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Thursday, March 24, 2005 

Faith and Conflict

Mention the word debate to any ordinary Joe on the street and they might envision the recent election or a radio show or even an episode of "Hannity and Combs" on FoxNews. But mention debate to a student of theology and immediately names like Athanasius and Arius, Augustine and Pelagius, and Luther and Erasmus come to mind. If you are a Christian and you aren't familiar with these names, then you are in need of a crash course in Church History. These are the men that have impacted Christianity in ways theologians and pastors only dream about. But, how did they do it? Through memorable acts? Through great literary works? Through innovative evangelism techniques? No -- they all impacted Christianity through a suprising means -- controversy and debate.

From the beginning of Christianity, what we know now as orthodox theology and practice has been forged in the fire of debate. When the first debate took place we don't know. Maybe it was between Paul and Peter or Paul and John Mark or Barnabas. But what is certain is that conflict has always been a part of Church history. So why are we suprised that it is still a certainty in contemporary Christianity?

What got me to thinking about this subject was an interaction I had with an acquantance a little over a week ago. While trying to compliment a local pastor's sermon to this man (who was a friend of his), I inadvertantly started a disagreement. The man I was speaking to didn't agree with his friend's views and vehemenantly opposed his Biblical exegesis. One thing led to another and before I knew it we were embroiled in a deep-seated debate. As the smoke cleared, we sought to reconcile our views and embrace one another in Christian fellowship realizing that our passion indicated our love of Scriptural understanding. But, then he made the comment that debate never solves anything. As I said in an earlier blog, I respectfully disagreed again.

Debate does solve some things. Many times it is the vehicle that God uses to break down our pride and show us that we have not thought deeply enough about a subject. At other times it may be used by God to keep His sheep from taking the path of one who has strayed from Biblical truth. Sometimes, the one straying may be us. In any case, debate does not have to be negative and it can be looked at as exhortation for the Church.

First of all debate always involves seeing a different person's point of view. We can tend to be egocentric in our thinking when we are not exposed to differing beliefs. Solomon tells us that, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). We constantly need to be reminded that Christianity is not meant to be lived on an island. Christianity is designed for communal engagement and mutual exhortation. We must use that community to keep us within the frame of Biblical theology and practice.

Secondly, debate make us dig deeply into the Scriptures in order to make our arguments. Those who believe strongly in the authenticity and authority of the Bible will find themselves seeking to understand the Scriptures better in order to show the correctness of their arguments. Often times, this leads to a rejection of superficial readings of the Bible or even to changes of viewpoint by those involved in the debate.

And finally, theological debate reveals our own character flaws and presuppositions as we see ourselves confronted with conflict. We can then tweak our characters so as to become more sanctified through the course of the debating process. In the end, it teaches us patience, critical thinking, and even humility.

As we see God uses these debates for the exhortation of the people involved in the debate, but He also uses these conflicts for the purpose of helping us to understand Him better and to stay within Biblical boundaries. Three of the men mentioned above (Arius, Pelagius, and Erasmus) advocated positions that were leading the church astray and causing a rift with the people of God. They needed to be rebuked. In the end, the Church became stronger and more effective when these controversies were settled.

Today, we still have controversies that rock the Church. New theologies pop up everyday that need to be examined and at times rebuked through debate and conflict. We are sinful people. We need the whole community to come alongside of us and keep us in the fold. Paul did this with his converts and urged Timothy and Titus to do the same with the people they led. We should learn from Church history not to despise conflict, but to embrace it to the glory of God.

Soli Deo Gloria,

I think I might have hinted or even stated that debate never brought anyone into the kingdome of God. Let me restate that a little differently. Debate for the sake of debate is what I was talking about - you know arguing for the sake of argument. We know people like that. Honest debate which is presenting points of view or belief is not a bad thing. Trying to determine what you believe and why you believe it should be debated. If we are not challenged about our belief we can grow complacent in our belief.
We as Christians like our comfort zones and having someone invade that zone with debate gets scary. I think that this type of debate is healthy and necessary. I think the lack of debate or actual challenge is what is killing churches. They grow stagnant and eventually die. Being challenged in your belief is like weight training for your body.

