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Monday, June 13, 2022

Essential Teaching of the Church

It has been the tradition of the Christian Church for over a thousand years to follow a cycle of seasons that recall the life of Christ.  So we begin in winter with Advent—preparing for the birth of Christ, which comes at Christmas.  Then we have Epiphany, followed by Lent, where we prepare for the death and ressurection of Christ on Easter Sunday.  Last Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost Sunday—where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church.  The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday—where we celebrate the Triune God, God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the Name of…
Jesus, having died on the cross and miraculously resurrected, came to His disciples and proclaimed, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” Well, yeah!  If a man can die and rise again, I think you better listen to Him!

Then Jesus uses His absolute authority to command His followers (and that includes us), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

There was a lot of different kinds of baptisms going on at the time Jesus gave this command.  Jews had a purification rite that used water and after coming back from the Babylonian exile, converts to Judaism had to be immersed in water (very similar to Christian batism). 

The John the Baptist started baptizing people in the Jordan River to prepare them to receive the Messiah.  John said in Mark 1:8 – “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

There are many religions that celebrate religious ceremonies that are similar to baptism.  Jesus didn't want His followers to be confused with any of these other groups.  Therefore, Jesus commanded His followers to baptize into a specific name. He said baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why not just use the name of God or Jesus?  Jesus used these three specific names because the God Jesus represents in One God in three persons--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is One God  in Three Persons
There are two facts that are very clear from Scripture.  First of all, there is One God.  Although people through the world have often worshiped many gods, the sun, moon, stars, and animals.  The God of the Holy Bible always calls people to recognize there is only one God.  Deuteronomy 6:4 is the clarion call of our monotheistic God, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Yet it is also fascinating that the Bible reveals the One True God in three persons.  In the very first verse, we read Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Yet the Hebrew word used for God here is plurals.  It is "Elohiym", which literal translates Gods.  And in the same chapter, in Genesis 1:26, it says "Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.”  Again, we see this is a plural form.  There is One God, but He is a plurality.

Then, in Genesis 18:1 it says, “The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby.”  So when the Lord appeared to Abraham, Abraham saw three men.

All three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in Old Testament.  Malachi 2:10 referes to God as father, “Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us?”  Isaiah 9:6 refers to the son and calls him Mighty God.  “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 63:10 mentions the Holy Spirit.  “But they rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit.”

All three persons of the Trinity were present when Jesus was baptized in Matthew 3:21-22, “Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”  The Father speaks from heaven; the Holy Spirit descends; Jesus is the Son who is baptized.

Jesus commands His followers to baptize specifically in these 3 names of God: Baptize them “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Throughout the New Testament, we find Jesus’ followers invoking the three persons of the Trinity. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul blesses the church saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  One God.  Three Persons.  Christians have followed this essential way of naming God for 2,000 years because it is founded upon Scripture and has become the orthodox teaching of the Christian Church, going all the way back to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.

God Creates.  People Rebel. 
The Bible teaches that God created people to know Him and worship Him.  Romans 1:20 says “Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.”

Unfortunately, people are rebellious.  We want to do what we want to do.  We don’t want anyone (not even God) telling us what we can and cannot do.  Romans 1:23 says, “Instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”  Today, we can add numerous other false gods people worship:  money, power, politicians, nations.  We become more sinful the further we stray from God and people can learn to justify anything they want to do.  There’s nothing off limits—no mater how sinful, shameful, or ludicrous it is. 

Romans 1:26b-28 says, “Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other.”

What do we see happening in the world today?  No matter how kind and patient and open-minded you are, Christians cannot honestly look at the craziness that’s happening in our world and believe this is right and what God wants.

Recently, I attend the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I was there as the clergy representing my church, which is part of this conference.  It is customary for people who need to ask a question or make a comment to come to a numbered microphone to speak on the conference floor (there are several thousand people in attendance).  When a person speaks, they start by giving their name and the church they attend and whether they are a lay or clergy delegate.  Well, this year a new set of identifiers were added.  People added their race, their choses identity (male, female, or whatever else), and their preferred pronoun (him, her, or whatever else they prefered).  Really?  This is what we've come too?

