Friday, May 11, 2018

Five Hundred Years and Counting

Reformation 500 Years and Counting... 

The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice. (history.com/topics/reformation)                          


For the regular people like us there are three important points in our modern Christian lives being changed forever:

1. Sola Fide (Faith alone)

    One does not have to do anything but having "faith"

2. Sola Gratia (Grace alone)

    The "Grace" alone makes all the difference in us

3. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)

    The Scripture (Bible) is no longer the clergyman's sole authority of interpretation. It can now be read and interpreted by all the believers as all the translations and printings became available.

In the last 40 years or so, I have been in quite a few churches across the United States and Taiwan where "Adult Sunday Schools" taking place right after the Sunday services.  Many still use the same format of lecture style (speaker there and audience here) with few questions involved.

Why don't we start asking biblical questions in those Adult Sunday school sessions and therefore seeking answers for a change?

500 years (and counting) of Reformation - should the Adults Sunday School approach be changed as well?

We all have the bibles (English, Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese; not to mention the Latin, Greek and Hebrew versions).

Take your pick, read it and mark the questions and seek the answers with our fellow sisters and brothers.

Who knows?  Perhaps another smaller reformation would take place right here and right now!

 

-- Comments --

The reason most of us Sunday School students do not ask questions, I believe, is not paying attention to the subject or not thinking independently, including myself.  I rarely ask any question or make comment in Sunday School classes.  Part of the reason, if I want to place the blame to someone else, is that most of teachers do not leave enough time for discussion.

You mentioned three "Sole" in your article.  I think we need to complete our theological basis of the Protestant by not forgetting the other two "Sole" i.e. "Sole Christus" and "Sole Deo Gloria". 

We Christians are easily treating the Grace too cheap if we do not include the last two "Sole".  The first three "Sole" are the free Grace from almighty God.

Christian needs to relate more on the last two "Sole" in order to live out our believe.  That means we need to live our lives, or behave only for our Lord Jesus Christ and give all glory to our God.
 - by Bernard Tsai    5/14/2018                        

Luther proposed “Sola Scriptura” to challenge the authority of the church (i.e., the Pope and the church hierarchy) for their selling of indulgence. However, historically, the authority of canonization of the Bible came from the church itself – through various councils. In fact, the canonization of scripture did not take shape until the fourth century. Luther himself did not include the Apocrypha in the Old Testament and removed Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the New Testament (his followers did not agree with him on this part). My point is: the scripture is not an absolute authority by itself. Just like the constitution of a nation, it can be amended, modified, and trimmed by the authority of the church. I always wonder that if Luther were born 500 years later and had studied the libraries of Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi, what would his biblical views be?
On the other hand, as time goes by, the interpretation of the Bible is more and more de-centralized – as Steve said: “The Scripture (Bible) is no longer the clergyman's sole authority of interpretation. It can now be read and interpreted by all the believers…” The “New Eye (vision) Bible Studies” movement which the Presbyterian Church on Taiwan has been promoting for the last decade is actually encouraging all Christian readers to interpret the Bible through their own social contexts, reflections and revelations.
Thus, raising questions in the scripture is truly an important aspect now in Bible studies. The collection of books in the Christian Bible is not necessarily to be viewed as “sacred”, “inerrant” and “non-questionable.” If we view Bible study like a boy learning from his father by unceasing questions and answers – which we all do as we were growing up – then we would never be afraid of asking questions, albeit naïve or stupid. By asking questions bravely, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to approach closer to the truth, one question at a time.

