Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Dream

Have you ever had a dream, a hopeful expectation that continued to unravel and prove itself more and more worthless? I can remember being born again in 1975, and with little more than a profound and demonstrative metamorphosis in my inner and outer man, I began my Christian walk. I was raised in a liturgical church that now seemed like Roman Catholic lite, and so for many months I had no idea what church I should attend. This was the greater New York City area and evangelical churches are at a premium.

As I entered Bible College in August of 1976 I had some wonderful expectations about what an atmosphere would be like when everyone was a born again follower of Jesus Christ. I envisioned a tangible aroma of love and brotherhood and an aura of God’s presence. With a fragile naiveté I entered this school of spiritual learning. Remember, my background was filled with all sorts of immorality and violence and here I was in the midst of mostly younger church kids. I was 24 years old.

Since I had been raised in the Lutheran Church of America, I had little knowledge of any doctrinal issues. The college I attended was a cross between Baptist and Christian and Missionary Alliance. Since I was the only person from the New York area, and since I had put down “Lutheran” as my denomination, many of the students were interested in my theological views. The guys in the dorm gathered around me and asked my views on the chronology of the rapture. My initial reply was that I had never heard of any “rapture”. With that admission they all moaned and rolled their eyes, and one guy called out to the entire dorm that I had never even heard of the rapture.

I quickly became very uncomfortable and insecure about my circumstances. Before I could slither away one guy asked me if I believed you could “lose your salvation”. I had never heard that question, and in an attempt to avoid being mocked for not knowing this question, I took a guess and said “yes”. Again there came a chorus of moans and snickers accompanied by another clarion call to the entire dorm about my view. The dream I had about unusual camaraderie and an atmosphere of joy and love seemed very distant on that first night and I can recall asking God if I had made a big mistake.

There are many things, doctrinally and in practice, that appear broken and amiss in the church of Jesus Christ today. But perhaps the most startling and astonishing paradox that is manifested in the church at large is the colossal lack of remarkable love and brotherhood among professing believers. Let the smallest piece of doctrinal difference arise between followers of Jesus and many times the atmosphere becomes toxic and the focus is concentrated on the different perspective rather than Jesus Himself.

We seemed to have lost the sacrificial love and commitment that was evident in the early church. Much learning has not only made us “mad”, it has cultivated an atmosphere of self righteousness and position defending that has all the accoutrements usually reserved for battle. The “iron sharpens iron” concept has given way to the “iron cuts down your opponent” practice. And instead of truth being such that draws us closer to its Author, it has become a battering ram and self righteous talismans. God’s precious Word is poured over in order to both find points with which to judge and attack others and to find verses that justify our creeds. And does it not seem, as we read the gospels, that we have ignored significant segments of Scripture while culling out others that fit into our rifle?

So what has become of the dream that brothers and sisters dwell in unity and love? Why does no one ever exclaim “look how they love one another” anymore? Even if we remove the core disagreements of redemption, we still do not see an exhibition of love and brotherhood among mainstream evangelicals that comes close to resembling anything greater than the members of the Moose Lodge have for each other. What possible explanation can we give to God our Father for our lack of family love? And what do we manifest that would cause anyone to be interested, much less astounded?

The Christian blog culture is not a unique phenomenon; it is in reality the dark underbelly of evangelicalism. The interaction and viciousness is just a revelation of what actually occurs in church halls; on telephones; around dinner tables; amidst lunch dates; and most sadly from evangelical pulpits. I do not speak of forcefully and graciously confronting gospel error and works based redemption; I speak of the Sherlock Holmes type of Christianity whose spiritual purpose is contained in investigating sinners and saints alike. And instead of humble and bold interactions, there must always be a conflict that goes beyond the issue in question and enters into disrespect, dismissiveness, and hyperbole.

But let us examine brotherhood within the context of those who agree that salvation is by grace through faith alone. I must admit I have tendencies that use fringe issues to fashion my overall view of everything Christian. Could it be that through the years we have made doctrinal non-essentials as walls of strife and towers of self righteousness? Is it God’s will that the leaves of truth should separate the branches? Where is the pathos and deep concern that believers should have for each other? I used to have a dream, a concept if you will, that the body of Christ lived in such love that it would be remarkably different than anything else upon this earth.

I have my issues; I have my doctrinal prejudices; I have my foibles; I have my subjectivities; I have my perceptions; I have my judgments; but I wish I did not have some of those, and in fact, I deeply wish God would extricate me from all that is not like Jesus, both inside and out. I am most miserable about the lack of significant progress in these later years. Why do many of our Christian testimonies deal with events that occurred right after our conversion and little to do with anything substantial that God did in our lives last month?? Why has the initial spiritual momentum we experienced at conversion slowed to a snail’s pace and now we are relegated to defending spiritual ground already occupied and not pursuing Christlike ground yet to be inhabited.

Read the gospel narratives of the life of Christ and see if you (or I) are closing in on the written revelation of the One we profess to be following. See if there is any room for politics and separating people according to manmade descriptions of “liberal” or “conservative”. See if Jesus was an example of castigating sinners or using demeaning invectives against all who He deemed immoral and unworthy. Watch as the Savior allowed worldy women to worship Him even before they repented of their many sins. Are sinners drawn to you or do they keep their distance so as to avoid being verbally dressed down?

Do we even have the dream to be like Jesus anymore? To be sure it is not easy, especially with a thousand voices presenting a different manifestation of Jesus of Nazareth. You can have the most accurate doctrinal representation of Jesus with all the necessary elements of Incarnate truth; but if we do not have the living model of Jesus that leaps from your creed and walks among a hopeless and hurting world within your very being than all we have is ink and paper.

Have you lost that dream? Do you even know what that dream is? Without a fresh and tangible revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ in the church we will continue to have nothing more than a doctrinal food fight which lets the spiritually hungry continue to starve.

Be sure to let God place more mirrors in your house than windows.

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