June 23rd, 2015 at Erie Young Adults, Larry and I tried to answer some doubts that might have come up in your life in regards to Christianity and Jesus. There were a lot we didn’t get to. So I thought it would be good to do a blog post with some sort answers. If you would like more clarifications please comment at the bottom. I will also give some resources for more info instead of post a series of long answers.
What is God's view on war? Looking back at the Old Testament, God had ordered the destruction of other nations, armies, or cities. Is this considered murder or killing, is there a difference?
I think the easiest way to answer this is to talk about the difference between murder and killing and work back from there. The command from God was to not murder. Murder is understood as the unjust taking of human life. Killing is the taking of a human life with just cause. So in war, in general, it is two or more governments or states, engaging in battle for a variety of reasons. Some good/just some bad/unjust. Taking the life of another in the context of war would be seen in God’s eyes, most of the time, as just. All parties(armies) are well aware of the risk, and think they are standing for something bigger than themselves. I would argue that some wars are not just, and are just murder on a large scale. Especially when non-combatants are killed. The wars in the Bible are all just wars. The Israelites went to war with nations that were engaged in terrible things. They were also give plenty of time, 400 years in some cases, to turn from their ways of sin and summit. They chose, freely to go to war. For more information, I would suggest Paul Copen’s book “Is God A Moral Monster”.
Did Martin Luther subtract from the est. biblical canon?
I honestly do not have an answer for this. As far I know, he did not. Luther saw a number of church practices that did not line up with the scripture that he knew. This caused him to take action with his 95 thesis. I would suggest reading the wikipedia page. It has lots of good information. Sorry, I don’t have a better answer.
Why should I even believe what the Bible says?
This could be taken a number of different ways, so I will try to address a few that I think are most common.
What the Bible says historically? We have more manuscripts for the New Testament, that are closer to the source than we do any other historical document of its age. This gives of good reason to believe that the text that we have is close to what was written down by the original authors. The Bible has proven to be a great resource in archeology. It has been and continues to be used as a guide for digs. Nothing that has been found in archeology disproves anything in the Bible. Most support what it says, or have no impact at all. I would listen to this podcast for more information. http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Does-archaeology-support-the-New-Testament-Shahar-Shilo-Byron-McCane
Can we trust that it is the Word of God? Do to its historical accuracy, how it was put together, the truth that has been tested over and over again, I think it is reasonable to say that it is the Word of God.
Should I do what it says? This is a tricky one. When reading the Bible, we have to keep a few things in mind. First, we have to look at the literary genre. Then, we have to look at who is writing this, if we know, and who are they writing it to. Then, we have to look at the culture context it was written. Then, we have to look at what it meant to those hearing it, and then figure out how it applies to us today. We also need to interpret the New Testament in light of what the Old Testament says. The application is the part we are really concerned with at the end of the day. There are lots of things that go without being said in our culture. I think of SNL. SNL is so much more funny when you are up on current events in the media. So, we need to understand what was going on back then to really understand how things apply to us. I would suggest reading the Bible with a commentary or biblical dictionary.
Do Christians need to obey the Old Testament, if yes, then all or some of it, which parts?
See the above answer first. Also there are the Old Testament laws, the 613 thou shall and thou shall nots, we need to understand that we are no longer under a theocracy, a system of government, in which, priests rule in the name of God or a god. Some of those laws were for the Israelites, that only applied to them at that time, some were ceremony laws for the priests, and some were universal. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, Matthew 5:17. The purpose of the law was to show us that we needed a savior and that savior is Jesus.
How do we know what we should carry over you might ask? I would start with the method, I laid out in the last question. If it is still unclear, please speak with a pastor, a small group leader, or me.
Why are modern-day churches often lacking manifestations of the Holy Spirit like those displayed in the early church (Acts)?
Some of those gifts, where only meant for the earlier church. So one reason is, we weren’t meant to. Others, I would say is that we have pushed down the work of the Holy Spirit for culture reasons. Another, might be the watered down teaching, which leads to a watered down faith or belief in the power and work of the Holy Spirit.
