Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth

Here is a comment that a reader named Kyle left recently in response to the most popular post on this blog: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

Walking in Darkness, by Linda Hedenljung

Walking in Darkness, by Linda Hedenljung

Lee, I found your article tickled the ears of culture but was vastly void of truth. By Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through me”… he’s making an absolute truth statement. Therefore anything that contradicts his statement is by definition false. There is one God. One Lord. One Savior by which man is saved. No other religion can save its followers, forgive sins, and offer hope for today and eternity. Our culture will scream, “Offensive! How dare Christians claim Jesus is the only way to God.” But Jesus himself said it. For Christians not to profess this truth is to not trust in Jesus at all. Therefore, not all religions are true or lead to God. In fact, any religion that is contrary to the claims of Jesus (his words, not mine) is false. Forget religions. It’s who you say Jesus is that matters. Living a “good and kind life” can make things pleasant for today but that does nothing for your eternal standing once our time on earth is done. I would think satan is quite pleased we have more religions than we can count.

Later that day, Kyle submitted this Spiritual Conundrum to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:

Lee,

I’m confused, and it’s actually from reading your posts and responses to people. You said you’re a christian and actually believe that salvation and heaven are only possible through Jesus Christ. Yet, you also say that every religion is right in its own way and leads people to the same God. Isn’t that completely hypocritical of your own faith? How in the world are all religions right and serving the same God?

Kyle

That got me to thinking.

Yes, Kyle and hundreds of millions of other Christians are confused.

They’re confused because their preachers have drilled into their heads a false “Christianity” that is so vastly void of truth that they can’t even read and understand the Bible’s own plain words about who is saved, and how.

(Photo credit: Linda Hedenljung)

Today’s “Christianity” is a vast void of truth

What passes for Christian doctrine in the bulk of Christian denominations today bears little resemblance to what Jesus, and his apostles after him, taught in the New Testament. Over the centuries, institutional Christianity has substituted human-invented doctrines for the teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles, resulting in a vast void of truth in Christianity.

Because of this vast void of truth, hundreds of millions of Christians are confused when they encounter teachings based on what the Bible actually does teach.

And yes, I do think Satan is quite pleased that now, 2,000 years after Christ, Christianity itself is divided into more sects and denominations than you can count—and most of them are teaching doctrines that neither Jesus Christ nor any of his apostles would have recognized.

We can’t sort out in a single article all of the fallacies and misunderstandings that have taken Christianity hostage and morphed it into an entirely different religion than the one Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life. But we can look at how today’s Christianity got so far off track that there is very little genuine truth left in it. And then we can take up some of Kyle’s specific issues.

If you, our readers, find articles like this one helpful, we’ll make them into an occasional series responding to common Christian misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Bible.

Today’s Christianity is not Jesus’ Christianity

True fact: Most of what today passes as basic Christian doctrine originated centuries after Jesus walked this earth. In particular, the key doctrines about salvation, both in Catholicism and in Protestantism, were not developed until 1,000 to 1,500 years after Jesus instructed his disciples and sent them out to preach the Good News.

Jesus never heard of most of the doctrines that are today preached as “Christianity,” because they didn’t even exist yet. And he certainly never preached them.

A Trinity of Persons? That wasn’t invented until two or three centuries after Christ. Yet it is the fundamental doctrine of God in all three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.

Jesus suffering crucifixion in order to satisfy God’s wrath at human sin? That one took 1,000 years to come up with. And it is the reigning doctrine of salvation in Catholicism today.

Salvation by faith alone? Jesus paying the penalty for our sins? These didn’t show up until 1,500 years after Christ. And together they form the reigning doctrine of salvation in Protestantism today.

None of these doctrines are taught in the Bible. For more on this, see: “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the articles linked from it.

And yet, these are the doctrines that form the core of the doctrines of institutional Christianity today.

In short, Christianity as it exists today has long since abandoned not only the fundamental teachings of the Bible, but also the Christian faith that the earliest Christians lived by. And what Catholicism and Protestantism teach about how we are saved was not part of Christianity for the first thousand or more years of its existence.

Yet these johnny-come-lately dogmas are the doctrines that most Christian churches insist we must believe in if we wish to be saved.

