Thursday, February 26, 2009
Beetles and Bell Curves. . .
The following is expanded from a talk that I gave at a men's meeting at the Elkhart County Jail March 11, 2009
Many years ago I heard on the radio, or read in a magazine or book, or saw on television. . . I just cannot remember even what medium I saw this on. . .anyway, a scientist talked about what he could deduce about God from the design of the universe. This man's response fascinated me and I have continued to ponder upon it for some twenty or twenty-five years after hearing it.
This scientist said that he could tell two things about God from the design of the universe. The first being that God has an inordinate love of beetles. Zoologists have catalogued roughly 700,000 species of insects and almost half of those are various kinds of beetles. Of all living plants and animals roughly 20% of that entire number are beetles. That was the first thing that this scientist noticed about God's creation.
The second thing was that God must greatly enjoy bell curves. The distribution of many things in the universe, in many varying aspects of God's creation fall into a bell curve distribution shape. For example take the the height of people. There are a few really short people. There a a few really tall people, but most of us are of an average height in the middle of the curve. It was God's universe to do with what he wished. He could have done it another way. He could have made 90% of everyone 6 feet tall and 10% of the people 4 feet tall, but He didn't. People's heights are distributed in the shape of a bell curve. The same would follow for our weights, intelligence, . . . bell curve distributions are found lots and lots of places. . .
Years later, it comes to me that another population that follows the bell curve distribution shape is that of churches. There are a few really rotten churches. There are a few really great churches and there is a whole big mass of very average churches. In short, all churches are not created equal.
One of the most important decisions that you will make in your life, is: Where will you go to church? How do you find a great church? What makes a great church? How do you know whether a church is a good, bad, or humdrum average? What yardstick do you use to measure a church?
You can divide Christian churches into two distinct groups. Many when reading that would think immediately of the Catholic/Protestant division of Christianity, but that is not what I refer to. There is another way of looking at how churches differ in their doctrine.
The first group, and by far the largest group looks upon religious beliefs as an evolving philosophy. They base their beliefs upon the Bible. That is where their doctrine and their history began, but their beliefs have changed through the ages. The Bible was a starting point, their foundation, but it was not complete and sufficient of itself. Greater understanding has come, it is often referred to as, their doctrine has matured with the passage of time and many of the statements of the Bible are no longer thought of as being relevant to the modern church. They were only relevant to the culture and times of the first century. Various councils and historic writers have changed and modified the original doctrine. Tradition has often taken on as an important role as Scripture in determining these belief systems.
The second and much smaller division of Christianity looks upon the Bible not only as their foundation, but also as the walls and the roof of their belief. No additional texts or commentaries or historical authorities are required to interpret Scripture. All doctrinal questions must be taken directly to the authority of Scripture for the answer without any intervening filter of man's thought or ideas.
This is a hugely important difference between churches. A house of prayer and a house of ill repute can both have the same foundation, the same starting point. By looking at only the foundation it is impossible to tell what the final structure will look like.
To simplify it, the majority of Christian churches look upon doctrine as being given to the apostolic fathers in an immature and incomplete form. They proclaim in believing in the authority of Scripture, but when you ask questions about specific items, that vary from the apostolic writings there are always reasons why the original apostolic doctrine needed to be modified and to be improved over what the apostles believed and how they did things. This is not merely dangerous. This is a lethal view.
Any time I begin to use my own judgment and my own opinions for doctrinal questions and do not use the unchanging Word of God, then my flesh must be inherently involved. . . my pride. . . my ego. . .my selfishness. . . my laziness all clamor for me to compromise, to take the easy way, to sacrifice righteousness and God's original intent. . .just a little.
It is truly said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. . . a journey away from holiness to sin begins with one step. . . a journey from heaven to hell begins with one step. . .We all began with the same Bible and the same practices of the Apostolic fathers. . . today we have churches who believe that sexual immorality (even among the ministry) is acceptable. . .Churches where holiness is neither taught nor followed. . .We have churches who have so compromised the message of God that their members are indistinguishable from the world around them. . .and all this began with one step. . .
Imagine asking your mother for her meatloaf recipe. My mom made the best meatloaf. . .take good ground beef (not the cheap fatty stuff), mix eggs, bread crumbs, chopped onions and green peppers, shake in a little garlic powder, a little Worcestershire sauce, a little salt and pepper. Put it into a loaf pan, spread just the right amount of ketchup on top and bake at 350° for 1 1/2 hours. . .Well I didn't have ground beef, but I did have some ground turkey. . .I was out of bread crumbs, so I substituted rice. . .I had no ketchup, but I like maple syrup, so I used that. . .I don't know somehow that meatloaf didn't turn out so good. It's not at all like I remember my Mom's tasting. . .I wonder what was wrong. . . Maybe she didn't tell me some secret ingredient. . .
