Mary Annoyed Martha

The New Testament contains an interesting account of a time when Jesus was teaching his disciples and Mary annoyed Martha. Martha was angry because Mary was just sitting around listening to Jesus and wasn’t helping out with dinner! This irritated Martha so much that she went to Jesus and complained about it. Jesus acknowledged Martha’s complaint but said “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.”  Martha was tuned into making dinner and Mary was tuned into hearing Jesus and that was the cause of friction between them.

An Age Old Conflict

This is really a story about the age old conflict between earthly things and spiritual. It’s a conflict that is still going on today and we see it all around us. These days there is no shortage of disputes that can pull us away from Christ and into the storms and passions of the world. Some Christians are passionate about elections and vaccines. Others have strong opinions about immigration and elected officials. Many Christians who are passionate about these earthly issues are seriously annoyed with believers who aren’t.

Disciples of Jesus Need to be Careful

There are culture wars being fought and political lines being drawn. Christian brothers are being set against each other. In just the past year I have been shunned by several  Christian friends over earthly and cultural issues and another Christian brother even sent me a threatening text message. Current events illustrate the conflict between earthly and spiritual things and disciples of Jesus need to be careful. Careful not to get so wrapped up in disputes about earthly things that they begin to despise their brothers and sisters in Christ. Careful to repent of darkened hearts and attitudes.

Our Banner is Not Red or Blue

People are prone to giving their loyalty to leaders who claim to have the answers to all our problems but Christians should know better. The only leader who has any solutions to our dilemmas is Jesus Christ and when His administration takes office the world will be a far better place. In the meantime we should beware of individuals or groups that want to enlist us in their conflicts and earthly causes at the expense of Christian unity. Our banner is not red or blue. The banner over us is love and God has called us to be peacemakers.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

Saved by Faith… Plus Nothing?

The rallying cry of contemporary Christianity seems to be “saved by faith plus nothing!” As expressed by its most ardent proponents, faith plus nothing  lends itself to what some call “easy believism”. This is decried by many as a dilution of what Jesus taught and a radical distortion of His teachings. Think of all those silly martyrs! Consider all the misguided believers who wandered through life bereft of comforts and security. And what about those faithful ones who struggled mightily against principalities and powers? The Apostle Paul could have saved himself a lot of trouble had he contented himself with faith plus nothing.

Faith Without Works is Dead

Th Epistle of James declares “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). Martin Luther was so upset about this that he claimed the Book of James did not even belong in the Bible!  “St.  James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw…We should throw (it) out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much.”  The problem was that the Book of James refuted Luther’s personal views…. so rather than change his views he attacked scripture. I only wish we had a record of Martin Luther and the Apostle James talking this over. Now that would be an interesting dialogue! James did grow up in the same household as his half-brother Jesus so perhaps he was on to something.

It is Possible to Please God!

Do we believe then that we are saved by faith? Of course we do! This is the essential transaction between the believer and his God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) but faith greatly pleases God. On the other hand, does our faith give us permission to disregard and disobey the teachings of Jesus Christ? Of course not. Jesus told us His position plainly and in no uncertain terms! The essential point was: Don’t call me Lord unless you intend to do what I tell you. (Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 6:46)

Where is “Plus Nothing” ?

We are wholeheartedly committed to the message of salvation by grace through faith. What we fail to see anywhere in scripture is that little addition…plus nothing. If Sola Scriptura means anything it means we don’t get to add our own thoughts and opinions to what is written in the Bible. (even if those thoughts seem plausible and can be shouted nicely from a pulpit)

This is a Better Way Than Faith Plus Nothing!

Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:6) and then Abraham confirmed the authenticity of his faith by obedience. Abraham acted on his faith and sealed his covenant with God.  Obedience was even required of our Savior who was made perfect through His obedience. Faith then is the beginning and ground of our walk with God but without obedience it means nothing. Our walk with God begins with saved by grace through faith and concludes with loving God enough to obey Him. This is a far more excellent way than faith plus nothing.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS:  Let’s not be foolishly blown about by every wind of doctrine that comes our way. Let’s be of full age and recognize that salvation is the gift of God and that mercy and justice are met in Jesus Christ! In our hearts we know that God expects more from us than just a polite nod in His direction. After all, He insists that we love Him with all of our hearts and minds and “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (I John 5:3)

The Jesus Meal Club

We are a far cry from church life as it’s described the New Testament. But perhaps it’s still possible to return to our roots and regain something of the simplicity and power of the early church. The “modern” church is lacking in so many areas it’s hard to even know where to start. Today’s post marks something entirely new for WonderfulTheology because this is the first time I have devoted an entire post to someone else’s writing. That’s right! Yours truly is going to step aside and let you hear from someone else for a change. So without further ado, here in its entirety is a post about church life titled “The Jesus Meal Club” by Dr. Steven Nemes.

