Are we really doing what Christ wants?
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What exactly is it to be a Christian? This is a question which has been asked by many people of faith and philosophers over the millennia; a question which is thought to have an easy answer. “A Christian is anyone who believes in Jesus Christ,” is the typical reply. There are usually some codicils which follow depending upon one’s favored denomination, but all are agreed that in order to be a Christian, one must believe in Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough while that is a definite component, that alone isn’t what defines a Christian. To understand what defines a Christian, one must understand the definition of the word “Christian.” Believing in Christ is only a part of the answer. As James pointed out:
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”
- James 2:19
Over the years, I have read many critical pieces against Christianity by so-called atheists. (I say so-called not as a sleight, but only because I have never met any atheist who can possibly know for a certainty whether or not there is a God. At best, they should regard themselves as agnostic. It may sound a bit tamer, but it is vastly more accurate a designation.) This is not something to dismiss blithely; words do means things and when one opts to take such a definitive stance against that which they have no evidence to support, one is entering into the realm of …faith. Thus an atheist must rely on faith that what they choose not to believe is actually true.
Consider that our universe at present is thought to be infinite. We have dated the universe at approximately 14 Billion years, but even that isn’t necessarily correct. 14 Billion years is only as far back as we can see with present technology. Tomorrow there may be a method by which our ability to see light emanations which are too dim to see presently which will suddenly date the age of our universe to 20 Billion years, or perhaps even older. The raw fact is that at present, the true age of the universe is an unknown.
When one takes this view of our universe and then decides with absolute certainty they know all types of possible life which can exist in such an environment, such as akin to discussing Calculus with a preschooler. While the position of being an atheist may appear on the surface to be an intellectual, rational and logical choice, when one looks more deeply into the arguments from a purely secular perspective, such a limited position is laughably absurd. Is not one of the primary theories to explain how life migrated throughout the universe the theory of Panspermia?
This from Wikipedia:
Panspermia (from Greek πᾶν (pan), meaning "all", and σπέρμα (sperma), meaning "seed") is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and also by spacecraft, in the form of unintended contamination by microbes.
My point is simple: to presume that there can be no other “higher life” in the universe – known or more importantly, unknown - than that which we are familiar, is an extraordinarily juvenile point of view. It is a view by which proponents of Atheism have distilled all higher life to that of humanity. Thus, no life-form greater than a humanoid construct could exist within this vast universe. If such a being does exist, it will most definitely be humanoid and suffer from the same humanoid-like limitations. Why would any person who tends towards reason and logic lock themselves into such a small box?
The answer to such a question comes from the experience of the individual who shares such a limited view. Almost without exception, those who hold atheistic views – especially in the West – are those who have been “hurt” by their belief in God. Most of the time this hurt comes in the guise of parents, mentors, people whom they’ve held up as examples, role-models who have fallen far short of the ideal. This then leads to confusion as the individual grows older and the natural questions about self and purpose of life begin to become more important. The answers are not easy to come by and it seems that too many others are more interested in helping themselves than helping their fellow man. Thus the initial message of unity and love is lost.
Typical of an atheist’s complaints towards those who regard themselves as Christians is that any who suffer from personal failings prove only what monumental hypocrites Christians truly are. After all, it usually is such behavioral failings from those who these atheists looked towards as role models which led them to reject their formative teachings respecting the existence of a god or “higher power” in the first place. But rather than a Christian taking a dim view of how an atheist discerns the character of an individual, it is far more instructive to explore their rationale.
This point is truly what this commentary is all about and how we who regard ourselves as Christians could learn so much from those who have decided that Creator God Almighty does not exist. What is it that a Christian can learn from an atheist about God you ask? Plenty as it turns out and the answer is so startlingly simple, some may marvel at why they hadn’t connected the dots for themselves earlier. What is it that I am talking about? Let me explain:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
- Luke 10:25-37
What is interesting to me about this passage is what Christ did not say was necessary to inherit eternal life. Consider that Christ did not tell him to fall to his knees and say the “sinner’s prayer,” did not insist he be baptized, did not tell him to give up all manner of behaviors, etc. Christ was very direct: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Character, not doctrine or dogma.
There is an old saying of by 19th Century British Author, William J. Toms, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”
It is natural for people to judge others by their behavior. This extends to all aspects of our lives. Thus one who goes about proclaiming they are a Christian are going to be viewed through a particular critical lens. Those who are not Christians, holding to no such beliefs in God, are still going to hold the Christian to a specific standard of behavior. This is a good thing as it is how we as Christians are supposed to behave; we are to be reflections of Jesus Christ. Evidently even the atheist looks at the behavior of the individual to discern whether or not they are truly Christians as claimed, or are mere “posers.” Let that set with you for a moment while you go on to read this old joke:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Are you religious?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
Perhaps it is just my peculiar sense of humor, but I find this joke funny. They say that all humor has to have a grain of truth to it to be funny. This particular joke has more than just a grain to it; it has a whole bagful of truth to it. Now look at the subtext of the joke and why it is funny. To an atheist, a Christian is defined by their behavior towards others. Even if they may not believe as a Christian believes, they will still recognize that there is something different about a Christian by that behavior. Now that difference might enrage them, or it might cause them to look at the Christian kindly; the salient point is that the Christian is displaying behavior they can clearly see and that matters.