Is that laughable? But is it any different in what we have done in many of today's churches? We are given a plan. . . a recipe if you will for salvation from God and now we begin substituting and changing things. . . doing things our own way. How will things turn our? That question cannot be answered after 90 minutes in the oven. We will have that question answered as we stand before God.
We do know that God is very particular. Read in 2 Samuel chapter 6 how King David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. This was an undeniably honorable desire. David's heart was good, his intentions were good, but David did not follow God's instructions on how the Ark of the Covenant was to be moved. Read how an innocent man named Uzzah merely tried to keep the cart from toppling over. Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the cart and without meaning any harm, he touched the Ark of the Covenant, something only the Levites were allowed to do and God struck him dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant.
We serve the same God today as He who struck Uzzah dead for not following His instructions. I do not send anyone to heaven or hell. I refuse to entertain that question. I cannot tell you what the consequences of not following God's instructions are. That is for God to determine, but God has given us specific instructions on how He wants things done. I am not going to mess around substituting and changing things. Your intentions can be fine. Your heart can mean well, but you are in dire peril if you do not follow God's instructions as they are written in Scripture.
An example of this, every baptism recorded in the Bible, where a formula of baptism is given, it is always in Jesus name or in the name of the Lord:
(Acts 2:38) Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:12-16 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. (14) Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: (15) Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (16) (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Acts 10:44-48 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. (45) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. (46) For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, (47) Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (48) And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.
Acts 19:1-7 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, (2) He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. (3) And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. (4) Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. (5) When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (6) And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. (7) And all the men were about twelve.
Acts 22:12-16 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, (13) Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. (14) And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. (15) For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. (16) And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
It is the name that is asked for and required.
At the very end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said:
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Jesus said: baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. What does that mean? The apostles baptized, as we read above, in the name of Jesus, yet Jesus said: "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Is there confusion here? Is this a contradiction?
I imagine going to the bank with my pay check. I stand in line for quite a while before finally getting to the teller's window. The nice young lady asks me for identification. I give her my drivers license. I sign my check: 'FATHER'. I truly am a father. The teller looks puzzled and slides slides the check back to me. I cross out 'FATHER' and carefully write 'SON' and give it back to her. She shakes her head looking a bit irritated and flustered. There are people waiting in line behind me. It's a busy time at the bank. I again cross out 'SON' and write in turn: 'HUSBAND, BROTHER, UNCLE, NEPHEW, COUSIN, CHAPLAIN, ENGINEER, SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER' and on and on. . . The teller becomes downright angry and calls for her manager. None of those will do. She doesn't want my roles. She doesn't care about my relationships. It isn't my titles or functions that she requires. . . My name is required. . .and only my name will do, there is no substitution allowed.
Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
Why change what the Bible says? Who gives us the authority to change anything? What is the motivation to change anything? Why not do it exactly as the Bible says? God directed the writing of the Bible:
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
All Scripture is given by God. It doesn't say that some of it isn't relevant. No where does it say there that we have the authority to modify and change the Word of God to suit today's culture. No where does it say that man's traditions are as important as Scripture. The Bible doesn't mention baptizing infants. The Bible doesn't mention sprinkling water on people for baptism. . .On and on we can look at practices and doctrines in the modern church which are not reflected in Scripture.
Several years ago I was riding the elevator from the lobby up to the third floor at the old County Jail in Goshen. It was just myself and one other person who ministered at the jail. Please, I was just trying to make conversation. I very sincerely wasn't trying to start any controversy. I just said, "I heard you speak for several years now here at the jail and I've never heard you mention baptism. . ." Oh my goodness. . .I meant no insult. . .I wasn't trying to attack him. . .The man turned red in the face and just started sputtering. He got really mad. He said, "Baptism is just the public profession of your private faith. It is not necessary for salvation. . .We are saved by grace through faith. . ." He went on and on. . I think my mouth just kind of hung open. . .I was so taken aback that I don't believe I said another word to him. His reaction was so beyond the intent of my question. I meant to raise no controversy. I just wanted to know what he believed. . . BUT. . . BUT. . . BUT. . . where did his doctrine come from?
Before we even get to that though, if you cannot ask a sincere seeking question of your Pastor or the elders of your church, I'm not talking about being argumentative or disrespectful, but if that is the atmosphere of your church, if you cannot ask a sincere question as to why your church follows certain practices and doctrines without anger and ridicule then you need to run away from that church. That is not a godly and Christlike way to act. There is something very very wrong with that attitude.
