Sunday, December 09, 2012

A Rational Jesus?


"My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence…
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."

Read the New Testament. Go ahead, just read it. Now if it is all metaphors and poetic devices and erudite imagery, then it ranks with the Brothers Grimm. If it is spirit lifting imagery that when taken in earthly context is very pragmatic and reasonable, then it is a wonderful self help book that contains beneficial advice for living. And if so, then Jesus is a wise teacher with all kinds of deep perspectives and many creative ways to communicate them. So if all that is true then the New Testament is an exceptional treatise on living and the path to fulfillment in this life. And many today, whether with or without intention, have treated it as such.

But there is another view of the New Testament. If those twenty-seven letters are indeed a communication from the Creator which deal with the invisible realities of the kingdom of God, then that changes everything or at least it should. If those words are spirit, as Jesus taught, and if the truths are eternal and not just confined to a temporal understanding, then the entire perspective must be eternal and the affects upon our earthly lives must be dramatic when believed. And given that premise, followers of Jesus and His teachings must understand and process everything altogether differently than those who do not know or follow Christ.

But there are legions of teachers today who have taken sections of God’s Word and used them in a completely temporal setting and have removed any hint of the eternal. The existence of a place called heaven is usually all that remains of the invisible glory of the eternal expanse of God’s kingdom, and that can be gained by muttering a few repeated words. Even God’s unspeakable dwelling place has been relegated to a human caricature and assigned a “place” mentality in the same way we think of Saturn or Mars. Not much about heaven is talked about today, much less pondered, because in this pragmatic culture you either are going there or you are not. The particulars or the implications are a waste of precious temporal time that must be used for temporal desires.

If taken at face value, the teachings and truths set forth by Jesus are irrational in a temporal setting. They are literally absurd when juxtaposed against any earthly culture. In order to practice them they must be restructured, redefined, and given a much more accommodating practicality in order for those who claim to believe them to live lives friendly and unremarkable within any fallen culture. Since the Industrial Revolution the western culture has become a hedonistic factory which subtly imprisons people and forces them to live their lives according to the dictates and mores of the culture by the sheer strength of the culture itself. Like zombies we all march to the norm and accepted and only question it when it presents some personal inconvenience, or worse yet, some personal financial decrease.

And the church in the west has adopted the invisible cultural rudders and continues to set sail right along side those who do not profess Jesus, with the only difference being a few doctrinal words. And in order to make ourselves feel spiritual or somewhat different, we have our statements of faith. But should not our lives be our statements of faith? When did creeds replace living epistles? Creeds became our witness when it became evident that many of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament as a whole were incompatible with the practices of the culture. So in order for us to embrace the culture, save for a very few moral issues we treat as talismans, we had to modify those teachings. And after a few modifications, eventually we eviscerated the eternity out of His teachings and made them little more than earthly guidelines and a few moral squabbles.

But if we take the words of Christ literally we cannot help but see their nature is from another world. The totality of His teachings, interlocked together as one, are so dramatically at odds with any earthly culture that to embrace them and live them out must always make that life extraordinary and even miraculous within that same culture. Imagine walking in a cave one mile beneath the surface of the earth where no light is present. Then imagine lighting a match. That match will become a beacon merely because it is the only light available in that circumstance. So when we live in a culture of profound darkness, how should we as the light of Jesus appear? But instead the church loves the darkness, especially when it presents itself as innocuous or more cleverly the divine will. This western culture provides entertainment, recreation, social mores, spiritual practices, and many and varied avenues of prosperity, all of which are fallen and of no value to a believer. And yet the church loves them all, only sometimes avoiding the most obvious sinful practices. But even adultery and divorce and addictions and the love of money are practiced extensively and even approved by the church.

But all that is irrational screeching if the teachings of Jesus are not meant to be believed and practiced in all their glory. And that is exactly how the western church sees words like these. In fact, that is how I would have seen them as well only a few decades ago. We love to say that we must always teach God’s Word in context. Well, there is an element of truth in that, but many times we have kept the teachings of Christ captured in their original context and refused to apply them to this present context. And in essence they become historical events rather than eternal truths meant to be revealed in all situations and contexts.

