Monday, 30 June 2014

Sinners in the hands of a hippie God?

After getting a little side tracked for a few posts, I am getting back to my series on the nature of God. In the last post on this topic I spoke about the angry God who has a very low opinion about humanity. Today I want to look at the polar opposite view where grace gets distorted and God tends to look the other way when we do bad things. This "loving God" has forced a rethink in many people's theology. In the last decade or so there has been a significant increase in voices who have concluded that things like hell and the depictions of God that we see in the Old Testament are inconsistent with the God that Jesus revealed to us in the New. Some have gone so far as to reject the idea of there being any sort of lasting consequences in the afterlife while others openly question the 39 books of the bible as well.

I do believe that the questions being asked today, regarding the topics mentioned above, are good and necessary. There are certainly many misconceptions that are widely held on topics relating to judgement and punishment. I myself see things on these topics differently than I did a few years ago as well so it is not the questions but rather some of the conclusions that are being reached that I sometimes find alarming. I had a funny thought the other day while I was reading an article about hell. It struck me that those who adhere to the Universal Redemption theory are actually very similar to Calvinists in the sense that free will is rendered meaningless if everyone ends up in heaven and “love wins”. Likewise, those who hold to the eternal conscience torment interpretation of scripture could be considered Universalists in a sense because they ultimately believe that everybody inherits eternal life (with the difference being that eternity gets lived out in two different locations for believers and unbelievers).

But before I wander off topic, behind this view of God that I am addressing, I believe lays a false definition of love. And it is important that we address it because what people believe about God will get passed down and put on others through the life of individuals and churches. Where the church once preached and emphasized holiness, today large parts of it are boasting of its inclusiveness to all kinds of people. I am not suggesting that church is not a place for broken people or that we should alienate ourselves from others but rather my concern is for what is being validated as being okay in the lives of believers. Should we be surprised that divorce, sexual immorality, gossip and slander are just as common in the church as they are out in the world if we no longer judge those within or exercise church discipline? I would argue that a God (and a church) that does not judge, rebuke or discipline does not love people but rather is being neglectful, much like a parent who does not step in when his child misbehaves or goes off the tracks. Looking at Jesus we have often limited our understanding to those three years of his life highlighted in the four Gospels, but what about the red letters in Revelation? While I do not buy the tattooed fighter out for blood picture of Jesus that certain people have tried to paint, I do look at some of what is said in John’s letter to the seven churches in the province of Asia, particularly from chapter two, and I realize just how serious Jesus is about sin. Take verses 21-23 for example as spoken to the church in Thyatira:-

I have given her (Jezebel) time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Many of today’s churches argue that nobody is perfect and we are all at different stages in our personal journeys. While it is true that we all have our dirty spots and that we tend to highlight the sins that other people struggle with rather than our own, we should still make a distinction between those within the church who are actively pursuing righteousness and those who are simply unrepentant. A little leaven leavens the whole lump so it says. Perhaps the problem stems from a gospel message that only highlights Christ as saviour but is silent on Christ as Lord. We want forgiveness without the inconvenience of picking up our own crosses. In dying and being raised again Jesus conquered sin and death and those who have been crucified and raised with him are freed from sins grip.

Being conscious that our old man was put to death on the cross with him, so that the body of sin might be put away, and we might no longer be servants to sin. Because he who is dead is free from sin. - Romans 6:6-7

While the hard and angry God's followers tend to be judgemental, proud and arrogant, my concern is that the followers of the soft God will bear the wrong kinds of fruit if they ignore scriptures like 1 Peter 1:15 and 2 Corinthians 7:1. The next time that I tackle this topic I will attempt to explain my personal view of God and how I reconcile the seemingly different pictures of God in the Old and New Testaments. I have not spent much time or energy in attempting to disprove the views I have addressed thus far but rather, in presenting my own interpretation, I hope to make a case for a better reading of scripture; I do believe that one can hold on to the Old Testament and still believe Jesus was serious about loving one's enemies and that the Father was too. Until next time...

To read the related posts in this series, look at the links below.

Is non violence always an option?
Have we made God too nice?
Sinners in the hands of an angry God?

Monday, 16 June 2014

If I could speak to a younger version of myself.