Within the church, however, this model breaks down completely. To certain fellow Christians, there is a different dynamic at work. A fellow Christian will oftentimes not see their brethren’s behavior first and foremost as an indicator of their love of Christ; a fellow Christian will first begin to dissect what it is their brethren believe and whether it adheres to established doctrinal standards. Too often if their brethren do not believe as they have been taught, they will label said brother or sister as a “heretic” or “wayward.” First they will attempt to “instruct the wayward soul on their error,” but failing that, they will fall back and caution others that said brethren is really a heretic rife with error and are to be avoided. Soon enough if that brother or sister continues in their “obstinance”, they will be called Satan, turned out and shunned.
Why is it that a fellow believer will look at what a brother or sister in Christ believes respecting doctrine or dogma rather than how they behave towards others, while for the atheist it is the exact opposite? That is an intriguing question and I don’t know that I have an easy answer. To me, such need for like-minded belief in doctrine with my fellow Christians stems from simple fear. It is almost the same fear which the atheist possesses respecting the unknown. Both camps seem to so fear that which they do not know, that one camp has killed the source of their fears while the other has caged the source of their fears.
An atheist has decided that there is no God. While many of them are far more knowledgeable about the scriptures than are some avowed Christians, the atheist tends to place no specific import on doctrine. Hence, most of the so-called atheists I have talked to look less towards specific doctrine than towards behavior as proof of one’s sincerity of belief.
For the Christian steeped in orthodoxy laden down with dogma, this is simply unacceptable. No one can be a Christian unless a long checklist of prerequisites has been satisfied completely irrespective their behavior towards their fellow man. At best it will be said of such “wayward” people that, “He (or she) was a good person, but they never accepted Christ. It is a shame they will burn forever in hell.”
Here is a provocative set of questions which I would urge all my fellow Christians to consider: Why is it that so many atheists were once believers in Christ? What is it they saw or discovered within the teachings of the religion which caused them to reevaluate their belief? Why is it they lean less on doctrine than on behavior to determine the veracity of one’s Christian walk? Do not answer these questions too quickly as you’re likely to miss the point of my asking them.
This brings me to another point and that has to do with the change in our modern churches today. Long gone is the expectation of “putting on our Sunday Best” to go to church. Today in any typical church, one is just as likely to see people show up in jeans and a t-shirt as they are to see a three piece suit or a dress with a pearl necklace. Formal dress is gone from our churches for the most part. Why is that? To say that it is just “part and parcel of the times” is a dismissive answer. Behaviors bespeak intent. Do we show up in cutoffs or a bikini (as I saw on one young woman at a moderately large church service one Sunday morning recently) because we no longer hold any reverence for God? I don’t think so. I think the youth are beginning to view their relationship with God is a different light than some of us older people. They are beginning to see the point behind the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a problem for many in the church who remain fixedly rooted to tradition and orthodoxy. Why do I say that? Let me explain:
Since the days of Constantine the Great in the early 4th Century AD, Christian Orthodoxy has been defined by a set of rules established through what would eventually become seven Ecumenical Councils over the breadth of 450 years beginning in 325 AD. These Councils set down the rules and regulations which the Church would teach from the approved books to be placed within the Cannon, to just who God is. Much of what was chosen by this first council was decidedly “Old Covenant” in nature. Because of who and what Constantine the Great was – the Roman Emperor who ended the Tetrarchy and sought to knit the entire empire back together under just one Emperor, the teachings of Christ could only be used in the abstract. The Mosaic Law was far better suited to Constantine’s purposes than was the message of freedom in Christ.
The Catholic Church became a very powerful force on the planet, ruling with an iron fist. Very little in the way of dissent was tolerated, with offenders usually rewarded by a gruesome death for their trouble. In truth when one looks at rule under the Roman Emperors and the rule under the subsequent Vatican era during the end of the first millennium and the beginning of the second, one would have a difficult time seeing any real shift in behavior towards their fellow man; The Church was interchangeable with that of the previous Roman rule and their worship of the Egyptian Sun God, Amun Ra.
Yet with very little questioning, the modern Christian church accepts all that these councils gave them in the way of liturgy. All conclusions with respect to the understanding of God, the positioning of Christ and the substance of the Holy Spirit are accepted wholesale by modern theologians without question. Doctrinal theses have been written and accepted via peer review on various points respecting these conclusions. The authors of such writings are held up as august members of theology, and go forth teaching others. But what exactly are they teaching?