PS: I don’t agree 100% with everything the author has to say and don’t expect you to either. There are a lot of things that would have to be sorted out but the main thrust of the Jesus Meal Club seems pretty Biblical to me. I’d say it’s an idea worthy of serious consideration.  Please take a look at the article below and let me know your thoughts.


sliced of bread beside goblet
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In my books I argue that Christian theology in the catholic tradition is excessively preoccupied with things that are not really essential to the faith itself. Churches and denominations are separated from each other and condemn each other for differences of opinion about things that do not really matter. The actually essential things that Jesus teaches are easy to appreciate and relatively few in number. They are things that Christians of all sorts already have in common, like that God is our Father, that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we can trust in his providential care, and that we must live as brothers and sisters in this life while anticipating the life of the world to come. The doctrines by which Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various kinds of Protestants are distinguished from one another are less fundamental and important to the faith than these few and simple teachings. I think that Christians should repent of their “majoring in the minors,” so to speak, leaving their differences as unimportant matters of opinion and putting the emphasis rather on the things they have in common rather than upon the things that distinguish them.

Following this advice would mean that the corporate worship of Christians would have to look very different. One particular thing worth noting is that there would have to be considerably less emphasis put on the sermon as an act of theological education and interpretation of the Bible. This emphasis should be put somewhere else. Corporate worship would have to be less a matter of hearing one’s sophisticated theological convictions confirmed and exposited at length by the preacher and more a matter of something else. To that end, I would like to share an idea which came to me as I was working on my book Theological Authority in the Church.

I think churches should be organized as “Jesus meal clubs.” This idea can be explained as follows. The corporate worship of Christians every week would be fundamentally organized around a shared meal preceded by certain simple and achievable corporate acts of religion. These would be as follows.

  1. Gathering. A group of Christians would all meet in one place, whether someone’s house or a public park or whatever is most convenient. Each person or family must bring some one food item, specifically something that can be eaten raw or else which did not require very much prior preparation, e.g. fruits or vegetables or cheese or nuts. It is desirable that a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine be brought as well. Not too much food should be brought so that none is wasted.
  2. Song. A song of worship for God is sung. It should be a song that everyone knows and which is easily singable for a group. It is best if the singing is done without the accompaniment of an instrument.
  3. Reading. A passage from the Bible is read, preferably something simple and exhortational, carefully and clearly at length with the entire gathering attending as far as is possible to the reading. Someone may give a brief discourse about the text if they are capable, but this is not necessary. The less explanation a text needs, the better it is for the reading.
  4. Promise. Those gathered consult with each other about what good they can do in the coming week, whether as individuals or as a group. They may consider pooling money for someone in need, or visiting and spending time with a sick person, or praying for others every day, or making promises not to engage in certain destructive behaviors, etc. It should be something that is both significant and yet achievable, whether for the group or for the individual.
  5. Prayer. Those gathered should ask each other how they can pray for one another and then they should pray together as a group. They may also make a corporate confession of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness.
  6. The Meal. Those gathered should eat all the food they have brought together. A prayer of thanksgiving should be said both for the bread and for the wine before they are distributed to each, as well as after the meal is finished. The prayers should thank God for the provision of food by which he cares for us as his creatures and for the salvation that he has accomplished through Jesus his Son. The prayers can drawn from or be modeled after those found in the Didache.
  7. The Departure. Everyone goes back home. A final prayer of thanksgiving may be sad before leaving.

If it were up to me, this is what the average gathering of Christians would look like. It is true that there is something very austere and bare about organizing corporate worship in this manner, but I think that is for the better. There is no need for millions of dollars for a building; there is no need for expert musicians; there is no need for a celebrity personality to run the show or be in charge of things. It is simply a group of Christians gathering in one place to worship and give thanks to God, to hear Jesus’s teachings, to pray for one another and commit to doing good together, and to eat a meal together.

This is a way of organizing corporate worship around lived spirituality rather than around doctrine and theological opinions. There need not be a sermon, and it is not necessary to read texts which demand a sophisticated theological exposition. Opinions will naturally differ about how such things are to be understood, and to raise those matters in the context of corporate worship is to open the door for debates and schisms and breakdowns in communion over differences of opinion. People are naturally free to believe whatever they think is true about those matters, and if they care enough about these issues, they can investigate them freely on their own time.

A discussion about the text may follow the reading, but it is important that it be undertaken in low-stake conditions of freedom and openness. The purpose of the gathering is not the exposition of theological ideas but rather to enjoy a meal together in God’s presence and in gratitude to him as his children. The temptation to turn the gathering into a kind of miniature theological conference or (God forbid) censorial inquisition must be resisted, as should the pressure to force the Jesus meal club into the form and shape of existing Christian churches. People can believe whatever they want about the debatable questions of theology. The point of the Jesus meal club is to sing together, pray with and for each other, to listen to Jesus’s teachings, and to eat a meal in God’s presence out of gratitude for his goodness. The emphasis must always be placed on what is shared in common by everyone.

It should be noted that the Jesus meal club does have a statement of faith. It is a simple one: We believe that God our Father will save us because of his Son Jesus. Everything that one does in the course of the gathering is premised upon this fundamental conviction regarding the promise of salvation from God through his Son Jesus. The whole gathering is undertaken as a grateful expression of the expectation of salvation, whether it be the singing, or the praying, or the reading, or the consulting with one another about how to do good, or the eating. The precise interpretation of this statement of faith in light of any particular theological scheme is unimportant. Christians may disagree with one another with respect to the question how God will save us and in what sense this will be because of his Son. The “how” is not as important as the “that.” The finer details are all debatable, as anyone who studies theology knows well, and they are relatively unimportant. If a person can agree to the basic statement of faith, then they are welcome to join.

I think that there has been a two-thousand-year experiment run in the Christian religion. Christians have emphasized certain things around which their identity as Christians is constructed: very well-defined doctrinal systems, certain institutional arrangements and justifications of presumed legitimacy, certain complex liturgical schemes, and so on. All of this in my opinion has only led to division and trouble. Christians disagree with one another about fine points of theology and in the worst case scenario send each other to hell over their differences. The preservation of institutional arrangements take precedent over the spiritual fellowship that exists among Christians of different churches. Complex liturgical schemes become so important that the church becomes dependent on the presence of experts in order for its corporate worship to be tolerable or even possible. I have argued at length in my books Theology of the Manifest and Theological Authority in the Church that all these things are inessential at best, colossal wastes of time at worst.

The Jesus meal club is for me an experimental idea. It is a proposal for an alternative experiment to the one that has been run in the Christian religion for two-thousand years now. It is a proposal for how corporate worship among Christians might be done once the preoccupations of dogma, institution, and liturgy are set to the side as relatively unimportant. Because all these things are set to the side and the focus is put elsewhere, Christians of even differing backgrounds and convictions can nevertheless gather together in the manner I’ve described above. The Jesus meal club might therefore contribute to Christian unity insofar as it puts the emphasis on those things that Christians have in common rather than on things that distinguish them amongst themselves. I haven’t put it to the test yet, but I would certainly be interested to hear what it is like if someone else tries it out.

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PS: A few comments are in order from your host and the author of this Wonderful Theology website. While it may appear at first reading that this proposal ignores doctrine altogether I don’t think this is actually the case. I would propose that every group has a de facto leader who assumes some measure of responsibility for the spiritual life of the group. It would be the duty of this person to help keep the group centered and avoid both chaos and rigid authoritarianism. This kind of leadership is not ego driven but genuinely wants to act as a servant to the gathered believers. Clearly this person would not be a novice but rather someone who is spiritually mature and held in high regard. Along with Dr. Nemes’ prescribed statement of faith I would remind participants of one other simple proviso. We are trying to organize our meetings and lives around the simple but powerful notion of Sola Sriptura. This could help guide us into a truly Biblical expression of church life. I hope someone tries this soon and reports back to the rest of us. God’s blessings to all. Your friend and brother in Jesus Christ, Bob Shutes

We See Through a Glass Darkly

Well here we are. Standing on the edge of eternity and peering into the pages of scripture looking for light and understanding. Our eyes strain to see God. We’re thankful that God has given us some understanding of the mystery of the Father and the Son, of God and His Christ. “We speak that we do know…” (John 3:11) Still, we confess that there is much we cannot see and much we do not understand. It’s not for lack of desire and it’s not for lack of study. It’s just that God has ordained that the time for seeing Him clearly, face to face, is not yet. It’s true that “we see through a glass darkly” but someday, some blessed day, that will change and we will finally see Him face to face! (I Corinthians 13:12)

No Flesh Shall See My Face and Live

Moses had some incredible experiences on his walk with God.  He saw the waters of the Red Sea parted and Israel walk through the sea on dry land. He watched in the desert as God gave His people water flowing from a rock. Moses spoke with God “face to face as a man speaks with his friend” and then one day Moses pleaded with God saying, “Please, show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18) God answered him by saying “no flesh shall see my face and live.” That wasn’t an angry threat, it was just a simple statement of the fact that God’s glory is more than mortals can endure. God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and then shielded him with His hand before passing by and showing Moses just a retreating glimpse of His glory. After seeing God’s glory Moses’ face shone so brightly he had to cover it with a veil!

