two questions

Starting a new topic so that these questions can be discussed in their own right, instead of tagged on at the end of the other issue. Questions courtesy of Oliver, of course!

  • Do you presume that it is possible to get to know the Lord Jesus Christ equally well from reading the Holy Scriptures than from meeting Him in person as the first disciples did?
  • If all true Christians have to *start* with Jesus (rather than meeting Him somewhere along the way), does that mean that most of us aren’t real Christians if we’ve begun our journey of faith elsewhere? Or do you only start to call us Christians from the moment we’ve met Christ? (Of course, meeting Him in Spirit and not in the letter which kills.)

(I’d love to have a go, but equally happy to sit back and listen!)

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17 thoughts on “two questions

  1. [Sarah’s comment copied over from the earlier thread]

    Hi,

    I just wanted to clarify Oliver please,

    are you saying that the depth of relationship that the disciples had with the LORD cannot be attained today
    or
    are you are saying that it cannot be attained today through reading the Holy Scriptures?

    Thanks
    Sarah

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  2. On Sarah’s question for clarification:
    > are you saying that the depth of relationship that the
    > disciples had with the LORD cannot be attained today
    > or
    > are you are saying that it cannot be attained today
    > through reading the Holy Scriptures?

    I was suggesting that merely reading the Holy Scriptures isn’t enough to fully get to know the Risen Lord who is alive today (and alive outside of the pages of the Bible, too).

    And, lest I lead others up a garden path, another clarification: In the second question, with “beginning your journey of faith elsewhere”, I meant “with another person of the Trinity” (remember: this was the context of the original discussion).

    Looking forward to any comments, and greetings from Edinburgh (for the time being),
    Oliver

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  3. Answer to question #1: of course; that’s why the Bible is given to us in the first place.

    Answer to question #2: I’ve never heard of anyone starting out the Christian life by having a relationship with the Father and/or the Spirit instead of with Christ, since Christ is our point of contact with God, as the mediator between us sinners and Him. It is because of Christ’s work for us that we are able to have a relationship in the first place.

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  4. Hello,

    I am far too long winded to tackle more than one question at once! :-)

    I agree that the depth of our relationship with Christ does not depend on His physical presence. Our communion with the Lord today can have the depth experienced by the disciples and also the saints in the old testament. We are told “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are” yet he received amazing answers to prayer. This must demonstrate a closeness of relationship to God. So often my prayers seem to show only that my thoughts are not the Lord’s thoughts.

    I do not dispute that my Redeemer lives and is God and man who is not limited to a book. I do say however that He can only be reliably known through His Word in the Holy Scriptures. It is the touchstone by which everything is to be tested and understood. This is because this is the way that He has appointed.

    It is not an ordinary book. It is given personal application to our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

    The Lord certainly works in providence – we are told “in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you”. But if the Lord had not revealed this to us in His Word how would we know this for certain?

    Perhaps rather than me chuntering away, it would be better if I posed the question, How does the Lord reveal Himself to us? The Lord has dealings with us in our daily lives yet I cannot see how these or indeed anything, can be reliably understood aside from the Holy Scriptures.

    Sarah

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  5. Couldn’t resist trying to tackle question 2 :-)

    Oliver I do owe you an apology here in that I have not had chance to look at the reading you referred to earlier which apparently demonstrates the biblical basis for being able to relate to the different persons of the Godhead aside from Christ.

    From the bible however, I simply cannot see how this can be the case in relation to seeking the Lord; conversion or sanctification. I know we may feel more conscious of one person in the Godhead for instance when addressing prayer to the Father yet the scriptures tell us that Jesus said “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”.

    Again in relation to the Holy Spirit, Christ says “but the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name.” The Holy Ghost is therefore sent in the name of Christ.

    We have to give the Holy Scriptures precedence over what we think we personally experience.

    We may not be able to date when we were converted but we must have a personal trusting in Christ for salvation. The disciples were first called christians at Antioch, how can we be known as christians if we have not met Christ?

    Any way it is late and I am sure this is quite enough from me.

    Kind regards
    Sarah

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  6. I’m not disputing the theoretically / theologically valid points that Christ is our only mediator and that “no-one comes to the Father but through Christ”. *sigh*
    Let me assure you, however, that I know plenty of people who in the nitty-gritty every-day practice of their spiritual lives start with the Father and whose intimate knowledge of the Son is lacking (to put it mildly). Once we’ve left first-generation Christianity (and that’s probably true for most if not all of us reading this blog), there will be Christians who latch onto the message that God is our Father (granted through Christ’s sacrifice and victory) and not correspondingly grow in their relationship with the Son. After all, this message is proclaimed now (and in a way it wasn’t BC). Believe me, I’ve been there! Now, I’m not advocating such an imbalance as healthy or desirable at all – please don’t get me wrong. Admittedly, I’m coming at this more from a pastoral care angle than from systematic theology. I’d hope that we’d be able to cut our fellow Christians from other backgrounds (and with other foci) more slack.

