Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Careless Speech -- Different Gospel!

The evangelical church has worked very hard on our political agenda. Instead of preaching Jesus, we tell everyone that they can only find Him, have Him and receive His love if they adopt our brand of cultural re-coding. Sometimes our "message" comes across politically, like a fundamentalist right-wing "religioneer." The end result will be Constantine-like: just "herd the poor heathen Geeks into Lake Washington and pronounce them baptized, then we can create an army to go beat the crap out of the rest of the heathens." Only this time, the "heathen geeks" are wiser. When we make a show of arms that looks political, they now know how to beat us in that battle field. Maybe some of us are secretly thinking we can get some good exposure for Christ from a secular media. Are you kidding? They will slaughter you! That's their playground.


We deserve some criticism if we push a moral, social, or cultural agenda and not preach Christ and Him crucified. We claim to be the Church, but beat on those who need Jesus! Instead of presenting Jesus foremost, we seem bent to present what we claim to be His calling to the pure life, before the people to whom we preach even have the means to obey Him! When people with influence, again like many we read about in current blog traffic, forget that it's not just what we say, but how we say it, and in what order -- we lose the battle. I'm sad. 


Historian Lord Acton (1834-1902) issued epic warnings that political power is the most serious threat to liberty: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Now ironically, it seems that in our context we're beginning to see that those in power without accountability, will render threat to our religious liberty because of a false gospel preached to the masses. 


If the world hates me, I want them to hate me because I smell like Jesus, talk like Jesus, live like Jesus, and love like Jesus. Not because I'm yelling out in self-righteousness that they need to get their crap together then God will/might love them, and only then if they adopt my version of women, Church leadership, and male authority. I can respect a man for his opinions, but I don’t have to appreciate how he expresses them. Careless speech renders truth unheard. God’s people beware! I’m convicted. 

Permission for Un-Cautious Speech?

Leadership is a precarious position. We should pray hard for men and women who have been given a huge field of influence. Whatever they say "can and will be used against them" in the world-wide court of law. There are many current examples, just check out the current blogosphere. Power tends to grant permission for un-cautious speech. And power unchecked in the Church often fosters a gospel that holds the unbelieving world accountable to act like Christ, without knowing the presence of Christ. That is a false gospel. 


I know some of these church leaders. I respect them for their calling and their influence. I love these leaders in Christ. And as a pastor I understand their tension, their temptations, their pressure and the expectations their responsibilities place upon them. Pray! Many of them are excellent communicators. Some of them are skilled culturalists and most of them have a natural gift of leadership. But I believe we should always take issue with anyone who tries to sell a gospel that appears dangerously close to a political and moral agenda. 

This is not to criticize one pastor or another, there is enough disunity, but rather to clarify the Gospel and the climate many leaders are unwittingly (hopefully) building for themselves. While the Gospel of Jesus Christ does have clear ramifications for life change under His management -- the true Gospel IS “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). It is NOT the “change-‘em-on-the-outside-and-the-inside-will-soon-follow” version that some pastors seem bent on peddling to their masses. Preaching a moral or socio-cultural agenda rather than Christ is a dangerous step toward writing our own gospel. Certainly there are strong and clear, moral imperatives in the Gospels and in Paul's writings. Even Old Testament prophets foretold that God would one day give us new hearts and write His Name upon them. There can be no life change without a heart change. Preach anything else and we introduce yet another cause for the unbelieving world to hate the Church for the wrong reason.  


I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9)


The Church must repent for making our mission a social, political, and even moral one. Without "Christ in [them] the hope of Glory," the people He gave His life to forgive and reconcile have no hope to successfully follow any of our moral code, our social gospel, or our 3-step cultural clean-up plan. This is not the Gospel Jesus preached nor called people to receive. 


Jesus did not give His life to affect a social and political agenda. Even His early disciples had false expectations in this area. Many of us still want Him to come and set up His kingdom on our planet. And we're going to help Him out by condemning the sinners He came to save! We're going to help him by "baptizing" those heathens in our version of morality, and pronounce them justified if they adopt our version of the Bible’s family plan. But Jesus' kingdom is not of this world! It is as if we keep telling Him He's got it wrong. "Oh, Lord, are You sure? Look at all the earthly press we could get for You! You could maximize Your potential and minimize conflict if You would just set up government here!" Maybe we're more honest if we just admit that we want a following for ourselves. When this is our purpose, we do not know the God-Man. We have no idea of His power and authority. He doesn't need our opinion to run His universe. He doesn't need us to assist Him in building a sin-free society. Every time we've tried, we got it way wrong. Jesus hasn't called us to preach anything other than His message. We've preached our own for far too long.  


To be sure, Jesus calls us to help alleviate some of the pain and suffering in our world when and where we can, but again, He did not give His life for a more clean and fresh world. He did not give His life for a moral agenda. He did not give His life to clean up Geek City by pushing the gospel of "change the outside first and the inside will follow." He gave His life to save sinners who repent! When the Church re-engineers the gospel, she not only fails at her mission, but also becomes quickly irrelevant and impotent. We have nothing to say if we are not preaching Christ! And when we preach lifestyle first, many will never hear the real Jesus.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Moral Bigotry?

