Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Changing My Mind

I'm a lot less dogmatic than I used to be.

I suppose some of this comes from maturity. When I was younger, especially in my teen years, 
I knew everything. If I didn't know it, I could fake it or else dismiss it as unimportant. As a result, 
I wasn't very teachable. And a lot of the doctrine I acquired then became firmly entrenched in my mind as truth, whether or not there was much Scripture to back it up.

As I've grown older, I've learned to occasionally admit when I'm wrong. (And it's never easy.) I have been examining theological concepts I learned decades ago, and it turns out they frequently aren't true, even though many of them are commonly accepted among evangelical Christians. This brings up some valid questions: Is it possible that good, sincere, Bible-believing followers of Christ can be deceived en masse? Can wrong doctrine be repeated often enough that it becomes a tradition and is generally accepted as truth?

I am convinced that this happened in Bible times, and it happens today. For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Jewish people were anxiously awaiting their Messiah. They studied the Scriptures to figure out when and where He'd appear, and what He would do upon His arrival. They especially liked the "conquering King" passages such as Daniel 7 and Jeremiah 23. Rabbis taught that when Messiah appeared, He would overthrow the oppressive foreign rulers (Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans - whoever was currently in power.) The Israelites expected the Son of David to set up His physical kingdom on earth, with Israel as the ruler of the world and Jerusalem as its capital.

That's why everyone was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Messiah. And it explains why the disciples were willing to leave their families and their businesses and follow an itinerant preacher around on the backside of the wilderness for 3 years. Oh sure, Jesus was an amazing teacher and worker of miracles. It was fun going along for the ride. But the disciples were convinced that He was more than a great prophet, that He was actually the long-awaited Messiah. And they wanted in on the ground floor of the coming kingdom.

When they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom, who would be at Christ's right hand (see Mark 9:33-34; Mark 10:35-41), they weren't thinking of pie in the sky in the sweet by and by. They were looking for an earthly kingdom, and expected to have an important role in it.

But Jesus didn't come as the expected conquering King. Instead, He fulfilled Messianic prophecies of a suffering Servant. (see Isaiah 53) Jesus kept trying to get His disciples to comprehend that He didn't come to rule, but to serve and to lay down His life as a ransom. (Matthew 20:28)

Even after Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and appeared to them numerous
times, they still didn't understand that He had come to establish a spiritual kingdom. They had been so indoctrinated with conventional wisdom and years of tradition, they couldn't even imagine that Christ had no intention of ascending a physical throne on the earth. The very last question they asked Him before His ascension demonstrates this.

"So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (Acts 1:6) They still didn't understand! Jesus brought gentle correction one last time: "He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." (Acts 1:7-8)
Then He ascended into heaven as they watched. And on the day of Pentecost, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they finally began to understand that the Kingdom of God is not physical but spiritual.

So what's the point? An entire nation was deceived by wishful thinking and hopeful tradition. They missed the very event they so longed for, the coming of their Messiah, because He didn't come the way they thought He would. I contend that 21st century Christians are no better. We have our own dearly held beliefs which don't really hold up in the light of Scripture. And we frequently miss God because He's not lining up with our preconceived notions.

My conclusion? Western Christians need to examine our beliefs carefully. A good deal of false doctrine, even heresy has crept in, just as the apostle Paul warned. (1 Timothy 4:1-2) Rather than simply clinging to our traditions, we must consider them in the light of the Word of God, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds. And we must be willing to admit error and revise our thinking, even if it means giving up cherished beliefs.

As I noted at the beginning of this essay, a lot of my theology has changed in the past few years, sometimes in radical ways. I've given up on the "I'm right, so you must be wrong" mentality, especially concerning things that don't really matter. Some areas where I have been wrong (and still may not be right - but I'm learning...) include: prosperity gospel, the rapture, how we can tell if others are truly saved, the role of the Holy Spirit, the fivefold ministry, gender differences, and oh, so many more.

I'll talk more about these various topics in future posts. for now, let me just say I'm following Christ as best I can, striving to demonstrate His love in my daily life. And He's refining me more each day. Trust me, there's a long way to go - but I'm getting there.

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