Posts tagged truth
An Open Letter to the Pope: Sorry Dude, but Doctrine Matters

Note: I published this article in 2014 when the media was buzzing with recent protestant steps toward reuniting with the medieval church of Rome and bringing the reformation to an end. Today, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the reformation I decided to re-share this post. It is just as relevant today as it was 3 years ago when I first wrote it. Enjoy!

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The religious world has been buzzing after Pope Francis appealed to the Pentecostal conference for unity among believers. For some, Pope Francis' words are exactly what they have been longing for. And no wonder! Ever since the early days of the reformation the followers of Jesus have been fragmented into ever increasing splinters. Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptist's, Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Adventists and the list goes on and on. As a matter of fact, these denominations represent only some of the larger bodies. But the reality is that Protestantism is broken into thousands of smaller components resulting in a plethora of beliefs all claiming allegiance to the Bible. For many years Christians have been clamoring for unity in Christ and decrying the walls that separate Protestants from Protestants and Protestants from Catholics. It is with no wonder then that Pope Francis' humble appeal for unity is received with enthusiasm and joy by many.

In his video to the Pentecostal Conference Pope Francis' used an illustration to clarify his appeal. He said:

The Holy Scripture speaks of when Joseph's brothers began to starve from hunger, they went to Egypt, to buy, so that they could eat. They went to buy. They had money. But they couldn't eat the money. But there they found something more than food, they found their brother. All of us have currency. The currency of our culture. The currency of our history. We have a lot of cultural riches, and religious riches. And we have diverse traditions. But we have to encounter one another as brothers. We must cry together like Joseph did. These tears will unite us. The tears of love.

I don't actually disagree with Pope Francis on this. I think it is absolutely imperative that Christians treat one another as brothers and sisters, with love, respect, and appreciation regardless of our theological differences. I agree with Pope Francis when he says, "[a]ll of us have currency.... [b]ut we have to encounter one another as brothers." However, here is where I draw the line:

Does Pope Francis define doctrine as currency?

He doesn't actually say so in this video and I refuse to put words in his mouth. However, he does come awfully close when he speaks of all of us having "religious riches." As a Seventh-day Adventist the greatest religious treasure that I have is our doctrine, or (as I prefer to put it, our God-story). While I am all for more unity, respect, compassion, and love among believers of different denominations I cannot sacrifice Adventisms God-story for the sake of unity. It is just way too beautiful to sell out.

Some may be wondering what I mean by that so here are some examples. Am I meant to sacrifice the beautiful message of the Sabbath, which celebrates Gods creation, redemption, and restoration of humanity, in order to be united with those who don't value the Sabbath? Am I to sacrifice the truth about Hell which shows us that God is not a sadist or torturer but is instead a loving and just Judge, for the sake of unity? Am I to surrender my commitment to Sola-Scriptura, and replace it with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle whose works set the foundation for much of Catholic and Evangelical theology? I am all for unity, but not at such an expense.

But why is the God-story of Adventism so important to me? Two reasons. First of all, suppose you are married and your spouse is accused of committing a crime. Everyone in your family is out to get him/her and only you know the truth about your spouse. But to stand up for your spouse means that your will not be united with your family. What do you do? Do you tell the truth about your spouse? Or do you embrace the lies for the sake of unity? I don't know about you, but I choose the former.

Likewise, much of what is believed and taught about God is a lie. Am I supposed to embrace those lies so I can be united with those who believe them? Or am I supposed to stand up for the truth about God and tell others what he is really like? I don't know about you, but I chose the latter. I believe Adventisms God-story is the most accurate and beautiful picture of God from any other theological system around. And I will tell that story even if it means division.

The second reason why I believe the God-story of Adventism is so important is because your God-story ultimately determines your ability to love. We become what we behold. And if our God-story muddles the love of God you will be constantly beholding a muddled picture of God which will result in a muddled concept of love. While I can appeal to the long history of Christianity for this, allow me instead to give you a few examples from my life and my own denomination that evidence this.

