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Archives for 154 – Freedom in Christ

It”s been awhile since I ventured to share anything here, but the following has been used in the Clarion Ledger as well as part of a message given this past May at Pepperdine… LFjr.

There was a time when my own story of heartache and pain was a raw, open wound. I don’t make reference to it as much these days because God has seen fit to bring an outpouring of immense beauty and hope into my life.

Do I ever have moments when grief and pain, fear and doubt still assail? Yes, I do. When America celebrates Mother’s Day, I am much more cognizant of the pain experienced by many (including some of my children) during this time of celebration and honor.

Although I am grateful that a story like mine is not the norm, there is a need to identify with each other: Every one of us knows some degree of pain, heartache, and difficulties—those are often the human condition.

As the book of faith for Christians everywhere, the Bible has any number of stories that evidence the pain and brokenness of humanity.  I’d like to share with you three stories of broken women that offer an amazing hope of redemption for all…

First up is Tamar–her crazy narrative is found in Genesis 38. It’s a story of family tragedy and loss, of evil wicked men and exploitation. Before the whole disgraceful mess is through, Tamar is thoroughly used, dishonored, devalued, and discounted. Since this is a family newspaper, that’s the G-rated version of the story and about as deep into it as we are going to go. I trust you can read Genesis 38 on your own.

The second story is that of Rahab in Joshua 2. Honestly? I couldn’t find a single version that uses a socially tolerable word to describe her. Euphemistically, we might refer to her as a “madam” or “lady of the evening.” Let me hasten to add that I do not believe for a single moment that this “profession” was her life’s ambition.

Again, I am going to trust that you know more of the story than what is acceptable to talk about at the family dinner table. I am also going to trust that you can read between the lines enough to see that both Tamar and Rahab were the victims of sexual exploitation.

So, there’s Tamar and Rahab, neither innocent of their own sin, but yet both victims of exploitation.

Hold on to the word victim for a bit as we also consider the story of Bathsheba as found in 2 Samuel 11. This story especially could be lifted out of the headlines of today. In short, a powerful man had an affair with a beautiful woman and in the process of trying to cover it up, murder was committed.

The difference in stories is found in the time and culture of Bathsheba. In her time, she would have had very little voice or power with which to deny the king what the king wanted. Was she a victim too? I’ll let you read the story and think through it yourself.

However, I am firmly convinced that all three of these ladies were victims of wicked men and ugly power trips. And I guess if we wanted to, we could use this as a stepping stone to talk about basic human dignity. We could talk about true justice or equality. We could make this about the #metooheadlines and accusations of today.

And maybe we ought to take the time to encourage men and women alike to have a high view of the value and worth of others, that people are not possessions! But in the meantime, I want you to journey forward in time from those three stories all the way to the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where we read of the genealogy of Jesus…

If you are reading this passage at home, there’s a chance you will be discouraged by all the hard to pronounce names. There is a tendency to think of this as a bit rote and dry. But as you read, you’ll not only find Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, you’ll also see two of the men who exploited them as well.

The older I get, the more fascinated I am by the study of genealogy. I recently sent off my DNA to Ancestry.com—and I am looking forward to learning more and exploring my family tree. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a connection to some historical person or setting, but what I have learned from the genealogy of Jesus is both fascinating and hopeful.

Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba are each an example of a broken, messed up, exploited life! All three of their stories tell me that no matter how bad it gets, no matter where we end up, not matter how deep the hole might be, none of us are unredeemable for the purposes of God!

I hope you are reading this loud and clear. Not a single person is unredeemable for the purposes of God! Say it out loud with me and don’t worry if anybody looks at you strange: “My life can be redeemed!”

In a funny serendipity, for me, it took being broken hard to understand I have always been broken! But whatever my story was, whatever my story might yet be, God can and does work through all of it!

Broken, but redeemed! If God can redeem their stories and mine, then God can redeem yours!

Psalms 147:2–6,The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers Israel’s exiled people. He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he gives names to all of them. Our Lord is great, vast in power; his understanding is infinite. The LORD helps the oppressed but brings the wicked to the ground.