“I wish I knew then what I know now”. We have all said it a hundred times before; so this month when the topic was put forward on a Synchroblog group that I joined I started to think about it a bit more. If I could go back ten years in time and tell myself one thing, what would it be?

One thing only...I could think of so many things that I wish I had learnt earlier on in life. I wish that I had been given a more accurate, Jesus like, picture of God than the ones I had received from megachurch and fundamentalist groups as a younger Christian. I wish that I could have seen how so many of the traditions and doctrines that I held so tightly to were contrary to what the bible actually teaches. I wish that I had understood the church as something more than just a religious institution. And I wish that I had been exposed to views of the atonement other than penal substitution.

It did occur to me though that there was one thing that I could put my finger on that would pretty much encompass all of the above things and more. That one thing, the thing that if I had the chance to go back ten years into the past to tell myself would be the gospel as I understand it today. In fact, for the first thirty years of my life, most of them spent in churches,  I do not think that I had ever heard the gospel presented as anything other than a salvation message. Don’t get me wrong, the news of salvation in Christ is a part of the gospel message which we all need to hear and receive. But that is only a part of the gospel and that incomplete understanding left me with a faith that was largely lacking in both direction and purpose. While I learned that my sins were pardoned, I found myself trying to live righteously by sheer will power alone. While I learned that I was now part of Christ’s church, I quickly discovered that church membership did not equal community or family. I did learn that Christ died for me but never heard about the significance of the resurrection and living life in him by him. I learnt about Christ the Saviour but never about King Jesus. I knew about heaven but was ignorant about the Kingdom and I knew about what mankind needed to inherit life but was ignorant about the eternal purposes of God as Paul spoke of in Ephesians 3:11.

Today I am convinced that if I had heard the Gospel presented as a Kingdom of Jesus centred message, rather than one focused only on salvation, I would have spent much less time unlearning and relearning things over the last few years. It would take several posts to expound on all of the topics mentioned above but for now I would encourage anyone who has only ever understood the gospel as revealed in a John 3:16 presentation (which is still a beautiful scripture) to explore the subject further. Here are two older posts that may be a good place to start.

As mentioned earlier, this post is my contribution to a Synchroblog series for the month of June; check the links below to read some of the other articles.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Slow Church

I am straying from my series of posts on the differing views of God for a short while as I have been busy with articles for a guest post (more on that on the 23rd), a SynchroBlog contribution which will be up on the 17th and then for this post as well, which is my thoughts on the Slow Church book co written by Chris Smith and John Pattison.  

If you have not heard about it yet, it is a new book about church which is unlike any other that I have come across before Whereas most books about church focus on what happens at the Sunday meeting, the focus of this one is on how a group of Kingdom centred people can find richness in the common life that we share with those around us 7 days a week.

The 21st century way of living is all about instant everything and self satisfaction. The authors refer to this as a McDonaldized society and explore how it has found its way into the church as well. We want churches that run efficiently, predictably and where the environment can be controlled. Much like McDonalds we seek to replicate programs that are proven and where out of the box thinking is frowned upon. We have sacrificed quality for quantity by focusing on numbers and church growth techniques rather than truly investing into people’s lives.

The book covers a variety of topics related to church life by examining them through the lenses of ethics, ecology and economy. There are many challenging points in the book, from considering the lost art of showing hospitality to being forced to consider the trickle down effect that our everyday actions have on our neighbors. It caused me to consider the fact that where we shop and what we wear and eat really does have repercussions for other people. To quote the authors, “In a world where God is at work reconciling all creation, everything matters: work, family, friends, place, rest, food, money and, above all, the body of Christ, because the church is the interpretive community through which we make sense of all other facets of life.” (page 223).

It is also really fitting that the book closes with a chapter on Communion. I love the idea of communion with Christ and with the body around a table, remembering, fellowshipping and growing together over a meal as a family. Slow Church is a timely reminder that patience is not only a virtue but a also fruit of the Spirit. One does not learn to endure others or bear other’s burdens as scripture tells us to by church hopping. By slowing down and growing roots we not only serve the church better but we become more effective in serving our community as well.

Check out the Slow Church website and book by clicking here.