Faith musings from the seat of a forklift.
Nothing like a nice warm fire. Especially if it is a wood fired barbecue after a rough day at work. The smell of the burning wood, and the warmth of the flame. It can be quite comforting. Of course, if you are not careful, it can be quite dangerous.
If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you have a home with a fireplace. That tends to be bit safer, but you can forget about cooking up some hot dogs or chicken on the fire. Still, a fireplace is a nice warm way to relax. Well, at least until it comes time to clean the creosote out of the chimney.
Christian churches are sometimes a bit strange when it comes to worship music. There are a couple of very popular songs that talk about fire and burning. I don’t particularly feel like getting too deep into the lyrics of those songs. However, the parts I want to look at read as follows:
“Set our hearts on fire”.
“My soul burns within me”.
Before we go too far, these two statements are from two entirely different songs. The first statement comes from the tune “Shine, Jesus, Shine”. The second statement is from the Carman tune “I feel Jesus”. Let us get something straight, the listing of scriptures about our hearts burning within us are exceedingly few. In fact, there is only one verse, and it was only at one particular point.
I have heard it said “Text, without context, is merely pretext”. This is probably why the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod still tends to insist that context matters. To that end, the church has a tendency to make distinctions between items that are prescriptive, meaning they hold for all time, and items that are descriptive, meaning they were for a particular time, at a particular place.
In Luke 24:32 we read:
“They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?””
Many modern churches have taken this verse and run with it as being prescriptive of what should happen when we “become saved” (odd language). That is to say, we should feel some sort of burning within us. This could be considered, and rightly so, emotionalism. I don’t know about you, but the last time I read what the Bible said regarding salvation, there was nothing about feelings attached to it. In fact, given that many modern churches attach an emotional response to some sort of a “work”, it seems to me that somehow the message becomes something about what we do. This couldn’t be further from the true.
Let us consider that verse from Luke 24. What is the context of this verse? It is two disciples, feeling pretty much let down, heading towards Emmaus. They are approached by a stranger, who seems to know nothing about recent events, yet is quite informed on scripture regarding the Christ. It is only when they sit for a meal that it is revealed to the disciples that it is Christ who they had walked with. In that same instant, Christ vanished, and the disciples are in awe, and it is then that they talk about how their hearts burned within them. This is the only time we ever read of such an instance of a burning within. Is this descriptive of an event, or prescriptive of what should be? I should think it is descriptive.
However, we can not look at the disciples on the way to Emmaus, unless we also look at the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Why? Because there are churches that believe for one to “be saved” requires both an Emmaus Road and Road to Damascus experience. Truthfully, Paul never had an Emmaus Road experience. Rather, in Acts 9, we read of how Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul), who was there, and approving of the execution of Saint Stephen, is heading to Damascus, bearing letters to arrest the Christians in Damascus. On his journey, he is directly confronted by Christ Jesus. During this encounter, he is stripped of his eyesight, and it is only after Ananias laid hands upon him, that Paul regained his sight, and thus became the apostle we know of today.
Let us be honest. None of us has ever had a direct encounter with Christ Jesus. None of us will ever have an Emmaus Road, or Road to Damascus, experience. Both of these, as indicative from scripture, were one time events. In that regard, they are both descriptive of what did happen at that time, neither was meant to be prescriptive of how it is now. We are not saved through a direct encounter with Christ Jesus. No. We are saved through baptism, communion, and the hearing of his word through the Bible.
How does all of that relate to fires, and our souls burning withing us? Simple, one verse is taken out of context and twisted to say something contrary to its original context. This is descriptive of how the contemporary church has been for nearly a century and a half. If a particular group likes a verse, no matter what the context of the verse, they create an entire doctrine around that verse, despite the context of the verse.
All of this leads to bad doctrine. Bad doctrine is like creosote, which sticks to your chimney as the wood burns. Simple truth, just as bad doctrine is toxic to your faith, so too is creosote toxic to your health. Also, just like creosote, it is difficult to get rid of bad doctrine that has built up over the years.
Is there any justification of anything in our faith burning, or being on fire? Yes. However, it also means that you are likely in Hell. Indeed, it reads in Revelation 14:10 “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” This is descriptive of those who take the mark of the beast, who set himself above God, being worshiped as God. Yes, because of their faith in a lie, they will burn.
Fires are nice, usually. However, the fires of Hell is something we should want to avoid. We should not be seeking an experience or feeling of burning. Rather, we should be mindful of our sinfulness, and need for a savior. The Bible tells us that if we repent of our sins, trusting in what God has done through Christ Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins, and abiding in what God has said, we can be saved, and not suffer eternal burning in Hell. Indeed, that is a burning that none should want.