Imagine telling a first century Jew that they don’t really know what God is like. Or, even to go a step further, imagine telling them that no one has ever seen God. They would be quick to object! Christians who know their Old Testament may even be sympathetic to these objections. What about Adam? He encountered God in the garden (Gen. 3:8). And Enoch? He walked with God for years (Gen. 5:22). What about Abraham? He sat with God and shared a meal underneath the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:1-15). Jacob? He saw God at the top of that ladder (Gen. 28:10-22). Moses? He spent time with God on Mount Sinai and even received the ten commandments from God (Ex. 19-20). Then, the 70 elders of Israel went to Sinai and saw God as well (Ex. 24:9-11). God spoke through the prophets to the people of Israel. Ezekiel even had visions of God by the Kebar River (Ezek. 18:1). Plenty of others talked with God, such as Hagar, Sarah, Rebekah, Aaron, Joshua, David, etc.

Yet, in spite of all this, the apostle John said “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (Jn. 1:18, NRSV) In light of the entirety of the Old Testament, this is quite the claim. At first glance, we may be tempted to side with the objecting Jews and Christians, as God clearly has a long history with the people of Israel. Who is John to say, despite Israel’s long history with God, that no one has ever seen God? What’s more, what could possibly compel John to say that it is Christ who has made God known? Has not God been making himself known in various ways to Israel, including through the Hebrew Scriptures?

There’s no need to be overly-spiritual about it: this is an audacious claim made by the apostle John. But the issue is not the audacity of the claim; what matters is whether or not it is true. And sometimes, the truth is audacious to many.

Of course, John isn’t a Marcionite. He values the Old Testament. John quotes from it some 40 times in his gospel, and another six times in 1 John[1]. The book of Revelation quotes from the Old Testament another 249 times[2], though many in modern scholarship do not think John of Patmos and the apostle John are the same person. Nonetheless, it is clear: John believes God revealed himself to Israel through the Old Testament, and that followers of Jesus should take it seriously. The question still remains though, what did John mean when he said that no one had ever seen God before Jesus revealed God to us?

I think John gives us some clues in the verses preceding verse 18. The apostle John describes John the Baptist in verses 6-8, saying he was sent from God but was himself not the light. Rather, John the Baptist bore witness to the light. And, it was the true light that was coming into the world. John called this light the Word of God which became flesh! In that, God was not content to simply reveal himself through other people, or through words written by men. Instead, God himself became a man. He lived and walked among us. And during this time, he perfectly revealed himself to us. In the same way, Scripture is itself not the light. Rather, Scripture’s purpose is to bear witness to the light, the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

John’s paradigm of thought should inform our own opinions about the nature of Scripture and the Christian faith. The writer of Hebrews does something very similar in Hebrews 1:1-3. We are told that God did speak to our fathers in many and various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. It is the Son who reflects the glory of God and is the exact representation of his very being (v.3). This is interesting, to say the least. Though the writer gives us multiple ways in which God has revealed himself to us, it is his revelation through Christ which he says is an exact representation of his character.

What does John mean by saying that no one has ever seen God? I believe he would say that compared to any revelation of God we’ve had before, no matter what visions, encounters, dreams, theophanies or Christophanies which may have taken place before, they pale in comparison and are submissive to the perfect revelation of God we have in Christ!

Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us; rather, he came to change our minds about God. Jesus is exactly what God has to say![3] So, we need to make sure that the God we are worshiping and proclaiming to people is a Christ-like God.

If you cannot find it in Jesus, you should not say it about God.[4] This is the truth John dared to proclaim concerning the Messiah.

[1] “Quotations from the O.T. In the N.T.,” Blue Letter Bible, accessed July 25, 2018, https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/pnt/pnt08.cfm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: the Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook, 2017), 59.

[4] Austin Fischer, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey in and Out of Calvinism (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2014), 41.

Thinking Globally for Renewal!

One of the most interesting and challenging books of the summer for me is Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century.[1] Although Granberg-Michaelson writes for church leaders in North America, his view is the global church. And that is where both the interest and the challenge emerge for me!

In many ways, his analysis of Christianity in the United States is sobering. North American Christianity is in significant decline; however, Granberg-Michaelson offers ample evidence of significant growth in other parts of the world. Asia, Africa and Latin America are experiencing Christian expansion and development in amazing ways. Granberg-Michaelson notes that the center of our faith is neither the west nor the U.S. but rather in the global south. This shift away from Europe and North America may not have an immediate impact on the church you attend, but I suspect that most of us can already see evidence of the decline. Simply put, churches in the U.S. (generally speaking) are smaller, older and less influential.

