I have now spent several posts on the emergent church. It is time to get back to the red letters to see what Jesus wants to teach us.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
“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.” Matthew 7:23 – 28
To those of you who have been around this blog for a while know that I am a firm believer that Jesus wants us to do what he says. It seems many today are convinced that to be a Christian all they have to do is make an altar call and profess their beliefs and then go on to live their lives as they please. Yes, I believe in the grace of God but that does not exempt me from obeying his commands.
The verse above which ends the “Sermon on the Mount” is a very direct one to tell us that there will be some, perhaps many, who come to their judgement day and will be surprised by what God says to them. They will say “didn’t we call you Lord of our lives? That is what we were told was required to get to heaven.” Unfortunately there are those flavors of Christianity around today that do tell their congregants that. “Make an altar can and then just sit back and let Jesus’ grace flow over you. That is all that is required.” To these folks being a Christian is a very passive calling. It is a something-for-nothing calling.
But the words above even go further, they include people who might say they made predictions about God and the even drove out demons and did miracles. Sounds like some of the current day televangelists doesn’t it? Even these folks Jesus tells us will get a surprise. The second paragraph tells us why Jesus made this startling proclamation. He told us that we must not only hear his words but we must put them into practice. As his brother James told us later “faith (only words) without deeds (putting those words in practice) is a dead faith.
Many of the 39,000 versions of Christianity use the first paragraph above to proclaim that they are the only ones who will get to heaven. But they most often omit the conditions Jesus used to explain this omission. Lets always remember that being a follower of Jesus Christ is not just saying words it is putting Jesus’ messages into practice as he commanded via these red letters.
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….
There are many places in the red letters where Jesus appears to conditionally forgive sins. If you break certain rules your sins are not forgiven. The most obvious of these are sins against the Holy Spirit. I must admit that I don’t really understand that condition as much as I would like. But that is not the only place where Jesus appears to withhold forgiveness. There are many others. Several of them have to do with corrupting children. He in no uncertain terms says that if you cause a child to sin, faith or no faith, you will not see the kingdom of God.
Withholding forgiveness is something that goes very contrary to many evangelical churches who latch totally onto Paul’s words in Ephesians to almost the exclusion of even the words of Jesus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
Did Paul understand this differently than Jesus? If that is not the case then why did Jesus say your sins are not forgiven in certain circumstances therefore requiring works? If there is only faith required without any corresponding actions then not forgiving sin seems meaningless.
Maybe we need to consult a third voice in the matter and that is James, the brother of Jesus. James obviously was around Jesus most of his life and unlike Paul was there during Jesus’ entire three year ministry. In his Epistle James basically said the faith without works is a dead faith and therefore worthless. Enough said…. I am one to take Jesus at his word.