The Evolution of a Christian Prayer Life

The heart and soul of a Christian life is our prayer life. Any Christian seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus, has an active prayer life. However, overtime, conscientious Christians learn to grow in their knowledge and depth of how to talk to God.

Here are descriptions of possible types and levels of praying that most of us may experience as we grow in our Christian faith:

  1. No active prayer life – praying spontaneously only when serious needs arise
  2. Periodic “routine” praying – “now I lay me down to sleep” – “Our Father who art in heaven… “
  3. Periodic private prayers – occasional, inconsistent but sincere prayers
  4. Social praying – an accepted public prayer, before a group
  5. Personal praying – a commitment to pray privately and regularly
  6. A complete prayer life – talking daily with God on a continuing  basis

The best model for praying, the Lord’s Prayer, was given to us by Jesus. It begins with praise and adoration, then asks for forgiveness, cautions about temptations and concludes with expressions of trust in the power and glory of God. Much can be learned by a thorough study of this prayer.

The Bible, in most every book, offers many beautiful prayers from the prophets and the gospel writers. In Psalms 103:1, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name”. Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” – and in Philippians 4:6, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”.

Sometimes we fall into the habit of repetitive praying and fail to remember there are many types of prayers. Some of the most common prayers may focus on:  Thanksgiving, Forgiveness, Praise and Adoration, Intercessory, Resting, or Suffering prayers. There are two approaches to praying – Ritualistic praying and Informal praying. Both have a proper place and both are entirely acceptable to God.

God accepts all types and levels of praying from all peoples from every age, race, ethnic, religious or national background. He is open to the most simple to the most complex prayers we chose to submit. When and where we pray does not matter. In the midst of our greatest sins, God encourages us to pray. He always accepts and loves us as we are.

It is very human that some prayers center on the needs and feelings of the person praying. Others seek to express our concerns for the needs of others – both nearby and far away.   Sometimes we find ourselves “telling” God what needs to be done – fully realizing he already knows. It is very human- particularly when things are not going well- for us to ask God to intervene in the lives of people. I think this sincere asking is acceptable by God – but it seems rare for him to interfere with his created laws – accept when he decides a miracle is warranted. Miracles do happen – but sometimes they are delayed or changed by God. Under these special circumstances, mature Christians learn to trust in the fact that our heavenly Father is:  all powerful, all knowing, all present and all caring.

In the middle of all that our lives experience, we must remember that the lifelong goal of praying is to continue to strive to align our lives to the Will of our heavenly Father.

W.F. Peck

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A Rudimentary Summary of How Stars Contributed to Life in the Cosmos

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Have you ever wondered how the universe initially produced life –leading to our human existence?  It is said that we are the product of stars. How could that be true? After considerable study over many complex scientific writings, I shall attempt to convey a layman’s very imperfect and brief summary of how we are indeed “products of the stars”.

If you wish to gain a more accurate and complete report on this subject, may I refer you to at least two outstanding books:

“Big Bang” – The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh and “The Stardust Revolution” – The Story of Our Origin in the Stars by Jacob Berkowitz. These and many other books are marvelous outlines written by super scientists far more qualified than I am to report this prehistoric history.

Most students begin their inquiries by asking: “What existed before the Big Bang”?  The answer is – only God – for there was no universe before the Big Bang. Second, many young students of science question the origin of the basic scientific building blocks of the universe:

  • Gravity
  • Electro- magnetism
  • The Strong Nuclear force
  • The Weak Nuclear force

From what I know, God created and mobilized these basic forces in the universe at the time of the Big Bang. They are the initial products of God’s physics and chemistry plan. We must just accept these facts and move on in our discovery of how the universe evolved and produced life as we know it.

I shall assume you are prepared to accept that the universe started when God released the “Big Bang”!  If you do not accept this scientific conclusion, supported by the vast majority of scientists all over the world, then you will have trouble understanding and believing in the facts regarding the role stars play in the creation of life.

