Since the First Century, if not before, the choice of people of faith has been between empire approved institutions or the individual or tiny group quest for peace, justice and personal, if not cultural, transformation.
Could any of us even begin to imagine how different European (and world) history would have been if, instead of massive armed hordes of Crusaders, Christianity had been represented on the world’s stage by a dozen or so St. Francises?
Many pastors fear that if they were honest with their congregations about their doubts they would be fired, and the sad fact is: They probably would be. Not fired for some moral indiscretion mind you. But fired for being honest, fired for taking a stand of integrity. Those in the pews are no different. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from people who tell me stories of how they’ve been given the clear message that their questions are not welcome, and if they keep asking these questions they wont be welcome either. The same is true of seminary professors who are often reluctant to honestly pursue their studies, knowing that if they stick their neck out too far, it might get cut off. So while they should be pursuing truth, they can’t. Otherwise they put their livelihood and the well-being of their family in jeopardy.
So we are left with an isolating silence where we think we are the only ones with these thoughts. That’s indicative of a deeply unhealthy faith. Something is very wrong here…..
Stop for a moment and consider what it is we are defending when we focus on who is “orthodox” and who is a “heretic.” Consider the legacy we are upholding here: The history of heresy is one of people being tortured and killed. Is that really something to be proud of and uphold? Ask yourself what’s the bigger crime: Not getting the formulation of the Trinity quite right, or slaughtering those people by the sword? What’s a greater sin: Questioning a fundamentalist doctrine or working to destroy someone’s career and livelihood because they questioned it? The simple fact is, all the so-called “heresies” throughout history pale in comparison to the hurtful ways that people have been ostracized, threatened, and wounded by those who act as the champions of so-called orthodoxy.
The biggest heresy, the only real heresy, is the idea that trying to silence those by force, threat, and violence who disagree with you is a good and faithful thing to do. In fact it’s a sin. It’s wrong. And the fact that so many churches, seminaries, organizations and theological societies still do this is something we should be ashamed of.
Another thought provoking article from my friends over at Red Letter Christians. To me the exclusiveness of so many very conservative evangelical denominations is the primary reason why the church of Christ has shrunk so dramatically in the past decades. When discussions and especially questions are so adamantly stifled that usually leads to a mass exodus by those who are above the intellect of a toad.
To do almost anything to prevent questions be asked is just plain wrong headed in any aspect of our lives but particularly so in our spiritual lives….
Evangelism is a term very similar to “Jihad” in terms of public relations. It is a term cherished by those of us “inside” Christianity, but despised by those on the outside. Christians may think “spreading the Gospel,” but to others it means “socially awkward situations where you pressure me to accept YOUR beliefs.” Some on the progressive side of Christianity have suggested we should just stop proselytizing [converting] all together, conservatives often respond “What’s the purpose of our faith if aren’t trying to spread it?” I suggest the problem is the term “evangelise” itself.
I am growing stronger in my belief of universal salvation. If God truly loves each and every one of us, and I believe he does, then he will eventually somehow find a way to bring us all back to him. I know this goes very counter to many in mainline congregations today. Their theological foundation pivots around heaven, hell and eternal punishment. Like many evangelicals I used to mock the statement “since God is omnipotent and he clearly said he wants all of us to come to him he will make that happen”.
Since theology has been developed over the centuries by well-meaning men (and I do mean men) it is more a reflection of what man wants God to look like than who God might actually be. I like the old saying that “God made man in his own image and man returned the favor”. I am just not one to put God in a nicely fitting theological box. God is much more than ANY man can begin to fathom. He doesn’t need me, or anyone else, to tell him who he is or what he can do.
Evangelism, that is saving people for an eternal hell, just doesn’t have much sway with me anymore and maybe the word is just too tainted to use it for the real purposes of God. God gave us clear directions in what he wants us to do through the words of Jesus Christ. As the last, and most often omitted portion, of the Great Commission says, he wants us to teach others to obey what he commanded. He wants us to teach others by our actions what “being” a follower of Jesus Christ really means. As another old saying goes “action speaks louder than words”.
But there is also something else happening. A growing number of Americans (nearly a third, according to one Gallop poll) describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Books with titles like “Christianity After Religion,” “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” and “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” are gathering a growing audience. And the Emerging Church movement, seeking to live, as Harvey Cox puts it, “in a new Age of Faith rather than the old Age of Belief,” is inspiring many young people (and not a few of us old folks!) with fresh winds of the Spirit. It feels like once again, as in the old Buffy Ste. Marie song, “God is alive, magic is afoot.” And more and more people want to be a part of it.
