Archives For Religion

Revolution….

March 23, 2014 — 3 Comments

Young and old, rich and poor, and people from every social, economic, political and cultural background are starting to rethink their faith. A fresh movement is happening, and in its purest form is about one thing: following Christ. This transformation is reshaping the Christian landscape. Believers are starting to simplify their faith in order to exemplify Christ—a simple yet profound way to live out the gospel. This has become a revolutionary concept.

This “new” Christianity is sick of culture wars, political agendas, hypocrisy and legalistic doctrines. They prefer inclusion over restriction, dialogue over debate, practice over preaching, and love over judgment. Authentic communities are preferred over institutionalized organizations, and grassroots groups gain wisdom and knowledge from relational interaction, social media, the web, and an array of other sources—there is no monopoly controlling leadership or sources of information.

SOURCE: When Revolutions Become Religions – Stephen Mattson – Red Letter Christians.

I know  the words revolution and religion in the same context strikes abject fear in many religious circles. But poll after poll shows that is just what is beginning to  happen, particularly the millennials which are those between 18 – 33. They are shucking off current religious institutions in favor of a new type of religion. The Stephen Mattson quote above, as well as the whole article, is a prime indicator of this fact.

Many are now melding their spirituality with their social conscience and that is the way I believe Christ intended it.  In that regard they are not so much starting a new religion as they are resurrecting the original one. Let’s face it, if you really read the Gospel text you will find Christians that are VERY much different from what you find today. They were all about loving their neighbors and showing it with their time and their money. I’m not talking about an occasional hour or two on a spare weekend, but about an almost 24/7 thing.

The “new” Christianity is no longer about battling your neighbor because they might be believe things a little different from you. It is no longer about extreme political agendas that have almost nothing to do with the teaching of Jesus.  But the exciting part of this “new” religion is that it is taking place in the pews and not the seminaries. People are shedding the dogma taught to them by decades of false tradition. They are replacing it with two simple commands. Love God and love each other. Christianity has been stacking rule after rule onto their agenda since almost the beginning. It is about time that we went back to the simple message of our founder.

How much more exciting could this revolution be? Go out and actually live the Gospel  instead of just sitting in a pew and reading about it on an occasional Sunday morning. Christianity was meant to be lived, not revered and especially not treated as fire insurance. Join the revolution….

As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.

Beliefs vs. Practices….

October 3, 2012 — 3 Comments

With this post I am going to introduce you to a book that has had a pretty profound affect on my faith. It is by Robin Meyers entitled Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Here are a couple of quotes from the book that will provide fodder for this post:

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! …..

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Christianity as a belief system requires nothing but acquiescence. Christianity as a way of life, as a path to follow, requires a second birth, the conquest of ego, and new eyes with which to see the world. It is no wonder that we have preferred to be saved. 

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Today, worshipers of Christ agree to believe things about him in order to receive benefits promised by the institution, not by Jesus.  

It seems that much of the Christian world today is split between two Christian world views.  One is Christianity as a belief system as taught to us by the Nicene Creed and the other is Christianity as a way of life as taught to us by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  These two Christian world views have been battling each other since the fourth century when the emperor Constantine made Christianity a mandated State religion of the Roman empire.

Unfortunately many today want to classify this struggle for Christ’s church in empire terms by deeming it conservative vs. progressive (some use the tainted word liberal). The only thing this accomplishes is to link following Jesus to today’s empires and in my mind that is a very detrimental thing.

There are those who think that Christianity is a “something for nothing” proposition. That is all you have to do is to take an altar call and publicly profess Jesus as your savior. After that profession nothing else is required except to say you believe in a long list of man-made beliefs  about God. These believers treat Christianity as a fire insurance to insure that they will go to heaven. When Martin Luther found that single verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he solidified this way of looking at Christianity for many in our current age.