The scientific community unanimously accepts that the universe has been and continues to expand – thanks to the knowledge gained from the development of large, powerful telescopes and the discoveries of Edwin Hubble. Scientists measuring the rate of universal expansion are able to trace back (in reverse) the cosmos to its beginning at a specific point in time. It is generally accepted that the beginning occurred about 14.7 billion years ago as mind boggling quantities of heat and energy erupted to initiate the universe. Believe it or not, our best scientific minds understand initial conditions within seconds after the Big Bang event and have traced it backward and then forward to our present day. There’s not enough space or time to explain how astro-scientists are able to measure the sizes, contents, temperatures and distances of stars and planets in the early universe – but they can!

The enormous heat and pressures associated with the early cosmos released from stars humungous amounts of hydrogen and helium into the expanding atmosphere. This continued for millions of years until atmospheric temperatures began to gradually decline. The universe was initially a mass of clouds, gases and dust particles that spewed wildly across the expanding universe. As temperatures continued to drop slowly over millions of years, dust particles, feeling the forces of gravity and electromagnetism began to accumulate into globs of atomic elements gaining mass as they grew larger.

A billion or more years pass as clouds of elementary dusts bond together creating the first stars. Gravity continues to pull masses closer together creating nuclear forces and raising star temperatures to boiling levels. Simultaneously, stars begin to move and form magnetic fields, collide and breakup forming second generation stars. 

Different stars, under varying conditions of heat and gravitational pressures, created tremendously hot nuclear furnaces that over long periods of time chemically change helium and hydrogen into other elements – including metals.

Thus, the cosmos first dust probably appeared as these stars burned and exploded as supernova ejecting vast quantities of all the chemical elements into the early atmosphere thus forming the first solids that became our rocky planets.

At some point, several billion years ago, our most famous star – the Sun was formed as vast quantities of nuclear materials bonded together creating our Solar System. Fortunately, our Sun still contains vast quantities of burning hydrogen that will last several billion years more.

Other masses of cosmic materials containing solid metallic cores are pulled by gravity to rotate around our very hot but stable Sun. One of these rotating planets, having accumulated rich deposits of organic dust (and water) settled into orbiting about our Sun and became our one and only Earth about 3.5 billion years ago. Over millions of additional years the earth grew in size by acting as a dust collector plus bonding with meteorites during numerous collisions. Now our modern knowledge of geology becomes joined together with the stars. We read that the universe contains about 75% hydrogen, and 23% helium leaving but 2% for the hundred or more remaining elements.

However, our human bodies are made up of four key elements:

  • Oxygen 65%
  • Carbon 18.5%
  • Hydrogen   9.5%
  • Nitrogen 3.2%
  • All other elements 3.8%

Totaling  =          100%

The origin of organic material on earth, appears to have been molecular dust transported to us from outer space. The stars are our direct ancestors. The very substances of our bodies were formed from chemical elements contributed from stars – first as earth materials and later as building blocks in the formation of living organisms. Remember that our Holy Bible in the book of Genesis allegorically creates human kind from symbolic earthen dust.

One must pause and reflect on the missing link. Within the complex processes of evolution, God, at some point in our history, through the power of the Holy Spirit, breathed life into multiple living creatures and finally into organic bodies of hominids.

It was no causal accident. God, through the deliberate Big Bang event, brought the building blocks of life, chemical elements, to us from billions of stars – leading to the creation of planet earth.

Praise be to God for the magnificent role stars play in the building of life on earth.

By  W.F. Peck

The Beginning of Human Life

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As Christians, we look to the biblical stories in the Old Testament seeking to understand God’s messages regarding how mankind first began. A literal reading and interpretation of the “Adam and Eve” story seems to produce more questions than answers regarding how mankind first evolved. Tradition labels their act of disobeying God as a negative experience with God reacting punitively against them and the symbolic serpent. One could easily surmise that their disobedience doomed the development of the human race – but the reverse interpretation makes more sense.