Given that there is fullness of joy in God's presence, is self-love more about happiness (joy) in a private sense or is it more about being satisfied for all that God is for us in Jesus?
To be honest, I am not sure what you mean. I will give in an answer to what I think you are saying, but if I am way off, just disregard. We are told to love our neighbor as ourself, Mark 12:31. I would say that means that we have an understanding that we are made in God’s image, that we have a purpose (to worship and have a relationship with God), that His love gives us value. We are given value by God, and therefore we should understand, and respect ourselves, and give that same to others.
Baptism...who is it for, should those who were baptized as babies be baptized again?
1. Jesus commanded it. Baptism is an act of obedience - and for many Christians it is their very first act of obedience. Jesus was clear, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
2. It is a primary tradition of the church. From the very beginning of the church, believers in Jesus have been baptized. In getting baptized, you are publicly demonstrating to the church that you have made a commitment to follow Christ. ”What are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16)
3. Jesus was baptized himself. There was really no other reason for Jesus to be baptized other than to be an example for us to follow... (and to give God an opportunity to split the heavens open and show the world that this was His son). As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
As a Christian, is it okay to swear outside of church, with friends, at work, etc?
I will let the authors of a great book answer this question:
For example, profanity exists emotionally only in one's mother tongue. When we learn a new language, we have to learn the naughty words so we don't accidentally say them and offend our hosts. To us, though, it is just a list. Native speakers may blanch and have a difficult time telling us the words; even spelling the words may rattle them.
E. Randolph Richards;Brandon J. O'Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Kindle Locations 225-227). Kindle Edition.
You must understand your audience to know which words are ok to use and which you shouldn’t. Ephesians 5:4 New American Standard Bible (NASB) 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. But the important thing to note is that one’s cultural is what determines that. Also, always be careful to be salt and light. Be set apart. Don’t join into “shop talk” if it isn’t going to be fruitful for pointing to Jesus.
What about reincarnation as believed in other faiths?
Not really sure what this question means. Reincarnation is a logically inconsistent idea, and therefore must be false. It would lead to an infinite regress of events. It is also very works based.
How can you be a part of a profession that is not right such as a lawyer or a medic where you have to sugar coat everything...those things aren't characteristics of GOD, but are you able to redeem yourself or are we entirely or eternally damned?
I think, my Christian lawyer and medic friends would take exception with your opening statement. I am not sure what you are saying. We aren’t called to “sugar coat” anything, let alone the truth. We should say all things with gentleness, kindness, a pure heart, and with love. But that doesn’t mean we just avoid saying things. Lawyers should be honest in their workings, especially if they call themselves Christians. My wife is in the medical profession. She has had to have hard conversations with people about their health choices, but she doesn’t with grace. Sometimes it isn’t received well, and that has more to do, I think, with where the person is at and not her delivery.
When it comes to temptation; do you feel that it is simply evil trying to get us to turn from God?
In one sense, yes. In another, I think it is our flesh wanting what it wants.
Denominations: God's plan or ours?
Without going into a large church history lesson, the “church” is those who are followers of Christ. The central tenant of Christianity and the church is Christ! There are as many reasons as there are denominations for why people choose one or another. Do I think that it is wrong, in God’s eyes, that we don’t all attend or have one denomination? I have no idea. God is a creative God, and he wants us to be creative, and worship in a number of different ways as long as they aren’t sinful. I would say that we tend to hold our interpretations about somethings too close to our chest and it causes division that isn’t necessary or helpful. Do I think there are heresy in some denominations, yes!
If there is ONE God for millions of people in the world, how can He be in so many places at once?