- by PoShu Huang  5/14/2018

 

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Big Questions / Small Answers


"And Moses said, This is what the Lord says: About the middle of the night I will go out through Egypt: And death will come to every mother's first male child in all the land of Egypt, from the child of Pharaoh on his seat of power, to the child of the servant-girl crushing the grain; and the first births of all the cattle.
And there will be a great cry through all the land of Egypt, such as never has been or will be again. But against the children of Israel, man or beast, not so much as the tongue of a dog will be moved: so that you may see how the Lord makes a division between Israel and the Egyptians. 
And all these your servants will come to me, going down on their faces before me and saying, Go out, and all your people with you: and after that I will go out. And he went away from Pharaoh burning with wrath.
And the Lord said to Moses, Pharaoh will not give ear to you, so that my wonders may be increased in the land of Egypt. All these wonders Moses and Aaron did before Pharaoh: but the Lord made Pharaoh's heart hard, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land."
(Exodus 11:4-10)

The Big Questions -

It is sad to say that if I think humanly, which I do most of the time, the above stories were orally carried over generations by generations of Jewish traditions and then written by the ancient Jews - within a Jewish centered history perspective.  

It simply indicated that the eyes and the mind of the Lord were with the Jewish people and them alone.  

No attentions were paid to the innocent children of the Egyptians at all.
Ever!

The Small Answers -

That is why I prefer the shorter story of Jonah who told a story of a city in modern northern Iraq and how Jonah was hesitated to spread the good news of the Lord to the people of the Nineveh which the culture, religion and language of the people were completely different from the Jews. 

Those gentiles!

They were simply not one of us!  Why did I care about them!?

And Jonah knew better that God might forgive them as well.

"And am I not to have mercy on Nineveh, that great town, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons without the power of judging between right and left, as well as much cattle?" 
(Jonah 4:11)

The big questions are like the bad news occupied the evening news of most of the major TV stations every day and night.

The small answers are like the occasional good news reported right before the reporters say good night to end the program.


p.s. The Bible quoted here is from the Bible in Basic English


   ***  Readers Comments  ***


就像寫的,在舊約聖經所記載的那一些歷史事實上面加了一些聽眾想要聽的故事:有一個大有全能而且是獨屬於他們的神。
現代不同派的會也一樣、排他性很,好像只有他們的信仰才是代表理,其他大脫離了理就像安息日會、浸信會、五旬節派、聚會所一樣---標榜他們特出的信仰。而這一些七大門派的派也一樣固步自封、不得隨時代而有所改變,只是得坐享其成。嗚呼哀哉!
     by Chong W Chen  4/3/2018



It has been more and more convincing to me that God, understood by the Israelis as Jehovah in the Hebrew Bible was nothing more like a tribal deity. As a result, this God was conceived as protector of Israel and hostile to its enemies. This is why in the Hebrew Bible Jehovah seemed so cruel in many instances to the point of genocide against the enemies, thus the “Big Questions.” One sentence stuck with me to this day when I was reading the book of Exodus in Sunday school decades ago (Exodus 9:12). That sentence is “But the Lord made Pharoah’s heart hard.” And it was repeated four more times (10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). I still don’t know how to make out what kind of “God” would do something like that.
Fortunately, there are different voices in the Hebrew Bible which are more lenient to the “gentiles”. Book of Jonah is one of them, Ruth is another one. Yet, among many Jewish prophets, Jonah was probably the only one who successfully delivered God’s warning message to the recipient people/king and they listened and repented. Ironically, the gentile people of Nineveh listened and believed the Jewish prophet but the so called “God’s people and their kings” never did.
Stories like Jonah may be small answers to the big questions but they speak loudly and, more often than not, they produce good results.
    by Poshu Huang 4/4/2018
 
對當代的以色列人而言,出埃及記所記載的耶和華就是無所不能,拯救他們脫離被奴隸,引導他們進入流奶與蜜之地的神。
埃及的勢力何其強大,怎會譲這些被奴役的以色列人離開而失去無代價的勞工? 為了彰顯耶和華神的大能,故事就必須加上法老的硬心,才能彰顯神的全能。
對現代基督徒而言,神既是全能,又是公義,滿懐慈悲,又有無限的愛的獨一真神。救恩應該普及衆生,很難想像為何神會這麼忍的殺了那麼多的無辜。
舊約時代的耶和華只是以色列人的神,賜恩給以色列人,領導他們打勝戰的神,雖然也有經文憚述普天下之神的觀念。也難怪他們所代代傳頌的神會是這麼殘忍的神。
隨著人智力的發展,思想的改善,今天我們所尊崇的神當然超越古以色列人的理解,這也超越早期基督徒的理觧。 所幸古今許多偉大的神學家幫助我們更進一步的了解神。這也就是我們改革宗的基本信念。耶和華是一致不變的,只是人對真神的理解逐漸改變(改善)而己。以我們有限的智力永遠無法完全真的知道神的本質。
我不敢,也不會提出 Big Question, 也沒有 small answer. 