Prior to Adam and Eve’s defiance of God’s directives, they are described as mere happy, naïve and comfortable children, or angels or partly evolved homo sapiens with little understanding of who they really were or who they were destined to become. God chose the events needed to create fully human kind through a beautiful allegorical story that allowed our first symbolic humans (Adam and Eve) to make decisions that opened their eyes (for the first time) and awaken  them to recognize the differences between right and wrong. In Genesis, chapter three, God says: “they became like me (god) with the power to decide what is right and what is wrong!” This is the positive interpretation of this ancient story and it fits well with our modern understanding of how up-right, bipedal hominids over thousands of years, evolved brain sizes and cultural relationships that came to fruition when God breathed his Holy Spirit into his developing creatures and they became fully human! Human life truly began when the first humans realized they were in direct relationship with God as well as with one another. 

Whether we like it or not, God chose to create humans as imperfect beings with the freedom to make good or bad decisions. Mankind could not exist without the power to exercise a “free will”. This was not man’s decision – it was God’s decision. To suggest that “the devil made us this way” – is to conclude that God was not fully in charge of man’s creation. Surely, we do not believe this!

From this creation event forward, the Old Testament presents numerous stories, generally organized chronologically, that picture God’s struggles to teach his wayward people how to grow in their understanding of a “one God  (Yahweh) concept”. We are allowed to witness multiple triumphs and failures in the Old Testament as God’s chosen people slowly move, over more than two thousand years, from paganism to the one and only true God. His people finally are blessed with the presence of God through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

This inspiring interpretation of human beginnings in the early chapters of the book of Genesis provides a sensible and solid foundation for the building of the Christian faith.

Written by W.F. Peck

Seeking to Understand the Nature of God

 

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Throughout recorded history countless numbers of religious scholars have sought to better understand the nature of our Christian God. Why would a plain, ordinary lay theologian attempt to improve on the multiple volumes on this subject written by hundreds of renowned heros of the Bible?

My reasons include:

  • Being concerned and analytical about our loving God, in my judgment, is superior to being silently afraid or passive about him.
  • Being seriously interested in exploring the nature of God, may be risky, but it draws me closer to him – even if my judgment is wrong.
  • When one truly cares about another, one seeks to be involved more closely with that person, rather than sitting a far off in fear of offending or judging. To ignore God is one of the greatest sins.
  • While it is obvious that much about the nature of God shall always be a mystery, God gave mankind a mind, a keen sense of wonder and a propensity to explore the very depths of all human experience. I believe God approves and may even enjoy man’s feeble attempts to know him more personally. Lord, I hope so!

I am prompted to explore God’s nature and even to attempt to defend him, after reading all the misguided rationale expressed by atheists (who say God does not exist) and agnostics who confess (they do not know if God exists or not). Many of their writings appear to be well thought out and often make some logical sense. My first line of defense would be to counter that the very nature of God cannot be fully explained by logical reasoning or material facts.

Second, two thousand years of human experience by millions (even billions) of religious peoples from dozens of ethnic backgrounds in hundreds of countries, will easily trump the opinions of all intellectual, non-religious people in the world. If we take a vote, there is no contest!

Praise God for doubt leading to blind faith, but should we not attempt to truly understand the nature of God? I think so – fully realizing it is a risky endeavor. We must not assume to be equal to God!

Atheist, in particular, enjoy discounting the existence of God because:

