Archives For September 2009

Is Religion an idol??

September 28, 2009 — Leave a comment

Is it possible for the Christian Religion itself to be an idol? I believe it can be and here is why.

  •   Yes, if it’s point is to show our superiority over others. Many of us Christians sit in our churches and seem to snub our nose at those who are not like us. We are convinced that we have all the answers to life and everyone else just needs to come to us to get it right. When we have this kind of mindset we have turned our religion into an idol. We must realize that we are all in the same boat when it comes to our salvation and eternal life. None of us earned out way into the Kingdom of God so therefore none of us is any better off than those we sometimes snub our noses at.
  • Yes, if used to pass judgment on others. The church in past history tortured and killed others who they call heretics. If this practice had continued into today there would be thousands of inquisitions going on right now! After all we currently have more than 35,000 versions of our Christian religion in the world today. Judging others is something that almost seems to be inherit in any religion and ours’ is not exempt. Although Jesus told us that that should not be the case.  
  • Yes, when you pick out something in the Bible that contradicts everything else and then use that as our prime reason for being a church. The prime example of this seems to be the version of Christianity around today that says that Jesus expects all Christians to be millionaires! They use one or two verses in the Bible to validate their position and ignore the other 99% of the text. It takes a very narrow mindset to fall into this type of church but there are indeed thousands who have evidently done so.  
  • Yes, when churches are used at the defenders of tradition they are not following Christ’s lead. Many churches today say “we can’t possibly change our worship service; after all we have been doing it this way for years!” We, like the Pharisees in the past, confuse our traditions with our dogma and doctrine. Jesus chastised the Pharisees and I’m sure he will do the same thing to us if we fixate on our traditions over his demand for love and non-judgmental behavior.

Churches throughout history have done things that are directly against Kingdom issues. Jesus made it clear that one of the primary foundations of being Kingdom people was to love one another. As pointed out by Greg Boyd in his book The Myth of a Christian Religion

Church history is full of people being tortured and put to death for such heresies as not acknowledging the authority of the Church, baptizing wrongly, and denying the Trinity. Yet we don’t have any record of anyone so much as having their hand slapped for embracing the worst heresy imaginable—namely, failing to love and do good to one’s enemies, as Jesus commanded. That leaves me speechless! Defenders of the tradition sometimes argue that we can’t hold ancient Christians to modern humanitarian standards. Life in the ancient world was just more violent, they claim. This argument, however, is not very compelling. Jesus and the early church lived in eras that were at least as violent as any in Church history, yet they managed to love their enemies rather than engage in violence against them. The same could be said of a number of individuals and groups throughout Church history. For example, when Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans tortured and killed Anabaptists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the victims followed the example of Jesus and refused to fight back. Their faithfulness to the Kingdom bears witness against the faithlessness of those professing Christians who persecuted them. This is not to suggest that we can pass judgment on Calvin or anyone else in Church history. We are ourselves sinners who have planks sticking out of our eyes, so we must leave all judgment up to the One who alone knows the innermost hearts of people. But this doesn’t mean we can’t discern what is and is not the Kingdom. We can’t place ourselves above others—not even those who murdered “in Jesus’ name.” But we can and must clearly separate torturing and killing in Jesus’ name (or for any other reason) from the beautiful, Christlike Kingdom. Insofar as the Church engaged in activities like this, it was involved in the most heinous form of heresy imaginable—its orthodox beliefs notwithstanding. 

The established church is oftentimes a stumbling block to many in learning to love and follow Jesus. What many non-religious people see when they look at churches are expensive tax exempt buildings filled with hypocrites. They see people who show a marked sense of superiority over others. This behavior often masks out any Christ like love they may intend to be displaying. When churches fail to live in love for their fellow human beings they are indeed serving idols, not Jesus Christ.

Lets, each one of us, be constantly on the guard at our churches to make sure we follow Kingdom principles of unbiased love for one another. Yes, even for those sinners who are not yet members!

