Pastor Phil

Trinity, Fact or Fiction

There are church teachings and then there is “THE WORD OF GOD”.  I like an expansive definition of THE WORD OF GOD.  For me, THE WORD OF GOD is not the written words in our Bible, but the word that comes to me as a I study individually and within a group, those written words.  The WORD OF GOD is living, I like to say, always changing due to my external circumstances.  Sometimes challenging me, other times comforting me.

When I refer to the words on the pages of the Bible as the word of God, so much more is included in the Bible than in the doctrines or dogmas of the Church.  The Church has a way of inappropriately reducing scripture, to force a doctrine, rather than allowing the wider, richer, and I would say truer perspective, of the Bible to speak for itself.  The Bible is a Library of books, and poems, stories, and letters.  My favorite saying concerning the Bible, “The Bible was written by different people at different times, who understood God differently”.  That sums it up.  When we reduce the Bible, in the case concerning the Trinity, we eliminate many verses and voices of scripture, who might have understood the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, differently.  We have the Trinity, the Bible writers did not.  Their view of the relationship between God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is much richer and diverse.

Why would Jesus be seated at the Right hand of God if he was God?  Used 8 times in scripture, such as:

Mark 16:19 (NRSV)  So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

Whoever wrote this verse probably had a different understanding of the Trinity than we do.

Why would Jesus claim to be the “Son of God”, a phrase which represents that Jesus is a child of God, not God?  This is called Subordinationism, a heresy in the Church.  In the four Gospels, Jesus claims he is the Son of God, only 2 times, both in the Gospel of John.

John 5:25 (NRSV) [Jesus said], “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

John 11:4 (NRSV) But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

“Son of God” is most often used by demons and evil spirits when speaking to Jesus….go figure:

Mark 3:11 (NRSV)  Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!”

Luke 4:3 (NRSV)  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

More important than “Son of God” as a phrase Jesus uses as self-disclosure is Jesus’ use of the phrase, “Son of Man”.  Jesus calls himself, “Son of Man” in each of the four Gospels, and not only 2 times, but listen to this, 84 times!  Yes, 84 times!  It is Jesus’ preferred self-description of himself.

Matthew 8:20 (NRSV) And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Mark 2:10 (NRSV) Jesus said, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—

Luke 7:34 (NRSV) Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

John 6:53 (NRSV) So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

I am listing only 4 verses, add another 80 and you will have the collection of Jesus calling himself, “Son of Man”.

What is the “Son of Man”, a human being?  This is a big question in Biblical Scholarship.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Ezekiel is called by God, “Son of Man”, 94 times, in the book named after him.  There appears to be something going on with this phrase, “Son of Man” that is mysterious.  I doubt Ezekiel ever considered himself equal to God.

Whoever wrote these verses probably had a different understanding of the Trinity than we do.

I could go on…and I will, what do I do with these verses that show subordination?

John 14:28 (NRSV) Jesus said, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”

Mark 10:18 (NRSV) Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Matthew 24:36 (NRSV) “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Remember that many of the doctrines of the church were created at a time when the Church (Roman Catholic) was the authority of faith, not the Bible.  The Bible as authority does not become prominent until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s.  (Disclaimer, it was the Authority of the Church that created the Bible.  Thankfully the Church allowed for dissenting views within the scriptural writings, while also discarding other material that did not agree with the Church’s teachings)

My point is that Jesus wants us to follow his teachings.  Do not discard Jesus because of the doctrines of the Church.  Scripture is much more alive, freeing and expansive, than what the Church has articulated as authoritative.

Whoever wrote the Bible had a different understanding of the Trinity than we do.

Use scripture, tradition/doctrine and experience, in your faith Journey.  Don’t worry about facts or fiction.  Anchor yourself to truth and grace and live a life of love.

Boxes, Boxes, and More Boxes

Do you remember this song below, “Little Boxes”.  I must say although I know it, it is before my time!  What I have printed below are the lyrics to the refrain.

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made of ticky-tacky

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes all the same

There’s a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky

And they all look just the same

Malvin Reynolds

When I read the words to the verses, I realize this is a lament of mass production and capitalism that has run rampant in our culture.  The mass production of “Things”, includes not only stuff and our homes but our lives as well.

This lament captures the failure of people to do their own thing.  This lament announces that many of us follow the crowd, and we all look just the same…

I just finished listening to the Bible for Normal People podcast in which Peter Enns interviews Father Richard Rohr.  In this interview Rohr suggests that changes and transitions in our lives occur in 3 boxes.

We begin with the box of “Order”.  Things are established, have boundaries, tend to be black and white, simple and fixed.

Next the box of “DisOrder”.  When I start to question my “Order” of things, things that I was brought up to believe.  It is the box of “don’t, no and I can’t believe that any longer”.  It’s a rejection of certain beliefs you lived with comfortably for a while but can no longer accept.

Finally the box of “Reorder”.  This box creates a new reality, a fuller picture that allows for dualism (dualism is a word people are using today to express “Yin Yang”.  Within good there is evil, within evil there is good.  Dualism says the world is gray not black and white, not either or, dualism is both/and.  Non-dualistic thinking, such as everything is black and white, or right and wrong, is a product of the “Order” box.  ReOrder is the box where everything belongs.  It’s all part of the whole.  It’s all part of life.

Fear can keep us in the Order box.  Anger can keep us in the DisOrder box.  The key is to keep moving, to work through our experiences and come to a new and fuller picture of reality.

These boxes occur in all parts of our lives.  From the development of our personal viewpoints to our religious beliefs.

Religious beliefs is where it can get sticky.  When you make beliefs the center to your faith, we sometimes feel that we are letting God down because we can no longer accept the beliefs in the “Order” box.  We can feel that we are not being faithful.  At its worst, we can fear Hell because we are challenging our “Order box Beliefs” that we have lived with since childhood.  Living without fear is a great place to be,  as the writer of 1 John states,

1 John 4:18 (NRSV)   There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Ultimately we believe in a God of Grace.  If I get my beliefs “wrong”, remember there is …Grace.  The questions I challenge you to think about are:

Does your faith help you love God, your enemies, your family, yourself, God’s creation?  Are you improving at your “loving”?

Does your faith work for you in times of trouble?

Does your faith give you “Peace like a River” regardless of what is happening around you?

Does your faith make sense to you?  I often say I can’t get my heart to accept anything my mind rejects.  Faith can be understandable and does not need to be unbelievable.

Movement through the boxes of faith, from order to reorder, is vital to our maturity in faith.  With critical thinking, scripture, a faith tradition, inquiry, and a quest for a healthy relationship with God, we can grow in Faith.  Growing in Faith implies that we grow at loving as well.

This is the journey of faith we are all on.  Helping Jesus bring the Kingdom here!  Each in our unique, individual ways.

What faith Box are you living in?

Redemption, Atonement, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m reading a book, “Honest to God”, by the Bishop of Woolrich, John A. T. Robinson, printed in 1963.  One of the premises of the book is to challenge people, religious and secular to rethink their image of God.  Printed in 1963, the Church, that I know, still struggles to reimagine God and free itself from old dogma.  Steve Jobs, told the graduating class of 2005, Stanford University, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

Is “someone else’s thinking” why people are leaving the Christian Church in 1st world nations around the globe?  Does the old orthodoxy of God, being “out-there”, a white male in a flowing white gown and beard, who actively participates in the world, obsolete?  Does the idea that God had a plan to save humanity from HIS wrath and it required a human sacrifice, ring hollow to the ears of Christians today?  Do the Atonement theories of Anselm created in the “dark” ages reflect more of that time period than the teachings expressed by Jesus about our loving, gracious creator?  Has orthodox theology reflected ancient cultures’ understand of God and the gods, that we need to eliminate, so that new life will spring from the Church?  Happy Easter!

Today marks the 50 anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  The New York Times ran his obituary today, the actual one they printed on April 5, 1968.  The obituary concludes with words of King from a speech he had given in 1964;

The possibility that he might someday be assassinated was considered by Dr. King on June 5, 1964, when he reported, in St. Augustine, Fla., that his life had been threatened.  He said:

“Well, if physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

Martin Luther lived a redemptive life.  One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity.  God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen.  Jesus lived a redemptive life.  One that continues to unfold within the struggles of humanity.  God did not plan it, order it, or cause it to happen.

Jesus’ redemptive life was not part of a plan to appease God for the behavior of Humanity.  Jesus’ redemptive life is part of God’s unfolding presence in our world to bring to light, life, love, hope, reconciliation and grace.  Jesus’ redemptive life can inspire the “better angels of our nature” to flourish, calling some to lay down their lives for a loving humanitarian cause or for other people directly.  That is the highest calling a person can have.

Our theology that expresses a God who cannot forgive humanity without some type of atonement forgets that Jesus himself understood God as a forgiving God as he expressed from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”.  Before Jesus died, Jesus lived and taught his understanding of God as loving and gracious.

Let’s get back to what Jesus taught…and WORK TO LIVE IT, it will be redeeming.


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