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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”.
Mark Driscoll, the attention grabbing minister of the Mars Hill megachurch, is at it again. He’s pushing his badass Jesus who has, as he put it a few years ago, “a commitment to make someone bleed.” Driscoll has a personal need for a sacred tough guy because he has some sort of theological kink or character twist or… whatever, that leads him to declare, “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” It sounds to me like he’s looking for a swaggering gang leader to follow, not One who said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27)
I often say it that we must all seek to understand Jesus and his words on our own terms, we should not just accept what someone tells us. But seeking Jesus and inventing him are two different things. As mentioned in the source article Mr. Driscoll grossly ignores the gospel lessons in inventing his version of Jesus. I simply can’t understand how he can be the minister of the megachurch. It is very obvious from just these words that Mark is a very macho guy who sees the Jesus of the gospels as simply a guy who he could easily beat up so he uses a few verses from Revelations to “re-image” him.
I love the quote “God made man in is own image and man returned the favor.” Mr. Driscoll doesn’t like a wimpy Jesus so he made a new version in his own image. How pompous is that? But for thousands of others to follow along like sheep ignoring the thousands of places in the gospels that tells a very different story is beyond me! Whoever goes to that church must have more testosterone than brains.
Everyone should seek Jesus on their own but that does not mean to make him into any image you desire. Sadly finding one verse in the Bible and then fabricating your own version of Jesus is not a new thing…..
A robot is a useful piece of technology typically used for complicated or dangerous tasks. Robots, often mass-produced, make no decisions on their own and are completely controlled by others. I’m beginning to realize that every time I go to church I’m becoming a little more robotic – programmed into being the perfect fit as a member of my congregation. I guess it’s inevitable that all churches will have a particular theology that they rally around and teach but it’s important to be aware of what’s happening. We’re always encouraged to accept Jesus as Lord but when we’re rooted in a particular theology along with it comes a version of Jesus that reflects that theology. What’s a little scary is that sometimes that Jesus advocates going to war as the “Christian” thing to do.
Preachers have a very difficult role to play. They often want to talk about the peace teachings of Jesus but are afraid to in case they get negative reactions from members of their congregation who are either in the military or have family in the military. I sometimes hear from preachers who are actually worried about losing their jobs if they even mention Jesus’ way of peace in a sermon, so they just ignore it. The mindset in many churches seems to be that going along with government policy and the military is synonymous with being a good Christian. That certainly isn’t a Jesus principle but we’re in danger of being lulled into that mentality if we shut off all critical thinking…
I must say that I have seen the above attitude frequently in my life. People getting too cozy with their brand of Christianity to make them mindless to studying what it actually proclaims. In conservation with others when I was disagreeing with some specific doctrines of my previous church, they let me know that they thought I was getting too involved in theology. That I should just lay back and not worry about the differences between the words and the actions of the church I then belonged to. They advised me to just not worry about it. But that advice actually spurred me on to more questions.
How many of the Christians are robotic Christians in their practice of faith? I suspect that the number is much more horrifying than most imagine. The military stands of the actual words of Jesus are very difficult for some to admit. They seem to think that somehow Jesus didn’t really mean what he said about the peacemakers. “God and Country” are now so intertwined in so many people’s lives they somehow think they are one and the same thing. When we invade another country, no matter for what reason, we think that somehow God must have ordained and even encouraged our action. There are even congregations, particularly those in Texas and the South, that put a sword in Jesus’ hand and tell us he is leading us into each of our wars.
How sad is that?
On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.
On that morning three officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.
You got to read this one. I am glad that the leadership of Raleigh have worked out this issue but what is important is that it could have probably happened almost anywhere in the country.
1) We try to share our faith before we even have any.
I remember talking with a 13 year old girl who came to Chicago for a mission trip. I asked her what she was doing. She said, “I went downtown to evangelize the homeless!” At first, I thought, “how sweet,” but then I thought, “how arrogant!” First, why do we assume the homeless have no faith? Second, most men and women on the streets have a lot MORE faith than you and I. When was the last time we didn’t know where our next meal would come from? When did we have to trust God for shelter or protection from the elements? We may have good theology, but that is different from having faith. Most of us don’t know what it really means to have faith in God. Perhaps, we need to go sit at the feet of the homeless and learn from them how to have faith!
