One Christ, One Destination, Too Many Roads

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If you have ever used Mapquest for directions, you know that when you identify your starting point and your destination, this man developed program app will give you one way to get from point A to point B with explicit instructions on where to turn, how many miles for each new direction and the approximate travel time to complete your trip. Navigational systems in newer cars are similarly programmed and even give you cute little sound bytes when you correctly follow directions. So how is it that man can so easily identify and navigate the best routes for geographic destinations when there are always multiple ways to reach them, but offer up so many routes in religion when there is only one absolute truth and path?

A wise woman recently asked me a serious and deep question, one that has been submitted to much more deeply rooted theologians than I could ever hope to be, with no consensus. If there exists One Christ and One Inspired Holy Bible, how is it that there are so many denominations since the inception of Christianity? It is truly a question that is not foreign to me as I have traveled my own faith journey for these forty-six year now. Perhaps for me it is because I have been exposed to all levels of the Christian Faith.  There exists three primary faiths in Christianity-Eastern or European Orthodox, Catholicism and Protestantism. I have all three in my blood.  I was raised and introduced to Christ in a Pentecostal church and have remained in the Protestant faith through my adult years.  However, I attended a Catholic High School and learned the practices and traditions of their faith through education and required attendance in Mass.  My younger brother went a different direction as a young adult and is now a Greek Orthodox Priest in AZ.  I have attended his church and sat through many liturgies and he and I engage in discussions about the Orthodox faith and practice virtually every time we converse-it is a beautiful and historical faith and remains as the oldest purest tradition most closely related to the early church.

So the question remains-why so many roads to one place and do they all eventually lead to Christ? Are all denominations so different?  A denomination defined is a sub group or sect of people who share a common belief, interpretation, name and organization.  A denomination is easily formed when a group of people have a different view of scripture or practice than the wholly shared main group, resulting in a split from the larger group and the beginning of a new identity. How many times over history has this happened?  To date 43,000 times and counting.  At it’s core belief system, there may in fact be only about forty main traditional denominations, but cultural upbringing, geographic locations, worship style preferences and historic vs. contemporary practice has caused people to venture out in ways that would put Mapquest out of business if they navigated under the same rules. It should come as no surprise that the un-churched world around us scratches their heads when viewing our mass confusion.  We have the message of hope and can accommodate any preference you may have in receiving it, like your local TCBY-just pick the toppings you want-thousands of possible combinations.

But here’s the real scoop (pun intended). Denominations are largely man made, not God intended. how do we know?  Just examine the words recorded in the New Testament;

1 Cor. 1:10; I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Eph. 4:6; There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 

Phil. 2:1: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Romans 15:5; May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Eph. 2:19; So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together…

I am fully aware of the over simplification I am suggesting in Christian unity, however, these verses are absolute truths and inspired recordings.  Any deviation from and absolute renders it as not an absolute, correct? This was clearly addressed by Paul in the church of Corinth when he heard reports of some claiming “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Paul was disturbed at how the focus was shifted from Christ to men and made clear that this was not acceptable.

The follow up question from those of you mature in the faith with an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works to reveal God’s Word to us, is how can the Holy Spirit of Christ yield so many differing interpretations of the same Holy Scripture and the same Gospel? The obvious answer is it can’t. Christ is not divided-He is not inconsistent, He does not author confusion or make exemptions for bad exegesis or uncomfortable truth. Man alone does that, through pride, arrogance, stubbornness and even disobedience.  God is all about unity-a man and a woman shall become one-I and the Father are one-there is one body, and so on and so on.

So what is the truth? For believers it is black and white. There is one God, the Father of us all, One Son and One Holy spirit. Man is sinful and should receive the death penalty for sin but our salvation was paid for by the Blood of Christ, who rose from the grave after three days to sit at God’s right hand and allow us access to His Father and to eternal life when we confess Him as Lord.  Everything else is just fluff and confusion. Jesus said “I am THE way” Everything about that statement is singular and exclusive!  It is man who has turned One Way into 43,00 ways. Are they all 100% Biblically accurate or properly interpreted?  Most likely not.  Will they all lead to the same place? Most likely so. So why the confusion?

True Relics, True Gospel, Changed Lives

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This post may be summarily dismissed by many Protestants who don’t accept, acknowledge or understand the existence of historic Christian relics or the miracles attributed to them.  Relics are simply the remains of saints, i.e. bones, hair, skin, etc., or items closely associated with them or that may have come in contact with them.  There has always been a reluctance in the Western church to acknowledge or venerate these relics for fear that they would somehow be guilty of their misunderstanding of the constitution of idolatry. However for us to dismiss the stories and the miracles reported in association with some of these relics is to dismiss portions of Holy scripture in both Old and New Testaments that document similar miracles. Consider as a basis of Biblical support the following verses:

2Kings 13:20-21  Elisha died and was buried.  At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year.  Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band.  So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off.  But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet. 

Matthew 9:20   Just then a woman who had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding came up behind him. She touched the fringe of his robe, 21 for she thought, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”

Acts 19:11-12  So extraordinary were the mighty deeds GOD accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.

