What does the spirit, water and blood mean?

Monday Musings for April 24, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

We learn about Jesus primarily from the New Testament Scripture… although this is not the only source. He is also mentioned in some other ancient sources. But God reveals himself in non-documentary ways, too… like in the cosmos (Romans 1:18-20) … like in the human ability to process information about the cosmos (Romans 1:22-23) … like in the human ability to respond morally in our world (Romans 2:14-15). God optimized us to collect the data, to crunch the numbers and to make moral decisions; this is human exceptionalism in a nutshell… and by using these tools, we can see that all data leads to God.

The Scripture can (and should) catapult us forward in thought, too. For instance, it tells us that Jesus created everything (John 1:3) and that he sustains everything (Colossians 1:17). This revelation shows us that he is powerful beyond our ken… but also, that he transcends creation (which is an understanding of philosophy and natural theology more than biblical theology) … but not deistically. Jesus is also immanent in creation, sustaining it by his power and involving himself in our lives. The Bible is indeed God’s special revelation… but it’s no holiness capsule. It is designed to keep our conclusions straight (orthodox)… but it’s not designed to restrict our thinking along the way.

Sometimes the Scripture is… and very obviously so… the source of truth. For instance, it contains the historical record of Jesus Christ. But it also does us the service of revealing God as tri-personal. We would not “get” that without God’s written word… that is, we’d have trouble wrestling that out of natural theology. But now that we know of his trinitarian nature through the Bible, it makes sense that a God who existed without any created beings could still know about love… because love requires a target that is outside of the self to exist… and without us, God was just one big self!

But we know better now. God is certainly a unity… but he is not only a unity… as the Muslims think of Allah. He is tri-personal — and we know this because he is presented so in his written word. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are revealed in Scripture as unique persons… not merely as functions of the same unity.

Now, here’s the problem: Even though the Bible is the source of truth, when we build on its truth, there's a possibility that we’ll escape orthodoxy… and that’s more than a possibility. Given our capabilities, that’s more of a guarantee. You see, we must “play” in areas like philosophy that are outside of the Bible’s scope. So, when the Bible is not the immediate source for truth, that’s when we use it as the touchstone for truth. When we return home from our mental sojourns, we test our conclusions against God’s word by asking, do our findings contradict the essential truths of God?

Let me state this plainly: I believe that the Bible is infallible in what it teaches and that it is sufficient in its scope. But I do not believe that it is a compendium of all phenomena. Therefore, its scope is limited.  As such, I do not believe that we should treat its precepts with self-imposed limits — like when the Amish limit their engagement with the modern world. God gave us eyes, ears, brains… and now the technology… to explore all that. All truth is God’s truth… so bring on the data! As long as we do not allow any of our conclusions about the physical (or the metaphysical) world to contradict our core orthodox beliefs, then there is no foul.

But when it comes to secondary issues, we’d better leave some room. For instance, if Martin Luther disagreed with John Calvin on an issue, would this damn one or the other to hell? No. Nor would it if they disagreed with Augustine or Tertullian… and we can learn a little from God’s trinitarian nature here. We need unity where unity is required… but where unity is not required, we are free to express our individual personalities… which includes holding different views on secondary issues of the faith. Today’s question tests that.

One of the more difficult passages in the Bible to nail down is 1 John 5:6-13 — which is a trifold testimony to Jesus Christ via the spirit, the water and the blood. The problem comes because John didn’t tell us precisely what he had in mind for these images. To what was he reaching out? As you can imagine, the Bible is full of possibilities — because these motifs show up over and over. So, here’s your challenge for today: If you discover the interpretation you like — one that connects to both your soul and to your other convictions — don’t assign the rest of the commentators to hell… and try to see how it would be silly to do so.

With that lesson firmly in place, what is your stand on the age of the earth… and I know that is off-topic. But, are the millions of professing believers who disagree with your position going to hell? No! Because what you believe about the age of the earth has nothing to do with what you believe about Salvation in Jesus Christ. We fight over the wrong stuff… and this hurts the advance of the gospel.

Now, the truth is always important, and there are right and wrong answers to many secondary issues. As such, we should investigate the data and engage in robust debates… because that’s the process God set up for this. But let me close with a caution.

In Gulliver’s Travels, the fictional countries of Lilliput and Blefuscu were engaged in a long-standing war. Do you remember the cause? Eggs! They disagreed about whether hardboiled eggs should be deshelled starting on the small end or the large end. Ridiculous, right? But Christians do the same thing over issues like the age of the earth. Genuine believers stand on either side of the debate. But the fact that genuine believers do so tells us that this is indeed a secondary issue. So, if you think that fighting over which end of the egg to deshell first would be silly, perhaps you should rethink your approach to secondary issues… like the ones I can’t quite sort out in today’s question.

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