Wednesday, August 05, 2009

We Are Losing Christ

Gal.2:17 - But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

Think on that phrase: The ministers of sin. Not just sinners saved by grace, but ministers of sin. Those who sin and by their example teach others to do likewise. And sin has all its different forms, some of which are hidden even among discussions of Christian truth. But if, while we seek to defend Christ, we ourselves also are ministers of sin, have we really defended Christ at all?

If you suggest that we are losing Christ in the community of professing believers you may well get a variety of responses. The militant orthodox crowd will wholeheartedly agree since they base that question completely upon the Biblical centeredness of their systematic theology. The emergent crowd will agree since they believe that without a post modern reformation we will be stuck with a caricature of Jesus and not the “now” revelation of His person. Many will disagree and suggest that they are fine with the Christ they have. Many, if not most, still will not even care about the statement at all.

But where can we catch a glimpse of Christian behavior that has a greater cross section of different “camps” than just our local church community? And where can we get a perspective of the overall manifestation of Jesus Christ among the overarching panorama of the many different Christian colonies? And I would like to address those manifestations without actually dealing with the important issue of “doctrinal truth”. If doctrinal truth was all that is needed to manifest the Person of Jesus Christ then all we would need to do is create legs on a mechanical book of theology and let it walk around in our cities. That may sound absurd but that is in essence how some view being faithful to Jesus Christ.

In just over three years I have found an intriguing looking glass into what passes for Christianity, and more specifically, what passes for manifesting Jesus Christ Himself. That looking glass is the internet and all the varying Christian blogs. I have watched, participated, and pondered what I have seen and experienced in the quirky and sometimes disturbing phenomenon we call Christian blogs and their accompanying forums we call comment threads. To step back and assess this genre against the backdrop of what we are called to as followers of Jesus Christ leads us to a distressing disconnect that is tantamount to spiritual fraud.

To summarize, how we interact with each other and the world in general is painfully at odds with what we say we believe, what the Scriptures command of us, and what we should know by now concerning the life of Jesus Christ, which is encapsulated in one magnificent and transparent event, namely, the cross. Is it not apparent that believers cannot even interact with each other without resorting to verbal violence? Read the high browed dismissiveness in some of the comments, or the hyperbolic ridicule of any commenter’s inaccurate or clumsy thoughts. The more masterful in the linguistic lambasting, the more appreciative are those who are of the same view. The civilized back and forth may be but a few comments before the verbal fireworks begin and the end result is a bone fide example of how a believer should not behave.

Commenters castigate each other and the indictments range from questioning their intelligence to questioning their salvation. The incendiary remarks can be laced with cursing or laced with self righteousness. And when someone turns a creative phrase that is an exceptionally caustic invective, that person is applauded as having vanquished the “enemy” by his oratorical prowess. And where, pray tell, is Christ in any of that? Even at the most basic level of civil discourse, one that requires no real sacrifice, we are found to be revelators of men and not of Christ.

And like a movie reviewer who is looking for it to be faithful to the book version, we too can and should review the evidence as to how faithful our behavior is to the original “Book”. Read some of the blogs of those believers who take on the “conservative” moniker. Are you surprised when they call President Obama all sorts of nasty and degrading names? Does it shock you when believers support and quote talk radio hosts who daily fill people’s minds with hatred for the group they call “liberals”? Where do we find that in the Scriptures and the life of Jesus Christ? We must make a choice; is the Old Testament a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ and His redemptive grace, or are we supposed to live and judge according to the Old Testament narratives?

The visceral atmosphere in so many of the Christian blogs is so unchristian that without the subject matter no one would ever suspect that they are believers. The disdainful and pretentious tone of some Christian blogs contribute to the detour away from Christ and His powerful and humble love, and lead us into the world of victory by carnal vitriolic force. And while we may be winning the debate, we are losing Christ, which is the ultimate defeat.

