Saving Jesus

This post is about some 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 solidified 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 no 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 to me. 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. 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 so they just ignore the words they don’t particularly like.

Many versions of Christianity today who call themselves biblical literalists say that all of the words in 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 and even those anonymous people who wrote some of the epistles in his name.

One of the common complaints about today’s churches, especially by younger generations is that they are no longer relative to today’s world. Many say they 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.

It all comes down to the fact that actions speak louder than words and definitely louder than creeds/beliefs.

Why Are We Here? We Are Here Because…

Some say that all religions are the result of mankind asking “Why are we here?” Everyone eventually comes to that question and various answers have resulted in what we now call “religion”.

I have let it be freely known here that I am a follower of Jesus Christ but don’t call myself a Christian anymore, and particularly not an Evangelical! That word has been totally destroyed by the political nature of the ones who kidnapped it.

When Jesus was asked to sum up why we are here he gave us two commands: To love each other and to love God.  To that end, the quote below perfectly sums up why we are here:

2017-12-09_09-46-39.pngWe are here because Jesus taught us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We are here because we take the parable of the Good Samaritan to heart. We are here because we refuse to allow Christianity to be co-opted by the likes of people who support abuse of women, the closing of our nation to the immigrant in need and the normalizing of lie after lie after lie.

Finally, we are here because we believe our nation yearns to hear from us this day… 

Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey —  Associate Dean at Boston University School of Theology

There is not a sentence in the quote above that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with.  I am a man of principles and this is one of the primary ones. “Love each other”. That means my brothers don’t have to worry if they have enough money to go to a doctor when they are sick.  It means that no child in the world, let alone this country, should go to bed hungry each night.  It means we are good samaritans, we help each other out.

I know my Evangelical friends, if I have any now, say that these things are the church’s job, not the government’s. It is documented that yes the church meets about 3% of the total need. But what about the other 97%? Do they have to wait for churches to eventually get to them?  I am a believer that government exists to the people’s business and since the church won’t take care of those in need, and in reality can’t meet the demand then we have to do collectively through our government.

As the quote above insinuates, perhaps the most damaging part of the “Evangelical” movement is normalizing of lie after lie, after lie.  The current Oval Office occupant continues daily to push them daily further down into the ditch. When, if ever will they finally say enough is enough and come back to the words of Jesus? Their current mantra is that “a pedophile is better than a Democrat!”  How much further down the rabbit’s hole will they allow themselves to go?


Social Gospel

Christ’s church has cycled from one level to another for almost its whole existence.  I can only hope that the cycle turns positive in the coming years. If it doesn’t I can see the end of that institution. One of the bright periods of the Protestant version of the church occurred between 1890 -1930. It was known as the social gospel.  Here is a little about that from my friends at Wikipedia:

In the late 19th century, many Protestants were disgusted by the poverty level and the low quality of living in the slums. The social gospel movement provided a religious rationale for action to address those concerns. Activists in the Social Gospel movement hoped that by public health measures as well as enforced schooling the poor could develop talents and skills, the quality of their moral lives would begin to improve. Important concerns of the Social Gospel movement were labor reforms, such as abolishing child labor and regulating the hours of work by mothers. By 1920 they were crusading against the 12-hour day for workers at U.S. Steel.

Source: Social Gospel – Wikipedia

As you can see the Social Gospelers had taken the words of Jesus to heart and were determined to make things better for “the least of these”.  They became very active in the political scene for labor reforms and quality of life issues. What happened to turn to Protestants to turn so many of them almost 180 degrees since those days?

Now their biggest drives seem to be political. They want to make sure no one gets anything they haven’t earned.  If you can’t afford health care then that is just too bad.  If you don’t accept everything we tell you to believe then you are not welcomed.  How did the teachings of Jesus go from front and center to off on a remote back burner?

About Atonement..

One of the current foundations of the Christianity is the atonement. Generally that is thought to be Jesus taking the wrath of God for us with his substitutional crucifixion in order to appease God wrath toward man’s sinfulness.  I, like many others I’m sure, thought that atonement was a foundational issue with Jesus and the early church.  In reality it was post-Constantine theologians who gave us the doctrine of original sin and the blood atonement, the belief that Jesus came to earth solely for the purpose of dying for our sins, was a doctrine not fully developed in the church until the tenth century.  It was almost upsetting to me to learn this fact since so many of my inherited beliefs hinged on it.

We all like to think that the things we are told to believe about Jesus  were actually established by him.  In reality the idea of atonement was not settled until centuries after his death. Yes, Jesus mentioned here and there about dying for us but I don’t now believe it was ever a central theme. Even the concept of man’s innate sinfulness is still a matter for disagreements.  Are we born bad and must be saved, as some assert, or are we born good, as others maintain, but have forgotten where we came from, where we are going, and to whom we belong? Was the death of Jesus on the cross necessary for the salvation of the world or was he here for other, or maybe additional. purposes?