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This post is more or less a follow up of the previous post discussing the differences between Christian sects. I have been thinking lately about why there are so many versions of God and in particular Jesus’ Church. The more I study theology the more versions of Jesus I seem to come across. There are more than 35,000 different Christian sects out there now and each one thinks their version of Jesus is the “real” one and all the others have it to varying degrees wrong. I think that almost everyone wants a version of Jesus that they feel the most comfortable with. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Jesus did not come to the earth to make us comfortable. He said as much when he told us that we must all bear our crosses. I don’t know how to discern who the real Jesus is? Everyone says their Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible but they can’t all be right. How can we tell if our version of God is the real one? -We really can’t for sure. Some say “study the Bible” but that is what they all say they do? I believe almost all versions of God are man made and it has become too difficult for the average person to discern which one is real. I am currently perplexed by this issue.  

Here are some tabbed thoughts on how I think we might pick our personal version of God:

  • We migrate to the version of God that we need to validate our individual worldview.
    • If we are humble we migrate to a god that appreciates humility.
    • If we are prone to arrogance we migrate to a all powerful god who chooses us over many others.
    • If we feel guilty about how we live our lives we migrate to a god who will forgive us no matter what we have done.
    • If we are poor we migrate to a god who will make us rich in the next life.
    • If we have deep compassion for others we migrate to a god who tells us to serve others.
    • If we are greedy we latch onto a god who minimizes giving to others and maximizes individual accountability.
    • If we change our worldview due to personal experiences we look for another version of god to validate our new worldview. 
    •  
  • We migrate to a version of God who we need to mentor us in this life. Some say they need no mentors; some need very strong mentors.
  • We migrate to a version of God given to us by our ancestry. We don’t often change our version of God except when our current worldview is seriously disrupted. 
  • There are some people who need to have a close friendship with their God and there are others who want a God that is less details and more of a high level God. 
  • We seem to constantly re-invent our God to fit our changing worldview. 
     

This problem of different versions of God exploded exponentially after Luther and the Reformation. But maybe I have also fallen into this trap with my belief that we should all seek to know God on a personal level. Maybe I am inventing a God to fit my own worldview? Sometimes I think we should just go back to the original version and forget the rest. They had disagreements in the early church, for instance the Corinth church, but they worked them out instead of splitting. But then again, who is the original version of the church?

This is an awfully theological sounding title and is not typical of what I do on this blog. But as a result of the previous post I just wanted to study a little more on this justification issue. In particular I will be looking at how the major dominations differ in their views of justification. In order to make this manageable let’s break this down into different paragraphs. I will start with the Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches and then show how as a result of the Protestant Reformation others came to view it. Just to understand the magnitude I am going to put some rough estimates on the church memberships being covered. Due to not being unable to discern practices of non-denominational churches which number in the thousands they will not be covered here. All told there are about 35,000 different Christians sects.

  

  • Roman Catholics — The Roman Catholic church who have about 1 billion members, like almost all Christian sects, asserts that people are unable to make themselves righteous; instead, they require “justification.” Roman Catholics believe justification to be a three step process that goes on throughout a person’s life. The first step is accomplished through baptism. The person then progresses in his Christian life, he continues to receive God’s grace both directly through the Holy Spirit as well as through the sacraments. This has the effect of combating sin in the individual’s life, causing him to become more righteous both in heart and in action. This is progressive justification, or “being made righteous”. The last step is the individual’s works will then be evaluated. At that time, those who are righteous will be shown to be so. This is the “final justification.”

     

  • Orthodox Church — The Orthodox Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, believe that justification is a process. Within Christianity, the term orthodox occurs in the Eastern Orthodox, Western Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches as well as in Protestant denominations like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The most prominent one I believe is the Eastern Orthodox Church which broke off from the RCC sometime in the 5th century. Its members, who total about 225 million, think of themselves as being the original church and that the Roman Catholic Church split off from them. I personally have not studied this so have no opinion on who is the oldest. Anyway, their views of justification are very similar to the RCC. They mainly differ in the last of the three stages. That is what happens at the final judgment.

     

  • Lutherans — Lutherans who have about 20 million members in 20 or more different denominations, generally believe that justification is an event rather than a process. They believe that justification is in no way dependent upon the thoughts, words, and deeds of those justified through faith in Christ. The new obedience that the justified sinner renders to God through sanctification follows justification as a consequence, but is not part of justification. The degree of works that is part of sanctification varies from person to person and is up to each individual to determine for themselves. Lutherans believe that it is possible to lose justification but only by a total loss of faith and basic rejection of God.