But how do you tell a man who feels better than he has ever felt that he is sick? When everyone is experiencing such success and fulfillment, how do you inform them that they are doing something wrong? You sound like some killjoy who hates seeing people being happy. I mean the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental right is it not? Isn’t that the way of Jesus? Is the overarching theme of His teachings the happiness of man discovered through a utilitarian practice of the faith? And when people are accumulating material things, and when they are leaving their children a more prosperous culture than what they had, and when their children have been the beneficiaries of a better education, how could that not indicate the blessings of God?

Who discusses eternity except in some constricted and doctrinal form in some sermons? Who walks with a sense of eternity and a passion to be an instrument for God’s eternal plan? For every word that is spoken about eternity there are a thousand that are spoken about politics. For ever word about denying self there are a thousand complaints.

If you step back and assess the situation you must come to the conclusion that the church as a whole no longer believes God’s Word and no longer follows Jesus, the stale statements of faith notwithstanding. Did those words make contact with your inner man? It should be an earth shattering ( and I do mean earth shattering) indictment to us all. And even if you come to even a partial agreement with that conclusion, the task of personally unraveling man’s teachings and replacing them with the teachings of Jesus in your own life is a monumental task that only God’s Spirit is equipped to accomplish. Painful, yes. Sacrificial, yes. Humbling, yes. Startling, yes. Disturbing, yes.

And the task that is set before you will naturally result in some lost fellowships, and some uncomfortable introspections, and a long process requiring much patience. You will have to become reacquainted with Jesus even though you once believed you had already embraced Him fully. The temptation to judge others will be ever present and powerful. And the deeper you go in Christ, and the more the Spirit helps you to make spiritual alterations in your life, the stronger that temptation becomes. In fact you must battle that temptation until you see the Redeemer. Sometimes you will be successful and other times not.

Imagine a man going through a forest and looking for a particular house. Suddenly he comes upon an opening in the forest, and there is the house he was looking for. There are many people living there who had made the same expedition as he. They wave to him and call him over. He happily goes to be with them and he finds the house delightful and affirming. He is in ecstasy. He makes many friends and many people keep coming. The leaders among the people inform the people that this house is where the Owner of the forest told them to wait because he has a much greater house prepared for them. And these leaders have written instructions from the Owner of the forest which they say proves what they say. But while they wait they can enjoy this house. All of them find great fellowship among each other.

So I ask you, how can anyone tell these people that they are waiting at the wrong house? Regardless of what you say or how you passionately speak to them, you cannot change their minds. Only the Owner of the forest Himself can come and show them their error and change their minds. In fact, you were once happily in that house and only when the Owner came and showed you and empowered you were you able to leave.

There only two instruments that God can use to help awaken a sleeping and carnal church. Prayer, and a bold and humble change in some of our lives. Both are spiritual labors that are easily abandoned when we reach the first level. We are so easily distracted and we are prone to chase all kinds of earthly battles and therein leave the eternal cause of Jesus Christ. And when we do that we leave Christ. And that is the ultimate defeat even if on earth we win some meaningless moral or political battle. The journey which sees Jesus as He is and follows in His teaching footsteps is not rational. It can never make sense to a blind and fallen world.

But this is the real battle today. Is Jesus rational to a fallen world? Is he so rational and so compatible with the ways of this world that unsaved people can practice a form of Christianity and believe it is Jesus? And even more disturbing, can evangelicals who say they believe the Bible doctrinally, and who can teach Jesus doctrinally, and who have an ecclesiastical structure, can we be so deceived that can live a life far from Christ and not even know it? Yes, the modern church has presented a rational Jesus whose teachings are basically guidelines for human success and a somewhat higher moral code.

Do not be fooled. We all have much ground to retake for Christ in our own lives. But the western church does not follow the teachings of Jesus. It now presents a contrived distortion that when compared to the pristine version is nothing but a toxic mutation. Corrupted and contaminated, when practiced over time it becomes the standard while the true standard has long since been discarded. Jesus and His teachings are so rational now and so benign that they no longer represent truth at all.

If our faith seems somewhat rational to dead people than we have nothing but a saltless religion only preserved by the culture itself.

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