For the Israel at that time, Jehovah in the Exodus was an omnipotent God who would rescue them out of slave bondage by Egyptian and led them into the land of milk and honey.
However, in reality, how would Egyptian with great military might allow them to leave so they would in turn lose such a great free labors.  In order to reveal the omnipotence of their God, there came the story of Exodus.  Jehovah at that time was merely God of their tribe who would take care of them with great grace and gifts, lead them in the wars to victories against all enemies.  Although some of the Book started to post an idea that God was not the God of Israel alone, but God of all nations (gentiles).

Theory and understanding of God have been improved a great deal with the development of human being and so are better wisdom/knowledge.  Thanks to so many great theologians in helping us improve our understanding of Almighty God.

Of course, we human being with our limited brain cells can never completely understand and know the essence of our God. This is the basic doctrine of Reform Church, i.e. always reforming.  God has always been there and never changed.  Only we, the human being, changed, hopefully with improvement, our understanding of  God.  The One God we believe in and exalt today is for sure far over passing what Israel believed and understood.

For me, I dare not and would not post a Big Question, nor do I have any Small Answer.
   by Bernard Tsai  4/8/2018



           再讀一次、再想一次、再寫一次  *



  我個人覺得這記載裡,有牽涉到三點,寫出來讓大家享:



1.      在這個故事記載裡面至少有三次,講到耶和華使法老的心剛硬,不容以色列人去。這也使我想到所謂的【人有自由意志】的地方在裡。


2.      在這裡,耶和華本身命令『殺了埃及人的頭生的兒子包括他們的牲畜』。結果呢,後來有訂了十誡,其中第六條【不可殺人】。這條誡命是【反對預謀殺害他人】。我不知道,怎麼解釋耶和華這個行


3.      這個故事記載,似乎耶和華也是重男輕女,殺埃及人頭生的兒子。動物,就不管了。

 


     這記載對於人類的觀感:


1.      非基督徒一直在感嘆,基督舊約聖經所表現上帝的殘忍這一段的記載,沒有辦法認同上帝的慈愛。


2.      基督的第一個異端,馬吉安主義,也因這個原因不選擇舊約聖經。他們認所稱慈愛的天父不是舊約所描寫的天父


3.       當基督徒調【聖經沒有錯,聖經是神所默示的】就像197810月「芝加哥聖經無誤宣言」基督徒實在很困難來解釋、看出上帝的慈愛。


     by C W Chen  4/11/2018



Monday, December 25, 2017

Questions and Answers



After a Sunday service of a local church, a few conversations were over heard in the parking lot:

Q: How did the service go?
A: Good.
Q: The choir good too?
A: Very good.
Q: And the sermon?
A: Very Interesting.
Q: What was the interesting part?
A: Well, don't remember.  My memory loss perhaps.
Q: What did you remember after all?
A1: Good chat with friends which made me homesick.
A2: By the way, the lunch was extraordinary good. There were some homemade sausages mixed with the Johnny Walker Black, I was told. Very tasty, you know.

As far as I can tell the scriptures are full of questions and most answers are rather too traditional and/or predictable. Let me quote two paragraphs from the bible:

And after a time, when men were increasing on the earth, and had daughters, The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took wives for themselves from those who were pleasing to them. And the Lord said, My spirit will not be in man for ever, for he is only flesh; so the days of his life will be a hundred and twenty years. There were men of great strength and size on the earth in those days; and after that, when the sons of God had connection with the daughters of men, they gave birth to children: these were the great men of old days, the men of great name.  (Genesis 6: 1-4)

And he said to them, Truly I say to you, There are some here who will have no taste of death till they see the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1)

I don't know about you but I do have some questions from the scriptures above. 