Fortunately there are also those who think that Christianity is about doing what Jesus says. They treat the Sermon on the Mount as a foundation of how they live in this world. They take Christianity to be an active way of life, many say a life changer, not a passive do nothing but believe system. I am proudly a member of this later group.

Some say Constantine when he kidnapped Christianity to try to save his dwindling empire he brought it out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Robin Meyers book shows us examples why that is just not the case.  He instead started it down a path that would pull many away from the words of its founder Jesus Christ.

Fear of Death….

October 1, 2012 — Leave a comment

Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.

I first heard the above quote many years ago but have never tried to learn its source. I looked it up and here is what I found:

   According to research by quote maven and Oxford English Dictionary contributor Barry Popik, the earliest verifiable use of this insightful saying seems to be as a song title and lyric by Delaney. The date of the song’s composition is uncertain, but it was mentioned as one of Delaney’s popular sings in an article about him in The Afro American newspaper on October 16, 1948. Delaney was a prolific blues and jazz music composer whose career started in the 1920s.

I am not at all surprised that a African-American blues singer was the author although the last few words seem to have been added later.

Those who reject the idea of a life after this one don’t want to leave as there is nothing out there. They basically don’t believe that there is an underlying spirit around us that survives death.  What I find sad about some of these folks is that they seem to spend their life trying to convince others of their viewpoint. If I thought this was it for me and my spirit I would try to spend my only life more productively.

Those who look at their life and think maybe they have not earned heaven don’t want to leave. That is also one of the reasons for so many deathbed conversions. They fear the consequences of what they have done or maybe not done with their life. Then there are those who believe that they took an altar call many years ago as “fire insurance” but they just don’t know if the policy is really up to date.

Those whose world has been totally self-centered fear losing the spotlight in the next world. I am very familiar with one such person. She insisted on having the attention on herself throughout her life.  I think this person really had doubts that that was the way their creator intended them to live and therefore dreaded what might be beyond.

I personally don’t dread death especially as my body continues to degrade. There will likely come a point where I just want to end the pain and suffering. But I hope that time is still many years away. 🙂  I am coming to believe that when God says he wants all people to come to him that he will eventually make that actually happen; maybe not in this life but in the next one or somewhere in between. In some ways I really look forward to seeing just what is beyond this life and to learn just how badly we have botched our interpretations of what heaven really is.  I think every living soul, popes and all, will be very surprised just how little we could conceive what God has in mind for us in the next world wherever that might be.

We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.

Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed.  Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled.  In the past anyone proclaimed a  heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church.  And many followed their books into the flames.

Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims.  But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.

If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups.  It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.

This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church.  Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations.  The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.

I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.

This is a cross post from one of my other blogs at RJ’s Corner. I thought it appropriate for RLL also.

It is terrible to think what the churches do to men. But if one imagines oneself in the position of the men who constitute the Church, we see they could not act differently. The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other. If a man sincerely believes in the Sermon on the Mount, the Nicene Creed must inevitably lose all meaning and significance for him, and the Church and its representatives together with it. If a man believes in the Nicene Creed, that is, in the Church, that is, in those who call themselves its representatives, the Sermon on the Mount becomes superfluous for him. And therefore the churches cannot but make every possible effort to obscure the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, and to attract men to themselves. It is only due to the intense zeal of the churches in this direction that the influence of the churches has lasted hitherto.

The quote above seems pretty radical!  It must be from one of those new age thinkers!  Guess again. It was from the Author of War and Peace Leo Tolstoy in 1894. Although he says it much more bluntly than I ever would I can’t say I disagree with most of it.

The Nicene Creed which was authored under the Roman ruler Constantine is mostly what we are supposed to believe about Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is what Jesus himself told us how we are supposed act if we are his followers. Tolstoy saw that the church even during his time put much more energy in maintaining man-made beliefs about Jesus rather than just following Him. Not a lot has changed in that regard. I think almost all clergy are well-meaning men who have simply bought into a tilted system based on beliefs about Jesus instead of lessons from Jesus.

