Friday, August 21, 2009

The Subversiveness of the Gospel

Websters defines subversive: Subversiveness: a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within.

When a country sees planes and troops coming they can prepare their defenses. Open warfare, especially with weapons that are recognizable and familiar, is much easier to deal with than warfare that is covert and camouflaged. Even though America’s war machine is unparalleled, the lament is that the covert aspect of our intelligence has been neglected and that hinders us strategically around the world. And when a country gets an undercover agent inside the government of an enemy it is priceless in its value.

And the country known as mankind dwelt in contented sin and would be adverse to any attack on its entrenched hedonistic lifestyle, especially if it saw it coming and could easily recognize the weapons that were to be used against it. The world sees atonement as unnecessary and in fact a judgment upon their lives. The church has sometimes aided this misperception by projecting God’s judgment as the core of the gospel, when in reality it is God’s love. That indeed is what is embedded in the atonement, God’s unsearchable love.

This atonement, this cross, is not meant to be bandied about and used as a doctrinal tug of war, no, it is to be preached and lived wherever God’s believers breathe a breath. We are to carry the redemptive aroma of the cross into the stench of sin and hopelessness, not just pass an orthodox doctrinal exam. It is not what we know about the cross that determines our redemptive orthodoxy, it must be how much of that cross controls and is revealed by our earthly lives. And with so much teaching on the theology of the cross, along with so little teaching on the practical manifestations of that cross in our lives, to live the cross of Jesus Christ as our own is a massive challenge with few pointing the way either by word or deed.

The smugness of orthodoxy betrays the very essence of the gospel and the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Being orthodox is one thing, reveling in it undermines the concept of a Christ emulating orthodoxy on many levels. We must always be careful about the doctrinal patting on the back with each other that affirms the truth on a vehicle of self righteousness and begins to form a culture of exclusivity rather than a community of humble followers who eschew any praise themselves and set out to passionately spread the divine love that has captured them by grace alone.

Sound scholarship. There’s the problem in two words. Much of the discernment world hang their entire Christian experience on scholarship, and of course the adjective “sound” represents pride, and they seem very lacking in grace, humility, compassion, and genuine love for saint and sinner.

Representing Christ, and living His humble life, IS sound scholarship manifested. Our Lord never called us to be Bible scientists, dissecting every jot and title in your search to find a greater detail to your systematic theology with which to challenge and debate all naysayers both in the church and without. Read the words and teachings of Jesus and if you are without prejudice you will find His teachings were overwhelmingly orthopraxic, and even His teachings on theology were usually tethered to a calling to manifest those truths through a living prism of humble grace and love. This notion that just believing and telling a certain theological truth is God’s love is misguided at best and self righteous at worst.

We see Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery when there seemed to be no repentance. We see Jesus eating with the worst of sinners without any preconditions about their lifestyles. We see Jesus choose twelve flawed men to follow and assist Him, including choosing His own betrayer to whom He showed the same love and respect that He showed the rest. The entire earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth was at odds with the spirit of this world which had been adopted by the Jewish religious hierarchy as well.

And here we are today caught in the same spiritual paradox that consumed so many Pharisees of old. There is something very wrong and self serving when we use the one instance where Jesus showed anger as the template and reference for the tone of our ministries. Those believers who show sound scholarship are those who labor in war torn Angola. They are those who put their lives at risk and minister to the earthly and spiritual needs of South African AIDs sufferers. These “scholars” share the love of Christ in Iraq while knowing they could be murdered any night or day. These believers teach sound scholarship more with their actions than with their lips and they believe spreading the gospel is defending it.

Sitting around a table or on a church platform and dispensing your “sound scholarship” is a caricature of Christianity and disembowels the power of the gospel itself. Truth becomes a museum spectacle and the scholars are doctrinal taxidermists who hang dead, stuffed truths in their books and writings and preachings and think they do God a service. And when some other believers begin a movement to elevate the life and works of Jesus, these Pharisees can see no benefit in any of their assertations since some of their theology is suspect.