Such as where did the sons of God come from?

And why did Jesus emphasize the kingdom of God was at hand and at the same time Jesus said "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not come to an end till all these things are complete. Heaven and earth will come to an end, but my words will not come to an end. But of that day or that hour no one has knowledge, not even the angels in heaven, or the Son, but the Father." (Mark 13: 30-32)  

Let us look at the questions and answers in the gospel of Luke between the young man and Jesus below:

Question: Master, what have I to do so that I may have eternal life?
Answer with question: What does the law say, in your reading of it?
Answer: Have love for the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and for your neighbor as for yourself.
Question: And who is my neighbor?
Here comes the most beautifully and often quoted story -- A Good Samaria story -- followed by yet another question:
Question: Which of these three men, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man who came into the hands of thieves?
Answer: The one who had mercy on him.
And...
Jesus final conclusion: Go and do the same (Luke 10: 25-37) 

What are we really doing in the church service Sunday after Sunday?
There is nothing wrong about the social conversations or enjoying the tasty homemade sausages after the service.  What about the un-answered questions deep inside of your heart?  Have you ever asked the pastor of any of the long time church sisters/brothers?

In case we forgot, we, all of us, whether we are the sheep or the goats, will face the questions at the end of the world as illustrated in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-46:

- When did we see you in need of food, and give it to you?
  Or in need of drink, and give it to you?
- And when did we see you wandering, and take you in?
  Or without clothing, and give it to you?
- And when did we see you ill, or in prison, and come to you?

And the King will make answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Because you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.

Thank goodness that the final question is not going to be whether we are the Baptists or the Catholic, but what we did to the least of the Lord's  brothers and sisters.


p.s. The Bible texts quoted here are from the Bible in Basic English

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Crossing the Line...




        Jesus had been a Jew.

        He taught his disciples to spread the message of the good news within the boundaries of the Jewish territory.

        He walked carefully within the lines set for the Jewish people.


      "These twelve Jesus sent out and gave them orders, saying, Do not go among the Gentiles, or into any town of Samaria, But go to the wandering sheep of the house of Israel,  And, on your way, say, The kingdom of heaven is near. Make well those who are ill, give life to the dead, make lepers clean, send evil spirits out of men; freely it has been given to you, freely give." (Matt 10:5-8).

        At first while encountering the non-Jewish persons, Jesus ignored the crying request of a "Gentile" mother: 

        And Jesus went away from there into the country of Tyre and Sidon. And a woman of Canaan came out from those parts, crying and saying, Have pity on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is greatly troubled with an unclean spirit. But he gave her no answer. And his disciples came and said to him, Send her away, for she is crying after us. But he made answer and said, I was sent only to the wandering sheep of the house of Israel.  But she came and gave him worship, saying, Help, Lord. And he made answer and said, It is not right to take the children's bread and give it to the dogs. But she said, Yes, Lord: but even the dogs take the bits from under their masters' table  Then Jesus, answering, said to her, O woman, great is your faith: let your desire be done.  And her daughter was made well from that hour. (Matt 15:21-27 also in Mark 7:24-30)

 

Then out of the grace and the love of the Heavenly Father, Jesus crossed that line which separated the Jewish from the outside world for thousands of years. 

Jesus went ahead and healed that foreign daughter who was suffering from the evil ghosts. 

Jesus was a Jew.  

Yet he crossed the line. 

Thanks to that "foreign" mother and daughter. 

Thanks to Jesus who crossed that line. 

By crossing the line Jesus has been the savior of the world. 

Perhaps, when we cross the "lines" of our lives, we'd see the smiling face of God... 


- This brief message was delivered during the adult Sunday School at the  
  Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Greater Chicago on September 17, 2017

-- The Scriptures were quoted from The Bible in Basic English

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Toward a Faith of Honesty and Maturity


Thursday, February 23, 2017


Questions, Answers and Faith Statements

 - By C W Chen


Stephen Chen deeply appreciated the article below presented by C W Chen through which brought up some of the most interesting and discussed points in faith and Bible. 

