Archives For April 2013

Living The Message….

April 30, 2013 — 2 Comments

Emergent congregations are especially well equipped to live creatively in the newly post-Western Christianity. They are careful not to confuse the life and message of Jesus with the “Western” elements in which it has been packaged. They try to assign equal weight to both the message and the context so that a new version of the old story can take shape. They strongly underline “living the message” rather than simply proclaiming it. They experiment with settings, like cafes, in which two-way exchange rather than one-way preaching is possible

The Future of Faith (Cox, Harvey)

The words above are one of the reasons I have such hope for the emergent movement currently taking place in Jesus’ church throughout the world. After studying the history of the church it has become obvious to me just how much of Jesus’ message has been twisted into man’s messages.  We need to strip away the worldly cultural part of the message so that its true heart can once again be glorified.

I am part Native-American and have read what the Christian missionaries did to that population. To me it was abominable how they tried to force their culture on the native population in this country at the same time strip their native culture away from them. It just wasn’t good enough to these early american missionaries to try to meld the two cultures together. They shamefully deemed their culture superior and determined to eradicate the other.

The message of Jesus Christ is what it is all about; the context from which the message is communicated is secondary in nature. Why didn’t these early missionaries understand that? But even how the message is delivered is not as important as living it in your life. If you don’t do that then you are rightly proclaimed to be a hypocrite.

“Doing church” is something that I have often been critical of in this blog because I believe it is often the same as putting the context above the message. I still quite clearly remember when I suggested that the Lutheran church where I was a very active member do a second different format service on Sundays. I remember the immediate and adamant opposition to the very idea coming from the clergyman and many of the long time members.  That was maybe the beginning of my separation from that group.

I admire many emergent churches for trying different setting for “doing church”. Cafes, two-way exchanges in place one-way preaching and thousand year old liturgy, just might be a better way to present Jesus to a new generation. Why are so many resistant to that idea. When the method of delivery becomes more important than the message of Jesus it is time to step back and take a thoughtful look at how you are doing church.

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They had turned the way of Jesus, I felt, into the club of the Pharisees, and they didn’t speak for me, even though their spokesmen dominated the dialogue night after night on cable TV. The terms “Evangelical” and even “Christian” had become like discredited brands through their energetic but misguided work.

I increasingly understood why more and more of my friends winced when the name “Jesus” was mentioned in public. It wasn’t due to a loss of respect for Jesus, but for those who most used his name. In spite of all this, few of my fellow pastors and leaders had the courage to speak out for fear of losing members or their contributions. For a while, I’m ashamed to say, I was among their silent number.

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (McLaren, Brian D.)

The above words are one of the things that anger me about today’s church. The ones who seem to have it right just will not take a stand against those who are polluting the name of Jesus!!

I know that the author of the words above is considered a “liberal” by many of the  fundamentalist evangelicals and therefore is not to be trusted with God’s word (their words not mine). Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about him.

Many of the books that McLaren has written, including the “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy, deal with Christianity in the context of the cultural shift towards postmodernism. McLaren believes this theology enables him to approach faith from what he considers a more Jewish perspective which allows faith to exist without objective, propositional truth to believe. He has also challenged traditional evangelicals’ emphasis on individual salvation, end-times theology and the prosperity gospel. He also creates an antithesis between personal trust in God and belief in his propositions:

“I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God.” – Brian McLaren

It takes courage to strike out against those who pollute the name of Jesus and there are many out there that do just that. They want to put one form of selfish message on Jesus to tell you that he wants everyone to be millionaires or other such things.