There is no attitude that says, “I cannot agree with much of their theology, but their focus on living a more outwardly expressive life that ministers to the world is indicting and appealing”. No, that might appear weak and might give credibility and respect to someone who is much more easily a target than a source. And so called “Christian” conferences are reduced to reinforcing the choir rather than uncomfortable challenges that invade their own pastures. Most of us who are of the free will bent are not enamored with gathering together to revel in our free willism, and yet much of the Calvinist camp in all its forms makes it clear on their blog home page and their messages and their books that their theological perspective is a brand name complete with many different designer lines of doctrinal clothing. It was not a systematic theology that hung on that cross; it was the living Son of God.

It’s like standing on the deck of a ship and watching people drown but being consumed with discussing the engineering of the ship’s life boats still hanging empty along its side. No hungry man is ever fed by people arguing over the kind of sandwich he needs. No thirsty man is ever quenched by listening to the mineral makeup of the water. No naked man was ever clothed by tailors at odds about whether cotton or wool should be used to make a coat. And no sick man was ever cured by listening to discussions on the various drugs that should be used.

Jesus Himself warned us about judging the regenerate status of others since that always leads to self righteousness. We are not to pull up what appear to be tares because we inevitably pull up wheat along with the tares. And we are not to mock what we consider to be goats.

And now we come to the gospel. The plain and good news of the gospel, profound in its simplicity and glorious in its universal application. But not content to preach it, we now must examine it and dissect it and hang stipulations upon it so that the 10 year old little South African girl will not be misled about the wrong theory of atonement. I suggest that many, if not most, born again believers throughout the ages were never conversant with the theories of atonement, and many if not most were fuzzy in the mystery that is the penal view. I would strongly suggest that the most powerful "view" of the atonement should be expressed through the prism of our lives.

But doctrinal nuances have in some quarters been elevated to religious relic status, even suggesting that without that view people are not saved. Is God such an academic that he demands sound scholarship before he accepts a sinner’s plea of faith that rests upon the Christ of God? Is the heroin addict who hears the simple gospel in the Bowery Mission and begs Christ to save him, is he refused by Christ because if we questioned him his understanding of theology would be significantly lacking and possibly unorthodox? Have we taken Christ and His gospel and created a form of doctrinal magisterium which sits in sifting judgment to all who have a different perspective, all except each other?

Most of the world suffers greatly, physically and spiritually, and they know nothing of our self gratifying doctrinal squabbles. What does God think about sinners who are made whole completely by His grace and then package that same grace with the demands of doctrinal law at the smallest level? I think He echoes the words of Shakespeare,

“What a piece of work is a man…”

And some have now created a gospel that earns its stripes by acts of compassion to the earthly sufferings of sinners, which in reality is not the gospel at all. The glorious gospel is the good news concerning the universal offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ and His work on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. All this focus on social justice and national peace and all the many categories of humanitarian acts is all very good, but when it finds a place within the gospel it becomes a toxic poison that is no better than spiritual hemlock. Many are draw to drink such a brew, mistakenly believing that their works will indeed find favor in God’s eyes.

This everlasting gospel is subversive to everything the world has come to expect and believe. It counters all that the carnal mind believes about itself, and at the same time it is a tour de force of what is called “grace”. To receive anything – a car, a bike, a home, good health – just by believing it to be so would be ludicrous; however, that is exactly the message of the gospel. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!

What God has done has undermined and overthrown the systems and governments of this world. Like the wind it is invisible and can only be “seen” by its effects upon the lives of those who have embraced it. We should be the most subversive people in this world, undoing this world by a warfare that accepts death rather than inflicts it. Our battlefield is grace and our victory is in our surrender; our terms are faith and our motive is love; we have no rank and we have only one leader; our enemies are our mission and redemption is our strategy; and at the end of the day, Jesus is our all in all.

Do not take this calling lightly. And do not in any way fashion your armor according to the systems of this world. Reduce yourself to nothing and refuse any recognition and allow yourself to proceed into the darkness with the humble light of Christ. Do not fear the sounds of fury and the colossal weapons of this world, just be assured Your Master has already won the victory and in that victory alone must you rest.

You are within the enemy’s camp, but you live, move, and have your being in Jesus the Christ.

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