I sent the following to Bishop Wright in response to your posting at the 20/20 message board. Thank you for your post.

Dear Bishop Wright,

I am the Rev. Keith R. Wright, president of the United Deist Church. I am sorry you are not going to be part of the resurection story to be presented on 20/20, the newsmagazine on American ABC. I am sure you would have injected some new information into the debate.

I am a Deist. I am sure you are aware of early Deists and the references to "Blind Watchmaker" and the like. We are a bit different in that we see physics as being the true word of God as physics speaks to the universe and not to a language such as Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew or English. We look at the laws of nature which the most perfect Creator set forth at the moment of creation as being the most holy of books. It is the understanding of those laws, and not examining mere words written by man and perpetueted by the church, which brings us closer to understanding God. It is understanding that God created the universe so perfectly (including what we may perceive as being evil) that prayer by man as a method of intercession, is not only not required, it is a slap in the face of the perfection of God and the perfect system of which God created. You cannot mistranslate 1+1=2 from Aramaic to Greek. You cannot mistranslate (SE)i = (SE)f (conservation of energy) from Hebrew to Latin or err in HTML as I am doing here with my fonts. God doesn't need to do parlor tricks. He awed me from the start. The reason which is part of my being questions the logic in a belief system which asks me to abandon my faith in the God of nature and accept the God of Apollo, or Horus, or Christ. All are Sun Gods yet do not do the Creator justice.

Logic. If God writes the laws of nature in perfection which requires no faith, and then asks me to abandon them to believe that as a burnign bush, God wrote 20 commandments yet in the form of a human (and a carpenter!) wrote down no words. That understanding the human reason asks for proof (for safety as well as logic) to provide that proof to humanity in the form of a written text in all of the languages which could possibly be formed until the end of time (God, after all, created the laws of gravity...surely some words on paper can't be that difficult...it was more important to build tables and chairs by the creator of the Pliades and the Orion Nebulae than to commit quill to papyrus. I find that hard to comprehend by the Most Logical Architect of the Universe. To realize that the fall which Paul suffered could have possible caused a lesion on th brain causing temporal lobe epileptic seizures would explain much. Mary Baker Eady, the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists suffered the same problem. Religious vision and zealousness.

God speaks to me through Creation. I am calmed by the benevolence seen. To realize in the special gift of life which I have received is humbling. This is the greatest gift I could ever hope for and I thank God every day for this gift. To think that God is a megalomaniac, so insecure in His divinity that He created the human species and confounded them with the bible in order that they may choose a narrow path to righteousness or face an eternity of hell is the worst of all human attributes to with God has been endowd as humans have created God in their likenesses in the bible...jealous, deceitful, condoning of infanticide, genocide, child rape, patricide, rage, etc. I see none of these traits in the universe created by God...only in the works called the "word of God". It was only when I started looking at the bible as mythology that I had my epiphany. Focus on this life. This life is the prize. To ask for more is selfish. To live this life to the fullest is the greatest gift you could give to the One that needs nothing. God doesn't want or need praise. God knows who God is and doesn't require our validation. To believe that an immortal being, raped a woman to conceive a child who made furniture for most of his life to preach for only 18-24 months or so (that alone boggles my mind) then that immortal being sacrifices himself to go back to where that immortal being had allways lived and will always live is a logical absurdity almost without equal. You cannot kill an immortal being. "Dying" is not a sacrifice to an immortal being. "Torture" is not punishment for a being which cannot be killed and has nothing to lose as they are going to heaven. Torture is for beings which have no promise of eternity. The outcast with AIDS which are tortured for their sexual orientation, the children abused by the clergy in the USA...THAT is torture by which the supposed torture and crucifixion of Christ pales in comparason byt the abuse of the innocent and misunderstood.

Why must I abandon the logic of the Creator of the heavens and logic to accept the absurdities of the bible? How can it be justified? Why are we examining the mythos of Paul? Do we create religion of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, or The Odessey? We spend our time dissecting mythological works to see the mind of God when all we need to do is hold each other, look to the stars, and breathe.

Rev. Keith Wright
The United Deist Church

Reason and love in all that you do.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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