70 United Methodist congregations in my North Georgia Annual Conference are so fed up with the direction of our denomination and conferences that they went to considerable expense and effort to disaffiliate from the UMC.  Some have joined a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church (which wishes to hold to traditional, orthodox Christian doctrine in the Wesleyan tradition).  Other churches have chose to remain independent or to join other denominations.  

The church I pastor will be reviewing our own affiliation this year and I'm sure thousands of other UM congregations around the world will be doing the same.

Jesus Rescues
You might think God would abandon us when we slip so far into sin and foolishness that we can’t even figure out something as simple as male and female, but God doesn’t abandon us.  Instead, John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world so much, He gave His one and only Son, so that who ever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And so Jesus comes to rescue us from the mess we’ve made of our lives and our world.  Jesus loves everyone and Jesus came to rescue everyone, but how can Jesus rescue someone who doesn’t even know they need to be rescued?  Jesus’ followers have to be honest and tell the Truth. 

When our society calls evil good, we have to say, “No.  Sin is not good.  Delusion is not good.  Mental illness is not good.  Gender confusion is not good.  Sexual perversion is not good—even if you try to cloth it in a robe of “love” or “self-actualization” or “just being who God made you”.

Jesus was gentle and compassionate.  He ate with sinners and social outcasts and even prostitutes.  He was never one to shy away from rubbing elbows with people the world claimed were unclean and untouchable.  Yet Jesus also always invited sinners to be rescued from their sin.  He didn’t say, “Oh your fine.  You’re just being who you are.”  No.  Jesus said, “For the Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)

Furthermore, Jesus said to His followers in Matthew 28:19-20 (and this includes us), “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”  So we can’t abandon the people of our world either—even if our society right now says what people are doing is fine and there’s nothing wrong with it.  We have to be a Church that calls a sin a sin. 

Unfortunately, the United Methodist denomination is heading down a road where it no longer wants to call a sin a sin.  Instead, the UMC wants to follow the lead of our secular culture and say people can define human sexuality to be whatever they want it to be.  If you were born as a biological man, but you don’t feel like a man inside, then you can simply identify as a woman.  Or if you’re a woman, you can identify as a man.  

Where does this end? I suppose if you don’t identify as a human, you could identify as a cat. You may laugh and say I’m just being ridiculous.  However, I read a story today about a 52-year-old man who left his wife and 7 kids and now who identifies as a 6-year-old girl (See story here.)  Just this February, a Seattle woman went on television to explain why she 'spiritually' identifies with being a wolf.  (See story here.)

You may shake your head and think these are just people living on the fringe and no one in the mainstream is doing these crazy things.  20 years ago, no one in mainstream American society seriously believed a biological man could “identify” as woman and compete against women in a women’s sport. Yet, here we are.  What will be considered mainstream 20 years from now?  Who knows.  The skies the limit when it comes to humanities ability to corrupt and pervert the Truth of God.

The Holy Spirit Guides
Jesus said in Matthew 28:21, “be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us always, leading us, guiding us, encouraging us, empowering us to be His faithful witnesses.  The Disciples and early followers of Jesus lived as a tiny minority is a world that was full of sin and darkness.  People thought these Christians were crazy because they refused to accept the sin and depravity of the culture around them.  Christians stood firm on the teaching of Jesus and the Bible.  They refused to call evil good and good evil.  Even when it meant they were ridiculed, hurt them socially, cost them their livelihood, and even their lives, Christians remained faithful and loved people enough to tell them the Truth about Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit that guided them, guides us today.  And we are called to be faithful witnesses to the world in the 21st century.  So, let us pray now for courage and strength to be Jesus’ faithful witnesses—as a church and as individuals—no matter what the cost.

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