Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baptists and Freedom: What's it really all about?

At TBC, we talk a lot about freedom. So much that sometimes the purpose of that freedom gets lost. It is through Christ that we are free. But it is also for Christ that we are free.

We are passionate about freedom because we are passionate about Jesus. At least that's the way it should be. We defend freedom for believers and churches because we believe it is biblical - but also because we believe that only by being free can believers and churches build the strongest possible relationships with God through Christ; and that only free believers and churches can be their most effective as witnesses and servants for Christ.

In recent months, Rob Bell's book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived has engendered a lot of discussion among Christians and others. It has some Christians allowing for the possibility that God's eternal grace is ultimately extended to all, regardless of whether they have accepted or rejected Christ in this life.

I have one close friend who is an agnostic and another who is Jewish by birth and deist in his worldview. I've told both of these friends that I pray that God's grace is greater than I understand, because I don't want either of them - if they keep their current beliefs to the end - spending an eternity without God. However, I've also told them that I can't get around scriptures like John 14:6, which appears to put God's grace on pretty exclusive terms: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV)

But discussions such as those centering on Rob Bell's book tend to dwell on the hereafter at the expense of the here-and-now.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the importance of eternity. After all, it's . . . eternity! What's not to understand?

But when I hear people discussing Rob Bell's ideas at great length - from whatever perspective - I begin to fear that we're missing the point. I hear Christ being discussed in dry, academic terms. I hear Christ being discussed in pragmatic terms. I hear Christ being discussed in abstract terms.

So what's missing? Passion!

And where does passion come from? A future that we know about only from descriptions and promises recorded by people living millenia before us? Or a present relationship that fills our being from day to day?

There is much in the Bible that is open to interpretation and speculation. And that's what TBC is about - defending every believer's God-given right to interpret Scripture rather than having an "official" interpretation handed down by pharisaical bishops.

But there are a few things that we should expect to agree upon. And the most elemental of those things is that Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible points to Christ.
Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
John 1:1-3a - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made." 
Revelation 22:20-21: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." 
Prophets prophesied His birth . . .
Isaiah 7:14b - "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [God with us]."
 . . . and his sacrifice.
Isaiah 53:5 - "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by His wounds we are healed."
God with us!

To me, that is the most monumental - and elemental - thought the mind can conceive. God is too big, too grand for our minds to grasp. But Jesus came - flesh-and-blood, living among women and men like you and me . . . eating, drinking, sleeping, dealing with difficult people (the disciples were no picnic), discussing scripture in the temple (Sunday School, anyone?), and even wrestling with temptation. Yet He is God.

And He is with us!

That's the kind of freedom TBC is talking about - freedom to draw close to Jesus . . . to know Him . . . to draw from His strength . . . to share our darkest, deepest secrets, sins, fears, and joys with Him. Freedom to listen to Him in the quiet of our closets (isn't that where He told us to pray?) but also in the busyness of our lives and relationships . . . to find His guidance for every part of our lives. And all without the intervention of a dictator pastor telling us what we should believe . . . or a denominational high priest telling us what the scripture REALLY means.

The kind of freedom that motivates us to daily seek a deeper relationship with God through Christ. A relationship that produces passion for the God we know personally through Christ.

That's why TBC is so passionate about freedom . . . because we're passionate about Jesus.