For example, let’s say we approach the Bible with this question: How should we treat our enemies? Matthew 5:44 tells us to love them. Romans 12:17–21 tells us to do good to them and never seek revenge against them. First Peter 3:13–17 tells us to suffer at their hands and set an example for them. Psalm 137:9 says we should joyfully dash their infants against a rock. Psalm 139:19 says we should hate them. Deuteronomy 7:1–6 says we should destroy them utterly and show them no mercy. If we want to call down fire on them, we can reference 1 Kings 18:20–40, but before we do so, we’d better check Luke 9:51–56, which condemns that kind of thinking. Similarly, we could find verse precedents in the Bible to justify polygamy and celibacy as equal or better alternatives to monogamy (Gen. 4:19; Exod. 21:10; Deut. 25:5–10; Titus 1:6; 1 Cor. 7:1, 29), not to mention a wide array of rules governing dietary, sanitary, clothing, personal grooming, and agricultural matters.

Source: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (McLaren, Brian D.)

I have admitted several times on this blog that for the last several years I have focused almost entirely on the New Testament. The Old Testament seems to be, well old!  One of the biggest mistakes I made in my early Christian life was not that of moving away from it during my teenage years but instead trying to re-enter it by reading the Bible from cover-to-cover.

About half way through Genesis I found myself thinking “do I really want to be a Christian this bad?” It took several months for me to struggle through the Old Testament. By the time I reached anything to do with Jesus I was for the most part burned out on my cover-to-cover exercise. I must admit that as a result I pretty much only skimmed the New Testament. In other words I got it totally “bass-ackwards” so to speak.

Luckily I happened upon a few authors who gave me reason to go back and start again with a different view of the Bible. It has been years since I have done any serious study of the old stuff. I occasionally browse through Proverbs and Psalms. There are some very inspiring words in those two books. But I stay away from pretty much the rest.

When I do venture into the Old Testament now I come across much of the dichotomy found in the quote above. The god of the Old Testament just doesn’t seem to be the same god as Jesus told me about. Some say that the purpose of the Old Testament was to point to Jesus. In trying to justify that stand they give me this and that verse that if I hold my tongue just right and stand on one leg I maybe can see the link.

I might be doomed for the proverbial fires of hell because of these beliefs (I’m pretty sure some of the past clergy in my life would agree) but just give me Jesus. I will put my heavenly status on him and his messages alone.

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I am only now beginning a serious but somewhat sporadic study of church history but even at this point in my study it is clear that the church has remained silent about many moral wrongs of the times.  The most notable in recent history is the holocaust.  Millions of Jews were being sent off to their deaths by Hitler and the church for the most part remained silent.

By their silence they were indirectly condoning the moral wrongs. When there is hatred and moral wrong being committed on any in our society the church of Jesus Christ must speak out against it as Jesus himself did. But lets face it, silence in the church is notorious.

Another example is the slavery and the later Civil Rights era in our country. While Martin Luther King was marching throughout the South to end segregation most of the church was silent. Some even condoned segregation as being biblical. They said the bible told slaves to obey their masters. Many passively stood by while racists burned church after church in southern states.

I recognize that many in today’s church are of the ultra-conservative brand who adamantly resist change. They will do anything to maintain the status quo as change is just too frightening to them. Unfortunately many have hooked their churches up with the radical right political agenda of our times. This link is proving to be detrimental to the fabric of the church. They are quickly losing tomorrow’s members as a result of this attachment. They are even losing seniors such as myself who don’t see the words of Jesus in their actions.

I want to believe that this type of silence is due to human nature instead of the soul of the church. Many are just too afraid to attack the problems of the times. It seems that when personal wants and needs are thrown opposite of the foundations of the church the foundations end up with cracks.

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation.

via What it means to be a Christian….

These words come from Rachel Held Evans blog but are the words of Brennan Manning. Until I had read them I was unaware of who he was. He had a very robust life and was a prolific writer for a former Jesuit priest.  He passed on to the Lord recently. Here is an additional inspiring quote from Wikipedia.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle,” Manning has said. “That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Both of these quotes hit to the heart of why I blog here. I reject the idea that Jesus came to this earth for the sole purpose of dying for our sins. I now know that this concept was not fully fleshed until a millennium after his time on earth. Jesus came to teach us how to live a joyful and meaningful life and then he was murdered and come back to life to prove to a stubborn world that he was God’s son.