As a Seventh-day Adventist I have encountered many people who get it and many people who think they get it. By "it" I am referring to the truth. Those who get it are always balanced, loving, tender, and compassionate. They care about others and give of themselves unreservedly. But there are others who think they get it. These are often imbalanced, unloving, rigid, and more concerned with the "standards" than they are with souls. This group is often characterized by conspiracy theorizing, criticism, and legalism. But what is the difference between these two groups? Aren't they both Adventist? Yes. But they have a totally different picture of God. The former group is passionate about the gospel. They speak much of the love of Jesus, his tender mercy, his compassion, and his grace. They recognize their own daily need for mercy and forgiveness. They see God as caring, interested, and empathetic. They see him as an intimate friend in whom they can place all of their trust. The find rest in him and their hearts and minds are always filled with Jesus. Though far from perfect they always aim to be more like Jesus and reflect his perfect love for humanity. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it the more like him they become: kind, warmhearted, and merciful.

The latter group is passionate about the rules, the standards, and the law. They speak much of the sins of the church and how bad it is. They criticize church leadership as much as they change their underwear and they are fascinated with the negative, the pessimistic, and the controversial. They see God as strict, unbending, and rigid. They see him as one who demands holiness or else, and one whom is pleased with harsh obedience. They believe they must be sinlessly perfect in order to go to heaven and as such, they strive against sin and are always ready and eager to rebuke another. This is their picture of God and the more they behold it, faulty as it may be, the more like it they become: mean, critical, and unmerciful.

The same is true outside of Adventism. It has been in the past and will be in the future. All those who have the wrong picture of God will, in his name, and as the believers of old, justify all kinds of sin and atrocities in the name of Jesus. It was his picture of God that led Saul of Tarsus to persecute and murder Christians. It was their picture of God that led the medieval Christians to do likewise. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Crusades and the Inquisition. It was a wrong picture of God that justified the Protestants as they drowned Anabaptists for no other reason than denying infant baptism. And it will be a wrong picture of God, a faulty God-story, a twisted doctrine, that will justify persecution again in the future.

It is because of this that I must say to the Pope:

Sorry dude, but doctrine matters.

It simply is not possible to love like Jesus if you have a broken doctrine. While there may be exceptions such is not the rule. Generally speaking the masses treat each other in a way that is consistent with their view of who God is and what he is like - a view they derive entirely from their doctrine. I know you never actually spoke of doctrine but you came awfully close. I also know that there are doctrines you yourself would never deny for the sake of unity. I cannot see you denying apostolic succession, Sunday sacredness, or transubstantiation for the sake of unity. Neither can I deny my faith as a Seventh-day Adventist for its sake. The Pentecostals may have accepted your call and many others may follow. But I must lovingly and humbly decline for I can never compromise the truth about who God is for the sake of unity.

Truth matters. Doctrine matters. The God-story matters. Not only must I tell the truth about who God is and what he is like, but doctrine is the brush that paints the picture of God. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says God will torture sinners in Hell throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Use a good brush and you will get a good picture like the one that says that while God is just and will punish the wicked he will not needlessly torture them for endless ages. Use a bad brush, you get a bad picture like the one that says that salvation comes by way of works. Use a good brush, you get a good picture like the one that says we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Doctrine is also the brush we use to indirectly paint our characters. Use a bad brush you get a bad character. Use a good brush you get a good character; one that strives to love like Jesus no matter the cost.

In conclusion, the popular concept of "let's just love another and forget about doctrine" may sound good on the surface, but the reality is:

It is a self contradicting mindset.

Doctrine and love cannot be polarized for they are intimately related and for that, dear Pope, I cannot and will not compromise.

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Pope Francis' Message to the Pentecostal Conference:

Note: It needs to be made clear that Pope Francis did not call for either compromise nor uniformity and neither did he call for unity in doctrine but for unity in love. Nevertheless, for Catholics and Protestants to move past their divisions, which are rooted in severe doctrinal variances, some level of doctrinal minimization will be necessary. It is this unavoidable consequence that I protest.