In response, church leaders can wring their hands, or perhaps they might ask, as Granberg-Michaelson does, what God is doing in the world and what we need to change, renew, repent of or address to participate more fully in his work! The book offers more than I can review in this essay, so I will say more over the next couple of months. To begin, let me offer a few observations.

Granberg-Michaelson makes a convincing case that much of what passes for North American Christianity is based on a worldview in which the Christian faith engaged the world of the Enlightenment and emerged with the following assumptions:

  1. Individual rights matter more than community.
  2. Rational explanations are stronger than supernatural explanations.
  3. The material world is the world that matters for public conversations, scientific exploration and civic discourse. Completely separate from the material and observable reality, the spiritual world is private, personal and usually suspect!

These assumptions – so deeply woven into western thought – are not held by most people in the world, and in the places where Christianity is growing, these three assumptions are simply not in play. In other words, where Christianity is thriving:

  1. Community means more than individualism.
  2. God is alive and powerfully at work.
  3. The spiritual and material worlds are deeply connected.

This gives me pause as I consider what North American Christianity often emphasizes. Maybe it causes you to ponder as well! I’ll share more next month as we explore global resources for renewal.

Blessings,

Carson


[1] Published by Fortress Press, 2018.

NEWS

ElderLink comes to San Antonio, Oct. 27

We’re pleased to announce a new ElderLink seminar in San Antonio this October! The event will feature Randy Harris, ACU Bible instructor and spiritual director for the Siburt Institute and the College of Biblical Studies. This seminar will be relevant for any adult engaged in congregational ministry – whether as elder/shepherd, minister, deacon, ministry leader or spouse.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, Oct. 27. Registration opens in early August at acu.edu/elderlink. We hope to see you there!

Henegar asks, ‘Are the doors of your church really open?’


While churches are often welcoming spaces, it can be easy to miss some of the barriers that stop new people from ever venturing inside. In her latest CHARIS article, “Are the Doors of Your Church Open?”, Dr. Amy Bost Henegar explores some of the simple things that may make our perpetual invitation to “come as you are” fall on deaf ears. Henegar is a minister for the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York City and one of the leaders of the Community of Women Ministers.

Deadline extended for Summer Seminar with Randy Harris

Interested persons now have until Sunday, July 29, to register for this year’s Summer Seminar with Randy Harris, Aug. 3-4 on ACU’s campus. In this weekend intensive Bible course, Harris will bring together several colleagues to explore the topic, “The Gospel and Culture: What’s a Christian to Do?” The cost is $60 per person. Final deadline: Register by July 29.

Reminder: explore ‘Why Preaching Matters!’ with Rick Atchley


Join us for the “Why Preaching Matters!” Lunch and Learn event with Rick Atchley (’78) on Thursday, Aug. 30, at 11:30 a.m. in ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. The cost is $15 per person, and the deadline to register is Aug. 23.

Learn the Enneagram with Casey McCollum at Summit 2018

“You are your own nemesis, your own biggest problem, because there is a relationship between the best version of you and the worst version of you. What they have in common is that both of them are you.” – John Ortberg

At first glance, the Enneagram (pronounced ANY-uh-gram) is a personality-typing system that helps us understand who we are and what motivates us. In reality, it’s much more than that.

The Enneagram identifies nine ways of seeing and experiencing the world and describes with amazing accuracy how we think, feel and act. It is a helpful tool for navigating all kinds of relationships because it not only helps us understand ourselves, but also gives us compassion for other people in our lives. The Enneagram itself doesn’t change us, but it helps us see who we truly are and gives us clear steps for transformation, to be more like Jesus.

Join Enneagram teacher Casey McCollum on the Wednesday of Summit, Sept. 19, and learn which of the nine types you identify with as well as how to use the Enneagram for yourself, your home congregation, work or family.