In effect, they are saying that what Christians believed for the first thousand years of Christianity about how we are saved was wrong.

But more importantly, they are saying that what the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Bible as a whole teach about how we are saved is wrong.

What the Bible really teaches about who is saved

Protestants, in particular, quote various Bible verses, mostly from Paul’s letters, to support their notion that we are saved by faith alone, and that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. But the fact of the matter is that neither Paul nor anyone else in the Bible ever said these things. In fact James specifically denied that we are saved by faith alone:

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:24, italics added)

This is the only place in the entire Bible where “faith alone” is even mentioned. And in that one place, it is specifically rejected.

We really don’t have to quibble about this. Jesus, Paul, and the other teachers in the Bible make crystal clear statements about who goes to eternal life (i.e., is saved), and who does not. And their words apply not only to Christians, but to people of all religions.

First, here is Jesus’ own clearest statement about who is saved and who is not:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31–46, italics added)

Here Jesus teaches us plainly that people who do good deeds for their fellow human beings in need will be saved, while people who don’t will not be saved. And he makes it very clear that this applies to everyone on earth (“all the nations”), not just to Christians.

The apostle Paul also explains how non-Christians are saved:

But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:5–16, italics added)

Jews and Greeks (meaning pagan polytheists) are not Christians. Gentiles as Paul uses the term here are not Christians. Yet Paul explains how they, too, will be judged for eternal life or death on the day of judgment. And he says that they will all be judged by God, through Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul says that people of all religions who do good will be saved by God through Jesus Christ.

And Paul says all of this before he makes his famous statements about how Christians are saved by faith apart from the Law—meaning without having to keep the Jewish ritual laws of circumcision, animal sacrifice, ceremonial purification, and so on, as taught in the Law of Moses contained in the first five books of the Bible.

Today’s Christianity claims that only Christians are saved.

The Bible teaches just the opposite.

Moving to the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible, we read:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. . . .

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (Revelation 21:22–27; 22:14–15)

Christians generally believe that the New Jerusalem is a depiction of a future kingdom of God where those who are saved will live. And here it says that its gates will always be open to people from the nations who bring glory and honor to it, but that no one who does evil things and practices falsehood will enter it. In other words, people of all religions will enter the city or not according to the quality of their character and their life.

These are some of the clearest statements in the entire New Testament about who is saved and who is not. They come from Jesus Christ himself, from the apostle Paul, and from the book of Revelation, which most Christians believe was written by the apostle John—one of Jesus’ inner circle of followers.

These passages say in very clear language that people of all nations and all religions are saved by how they live, not just by what they believe.

Any doctrine that says anything else is accusing Jesus, Paul, John, and all the rest of the teachers in the Bible of speaking falsehoods.

And in case you’re wondering, the Old Testament teaches the very same thing. For example:

But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die. (Ezekiel 18:21–24)

There are many, many more passages like these ones throughout the entire Bible.

Today’s Christianity has departed from true Christianity

Protestants, in particular, ignore and deny all of these plain teachings of the Bible in favor of two doctrines that the Bible never teaches anywhere—and in fact specifically denies:

  1. We are justified, or saved, by faith alone.
  2. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

The Bible simply doesn’t say these things. They were originated by people such as Martin Luther and John Calvin 1,500 years after the last books of the Bible were written. Yet Protestants have made justification by faith alone and penal substitution their central doctrines of salvation.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has adopted as its primary doctrine of salvation the satisfaction theory of atonement originated by Anselm of Canterbury 1,000 years after the last books of the Bible were written. This is the doctrine that says that Jesus suffered crucifixion in order to satisfy God’s wrath at human sin. In Anselm’s book Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became a Man”), published late in the eleventh century, Anselm sought to establish this new satisfaction theory based largely on human reason rather than on the Bible. That’s because the Bible doesn’t actually teach any such doctrine. It is a human invention.

Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement led, five hundred years later, to the Protestant doctrine of penal substitution: the idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

We can point to the exact times in history when these new doctrines about salvation that are at the core of traditional Christianity originated, and we can point to the specific human beings who invented them.

In adopting these human-invented doctrines, both Catholicism and Protestantism have largely abandoned the doctrines about redemption and salvation that were held to for the first thousand years of Christianity: the ransom theory of atonement and Christus Victor.