It is a well known fact that most people can’t see the difference in lifestyles of Christian from others. It is more sinful to call yourself a Christian and then go on and live you life as you had before than to skip that moniker altogether. Jesus intended us to listen to him and use his words as the foundation of our lives.

I now have a few of Mr. Manning’s books in my Kindle and hope to learn more about him.  Thanks Rachel for bringing him to my attention.

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I spent seventeen posts on my review of Philip Gulley’s book “If Grace Is True”. I’m sure this is the longest series on a single book or subject I have posted in over four years of the blog. With that extensive study complete I will be stepping back some to take a breath. In order to do that the next several posts will be pretty much “asides” in nature. That is they will be just random things that I have been thinking about lately.

Since I am my nature a guy who frequently asks “why?” many questions pop into my head on a regular basis and being a journal keeper, when they do they are usually written down for future thought. So, I will be dusting off a few for some quick words. If you have any insight into any of these topic I hope you will join in the conversation with a comment or two.

Here we are at the end of my study into universal salvation as presented by Philip Gulley in his book “If Grace Is True”. It took a lot longer to get here than I originally thought but this is a very serious subject so I shouldn’t be surprised. I am still not totally in the camp of universal salvation but I am definitely leaning pretty severely that way. I guess the lingering doubt has to do with all the years that it was drilled into my head that Jesus’ sole purpose for coming was to die for me a sinner. That type of guilt trip is hard to counter. As I am reading  the Bible going forward I will do so with universal salvation in mind and see if that affects my thoughts.

On reason I am leaning toward universal salvation is I’m sure a push back against being told all those years that God viewed me totally as just a poor miserable sinner. I know the apostle Paul almost fixated on that but I really don’t remember many words from Jesus emphasizing it.  I grew up with a very low sense of self-esteem and I’m sure the “poor miserable sinner” mantra  being drilled into me contributed toward that feeling of incompetence. I have eventually come to see God not as a wrathful being but a God who has agape love for all his creation. Yes, he is likely disappointed in our obedience to his demand to love each other but since agape love is all encompassing he loves us despite that falling. Why shouldn’t God’s total and unending love be the primary lesson for all who grow up in a Christian family? Why do we need to fear God when He says he is all about love?  I wonder how much different the world would be if more Christian kids were taught that God loves them and wants them to accomplish great things in their lives?

What if universal salvation is true? What are the consequences? To me they are many and significant. Christians spend so much time trying to get sinners to come to Jesus but if that has already been taken care of then we seem to be wasting our time doing something that is already a done deal. If we want people to understand who Jesus was then the best way to do that is to live our lives as Jesus taught us. He gave us that message more time than I can remember.

Of course if universal salvation is true then we can no longer believe that we will be the only ones in heaven. We can’t believe that the other 39,000 versions of Christ are wrong. We can’t make enemies of those of different faiths. Universal salvation makes the crusades and all the other murderous ventures that occurred in the church’s history totally senseless. It also takes  power away from the myriad of “fire and brimstone” religious leaders and put it back on God and His love where it belonged all along.

When it comes right down to it God said he wants everyone to come to him. Who am I to try and deny him that power??

Atonement….

April 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

One of the current foundations of the Christianity is the atonement. Generally that is thought to be Jesus taking the wrath of God for us with his substitutional crucifixion in order to appease God wrath toward man’s sinfulness.  I, like many others I’m sure, thought that atonement was a foundational issue with Jesus and the early church.  In reality it was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, was a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.  It was almost upsetting to me to learn this fact since so many of my gathered beliefs hinged on it.

We all like to think that the things we are told to believe about Jesus  were established by him.  In reality the idea of atonement was not settled until centuries after his death. Yes, Jesus mentioned here and there about dying for us but I don’t now believe it was ever a central theme. Even the concept of man’s innate sinfulness is still a matter for disagreements.  Are we born bad and must be saved, as some assert, or are we born good, as others maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world or was he here for other, or maybe additional. purposes?

