Sheer Christianity….

I came across an article entitled Sheer Christianity in the November 2012 Sojourners Magazine that moved me. I want to tell you a little about it and quote some of the inspiring words. It is by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson who is the general secretary of the Reformed Church of America. I have to admit that I don’t know much about this organization.  Here is a quote that got me to thinking about the issue. The article is basically about another article in Newsweek cover story entitled “Christianity in Crisis”

My sense is that people are leaving organized Christianity because it has left behind the radical message of its founder. It has been a long and continuous struggle….

The church confesses him as risen Savior and Lord. But then, so often, it tries to domesticate him, explaining away those sharp, demanding edges of his compelling words, and finding theological excuses for not following his radical ways.  We call upon people to believe “in” Jesus. But question is whether we “believe” Jesus…..

The more articles I run across about this the more I am surprised that what I discovered several years ago was not as outlandish as I had imagined.  When I sat down over four years ago and concentrated on the words of Jesus I discovered that his messages were not what I was hearing from the church congregation that I then belonged. Twelve years ago, as a condition of membership in that church, I was required to stand in front of the congregation and cite a bundle of various beliefs about Jesus. It didn’t strike at the time but all of those “pronouncement of beliefs” had little to do with the what Jesus told us to do. Instead were just things, mostly man-made, that I was required to believe about him.

From that point on for the next eight years I heard the common theme that I am a miserable person but God loves me anyway. I was told that if I felt like it I could say thanks to Jesus by my actions but those actions were totally optional. At the time that was convenient in that being a Christian, at least in that denomination, didn’t interfere with how I wanted to live my life. About the only thing required was to show up in the pews once in a while with a donation in hand and when I died I was assured that I would go heaven.  Pretty easy stuff, or at least that is what I was lead to believe.

But, as I mentioned above as I seriously studied into the words of Jesus I discovered that, contrary to what my church told me, being a follower of Jesus meant everything changed. I was to live my life as Jesus taught me. His words were very clear about that. The story about the sheep and the goats took on an entirely different meaning than what I was taught all those weeks in the pew. I was told that the sheep were believers and the goats were non-believers.  In reality I learned that, as Jesus said, the sheep are those that take care of the least of these and the goats were those that ignored Jesus’ words. So, as the quote above says many congregations today have domesticated Jesus. How sad is that????

I Believe……

The phrase “I believe” seems to have a lot of weight in today’s world but to me it is a cautionary phrase. We have to distinguish between “I believe” and “I am”. Let me give you an example of that:

“I believe that Jesus told us to take care of the poor.” This seems to be a powerful declaration but is it really?  What if I asked the person making the statement “What are you doing to take care of the poor?” and he said “well really nothing but I do believe that we should.”  I’m sure you can see how the second statement deflates any meaning to the first one. I think that is why so many call Christians hypocrites.

This to me is what is happening in the current day church. Our clergy leaders love to tell us in their weekly sermons that Jesus says this or that. But what seems to be critically missing is the call to actually do anything.  I sat in a pew week after week and heard what Jesus did for us but almost nothing about what we can do for Jesus’ kingdom on earth.  Instead I was told that according to Saint Paul I was nothing but a worthless miserable person who God expects nothing from.

I must admit that it has been more than two years since I sat in that pew but I have gotten on the website I created for that church to read some of the pastor’s recent sermons and they continue to be of the same old thing. “Jesus did it all and nothing is expected of you”. To me that is another way of saying that Christianity is a something-for-nothing religion.  To counteract this type of mentality I go to the red letters in the Bible to see what Jesus said and his message is quite different from those weekly sermons. We have set the bar so low for Christian actions that almost no one fails to get over it.

I do miss the fellowship of those Sundays spent in the pew, there were certainly some good and well-meaning people in that congregation.  But I don’t miss the constant mantra that I am a miserable sinner and Jesus expects nothing from me.  I have come to know Jesus expects a lot from me.  He expects me to give my life to doing what he told me to do. I know that he also gives me the talents and power to carry out his wishes to help bring his kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. I am not a worthless person because God has given me the gifts to make me otherwise.

Now when I hear someone say “I believe….” I almost always say “but what do you do with that belief?? It is easy to say you believe this or that, but it is hard to act on those belief.  James, the brother of Jesus, told us that faith/belief without action/works is dead and therefore meaningless. Don’t say I believe but instead put your energy into actually doing something. I have almost come to think that we should sell all our church buildings and move out into our communities in living out Christ’s words. That is what he really intends….