Orthodox Christianity still holds to some of the older doctrines about redemption and salvation. But like Catholicism and Protestantism, it also holds to the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons, which is not taught in the Bible, but was first promulgated as official Christian doctrine by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and was more clearly formulated in the Athanasian Creed a century or two later.

In short, the bulk of Christianity today has long since abandoned both what the Bible teaches about salvation and what Christians believed about salvation for the first millennium of Christianity.

As a result, what we have today is a form of “Christianity” that is vastly void of truth.

The basics of Christian belief must be stated plainly in the Bible

That’s why traditional Christians such as Kyle are so confused when they read here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life that Jesus is the only means of salvation and that people of all religions are saved if they live a good life according to their conscience and their beliefs.

Unlike the doctrines that reign in present-day Christianity, the Bible actually does teach both of these things. And these two principles are not at all contradictory or confusing once you hear and understand what the Bible actually teaches about God, salvation, and eternal life.

For a start, please see: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” and the articles linked from it.

Here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life, we believe that for a teaching to be considered basic or fundamental to Christianity, it must be stated in the plain words of the Bible itself. If it’s not stated in the Bible’s own words, it may still be true, but it cannot be considered a key, fundamental teaching of Christianity.

Today’s Christianity takes as its fundamentals doctrines that were formulated by human beings centuries after the Bible was written. None of these key doctrines of today’s Christianity are stated in the Bible’s own plain words.

In short, today’s Christianity has vastly departed from the plain teachings of the Bible.

That’s why it is vastly void of truth.

Now let’s get to some of Kyle’s particular issues.

“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Kyle quotes Jesus’ words in John 14:6:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Kyle then goes on to say that no other religion can save its followers.

But that’s not what Jesus said.

It is critically important to read exactly what Jesus said, not adding, subtracting, or substituting any words. Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except through Christianity.” He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Christianity is not Jesus. Christianity does not save people. Jesus saves people. And he doesn’t need our human-organized, human-run Christian churches in order to do that.

True fact: The Bible never says, “Only Christians are saved.” It couldn’t possibly have said that, because when the New Testament was written, Christianity did not yet exist as a religion.

In fact, as shown above, the Bible is very clear and specific about how non-Christians are saved: through living a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings according to their conscience and their beliefs. Anything that conflicts with this plain teaching of the Bible is false. Anything that conflicts with this plain teaching is a misunderstanding of what Jesus, Paul, James, John, and all the rest of the Bible teach.

Back to John 14:6, notice what Jesus did not say.

  • Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except by believing in me.”
  • Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father except by being Christian.”
  • Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father if they belong to any religion other than Christianity.”

What he did say is that those who come to the Father, meaning the God and Creator of the universe, do it through Jesus. Traditional Christians have added to Jesus’ words by saying that no can come to the Father, and be saved, except by believing in Jesus, by belonging to the Christian church, and so on.

That’s simply not what Jesus said in John 14:6. For more on what he did say, and what it means, please see this article: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

It is not a religion or a belief that saves us. It is Jesus who saves us. And Jesus is perfectly capable of saving not only Christians, but people of every religion all around the world—and even people who have no particular religion at all.

“It’s who you say Jesus is that matters.”

The common Christian idea that, as Kyle says, “It’s who you say Jesus is that matters” comes especially from this passage:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13–17)

Jesus goes on to say that he will build his church on the rock of this belief (not on Peter, a mere human being): the belief that he, Jesus, is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (see Matthew 16:18–20).

Once again, let’s pay attention to exactly what Jesus says.

  • He does not say, “It’s who you say I am that matters.”
  • He does not say, “Only those who say this will be saved.”
  • He does not say, “Living a good and kind life doesn’t matter.”
  • He does not say, “Your eternal standing is based on who you say I am.”

Rather, he affirms Peter’s statement that he (Jesus) is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and says that this is the teaching upon which he will build his church.

In other words, he says that a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God will be the foundation of Christianity. And that is precisely what happened: Christianity distinguished itself from Judaism—and from every other religion—by its belief that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.

So one more time, it is important to pay attention to exactly what Jesus said, and not to add or subtract words from it.