  • Evil and suffering exist in the world and our all powerful, all knowing and all present God seems to ignore or retreat from stepping in and preventing or correcting bad things.
  • A God of love and compassion cannot sit idly by and allow bad things to happen to good people.
  • How could a loving God allow natural events such as: volcanos, earth quakes, tornados, famine, flooding and disease to destroy lives and property of innocent people? Where is God when all of these terrible things are happening? There are no easy answers but here are some thoughts to ponder:
  • God created the universe, the earth and all living creatures. He is continuously involved in our human experiences – but in my view, he does not micro- manage the individual events in our daily lives. He ordained that part of being human would be free will, thus allowing mankind to freely choose between doing good or doing evil. I believe “evil” is a condition – a substance – it is not a person in a red suit and forked tail going around infecting people with sin. In essence, evil is the absence of God.
  • Our all powerful God chooses to limit his power in some relationships with humanity. For example, God will not make 2 plus 2 be anything but 4, God will not step in and make the color blue to be red or any other color, and God will not step in and rescue a small child that wanders, unsupervised, into deadly traffic or an open swimming pool. God honors the physical laws that hold the world together.
  • Some horrendous events or conditions such as the Holocast or devastating earth quakes cannot be logically explained. They remain a mystery. Maybe, just maybe, God allows some tragic events to occur with knowledge that – later a greater loving consequence will be realized. We humans may never understand some tragic events.
  • Is God all knowing? Maybe, but has he always known about countless numbers of scientific inventions such as – computers and cell phones? It seems more reasonable that God gained new knowledge as it was discovered or created. The Bible says: God sometimes changed his mind. If this is true, then it follows that he must have gained new information to persuade him to change his mind. Since humans were made in the image of God, we too grow and gain new knowledge that causes us to change our minds and our understandings of events and circumstances. To think otherwise relegates the world to being a dull and preplanned robot. Perish the thought!
  • Is God everywhere? Probably so – since the presence of the Holy Spirit is available to all who seek it. God seems to find a place next to all humans and to enjoy their happiness as well as their feelings of suffering and pain. For reasons we do not clearly understand, God selects (at least in most cases) not to intervene in our painful human experiences.
  • In the middle of these considerations, God created mankind with a free will to choose between doing good and doing evil. If this is true, God cannot honor this decision and at the same time control the outcome of every human experience. Such control would negate the principle of free will which is basic to our human existence.
  • So, it seems fair and logical to surmise that God is all powerful (within his rules of creation).
  • God is all knowing at any point in history but he gains more knowledge as his created world evolves. This may not be standard Christian thinking but it is what I believe. Forgive me Lord.
  • God is everywhere and while seeing all human events (good or bad) he feels and suffers with us rather than intervening in the natural laws he created. Intervention would reduce the world order to chaos.
  • Most natural disasters can be scientifically explained. Scientists know, without any doubt, that multiple sections of the earths crust (tectonic plates) have moved about over prehistoric time and finally settled to form the continents we have today. From time to time, subterranean movements of these tectonic plates sometimes cause volcanos to erupt, earth quakes and tsunamis to flood the earth. Many civilizations have suffered from these geological events. Did God premeditatedly plan these events? I don’t think so. They are only the result of natural events that God does not select to control. God does not create complex physical laws and then jump in and oppose or change them!

These humble thoughts about the nature of God may be grossly inadequate. How will mankind ever fully understand the mysteries of God? Probably never.

It is comforting to remember that Job, while being humble and respectful to God, debated and argued with God and challenged God’s treatment of him. God finally responds to Job and teaches him right thinking but he also admitted that Job’s hardships and suffering were not the result of his sins. Job’s advisors were wrong.

There are earthly consequences for human sin, but God does not impose punishment on any living creature for their sins. However, mankind is capable of generating its own earthly punishments. The rains fall equally on the just and the unjust. Suffering is a normal event of our human experience. How sad and sterile the world would be without suffering persons to love. This is one of the lessons Job learned.

God ultimately agreed with Job and restored him to a deserving and normal life. I believe God welcomes thoughtful inquiries and prayerful studies into his nature. After all, we were made in the image of him.

 

Written by W.F. Peck

Modern Beliefs About Creation

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Modern day Christians need to adjust their theological understandings of the biblical story of beginnings as new scientific facts are uncovered. We have all been raised and “schooled” to accept the traditional and cultural interpretations of the early chapters of the book of Genesis – that is, God created the universe and the earth in a short period of time (one week).

Current scientific facts clearly disclose that the universe, and later, planet earth, to be billions of years old. Are these scientific facts reliable? Have they been proven beyond any doubt to be accurate? Yes they have! But rather than trying to understand a set of complex scientific proofs, most layman would opt to believe what a majority of competent scientists believe. International statistics consistently report that 95% of all informed scientists – across the entire world- believe in these evolutionary facts. Additionally, most educated adults accept these scientific facts as being true, even though they may not understand the technical details. Also, the vast majority of our most highly educated clergy (in all denominations) believe in the evolutionary process.

So do these new scientific discoveries undermine or discount the value of the Bible? Of course not! God has continued to reveal more and more about his beautiful creation every year through modern science. God’s biblical messages regarding creation are still true. Although modern knowledge of the processes have been refined- God is still at the center of Creation!

