from where; b) that they forget that God is bigger than your translations; and c) that God has brought countless numbers to salvation through a multitude of versions outside of KJV!
Anyway, I digress. Back to what I believe.
I believe that the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV are great translations of the original texts. But, I also believe that God uses many forms and translations to communicate His Truths to people, through various languages, reaching to their understanding level in ways that they need at the right time…by the power of the Holy Spirit. I will NEVER discount God’s ability to use even the most mundane manner or translation to get His Word to those who need to hear it. His Word NEVER returns void. Look at the underground church in China. How many of them that will study even the most partial of pages of Scripture to be fed His Word! They memorize even small sections so they can commit it to heart! They may never have a chance to see the full body of text, but there is no doubt that God uses that to edify those believers who will be exalted in heaven for their devotion and faithfulness!
As for eschatology, I had started off in the pre-tribulation rapture belief, primarily because that is what everyone around me was believing. I have changed my views on that stance over the last couple of years for a few reasons. I am not here to try to sway or alter your belief in any way…primarily because you believe what you believe and that is between you and God. I will say that through my own personal studies in Scripture that I just don’t see pre-trib. That being said, I will contend that I strongly believe that we should be walking today as if we were going to be raptured midway or at the end of the tribulation period, but always living in hope that the rapture is before the tribulation! Also in these camps are the big words of preterism, historicism, futurism, idealism and many others. Again, I will say with complete confidence that no matter what view you hold to, it does NOT alter your salvation. Debate it all you want, but if you are dispensationalist or a covenant theologist, in the big picture of God’s plan, there is no reason to get argumentative and split communion with other believers over these differences as they don’t affect the final outcome of salvation.
In regards to denominations, I will say strongly this; there are many denominations that have come along under the guise of being true to the Word of God, yet have either come as wolves in sheep’s clothing or have started out with right intentions only to be swallowed and changed by the world. General titles such as Methodist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and the like have even fractured into various groups because of indwelling disagreements. Most of the issues have arose because of the affect of worldliness. Most of the groups have decided to conform more to the world than they have the Word. I’ve written about this particular issue before and won’t labor it too much, other than to say that finding a true Bible-believing church that preaches the Gospel, reveres God in worship, and studies to conform to our Lord Jesus’ teachings is the ONLY place you want to be. Anything less is a compromise to God’s Holy standards and the end result is not fitting for heaven.
Which brings me to a most contentious point: Salvation. This hotly debated study is one that has split churches, destroyed fellowship, and even created violent reactions. The debate contains within itself these particulars: 1) does God pre-elect certain people to salvation; 2) is this conditional; 3) can we lose salvation; 4) what role do we have (if any) in accepting or rejecting.
Obviously, I cannot spend time explaining/defining every aspect of each of these topics as they are so deep, divisive, and contested, that it would take volumes of books. And even with all the books, there are so many viewpoints that are addressed that we really never get a set, definitive absolute answer. Consider the history of the greatest theologians that have gone before us that have written extensively on these particular topics! As I mentioned before, this understanding of salvation became a hotbed back in the early 1600’s within Protestantism with theologians debating some of these very unclear matters. Arminius held to the 5 solas of the Reformation, but had differing teachings on some aspects from the teachings of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others. As with so many other periods in history, sides were taken, debates occurred, factions split, and denominations struggled. Unfortunately, the division between the two schools of thought have driven wedges deeper within the body of believers and have caused unbelievers to avoid church because they see the dissensions and hypocrisy within the church body.
As for me, after careful study of Scripture and the history of the debate (the Synod of Dort and the five articles of remonstrance), I have come to the conclusion that these “labels” are fine for historical teachings, but have no bearing on my personal salvation or walk with God. To label me one or the other is really a moot point. Specially since both “sides” agreed on the really key issues! We are depraved. Atonement is for all. Jesus’s death satisfies God’s justice. When it comes to whether grace is resistible or not, or if election is conditional or not, I know that I have to trust in the Scriptures, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I know that whatever the Bible says, that’s what I need to focus on in my walk. If I take my eyes off of the prize to worry about matters of whether God predestines or not, I have taken my focus on the more important part: God’s will in my life.
We fret and worry so much about small, minute details more than we do about the big picture. If I am driving a car down the road and keep my focus only on a pothole in the other lane, I miss out on all the other things going on around me. If Satan can drive your focus off the whole of Scripture to a small, debatable matter that causes you to stumble, then he has succeeded. The devil constantly challenges people to question God’s Word. His goal is to cause to you to doubt. I’ve done a lot of doubting, questioning, worrying, debating and struggled with many of these issues in the past to the point where I threw up my hands in frustration and walked away. Isn’t that the demon’s goal? To create division, strangle the truth, alter our beliefs, and get people to give up? Christ said that a house divided does not stand. That house can be a multitude of believers or can simply mean each of us individually.
Bottom line is that I believe what I believe because I see it in the Word of God. Not because I need a label. Not because this preacher or that teacher says it is so. Not because my brothers and sisters all believe a particular theological ideology. But because I have read it in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has illuminated that particular area of understanding to me, and that I cannot see it differently. Does it make me right? NO! What it does do is open me up to understanding the Word so that when I do hear a teaching related to it, I can go back and learn and discern if what I heard is true. More times than not I find myself learning and growing in my faith and knowledge of the Bible. Many times I hear or read something and quickly can see that the thoughts being conveyed contradict the Word.
But, I also believe that there is absolutely NO reasons for self-proclaiming followers of Christ to be so arrogant, so pompous, so narcissistic as to be judgmental and condemning to others because they don’t agree with you. I see it time and time again on social media and other platforms. It is utterly abhorrent and contradictory to the teaching of Jesus! There is a time to call out heretical false teaching and there is a time discuss differences in theology. Someone teaching that works saves and gets you into heaven should be gently shown God’s Word that explains otherwise. But if someone thinks that you reading anything other than the KJV is heresy and that you are not reading God’s Word, well, therein lies a difference that has absolutely NO bearing on whether or not someone is saved by God!
I find we love to judge. To compare everyone else to ourselves. Yet, it is obviously clear that everyone is different. Not only are my neighbors around me different than me, but a Christian brother halfway around the world is also different than me. Our circumstances and histories are different. God, in His providence and wisdom, reaches down from Heaven to each of us…meeting us exactly where we are! He teaches us exactly what we need, when we need it. At just the right moment, He illuminates our hearts and minds to His Truths. He feeds us understanding when we are ready to receive it. Had I known long ago what I know now, I might have rejected things because they were too weighty for my mindset then. God knows what I need and when. He knows that we all need the core, the Gospel, which is clear and concise…fitting for everyone! He wants us to share it with others, not wondering whether someone is “elect” or not. It is a command from our savior Jesus, to preach the Gospel. How will they know if they don’t hear it? Even if predestined, who are we to decide? Maybe God is using YOU to call that one person!
His ways are not our ways. So, I will just have to believe, trust, and obey to the best of my ability.