Tony Jones a hundred years later also speaks of this in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier

 In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls-there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang-the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit. There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million. Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. In fact, we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is-or at least it’s quickly becoming so. 

Churches are like pay-phones? That is a very interesting analogy. God is not dead. It is only the man-made institution built in his name that is on life support. I have hopes that this new emergent movement will prove to be a worthy substitute for fast dwindling church structures of today. We have to return to doing what Jesus says….

A New Direction…. Again….

September 8, 2012 — 2 Comments

In recent days I have been getting frustrated by the progress I have made into the parallel studies of the Roman empire and the Christian church. It is not that I am not learning things it is just that it is taking longer than I originally anticipated. My wife claims that I always underestimate these sort of things and maybe I do 🙂  I certainly like to blog on Red Letter Living as it keeps me centered on what is important in life. Having to put off posting here because I am not ready to do it intelligently is frustrating to me.

So I have decided to put this study on the back burner for now. I am not putting the study of the study off but only the blogging about it. When I think I have enough background knowledge on the subject then I will start blogging about it. Until then I have decided to do some blogging about what Jesus says about our personal and corporate responsibilities toward the poor. This topic has been on my mind lately due to some interactions over at my other blog at  RJ’s Corner. I have been in a some discussions with some Christians who give the usual response about Jesus saying we will always have the poor so there is nothing we can do about it. Of course to me that is very much taking his words out of context.  I will expand on those thoughts in this new study and back it up with red letters.

So, come back soon for a new direction on this blog. They say that religion and politics don’t mix but when some Christians vote based on a warped sense of Jesus’ words that does harm to Christianity as a whole. Let’s investigate just what Jesus said in quite a bit of detail about this issue. I’m sure there is nothing I could say here that will influence the way some people vote in the coming election but if I can just nudge them a little maybe their attitudes will change for a future one.

The Beginnings…..

September 3, 2012 — Leave a comment

Time Period:  573BC

I am about three weeks into my study of the parallels between Christian church history and the history of the Roman empire. I was hoping to find a “people’s history” of Rome for a source but have been unsuccessful in that regard. I now have about five sources of info but there really is little documented evidence of how the common man lived during this time. There are a few accounts from Roman soldiers but they are pretty much limited to their time in the military.

Here is what Simon Baker in his book Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire says about that:

Modern professional historians tend to stress how little we know about the Roman world. True, we are almost completely in the dark about what life was like for the slum dwellers of the city (though we can make a fair guess!) or for peasants struggling to find a livelihood in the countryside. And we are not much better off when it comes to understanding the feelings of women or slaves, or how the Roman empire’s balance of payments actually worked, or – for that matter – what Romans wore under their togas or how they disposed of their sewage (the miracles of Roman drainage have, I am afraid, been grossly exaggerated). 

As is common with many historical accounts Roman history is primarily focused on the wars fought and not the citizens themselves. This hampers my ability to see any parallels between Roman citizens and Christians. So, although I will lack some comparisons at the people level I still will be able to try to see just what was happening in the Roman Empire from their beginning and how they were grappling with their little Jesus followers problem later on.

Lets start out with this study of Rome here with some origin stories.

The Roman state was unofficially founded in 753BC by two brothers Romulus and Remus. These two brothers were at the head of a small band of renegades who were dug into a defensive position in a tiny village. It seems that for some reason the two brothers quarreled and Romulus killed his twin brother.  Romulus then opened up his camp for all comers including exiles, runaway slaves and criminals. So, according to this story Rome was  originally a city populated almost entirely by asylum-seekers and almost all of them were men.