Maybe this man was just having a bad day, maybe I caught him right after he had something really troubling occur and he reacted badly. We've all said things we've regretted later and maybe he wishes he could have his words back. . .but it's been at least 5 years since that occurred and I've never received a hint of an apology of any kind and I continue to see this man regularly. But ignoring the anger of his response, where did his doctrine come from? Numbers of scriptures talk about the necessity of baptism:
John 3:3-5 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (4) Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? (5) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
That is a clear reference to baptism of water and baptism of the Spirit. John the baptist mentions the same baptism of water and Spirit:
Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Another verse, again Jesus talking:
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
I've read the explanation of this second scripture verse as the first part "He that believeth" is true and so comprehensive that whatever comes in the second part of the sentence, anything you put in the second half of the sentence would be true. Therefore all the following sentences would also be true:
He that believeth and
continues to sell drugs to grade school kids
shall be saved.
He that believeth and
continues to run an abortion clinic
shall be saved.
He that believeth and
continues to rape women
shall be saved.
He that believeth and
continues to commit murders
shall be saved.
He that believeth and
continues to molest little kids
shall be saved.
According to this man's doctrine, your belief is all that is required. Tie your belief with any other statement and both will be true.
That is not the way people speak. You would not interpret any other sentence in that manner. If I am at a restaurant and the waiter comes to take my order. I tell him, "A hamburger and French fries would make me happy." A little while later he arrives carrying a tray with a hamburger and a bowl of cottage cheese on it. I will not be happy with what he has done, He replies, "I knew that you would be so happy with the hamburger that anything else I brought would be OK." That is crazy. That is a Satanic interpretation of Scripture. That is turning Scripture on its head and twisting it to suit your own beliefs.
I've heard this same man who got mad at me for asking me about baptism, say this:
I know you you will continue to deal drugs, beat your wives, molest children, murder and rape, but now you know with 100% certainty that you are going to heaven.
That is as close to a quote as I can make it. That is no exaggeration. The idea behind that doctrine is that if we do anything to ensure our own salvation, then we are being saved by our works and not by our faith. This is not a Biblical doctrine. If it were not so deadly serious it would be laughable. . . I absolutely aggree that I cannot do anything by my works to get into heaven, that is true, but I can surely find myself in hell for my works.
Read the words of Jesus:
Matthew 7:15-23 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (21) Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (22) Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? (23) And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Notice Jesus said that these people will think they were doing His will. They were casting out devils in His name and have done other things that seem to be good. They call Him "Lord. . .Lord. . .", but He does not know them because of the 'work of iniquity' that they do. . . they do bad things and therefore He doesn't know them. . .They truly are wolves in sheeps clothing. . . According to Jesus, their good works did not get them to heaven, but their bad works, their works of iniquity got them sent to hell. . .
The churches that believe this way often have wonderfully modern buildings, often with beautiful stained glass windows and large parking areas. Their choirs are wonderful. Their Pastors are friendly and compassionate. They give greatly in charity to the community. They are greatly desirable in many ways but for all their outward appearances, they are leading great numbers of people down a very dark path. . .
In choosing a church, don't look at the building. . .don't be distracted by the wonderful sound system. . .not that any of these things are in of themselves bad, but without basing their doctrine solely upon the Word of God and that means all Scripture, not just a few selected verses. . .without that a church is no more than a country club. In a way it's worse in that the people in a country club have no pretense, they are not fooling themselves that they are living for God by going there. . .
Another thing I want to emphasize, and this is from a sermon that my Pastor, Mark Johnson, preached not long after I began going to church. You cannot choose a church by going to several and trying each on to see which one fits you the best. Looking for a church is not like buying a sports jacket. You don't put it on and button it up to see if it fits just right across the chest. You don't check the length of the sleeves to see that they are exactly the right length. To continue with that metaphor, if your church doesn't pinch a little bit, if you don't have to lose some things to be comfortable there, if there aren't areas that are too big, areas where you have to grow in order to fit in, then there is something very wrong. Your church isn't placing a high enough expectation upon you. If it fits perfectly the first time you enter the doors of it. Something is not right.
Coming to God is a process which we never fully complete. There must continue to be an expectation of, a requirement of change every day of our Christian life. There will always be things I need to get rid of, out of my flesh. There will always be areas in which I need to grow. I need to have sermons preached to me, which make me squirm in the pew. To only have feel-good experiences at church is a road to spiritual death. To never have my toes stepped upon by my Pastor means that he is not doing his job. It would be like a parent who never corrected or directed or disciplined their children. That is a recipe for disaster because I will never be at the point where I don't need direction and correction from him. I would be a fool to think otherwise, but it surely would be easier to grow a church. The pews would surely be more full by only preaching messages which made people feel good. . .Don't choose church by how good it makes you feel, but rather by how much it makes you hunger for holiness and righteousness. . .by how much it makes you ache to be the person whom God wants you to be. . .
This is from my talk at the jail the other evening. It is an extremely important question: "How do I find a good church". Find a church which bases it's doctrine not on tradition or the beliefs of men, but solely on the Bible. Find a church that both stretches you and requires you to lose things.
I love you my God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .