It was about this time that owner of the sidewalk cafe paid us a visit and asked, "Are we having a problem?"
"That really depends on your point of view. Two Christians can read the same verse of scripture, come to opposite conclusions, and neither one will ever convince the other that they are mistaken. Historically, the only solution has been division. 'I will worship with people who agree with me and believe as I do.' That's why we have so many denominations. We just can't agree. One person holds onto the traditions of the past, hoping for days that have gone by to happen all over again. Another person looks forward to an expected future, but misses out on what's happening right here and right now. It's no wonder why Christianity isn't doing anything or going anywhere. It suffers from the problem of indecision." I said.
"You're not going to convince me of anything without specifics." She said.
"Oh no, here we go again." He began as he got up to leave "if you'll excuse me, I don't need to hear this twice in the same week."
"What we call the Great Awakenings today was just day in an day out living for the people of the time. Most churches followed a liturgical pattern, all rules and regulation. It was a frustrating business for pastors in the day who saw how strict legalism did nothing but hinder people's relationship to God. One of the major doctrines of the day was Calvinism which was condensed into five points and the acronym TULIP. Total Depravity: every person is enslaved to sin. They are unable to chose to follow God because their sin nature prevents them. Unconditional Election: God has chosen who will be saved because of his grace, not because of anything a person does or what sort of person they are. It also implies that God has chosen who will not be saved. Limited Atonement: Jesus death paid for the sins of those who were elected to be saved. Some say that his death paid the price for all sin, past, present, and future, but it only wipes clean the slates of the people God chose to be saved. Irresistible Grace: All people who are elect will be saved, even if they are stubborn and come to Christ kicking and screaming and live the most sinful lifestyle, if they are elect, they can't resist God's mercy and will eventually become a believer. Perseverance of the Saints: It's impossible for anybody called by God to backslide or fall away from the faith, by virtue of being a believer, they will continue to believe all their life." I explained, using my hand to remember the acronym starting with my thumb for 'T'.
"Some of it sounds like it makes sense." She stated.
"It should, it's completely Biblical. But it's not the only way to look at belief systems. It was countered by Arminianism which says that Salvation is enabled by a person's faith. Jesus' death paid the price for the sin of all men, but they must accept this belief. Another way to think of it is as if all people were given a winning lottery ticket, but only the ones who claimed the ticket with the officials received the prize. It also said that man can't save himself and needs the aid of the Holy Spirit to respond to God's will. That grace is necessary to start, continue, or finish any good word, but people can chose to resist the Holy Spirit. Believers are able to resist sin because of Grace and Christ will keep them from falling. It's just as Biblical as the other point of view, and even today, a few hundred years later, we are having the same argument. One will never convince the other that they are mistaken and they both have a variety of verses to support their point of view."
"So what are you, a seminary student? It seems like you've done your homework." She asked, looking to change the subject.
"Given what I know and believe for myself, I don't think any seminary would allow me to study with them. I'd ask them annoying questions like: How would this verse apply to non-traditional individuals and families? Doesn't counter-cultural mean that you're supposed to be different from other cultures and not exactly like them? and How do we council people who have faced spiritual and other forms of abuse without blaming them? I think they'd throw me out before they gave themselves a chance to take me seriously."
"You're obviously a person of conviction, what exactly do you believe?" She asked.
"I believe that Christianity has potential to be a force for good if they follow the original example and teachings of Jesus Christ and do not make the mistake of elevating Peter and Paul to be above Him. I believe that my specific stances on doctrines and scripture can't be neatly packed in a 7 page paper entitled 'J.C.'s Personal Statement of Belief'. I believe that we're like seeds, with the right nourishment, we can flourish and grow. I believe that some churches never get past the A.B.C.'s of F.A.I.T.H. (Admit, Believe, and Confess, Forsaking All I Trust/Take Him.) And as a result, their regulars can never grow beyond what the church can handle. I believe that two people who believe opposite things about the same scripture can worship in the same church because loving Jesus and loving each other means that the man or woman standing next to you is more important than any secondary doctrine. I believe any tradition, doctrine, rule, or teaching that causes another to stumble, another to hate, another to be holier-than-thou, another to be shamed, another to be elevated, another to be demoted is unloving and unacceptable in the church. I believe that believers should not tolerate unlawfulness, not accept abuse, not allow embezzlement, and not hurt people by what they say or do." I stopped there because I realized that if I said what I really believed, she might ask me to leave. It was about this time that I realized a few of the tables next to me had emptied in the course of the conversation were pushed together.
"Listen, my church has a Bible Study that's going to meet here in about fifteen minutes. The leader might be a match for you. Would you be interested in attending?" She asked.
"I'm intrigued ... I'll be here. And thanks, I'm just glad you let me say what I had learned. At my church ... let's just say that they would rather gossip about the absent regulars than figure out their own beliefs. For them, they accept what they church says without question. For me, asking the right questions brings me closer to God." I said. I looked down at my half-eaten mostly-cold plate of food and wondered if my friend had paid for our meal before he left. Something in me doubted that he was that considerate.