Many think that if we disregard sacrificial atonement then we must throw Christianity out the window as Jesus’ death meant nothing.  To those the idea of universal salvation is pure heresy. But to others, like Philip Gulley who we are currently studying, it meant no such thing.  They believe that while it was unnecessary for God to come in the form of Jesus to kill himself, Jesus’ time on earth was to among other things to teach us how to live and how to love. While that purpose is very encompassing he also physically conquered death by his resurrection. That is no small thing!

Sacrificial atonement is something that I have always had trouble understanding. Why would God need to take on another form and kill himself to satisfy is own wrath?  Robin Meyers in his book entitled “The Underground Church” stated:

It is no coincidence that it took as long for the idea of the blood atonement to be fully formed as it took for Christians artists to begin to show us an image of the corpse of Jesus hanging on a cross.

No dead Jesus for a thousand years. This is not to say that the suffering of Jesus is unimportant; indeed it bears witness to the depth of his capacity to Love

It is not widely acknowledged in many Christian churches just how unresolved the issue of atonement is. It continues to be widely discussed even today.

Emptying Hell…..

April 16, 2013 — 2 Comments

If Grace is trueIt’s taken me many years to empty hell. As a child, I was taught only Christians would be saved. Billions of non-Christians would crowd hell. The thought of non-Christians in eternal torment didn’t disturb me because I’d been told Christians were good people and non-Christians were bad people. Since I grew up in a Midwestern American town where nearly everyone belonged to a Christian church, I had little opportunity to test this assumption. Non-Christians lived in the big city or in foreign countries—the places where we sent missionaries. I remember the first time I seriously questioned this worldview.

I was in college when I saw the movie Gandhi. I walked out of that theater forever changed. In Gandhi, I encountered a good man who was also a non-Christian. In fact, his commitment to love and mercy far exceeded that of many Christians. While he never acknowledged Jesus as Savior, he lived the way Jesus commanded us to live.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 162-163). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

After finally accepting God’s love I find it strange to believe that he is going to damn the vast majority of those he loves to an eternal anguish.  We spend less than a century on this earth in one degree of happiness or another and then billions, if not trillions of centuries in total misery and anguish. That is just not the God that I have come to know.

I too grew up in a very sheltered life in a small midwest town. There were no visible minorities there and there certainly were nothing but Christian churches of one flavor or another in the area. It was not until I went to college that I was exposed to anyone outside my usual cliche. Things would change rather dramatically for me during those years.  I learned that everyone who didn’t go to a Christian church were not bad guys. Many seemed to share the same level of morality that I did during those years.

It was later in my life than it was for Mr. Gulley that I saw the movie Gandhi but it also affected me greatly.  I went on to learn more about the man and the religious stands of his version of God. Gandhi was a man of infinite morals. He understood thing about loving your fellow man that I still can’t fathom. Why would God send him to hell while giving me a place in heaven.

I like the idea of emptying hell. Is God really going to eternally condemn those stubborn souls who fail to recognize him during their utterly brief time on this earth?

If Grace is trueI discovered the meaning of salvation. Salvation comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness. Only when we repent of this self-absorption and focus on God’s love can this love alter us. Then and only then can God transform hearts darkened by sin and soften hearts hardened by self-righteousness. It is from this self-absorption that we must be saved. Often, when I speak of my belief in the salvation of every person, someone will object that without the threat of hell, people would sin wantonly. They consider the possibility of eternal punishment as the only deterrent to human selfishness…..