It is nice to see that my two favorite flavors of following Jesus blend together with the quote above. Quakers are more about making sure people see the light within them than they are about increased membership. The Emergent movement has a similar view. It is all about “being” a follower of Jesus than it is about spouting certain beliefs or creeds. I must say that I am more inclined daily to include myself in the “spiritual but not religious” category. It is more about lifestyle than it is about believing the “right” things.
For the most part mainline churches today are about what you are supposed to believe instead of how you are supposed to live. Each has their own creeds that you must sign into in order to belong with them. If you cross that creed/belief line you are in jeopardy of losing your membership. Many people particularly the young just don’t align with that approach to spirituality. Instead of what to believe they want to know how they can help. Instead of getting a free ticket to heaven they want to know how to pay their debt to society.
Older generations, such as my own, have been very comfortable being told what to do. In that regard I want to bring in yet another post from a Quaker friend:
Then there are those who want an authority to tell them what to do, think, feel. That authority could be a priest, it could be a dogma, it could be a ritual, it could be a tradition. Whatever it is, it provides a kind of security that a whole lot of people find sorely lacking in their lives. If they can find it in religion, they grab it and don’t let go. Security is the second of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I have no argument with those who find it in this way. My heart goes out to them. I’m genuinely glad for them….
As in the previous post here, doing the “other gospel” of being rather than believing is just too hard for many. The something-for-nothing emphasis doesn’t require the day-to-day energy of the “being” version.
I find it amazing that so many young people today have already discovered what it took me year to find. They realize that to earn their place in humanity requires effort on their part. They see the “being” of the Emergent church as a driving part of their lives. Get-out-of-jail free cards are just not enough for them.
It’s harder emotionally, physically, financially, socially and culturally. It’s tiring. Without the Holy Spirit, without worship, without community I’d give up and go back to that old gospel. It was easier in those days, for sure.
It was easier when it was about me and my blessing, my healing, my salvation and inviting other people to enjoy my amazing new life. It was much easier when it was about going to church. About finding a Sunday service that made me feel good and affirmed what I already believed. It was easier when I could modify some moral behaviours and then live for myself, my ambition, my convenience and my comfort around that. It was easier when, because I knew my eternity was sorted, I could spend my days accumulating experiences, success, approval, dollars, possessions, relationships and the accolades that come from “ministry”.
Despite his having written an entire biography of Paul in Acts, Luke seems to be curiously unaware of Paul’s life and ministry as reflected in Paul’s authentic letters. None of Paul’s letters are mentioned in Acts. The language and theology of Paul’s speeches as told by Luke are so different in vocabulary and theology from the Paul of the authentic letters that it seems much of Luke’s Paul can be chalked up to dramatic license. The authentic Paul emphasizes justification and reconciliation while Luke’s “Paul” preaches righteousness and forgiveness. In other words, Luke’s Paul preaches in the theological language of Luke, not Paul.
From the book: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (Felten, David;Procter-Murphy, Jeff)
Even after all these years of being a follower of Jesus I am still constantly studying the Bible for new revelations in my life. As someone in the Bible said the words found there are useful for teaching and understanding. If only those who put so much emphasis on trying to prove that the Bible is without error and totally God breathed spent time instead trying to learn lessons about Jesus. I have adamantly come to believe that the Bible is a compilation of stories about God. It is not God nor did He dictate all of its words.
When we accept that the stories in the Bible were written by well meaning men, and maybe even a few women, we can see things as cited above. We can then understand that maybe Paul’s letters were just not deemed of great importance at the time. Maybe they were just that, letters to council some troubled congregations and were not necessarily meant for eternity. Why do the stories of Paul differ so completely from the letters Paul allegedly wrote? The only logical and reasoned conclusion is that both the letters and what came to be known as the Book of Acts were written by men and maybe they are not even written by or about the persons we currently ascribe them to. That fact does not destroy or even reduce their usefulness to us.
There are just too many today who spend all their energies trying to stubbornly stick to some thousand year old beliefs that don’t deserve all the energy devoted to them. If instead these people would spend that energy living out their lives as Jesus showed us. Being a follower of Jesus is more than about proclaiming certain beliefs, it is about actually “being” a disciple…
I will end this post with another quote from the book:
For many religious people, it takes some serious readjustment to change those theological underpinnings and recast Christianity as something fluid. Some are too controlled by fear—of change, of uncertainty, of being called heretical—to make the shift. They keep trying, desperately, to hold on to old conceptions as if their eternal life depended on it. But there are alternatives.