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In honor of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I would like to offer the following two eBooks free. They identify Adventism's place in the protest that Luther started and call us toward a deeper commitment to that protest which, in truth is not about us, but about God.

The Cross & The Dissolution of Present Truth


Last summer I had the opportunity to preach an entire evangelistic series in Macon, Georgia. The series was called "Revelations Hope" and I, along with the other students, was given an entire set of presentations to use as my sermons. The idea was, as it has always been, to present the unique Adventist doctrines (known as "present truth") to those who had never heard them before. Being a lover of present truth one would easily guess I enjoyed the experience. But I didn't.

OK, let me be fair. I didn't hate the experience. However, I found it very difficult to enjoy. There was just too much weird stuff going on. First of all, the series was marketed as "Revelations Hope" and gave the impression that it was going to be a seminar on the book of Revelation to help people understand this often confusing book. However, the series was more about Adventist doctrine than it was about Revelation and sadly enough, it used the book of Revelation sort of like a proof platform to launch into various topics that weren't in Revelation at all. But that isn't the part that really bothered me. What bothered me was that the series as a whole lacked the one thing it was meant to be proclaiming: "present truth."

Night after night I found myself editing the sermons that had been given to us. There was no way I was going to preach that stuff. It was overcomplicated. It was confusing. And worst of all, it lacked truth. Sure, the Sabbath was presented along with Daniel 2, the Investigative Judgment, the State of the Dead, etc. But I learned a long time ago that there is a difference between preaching present-facts and present-truth. As Adventists, we have historically prided ourselves in always having the right answers, but the world doesnt need right answers, it needs truth and there is a difference between the two. 

It wasnt easy. At times I felt like a rebel. At times I felt arrogant. And at times I felt as though I was somehow in the wrong. Maybe the way its always been done is the right way, I thought. Maybe I am diluting the message by making them so simple and Christ-centered. And so on and so forth. But I pressed on because the truth is, I just couldn't preach those sermons. They were full of "answers" and "facts" but they didn't have truth - they didn't have Jesus. And anytime we preach present truth without Jesus we engage in one of Satans master deceptions - the dissolution of present truth.

The deception is powerful for this reason: By preaching doctrine void of Christ many Adventists think they are actually preaching Christ. In other words, none of these Christless sermons are ever even perceived to be Christless. Most Adventists never see anything wrong with them and if asked, many would say that the sermons are indeed Christ-centered. But allow me to set the record straight: Mentioning Jesus at the end of your sermon, quoting his words, or having Power Point slides with his pictures don't actually make a sermon Christ-centered. A sermon is Christ-centered when the entire thesis is drenched in the blood of Jesus. A sermon is Christ-centered when, no matter your topic, Jesus is presented in all of his beauty and majesty. A sermon is Christ-centered when it results in repentance, faith, and a greater love for God. A sermon is Christ-centered when it inspires change as opposed to requiring it. A sermon is Christ-centered when it reveals Jesus' more and not simply some biblical concept that other churches aren't teaching. A sermon is Christ-centered when both preacher and listener leave the church and they know, they just know, that they have been with Jesus.

You can preach doctrine and theology all you want. You can have the right answers and the right facts, but that doesnt make it truth. Truth is discovered only when it is found in Jesus. "The seventh day is the Sabbath" is not truth. It is a biblical fact. Jesus said, "I am the...truth" and any sermon that lifts up doctrine without lifting up Jesus does not deserve to be called present truth. Call it present facts or present answers, or present points or present information, but dont call it present truth


The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers.—Gospel Workers, 315 (1915).
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After much editing and praying and struggling I was able to, along with my friend Michelle Doucoumes (whose Christ-centered convictions were an enourmous help!), preach the "Revelations Hope" series in a way that actually fit the Biblical admonition "If I be lifted up..." Though I still feel that there is much more work needed to lift Jesus up more in these presentations I am glad we started down that road. Here is the entire series (except for the last sermon. I dont remember what happened to it). 