      

  • Methodists — Methodists who have about 75 million members in 50 or more denominations, also believe that justification is an event. John Wesley, who is the founder of the Methodist Church, was heavily influenced by the thoughts of Jacob Arminius and the Governmental theory of atonement. He held that God’s work in us consisted of grace, which undoes the effects of sin sufficiently that we may then freely choose to believe. An individual’s act of faith then results in becoming part of the body of Christ, which allows one to appropriate Christ’s atonement for oneself, erasing the guilt of sin. However, once the individual has been so justified, one must then continue in the new life given; if one fails to persevere in that new life or if he in fact falls away from God in total unbelief, the attachment to Christ and with it, justification can be lost.

     

  • Reformed Church — The reformed church who has hundreds of different denominations and counts about maybe 80 million members, gets much of it’s doctrine from John Calvin. Calvin basically believed that God chooses some to go to heaven but most to go to hell and that choice is God’s alone and therefore has nothing to do with the person themself. Therefore many of them consider the process is an event instituted by God and therefore can never be lost by the “chosen”. It must be noted that some churches usually identified as “reformed” do not follow this theology and therefore may have different views of Justification.

     

Wikipedia, which much of the information comes from, summarizes these differences in the following table.

 

Tradition Process
or
Event
Type
of
Action
Permanence Justification
&
Sanctification
Roman Catholic Process Synergism Can be lost via mortal sin Part of the same process
Lutheran Event Divine monergism Can be lost via loss of faith Separate from and prior to sanctification
Methodist Event Synergism Can be lost Dependent upon continued sanctification
Orthodox Process Synergism Can be lost via mortal sin Part of the same process of theosis
Reformed Event Divine monergism Cannot be lost Both are a result of union with Christ

As a summary the Reformation churches and the Reformed churches (about 30% of Christians) generally take man and his actions out of the process of Justification whereas the Catholic and Orthodox churches (about 70% of Christians) hold that justification comes from God but requires action by Christians to come to completion. Who is right about this?  They both can’t be.

Justification?…

September 17, 2009 — 2 Comments

This post will be the last and the most difficult post for me in this series on personal reflections in my walk with Christ.

 Justification is an issue that I personally have troubles with. What is the theological definition of justification:

a forensic term, opposed to condemnation. As regards its nature, it is the judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law, i.e., as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon (q.v.) of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1-10). It proceeds on the imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself of the perfect righteousness, active and passive, of his Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-9).

Pasted from <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/justification>

 We are told that Jesus had to come down from heaven and die on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven. This is one of those things that I just have to take as a “leap of faith” as I just can’t fully grasp it. Yes, I have thoroughly studied all the rationale on how God needs to justify us. (As a matter of fact in my next post I am going to look at how the various sects of Christianity look at justification. They are by no means the same. The basic principle is God had to have some sacrifice in order to look past our sins. He did this by taking on human form and coming to earth to live a sinless life and to be wrongly persecuted and murdered on the cross and then to be resurrected. This may sound sacrilegious to some but my human mind just can’t get wrapped around this idea! If God is totally sovereign, which I know he is, why was it necessary for him to do this to himself? Why couldn’t he just declare us heaven worthy instead of limiting himself to this option? Getting yourself killed so sinners could accepted in heaven is confusing to me??

 By saying this am I saying that I think it was unnecessary for God to come among us in the human form of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! Just look at the Old Testament history to get an understanding of how miserably we humans were at living a Godly life. God’s chosen nation, who is a primary subject of the Old Testament, again and again rejected him and seemed to be more interested in their traditions than in seeking God’s will. God had sent them prophet after prophet to try and set them right and it did no good! So as the next act of agape love God decided to come down in the form of Jesus Christ to teach us how to love one another and show us how to lead a God pleasing life. Unfortunately even this act has been rejected to this day by of his “chosen” people. By coming to us in human form and living among us Jesus gave us direct revelation in his own words and more importantly by his daily actions. Jesus not only died for our sins but he taught us how to live!

 As I mentioned in a previous post three things I pray daily to Jesus for:

  • To love him more dearly
  • To understand him more clearly
  • To follow him more nearly

(Day by Day – Godspell )

Without the red letters in the Bible this would be much more difficult to do!!