The Unspeakable Light

There is something about the radiant outpouring of light from God’s glorious Being that flesh and blood cannot survive. Every solar eclipse brings a warning not to view it directly or risk permanent blindness. None of us could even hope to survive the intensity of light from a military laser or an atomic bomb. How much less could our mortal bodies endure the unspeakable light that shines from an infinitely powerful God? “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see…” (I Timothy 6:16)

We See Jesus

On the mount of transfiguration Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17) On the road to Damascus the Apostle Paul saw a bright light from heaven and was blinded by the scales that formed on his eyes. (Acts (9:3-9) We aren’t in spiritual darkness any longer and “We see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9) but our vision is still restricted by our mortality. Some glorious day, “We shall see Him as He is because we shall be like Him!” (I John 3:2) This mortal is going to put on immortality and these feeble eyes are going to see God at long last!  And that, dear friend, is something to look forward to indeed.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

The Voice of Jesus

The world bombards us with so much information and distraction that sometimes it’s hard to hear the voice of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually hear His voice and separate it from the torrent of media noise coming our way? The sound of Jesus’ voice often seems faint compared to all the news we hear about wars and pandemics, inflation and economic collapse, crimes, natural disasters and political crises. All these things are coming at us through an almost endless variety of technologies and it seems like we are awash in an ocean of news, entertainment and information. It would do most of us a lot of good if we learned how to hear the voice of Jesus instead of all the noise and distraction the world sends our way.

Theological Noise

There’s another kind of noise that also makes it hard to hear the sound of Jesus’ voice. It’s helpful to think of the ancient dogmas coming our way from the church fathers as a kind of “theological noise” that can also drown out Jesus’ voice. I like to watch nature shows on TV and am amazed by the way a mother seal or penguin finds her own offspring in a noisy colony full of hungry shrieking babies. Somehow or another she hears the sound of her own baby and that baby hears and recognizes her voice! It’s just a miracle… and it’s a miracle too that we can even hear the voice of Jesus over the all the theological noise that surrounds us.

Scripture is the Sound of Jesus’ Voice

Jesus meant it when He said, “My sheep hear my voice…” (John 10:27) Above the noise of the world and church traditions there remains the sound of Jesus’ voice and it’s still possible to hear it if you dare. His voice continues to echo through the centuries and hallways of history and His sheep still hear it today. Scripture is the sound of Jesus’ voice and His sheep delight to hear Him. His words cut through the proud religious traditions of men now just like they did when He walked in Israel. His words also cut through all the philosophical nonsense that forms the heart of trinitarian dogma.

The Voice of Tradition is Not the Voice of Jesus

Our most sacred tradition (the trinity) declares that God is three co-equal persons who share the same divine substance. This is the united voice of the church fathers and councils and it still shouts loudly in Christendom today.  Modern theologians and scholars simply echo the ancient thoughts and words of the church fathers and for the most part their voices are the only voices allowed in our churches. It is fair to say that their voice is the voice of tradition, but the voice of tradition is not the voice of Jesus.

The Voice of Jesus Never Said God is Three Persons

The voice of Jesus never said God is three persons or anything remotely like it. His words are simple, straightforward and clear.  He taught that the most important thing, the first and greatest commandment of all is this: “Hear O Israel! The LORD our God is One LORD.” (Mark 12:29) This is the main thing! Don’t ever forget it…. no matter what you hear from creeds, councils, church fathers, traditions or the denominations that want you to listen to their voice. “The LORD our God is One LORD.”  “For us (Christians) there is one God, the Father and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

Whose Voice Should We Listen To?

“There are, it may be, so many voices in the world and none of them is without significance.” (I Corinthians 14:10) All we have to do is figure out which voice we should listen to. Should we listen to the voice of the church fathers in the triune creeds they imposed on the Body of Christ?  Or should we listen to the voice of Jesus Christ as recorded in scripture? Whose voice we should listen to? To us it just makes sense to listen to Jesus and ignore all the noise of human traditions.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS: It took this old retired pastor almost 50 years of study and searching to find a clear and Biblical alternative to the trinity. I confess to being a little slow. Ultimately I arrived at the immensely satisfying and solidly Biblical understanding of God and Christ we speak of on this website and that some call Biblical Unitarianism. I hope it doesn’t take you that long! If this teaching brings you peace and blessing please spread the word and share a link to with someone else soon! (they might not have 50 years left). God Bless.