Find more information about speakers, times and locations at acu.edu/summit.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

  • “The world should hold Christians to a high standard, but not to one higher than we hold for ourselves. Grace is not a pass for bad behavior. The love Christ has for us compels us to manifest  a quality of human generosity and kindness that surpasses what any law could legislate. When we claim to belong to Christ, others should expect to experience something special through us.” – Don McLaughlin, Love First
  • “Jesus spends a whole night in prayer prior to making the most important decision of his ministry – the appointing of the apostles. For Jesus, decision making is not just a matter of calculating pros and cons and weighing in on this or that – it is seeking the mind of the Father, who is generous with wisdom.” – Randy Harris, “Spirituality for the Busy, Frantic, and Overwhelmed,” in Like a Shepherd Lead Us: Guidance for the Gentle Art of Pastoring (Dr. David Fleer and Dr. Charles Siburt, Editors)

Freedom in Christ! Unfortunately many of us have experienced a restricted version of Paul’s idea that goes something like this…there is freedom in Christ as long as you believe the same things I do.

One issue where I have experienced a lack of freedom is the issue of inspiration of the Bible. I don’t have the space necessary to make a comprehensive case for what I am about to write but allow me to write a testimonial and a small sample of the issue. To begin, the Bible does not clearly define inspiration nor how it is inspired. So, we as humans, are left to theorize what it means to be inspired and how inspiration works. For years, I have wrestled with the whole idea of inspiration and I have struggled with the concept and term inerrancy, particularly because I do not believe in dictation theory inspiration of the Bible. By inerrancy, I mean a common idea in conservative churches that the Bible is completely free from any and all errors. By dictation theory, I mean a view that believes God inspired human writers in the sense of supplying them with the actual words.

I firmly believe the Bible bears witness to the Word of God and I believe the Bible is inspired but I do not think the Bible supports a dictation theory and I do not like the term inerrancy. My journey on this issue began about eight years ago as I took a PhD class on the Synoptic Gospels. In the class, we compared and contrasted every single word in the Gospel accounts and when the week long intensive campus course was completed, my view of how the Bible was inspired was never the same. It seems very apparent to me that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. There is no question that each author takes the words and stories about Jesus and reapplied them to new situations and gave them new meanings. We are even left asking, “what did Jesus actually say” versus “what was attributed to Jesus” because so many of his words are shaped by the authors. From that class, I no longer believed that every word in the Bible was dictated from God to human writers, which is encouraging because humans were doing heavy reflection on life and the community spurred on by their faith in God.

My issue is not so much inerrancy as—dictation theory. I hear many very conservative Christians who claim they do not believe the Bible was dictated but then argue for a form of dictation inspiration. First, it is impossible to have a completely error-less Bible without some form of dictation theory. Even a lesser version of inspiration known as “verbal plenary theory” assumes some kind of dictation in order for the very words to be inspired and error free. My critics often counter with statements like this, “If the Bible even contains one thing that is not true, then the whole thing is not true because God is truth and the Bible is his word.” While I agree that God is true and also truth, there is an assumption behind this statement that Scripture itself doesn’t support. The assumption is that God must have somehow dictated Scripture or that every word in scripture is somehow directly from God since the Bible is his Word. I agree God is true but God himself did not personally write the Bible…humans did! I know of no perfect or infallible human being and yet proponents of inerrancy demand that the Bible, which was written, collected, and edited by humans be perfect and free from errors. The only way such could be possible is for the Bible to have been directly dictated by God. There appears to be portions of Scripture that were dictated by God (Decalogue, some of the words from the prophets, etc). However, God did not write down those but allowed humans to contemplate, arrange, reflect, interpret, and compile. So, Scripture itself does not support a comprehensive dictated collection. Further, the definition of inerrancy does not accurately describe the various kinds of phenomenon, particularly related to ancient ways of thinking, that we find in Scripture. Inerrancy is a modern style of thinking that cannot account for such ancient ways of thinking.

