Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hell, Yes

Last post I spoke about what Jesus had to say about judgment.  You can't talk about judgment without addressing the concept of hell.  I was raised on the belief that hell is where you go if you reject Christ. If you do, then you will burn forever in hell.

Some biblical scholars I know believe that hell is less about a physical place where you burn than it is a state of existence you go through when you reject Christ and his teachings. In other words, you reap what you sew and if you cut Christ out of your life and live only for yourself, you have nothing better to look forward to than the current existence you live, which can be very hell-like. There will be nothing better waiting for you and you've already lived through the judgment.

If you look back at my last post you will see multiple quotations I found regarding what Jesus has to say about judgment. It is hard for me to hold to the belief that there will be no judgment when all is said in done. He certainly has much to say on the issue.

But will the judgment for those who reject Christ be a place of eternal concious torment?  I am not so sure about that. Rather than rehash the most prominent views of hell which are  Traditionalism (everyone lives forever and the unsaved will suffer forever in hell), Universalism (everyone lives forever and will be refine and restored to God, and Conditionalism (the unsaved are raised but are not immortal and are punished and destroyed, wanted to share this webiste  which give three main views of it.

As always, you are welcome to share your thoughts. This will be my last blog post on this blog as I no longer have time to maintain it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rethinking Judgment and Hell

I apologize for the delay in posting. Let's just say life got in the way. I have been meaning to post about my thoughts on hell.  I'll start by stating what I was taught (again with the Southern Baptist view) regarding hell.

Everyone will stand before God for judgment. If a person rejects Christ and his teachings he is bound for hell, a place of eternal torment in flames.

I have always struggled to rectify how a loving God could administer so strict a punishment as to make someone eternally suffer for rejecting him. Why not just kill him and be done with it? Why make the person suffer forever? Arguments I heard growing up were that God is the ultimate just judge and that his ways are not our ways. People are given multiple chances during their life to follow Christ. If they still reject him after all of those opportunities then they get what they deserve.

I set out to rethink my Christian beliefs regarding what I was taught and as I do so I continue to hold these beliefs up for scrutiny based on what Jesus said and taught. Let's look at a few passages.

Matt. 8:10-12.  A centurian asks Jesus to just say the word to heal his dying servant. He has such great faith he believes Jesus can perform the healing without being present. Jesus remarks that "I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith." He goes on to say that many will come from east and west  and will take their places a the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. "But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

I believe this reference targets the religious Jewish leaders who believe they have a ticket of passage into God's kingdom but their heart and actions prove otherwise. Is this place of outer darkness a physical place of punishment? I cannot say. Often Jesus overstates to indicate the separation of those who reject the heart of his true teachings from fellowship with God.

Matt. 8:28-29.  Jesus heals a demon possessed man by casting out the demons into a herd of pigs and when the man spots Jesus the spirits in the man cause him to say "have you come to toture us before the appointed time."

This passages seems to state more about what the Jews believed about judgment and torment than what Jesus had to say about it. However, this man recognized Jesus for who he is, the true Son of God who can pass judgement on us.

Matt. 11:20-24.  To the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum who saw his miracles and did not repent, he said, "it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Again, this refers to those who witness Christ's works and hear his teachings but reject him despite that. Jesus states there will be judgment.

Matt 12:30-36  vs 30 "He who is not with me is against me..."
vs 31 "Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven"
vs 33 "A tree is recognized by its fruit"
vs 36 "Men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken."

He compares our lives to that of a fruit bearing tree. The fruit we bear testifies to our heart condition and we will be judged accordingly.

Matt 13:24-30  Jesus tells the parable of the weeds and then explains the meanings in 36-43.
The weeds, those who are not the good fruit, are thrown into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We may draw our concept of eternal burning in hell from this and other passages but I have to ask, is this really to be taken literally or figuratively? Remember that often what Jesus said wasn't intended to be taken literally.

Other passages about judgment include Matt 22:1-14 the parable of the wedding banquet.

Luke 3:9 Trees that do not produce good fruit are thrown into the fire

Luke 3:17 Chaff will be thrown into unquenchable fire

Those are just some passages to consider. There are plenty of others. In my next post I will look at three major concepts of hell.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Holy Communion: We Got it All Wrong

There's a scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail where Indana has to choose the right chalice, supposedly used by Jesus during the last supper. The table is littered with them.

The true vessel turns out not to be the most ornate and valuable one, but rather a very ordinary looking cup made from pottery. The symbolism can't be overlooked. Often Jesus' teachings and ways are counter to mainstream expectations and thinking.

When I go back and study the Bible these days I question how the established church interpreted passages and wonder how we got things so twisted. Take the sacrament of communion, for example.

In the Southern Baptist church, this is a once a month tradition where ushers serve concord grape juice in tiny transparent disposable cups and an oyster cracker or some other cracker portion along with it.

In the Lutheran and Episcopal churches you participate in communion weekly most likely by coming down to the altar and particpating in a common cup of wine or option juice in some cases and a thin, round wafer.

The Catholic Church is similar to the Lutherans and Episcopalians, only the Catholics believe in transubstantiation where the wine and bread or wafer is actually converted into the actual body of Christ after consumption.  In many cases you must be a church member in order to participate. The irony is we have put into place more eleborate traditions and rules which actually prevent people from participating in the new covenent, Jesus' teachings.

Jut a note of interest. Early Christians celebrated communion and the tradition was misinterpeted as canabalism by the Romans and Greeks so that it became one of the reasons for persecution of the early church.

Luke 22:19-20  says "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.' "

Looking on the various passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke pertaining to coimmunion, I now realize several things.

First, when Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples in that upper room during the celebration of passover, he was trying to prepare them for his impending death.

Second, the symbolism of the blood that was spilled tied into the Passover rememberance of the blood on the doorposts that stopped the death angel from killing the first born during Jewish captivity in Egypt. The angel passed over and the Jews were saved and were later lead to freedom.

It also tied into the Old Covenant, that required blood sacrifices for atonement and forgiveness. Passover, during which this gathering in the upper room took place was a sacred celebration of a time of deliverance for the Jews. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand there was a New Covenant about to change everything. No longer would these blood sacrifices be necessary. He was about to become the ultimate sacrifice which would wipe out the need for any others. He was the Messiah.

Finally, I  think his urging to celebrate through the bread and cup wasn't a direct command to serve the wine and bread in rememberance of him, but rather an charge to remember the life he sacrificed and a challenge to follow his new teachings which released all from the bondage of the law and old ways.

It's interesting to note that the Gospel of Mark is considered by many theologians to be the earliest written account of Jesus' life and it does not include the passages which the Matthew and Luke accounts which state "Do this in rememberance of me."(see Mark 14:17-26).

We took everything so literally. I can almost hear the game show buzzer going off indicating we got the answer to this riddle terribly wrong.

Jesus wanted us to always remember what he was about to do, give up his life and spill his blood in order to revise the old ways and make way for a New Covenant that would release us from bondange of ritual and rules. We should remember this whenever we gather together in community (which we should never give up doing.) It is more important to gather together for a meal in rememberance and fellowship as followers of Christ keeping his memory and service to us alive in our hearts and actions, than it is to have communion from fancy trays and cups. Let us never forget.