It is my sorry lot in life to read many theologians. Like God’s great universe they are diverse, multiplying like fruit flies in August. They are also valuable as I follow their logic and very helpful, sometimes in the negative, for showing me small discrepancies in meaning and application. Theology was once called the Queen of the Sciences because all men sought to know God and believed God controlled all of science. Since the end of the Middle Ages, now we seek to know man. In actual practice we should know both.
Theology is divided into two sections; trust and obey being the verbs that apply to humankind, and for those who study the Bible, Law and Grace. They often appear at each others’ throats but that is because we are imperfect and we tend to come down on the side of one to the detriment of the other.
Calvinism, which is in the modern practice of the Reformation based on Law, is practiced by Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans and some others, while the Grace people are the Pentecostal-Charismatics and the heavily missionary society groups such as Nazarenes and Mennonites.
It has always been this way. In the Early Church, that is before about 300 A.D., the Grace people lived and operated in northern Egypt, known as the Coptic church, and the Law Guys were in Rome to morph into the Roman Catholic Church. In their subsequent struggle for control the Roman Catholic branch won and what was lost was a personal relationship to Jesus and the holy disciplines such as fasting and deliverance.
What was gained was the ability of the Roman Empire to impose its will on much of the known world. Civilization actually became more civilized in this process, however slowly, but certain things became expected – that you didn’t kill anyone without answering to a higher authority, for example, and certain good public policy became accepted everywhere, such as holding marriage accountable for children, the government for national defense and identity, and the church as a moral authority.
If you read English History you can watch this sophistication unfold over the centuries. That did not last as the church in Rome became increasingly perverse. We give the credit to Martin Luther, but the entire European continent was disgusted with Catholicism as it was practiced so Reformation was a common goal. The Black Plague was the nail in the old Roman coffin. When all those prayers could not save 1/3rd who died, the theology also died with it. Man, Generic Man, started on his own path now theologically under Grace and the Bible as authority rather than a man in Rome, or France or wherever.
Today the two stand just as they did 500 years ago. Law on one side saying “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God,” and on the other, “By Grace ye are saved and that not of yourselves it is a the gift of God.” Both are right.
But it is possible for both to be not righteous. Truth is truth and we can accept it or reject. That is the promise of Free Will which God gives us. All men have the right to reject God; all men have the right to accept him. But being Right does not make us righteous. That comes with living a life of obedience to the Father.
For this example here is the Prodigal Son parable. What is frequently missing is the idea of the parable of the Son who stayed Home; he was in just as much trouble as his brother. Here is The Message’s version of that story:
The Story of the Lost Son
11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
The Prodigal left home with Grace; he also received grace when he returned home. The Older Brother, resentful and angry, stayed at home with the Father “under the Law” and when the banquet was held, he heard the law repeated against him.
It is possible to be living either in Law or Grace and not be at one with the Father. In spite of the close fellowship available and the real relationship intact, the real fellowship with him, that is to be righteous, was missing. Self-righteousness hampers the possibility of being righteous. No one is saved by doctrine!
The theologians miss this; they can hammer away at what is wrong in our thinking, but what makes us right is not just our thinking but our relationship and fellowship to God Himself. That is our goal and our purposes. There are people out there with rotten theologies believing all kinds of nonsense, but they are right with God because they seek his face every day.
There are people out there who know the Bible page and verse, the Greek and the Hebrew, but there is a rotten place in their hearts, just like the older brother. Their sweet fellowship with the Father is gone even though they are with him all the time.
God gives us 70 years to make up our mind. God does not judge us until the very end. Let’s also realize this for ourselves and for others. He expects a response. It is all yours now.