As you can see from this small sample, the issue is rather complex and too large for a small article. What is not too small is the lack of freedom in the church to freely explore this topic. My view has brought a lot of criticism. I have been unasked from speaking engagements, Gospel meetings, and even employment. When people lay the charge “He doesn’t believe in biblical inerrancy” it is difficult to recover. Permit me to cite an example of how exclusive the topic can be. Garland Robinson, editor for Seek The Old Paths, once responded to a blog I wrote and his response is a classic example of those who hold to a certain theory of inspiration and then draw lines of fellowship over their theory. His reasoning goes like this, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (per 2 Tim) and adds, “we can say with confidence that all Scripture is Inspired and Inerrant…who else is to say which parts are inspired and which are not.” He builds a circular straw man by prooftexting an assortment of texts to back up his claim. His logic works like this, John 17:17 (“thy word is truth”) + 2 Tim 3:16 (“All Scripture is inspired”) + 1 Pet 1:21 (“no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation…but holy men were moved by the Spirit”) + John 14:26 (“I will bring all things to remembrance”) = the Bible is inspired and inerrant because the Bible says it is inspired and it is truth. Technically, the Bible itself doesn’t say anything. You’ll note that all of his scriptural citations assume a flat Bible passages can be cut from this context and that context to form a universal teaching. My first question is, “do those passages, in their original context, mean the same thing that you are claiming they mean?” What does John mean when he says “your word?” Robinson simply assumes that John 17:17 refers to the entire Bible but is that what John was intending in that context? What did Paul count as “All Scripture” when he wrote to Timothy? It seems he meant what we call the Old Testament. When Peter wrote of holy men being moved by the Spirit did that apply to all Scripture or just prophecy? Did Jesus’ promise in John 14:26 apply to the writing of Scripture? Robinson flatly connects these verses without any consideration for their context and makes anachronistic applications and binds it as a comprehensive “the Bible says…” Robinson concludes that my belief is “disdain for God’s Word,” “sowing discord” which demands marking, rebuke, and withdrawal of fellowship. Here’s the problem. First, Robinson does not understand my point and makes no effort to try. He is writing to condemn and quotes me only to accuse (and falsely at that). Second, I still believe the Bible is a faithful witness to God, I still read Scripture, believe in it, and preach and teach it. I simply believe Scripture is a faithful witness to God and a record of his will and that forcing it to fit a definition that humans create is not being submissive to what Scripture really is. I do not feel Robinson, and others who want to accuse, really understand what the Bible is. Others love to publicly put me on the spot with a loaded question, “Do you believe the Bible is inerrant?” I don’t like the term, so I don’t want to say “yes.” Yet, saying “no” usually creates an instant wall that makes an attempt at explanation or defense impossible. Robinson and I do not disagree on the inspiration of the Bible. We disagree on our theories for how the Bible is inspired. He appears to believe in a form of dictation theory that I cannot accept because the text itself doesn’t support it. Further, he appears to be completely unaware that his view is theoretical but appears to think it is his task to call out anyone who disagrees with his opinion. However, those like him are willing to draw lines of fellowship over a theory of inspiration and I am not. I do not have a problem with biblical inspiration nor am I trying to throw away the Bible, as those like Robinson accuse. I have a problem with assumptions and definitions of inspiration that do not coincide with the biblical evidence.

I have come to believe that the Bible can be inspired and a faithful witness to God without having to be inerrant. I believe Paul’s words to Timothy that “Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching, correction, reproof, and training that a person may be complete and equipped for every good work.” I would even apply Paul’s words to what we call the New Testament. Critics usually argue that any evidence of error means the whole Bible cannot be trusted but is this really true? Is it fair? Democrats often accused President Reagan of not caring for the poor when he demanded more fiscal responsibility. Republicans often accused President Obama of trying to make the USA a Muslim nation. It is unfair and frankly foolish to take a person’s stance and paint it to the extreme.