    Yet, even from a more theological point of view, I could raise a few concerns. Notwithstanding my adherence to the truths repeated in the first sentence of this post, postulating an unconditional primacy of the Second Person of the Trinity has its dangers (none of you may have done that, so please excuse me for possibly fighting a straw man). How can the Son be primary to the Father? It is theological fine-tuning to argue that all perception of God is Christ-mediated. Theologically maybe correct, fine, but not necessarily the practice or spiritual journey of some of our fellow Christians. Just because you hadn’t heard about it doesn’t mean that such Christians don’t exist. Obviously, correction is part of the Christian journey (see Acts 18:24 – 19:7).

    I am intrigued to discover Christian traditions which are completely different from my own (thanks again, Cath, for an insightful lunch meeting on Monday!). Ultimately, my concern is to move towards Trinitarian worship and relationship. Again, while theoretically / theologically impossible to emphasize Jesus too much, in practice there are Christians who seem to be doing it. If I had to address my imbalance (favouring the Father over the Son), why would I be the only one who’d have to move from my current position closer to the centre of the Trinity? I hope to meet you there.
    Oliver

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  7. A couple of thoughts … :)

    Richard and Sarah – I agree (as you know) with everything you say here, but could I raise a question for your consideration? If it’s too speculative and verging into the unhelpful just say so though! If someone claimed to have come to know Christ after coming to know either the Father or the Spirit, how do you understand these reported experiences? (I’m not sure about this, but anecdotally I think I might have heard of such a thing even in my/our very own Highland context…) Could it just be down to people’s often misty/fuzzy understandings of their own spiritual journeys? (as in, we’re often the worst people to give an accurate analysis of what has happened to us in our spiritual experience.) Or could it be that whatever is true of people’s initial consciousness, the real measure of our spiritual health/growth must always be the depth of our acquaintance with Christ himself?

    Oliver – your point about non-first-generation Christianity is very interesting. From a pastoral perspective, do you have any suggestions about how you think it’s best to remedy this imbalance? The model of Christian experience that the scriptures present to us suggests (or so I would suggest!) that we can’t truly, or at least we can’t beneficially, know God as an absolute God – but only as he reveals himself in Christ. Eg, if we know God as our Father, that can only be because he is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t suppose any of us dispute that we enjoy more blessings through Christ’s work than we realise – but would it be true to say that a more thorough and deeper understanding of how essential is the work of Christ for us, and a closer acquaintance with him personally, would help all of us who profess to be Christians in our spiritual growth?

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  8. Hey folk,

    I am really sorry if I come across in a tub thumping manner. I will try to respond the comments later next week after I have had time to give them proper consideration (I am a slow thinker!)

    In the meantime I want to say that the discussions have been very helpful to me. The fellowship is good because it enables me to think critically about my own relationship with the Lord.

    The sermon at Gilmour Place on Thursday night was on Hosea 6 v 3 – Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning:..

    For me, that has been what our discussions have been about – to be challenging first and foremost ourselves to know the Lord more deeply. The minister said we must never be content with our present experience of the Lord.

    I wish you could visit Gilmour Place because the preaching is of things the angels desire to look into which are utterly amazing. I was wondering Oliver if you are still in Edinburgh if there is any chance that you would be free on Thursday night because it would be lovely if you could come to the 7.30pm prayer meeting. Obviously I do not know when your own church has its meetings but hopefully it will not be on Thursday. If you or anyone else would like to come along I could sort meeting up/directions etc. – just let me know.

    Hope to catch up next week with the blog/thread (I am not sure of the correct computer terminology these days).

    Kindest regards.
    Sarah

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  9. Very sorry I didn’t get to reply earlier, nor managed to show up last night – thanks, Sarah, for the invitation!
    I’ll be leaving for Nairobi tonight, so won’t be able to go into details now. Thanks, Cath, for another stimulating meeting on Wednesday.

    “… to be challenging first and foremost ourselves to know the Lord more deeply” – Amen to that!