Jesus did not say, “No one outside my church will be saved.” He said, “I will build my church upon the belief that I (Jesus) am the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

As shown above, in other places Jesus teaches us how people of all nations and religions will be saved. Here he teaches that for those who are Christian, saying and believing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God is the foundation stone of their religion and faith. Christians who deny these things cannot be saved because they are rejecting their God.

“Satan is quite pleased that we have more religions than we can count”

Kyle’s comment concludes with, “I would think satan is quite pleased we have more religions than we can count.”

I’m not sure where Kyle gets this. As quoted above, in Romans 2:5–16 Paul tells us how Jews and pagan polytheists (“Greeks”) are saved.

Is Satan pleased that God, through Jesus, is able to save people of all religions, as the Bible teaches?

I don’t think so.

In fact, I think Satan gnashes his teeth when he sees that Jesus has the power to save all people everywhere who live according to their beliefs and their conscience, and who do good deeds of love and kindness for their fellow human beings, just as Jesus, Paul, and everyone else in the Bible taught.

What Satan is quite pleased about, I think, is that over the centuries he has managed to get Christianity so off-track and confused in its doctrines that it ignores these powerful, universal teachings of salvation taught plainly in the Bible.

I think Satan is quite pleased at having shunted Christianity far away from the broad, universal religion of loving God and loving the neighbor that Jesus taught, and turned it into a petty, exclusive club in which everyone who belongs to our church is saved, whereas everyone who belongs to any other church is damned to eternal torment in hell.

That’s what I think Satan is quite pleased about.

But the Lord God Jesus Christ is far more powerful than Satan.

The Lord God Jesus Christ is God of all the universe, of all the earth, and of all the people who live on earth.

The Lord God Jesus Christ is able to save people from every religion if only they love God, love their neighbor, and live a good life of kindness and service to their fellow human beings according to their conscience and their faith.

That’s what really gets Satan’s goat!

Oh, and about Satan, please see: “Is there Really a Devil? Why??

How are all the world’s religions right?

So yes, I am a Christian. Ardently so.

And yes, I believe that every religion is right in its own way, and leads people to the same God.

That’s because I pay attention to what the Bible itself says, in its own words.

The Bible tells us in its own plain words how people of all religions are saved, and that it is Jesus Christ who does the saving, no matter what people’s religion is.

Jesus says:

All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18)

Not some power. All power.

Not power over only some of the earth, but power over all the earth.

Not power only to bring only some people (Christians) to heaven, but power to bring all people to heaven if they love God as they understand God, love their neighbor, and live according to their conscience.

Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth. That means Jesus is not limited to our human-organized Christian churches in his saving power. Jesus’ saving power extends to everyone on earth.

The Bible tells us in many places (some of which I quoted above) exactly how Jesus does this. See especially the quote from Romans 2:5–16, where the Bible explicitly states how God, through Jesus, saves Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles—all of whom are non-Christians, and none of whom believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Christian churches and preachers that teach otherwise are dead wrong. And they are dead wrong because they are ignoring and contradicting the plain, clear teachings of the Bible itself.

So how are all of the world’s religions right?

Here are the teachings that Jesus said are basic to all the rest:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

In short, loving God and loving the neighbor is the heart of all religion and of all religious faith and practice. Every legitimate religion tells its people that they must love their neighbor, serve their neighbor, and do good deeds for their neighbor because that’s what God, who rules all, commands us to do. They say this in various ways, according to their differences in history and culture.

All of the world’s religions are right in their own way because all of the world’s religions teach the same fundamentals that Jesus Christ taught in the Bible. They differ on doctrines and details. But if you look deeply enough, you will see that they all agree about the most basic commandments—on which, Jesus says, all the rest depend.

Jesus has the power to save people of all religions

That’s why Jesus has the power to save people of all religions. Because God has made sure that people of all religions have the basic teachings they need to love God above all, and to love their neighbor as themselves.

And if all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ, as the Bible says, then Jesus Christ is the God of all the earth, and of all the religions. Jesus has the power to save people of every nation, religion, and culture even if some of their beliefs may be faulty and wrong.

And yes, this applies to Christians as well—even though today’s Christianity is vastly void of truth.