Question:
Abraham is presented not only in the Bible, also in the Koran as a model of Faith, and purely Monotheism. And, at the time of Genesis, he was not a Jew, nor Christian or Islam, correct ? He was summoned by God, pick up by God, became the Father to Multitude of Nations, reverend as the Founder of 3 religions, right? Chapter 12, Sarah was no longer young girl, Abraham as God's chosen man, how comes the Genesis offers no moral judgment on 12:13 ? Chapter 15 and 17, God reappeared after a battle, made a Covenant with him, but who is his descendants, there is still endless war between the Palestine and Israel threatening the world peace. Fear not? What about the terrorized organizations?
Ans: 
This is the specialized area that Politic and Religion can never agree openly with this issue.

Does God shield us all the time?
I personally do not believe that. I don't believe the so called Guarding Angels.

In times of suffering and despair, people will often question that why me ? Surprisingly, the Bible does not have one answer but many answers that often contradict one another.
Do I have the right to complain?

The prophets said that suffering is a punishment for sin.
I absolutely resent or object this type of statement even it is from the statement of the prophets.

But, the book of Job which offers two different answers, one is a test and another one is beyond comprehension – Satan incited God. Ecclesiastes quoted that suffering is the nature of things, so just accept it.
This is the way I'd accept it.

Since we are just human beings and God, after all, is God. So, I’d like to ask that why did God make the earth and us along with it?
I don't see any possible logic answer to this question. I don't believe the Genesis was intended or prepared for this type of question.

The religious people tried to give us many answers from their own theoretical and theological point of view.
If there are more than 3 answers to one question, that means nobody knows the answer. It is quite safe to say that.

Does God really need us? And, why He create everything, including the sufferings?
There are many excuses that I can say to defend the Bible, but there will incur more questions.

I say to you that I have not forget about you and your suffering.


我個人信仰告白有信仰的人生


是宗的起源呢?好像自從有人類以來,就有了宗信仰。我看了一下維基百科全書裡面記載很多種種宗的起源的論說。 對我來看,宗的起源不在乎人類對於自己的過去跟將來的不了、還有恐懼而生的。另外一種情形,就是對於這個世界太多的不公平所生的心態。也是說在這個世界上的人生的旅程,不應該就是死了就結束,而是有前世與來世。覺得這個世界的人生不應代表人生的全部,應該還有以前世界-前生以及將來的世界-來生。所以呢,宗就是一種人類對過去的無知、現世不平衡的心態、以及對將來生的恐懼的一種安劑,或者是一種的寄託期待。
我個人出生在基督的家庭,所以呢我理所當然的變成一個基督徒但是我的個性是反對不滿於現況的。現況就是這些在社會上已經建立起來的制度。不滿於現況其實並不是不好的事情。人類文明的進步就是因為你不滿現況。但是在宗上,的不滿現況就不一樣了。不滿現況就有可能是背叛宗,被判是異徒。 基督本身是非常排斥的宗從基督的歷史就可以看到。整個歷史就是迫別人,還是被別人逼迫。殺害其他派或是被其他派殺害。 好現在這種事情少了很多,但並不是沒有在發生。
我個人的宗觀念是這樣的。從亞伯拉罕建立猶太以後,宗革經歷過摩西士師先知的導、君王的統治、耶的傳、保的宣、馬丁路德的宗改革,一直到現在沒有停留過。宗改革是在繼續不斷地進行中。就像有一位朋友說:上帝的示,從開始一直繼續給我們人類,每天每時刻都在進行。看一下台灣長老會舊版本的詩本,裡面的歌詞有些是不合潮流的業時代寫法。現在,新版本都把一部分歌詞改變。