The message of Jesus—that salvation is a matter of abandoning self-absorption and being transformed by the love of God—became obscured. Within two hundred years, salvation would mean believing “Jesus was the only begotten son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). We were no longer saved from our self-absorption. We were saved from the sin of not believing certain things about Jesus. Those who believed these things were saved, and those who didn’t were damned. Whether people lived the way of Jesus became irrelevant to some and secondary to many. Salvation became a status, easy to achieve and verify. This misunderstanding persists.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 154). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I very much like what Mr. Gulley says is the meaning of salvation and that is to believe that God loves you unconditionally.  The meaning of salvation has come to mean too many different things for different Christians. There are many denominations including the Lutheran ones I have recently been a member of who says that our salvation is a gift from God but then, contrary to their own dogma, go on to put conditions on salvation. They say if you don’t jump through all their “belief” hoops then your salvation is not assured.

As Mr. Gulley mentioned in the book many believe that only the threat of hell will keep us from going to the dark side of life. They consider  eternal punishment as being the determining factor of sticking to our faith.  I love the saying that our self-absorbed choices by their nature separate us from God and our fellow human beings. Sadly our obsession with self is very contrary to Jesus’ basic message to us.

I am a major advocate that the church rather quickly turned from our faith in the words of Jesus into a set of beliefs about him is the major problem with the fractured church of today. We are all so convinced that we alone have the only path to salvation figured out. Everyone else is wrong outside of Christianity and even within it to one degree or another.  As Jesus himself said his command to love God and to love each other trumps everything else in the law or the prophets. It is the totality of his message he brought to earth with him.  Why do we continually put obstacles into that simple path to understanding? Why do we want to obscure the real meaning of salvation?

If Grace is trueSince the very beginning, the disciples of Jesus have tried to destroy the opposition. Instead of patiently awaiting the transformation of others, we’ve quickly divided the world into “us” and “them.” We haven’t even reserved this distinction for those of other religions. We’re intolerant of any deviation from the party line. Catholics thought Protestants apostate and damned. Protestants returned the favor, then splintered into a variety of denominations. Many of those knocking on doors and sending missionaries overseas remain convinced their version of the Church is the only true Church.

This exclusive understanding of salvation has its comforts. It allows us to feel special, righteous, and part of the “in” crowd. However, in an increasingly pluralistic world, remaining comfortable with theological exclusivity is more and more difficult….

More disturbing are encounters with gentle, humble, compassionate people who understand salvation differently. What if they’re right and we’re wrong? Most of us ignore that question.

Limiting our interactions to those like us is one cure for discomfort. Another is to redouble our efforts to recruit more disciples to our group. There is strength in numbers. When denominations announce their membership or religions count their adherents, they imply numbers are an assurance of salvation….

We are uncomfortable with the thought that God might be at work in all the world, in all people, and even in all religious systems. Sadly, I’ve discovered that traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism share one common belief—they are certain God won’t save everyone.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 157-159). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The fights within the Christian church are the most troubling to me especially those over what to believe and that is almost all of them.  We have drifted so far from Jesus’ teaching to be one and he and the father are one.  Are there really any real Christian churches among us?  This troubling doubt about the homogeneity of the church has caused me to gradually migrate over into the spiritual but not religious category. The zeal that we all use to differentiate ourselves from other Christians, let alone those of other faiths, totally turns me off.

As Mr. Gulley says above I think a primary cause for this division within the church is seeking a cure for discomfort. We just don’t like to believe things that we are uncomfortable with. We want to be with others who think like we do; we just don’t like conflicts in our lives and particularly in our religious lives.  Counting membership is very important to every church I have been a member of. It is not good enough to call someone to Christianity but  instead they must be a part of our sub-sub-sub set of Christianity.

I’m sure it terrifies many Christians to think that maybe God will save everyone in the end and that what we believe in not as critical to our salvation as how we live out our faith.  Being a follower of Christ is not about getting more members, it is about loving each other and loving God.  I like the Lincoln quote about whether God is on our side or are we on God’s side. As for me and my house we will let God be God and not try to take any power from him. If God wants to save us all by one method or another it is certainly not my place to question it.

The one thing I like about the emergent trend now taking over the church is that they say they might not have it right about everything they espouse. Admitting that you could be wrong about some things is the beginning of bringing Jesus’ church back together.