Archives For Faith

My Version….

July 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

Faith in ActionIf you have read this blog much you will know that I have pretty much given up on denominational Christianity and even the word “Christian”.  Instead I have been calling myself a “follower of Jesus Christ”. Over the last few months I have been seriously contemplating my spiritual life and where I go from here. In the recent months this blog has pretty much been about how all the current forms of Christianity have been thoroughly polluted by the political and cultural atmospheres of our times.  It became too disheartening to continue in that mode. Following Jesus should be a joyous thing to be celebrated instead of lamented.

A few weeks ago I had an epiphany of sorts. I have decided to concentrate this blog and my life, what remains of it, on what I mean when I say I am a follower of Jesus. I will try my best to focus on Jesus and not so much on the current form of his church. I will try to celebrate others in their journeys and criticize a little less. I will continue to study the Emergent Church movement to see what it has to offer and undoubtedly I will keep and eye on my Quaker friends.

One of the magazines I have been getting for some years now is Sojourners. I frequently use Jim Wallis’ emails as material for posts here. I will certainly continue to do that also.  But the reason that part of a recent cover of that magazine is included in this post is the small words below the Sojourner logo. For those who might be reading this post on a phone or tablet those words are “Faith in Action for Social Justice”. I couldn’t think of four other words that would describe my version of Christianity than these.  In the political sphere I am undoubtedly a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Some find this combination conflicting. Social Justice is a primary driver for me in my life.  In my mind if there is faith then there must also be action. As the brother of Jesus said faith without action is a dead faith and worthless.

So, here I am at another crossroads in my walk with Christ. I pray that I have taken the right fork….

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Away From Me!!!

February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

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.

In 1997 Richard Carlson wrote a very popular book entitled Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff. In that book he listed one hundred things to make our lives more peaceful. Some of those topics that I took to heart included:

  • Let Others Be “Right” Most of the Time
  • Learn to Live in the Present Moment
  • Surrender to the Fact that Life Isn’t Fair

Most of the things we worry about the most have little real impact on our lives.  They are just clutter that gets in the way of having a happier life.  As I have come to “not sweat the small stuff” I also come to realize that most of what I was told I must believe as a Christian is also small stuff!

I know this sounds like a rather shocking statement to hear that many of the things of the present day church are just small stuff. But, the more I studied the more I found that to simply be the case. It seems that Christianity has become a recitation of creeds about Jesus rather than taking to heart the actual messages he gave us.  There have been literally hundreds, if not thousands, of creeds put out by various leaders and councils of Christian churches and all believers were then expected to automatically pledge allegiance to each of them. In studying them they almost all include things to believe instead of things to do.

The creed that is recited weekly in most liturgical churches today is the Nicene Creed (click on this link to see the words).  If you take the time to actually look at the content of this creed you will see that they are all about what to believe instead of what to do. The messages of Jesus were actually the reverse of that. He spent much of his ministry teaching us how to live together and how to please God.  Almost nothing from the text above actually came from Jesus.

When I started studying the practices of the Quaker faith is when this realization came to me. Quakers are very creed averse and I came to find for a very good reason. They believe in acting out faith instead of proclaiming beliefs.  When we realize that what we do matter more than what we believe it changes everything. It was an epiphany for me personally to finally realize that fact.

The Christianity of belief in creeds is small stuff compared to actually acting on the words Jesus spoke. Where did we lose this critical understanding? When did Christianity become a “sit back and wait” instead of “acting out our faith” religion? It certainly wasn’t that way in the early church.

Lets get our attention off the small stuff and back to the true messages of Jesus. One of the emergent movement’s focuses is to get back to the true meaning of the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular. That true meaning is enveloped in the words of Jesus.   They must take front and center over absolutely everything else.

How Faith Changed….

August 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

This will probably be my last post about the early christians for a while. Next time I will begin to concentrate on some of the early theologians,bishops/historians/leaders or whatever you want to call them, and how they influenced the direction of the church. Closing this chapter, at least for now, it is important for you to remember what “faith” was to the early Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith that I think summarizes this important topic.

At its outset “faith” meant a dynamic lifestyle sustained by fellowships that were guided by both men and women and that reflected hope for the coming of the Reign of God. But when Christianity became swollen into an elaborate code of prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations policed by a hierarchy, the meaning of “faith” was warped almost beyond recognition….

Initially faith had meant a primary life orientation, but the evolving clerical class now equated “faith” with “belief in” certain specified doctrines and patterns of authority, which, in any case, themselves changed periodically depending on who held the ecclesial scepter. The result was a disaster for dissent and open discussion. Yesterday’s heretic may be tomorrow’s saint, but the heretic is still dead…..

If the people of the Way were to see what became of their church I think they would be totally shocked!! To them faith meant a primary life orientation, a way of life, not strict obedience to a fixed set of belief about Jesus. Most of those belief were solidified long after Jesus left the earth. They would also be confused as to why women were pushed out of leadership roles in the church.