 After Jesus left he came back in the form of the Holy Spirit who is still constantly with us and around us. I sometimes think that we Christians don’t do much homage to the Holy Spirit himself and to his mission but that is future post I guess. So, this accounts for our belief in the Trinity. I am fully on board with this.  

To summarize:

Am I saying that justification was unnecessary? No, I am not; I am just saying that I personally can’t fully grasp the meaning of it. I certainly don’t pretend to have a full understanding of God so I just take it as a “leap of faith” that it was necessary. After all, Jesus even said so in the red letters so I will accept it without fully understanding it. I don’t think it is wrong to truthfully admit that one does not understand something biblical. But, I’m sure some do think that.  

But I do believe that it was totally necessary for Jesus to come among us in order to teach us how to truly love God and to show the same in his daily life. All glory and honor go to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Next time I will get back to the usual topics of this blog. Thanks for putting up with me while I vented some of my personal conflicts about my walk with Christ.

Judging—

September 14, 2009 — 3 Comments

This is a continuation of my personal reflections on how I am doing at “being” a disciple of Jesus Christ.

During his three year ministry on the earth Jesus judged no one except the religious establishment.  Judging is a major idol in that Its purpose is usually to make us superior to others and that takes away our focus on God who is the ultimate judge at least at the final judgment. Here are some worthy passages in the red letters on the topic of judgment.

Matt 7:1-5

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Judging is perhaps the ultimate form of idolatry. When we judge others we are most often putting ourselves above them. Jesus came to die for ALL. He had unsurpassable love for all. That is why he did not judge people, not even the woman being stoned for adultery.

There is a difference between judgment and discernment. Greg Boyd does a good job of explaining this in one of his books (I forgot which one 🙂 ) but I still don’t fully understand the difference. Sometimes judging is good and sometimes bad. As I said if we judge with the intent of making ourselves superior to the one we are judging then I believe it is always bad. The Pharisees were experts in this type of judging. Some say the judgment that Jesus was talking about was our judging others as to only whether they deserve to be in heaven. I personally think it goes well beyond that!

What I believe to be our natural in-bred tendency to judge others is what Jesus was talking about when he mentioned the log in the above text. Judgment gets in the way of more important things. I must admit that this is one of those areas that I wish I could control much better than I do. I don’t think I often judge people as to whether they will be in heaven. But, I do OFTEN look at people’s actions and judge their morals and especially their narcissism. I often mention a condition that I think is rampant in today’s western societies. I call it Me-itis. This is where people have their head stuck up their own rear end so far that they can only see themselves. These type of people simply drive me batty. I am constantly judging them almost everywhere: when I drive, at the mall, and yes sometimes, but hopefully rarely, even in church! I judge people who I see playing golf on Sunday morning instead of being in church. I judge people who spend lavishly on themselves but seem to have no compassion for others. And as the previous post mentioned I judge people who don’t have the same level of enthusiasm for the same discipleship issues that I do.

I could go on and on about this failure of mine but I think you get the idea. I pray daily, if not hourly, that Jesus give me some of the infinite love he has for ALL of us. I should love and have compassion for everyone especially those who I catch myself judging.

This is a continuation of my personal reflections on the world and where I might fit into it.

 Is doing “church” separate from doing discipleship? Let’s investigate that question. I have always assumed that the two were actually the same but recently I have come across a couple of definitions of church that seem to separate the two practices.

Here is a definition of “church” from Greg Ogden in his book Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ: ” The church is a caring community, a serving, studying, praying, healing community. But what is the fundamental purpose of the church? If it is true that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then fundamentally the church is a worshiping community”.

Is it possible that doing church and doing discipleship are indeed be two different things? Do we have one group of Christians who form our worshipping community and another, for those of us who are so inclined, to reach beyond our door out into the world. My church is certainly strong in worshipping God and they do it very well!

I don’t know if that is common to most Christians or not. I may certainly perceive this wrong and I hope this doesn’t come off as judging, but it seems that my church mainly wants to do the usual things: worship service, Bible studies, church dinners and of course a full menu of committee meetings. But many members just don’t seem to have as strong an interest in the poor and down trodden that I do.