我們再一次來看看耶
1. 登山寶訓論八福,那是非常動人安慰人的講道。只是呢,我覺得那講道不是應許而是安慰。馬太福音6:26:【 們看那天上的飛鳥,也不種,也不收,也不積蓄在倉裡,們的且養活們不比飛鳥貴重得多?】的沒有人,因而餓死?
2. 當耶論到禱告的時候,使人充滿無限希望和期待。在馬太福音7:7講到【們祈求,就給們;尋找,就尋見;叩門,就給開門】。這種有力肯定的說話你怎麼不會覺得很動心了呢問題是有沒有什附加的條件呢?
3. 讓我們從另外一個角度來看耶客西馬尼的禱告。耶禱告說:我的父親,若是可以,求不要讓我喝這苦杯!可是,不要照我意思,只要照的旨意。心裡想要要交給人類的是他的期望是最後的決定是在父神 禱告就像他導我們禱告的方式來禱告。但是我們都知道客西馬尼的禱告以後兩天發生的事情。有人解釋說這是呼應了「主禱文」的
與保羅
最後的訓就是說我會再來、我要再來。我再來的時候就要審這個世界。耶升天以後、最主要的後續是保羅。 保羅調的是望愛。保羅在傳道的時候沒有像耶一樣,行很多的神蹟。保羅在林多前書15:17【基督若沒有復活,們的信便是徒然;在罪裏。】保羅一而再,再而三的調耶的死、耶的復活的再來、以及罪的赦免。所以呢保羅傳福音應許的重點將來的盼望。
我的信仰是神給我們每個人有自由的意志。也就是說神不會特別眷顧基督徒、而不眷顧非基督徒。我們也沒有長生不老的生命。在這個世上我們沒有一個固定永遠的家。現在我們好像是在旅遊、在流浪、住旅館、住收留所一樣。我們可以繼續選擇我們以前個人的信仰,也繼續相信將來復活的盼望。這也許只是一種虛空的幻想,但是在這裡面有信、有望、就也會得到愛-也就是安慰了。
有一首詩歌說【神未曾應許天色常藍】。歌詞寫得很好可是在圈裡面,我常聽到的是【神應許什】,們去禱告祈求神會給我很少聽到【神沒有應許什這就是宗信仰的平衡,也一就是人生的平衡馬太福音10:5差這十二個人去,吩咐他們說:*******10:7隨走隨傳,說『天國近了!』10:16「我差們去,如同羊進入狼群;所以們要靈巧像蛇,馴良像鴿10:17 們要防備人;因他們要把們交給公會,也要在會堂裡鞭打10:18 並且們要我的緣故被送到諸侯君王面前,對他們和外邦人作見
10:19 
們被交的時候,不要思慮樣說話,或說甚話。到那時候,必們當說的話;10:20 不是們自己說的,乃是們父的靈在們裡頭說的。10:21弟兄要把弟兄,父親要把兒子,送到死地;兒女要與父母敵,害死他們;10:22並且們要我的名被眾人恨惡。惟有忍耐到底的必然得救.會裡面很少聽到這些訊息
1. 神未曾應許天色常藍,人生的路途花香常漫;神未曾應許常晴無雨,常樂無痛苦,常安無虞。
神卻曾應許生活有力,行路有光亮,作工得息,試煉得恩助,危難有賴,無限的體諒,不死的愛。
2. 神未曾應許我們不遇苦難和試探,懊惱憂慮;神未曾應許我們不負許多的重擔,許多事務。
神卻曾應許生活有力,行路有光亮,作工得息,試煉得恩助,危難有賴,無限的體諒,不死的愛。
3. 神未曾應許前途盡是平坦的大路,任意馳驅;沒有深水渠汪洋一片,沒有大山阻高薄雲天。
神卻曾應許生活有力,行路有光亮,作工得息,試煉得恩助,危難有賴,無限的體諒,不死的愛。

人不是萬能、人不能勝天。對於天下的事情,人所知道的實在有限。 那麼多的解經家,為了不了解聖經、窮盡一生的功力來解釋聖經。對我來講,不解釋還好,一解釋變出來更多的問題。何必自尋煩惱,相信你能夠相信的,了解你能夠了解的,接受你能夠接受的。
這就是我信仰的人生。



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