Upon reading these passages it would be intellectually dishonest to deny that God released His power indirectly through dead bones, clothing, personal items and even shadows. The items listed were never the object of worship. They were used to show that with God nothing is impossible and not everything is explainable.

The stories of miracles associated with relics are countless and can easily be researched for study by anyone with internet access.  One miracle involves the death of St. Nectarios.

On September 20, 1920 one of the nuns took him to the local hospital, in spite of his protest. He was convulsing in pain from a long-standing ailment. He was admitted, and placed into a ward reserved for the poor and unwanted. There he stayed for two months among the sick and dying. At 10:30 in the evening of November 8th, although in the midst of terrible pains, in peace and at prayer he gave up his spirit unto God at the age of 74. As soon as the Saint gave up his Spirit, a nurse came to prepare him for transfer to Aegina for burial. As the nurse removed the Saints sweater, she inadvertently placed it on the next bed, on which a paralytic lay. And O, strange wonder!, the paralytic immediately began to regain his strength and arose from his bed healthy, and glorifying God.

The oil from the sacred lamp of St. Nectarios continues to be used for anointing with resulting healing reported frequently.

Another of my favorite relic stories involves the discovery of the cross of our Savior, referred to in research as the True Cross. St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered three wooden crosses under a pagan shrine that had been built on the site of Golgotha. She ordered the shrine to be leveled and was led to the spot by a man in Jerusalem claiming to know the burial place of the crosses. Upon the discovery it was not clear which one was the cross of Christ, so a Bishop who was with her suggested they bring a lady from the city who was known to be critically ill.  Upon the lady’s exposure to the True Cross she was immediately healed.

Other stories are associated with those who possess just small pieces of the True Cross, like this one of Fr. Stavros. When Fr. Stavros was young, he accidentally fell from a height, and his injuries were so great that even the doctor acknowledged that he had died. Everyone was preparing for his burial, at which point his mother remembered the Precious Cross that was in her possession, and she crossed him. A few hours later, he was brought back to life. Fr. Stavros is now in possession of this relic of the True Cross and continues to witness miracles as a result. When Fr. Stavros or another priest places the Cross on the bare skin of a sick person, it adheres or sticks like a magnet where there is sickness or illness.  When the person is healed, or when the sick person is about to have an operation which will heal the person, it no longer sticks to them.  Here is another reported miracle of this particular relic. When Fr. Stavros brought the True Cross to the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Wisconsin, Many sick people came seeking healing. One of these was a Native-America woman with a large, malignant tumor on her chest. With fear and faith she approached and was blessed with the Cross, and a few days later, her tumor had totally disappeared.

As you might expect any sacred items that people seek out for various reasons become prime targets for forgery for profit. You can buy your very own piece of the True Cross on various Ebay stores today for $9.99. Many medieval merchants brought back wood from the Middle East and passed it off as True Cross relics. CNN has documented cases where carbon dating on certain acclaimed relics, including the supposed finger of john the Baptist, cast heavy doubt on their authenticity.  So what, if anything, is the true measure of the authenticity of a relic? It’s actually quite simple.  Those who come in contact with it and release their faith are changed. The lady who touched the robe of Jesus was healed by her faith response.  Those who wanted to be in the path of Peter’s shadow were healed by their faith response. Those seeking miracles at the exposure to Christian relics are healed through their faith response.  False relics do not result in dramatic changes.

There is a direct correlation to be made between true relics and the true Gospel. From the day the Gospel was first preached lives were changed and miracles were performed. People heard of the healing and redemptive powers of the message being delivered and they journeyed for days to hear, to see and believe. The early church grew quickly and in great numbers because of people’s faith response to the true Gospel. And at the same time and even so today there are a myriad of false or forgery gospels being preached, and yes many of them just for profit. Many modern day evangelists are being exposed for teachings that are contrary to the Gospel.

Galatians 1:8 – Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.

So what is our measure for the authenticity of the Gospel? Just as with relics, no one can come in contact with it and not be forever changed. And herein lies the beauty of the True and authentic Gospel; you don’t need the capacity to understand the entire Gospel in order for transformation to begin. The Holy Spirit of God can pierce the soul with a single verse!  That may not sell well in some evangelic churches today. But who among even the mature and life-long students of the Word can claim to grasp in full the context or the mysteries of the Gospel or expound upon the message of God’s grace and mercy with the finite capacity that is the human mind?  While we are exhorted to study and rightly divide the Word, none of us have to score 100% to ascribe to the benefits hidden therein.  The life altering transformation of our spirit can begin with the initial exposure to just a fragment of the Gospel, just as those who are healed at the release of their faith and exposure to just a fragment of a relic.

If you want to know if an evangelist is authentic or a forgery, look at their fruit.  Are lives made better?  Is Christ glorified? Is the integrity of the Holy Scriptures maintained? Jesus said a bad tree can’t produce good fruit and a good tree can’t produce bad fruit. Our great commission as followers of Christ and representatives of the true Gospel is to be vessels of change ourselves and in our lives and conduct, share that change with others-to become individual relics of the life-changing Gospel of Christ for a world seeking even the smallest fragment of hope so that their faith response to our relic of grace may manifest a miraculous and eternal change in their lives.