Many think that if we disregard sacrificial atonement then we must throw Christianity out the window as Jesus’ death meant nothing.  To those the idea of universal salvation is pure heresy. But to others, like Philip Gulley it meant no such thing.  They believe that while it was unnecessary for God to come in the form of Jesus to kill himself, Jesus’ time on earth was to among other things to teach us how to live and how to love. While that purpose is very encompassing he also physically conquered death by his resurrection. That is no small thing!

Sacrificial atonement is something that I have always had trouble understanding. Why would God need to take on another form and kill himself to satisfy is own wrath?  Robin Meyers in his book entitled “The Underground Church” stated:

It is no coincidence that it took as long for the idea of the blood atonement to be fully formed as it took for Christians artists to begin to show us an image of the corpse of Jesus hanging on a cross.

No dead Jesus for a thousand years. This is not to say that the suffering of Jesus is unimportant; indeed it bears witness to the depth of his capacity to Love

It is not widely acknowledged in many Christian churches just how unresolved the issue of atonement is. It continues to be widely discussed even today.

Religiously Powerful…

Jesus had some very stinging words about the religiously powerful of his day. The Gospel of Mark 7 is one of those places.  Let’s study some of those words.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:” ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

In these verses Jesus was addressing the Pharisees from Jerusalem. These guys, being from Jerusalem were not some radical sect that was divorced from the mainstream Judaism, they were likely the leader of the leaders of the mainstream church. I’m sure they were totally shocked to have this carpenter’s son rebuke them so harshly. With that in mind it is not to surprising that they then went on to plan for his execution. They had, I am sure, the belief that they were the spokesman for God, not this lowly peasant.

Jesus told them that they were hypocrites, as the humble and poor people who were surrounding him to listen to his messages knew more about God than they did. Jesus told them that their religion was more about human rules than about learning lessons from God.  Can you imagine the hate they must have had for Jesus after these strong words?

The religion of Jesus’ day had devolved into traditions that had little to do with God but instead were implemented to keep the religious hierarchy of the day in power. It was more about their rules than God’s. He told them that they do many things against the true teaching of God.

I’m sure there are many in today’s churches who consider themselves the leader of the leaders as the Pharisees did. I am also sure that Jesus would say many of  the same things against them as he did two thousand years ago. Many religions have devolved into organizations of human traditions and dogma.

The current emergent movement within the church body is attempting to force the original messages of Jesus back to front-and-center in today’s church. If they are successful maybe someday the light of Jesus and his true words will again be a shining beacon for the world to look upon.

My View Of The Bible — Part 5 Summing It Up..

This is the fifth post on this series about the Bible. If it is not obvious by now I want you to understand that I put my Christianity on Jesus Christ not on a book about him. I will try to keep this brief as it is really a wrap-up of the past posts.

About the Literalists:

  • Panic – In some cases I see almost total panic in people when I say not all the words in the bible are literally true. This belief is so ingrained in the foundations of their faith they cannot imagine it could not be true.
  • Irrational – Some say if you doubt any words in the Bible are not literally true than you must doubt all of them and therefore the Bible would be worthless! Nonsense..Living with that sort of belief makes life itself totally unlivable. There is nothing in this life that man has touched that is 100% accurate. This is like saying that I must throw out everything I know about George Washington, and I have read a lot about him, because someone wrongly wrote that he chopped down a cherry tree.
  • Acceptance? – Eventually the literal and absolutely true belief will be totally disproved even to the current day doubters. What will happen to those who tied their Christianity on that belief? Will they lose their faith? I just pray that when that day comes they will realize that Jesus should have been their total focus all along not a book about him.  What would happen to me if the Bible proved to be totally inerrant as they claim? I would be very surprised but it would not cause me to take my eyes off Jesus as the absolute center of my faith.
About the Bible:
  • At Jesus’ Feet – To be able to read stories from those who actually sat at Jesus’ feet is just so valuable in our walk with Christ. It helps us to understand why he came  to earth and became one of us! He did that to teach us how to live and how to love the God of the New Testament.
  • A Brother’s Narrative – There is one person who wrote part of the biblical text that most likely spent almost his entire life with Jesus and that was his brother (or maybe cousin depending on which theologian you might follow). It saddens me that James did not provide us more info about Jesus’ earlier years. But, then again maybe he did and it was not uncovered during the search or canonic documents. If not,  I guess he chose to concentrate on just what he thought was the most important of his brother’s messages. To hear James say that faith and works are one and the same and that faith without works is a dead faith is good enough for me.
  • About the Founders – To be able to read all the stories in the book of Acts about the first few years of Christianity is very enlightening. It certainly helps us to understand how Christianity got started and how some of its beliefs were formed primarily by the Apostle Pau. But, all of those things that occurred during these early years were not necessarily meant to apply to future Christians. Some are just for lessons learned and taught at the time of the writing and should be understood as such.
  • Early Conflicts – To see how Paul dealt with some many of the problems in the early church is interesting.  But again we cannot assume that all the solutions he proposed apply to all circumstances today. One size does not fit all.
Just give them Jesus:
  • Keep your eyes totally focused on the lessons of Jesus. Everything else is simply a distraction.
  • To tell others about Jesus and how he lived his life.  That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Tell other about Jesus and how he taught us to live.   That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Tell others about Jesus and what he commanded us to do.   That is the purpose of the Bible.
  • Use the Bible stories as lessons in these matters and don’t become fixated on the words themselves.  When you do that you may end up treating words as idols and that is definitely not what Jesus intended.