    As a pastoral counselor, I see the need to start where people are at – and few are familiar with the Scriptures, let alone systematic theology, these days indeed (unless they’ve sat at the feet or under the pulpit of a teacher / preacher very strong on doctrine). So, I’m trying to help them see Christ in their everyday surroundings (nature, love, childlike faith, general curiosity, imagination, music, art etc), and if they’re asking for more, gently nudge them in the direction of Scripture. [Hope I’m not giving away any secrets here …]

    Gotta run but look forward to future interactions.
    Shalom!
    Oliver

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  10. Thanks, Cath!

    Tensions are fine with me. Christ went through a lot of those. If we are to follow him, why should we be surprised that tension comes our way? And, for better or worse, the followers of Christ are not as one as Christ … unity in diversity … the relationship between the Trinity and a diversified humankind … musings for another post …

    [PS: Written from a Heathrow hotel …]

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  11. Hi,

    Sorry you could not get Oliver. The message was Philippians 4 v 19 “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”.

    I take your point that in dealing with others we have to start where they are. For me though the only thing that gets me through life is holding onto God’s Word. Only christians can hold onto God’s Word because the promises are only accessible through Christ. It is difficult for me to understand how christians get through their bad days without holding onto God’s Word and perhaps that is why I can sound opinionated or critical. For instance, I cannot be alone in having lonely, bitter, worried or happy thoughts. At the practical level what does the christian do in those situations? I give myself a talking to, saying in respect to thoughts of
    – loneliness: God says I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;
    – bitterness: God says this is my infirmity…;
    – worry: God says nothing can separate us from the love of God;
    – happiness: God says thank Him.

    Maybe that sounds terribly simplistic or brainwashing but I simply do not understand how else one can deal with living. If you could explain this to me then perhaps I could understand.

    The critical thing for me is that God says something and that gives me peace of mind. Trying to talk myself into a better frame of mind on the basis of other things is a complete waste of time because I know just too well how often I am wrong!!!!

    So going to church on Thursday night gave me the comfort that God says He will supply all my need. So that is certain. The minister explained that having a sense of need does not mean that God is failing to provide for us but that actually He is providing that sense of need because it is good for us. Yesterday was a bad day and I needed to hang on to the fact that God supplies all my need irrespective of how I am feeling about things.

    I hope that in saying these things I am not turning an objective discussion into a subjective one but at the same time it is what we believe academically that guides what we do. Hopefully you will understand that if I have seemed intransigent it has only been because without God’s Word life for me is not worth living. Yet with God’s Word it is so good that one wants to share that.

    Safe travelling and may God be with you.
    Sarah

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  12. Hi Cath,

    Sorry it has taken a little while to respond to the question you raised. I do not think it is a speculative or unhelpful question at all.

    It is important not to lean to our own understanding in approaching anything. At the same time however God has given us brains and expects us to use them. He promises us draw near to him and He will draw near to us. That might sound contradictary, certainly I worry that I tackle issues either on the basis of my own ideas or alternatively in a sort of blind faith which actually dishonours the Lord.

    So in assessing anything our attitude of mind really needs to be that of the disciples who turned to the Lord and said “Is it I?”. They were not prepared to analyse themselves but turned to Him and asked Him to make judgement on them.

    Christ says “I am the door:” and in the context of this and other scriptures it is clear that we can only know God as a Father through Christ as saviour.

    There is other knowledge of God. The devils believe and tremble but this is knowledge of God as a Judge and not as a Father. Perhaps even more terrible is the fact that unrepentant sinners can know God is love without availing themselves of that. Judas said “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood”. We can therefore know God outside of Christ as saviour but that is not knowing God as our Father.

    You have suggested two explanations for people who know Christ thinking that they knew God as Father prior to conciously coming to Christ.

    a) I would agree that in evaluating our own experience we often get it wrong and the ultimate explanation is always to be found in scripture rather than our own experience.

    It can be very difficult to date when one actually trusted in Christ. This can be especially difficult when people are brought up in a christian context. Faith comes by hearing and children of christian parents hear so much from their birth upwards that it can be difficult to know when saving faith arises. Perhaps we think we have trusted Christ later than when we did. Certainly I think I was 13 or 14 years old before I knew Christ as my saviour but my mother recalls that when I was 11 years old I said “before I believed because you believe but now I believe for myself”. For adults who have not heard before it may be much clearer because there is a defined date of hearing which the person responds to with faith.

    b) I am not quite clear about the second suggestion. Perhaps it is that we do not need to worry too much about who we were initially conscious of because so long as we have Christ now, that is what matters. Certainly practically this can be a very helpful suggestion. We can get so ravelled up in an issue that it actually distracts us from going on in the Lord. I know I found this in relation to not being able to point to a “conversion experience”. Worrying about this prevented me from being able to confidently say that I am trusting in the Lord now.

    c) I am talking out of turn now because I am only guessing and perhaps clouding the issue. But taking it as read that we cannot relate to God as the Father without being in Christ, yet the Father has His hand on his children before they are brought into that relationship. He says “I have loved thee with an everlasting love and therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee”. So I am guessing God is drawing his children even while they are unrepentant lost sinners and loves them as Father even then.