Do not assume that I speak of one certain group and not another. When you juxtapose the New Testament, including the teachings of Jesus Himself, you will find no interactive indulgences for those who are considered orthodox based upon the “end justifies the means” principle. Many less “conservative” blogs are no different in their tone and verbal application. And if, perchance, someone actually understood and taught the complete and perfect interpretation of the systematic theological truths revealed in Scripture, that would still not license him to speak with caustic invectives and careless and hurtful hyperboles. We are Christians, and even our corrections must have a flavor of love, humility, and grace.

It would seem that in all our battles we are losing what it means to be Christian, and indeed, losing Christ Himself. Our debates sometimes quickly escalate into personal attacks and demeaning verbiage that must grieve the Spirit and present an odd manifestation of the Person of Christ. Search the internet and you can easily find scathing invectives used against lost sinners, humorous posters meant to disparage, and an overall tone of spiritual elitism. And I suggest that if a person understood all mysteries and had captured all truth with unabridged comprehension, that person would exhibit a humility and love that substantiated that very fact. To the very degree that a believing follower of Jesus Christ exhibits and practices a humble and gracious lifestyle is in direct proportion to his comprehension of the Person of Christ and His truth.

To run clean water through a dirty pipe is to contaminate the water itself, even if that water was pure as it entered. And if that pipe was clean, and if that water ran through it and retained its purity as it came out the other end, the pipe cannot and should not boast. The pipe must feel a humility and honor that it was used to deliver such refreshing water, and that same pipe must acknowledge and be constantly aware that it was created and is sustained by that very water. In essence, the pipe is a created conduit made to bring forth the water that created it to the people who are thirsty.

It has become apparent, at least to me, that we/I have a distorted target to which we aspire as believers. The picture of Jesus has, in many ways, become a caricature that does not accurately reflect the fresco of the New Testament and certainly not the most striking examples of divine humility and love that are depicted throughout the gospels. It would be impossible to comprehend the extent of loving and gracious condescension as it concerns the life and behavior of Jesus Christ, culminating in the cross. And yet we seem oblivious to the many ways in which we as believers exhibit traits and behaviors that are profoundly inharmonious to any reasonable understandings of the gospel narratives and the commands found in the epistles.

So the questions before us are these: Are we going to pursue Christ in all His fullness, or are we going to defend His truth with the energy of the flesh that ignores the finer revelations of His character in favor of a limited doctrinal triumph? Are we willing to be perceived as weak in order to exalt Christ? Are our arguments worth “winning” at the expense of retreating from Christ Himself? Does our doctrinal orthodoxy include manifesting humility, love, and grace? Can we speak the truth in love or must we win the battle with the weapons and power of our own words? Is there an indispensible relationship between Biblical truth and Christlike behavior?

Are we losing Christ as we seek to be His witness?


Anonymous said...

This is the most Christ-centered, cross-centered blog I've ever come across. SO thankful to GOD for leading me to your writing. A lot of your criticisms definitely apply to me.

All doctrinal knowledge is empty and pointless if it makes us forget our "first LOVE"--if it makes us lose our capacity to LOVE like Christ, as described by Paul in 1st Corinthians 13.

Anonymous said...

You said it well, Rick. The "carnal vitriolic force" that propels the majority of so-called Christian blogs is pride. Turf-defending, I-WILL-have-it-MY-way pride. It's not at all about the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him. It's not remotely about denying myself, taking up my cross and following Him. Most definitely it's not about loving others as He did. Whichever "camp" I might pitch my tent. I have seen this pride in the mirror and the reflection is ugly.

So why did I waste so much time reading these blogs? I confess. I got bored and enjoyed the distraction. Even felt entertained at times. Talk about carnal! I accept that "divine rod of correction." With that said I'm headed to my prayer closet with my Bible to let the pure water of the Word wash me clean. Again. And again. I am so grateful for God's unchanging love! May my walk reflect it!

For what it's worth, you acted wisely in disengaging from a comment thread in which your call for Christlikeness and transformational maturity garnered you an unkind label. "A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise." (Prov. 15:12)

Grace and Peace,

Deborah said...

I'm always so glad to read your articles Rick. Hope all is well with you and your family. You always bring me back to the main point...Jesus.