Christians who pay attention to what Jesus himself taught in the Bible about loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves will be saved. And they will be saved regardless of the false, non-Biblical doctrines that their preachers have drilled into their heads.

This is the beautiful teaching of Jesus Christ.

This article is a response to a comment and a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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18 comments on “Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth
  1. Richard Neer says:

    A concise, direct, precise and well assembled article, Lee!

    I think a developing series here could prove beneficial for many.

    Erasing the blurred lines and distinguishing between that which is falsely represented and that which is accurate, with appropriate foundation, makes for a plausibly strong case and enriched presentation.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rich,

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the article! And I am leaning toward making it into a series. Thanks for the nudge on that, also.

  2. toothling says:

    I imagine the afterlife is unimaginable, even to Swedenborg. The religions, society and everything of common knowledge is just here (and different on purpose) so that everyone has the drive to live a life that’s ‘good enough’ while maintaining their vast differences. There’s knowledge that has never been known and no human will learn no matter how deeply they search. So just settle for the common knowledge.

    • Lee says:

      Hi toothling,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      I guess I’m a little more optimistic about the knowability of things that go beyond the common knowledge. Jesus said:

      Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8).

      And according to Swedenborg’s account, when he sought deeper knowledge the door was opened to him to see the afterlife, to travel around in it for nearly thirty years, and to learn all about it. For more on this, see: “Who was Swedenborg? What Should I Read?” So for him the afterlife was not unimaginable. It became an everyday experience for the last three decades of his life. And today, thousands of near-death experiencers have had briefer visits to the afterlife, and have come back with similar stories.

      From my perspective, there’s no need to “just settle for the common knowledge” when there is so much deeper knowledge available to us, if only we have the desire and the drive to seek it out.

  3. […] Source: Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth […]

  4. Alex says:

    Thanks for the article. I think that this series will be quite benefitial. I can only speak for myself, but I grew up learning a lot of things that I am now in the process of un-learning after reading your articles.

    Having said that, I still approach it rather cautiously. Truth is a rather complicated matter. Fact is that God is the only one who has the absolute truth, the truth we probably wouldn’t be able to grasp. What we are left is the relative and incomplete truth. It is obvious that plenty people will disagree. To me Romans 2:5–16 is one of the most beautiful passages, because it underlines how every person has the ability to follow the law, whether they read it or not.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Alex,

      You’re welcome. Glad you found the article useful. That’s another vote for making this into an occasional series.

      As I’ve said to you previously, approaching truth cautiously is, I think, a good idea. It’s best to think it out over time, consider other possibilities, and look at it from various angles. That way once you come to a conclusion about it, your understanding of it and reasons for accepting it will be broader and deeper, and you’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of it, instead of the shallow and weak understanding that results from a quick, uncritical acceptance.

      Here’s what Swedenborg has to say on this subject:

      It is in accordance with the laws of order that no one should become convinced of the truth instantaneously, that is, should instantaneously be made so sure of the truth that he is left in no doubt at all about it. The reason for this is that when truth is impressed on a person in that kind of way, he becomes so fully convinced of it that it cannot be broadened in any way or qualified in any way. Truth like this is represented in the next life as that which is hard, not allowing good into itself to make it pliable. This goes to explain why in the next life as soon as some truth is presented through plain experience to good spirits, some opposing idea giving rise to doubt is presented. In this way they are led to think and ponder over whether it is indeed a truth, gather reasons in support of it, and so introduce that truth into their minds by the use of reason. This enables their spiritual vision in respect of that truth to be broadened, seeing even into the ideas that are opposed to it. They therefore see and perceive with their understanding every characteristic of the truth, and from this are able to let in the influences coming from heaven as the situation demands; for truths take varying forms as dictated by circumstances. (Arcana Coelestia #7298:2)

      And yes, I keep going back to Romans 2 because it is so clear and beautiful. Having written what he did in Romans 2, Paul couldn’t possibly mean what Protestants especially, and traditional Christians generally, claim he means in the rest of that letter and in his other letters. That is, unless Paul flatly contradicts himself, which I don’t think he does.