Mr. Baker said early in his book said this about this story:

We have no idea how much of this lurid tale is actually true. The precise date of 753 is the result of an elaborate and frankly unreliable calculation more than five hundred years later by Roman scholars…

When I read this story I immediately thought of about closely relates to the first two brothers in the Jewish Torah or Old Testament as we Christians call it.   Here is that account:

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  Genesis 4:8

Much like many of the early stories in the Old Testament the story of Romulus and his brother is thought to be myth that was passed down by mouth from generation to generation before being finally recorded.

Next time we will move on to when Rome was ruled by kings.

Nudges….

August 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

This is another aside post that is somewhat linked to the previous one. In that post I discussed how I replied to some fellow Christians Facebook comments about how it was not the government’s job to take care of the poor. These Christians admitted, but it seems not many of them do, that it is the church’s job to do that. I then went on to agree with them fully. I’m sure they were surprised with my agreement. But I then went on to say since the church presently only takes care of about three percent of the need the government must step in to fill this enormous gap. At the conclusion of that post I mentioned that I hope I planted a small thought in their hearts.

That got me to thinking about all the arguments and such between our political parties. Each party seems to think that somehow they can turn their advocate around if they could just win this discussion or make that particular statement. They think that somehow they can cause a person to flip on a dime with their world views.

This type of logic is not limited to politics; it also occurs frequently in our cross-denominational struggles with the Christian church. There are currently about 39,000 different versions of Christianity out there. Each one is convinced that they are right and everyone else just has it wrong in one way or another. Many are convinced if they can just quote the right Bible verse then their opponents will give up their current way of being a Christian and join them.

Disregarding the overall premise of these examples the logic of a quick “win” is, at least in my mind a faulty conclusion.  Once a person has it in his/her mind that their party/church/way of life is the correct one it is almost impossible to get them to change their minds. The only thing that we can hope to do is to give them a little nudge in the direction you want them to head. Then over the years enough nudges might get them to re-think what the previously thought to be untrue.

You can’t change a Tea Party Republican into a moderate one let alone a Democrat by winning one or even many arguments.  But if you can put a small thought in their mind that their current way of thinking lacks something maybe eventually they will eventually come around. If you can plant a seed in a Christian who believes that his version of Christianity is without error maybe she/he will eventually look at those words of Jesus in a different light than the spin they have been taught.

Except for a few very very rare occurrences these things just don’t happen overnight. They take a long stream of nudges to make them happen. When we realize that fact we will treat our opponents, although we will come to know that they are not really opponents, in a different light.  Remember the secret to this is nudges not insults or rants….

I am going to jump ahead a little here so that I can put something into your mind before we tackle early church leaders. To illustrate my point I want to once again use a quote from The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox:

Thus, it is now clear that the “official Christianity” that eventually emerged was only one among a range of “Christianities” that thrived during the earliest years. The distinction we still make today between “orthodox” and “heretical” movements did not exist. There was nothing inevitable or preordained about which version, if any, would predominate.

It is very important in our study of church history to remember that what we know today as “the church” was initially only one of several Christianities that thrived during the early church history. We will be studying how this one version came to dominate all the others. I think you will be surprised at how that came about.

For now it is enough to know that for several centuries there were no distinctions such as heresy or orthodox. To me heresy has a particularly brutal history of its own. What the power structure did to stamp out opposing beliefs was initially beyond my comprehension. I had no idea how draconian those practices were.

I only bring up this particular topic as being one of many surrounding church history. We must never forget that the church was not immune from the old saying that “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts”. Like our constant disputes today between Republicans and Democrats in empire politics the church has had similar battles throughout its history. Each side was totally convinced that they are right and the other side was wrong/heretics/blasphemers.

We must remember that the history of the church is also and maybe primarily about the history of man and power struggles. All power seekers claimed divine inspiration but the “official Christianity” that survived was more, at least in my mind, because of the brutal power they held over their advocates than having more divine authority.

Church history is indeed a very messy history that is only recently beginning to see the light of day. But it is necessary to see this mess in order to understand why the Age of the Spirit will likely dominate in the decades and centuries ahead…..