The people of the Way would be very disheartened to find that it is very difficult to discern  today’s Christians from those others around them! To them their faith meant following a very dynamic lifestyle that was generally in conflict with the empire around them.  How did the church come to be much more like the empire than a foreign group called the Way?

The People of the Way would be devastated to see how today’s Christians seem to ignore those around them that are struggling for their very existence! The very cornerstone of the people of the Way was to take care of these unfortunates as Jesus taught them. How could they now be more likely a target of church goer’s venom as “those people who are takers instead of producers”. How could the church of Jesus Christ have devolved into what we see today?

The People of the Way were more about living the life that Christ taught them and about the coming  Reign of God on earth as well as heaven rather than prescribed beliefs and ritual obligations to be forced upon them. They deemed their faith as a way of life rather an altar called that instantly secured a path to an afterlife that they generally cared little about.

What happened to make such a dramatic change.  That is what we will be studying next.

I realize that due to trying to keep the last post brief I did not fully explain the three ages (Age of Faith, Age of Belief, Age of the Spirit) very well so I am taking another shot at it here. As a quote to explain it further I am using one from Diane Butler Bass in her book entitled Christianity After Religion. I realize it is kind of strange to use one author quoting another but I  believe this quote is the most descriptive with the fewest words of any I currently have in my database. (I’m and information technology guy so of course I have a database and it is growing daily 😉 )

Harvey Cox proposed that Christianity reflects this broader transformation regarding human knowledge and experience by dividing church history into three ages: the Age of Faith, the Age of Belief, and the Age of the Spirit. During the first period, roughly from the time of Jesus to 400 CE, Christianity was understood as a way of life based upon faith (i.e., trust) in Jesus. Or, as Cox states, To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun.

Between 300 and 400, however, this dynamic sense of living in Jesus was displaced by an increasing emphasis on creeds and beliefs, leading Professor Cox to claim that this tendency increased until nascent beliefs thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him….

From an energetic movement of faith [Christianity] coagulated into a phalanx of required beliefs. Cox argues that the Age of Belief lasted some fifteen centuries and began to give way around 1900, its demise increasing in speed and urgency through the twentieth century.

We have now entered into a new phase of Christian history, which he calls the Age of the Spirit. If the Age of Faith was a time of faith in Jesus and the Age of Belief a period of belief about Christ, the Age of the Spirit is best understood as a Christianity based in an “experience of Jesus.” 

What I plan on doing, at least initially, is to flesh out this history with facts and examples. Initially we will try to understand the true nature of the early Christians and how they went about living their faith. I can’t wait until then so I am going to tell you that they did a much better job of being followers of Jesus Christ than we have for generations since them! What they did and how they did it was impressive indeed especially given that many of the leaders were fed to the lions because of their faith.

I will also be covering the Age of Beliefs to understand just how all these different beliefs, and in particular creeds came from. I think you will be surprised how much human hands are involved.  I will be covering heretics turned saints and saints turned heretics as well. This period and this topic is a very interesting one for me.

Finally I will take the concept of the Age of the Spirit. Some call it the Great Emergence and some have other names for it but I think they are all trying to reach the same point. A point where we return to true faith and jettison some of our previously held man-made beliefs.

Until next time I wish you peace….

Many people say they have faith in Jesus but I’m not sure they really know what they mean by that.  The  word itself has been so modified by man over the years.  Among other things I think faith means illumination..  When you have faith it sheds light on the meaning of your life and puts everything into clearer perspective…. It means loving God and loving your neighbor.

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.

Like Children…

October 1, 2009 — Leave a comment

Is it possible to know too much about Christian theology. I didn’t used to think so but I am tending to come to that conclusion recently. It seems that the more I study Christian theology/doctrine/dogma the more I see the disharmony in Christ’s church. Because of that I am beginning to wonder if anyone really has it right! To me the most important verses in the Bible are:

Matt 22:36-40 NIV

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

But, when I study church history and different Christian sects these words seem to get drowned out by things like:

  • full vs. partial immersion baptism
  • whether faith alone is enough or whether works is also required
  • whether God gives us free will or He has already decided whether we get heaven or hell
  • whether we should be snake handlers as proof that we are Christians
  • Whether the bible is all we need or whether church tradition is also needed
  • Whether the words of Matthew 16 made Peter the Pope  

This list could almost go on almost endlessly. We seem to be arguing over everything and mostly ignoring the “important” stuff! Jesus time and again told us we must be like little children if we want to truly follow him. Let’s look at some of the passages where he talks of this:  

Matt 18:3-4 NIV

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
 

Mark 10:14-16 NIV

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 
 

Luke 10:21 NIV

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 
 

Of course little children wouldn’t know much theology but they get the simple message that God is Love. They don’t lose sight of this the most important thing. I have always thought that knowing church history and its dogma was important to really knowing God but maybe all that stuff is just “stuff” that can drown out the simple truth of God. Maybe the old saying Ignorance is Bliss is really true when it comes to following Jesus on this side of heaven. More on that idea in my next post.