Church history is full of people asking questions, but is there a unified single message?
For anyone who continually studies or even just dabbles in theology and church history and traditions, the perspective on theology tends to shift from "God did it all" to "humans did it all". Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the truth. And I do not think we are supposed to see the line between them all the time.
Fundamentalists tend to lean on the end of "God did it all", down to imagining that the Spirit was guiding each character of the text. Jesus tended to be hyperbolic, and yet when he is quoted as saying "not a jot or tittle would pass away" in my opinion this was not to be taken literally. Manuscripts with jots and tittles out of order have been found in the thousands. It appears to me the intention was simply to say "don't doubt that the smallest part of the intention of these words made by heaven will be fulfilled."
And yet, having confidence in the intention of the text gets murkier as you study deeper. You soon realize that the intentions of the authors, when they wrote a text, might not be the way that later religious people interpreted it. This occurs even in the New Testament, where Old Testament passages are clearly misattributed or prophecies are used loosely to say the least.
At some point, there might be the temptation to throw one's hands up in the air and say "hang it all, it all seems like a mess". I confess I have been that person - a lot.
And yet, there is one element often missing in these discussions, and I am not sure what to call it. So I will just call it Heaven's Mark.
My view on this topic is that heaven is the aligned forces of good that are carrying out God's plans. This includes saints, angels, and whatever other factors are involved. Perhaps even angels have technology they use in their efforts. The point is that the foundation of Christianity is a man named Jesus, whose name means "Yahweh is salvation".
At its core, the foundation of all Judeo-Christian faith is that there exists a deity whose name is and comprehension are so obscure that he simply chose to be called "I am". Basically, "I exist and have always exist and will always exist."
And heaven, collectively, exists with good intentions towards pursuing the end of bringing deliverance to mankind, from all sorts of troubles.
In other words, faith begins with just a raw, unfiltered trust that God exists and can help and wants to help.
In my opinion, this is the founding principle of all of the Bible if you strip away all the debates and theories and theologizing. God exists and wants to bring people deliverance from their trouble.
So how do we know when God is involved? How do we know where the messages are coming from?
And this is where I think the church has often gotten it wrong. The Catholic church finds its foundation in what Jesus would refer to as "Moses' seat". The idea being a succession of authority passed down to religious leaders who are fulfilling a mandate. And Jesus makes no distinction about whether we should respect the seat, even if the leaders in that seat are evil. He basically says that we should respect that authority for what it is.
Protestants have their reasons for shifting their basis of authority to the Bible. They have their specific 66 books (a number I always found amusingly ominous) and assert, without really any justification, that the written revealed revelation just kindof ended there.
Then you have the sects within Catholicism and Protestantism that rely heavily on the Spirit, with a "backup" of either the Pope or the Bible. The idea being that each person has some level of personal revelation that is important for the collective believer's assembly.
All of these rub me wrong, and I have not been able to really verbalize why, until this post. Where I will try. Basically, my concern is that none of these are completely followed by the New Testament believers. In fact, it seems their entire perspective on spirituality in the New Testament was almost like a beautiful tapestry of paranormal encounters with heaven. And it was these paranormal encounters that they explicitly allowed to influence their decision making.
Consider Jesus. He was announced not with logic, but with a star in the heavens, visitations of angels, and then in his early years of spiritual service with a voice from heaven and a vision of an object descending like a dove upon him. All of these are paranormal signs from heaven.
Then consider Peter's vision of the animals in the sheet and the instruction to eat from them. This was anathema to anyone following the Old Testament Law, and yet Peter and the entire early church accepted this vision as one (among several) reasons to abandon all of those laws. And there is no indication in the text that Peter "tested the spirits". Our entire freedom to eat any food is based primarily on a *paranormal *vision.
And what about Paul? Knocked on his butt by a sign from the heaven's, he shifted his entire life in response.
And that lot casting thing to determine who the other apostle was? What about that? Casting lots to make spiritual decisions is often frowned upon, but they all seemed quite comfortable to do it.
So what is going on here? My views now are the entire ancient text and church tradition is founded on people who were seeking what heaven wanted and were keen to listen for heavenly signs to guide them. And the more pronounced the sign was, the more strongly it should be interpreted as heaven's blessing or Heaven's Mark on an individual or an idea. This is the foundation of ancient near eastern Jewish thought about determining where to look for God's activity in the world.