  5. kty094 says:

    Reblogged this on kty003 and commented:
    Unpick the stitches in your mind, rewind the wool, then start over again

  6. Hoyle says:

    I am somewhat astonished when people “quote” what Jesus said as if there were a tape recorder in the room when he said it. Can you imagine how unreliable recordation was 2,000 years ago? However, accuracy of what an individual said or did is of little consequence when you believe what you believe. No doubt, there were certain historical events taking place when the various religions were established and as they evolved. These historical events were, for the most part, most likely accurate. These would not be events where a specific individual said or did something in particular because by the time it was written down, its accuracy was diluted. The “words of Jesus and God” were sprinkled into the various religious publications to give an authoritative quality.
    I’m not degrading anyone’s religion. I’m not saying that a certain belief are any less “correct” or “right” than other teachings and beliefs. What I’m saying is that when you entangle religion with ideas about creation and our existence, you muddy the waters. Understanding the spiritual nature of man doesn’t require religion or truth. It’s what you feel not what you know or don’t know.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Hoyle,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      The usual Christian belief is that the Holy Spirit guided the Bible writers so that what they wrote would be a true and accurate representation of what happened, and of God’s truth.

      As I think you’re aware, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. But I do think that the Holy Spirit guided the writing and editing of the various books of the Bible so that they would deliver the message God wanted delivered in a way that we humans can understand, accept, and live by. For more on this, please see: “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”

      I would add that in the centuries before near universal literacy in the developed countries of the world, it was common for people to have better memories for conversations and events because they could not fall back upon written records, video recordings, and so on to provide the “memory” of things that had been said and done. People would commonly memorize things that today we would just look up in a book or online. So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Bible writers had a fairly good representation of what Jesus said and did.

      However, the human mind being what it is, that is still going to come out with some variation in different versions written by different people. And that human variation is exactly what we see in the four Gospels with regard to the life and words of Jesus.

      It’s a nice idea that understanding our spiritual nature doesn’t require religion or truth, but only our feelings. Unfortunately, our feelings by themselves, without an understanding of truth, can and do lead us down all sorts of ultimately mistaken and even destructive paths. And for better or for worse, religion is still a primary source, if not always the primary source, for most people’s moral and ethical understanding. It has simply become so suffused into society that we can glibly say that “religion is unnecessary” when in fact religion has indelibly left its mark on the minds of everyone who lives on this planet.

      That’s not to say there isn’t also much false religion. Unfortunately, every human institution can become corrupt, and that has been the case with many of our religions, including Christianity. But the fact that religion has become corrupt in many times and places does not erase the fact that religion is the primary source of spiritual and moral understanding for the people of this world.

  7. Brian says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for the read! This might go a bit off topic… You’re obviously well versed in Christianity and the teachings of Swedenborg; as you know, I find your posts extremely beneficial! I am curious though how knowledgeable you are of other faiths. Islam in particular is regularly in the controversial spotlight (to say the least), due to it’s more radical followers. Surely it’s not really a religion of hate as many try to label it. It seems more likely that a large number of it’s followers completely miss the message, or even get it backwards. I wonder why that is, and also how such extremism remains a constant among it’s ranks. Any thoughts?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad the articles here are helpful to you!

      About your question, although I do have some knowledge of other world religions and their teachings, I am nowhere near as knowledgeable about them as I am about Christianity in general, and about Swedenborgian Christianity in particular. So I wouldn’t presume to expound upon the finer points of Islamic doctrine and practice.

      However, it’s clear that the various world religions all have their spectrum of perspectives from mystical through mainline to fundamentalist. Islam has Sufism on the mystical end, moderate Islam in the middle of the spectrum, and radical, fundamentalist Islam on the fundamentalist end.

      Right after the 9/11 attacks happened, the Council of Churches and Clergy Group in Bridgewater, MA, where the church I was then pastor of was located, turned to our church and asked if we would host a prayer service in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. They turned to us, I believe, because my church and I had established ourselves as a unifying presence among the various churches, denominations, and religions represented in the community. For example, we had recently run a well-publicized and well-attended World Religion Series, in which we invited area spiritual leaders representing the various world religions to speak about their faith in a public lecture and Q&A series.

