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This is a continuation of the previous post about heresy and why it has contaminated the church. We all have our opinions of what God wants us to do and believe and we are for the most part not at all tolerant of those who might think differently than we do. It seems when someone has the inherent power to do something about those who disagree with they usually deemed their opponent a heretic and  then drive them from their midst. In the post-Constantine age over 25,000 were murdered for not totally aligning with the then current church leader.

I must make it clear that heresy is by no means limited to the pre-Reformation times. Our Protestant brothers and sister have become very good at it. They might not any longer be executing those who they proclaim heretics but they have become very proficient at shunning and dividing when they can’t agree. 39,000 versions of Jesus Christ! Shame on us for fracturing so easily about man-made beliefs. I believe that our fracturing is one of the primary causes for the current church implosion. We as believers are somehow supposed to pick the one true church and then go about shunning all the rest. How can a new Christian even begin maneuver through that terrain?

Fractured Church CoverJesus clearly told us he wants us to be one just as he and the father are one. What happened? I will be studying that in the coming weeks and report more info then. One of my primary sources for this info is a new book I recently encountered entitled The Fractured Church by Bill Sizemore. It will be interesting to see more info about how we have become so fractured. One interesting question  this book presents  is will Jesus come to us while we are so fractured or will he do something to bring us back together before his appearance?  A question that deserve some time to  study and contemplate.

My initial thoughts on the effect of heresy in the church is that it has done almost irreparable damage to the church of Jesus. We have become so stiff-necked in our beliefs that we just can’t tolerate anything representing the diversity that were so common in the early Christians. I truly believe that what makes the United States a world leader is our diversity. We are almost totally the results of immigrants. Likewise the Christian church could become a leader in world spiritual rejuvenation if we simply celebrated diversity in our midst instead of prosecuting it.

Am I saying that there are no reasons that would justify fracturing the church? I am absolutely not saying that! But what I am saying is that it is insane to believe that there are 39,000 reasons to fracture.

The Emergent church movement that I am hanging so much hope on sees this in a completely different light. They deem diversity in thought as a plus. Here is what Robin Meyers in his book The Underground Church says about that:

 They (the emergent church) value open and inclusive approaches to Christianity and are less interested in having all the answers than in living the questions. Emergents wish to participate in communities of faith that take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Emergents believe that following  Jesus isn’t just about getting to heaven when they die, but is about partnering with God to bring heaven to earth in the here and now.

 

Taking Back the Bible….

December 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

I read the Bible on a regular basis.  The words of Jesus, which to me is what the Bible is really all about, inspire me to love my fellow-man and to love my God.  Many stories in the Bible  even though they might just be stories, parables, or even myths are inspiring in the lessons they teach. I delight in the sheer narrative power they provide.

I am very disheartened by the fact that some Christians today try to demand that the Bible was dropped down from heaven by God and not truly written my men who lived in the early times.  They say instead he just used their pens to write what he demanded of them. I think the Bible is richer when we admit that it was written by men inspired by God. But no, they say everything in the Bible is directly from God’s lips?

Here are some interesting words about that from the book The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox

Does it ever trouble fundamentalists that their attitude toward the Bible, a relatively recent one in the history of Christianity, is exactly the same as that of most Muslims who believe the Qur’an was dictated word for word to Muhammad by Allah? I doubt it…..

I am confident that it is possible to take the Bible back from its fundamentalist hijacking and make it once again a genuine support of faith, instead of an obstacle. To do this, it is helpful to know something about how we got into the impasse in which we find ourselves. There are four significant turning points in the recent history of how Christians have viewed the Bible.

      • One came in the late fifteenth century when the invention of printing made the wide distribution of the Bible possible and then—with the spread of literacy—eventually democratized it.
      • The second came in the nineteenth century with the application of the historical-critical method, which subjected the Bible to the same scrupulous scholarship about dating, authorship, and audience that is applied to any other historical document.
      • The third was the advent of the fundamentalist view of the Bible, which rose as a counterattack against the historical critics.
      • The fourth was the “liberation” of the Bible from both historical critics and fundamentalists, which is happening mainly—though not exclusively—in the global South.

The way to read them is to let their sheer narrative power evoke whatever response it can without relying on an externally decreed authority to either sanctify their status or pick apart their accuracy. Reading the Bible with this kind of imaginative leap puts us into the company of our spiritual forebears.

It is interesting to see the four turning points outlined here. I need to study and report some more details about the third event when the so-called fundamentalists among us decided to change the Bible from inspirational text into literal truth. As said above they did this when they were backed into a corner by the historical-critical method.  They panicked and proclaimed a slippery slope that if we questioned anything in the Bible then all of it becomes worthless.