Often the people who have the hardest time repenting are those who’ve already repented! Christians sometimes act like because they’ve confessed Christ, they have no more repenting to do. That kind of “it’s all good, we’re gonna win” mentality is nothing but hypocrisy and it’s killing our witness of the real Jesus. For example: those who call themselves Christians and yet follow and push a moral code instead, should repent for claiming to be followers of Christ but following another code of ethics or system of morality! Jesus certainly preached morality, but the purpose behind His preaching was so that His hearers would meet His Father first! Jesus was concerned about the poor, but His agenda was to save men and women from eternal fire, not just earthly discomfort. Jesus was concerned about right living to be sure, but preached an alignment with the Father in a relationship that would empower obedience. Jesus’ plan for cultural change was to invest in people so that they came to know Him. Not first to force a form of righteousness upon them hoping that it would somehow result in an inner faith conviction about His Lordship. 


Others, maybe most professed Christians myself included, need to repent of moral bigotry – discriminating against people who have no conviction about our biblical morality, but are yet held to it by the Church. In the last fifty years much of our evangelical zeal is sickeningly similar to that of Emperor Constantine, who force-baptized the heathen hoards by driving them into water and then calling them Christians! Are we not comparably guilty when we, the Church of Jesus Christ, attempt to force people into our morality when they don’t even have the Spirit’s power or illumination to disobey their sinful nature yet? I say YES!


Many of us have spent our Christian lives building up steam against those who don’t follow Jesus’ moral imperatives, forgetting that unless one is part of the Kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ, there is no kingdom power available to enact life-change. Only Jesus is the power behind Jesus’ call to life-change! Do we not notice that though the world hates our churches they are still interested in discussing our God? Hmm… I wonder if we’re missing it? Maybe this is because we’ve become practicing Religioneers, in effect, telling Jesus how His Church is supposed to be. We’re preaching a different gospel than Jesus or Paul when we tell the world they must pass our tests of morality and culture before meeting our God. Now that is sin! 


The Apostle Paul faced a similar situation in first century Corinth (nothing new under the sun, eh?). His response was very simple for them, and for us, if we have ears to hear: “…we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:23-24)


Again, I repent.

Different Gospel?


The Church seems full of what I call “religioneers.” Religioneers attempt to re-engineer Church to fit their agenda and promote their idea of how to operate in the mainstream. These attempts to make the church powerful and palatable are quite simply pitiful. Jesus was ticked off at those who were religious but void of the true message of God, not the people stranded outside of life with God who didn’t know any better than to follow the current leadership. 


In our religious culture it seems now implied that a Christian is quite literally anyone that’s nice once in awhile, lives in America, or at least the Western Hemisphere, goes to some church when there isn’t a child’s soccer game to attend, hasn’t murdered anyone or stolen anything big - or at least hasn’t gotten caught yet. That’s bad enough, but here’s what really sucks: when we, the Church, imply that to be a Christian one must be aligned with a political ideology! Shame on us! This is an example of the work of Religioneers: to make up man-centered systems of appearing to be aligned with God’s kingdom. If you’re in this category, you should repent! Jesus said, “my kingdom is NOT of this world.” So why the heck are we trying to re-engineer this world instead of preaching the one to come? 


We attempt to create systems and organizations that exalt ourselves instead of movements about Christ, that exalt Christ. We’ve attempted to force those ‘sinners’ to repent from ungodliness without even knowing the God to whom they are to repent! Maybe we are the ones who must first repent! I think so. I love the story told by Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz about the true Christian attitude that lead some college students to set up a confession booth on Reid College campus. Then when the party animals came by to see what was really going on, their little booth became a reverse confessional! The Church began confessing to the world for our religioneering of the gospel which has produced some horrid aberrations of the teachings of Jesus Christ in years past. I Repent!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Repentance

Why is repentance so hard for us humans? Pride. Admitting we are wrong presupposes that there is a Someone who is over us and above us, and is therefore able to define right and wrong; a Someone to whom we must give account. The fact that people will not or cannot repent may be due to a person’s refusal to give account to anyone.

Repentance is first a change of mind towards God and a turning away from incorrect thinking about God that lead us to sin. Wayne Grudem defines repentance as “a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.” Paul Tautges wrote, “Repentance is not a human work but the gracious work of the Holy Spirit preparing sinners’ approach to a Holy God on His terms, rather than their own.” And therein we find the problem: our attempts to approach God on our terms rather than His. We hate it when the One Someone tells us the terms of relationship and says we have to humble ourselves and submit to those terms. That’s pride. We all struggle with it, and we need to repent.

According to the Bible, “all have sinned and fall short of His glory.” (Romans 3:32) God tells us our relationship with Him was broken by rebellion. To fix the relationship requires a sacrifice – a perfect One. He provided the solution we must accept to receive forgiveness and eternal life – one that only He could provide in Jesus Christ His Son. Thus, true Christianity - biblical Christianity - begins by receiving God’s initiative rescue plan, and making a heart decision to follow Jesus on HIS terms. It is not some patched together attempt that sort of lumps all religions together thus making their own! Religion like this sells a god we can reach on our own terms - patching some spiritual ideas together presenting it all before God as righteousness, and expecting Him to accept us on our terms.

And before we get all self-righteous, Christian, all too often this describes us and the churches we attend! Far too much of this religion has made its way into our churches and out the front doors into the culture of America, taking forms that damage the true cause of Christ Jesus, which is to glorify God by saving sinners. Some examples of these forms of religion are our political agendas, our moral agendas, and yes, even some of our social programs. Here’s the deal: attempting to proliferate our version of cultural engineering without “Christ in [them] the hope of glory” is just empty religion and it hurts the cause of the true gospel! From this we should repent. (To be continued …)