    BUT it seems to me very dangerous indeed for a person to claim God as Father without knowing that that is only through Christ. God is a consuming fire and without Christ we can only ask God to depart from us or His holiness would destroy us.

    So although God knows who are His children even while they are unrepentant sinners yet we dare not claim Him as our Father until we come to Him in Christ. I mentioned this because I am just wondering whether christians looking back can see God’s Fatherly kindness towards them prior to coming to Christ and therefore think that they knew God as Father before being saved.

    Anyway take care
    S

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  13. Hi Oliver,
    I realise that this discussion is an old one, and you may well have moved on from it. Don’t feel obliged to rejoin it if you don’t want to.
    I just wanted to throw in what I think about the idea of starting one’s spiritual journey with any of the divine Persons other than Christ.
    Without meaning to be too blunt, it is impossible to be a true Christian if you do not have a relationship with Christ. That’s because the definition of ‘Christian’ has to be something along the lines of ‘one who follows Christ, in reliance on him for salvation’. Feel free to pick apart the wording of that definition – I’m sure Cath would be able to frame a good article on the subject – but I couldn’t accept any definition which strayed from the idea of a personal relationship with Christ.
    What I can accept is the idea that the starting point of someone’s journey *towards* salvation may not begin with Christ. For example, conviction of sin is often likely to be accompanied by an acute awareness and understanding of the nature of the Father’s justice. Whether that is ever of the nature of a personal relationship with the Father in any meaningful sense I seriously doubt, but I concede that the convicted sinner would be ‘relating’ to a Person other than the Son.
    If – and I have no idea whether this is what you meant or not, so I’m sorry if it’s a caricature of your position – someone talks about, or feels an awareness of a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit, without a conscious relationship with Christ, I cannot see how there can be any sense of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is not the Saviour – it is not through our relationship with him that our sins are washed away. On what basis could we then have any sense of forgiveness or salvation?
    In summary, and to respond directly to the question you put in your original post on this thread, I would say that yes, one could only be described as a Christian once they had met with Christ. No doubt some meet with Christ and are initially unable to make sense of their experience, and so doubt their salvation. But I would reject the idea that it can work the other way around, that some come into a state of salvation which they are able to give an account of without any meaningful and comprehensible relationship with Christ himself. Being saved is about believing in Christ, and that isn’t some mystical thing outside of our rational experience.

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  14. What would you say Finlay to someone who said they agreed with everything you say in principle, but it’s all too theological and theoretical to be applicable in a real life, nitty gritty, pastoral context?

    (I’m not presuming to answer for Oliver btw but just throwing the question out.)

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  15. Cath,
    I might be misreading your question – I’m taking it to mean something like “how should a pastor approach and deal with someone who is under such false impressions”.
    I’m sure you agree that there is no value, and a whole lot of danger, in people forming false impressions of their spiritual condition based on feelings and ‘experiences’. While it’s very important to be sensitive and gracious in dealing with misunderstandings of this kind, I would suggest that the kindest and most profitable approach would be one which involves some plain speaking. I would be inclined to think that a gentle insistence on the necessity of a relationship with Christ, and an insistence on the centrality of the atonement to the whole concept of salvation would be somewhere in there.
    Do let me know if I’ve misunderstood you question, but more to the point, please let us know how you might answer it yourself!

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  16. Well, I entirely concur. I think there’s a danger in thinking or acting as if theological knowledge or theological certainties are irrelevant for dealing with the troubles of people’s lives. When horrible messy situations arise you need to have something more than sympathy and condolences, or at any rate sympathy informed by solid theological truths.

    Paul Wolfe – “No disciple is too young to start hiding the truth in his heart. Maybe when he is twenty-eight — or younger — he will find out that he has cancer. That is not the time to start thinking about the goodness, wisdom and power of God. Far better for him to have those truths already deeply rooted in his soul, thanks to years of faithful preaching and listening.” (Haven’t read the book but love that quote) (http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1639)

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