The Bible nowhere qualifies the command to help the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and the poor. The Bible never says “help the Christian poor” or “help the poor only if they listen to a 30-minute sermon.” God told the Israelites that they are God’s people if they help the poor and bring justice to the oppressed. No qualifiers. No agenda. No strings attached. Just love. Scandalous love. Jesus love. The kind we teach and preach about – the free gift of God, that we do not deserve and cannot earn.
These words come from one of my favorite blogs “Red Letter Christians” and really got me to thinking lately. In the past, that is in my previous Catholic and Lutheran lives I was told that God only loves people like us; that is other Catholic or Lutherans. Therefore our job was to talk to our neighbors and anyone else who might listen to try to convince them to join us. If they didn’t hell we were told was a surety. Of course this message has morphed somewhat over the years but its underlying theme remains the same. God only loves certain kinds of people who call themselves Christians.
Of course now that I am following Jesus and his words with no particular denominational affiliation I no longer march to this previous drummer. I take the words of Joy Bennett above to heart. God did not qualify his commands to help others. I find it kind of strange that when Martin Luther finally discovered the words of St. Paul in the epistle of Ephesians he did not take it all the way to its final conclusion. He deemed that God’s grace is a gift and not by works. But then he went on to put conditions on that gift. You have to be a Christian, you have to say the right words and belong to the right groups. You have to have the correct faith.
I no longer believe that God puts conditions on his love or grace. It is indeed free for all and unconditional. In that regard I am leaning strongly toward the concept of universal salvation. God will save us all in his own time and manner. I won’t invent anything like purgatory to show how God will do that; I will leave that up to Him. 🙂 In the Bible, He indeed told us he loves us all and wants everyone to come to him. In the coming weeks I will be presenting some of the things that have finally pushed me in this direction. When we accept God’s grace as universal it changes a lot about what we should be doing while we occupy this world. I will also be getting into those areas.
Of course, I realize that my beliefs are simply that; they are mine. I don’t claim any special connection to the Divine One. I won’t try to push what I believe on anyone else. I write them here in order to maybe help you with your path to God to see that you are not alone with these kind of thoughts.
My translation of the Bible is better than your translation.
Hymns are better than choruses.
The Contemporary service is better than the Traditional one.
My version of baptism is better than yours……
Another brilliant post by Stephen Mattson over at Red Letter Christians and it came just at the right time for me. I encourage you to read the full post by clicking on the source link just above. Better yet join the Red Letter Christian’s family on Facebook to see all their posts.
The words that struck me the deepest from the post are:
The temptation is to judge others and self-righteously pat ourselves on the back for being “good Christians.” Or we can become hopelessly depressed. Guilt, shame, pride, and legalism can quickly creep into our spiritual lives when we start comparing, and we often start constructing false ideals that are impossible to achieve. We need to recognize that everyone—including ourselves—is God’s creation, holy and sacred, made in His image.
I have not been posting here much lately due to these very thoughts. It seems I am constantly comparing my version of Christianity with others. It has become very frustrating to be in this mode. I simply can’t understand why other Christians don’t understand the simple messages of Christ as I do. My recent posts seem to be screaming “HERETIC” without actually using those words! I am becoming self-righteous and depressed at the same time. It is time to just step back and celebrate that we are all God’s creation and made in his image.
Recently, and maybe not so recently, I have spent most of my efforts here trying to get others to see Christ as I do. When I encounter other Christians who run counter to my version of Christianity I have become very frustrated and often even depressed and I think that has been showing up on my posts. This eye-opening post from Mr. Mattson ends with the words below. I will try going forward to live by the last paragraph in both my life and this blog. I will just accept the fact that God loves us all.
The world watches as churches split, pastors indict, and Christians accuse each other of being heretics, false prophets, and liars. We positively reinforce the communities we align ourselves with while simultaneously tear down those who disagree with us. Christians have a tendency to self-destruct because we love attacking ourselves. Instead of the fruits of the Spirit, we can easily exhibit the fruits of our secular society: revenge, bigotry, manipulation, disdain, disgust, power, control, profit, and alienation.
