Today I am going to divert from the red letters to talk a little about St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Being content this is something we Americans never seem to be able to do! Being content means not worrying whether our neighbor has a newer car than you, or …
These words were spoken by St Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. This is kind of an unusual letter as Paul’s letter seem to go. He basically just wrote it to thank the Philippians for a gift. But it does show us some more about what he considers good Christian living.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
I have the ‘content’ thing down a little better than when I was younger but still have quite a ways to go to reach St. Paul’s definition. It seems that the more you have the more you want and that isn’t contentment. Paul goes on to tell the Philippians to do everything without complaining or arguing. We could certainly use that advice in today’s world. There just seems to be so much bitterness and discontent out there lately.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
These are some among the verses I label “Do what I Say”. There are a lot of them spread out among the Gospel text. I will be covering many of them in future blogs. It seems pretty clear that Jesus is saying if you do not at least try to do what I say then you are a foolish person who has built your salvation on a very weak foundation. All of these words fly in the face of some Christians today who say that Jesus only requires us to say the words that he is Lord and Savior; nothing else. To me this is akin to buying a fire insurance policy that you put on the shelf and pull out only when you need it. I don’t think Jesus is going to redeem those policies on the last day but, of course, I could be wrong. Some say that even saying the words can only happen if God allows it? That is the Calvinist critique. I’ll save that for another day. To sum this up I think that Jesus really does mean for us to do what he says. If that is not the case then much of what he said is wasted.
subtitle: [33,000 Christian Demoninations]
Here are our red letters for today.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus told us that through unity, we would affect believers outside the faith by showing them the mission of Christ. He wanted us to stay in the faith as one group united together. Here we are 2000+ years later and have we listened to his words? Of course the answer is NO!! Christians are currently fractioned into about 33,000 different denominations! The primary cause of this division is doctrinal and Scripture disagreements. We just can’t seem to agree on what the Bible is supposed to be telling us. I’m sure each of the 33,000 groups is proclaiming to be the champion of the true words of the Bible. Most of us have an easy time agreeing on the authority of Scripture, but interpreting it has been a very different story.
Why not put scripture in context and study how the early church interpreted the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles? Who has a better understanding of the Gospel, the man in 2008 interpreting it for himself from a copy of a copy of a copy of the original text or the people who actually learned it at the feet of Jesus or the Apostles? By studying the history of the early Church, we can come to a better understanding of what those first generations of Christians actually believed. To me it seems almost ludicrous to think that our detached Sola Scriptura interpretation is more reliable than their theology and praxis. But, there are in fact many denominations who believe exactly that.
Eusebius was an early Christian historian. Many say he was the first. Eusebius’ historical account attests, as late as the 4th century that the Church was still arguing about which books constituted the New Testament. The New Testament was not the rule of Faith for the early Christians since a New Testament as such didn’t exist at that time and even if it did people were for the most part illiterate so they couldn’t read it even if they had gotten their hands on a very expensive copy. Instead, church teachings were passed down from generation to generation and kept pure by a clerical hierarchy. The undisputed historical record of what that early Church believed should be a more authoritative measure of the Faith than any modern interpretation based on Scripture alone? This is why traditional, historical Christianity has always wisely accounted Scripture and Tradition as two expressions (written and oral) of the same Gospel.
Many today agree that you must put all verses of the Bible in the context of which they were written. You can’t isolate a particular phrase or rule from the teachings around it. But, many of these same people then refuse to look at early church history to more thoroughly understand the words of Scripture but instead insist that the Bible alone is all they need. They do not take into account the church history or culture at the time to understand the underlying meanings of the New Testament text.
Unfortunately, it looks impossible for all of us Christians to ever be one as Christ instructed us. That is until the second coming. At that time I’m sure we will all be shown the errors of our ways. In the mean time let’s all try to be a little more tolerant of our fellow Christians understanding of scripture. Yes, there are absolute principles on which Christianity has to be based but most of our disagreements seem to do with the decoration of our Christian house not its foundation.
Ok this maybe anti-American but Jesus was definitely anti-stuff. When Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the Word he told them to take nothing with them. They weren’t even allow to take and extra pair of sandals for their long walk and they did a lot of walking in those days! And then remember the rich man who approached Jesus to learn how to get to heaven. That ended up with Jesus telling him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor and then follow Jesus and his ragtag team. Of course the rich man, as most of us today, could not even conceive of doing that. He just went away rejected.
We, especially in the United States, are totally addicted to our “stuff”. Of course being a capitalist country our whole economy depends on all of us buying more and more “stuff” each year. It’s not good enough to just buy the same amount as we bought last year; we have to always buy more ;). If we fill our house with “stuff” then there is always the garage. If even the garage is full then how about off-site storage which is one of the few remaining growth industries. Or now we can even have our storage unit brought to us for filling up (PODS). If we run out of money to buy our “stuff” there is always another credit card offer in the mail. Let’s face it buying “stuff” is a vicious cycle that is difficult to break
Getting back to the rich man as mentioned above, many Christians now rationalize that to be just a story and not what Jesus really intendeds for us to do. From my studies of early Christianity that was definitely not the case with them. For at least the first few hundred years many, if not most, affluent people really did sell everything when they started following Jesus. I’m not sure exactly when this practice fell out of the favor but I expect it was around the time that Constantine made Christianity a State religion. I think we need to give up some “stuff” and then revisit the practice of giving to the less fortunate than us? But of course we could never go all the way as Jesus mentioned. The apostle John made the following statement in 1John. ” This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence “. Let’s put these word in today’s lingo or at least what I perceive it to be. John says you have to back what you say with actions or the words are meaningless. To me John is flatly saying that if you have faith in Jesus then you WILL do these things. That gets us into a much deeper subject of “works vs. faith” which I will tackle in a future postings. For now, let’s buy less “stuff” and help our less fortunate brothers a little more.