Even so, many traditional Christians still have trouble accepting new scientific information. Most layman do not understand the scientific processes – that appear to contradict the Bible. Well, can we agree that many of God’s best messages are often hidden behind the literal words of the Bible – in metaphorical or allegorical stories? Jesus used similar teaching methods through parables. If one cannot accept this premise, then surely one will find interpretations of certain scriptures to be troublesome. Please remember, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the founding fathers of Christian theology – in about 300AD – stated: “When scientific facts appear to be in conflict with scripture, it is time to reinterpret scripture.” Traditional thinking has not been wrong, it simply requires intelligent updating.

Since some would suggest that none of this discussion impacts our central beliefs regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, why worry about it? I disagree. Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. If Christianity is to remain viable in the lives of human kind, it must be about truth. Our young people are progressively exposed to more and more scientific information. They are smart, analytical and perceptive. Their school training is complex and comprehensive and includes studies of scientific creation. They are far ahead of most mature adults in their learning. It only takes a few years of college training or experience in the work place for them to discover many new truths about God and his creation. How can we expect them to remain loyal to their traditional family churches that tend to hide from or give lip service to scientific truths? This topic is crucial to keeping our traditional churches viable and growing for future generations.

As I view it, there are five (5) related reasons why scientific truths are ignored or suppressed by many Christian churches:

1). Many pastors cling tenaciously to the literal interpretation of all scriptures because it fits well with the educational level of the majority of their church members. Tis far easier to promote peace and harmony than intellectual analysis.

2). Many pastors, who intellectually believe in scientific evolution, will admit it privately, but stay away from it in their public pronouncements. Why is this? Pastors have to weigh carefully what they say from the pulpit – regarding nontraditional matters, for fear of confusing or losing many loyal church members. In my view, they are placating the older traditional members while risking the loss of their now grown children. Carefully planned and objectively presented educational programs are the answer.

3). Knowledge of Scientific Evolution is very complex and continuously changing. Even the scientific community cannot provide clear and simple answers to many creation questions. Most people do not have the educational background to grasp highly technical concepts. Our public libraries offer dozens of well written books on scientific creation, written by both theologians and scientists, that most layman can understand. Unfortunately, most senior citizens do not care or will not change their traditional beliefs regarding creation.

4). The fundamental movement across America attracts many people who prefer a simple, literal and traditional interpretation of all scriptures. It seems sad and wasteful for so much time and energy to be expended defending outdated and inaccurate interpretations of scripture.

5). Scholars (on both sides – scientific and religious) have for centuries had great difficulties blending our beautiful Christian beliefs with new and ever changing scientific knowledge. This must be done. Substantial progress has been made in the last few years toward understanding God’s real processes of creation. Fully understood, the scientific explanations for God’s processes of creation are exciting, rational and inspiring. The future of our wonderful, traditional churches may be dependent on this encouraging trend.

 

Written by W.F. Peck

Key Theological Messages from “Making Sense of the Bible” By Adam Hamilton

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Adam Hamilton is not only a great speaker and writer, but he is pastor of the largest Methodist church in the world in Leawood, Kansas, The UMC of the Resurrection. I am attracted to his theology because it makes great sense and answers many troublesome questions Christians face today in a world where understandings of the bible range from super conservative “fundamentalists” on one end to “progressive or liberal thinkers” on the other end. My theology has evolved through the years from lessons learned from a devoted Christian mother who was a traditional fundamentalist –  raised and taught in small Methodist churches in the South. Over time, study, prayer and counsel with theologians, I have developed a more liberal view of the Bible but still hold tightly to the messages of Jesus presented to us in the gospels and in many of Paul’s writings.

The most troublesome scriptures, for me, are found in the Old Testament. One must start by asking this question: Is the God of Old Testament the same God as the God of the New Testament? And the answer has to be – of course he is – God does not change, but perhaps people’s understandings of him change.Most of us were taught at an early age that: “The Bible is God’s Word”. Well, in a broad sense, this statement is okay – but it can cause problems if the reader interprets this to mean – every single word in the Bible comes from God. I do not support this position. In the Torah, the Mosaic Law says: “Thou shall not work on the Sabbath subject to the death penalty.” Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man – not man was made for the Sabbath”. It makes more sense to say: “The Bible contains God’s Word”. There are just too many passages written by priests, scribes, prophets and historians in the first century AD, that just do not ring true to the messages given to us by Jesus in the New Testament.

