#0001 A cultural rift in the Church (part I)
Today there is a cultural rift developing through the middle of the Church; dividing it into 2 groups. The rift is growing longer and fatter and the 2 groups are getting more and more polarized towards one another. Jesus, in a parable, branded these 2 groups the sheep and the goats.
For centuries the focus for Christian believers has been getting themselves into a right relationship with God. And in the same amount of time religions have been guiding believers in how they should do that. Christian denominations have different parameters of what and how things should go in this process, but generally speaking the plot is the same throughout all of Christendom. I must clarify out of the chute that the underlying motivator Christian believers have for wanting a relationship with God in the first place has mostly to do with getting themselves into heaven when they die. There’s a lot of other stuff enthusiastic Christians typically will want to talk about; but if you boil away all the fat it’s the fixation on eternal salvation that keeps Christian churchgoers going to church.
The salvation coin is a two-sided deal. On the one side of it there is the promise to those who qualify for salvation they will indeed go to heaven and live with God, the angels and all the other saved souls when they die. On the other side of the coin is the insurance that they won’t have to burn in hell forever as a consequence for not making it into heaven. Together the 2 sides add up to quite a hefty incentive for keeping people plugged into whatever’s necessary to reach the salvation goal.
In the pursuit of obtaining a guarantee of salvation for human souls, Christian bigwigs have been busy compiling a to-do/to-don’t list they say originates with God Himself. Items on this list have been hammered out of Bible scriptures through a painstaking practice involving scrutiny and vetting. This kind of process would always be conducted by top religious historians, scholars and others carefully selected from the rank and file of Christian muscle over as many centuries. Another term for this collection of conditions is doctrine. Points of doctrine are religious laws and practices well-known and beloved by churched folks. Some examples are: baptism, original sin, communion, faith, repentance, going to church regularly, marriage and salvation itself. A reason doctrine is much beloved by churched folks; it has become their rudder in the water on the high seas of life. The water is choppy; storms appear out of nowhere; they’re hoping and praying their little dingy won’t flip over! Their church’s doctrine provides them with the sense of direction and stability they need to steer their way in a world of uncertainty. The more they understand and believe in the doctrine, the tighter they are able to grip the handle of that tiller, the safer they feel. And their minister admonishes them weekly to: “Stay in the word” or to: “Go deeper into the word!” An added incentive for believers to pursue salvation came along in the 1950s and in recent years it has gained lots of momentum. It’s called prosperity theology. This theology or doctrine taught by certain Christian persuasions teaches believers how to get a clamp-like grip on that tiller handle.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will increase one’s material wealth. Based on non-traditional interpretations of the Bible, often with emphasis on the Book of Malachi, the doctrine views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver his promises of security and prosperity. Confessing these promises to be true is perceived as an act of faith, which God will honor.
The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through visualization and positive confession, and is often taught in mechanical and contractual terms. (READ MORE)
In this we see religion very determined to win souls to Christ promising virtually everything—eternal salvation and prosperity to any and all those who will come to Christ in the specific ways they prescribe. This is the sum and substance of doctrine, actually. The main function of doctrine is as a self-monitoring tool to keep believers well within the parameters of the doctrines’ directives. In centuries past, the added incentive keeping believers in line was the threat and the action of imprisonment for those who dared to speak, behave or allegedly think things that were in opposition to the doctrine. These people were known as heretics. For sins of heresy, people were often burned at the stake in the end and there were a couple of reason for this. #1 The punishment of death showed everyone that the church meant business. #2 Death would put an end to the heresy the person was spreading so their lies would die with them. #3 Death by fire was thought to be a way of purging the person of their heresy and other sins at the time of death. It also had to do with…if the victim’s blood wasn’t spilled during the execution then in God’s eyes; they weren’t actually murdered because, technically, the victim’s blood wasn’t on the hands of those responsible. These days other inducements (like those mentioned above) are used to keep people within the boundaries of doctrine, but they serve the same purpose—promoting and enforcing the conditions necessary for salvation.
So, from a Christian’s point of view things are all neat and tidy, clear-cut and matter-of-fact aren’t they? The answer would most definitely have to be yes if that was all there was to say on the matter. There are some other things to take into consideration, however. When Jesus showed up on earth, the religious men of authority in His day were all about doctrine too. These guys were grouped mainly into two factions called the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The two groups disagreed on points of doctrine, but the one thing they did agree on was the necessity for doctrine. Jesus, on the other hand, once He got going in His 3-year stretch of ministry, found that he had to incessantly contend with these guys over points of doctrine. From their perspective, Jesus didn’t seem to pay too much attention to the doctrine. In fact He seemed to bebop and scat all over it and it drove these religious bigs nuts. Jesus wouldn’t talk down to the people either (which was typically the way men in authority would address their subordinates). He talked to them as if they were His friends and His equals. Often He would be heard saying things to them like…
11“But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
Matt: 23 11-12 (KJV)
What the men with religious authority in Jesus’s day failed to understand was the concept of the spirit of the law. What this is referring to is the principles which lived inside the law. Just as the flesh and bones of someone—their body—isn’t really the person; it’s the vessel or container of the person. If you look at that body after the person dies you can tell very quickly that the essence of the person is missing. It’s the same with the law, that is to say the points of doctrine, without the spirit or the principles living within them they are just carcasses. This concept Jesus tried to convey over and over to the Pharisees and Sadducees but they couldn’t get past the doctrine. In a way, the doctrine became a huge barrier to the work of spreading the gospel for Jesus. Jesus often talked in parables; in fact, He used them as His go-to vehicle for conveying the gospel message. As He spoke out the gospel using parables, the simple or humble people within earshot of His words seemed to pick up on the brilliance and energy of the message right away; whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees—who often times would also be listening—seemed to miss it over and over again. In a way the parables of Jesus are the antithesis of doctrine. Jesus was all about keeping the message simple. Someone once asked Him what the greatest commandment was and Jesus answered like this:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matt:22 36-40 (NIV)
Notice the last verse… [Like a body] “All the Law and the Prophets” [are hanging on the living essence of] “these two commandments”! Amen.