Never take your eyes off Jesus.

My View Of The Bible — Part 4 .. Misguided Beliefs?

This, the fourth post on the Bible centers around where I see some others may have gone astray in regards to their beliefs surrounding  the Bible.

  • Some have replaced the Holy Spirit with the book called the Bible... They put so much power in the Bible and so little in the Holy Spirit. Compared to the others in Trinity studies there is very little in-depth theological study about the Holy Spirit. The main exception to that might be  the Society of Friends otherwise known as Quakers. They treat the Holy Spirit as a very equal member of God’s team. Jesus had very clear words about just what the Holy Spirit was going to do for us after he left this earth. Many Christian denominations today seem to downplay our relationship with the Holy Spirit.
  • The Bible is about God; it is not a replacement for God...The Bible is a valuable document in trying to understand the nature of God but it was never meant to replace God. This idea goes back to a recent post with the question of why Jesus did not write a book? Jesus did not write a book because if he did then we lowly human beings would end up having a relationship with the book instead of with God. God intends each of us to have a personal relationship with him. I believe that sometimes the Bible actually gets in the way of that relationship.
  • Every word in the Bible are Jesus’ words… This is just simply something that I can’t conceive. With my study of just how the Bible was assembled in the late fourth century by a council directed by King Constantine it is very clear that there is a very human element in the creation of this book. To say that every word written by the Apostle Paul came directly from Jesus is to deny some of the very words of the Bible itself. Paul states in some of his epistles that some words were simply his opinion and were not necessarily inspired by God.   I personally take some of the words of Paul to simply be that of a crankety old bachelor putting out his personal opinion. There is certainly nothing wrong with that since his letters were written to human beings with particular problems that Paul addressed. Yes, they are important to the history of the church but they are not from God’s lips.
  • Everything in the Bible is literally and absolutely true… This belief causes some to deny other aspects of God’s revelations. We can learn nothing in this world unless God allows us to learn it. And this includes scientific things like carbon dating and geological strata and yes, even global warming. Much of scientific discovery today adds weight behind one interpretation of the Bible in opposition to another interpretation. There is nothing wrong with that.
  • The “Slippery Slope” is one of the most misguided beliefs… This belief goes like this.  If you can’t believe absolutely every word in the Bible then you must throw it all out as unbelievable. In other words if you can doubt anything then you will eventually fall down a slippery slope where everything is doubted. I have gone round after round with some on this topic with some fellow Christians. But, as the saying goes “you can’t reason someone out of a position that they never reasoned themselves into”.

My View Of The Bible –Part 3.. Other Views

Now that I have told you what I believe about the Bible I will go over a short list of things that are somewhat widely accepted by some twenty-first century Christian denominations but of which I basically disagree. Most of these topic titles are  from texts of discussions I have had with Christians. I put them in a special category here because they were so deeply felt by others.

All the words in the Bible are the words of Jesus (ie.  every word and punctuation mark comes from God). This title came from a person fairly high in the LCMS Lutheran organization. He used this statement to refute my belief that some of the Bible writing were not meant to be taken literally. To me instead of enhancing the rest of the Bible I think he was really degrading the actual words of Jesus.

Nothing is required of Man to be called a disciple of Jesus– Those who oppose this concept call this statement “Cheap Grace”. Anyone who has read even a few of my postings here know that this is one of the very sore points for me. To the ones who believe this I often come back with the statement that if that is true then we should eliminate the New Testament entirely and simple jump from Jesus’ birth directly to his death and resurrection. If Jesus did not expect anything from us “poor miserable sinners” then why did he continue to teach his apostles and us through them lessons about living on this earth? To take any responsibility of our existing on the earth away from us is almost to say that God creating the universe was unnecessary. At the very least it is to say that Jesus wasted his breath during his three year ministry as nothing he said makes any difference.  Those are fighting words to me 🙂

One verse negates other verses.. For people who say they are literalist when it comes to the Bible to then latch onto one verse and seemingly forget others is a mystery to me? Most of the logic for “nothing is required” comes from one sentence in the letter of Paul to the congregation of Ephesus.  That verse Ephesians 2:8 is as follows: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”.  These words from Paul, who never sat at Jesus’ feet nor seemed to understand much of his teachings, when taken alone seem to be a powerful  reinforcement of the belief that nothing is required of us. But if they are put in the context of many many of Jesus’ messages they take on a different meaning. And then there is James, the brother of Jesus, who makes it very clear that, from his brother he was taught that faith without works is a dead faith. When I look at all the words of Jesus I cannot negate them simply because of this uttered sentence in one of Paul’s many letters to a troubled congregation.

My interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one…. In my opinion this is one of the most damaging aspects of biblical beliefs.  Some are absolutely convinced that they alone know the true heart of God and anyone who disagrees with them is simply wrong!! An example of this are those who believe in the 24 hour version of Genesis go on to disrespect those who believe in the day age version. To some extent I am personally a victim of this practice but that is another story. When we continuously divide ourselves over personal interpretations we do a great disservice to God!

The Sit Back And Wait Syndrome..

One of the major problems, that is besides their political leanings, is too many evangelical churches preach the “Sit Back and Wait Syndrome”. I know, as I did so myself, that it is too easy to just ignore your Church’s current beliefs in order to preserve your “country club membership”. Taking a stand against something often times means you’re asked to leave as you don’t believe the “right” things. That can be hard on your social life but do you really want to put that ahead of your spiritual life?

The “SBAW” syndrome goes something like this:

  • Everyone of us are dreadful sinners and there is nothing we can do about that. All we can do after we accept Christ as our savior and then hunker down against the big bad world and wait for the second coming.
  • Since we are nothing but miserable sinners God doesn’t expect anything from us. He has done it all so it doesn’t matter how we act or what we do.  But if we feel like it we could try to do some good deeds and he won’t mind too much. The only thing that really matters is that we hold strong to the beliefs we have been taught by our church and then sit back and wait…
  • Since God is absolutely in control, everything that happens  is his will. We don’t need to do anything in our communities. He will do it all.  Neither do we need to do anything to bring people to Christ. All we have to do is sit back and wait for him to bring them to us in his time, not ours.

You get the idea of the “SBAW” syndrome.  It justifies doing nothing within their communities or for that matter even making any changes in their personal lives. When they are confronted with those growing mega-churches they say they are only successful because they pander to sinners and tell them that God loves them anyway so they can just keep sinning.

canstockphoto36337890.jpgOf course I, and I’m sure many other followers of Jesus, take a very different track on our spirituality. We believe Jesus’ church to be about “being and doing” and not simply believing. We are to do everything we can to make the kingdom of heaven here on earth.  We believe that Christianity is supposed to be a very active thing and is definitely not a sit back and wait proposition. Jesus clearly taught us otherwise.

My fundamental difference with the “SBAW” crowd is that they almost exclusively focus on Jesus being their saviour Whereas I focus on him as my teacher of life.  That is I study his words to find out what he expects, or maybe even as the great commission says commands, of me in this life. To me that is unquestionably to be very active in my community to love others with the love of Jesus in my heart. He no way intends us to  just sit back and wait while bemoaning the big bad world out there…

To further my alternative view on following Jesus I would suggest

Sunday’s Religion In America Series..

ISOA Banner  My intention going into the new RJsCorner was that I would use Sunday to sometimes post about things religious. With that in mind I thought I would start a new series about the founding of the U.S. by people escaping religious persecution in other countries. I probably have a couple of dozen of these type communities I have visited over the years of traveling across this country. This post will start us off on this direction.

canstockphoto18444062.jpgThese posts will probably be more about our country’s history than religious beliefs. They will highlight communities throughout the country that were started by groups of people  with a particular set of beliefs that oftentimes differed from sect they originally belonged to. So, it is hard to categorize them in one particular category. They will often be “Reports” in my journey In Search of America.

When most people, especially those from outside looking in, see Christianity they think of one homogeneous community with one set of religious beliefs. In reality that could not be further from the truth.  There are over 35,000 different versions of Christianity and that number is increasing year after year. There always seems to be reason for one segment of a sect to separate from another. To many, like Martin Luther, latch onto one particular sentence of the Bible and disregard much of the rest.

Of course my personal bias will show through in these reports. How can that be otherwise?  So, I want to tell you a little about my beliefs here. I currently do not call myself a “religious” person but I am an avid follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  To me it just seems that most, if not all, of the current religious denominations almost ignore Jesus’ teachings and instead fixate on some words invented by someone long after his death.

Closing this post, this will be an interesting series for me and I hope you will learn a few things from it.  In Search of America is a broad topic indeed and this is an important segment…