It’s easy to lose sight of Christ’s message, one that was simply about service, sacrifice, and love. Let’s not let our hidden agendas—ones that are often based on comparative measures—separate us from the love of God.
I currently don’t know the form or substance but this message will be the focus of future posts here. I will try to find and celebrate those instances of service, sacrifice, and love; I will focus on the love of God and not so much on the differences.
I have been studying the history of the church to try an understand how we got to where we are today. An important book in that investigation is entitled “A People’s History of Christianity, The Other Side of the Story” by Diana Butler Bass. This is not the first book I have read by this author and it certainly won’t be the last. With this post I am starting another book review series around this book. Here is a little about what Wikipedia says about her:
Diana Butler Bass is a historian focusing on the history of Christianity and the author of six books on American religion, three of which have won research or writing awards. She earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University in 1991, with an emphasis on American church history where she studied under George Marsden. From 1995–2000, she wrote a weekly column on religion and culture for the New York Times Syndicate that appeared in more than seventy newspapers nationwide. Currently, she is a blogger for the God’s Politics blog with Jim Wallis at Beliefnet  and is a Red-Letter Christian.
Being a U.S. history buff, when I see a title that starts with “A People’s History” I assume that it is more about what happened to the common people rather than the dominant leaders of those time. Many times the two are very different. A history of the depression as seen from the eyes of Roosevelt or any of the Washingtonians is very different from the history as seen by a dust bowl farmer or someone out of work for a long time. That is what I expected when I started this book and I was not disappointed with what I found.
The history of the church most often is around the predominant saints and theologians of the times. Or maybe it is about some of the shakers such as Luther, or a pope. What happens in the rank-and-file of the people often is unreported. There is an old saying that “history belongs to the victors” and the church is certainly not immune from that concept. Very little seems to still exist about those who had different views than the ones who won the individual battles.
Mrs. Bass spent I think three years researching this book. I personally have tried to study some of the early church writings but quite frankly they are difficult to understand given the different use of language of the periods. This book is well written and to the point. Most of the posts in this series wills start out with a given idea and a quote, or quotes, from the book. I will then add my personal observations and thoughts.
The posts will not be in a chronological order, nor will they be complete. I would highly encourage anyone looking for that depth to get a copy of the book and read it in its entirety. Since this review is being written as it is posted I don’t know exactly how many posts will be involved but I imagine it will be more than ten but less than twenty. For those who really want to understand how we got to where we are it is important to realize that there has never been a totally homogeneous period in the church where differing opinions were lacking.
“Friends have no creeds.” We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.
Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.
The above words by Doug Bennett over at Quaker-Quaker I believe pretty much tell what Quakers think about creeds. I must admit that when I got down to studied the common creeds in use today I found that almost all of the statements are about our understanding of God. In that vein I can understand the reluctance of my Quaker friends to embrace creeds. Today creeds seem to be mainly used as a tool to separate one group of Christians from another.
I know from personal experience that many of the different flavors of Christianity will tell their congregants that they must believe in the total truth of their particular denomination’s creeds or other statements of belief. I was told that since I believed that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and therefore did not believe in the total literal and inerrant bible that I would no longer have membership in the church I had joined over eight years before. The new minister called to that congregation believed it was his duty to exclude me and a couple of the more vocal participants in the weekly bible study.
Jesus Christ did not tell us that in order to be his followers we must pledge 100% allegiance to any particular man-made words or even beliefs. He did give us example after example of how he expected us to love God and to love one another. Those two things were what he wrapped his church around not words that were conceived by men many years after his death and resurrection.
I am not as creed averse as my Quaker friends. I believe that many creeds invented over the years, and there are literally thousands of them, have at least some redeeming merit in their thoughts. It is just that when they are used as a condition of being a follower of Christ that raises my ire. None of us, and I am including every human being who has come after Jesus, totally knows the heart or conscience of God. That is simply an impossible task. We in our meager attempt sometimes get it right but often get it wrong. That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to know what God expects of us but more that we simply can’t assume that we, to the exclusion of others, have it down pat.
One of the primary things that empresses me about the emergent movement is their admittance that they just may be wrong about some of what they currently believe about the heart of God. They believe that being a follower of Jesus is a life long learning experience that no one, and I do mean no one, ever graduates from. That is one belief that I don’t ever envision being wrong.