I personally have had a lengthy discussion with one fundamentalist preacher about this. His willingness to throw out the Bible if any of it is not perfectly factual surprised me. In some ways I think I deem the Bible to be worth more than he does. But, more about that in some later posts. The fourth turning point is part of the emergent church that we will also get more into in future posts.

I am going to spend several posts discussing some of the insightful words from a book entitled Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus  by Robin R. Meyers. This book gave me some pretty profound re-enforcement of my belief that the words of Jesus have been losing focus in the church. Here are the words for today.

Strangely, we have come to a moment in human history when the message of the Sermon on the Mount could indeed save us, but it can no longer be heard above the din of dueling doctrines. Consider this: there is not a single word in that sermon about what to believe, only words about what to do. It is a behavioral manifesto, not a propositional one. Yet three centuries later, when the Nicene Creed became the official oath of Christendom, there was not a single word in it about what to do, only words about what to believe!

It is not secret to those who have visited here before that I am no admirer of King Constantine and the damage he did to the Christian church. It seems “the road not taken” is constantly in my thoughts and the words above are no exception.  I wonder what would be the state of Christianity if Constantine had not hijacked it to try to shore up his crumbling empire. I wonder if we would be more focused on the behavioral manifesto of the Sermon on the Mount instead of the propositional one he had written fifteen centuries ago?

Until I read this book the stark contrasts between Jesus’ word at the Mount and the Nicene Creed were not as apparent as they are now.  The emergent church movement, of which Robin Meyers is a member, has a goal to try to rescue the words of Jesus from the church. As I mentioned in a previous post many churches today have tried to domesticate Jesus to one degree or another. They want to make being a Christian as easy as possible and Jesus’ words often get in the way of that goal. They just seem to ignore the words they don’t particularly like.

Many versions of Christianity today say that any of the words of the Bible are just as important as any others.  They say that the stories, myths, parables and such are just as important as Jesus’ messages to us on how to live a Godly life. They say the words of Jesus just aren’t any more important than the words of for instance Paul. Until we can recapture the importance of the words of Jesus above all others in the Bible Jesus will never take front and center in many lives.

One of the common complaints about today’s churches are that they are no longer relative to today’s world. People say that are very interested in the words of Jesus but the church is a total turn-off.   We need to take back Jesus from those who try to domesticate him and let his radical words give us back the true meaning of being followers of Jesus Christ.

I started out my Spiritual journey as a Catholic because that is what my parents were. I came to find out that they were only tepid Catholic as they really didn’t go to church themselves very often but more often just dropped us off and then went home.  Upon entering high school I went about twenty years moving between an inactive Christian and an agnostic verging on atheist. Then as a result of getting married I joined a Protestant congregation.  When I was going to a Catholic grade school I remember hearing a lot of things about Jesus and not much about the letters of St. Paul or any of the other “epistles”. But when I joined the Lutheran church Paul strangely seemed to be front and center on their theology.

Martin Luther’s epiphany was based on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians about being saved by grace and not works so I guess I should not have been surprised to see Paul not Jesus to be the center of that congregation’s beliefs. It was not until I started seriously studying the words of Jesus that I came to fully realize that Jesus must be the total focus.

When I started out blogging here more than four years ago I promptly got a comment from someone rather high up in the Lutheran church. He chastised me saying all the words in the Bible are from God so none are more important than any others. This statement amazed me because it said that Jesus’ words were no more important than any others in the Bible. Of course I have come, after years of serious study, to totally renounce that man-made belief.

When I came across the words below in a book entitled “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith” by Brian McLaren who is a Protestant clergy and author, they verified what I already knew:

Like a lot of Protestants, for many years I “knew” what the gospel was. I “knew” that the gospel was the message of “justification by grace through faith,” distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics, but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, especially his magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans. If Catholics were called “Roman Catholics” because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called “Romans Protestants,” because Paul’s Roman letter served as our theological headquarters……

He then asked me how I would define the gospel, and I answered as any good Romans Protestant would, quoting Romans. He followed up with this simple but annoying rhetorical question: “You’re quoting Paul. Shouldn’t you let Jesus define the gospel?” When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, “What was the gospel according to Jesus?” A little humiliated, I mumbled something akin to “You tell me,” and he replied, “For Jesus, the gospel was very clear: The kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus. Right?” I again mumbled something, maybe “I guess so.” Seeing my lack of conviction, he added, “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”

Today I firmly believe that to be a follower of Jesus Christ we most put our almost total focus on his words. At best we should use the other authors as reinforcement of Jesus not a replacement for him as I see in many congregations today.

About The Epistles….