Replacing Our Outmoded Terminology
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For some readers this post may seem like nothing but nit picking, but hear me out. As a pastor who constantly preaches and listens to sermons I have learned that it is important for us, whether speaking in public or in one on one, to be mindful of the words and phrases we use. Over the years many of us become comfortable with our Christian lingo. We become so comfortable in fact that we think we are still speaking English when in reality we are speaking Christianese. The problem becomes worse when our Christianese is supplemented with the use of Lutheranese, Baptistese, or Adventese, etc. Thus, our language ends up twice removed from the real world and we don't even notice it. Then we get up to preach, teach, or share something with a friend and wonder why the youth are totally uninterested and why we can't seem to connect. I would like to propose that the problem is, in many cases, our hyper-religious vocabulary. In addition, these words often carry connotations that make younger listeners shut their brains off almost immediately. Here are a few words which I personally find irritating, why I find them irritating, and how we can convey the same message by simply using a different word.

Doctrine. What in the world does this word even mean? It's actually quite simple-it means teaching. But when was the last time you heard a teacher say "We will now study the doctrine of math"? Its a word which is highly alien outside of Christian circles and typically frowned at even within since "doctrinal" sermons have historically been characterized by the nouns boring, irrelevant, and dogmatic. Since doctrine is simply the teaching of the Bible - a teaching which tells a story about God - I prefer to use the phrase "God-story" instead.

Brothers and Sisters. Seriously, no one goes around in every day life calling people brother or sister. The closest I have come to this is in certain African American settings where it is cultural for them to call each other brother or sister. If that's your context then by all means have at it. But whenever I hear "brothers and sisters" from the pulpit I automatically think the speaker is out of touch. I often just use the word "guys" instead since that's how I talk in every day life.

Peculiar. So we are supposed to be a peculiar people. I get it. But how about we communicate that message by using a less peculiar word? Seriously, whenever I hear someone use this word my mind automatically conjures up images of people living in the 1800's. It's simply an old word, seldom used except maybe in poetry, and even has a boring sound to it. I prefer to use words like unique, counter-cultural, unusual, or even rebellious.

Beloved. OK everyone, Shakespeare lived and died a long time ago. No one says beloved anymore, its a relic of the past, so maybe calling the people in the audience "beloved" should be a relic of the past as well. Seriously, unless your entire audience is stuck in the 1800's this one should definitely go. As in "brothers and sisters" I have replaced this one with a simple "guys".

Revival & Reformation. Whenever I hear these terms I think of long faced rigid Christians who have no desire other than to make the entire Christian church as rigid as themselves. Of course, this is not what the terms mean but because so many have misused them in the past this is the connotation that they have come to have. In addition, the terms - especially the word "reformation" - are outdated. Reformation was a popular word in the 1800's and was being used all over the culture in the realm of social action but today the term is seldom used. I prefer to use the terms "reclaim, reboot, revolution, or restore".

Other examples include words and phrases such as: end times, last days, reverence, born again, slave to sin, fellowship, altar call, pulpit, benediction, call to worship, vespers, main service/ worship service, amen etc. All of these are words which are highly irrelevant to both younger and secular audiences and if we use them flippantly, without taking into consideration the linguistic gap we are creating and fostering by refusing to update our terms, we alienate people that we are meant to be serving. 

Now of course, we can't always replace the word and neither should we feel that we need to, but at the very least we should explain the words with modern illustrations so that the audience learns what it means. I do, however, recommend replacing the outmoded ones entirely as they present a barrier of understanding to those who speak a different generational language. In my own life I have discovered how easily truth is received when the right words to convey it are used. Instead of trying to be so fancy and religious all the time let's bend over backwards to make truth simple and accessible to those who don't share our church-culture.