      After the 9/11 attacks, the local religious community felt a need for this kind of unifying presence at that time of tragedy and fear, so they chose our church to host the prayer service. It was the one time during my ten-year pastorate there that we had an SRO crowd in the church sanctuary, which seated about 250 people.

      One of the things I made sure happened at the service was that we had a Muslim leader among the various religious leaders that spoke and prayed at the service. He assured the group, as did a local Muslim Imam in a separate event, that these attacks were diametrically opposed to the teachings of Islam, which is a religion of peace. So we heard from the lips of our own local Muslim clergy and lay leaders that their version of Islam, which they viewed as representing the true spirit of Islam, was utterly opposed to the violence of radical Islamic groups.

  8. Lisa Herrera says:

    What about the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus said,”I assure you today you will be with me in Paradise.”
    Sounds like salvation to me, and he had no good works to speak of.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question.

      Contrary to popular belief, the thief on the cross was not saved by a mere profession of belief in Jesus. Instead, his words show that he had repented from his sins, that he did do a good work in witnessing to the other thief, and that expressed his faith in Jesus as well. So the message of that story is that salvation depends upon repentance and doing good works as well as having faith. That is the message of the entire Bible.

      For more about the thief on the cross, please see: “Are We Saved in an Instant? How was the Thief on the Cross Saved?

  9. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    When looking at the issue of The Trinity, there is one especially powerful argument from natural theology that I’ve never seen a non-Trinitarian/Unitarian tackle head on, much less successfully respond to: that if God is not a relationship of persons, then God is incomplete without creation. Without creation, God would never be able to fully express Himself, and it’s only through creation that God can fully actualize Himself. If love is an attribute we receive from God, and love is an inherently relational concept, then how is love something God could have if he is not a relationship? All of this seems to strike at the idea of God’s self-sufficiency, because it all suggests that He is incomplete without us.

    Gregory Johnson, in his introduction to a translation of Divine Love and Wisdom, indirectly acknowledges this point when he discusses why God chose to create the world rather than remain alone. He cites two possible reasons: need and abundance. He writes (and I’m skipping around to the highlights of the section):

    “If God creates out of need, this implies that God alone is not perfect and self-sufficient and that the net amount of being and goodness is increased by creation of the world…

    …If God on the other hand creates out of abundance, this implies that God alone is perfect and does not need creation to augment His being and goodness.”

    “…Swedenborg’s account of creation is complex because it contains elements from both creation from need and creation from abundance.

    …Creation out of need seems to be implied in Divine Love and Wisdom, where Swedenborg makes a threefold distinction between “first end,” “mediate end,” and “final end…this implies that God needs creation…This means that God plus creation is greater than God alone…This compulsion to create is, furthermore, inconsistent with the idea that creation is an act of Divine Will that is free to create or not create as it chooses.”

    I doubt there’s a Swedenborg translation or commentator you’re not familiar with, but this is the text from which I’m quoting:

    https://books.google.com/books/about/Divine_Love_and_Wisdom.html?id=Z-eDSZexrigC

    For what it’s worth, I feel increasingly compelled to believe that creation *is* part of God’s nature, and God is always, constantly creating. Creativity compels us to create, and a painter who paints is greater than one with the same gifts who chooses not to. But how does this avoid the pitfall of conceiving a god who depends on creation for the actualization of his attributes?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Rami,

      I’ve heard this argument a number of times from trinitarians, and it has never impressed me. It strikes me as the sort of thing that over-intellectualized but under-enlightened male philosophers and theologians would waste a great deal of time thinking about. To put it in terms of a probably not very funny joke:

      Q: What do you get when cross Christianity with Western male intellectuals?

      A: God the Lone Ranger!

      It is a peculiarly male, European, intellectual idea that God is only perfect or divine or worthy of respect if God is a perfectly self-sufficient being: the ultimate rugged individualist—that God has no need of relationship with anyone else, because God can perfectly well sit by himself and be utterly complete and the pinnacle of perfection all by his lonesome. And the invented idiocy of God as three people loving each other and talking to each other before creation helps this over-intellectualized concept of God gain some sense of “Christian” weight for those who realize intellectually, but not emotionally, that love and relationship actually is a key, core part of God’s perfection.