September 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

I am well aware that there are Christians who believe that all of the bible is the words of Jesus and must be taken literally and totally without the possibility of error in every regard.  On my very first post on this blog almost four years ago I was confronted by this belief by a person rather high up in the Lutheran denominations. I have always been a person who asks questions about everything. Always asking questions has gotten me in trouble throughout my life but never more so than in the secular realm.  When I study the bible I just find too many inconsistencies in the stories and especially about the spirit of God to believe it to be from God’s lips that is if he actually has lips.  As I have evolved I have come to take the bible as inspired stories about the history and yes even the myth of what we now call Christianity. The bible contains many valuable messages but it is just not intended to always be taken literally.

When I came across the blog by Rachel Held Evans I discovered a young kindred spirit. She, like me, is not afraid to ask “why” even to the biblical text.  She learned much earlier in her life than I that in mine that the bible contains valuable stories about Jesus and God but was not dictated, either literally or otherwise, by God. Here is an excerpt from one of her postings.

The epistles were never meant to be interpreted and applied as universal law. Rather, they provide us with an instructive and inspired glimpse into how Jesus’ teachings were lived out by real people, in real communities, facing real challenges. It is not the details found in the letters that we should seek to imitate, but rather the attitudes. The details (head coverings, circumcision, meat offered to idols, widow management, hair length, etc.) are rarely timeless, but the attitudes (“as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men,” “do not cause your brother to stumble,” “avoid the appearance of evil”) provide guidelines that can instruct us as Christians today. So the questions we should be asking ourselves today are not: Should we eat meat offered to idols?, or Should women wear head coverings?,  but rather, How can we find peace when Christians feel convicted in different ways? and How do we avoid unnecessarily offending others by our appearance? 

When read this way, I am constantly impressed by the degree to which these early Christians were willing to sacrifice beliefs and traditions they held dear for the sake of love and for the sake of advancing the gospel. Such a reading does not devalue scripture, but rather honors it for what it is, not what we try to make it. 

From Rachel Held Evans   via About The Epistles…..

Rachel is a very prolific blogger! I don’t know how she keeps up the multi-day postings and I am a person who has four blogs running.  She is on my daily read list and I have just ordered her first book entitled Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.

I could not have said it better so I will leave her words above to stand on their own.

Stumbling Forward….

September 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

Jesus meant for us to look forward in the world to accomplish the tasks he gave us. If you read the red letters for what they are and not necessarily what others think about them then you will know that he didn’t intend for us to always be looking backwards to what he did for us. He gave each one of us who call ourselves his followers a mission to love each other, to help bring God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, and to take care of the “least of these”. Those should be our primary tasks while we occupy our space on this earth.

Yes, what he did for us in dying for our sins assures us heaven and is huge indeed  and we should and will be eternally grateful.  But he also gave us a “to do” list to accomplish. If we spend all our time looking backwards then we are always stumbling into the future and that is certainly not what he intends.

Has the phrase “I am a Christian” lost its meaning in today’s world?

A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament. That is one definition out of many.

Here are some of the words in Wikipedia describing a “Christian”:

The term “Christian” is also used adjectivally to describe anything associated with Christianity, or in a proverbial sense “all that is noble, and good, and Christ-like. It is also used as a label to identify people who associate with the cultural aspects of Christianity, irrespective of personal religious beliefs or practices

A wide range of beliefs and practices is found across the world among those who call themselves Christian. There is usually a consensus within a denomination about what defines a Christian, but often little agreement among members of different denominations on a common definition of “Christianity.”

So to be a Christian means many different things to different people. To many in the U.S. being a Christian means that we totally support our country and all that it stands for, or at least what we perceive it stands for. But defining Christianity separate from Jesus Christ can be a damaging thing. For instance, the Klu Klux Klan during the 1930 and even up to today claim to be a Christian organization who believe in the purity of the races. They cite verses from the Bible (mainly the Old Testament) to back up their stand.

A recent poll showed that a good majority of the citizens of this country think that the U.S. is a Christian nation and that God has a special love for us that he doesn’t for other countries. They believe that every war we enter into that God is on our side and against our enemies. The common mantra that a real Christian in the U.S. idolizes four things: God, Guns, Guts, and Country (not particularly in that order).

Of course Jesus had other words about this. He told us that all of God’s children are special to him. He also told us to keep a very fine distinction between God and the sectarian governments  of this earth (ie. pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God”s). When Jesus told us to love one another he did not limit that to only citizens of the country where you reside. If we follow Jesus’ words then we mourn the death of that child who dies every three seconds due to starvation or inadequate drinking water somewhere in the world the same as if he/she were a member of our own family. In a sense he is as we are all children of God. That to me is what being a Christian is all about.

So, to wrap this up being a Christian means many different things to different people.  I didn’t begin to cover the vast differences between Christian denominations in the world today.  Those beliefs are so vastly different to be almost comical if they weren’t so tragic. The term “Christian” as been diluted to such a degree that it is almost without meaning in today’s world.  For that reason I don’t necessarily call myself a Christian anymore but instead call myself a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ.