Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Attention theology geeks, this is heady and controversial, but it is heavy on my heart. I do not aim to offend, just to be honest.
I love the Catholic church and celebrate many of the rich blessings and brilliant saints and leaders it has provided to humanity past and present.
Also, I hail from a Lutheran family who commemorates Martin Luther and his sincere and intelligent, yet unheard-of and heretical questioning of the mighty Catholic Church and the abuses and misuses of power they were practicing.
That was 502 years ago this week and while the progression made back then was timely and necessary as a course correction for certain corruptions and misguided actions, I wonder if we haven't failed (as a global church including all believers) in passing the baton. Was there only need for one Re-formation in history and no more? Are we Re-Formed once for all time or is it a progression of a renewed way of life as we grow in knowledge, love and grace?
October 31 marks the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As in any belief structure, there are rightly certain assumptions that are passed down through tradition and generations. Yet, if we are not mindful, studious and prayerful, we can automatically assume and adopt some of those without doing the difficult work of asking whether or not these make sense in light of our experiences, our understanding (requiring a personal, not inherited exploration) of scripture, and what we feel the Spirit is leading us into.
Maturity and transformation take self-work and cannot be passed down. Luther wanted all Christians to have access to scriptures and to God, without having to go through church authority figures. Thank God for that! But I wonder if we haven't over-used that scripture and made it our (false) security rather than the one true God found in Christ.
It is with a gentle flickering flame, a loving heart and an attempt at sincere seeking first of the Kingdom - in full recognition that I do not have all of the answers- that I propose some controversial 95 Theses of my own. These are from my very limited viewpoint, which is the only one I have.
These are the things I, like Jacob (Genesis 32:24),
wrestle with in 2019.
1. How did I so naively once believe that I had it all figured out without need to investigate that which I was handed?
2. If the Body of Christ is one, why are there more than 44,000 denominations of Christianity, many at odds with one another?
3. Why do many denominations condemn and disqualify each other as participants in the Kingdom of God and on what grounds are they judging the LORD's servants (Romans 14:4) (Matthew 7:1) though Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."?
4. If all Christianity is based solely on the single agreement that Jesus is the Son of God, why not celebrate our unity amid diversity rather than fiercely divide based on secondary, tertiary and further disagreements? In John 17:21 Jesus prays, "that they all may be one." At least we could cordially disagree.
5. Why do Protestants judge Catholics for making the Pope an idol while Catholics judge Protestants for making Scripture an idol? 1 John 5:21 directs us to keep free of all idols (an idol is anything reverenced above God).
6. If Scripture never claims to have ultimate authority, yet Jesus does, why do we elevate it above him? Ironically I am citing scripture here because I do honor it highly, just not supremely (Matthew 28:18)
7. When we follow and elevate scripture above Jesus (using written law and rules rather than the Spirit and love) why are we then not Scripturetians rather than Christians? (Romans 13:8-10 says, "whoever loves others has fulfilled the law")
8. When we (Protestants) claim Scripture is final authority, what version are we referring to since there are different (Old Testament) canons used by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant sects? Can we rightly disqualify theirs without fully knowing them or being taught them?
9. Where does Scripture claim inerrancy and which form or translation of modern day Scripture does this refer to?
10. Has God ever inspired you to do anything, or has God ever breathed life through you and if so, did you do it with complete precision, perfection and without any error? (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
11. Might we, with flaws and inconsistencies, still be useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training, even equipping others to do the work of the Kingdom of God? (2 Corinthians 12:9)
12. How did we miraculously and serendipitously end up with the supreme version of scripture and how can we be sure of it?
13. If millions of believers globally and historically have used different scripture canons, did God fail to deliver a clear written code? If so, might he have been aiming for something other than a clear written code?
14. Might a message of Jesus be that HE is the code, not the writings of the laws and prophets, and that is why the writings (if followed without his guidance) can lead to confusion, hatred, bad translation and disagreement?
15. Is Jesus the Word of God (John 1), or is scripture? If both, which is the supreme Word?
16. What version of Scripture did Jesus adhere to and is it the same one we use today?
17. If Jesus and his followers did not have the same Bible we use today, how can it be a prerequisite to salvation?
18. Might salvation be found in something other than the written scripture? Perhaps it is in Christ alone.
19. Can Jesus Christ offer salvation to someone who has never heard his name?
20. If Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), yet many people who have lived historically and living today don't know him by name, are they simply condemned without a chance or does he offer chances we are not informed of?
21. How did Moses regard "disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt" (Hebrews 11:26) if Jesus had not been born yet?
22. How was Christ with the ancient Hebrews in the form of a rock they drank from before the birth of Jesus? (1 Corinthians 10:4)
23. Can Christ be found in creation? (Psalm 19)
24. Is there any part of creation that does not proclaim Christ?
25. Can Christ deliver salvation to someone without human help or must another human "messenger" of some type be involved in the process?
26. Is God always with us no matter what (Hebrews 13:5, Matthew 28:20, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10, Deuteronomy 31:6, Zephaniah 3:17) or do our sins separate us from being in his presence (Isaiah 51:2)?
27. Is God distant, one who occasionally comes down and dabbles in our business only to return to his Heavenly place. Or, does he dwell with us so that in him we live an move an have our being (Acts 17:28)?
28. If we simply read the Bible at face value, are there not contradictions galore?
29. What, precisely, is the Gospel, why are there several versions of it?
30. Is the Gospel good news of great joy for all people (Luke 2:10) or just some people?
31. Must "hell" be included in a delivery of the Gospel (Good News) and if so, why wasn't it (recorded as) included in any of the original stories of the spreading of the new church in Acts?
32. Is God to be deeply feared? Are we to be terrified of him that he may strike us dead or unleash his wrath on us in any instant (Numbers 1:53, Numbers 16:46, Deuteronomy 9:8, Deuteronomy 29:20,28) or is he a loving father always approaching us with grace and open arms (Luke 15)? Which is it and is he safe?
33. How can we hold an image of a wrathful and destructive God if "perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love"? (1 John 4:18)
34. In our brokenness, have not many abuse victims heard from their abusers "I am doing this and it doesn't feel like love, but it is", and is this not dangerous territory when we consider God the same way?
35. Do our innate moral compasses carry no weight (because our ways are not his as in Isaiah 55:8-9) or did he give us some degree of deeply knowing, with the guidance of the Spirit, what is true? (John 16:13)
36. Might Jesus be key to the age old question of what God really looks like? (Hebrews 11:1) "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being..." (emphasis mine) and "The Son is the image of the invisible God..." (Colossians 1:15)
37. Did Jesus ever do anything that would make us fear him?
38. Is it significant that the one group that Jesus was most fed up with, most angry towards and most aggressive with is the religious establishment?
39. Is Jesus happy with the religious establishment of Christianity today?
40. If the Jewish religious establishment of Jesus' day accused him of not following their scriptures (breaking sabbath repeatedly, associating with sinners, forgiving sins, not condemning adulterers, touching lepers, claiming to be God, befriending tax-collectors, etc.) might there be any parallels to how the Spirit of Jesus is leading his followers in today's culture and might it sometimes appear to be breaking the law when it is actually fulfilling it?
41. When Jesus told us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) did he mean for us to include the president, democrats, republicans, libertarians, proponents of global warming, police officers, gays, Satan-worshipers, terrorists, abortionists, Mormons, red-necks, serial-killers, pharmacists, drug dealers, Jews, white supremacists, black lives matter groups, Muslims, police, the NRA, Isis, racists, sex offenders, abusers, transgender folks and the person our spouse ran off with?
42. What were the sins of Sodom and are we vigilant not to commit them? (Ezekial 16:48-50)
43.According to Jesus Christ (in action and in word), is it ever acceptable to kill another human being?
44. Does Jesus ever suggest (in action or in word) that a worldly government will be used to solve the problems of today?
45. Does Jesus Christ give us reason to believe that Americans are somehow favored by God over other nations?
46. Is it good that the American Flag is always flown higher than the Christian flag on U.S. Soil even by believers?
47. Is the goal of Christianity to make converts who say a "sinner's prayer" and go to heaven after they die?
48. What is more important, faith or works? If someone lives a life of love, giving, joy and peace yet never prays to Jesus for salvation are they worse off than someone who said the sinner's prayer yet lived a life full of sin?
49. Where in the Bible is the sinner's prayer given and where did Jesus or the original disciples lead people in praying it?
50. Is Christianity mostly about the afterlife or is it mostly about the Kingdom of God coming to earth through Christ and his followers?
51. What is the nature of salvation, is it a transaction for a ticket to heaven after earthly death or is it a progressive life of transformation in the likeness of God beginning today?
52. Do all children go to heaven when they die?
53. (several assumptions are made here) If most adults end up going to hell (as my church taught), and if Christianity is primarily about getting people to go to heaven, why don't Christians celebrate abortion as a way to ensure that the unborn babies go directly to heaven rather than grow up to reject God and be condemned for eternity?
54. What is the nature of hell? Is it a state of hopeless eternal conscious torment, a period of time where one can be redeemed or cease to exist, or a place for being refined and renewed with all of creation or something else? All three fiery views have been prominent at different times in church history and can be amply supported with scripture.
55. How have we developed certainty about a doctrine of the multiple words badly translated as "Hell" when it has different meanings in the Old Testament (typically called Sheol) and in the New? Sometimes it's describing Gehenna, a literal place outside of the city where garbage and pagan practices are. Sometimes it's describing Hades and Tartaros (from Greek mythology) and rarely, if ever, does it mean what comes to mind in our modern popular understanding.
56. Does God's mercy end at the point of earthly death or is there further chance for reconciliation in the life to come?
57. Do babies have a right to life? Do criminals? Do murderers? Who does Jesus deny the right to life to?
58. At what point does Jesus consider someone past the point of redemption?
59. Was Jesus ever violent towards people?
60. Did Jesus speak more against homosexuality or divorce and which is the Church more tolerant of today?
61. Jesus claims that divorce is only permissible in cases of whoredom (Matthew 19:9). Do we add to that? If so, on what grounds?
62. Which is more offensive to God, same sex attraction or a finalized divorce? Which does Jesus speak directly to?
63. If someone struggles with an addiction, do we allow them to continue to come to church gatherings even if they never overcome it?
64. Why do we not attend gay weddings or bake them cakes or "support" them in their relationships but we attend heterosexual weddings even in cases when we are less than approving of their relationship or lifestyle?
65. Why do some Christians treat homosexual acts as worse than sins that are spoken about in scripture repeatedly like greed, pride, lying, gluttony, oppression and more?
66.Why do people use Romans 1 to bash our gay brothers and sisters when the very next chapter (2) tells us we have no excuse to pass judgement on someone else because we all do the same things?
67. Why do we insist on shaming people for their sins when it is God's merciful Goodness that leads us to Reformation (Romans 2:4)?
68. If God leads us to Reform through his Goodness, why would we use any other strategy?
69. If God makes the rain fall on the just and on the unjust, why do we pawn blessings and affirmations only on those whose actions we approve of? (Matthew 5:45)
70. If God (as seen in Jesus) is benevolent, generous and forgiving at all times, why should we be any different?
71. If I have been saved by grace, how dare I deny someone else grace as a minister of this New Covenant?
72. Why do we decide who deserves what and who has to pay dues when it is the LORD's business to be generous and kind to whomever he wishes to be kind to (Matthew 20)?
73. Why don't we rejoice in all kinds of forgiveness in all cases and in all circumstances?
74. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all people who ever lived receive salvation and none are condemned eternally?
75. If God wants abundant life for everyone why wouldn't we hope for the same?
76. Though we are not God, does not every human carry a part of the image of God and as such are not all worthy of redemption and celebration on some level?
77. Do you know we become like the God we serve? If our image of God is stern and condemning, we will be the same. But if it is loving, so shall we be.
78. Did God not woo us by sending a loving Son of Man in Jesus Christ? He loved us by becoming us.
79. Could it be that sometimes the best critique of the bad is the practice and example of the better?
80. Is it true that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?
81. Might others in other folds have truths that we cannot yet see?
82. Is not all truth God's truth?
83. Can there be love apart from God?
84. Can God use someone of another faith (beyond Christianity) to bring the Kingdom of God to earth?
85. Is the future written in stone and all things pre-determined, or are some things directed by our gift of free-will?
86. If everyone's fate is sealed from the beginning is there free-will?
87. Does God create some people knowing that they will be ultimately condemned to hell?
88. Might God allow us to be co-creators with him in the manifestation of his Kingdom and how the details of it pan out?
89. Does God ever change his mind or have regrets or alter his plans because of humans? (Genesis 6: 6-7, 1 Samuel 15:11, Jeremiah 18: 7-10, 1 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Kings 10:1-6, Exodus 32:14, Exodus 33:1-3 & 14, Jonah 3:10 )
90. Might there be an element of human free-will that he has allowed to be beyond his direct control so that he hopes and leads each of us to salvation relentlessly, though we can still choose and without him knowing the ultimate destination for each soul (eliminating the suggestion that he creates some to be condemned)?
91. What would it look like for us to set aside our behavior modification form of Christianity and replace it with a relentless, radical love of Jesus?
92. What if we treated EVERY HUMAN as if they were an invited, celebrated, important and valued member of the Kingdom of God starting NOW (because for all we know they may be)?
93. What if we stopped grouping people by who is "in" and who is "out" and expected everyone to be part of God's ultimate healing and restoration plan?
94. What if our radical, loving inclusion allowed us to transcend by dropping all judgments and defaulting to ultimate unity?
95. Might God be more generous, benevolent, forgiving, loving, kind, compassionate, merciful, inclusive, intelligent and wonderful than we have ever imagined?
Heaven knows I have a long way to go on my journey, but the joy and peace that has come with it thus far inspires me to keep going.
With each of these questions, and many more, I have found love crowding out fears. I don't have to have it all right, I just have to stay sensitive and willing to hear the Spirit, to drop what I thought I knew and to trust that my loving Savior will deliver me because I cannot do this on my own.
Grace and Peace,
Jessica Morgan McAtee