Don’t get me wrong, we do have outreach but never enough for my satisfaction. This year we have done or will do several projects in our community. We are perhaps more engaged than many churches in our area but never enough for me . It is usually only a small core of members actually participate in these activities and they are almost always one-time events, not an on-going thing that requires day-to-day commitments.

My discipleship work takes me around the community and, at least monetarily, around the world. I give my time and financial support to a local homeless shelter, a regional food bank, the Salvation army and a couple of international “feed the poor” organizations and even a Christian organization focused primarily on political issues. In the past it has bothered me that my “church” members don’t seem to share the same commitment in the things that I have passions for.

 I used to get upset about this but I am now learning to chill out somewhat now. That is just the way it is I guess. My pastor keeps telling me that I may not be aware of what others are doing and spending their time on. Maybe they are committed to a day-to-day discipleship activity but I am not aware of it? I know that I am a retired old white guy who now has the time to spend on discipleship things. Maybe, actually probably, I am being too harsh on others who do not share my enthusiasm for such things. I also have more time to read the Bible and as a result I hear Jesus “screaming” that loving your neighbor is where he wants us to be. No one, including me, ever seems to be able to do enough! At least the need never seems to be even remotely quenched.

 In summary, is doing church and doing discipleship the same thing. In a perfect world they would be but given the reality of our times they are not the same today. Christians today are just not that homogeneous anymore (if they ever were). We seem to concentrate on only our personal limited versions of both these topics.

Two Types of Worldviews…

September 7, 2009 — 1 Comment

In the next few posts I am going to do some personal reflections. Will they be objective; of course not, after all they are personal to me and where I am in my life right now. If I am nothing else I am compassionate about things I truly believe in! I don’t pretend to have answers to the questions I have but I am constantly seeking wisdom from God’s word, particularly the red letters.

Here is my first observation:

 There seems to be two basic types of worldviews around today.  

  1. I am the master of my fate: I am in control of my life. I am accountable for everything that happens to me. If I run into an obstacle it is up to me and me alone to overcome it. Therefore everything that I accomplish and any wealth I accumulate is mine and mine alone. Do not tax it or take it away from me to give to others who do not deserve it. I alone deserve it and I don’t need to  share it with those who were not as strong as I am. They are failures; I am a success.   They need to pull themselves up like I did.                                                                                        
  2. There but for the grace of God go I (I paraphrase this as “Shit Happens”) – Many things that happen in my life are really out of my control. Prosperity primarily depends on where you were born. How you grew up and the opportunities that were given to you. It is up to those who had better opportunities and therefore prospered to have compassion on those less fortunate than themselves. We must share the prosperity that we have gained. It is not ours alone.

I’m sure that there are people who call themselves Christians in both of these camps. But, I personally am in the second group. For at least the last several years I seem to be constantly thinking about those on the margins of society in the US and around the world. If I had not been born to a lower middle class family in the Midwestern United States I could be spending all my current time just trying to survive from day to day. After all, this is typical with almost half the present world’s population. Instead I have plenty to eat, a nice place to live and not many worries (except for the self made and often self centered kind). We people in the western societies need to be reminded more often just how easy we have it.

I would not even attempt to guess what the percentage of Christians are in each of these groups. But, what does the Bible say about these two worldviews? I think I need to study on this some but I have a general idea that group 2 is closer to the way the Lord intends us to live and I will continue to strive to be in that group.

God put this unrelenting urge to find the meaning of life into us for a reason. He wants us to constantly seek him of our own free will of course. He loves us so much that he had his son become a human to die for us. His love is an all encompassing love (agape) for us. When Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” in John 10:10 he was directly addressing the issue of the meaning of life. Having life to the full means we know for certain why we exist and therefore we also know the mysterious “meaning of life”.

Getting into the fullness of Christ is indeed a very life fulfilling practice. It is also a lifelong pursuit. Just declaring Jesus as Lord and Savior is not what it is about. It is about living day-by-day and even moment-by-moment in the presence of God. If you want the true meaning of life this is it! It is not about things of this world so give up on that route; stuff is totally meaningless. As Jesus said:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt 6:19-23

Let’s put our hearts in the correct focus, on Jesus. I know that is corny sounding but until you actually do it, or at least seriously try, you will never understand just how profound that statement is!