      I doubt that any non-European or women philosophers would get all hung up on whether God is perfectly sufficient unto himself, and needs no creation to be complete and perfect. Non-Europeans and women are much more likely to recognize relationship as a part of human and divine perfection. The idea that God would create a universe in order to have beings with whom to relate as an essential part of who God is will not be problematic for people who focus on love, rather than truth, as the core reality of God and the universe.

      Gregory Johnson does a fine job in his introduction to the New Century Edition of Divine Love and Wisdom of raising and discussing the common Western philosophical issue of God creating out of abundance vs. God creating out of need. But in my opinion, that whole debate is one of sterile Western intellectualized theology that completely misses the actual core of Christianity and of God, which is love.

      God’s love doesn’t care whether it creates the universe out of “need” or “abundance.” God simply creates beings, and a universe, to love. God isn’t concerned with our philosophical and intellectual angst about niggling issues of “need” vs. “want” vs. “abundance.” None of this has any relevance whatsoever to the nature of God’s love, which, in contemporary terms, is a relational love: one that will be in relationship with others to love, regardless of our human hangups about “need” vs. “abundance.”

      God is not insecure. God doesn’t worry about whether God needs us, and whether if God does need us, that might mean God is not quite as macho as God’s self-image requires God to be. These human philosophical issues, at their heart, are really about the insecurities of the men who came up with these notions—men who were very worried that they might not measure up to some exacting standard of perfection imposed by God, or by society, or by who knows who else.

      None of these things matter to God.

      Further, these sterile philosophical notions about God creating out of “need” vs. “abundance” are inevitably bound up in time-bound thinking that conceptualizes God as first being alone, and then at some point in time creating a universe so that God is then no longer alone.

      But that’s not how it works at all.

      There is never a “time” when God is alone. There is never a “time” when God is not in relationship with the universe. To God, the universe is always a present reality. There is no “was” or “will be” within the nature of God. The “who is and who was and who is to come” of Revelation 1:4, 8 is for the benefit of our human time-bound minds. It does not apply to God as God exists in God’s own being and consciousness.

      The more cogent parts of Gregory Johnson’s consideration of this issue, in my view, have to do with there being no (philosophical) “end” with out a “cause” and an “effect.” In Swedenborg’s theology, there is no such thing as some theoretical potential in God that is not actualized. There is no God thinking about doing something before actually doing it. There is only God actually doing and bringing about what is in the heart of God. And what is in the heart of God is the creation of a universe to love. This universe may look to us like something God did at some point in time, before which God was alone and after which God had company. But that is not how it works from God’s perspective. And modern physics is increasingly suggesting that it may not even be how it works from the perspective of materialistic physics. The whole concept of a beginning of the universe in time has become suspect in modern physics.

      Putting all of this together, my view of that “especially powerful argument from natural theology” is that it is the result of ignorance of the true nature of God, and of the nature of divine, spiritual, and material reality. It is the result of limited, over-intellectual, and materialistic thinking about things that are non-material, and not subject to material constraints of time and space. It is a projecting of materialistic concepts into the nature of God. And it is a projection of a culture that thinks truth and intellect are the primary realities of life into a God and a universe in which love and relationship are the primary realities of life.

      For my part, I get weary of the constant flood of false, materialistic, and unenlightened thinking that comes from traditional Christian and Western theology and philosophy. I look forward to the day when that whole edifice of fallacy and unenlightened intellectualism is finally smashed to bits and no longer has any influence on the people of the world.

      And I grieve for you, Rami, having all of these fallacies creating a constant flood of angst and paranoia within you that has no basis in reality, but only in the fevered imaginations of a lot of theologians and philosophers who are wandering around in the darkness of their own tangled and unenlightened thinking. I wish you could finally break free from all of that fallacious and moldy old theology and philosophy, and experience the freedom and joy of life that is true Christianity.

      Of all that you have said here, what has the most life in it is the final part about God as a painter who paints, and is greater than the one who does not paint. God’s greatness and love is expressed in God’s creation of the universe, and of us in it. Why would anyone think that this somehow implies that God is a “lesser” and “imperfect” being? The whole thing makes absolutely no sense. It is a tangled knot of useless intellectualizing, from which I hope and pray you will finally be able to break free, and experience the true loving, wise, and powerful nature of God.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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