Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why The World Does Not Believe

"Anyone who wants a perfect church clearly wants no church at all!" These words by the great reformer Martin Luther spoken five centuries ago have always been true. Christians are creatures of their times, cultures, politics, and physical processes. So, as such, we will always carry with us the sinfulness of the world we live in. "Simul justus et peccator!" (We are simultaneously saints and sinners!) Yet, it is important to also emphasize that while we carry in our flesh the imperfect realities of living in an imperfect world, we also carry around "in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." (II Corinthians 4:10 NIV)

This is what St. Paul refers to as the "treasure" in "jars of clay" that makes it clear that despite our earthy realities, God is doing a work through us that shows everyone that God's power is real, and that through the Holy Spirit we can be so much more than the sum collection of our foibles, and that our sinful natures do not have to hold sway over our words and our living. Indeed, our lives can be a positive influence in this world, leading to transformation not only of ourselves but of those around us. This is "...because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God." (II Corinthians 4:14-15 NIV)

While most Christians understand the paradox of being sinful people who are filled and used by the Spirit of a perfect God, it seems to be a recurring temptation for some Christians to use this as a pretext for denouncing other Christians with whom they disagree over such mundane matters as politics, economics, or even non-essentials in theology. I am becoming more and more concerned with a very concerted effort by so-called "progressive Christians" to discredit and "dis-grace" evangelical Christians. It isn't necessary to name names, but it seems there are dozens of well known speakers and writers who highlight the fact that evangelicals are tainted with Republican views (terminology that says a great deal about "progressives" political blinders), homophobic impulses, narrow-minded opinions, simple minded understandings of the Bible as a reliable source for discerning the mind and will of the Almighty, and who, according to Carol Howard Merritt, "demonized" health care and "glorified" wars.

People like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, and other involved Christians on the political Right are criticized mercilessly by "progressive Christians," while anyone who is involved in support of the Left's favored issues are hailed as those who have finally removed the scales from their eyes and are truly in tune with God's kingdom. For some reason, political involvement on the Right is a bastardization of true Christianity and can inflame the radical passions of the populace, whereas political involvement on the Left is a faithful expression of enlightened discipleship that is free of the fetters of simple-minded reading of the Bible and narrow-minded allegiance to the demagogues who are leaders in the shallowness of America's mega-churches.

Now, I am not defending all the statements and actions of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or any Christian leader, or for that matter, of any human leader. Rev. Robertson has had to eat his words on several occasions, as have most of us. I am objecting to what amounts to a campaign by "progressive Christians" to demonize evangelicals. First of all, it is bearing false witness against one's neighbor, so just from a Ten Commandments angle it is an offence against God. But the far greater harm is that it perpetuates the primary reason why the world around us does not accept the witness of Christians regarding the message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus really gave Christians only one real command, and it is that we love one another.

  • "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35 NIV)
It is the disunity among Christians that has been a scandal to the name of Jesus the Christ for most of the last 2000 years. We are given freedom to serve God, one another, and the world around us, but when we seek to stake out our positions of correctness and dominance over those of other Christians, we discredit the claim that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul admonishes us, " not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love."

Yes, we all bear the imperfections of being sinful humans in a fallen world. Evangelicals in all their stripes are not the completion of God's work and will for this world, but neither are the so-called progressive Christians. It is certainly true that evangelicals may smell of intolerance at times, but progressives bear the stench of millions upon millions of children murdered in the womb. Evangelicals have erred in being too arrogant and heavy-handed in applying the Word of God to agonizing human issues and in so doing have driven people from God's kingdom, but progressives have erred by denying the clear Word of God in order to proclaim their own words of understanding for human issues, and in so doing have denied people the transforming grace of God.

As creatures of this world, we can always find platforms from which to look down on other disciples of Christ. All this does is give the unbelievers a legitimate reason for being not believing, and discredit is brought to the claims of Christ. Our call as disciples of Jesus is higher than this, and within our bodies of clay is the treasure of Jesus Christ, who lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We do not have to be so subject to our own imperfections that we cannot extol "in our bodies," or that is, in the reality of our lives now, the perfection of Jesus.

Christians are the only ones who have a real choice regarding how to live. Unbelievers are entirely subject to this world, whereas we have been given new life (and therefore new possibilities) in Christ. We do not have to divide ourselves according to the temporary and fleeting provinces of this world. Rather, we can be the one body of Christ, united in the one Holy Spirit as we serve one another in obedience to Jesus. It is by this that all people will believe we are disciples of Jesus, that the Gospel is true, that the kingdom of God is in our midst, and that someday "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV)

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