I have covered this particular ground before in previous commentaries, so I won’t belabor it here. I will say, however, that what doctorates in theology fail to recognize is slowly bubbling into the consciousness of today’s youth. With the inception of social media, communication has never been as widespread in human history. Whereas once information could be shielded from certain peoples, today such is nearly impossible. Even bunkered, totalitarian governments like North Korea struggle to keep out the flow of unwanted information. Thus when a pastor or doctorate in theology states with absolute certainty that one not accepting Christ audibly is damned to hell upon death (as I heard one pastor acquaintance of my state), too many today are fact-checking such absurdity and realizing the pastor is wrong.
Having an impact on today’s youth is the unyielding nature of other religions such as Islam. Here they are witnessing people of their same age demographic chopping off heads of others, raping young children and doing so all because of their god. Could their own blind allegiance to an uncertain religion lead them to act in a like manner? In Christian Orthodoxy, one need not ask such a question in the abstract; history has already answered that question for them with absolute definition. Besides the Holy Crusades, one can look at the Spanish Inquisition to the Salem witch trials. To be fair there were many Christians throughout these tumultuous times who set themselves apart from the orthodox teachings, but these were people who were few and far between. Additionally when they were discovered and then caught, they were dealt with harshly by their “Christian” brethren.
Suffice to say, Christ taught none of this aberrant behavior. Such is on par with the teachings of Islam or of the Old Testament, but not Christ. I bristle when I see supposed learned historians conflate the Old Testament with Christianity as though they are a part of one another. Christ was exceedingly clear that He came to fulfill the Law, making it null and void. (Colossians 2:13-15) To continue to recognize and teach that The Law is still in full effect is to deny Christ. Period. It is a tacit admission that His work upon the cross was of no import whatsoever. Christ, therefore, becomes a mere figurehead and nothing more. It is this incongruity which is starting to be realized by the youth today. Sensing this, but not quite able to articulate their feelings, they are leaving the church in droves.
The secular press cheers what they see as the death of God and religion in today’s youth. I can agree with them on only half of their point: It is clear that as our youth wake up to the lie of organized religion they are turning away and are instead opting for the purity of Christ. But have they killed God by eschewing such regions? Far from it. God seems to be an even greater factor in many of their lives today than ever before. The problem is that the traditional Christian religion cannot recognize, much less accept this fact. These pastors are instead borrowing tactics from Madison Avenue, repackaging their image so as to appear more palatable; more relevant and “hip” to today’s disaffected youth. Such a tactic will fail and fail monumentally. One cannot “paper over” the truth.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
- John 8:31-32
When church leadership denies the truth for fear of losing its power, it must realize that it has already lost the only power which matters, that of Jesus Christ. Such leadership, from the pastor and elders/deacon up to the formal head of that particular denomination, be it a small independent Baptist church or the Pope in the Vatican, none are teaching Christ. These are people who are teaching the religion of angels.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
-2nd Corinthians 11:13-15
“The word spoken by ANGELS was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.”
- Hebrews 2:2
“Wherefore then serves the Law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by ANGELS in the hand of a mediator”
- Galatians 3:19
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements [the real Greek meaning, στοιχεῖον, stoicheion, means spiritual entity] of the world, and not after Christ.”
- Colossians 2:8
Sooner or later the truth will be revealed to all. As human beings, we’ve been given a very short time here in this plane of existence by which we are able to serve God in the most humble of circumstances. It isn’t easy, it isn’t always fun. Christ was very clear when he explained that as a Christian, life was going to be harsh.
"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
- John 15:18-19
Our native essence, our spirit, comes from God and is a part of God in eternity. Our present shells of flesh are firmly attached to this present realm and identify with this realm in an instinctual way. Orthodox teaching where Christianity is concerned is geared more towards the flesh than the spirit. Most Christian teaching deals very little with the spirit as under the present doctrines and dogma, the spirit is an unknowable mystery. One cannot teach what one does not know, thus the Old Testament Law and much humanism mixed with angelology predominates. It is this caustic mix of deceptive and hollow philosophies which Paul warned us about. It is this uneven philosophy which is beginning to prick the eternal spirits of our youth and they are beginning to take action.
No the modern church will not long survive of the multiple errors they continue to peddle as truth; the modern church will only survive when it decides the truth is more valuable to them than the lie. When we can look upon our fellow man and see in them the broken and needy child that God sees, we will finally understand our own role in this realm. When we can see our fellow man as a part of ourselves and of God rather than as a target, a tool for our own personal advancement, we will see them as God desires we see them.
“When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
- 1st Corinthians 13:11