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.
I have been away from the red letters for too long in this blog. For that reason we will spend the next several posts getting back to the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and that is to take his words and especially his commands to heart.
Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
John 14, 11-15
I chose these words because of several things. One is that Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Some say this is a foundation for the concept of the Trinity but I don’t necessarily take it as such. To me it just says the Jesus and God in heaven are aligned in everything Jesus does and says. So, we are to treat Jesus’ words as if they came directly from God the Father himself. Let’s look as some of those words in this text.
Jesus says if you believe in God then you will imitate him in the works that he did. But he even goes beyond that and says that if you really believe in God you will actually do greater works than Jesus! So much for the belief that we are all just poor miserable sinners incapable of anything good!! Jesus, by the words found here, was staking his reputation on his actions. He even said if you don’t necessarily believe in me then believe in the works that I do. He certainly puts a lot of emphasis on works in these words doesn’t he. In that regard when he says when you ask in my name (and in the works that I do), I will do it, he is saying when you do the works that I do I will be there to help you out. So when you do good works Jesus is there to help you out. What an awesome thought!
The final verse in this quote is the kicker. If you love me you will keep my commandments. Just what were the commandments of Jesus. He told us elsewhere in this words that the new covenant he brought only contained two commands and that is to love God and to love each other. He also made it clear that all the Old Testaments laws could be wrapped up in his new covenant and therefore in these two commands. Notice that Jesus did not call his commands “suggestions if you feel like it”, he called them commands. These words like so many others found in the red letters goes contrary to what many who call themselves Christians today espouse. When Jesus commands we should be listening but it seems many of us have glossed over these type words to make them almost meaningless. I am certainly not one of those and I hope and pray that each and every one of you who are reading these words aren’t either. When Jesus commands I am certainly going to listen.
This is a continuation of my expose of the book by Philip Gulley entitled If God Is Love. In this post he talks about Dualistic Theologies.
Dualistic theologies reduce the questions of life to one: Are you saved? Nothing else matters. The purpose of life it to answer that single question. Of course, simply saying “yes” is not enough. You confirm your salvation by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, getting baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Until you have done these things, your life has no meaning.
When salvation is defined so narrowly, it too easily becomes a status rather than a process. It becomes a contractual agreement between an individual and God…. Too often, God’s desire to transform us into mature, responsible, and gracious people was obscured. When religion factored in the fragility of life and the threat of eternal damnation, the product (a spot in heaven) rather than the process (becoming an authentic person) became the priority.
Growing up, I was asked repeatedly, “If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?” I was never asked, “If you live tomorrow, what kind of life will it be?”
Some call this supposed contract between you and God fire insurance. We sign the papers and then put it on the shelf until it is needed. That is NOT what being a follower of Jesus Christ means to me nor should it to anyone else. Yes it is important that I know where I will be spending eternity but equally important, if not more so, is how I will live my life tomorrow and all the tomorrows I have left.
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.