Adam Hamilton presents a strong case in explaining that “divine Inspiration” does not mean that God commanded or directed or even wrote any of the words of scripture. The word “inspiration” applied to scripture should be understood the same as “inspiration” received by pastors and Sunday school teachers in our modern world. They all pray for guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire their thoughts and biblical messages.

Some still think “inspiration” means that God composed the bible word for word. But the word “inspiration”, at least in English, is quite different in meaning from the words “composition or dictation”. “Inspiration”, at least in English, does not mean perfection.
Adam Hamilton said: “Just precisely how does inspiration work? We feel moved, provoked, aroused, stimulated, influenced, urged to do something. Paul may be saying: each biblical author was moved , provoked, roused, stimulated, influenced or urged to write. “

Here are further quotations from Adam Hamilton that have helped me understand “inspiration”: “Many Christians read the word “inspired” or “God breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16 and immediately give a definition that Paul himself did not give. To them “God breathed” means something very close to “God dictated”. This doctrine is often referred to as verbal, plenary inspiration. Verbal, plenary inspiration is not taught in the Bible” ….. “Plenary” means – complete in every respect and absolute. “ It was a way of building a fence around the Bible and making it impossible to question it or any doctrine built around it” – says Hamilton.

Verbal, plenary inspiration and the doctrine of the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible go hand in hand” – Says Adam Hamilton. “This new foundation for the Christian faith, namely that Christianity is true because the Bible is infallible, inerrant, totally true and trust worthy, feels to me like a house of cards that can easily be brought down.” John Wesley gave us direction to make serious decisions or interpretations of scripture using a combination of; Tradition, Experience, Reason and Scripture.

The people who wrote the various books of the Bible shaped their views according to the times in which they lived and the limitations of their knowledge. To those of us who teach Bible, it involves reading, praying and interpreting scripture with the help of our faith, the experience of the Holy Spirit and the use of human reason. We are then able to view the bible, to hear God speaking through it, but to still understand that we may question certain things presented in scripture that may not represent God’s true character nor his will for our lives today. It seems fair to conclude that the words of the bible reflect in some places, the limitations, biases and interpretations of its human authors.

Hamilton tells us that God speaks to us in many ways other than the Bible:

  • Through the created world
  • The whisper in our hearts
  • Through human prophets, teachers, and preachers
  • Through friends and parents
  • Other written words – outside the Bible
  • Through music – both contemporary and classical
  • Through visions and dreams

Another outstanding quote from Hamilton’s book is:
“So the phrase “the Word of God” as it is used in the Bible is almost always a message from God, disclosed at times through angels, sometimes directly to the heart of the individual, sometimes through dreams and visions, often through preaching and teaching and at times through a whisper. The phrase is used to describe a message conveyed, most often, through human beings, but which is believed to express or reveal God and God’s will.”

“The bible is not an autobiography. You can read God’s actual words in many places, but you can also hear the human author’s reflections upon God and their attempts to put into words the nature, character and will of God” – says Rev. Hamilton.

When Biblical authors wrote, they did not enter into a trance like state in which God dictated the scriptures word for word. Paul wrote what was on his heart and mind. He did not claim to be speaking directly from God. He assumed the responsibility for his own sermons and writings. Luke or John, in their writings, did not claim that God told them what to say.

Many fine Christians hold strongly to a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. Adam Hamilton had the courage to state: “If by Biblical inerrancy we mean that “those truths that God wants humanity to know, are preserved without error in the Bible, I’m ready to sign on. But if by Biblical inerrancy we mean that the bible contains no errors, no logical inconsistencies, no facts that are not historically accurate, I’d have to say, no, the Bible is not inerrant.”

Some would argue: if there is an error anywhere in the Bible, how can we trust anything it says? The answer is simple – we are constantly trusting the words of people whom we have found to be trustworthy, even though none of them are inerrant or infallible.