Part of the concept of God, or what Christians mean by God is He is the creator of all things. He created the universe. All matter, space, time, etc., is a product of His creation. God is by definition every where at all times. If you are asking for a method by which God is so many places at once, I can’t give you one. God being not made of matter, space or time doesn’t mean that He doesn’t or can’t interact with His creation. The Bible tells us that God is holding everything together, that He is sustaining the whole universe and therefore is all places at all times.
Is all that is going on in the world signs of the end times; is Jesus coming back soon?
Every day we are getting closer to the return of Jesus. “Soon” is a very relative term. Will Jesus return in our lifetime? I have no clue. The signs that have been giving in the scriptures can be seen throughout history. They were written in large part as metaphor, which makes it hard for you and me to know for sure. The important part is and has always been, are you ready for Jesus return?
If God is forgiving, why won't He forgive someone if they take His name in vain?
I think, this question is about the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit. Mark 3:29 and Luke 12:10. It is important to note that in the context this refers to an attitude, not an isolated act or saying, of defiant hostility toward God that rejects His saving power toward man that is expressed in the Spirit-empowered person and work of Jesus. To put it another way, it is someone choosing darkness even though they have been shown the light.
Is there any problem, spiritually speaking, if we watch a lot of horror movies or games or things like that?
Horror movies are one of the few places in our culture that acknowledge the supernatural. We have a number of movies that are based around demon possession, angles coming to earth and a number of other things like that. The question you would need to ask, is why do you enjoy them. On their face they aren’t bad or sinful, but if it is fulfilling something in you that isn’t of Christ, I would ask why do you need or want to watch them. The occasional scary movie isn’t bad per say, but if it is the only genre of film you enjoy, there may be other things you should look at. There was a good article in Christianity magazine, in the May 2015 addition, that was on this very subject.
What is the difference between Catholics and Christians?
Catholic is a denomination of Christianity. The have the same core doctrine of Jesus Christ.
How should the church view divorce?
Does it fall under grace if someone gets remarried? Or because Jesus said its adultery does that forbid it?
This is a difficult and sensitive topic, because as a Christian’s we’re required not only to think rightly about it, but feel rightly about it as well. We need to feel rightly about divorce, because is a traumatically painful experience for all parties, whether the divorce occurred Biblically or not.
In Matthew 19, Jesus seems to be saying that the only legitimate reason for divorce would be the sexual unfaithfulness of his or her partner.
But Jesus makes it clear that divorce isn’t something that God is favorable toward. He quotes passages from Genesis 1 and 2 which make it that God intention is that the bonds of marriage should remain permanent forever.
Jesus did equate remarriage with adultery, but only for the person who initiated the divorce without Biblical ground. The victim of the divorce is free to remarry.
Is God okay with slavery?
As Americans, when we think of slavery, we tend to look at our own shameful history of human trafficking prior to the Civil War. We remember how people were ripped from their nations and families and were forced to work at the whims of their plantation-owning masters with no person power of their own. We tend to remember this period of time and project it back onto the Bible. And certainly, there was the period of four hundred years when Israel was subjected to the cruel slavery of the Egyptians. But that was not the normal situation when slaves, or servants, were being referred to into the Old Testament. In our history, many of the immigrants who came to colonial America couldn’t afford the fares for passage. But they would contract themselves out, working in the households until they could afford to pay back their debts. They were indentured servants, people who voluntarily became the employee of another until they worked off their debts. When the Bible refers to slaves, that’s usually what’s being referred to. One famous example is how Jacob volunteered to work for Laban for seven years to earn the right to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel. The Old Testament was filled with laws that protected the dignity and the rights of these servants—even their release after six years, whether they were able to pay off their debts or not.
So is God okay with slavery? Absolutely not, even though historical some Christians purposely misinterpreted the Bible to justify their wicked behavior. Our own history of using the Bible to justify slave trade, reminds us that we need to approach the Bible with humility, cautiously knowing that we too as susceptible to bend it’s meaning to meet our own selfish goals.
If you would like more information about any of the answers, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to Thank Larry Shallenberger for his help with the Doubt Night and answering some of these questions!