He further said, “No pastor is infallible or inerrant. God knows this and chooses to use fallible people to do his work. God doesn’t make them infallible when they step into the pulpit, yet God works through them nonetheless. The divine inspiration of scripture was not God dictating the scriptures but God working in the hearts and minds of the biblical authors”.

It is important to remember that as we work to interpret scripture, we must not discount what is inconvenient or challenging simply because it is difficult. When we find something that is inconsistent with the way God reveals himself through Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask questions. It is Jesus and his teachings that serve as the final Word by which other words are to be judged.
Adam Hamilton speaks eloquently about the story of beginnings. Genesis 1 is a majestic, beautiful and poetic. It is not a lesson in cosmology, it is a creed. It is not a science lecture – it is poetry. It makes a claim not about scientific knowledge but about truth and theology. As a creed, a hymn of praise to God, and a theological lesson about the ultimate nature of existence – yes – but as a scientific text – no. … It tells us what late Bronze and Iron Age people of the ancient Near East believed about the order of creation. When we treat this text as a scientific account, we miss the point, and we end up with bad science.

“I appreciate Darwin’s Theory of Evolution”, says Hamilton. “Evolution does not diminish God’s glory, as some Christians seem to believe. To me it magnifies God’s glory. Science teaches one kind of truth, and it is really important and wonderful. The Bible teaches another kind of truth – about the meaning of existence, the nature of God and what it means to be human.”

“Sometime, maybe as early as, 35,000 to 45,000 years ago, there was an upright, bi-pedal hominid that began to think in ways other hominids did not. The biblical language for what was taking place is that God breathed into these hominids the “breath of life”: and they became “living beings” – fully human and made in the image of God. The story of Adam and Eve, their temptations and mistakes, is the story of all of us. It is the story of the earliest modern humans and how God gave them a soul and of their initial choice of “free will” that lead them to act against the will of God.

And then we have the story of Noah and his ark. Did God destroy every animal and every human being on the earth –except Noah and his family on the ark about 4300 years ago? Hamilton says – “I don’t think so”. The story seems to be anchored in historical events that happened at the end of the last Ice Age when floods and volcanic eruptions were common. But is the story of Noah’s ark true? Well, literally – no – but in a theological sense – yes, it is absolutely true! Like the Creation story, this story teaches profound truths.

So in summary, from what we have learned, we can state without any doubt that:

  • The vast majority of scriptures reflect the timeless will of God for human beings.
  • There are other passages that reflect God’s will in a particular time but not for all time, including much of the ritual law of the Old Testament.
  • There are scriptural passages that reflect the culture and historical circumstances in which they were written but never reflected God’s timeless will, like those related to slavery.
  • The bible is not a theological textbook, a book of praise or an owner’s manual. It is a compilation of various types of literature, including short stories, poetry, wisdom sayings, prophetic warnings, gospels and letters written over the course of 1,400 years.
  • The words of Jesus are the words by which all other words should be interpreted and understood.
  • You are not dishonoring God by asking questions of scripture that seem inconsistent with modern scientific knowledge or geography or history.
  • You are not being unfaithful to God if you ask questions of a verse that seems inconsistent with the picture of God seen in life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit prompts and inspires you, but it does not dictate what you think, say or do.
  • You are not judging God by wrestling with the Bible, you are asking questions of the human authors of scripture.

This writing does not do full justice to this marvelous book: “Making Sense of the Bible” by Adam Hamilton. It has been a blessing in my life and I’m sure it would be the same for any open minded Christian.
W. F. (Bill) Peck

Homosexuality and the Christian Faith

 

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For those of us who profess to be Christians, the Bible is our best resource on how God expects his people to think and live. We are guided by the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, the beatitudes and the teachings of Jesus from the New Testament.

As a young boy in a rural community in southwest Fulton County, Georgia, I walked several miles to elementary school along one side of the road, and our black neighbors children walked to their separate schools on the other side of the road. We spoke and were respectful, but we did not associate socially. There were no conflicts, we thought this arrangement was very normal. Several decades later, I attended Ga. Tech in an all-white, male only, student population. This all changed in the late fifties, but it was a normal tradition while I attended Tech through 1954.

We have all lived through several cultural traditions that seemed at the time to be normal, correct and in keeping with God’s will. However, we must confess that over time, traditions change and we learn to adjust what we think is right or wrong. Please examine attachment 1 – a list of historical traditions. Remember, it took the best minds of the Christian church over two hundred years to admit that Copernicus was correct that the earth orbits around the sun rather than the ancient tradition that the earth was the center of our solar system. Please recall, that our beautiful democratic nation existed for more than one hundred years under the premise that – all peoples are created equal – before women in 1920 were allowed to own property, hold a bank account and to vote. It was a tradition, back then, that society should be dominated and controlled by the male population.

We have all been brought up believing in a series of traditions that for the most part served us well. For many years during my younger life, I was taught to believe that homosexuals were misfits, abnormal and unacceptable members of society. I was culturally conditioned to believe that homosexuality was evil and outside God’s will. Please note the attached list of alleged problems associated with homosexuality (attachment 2). It would seem, however, that in today’s world these are outdated statements.

Well, what does the Bible say about homosexuality? We find statements in I Corinthians, and Romans in the New Testament and Leviticus in the Old Testament that homosexuality is a sin. To the extent that any evidence exists that deviate sexual conduct is associated with homosexuality, I agree, it is a sin! But one must carefully evaluate the conclusions of the medical profession regarding homosexuality before passing judgment on it as a sin. Please note the attached summary, gained from the medical profession regarding homosexuality (attachment 3). If these statements are true, then regardless of what the Bible says – homosexuality is not a sin! To classify as a sin, any act or condition must meet the test of free will – a deliberate act against the will of God.

In the midst of these considerations, one might ask the question: “What would Jesus say about homosexuality?” I’m not sure, but I think he might say:

  • Anyone who is not guilty of sin, let him cast the first stone.
  • Judge not that ye be not judged.
  • God is the only one who should judge a person’s sins, beliefs and conduct.
  • Inclusion offers hope for redemption, exclusion isolates and condemns.
  • Be sure one is correctly plowing his own fields, before he seeks to teach others how to plow.
  • “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and tingling symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faith so that I can move mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

So how shall our Christian churches address the sensitive issues of homosexuality with so many different perspectives among its loyal and sincere members? First, our United Methodist Church accepts and supports any and all homosexuals as full members of our faith. Thus far, the major controversial restrictions appear to be:

  • Ordained ministers may not marry persons of the same gender.
  • Homosexuals may not become ordained ministers.

Harsh punishments apply to any ministers that ignore or disobey these strict church doctrines.

As time passes, sides are being drawn within the clergy and also the active laity, with some defending the current church doctrine and others feeling a less rigid position is needed. Some church leaders have concluded that strong unyielding positions on both sides could lead to a structural split in the Methodist church at large.

With due respect for both sides, one has to ask: “What would be accomplished by dividing a large and very successful church organization into smaller parts? Is there a way to seek a logical reconciliation that will satisfy a majority – fully recognizing that compromises must be made? Are we “head locked” by tradition or shall we seek the power of the Holy Spirit as our guide? There is no doubt about it – traditions die slowly and beliefs and past history often cloud our vision of the future. I have no magic or simple answers but here are my final thoughts:

  • God cares for and loves all people – the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the normal and the not normal, and the able and the disabled.
  • Must all church doctrine be rigid without flexibility?
  • Should our church leadership listen more to their hearts than to some selected, ancient Biblical text. Paul was not always correct in his assessment of rules for living.
  • Within reasonable bounds, could the church leadership find ways to accommodate both sides by giving some latitude to individual pastors and their church congregations?
  • I believe in playing win/win – not win/lose. When we play win/lose on serious issues – everybody loses.
  • As an active layman, I seek to judge others by their character and their conduct – irrespective of their race, gender, theological beliefs or sexual orientation.
  • Hey, I’m old and mostly a “theological traditionalist” – but praise God, I’m still growing and learning and looking for new and more inspiring interpretations of God’s Word.
  • It is my sincere prayer that compromise shall prevail and any thoughts of splitting will be avoided. Jesus said: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”.