Here are my issues with dictation theories of inspiration. First, inerrancy and inspiration are often understood and defined from philosophical beliefs outside the biblical text instead of being view from within the biblical text. I usually hear John 17:17 thrown around (“sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth”). Scot McKnight and NT Wright have done a fabulous service to the church by arguing that we need to understand the term “Gospel” the way biblical authors intended. I agree and argue the same investigative inquiry for the term “Word of God.” Here’s is where I differ from the critics. “Word” in John 17:17 is not synonymous with the Bible. Usually the phrase “Word” in Scripture does not refer to written word but spoken word (see John Walton’s The Lost World of Scripture for a great discussion on this issue). What’s the difference? The “word of God” was often an event or a personal encounter between God and humans. This original “Word” was often passed on orally for generations and generations before it was written. Imagine how details would change or things would be remembered differently. In our modern era, we think written text but the ancients worked with an oral mindset so exact details were not as important as getting the gist of the bigger picture. Everything we have in the Bible is a secondhand recording of the original “word of God” moment. So the Bible is really a record of the Word of God (and I believe a faithful record). While the logic that God does not lie or err and therefore the Bible does not contain errors may sound like a great logical point, the assumption is that God was so involved in the process as to select, ensure, and approve every word in the Bible (else how can fallible humans produce an infallible Bible?). John 14:26 (HS as dictator) is assumed to be the modus operandi for all Scripture but the Bible gives other modes as well. For instance, Luke thought it “seemed to me” to compile an account of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4) contra other places in Acts, such as 15:28 where “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.” He admits to receiving his information from second hand sources and doing to work himself with no dictation from God or relying on the “remembrance from the Holy Spirit.” There is heavy human fingerprint in the Bible. I seriously doubt most authors even knew their writings would be collected and one day considered Scripture. I know of no one who would argue that a Christian must be free from error to faithfully represent God or else God cannot be trusted. So why do we argue that a collection of books written and edited by human authors has to be perfect or else none of it can be true. So the entire issue revolves around the question, “What really is the Bible?” and “how did the Bible come to be the Bible?” I believe the entire issue of inerrancy oversimplifies the Bible, avoiding any consideration of what the Bible is and how it came to be. Rather, it is simply assumed that the Bible fell from heaven fully assembled in the form it is today. In the end, the Bible became Sacred writings because God’s people accepted the writings as sacred.

I wish people could and would be more open minded. I do not question the truth of the Bible. I simply do not think the Bible, as a whole, was dictated by God or the Holy Spirit. I hate it when people say I do not believe in the Bible or believe in the inspiration of Scripture. My issue is not the Bible. I don’t accept or operate under the assumptions that humans create…and that is what we call freedom. Freedom in Christ is where we believe that Jesus is King and live our life in allegiance to him. Freedom in Christ is not socially forcing others to believe the same theories, inferences, and other human-made opinions through false accusations or exclusion…especially if we have never explored all the information or our own assumptions. Freedom can only exist when we are willing to humbly admit we might not have it all figured out.

Paul once said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.”[1] There’s something about having freedom in Christ that actually makes us slaves. We are slaves to righteousness, slaves to God. Christian liberty is more about being free from Satan and sin than about possessing total autonomy. Christ does not free us from sin and the curse of the law so that we can live our best life now or pursue the American dream while knowing one day we will “go to heaven when we die.” Rather, he gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity and purify us for good works.[2] In short, the grace of God enables us to be faithful to Christ’s desire to bring the reign of God, the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in Heaven.

This is all fine and good. But, it does lead us to a simple, yet profound question: What does it mean to be transformed by the grace of God? Or, more simply, what does it mean to be faithful? How we answer that question will drastically impact the way in which we live our lives, and the way in which we view the world.

If you’ve grown up in the South, you were probably given the idea that being a faithful Christian means to faithfully attend church on Sundays. And, if you were exceptionally zealous for faithfulness, you would also attend Sunday night and Wednesday night services. In some circles of the Restoration Movement, church attendance has been so forcefully emphasized that it is not uncommon for me to hear people say they heard a sermon on Hebrews 10:25 once a month growing up. Exegetical problems with that concept aside, it is troubling for anyone to accentuate something that Scripture simply does not.

Attendance, though, is just the beginning for some. There has been a tendency among some believers to assert that the barometer by which we measure the faithfulness of a Christian is by what they do in their hour of worship on Sunday mornings. If they’re not doing everything in the way we think they should, then they’re not faithful. In the same way, this is how many Christians examine themselves to see if they are being faithful to Christ!

The consequences of this paradigm of thought are devastating. We have millions of believers who are examining themselves and coming to the conclusion that they are faithful because they attend church, and ‘do church’ the right way. And so, the salvation of God and mission of Christ have been reduced to creating a people who are zealous for their hour of worship on Sunday mornings, and who anticipate afterlife rewards for doing so.

Don’t get me wrong, I love assembling with God’s people on the first day of the week. I emphatically believe that every follower of Jesus should be seeking to serve others through a local congregation regularly. What’s more, I value doctrine and have my opinions on what I believe Scripture does and doesn’t say regarding corporate worship. My point is simply this: nowhere in Scripture, and most importantly, in Jesus’s teachings, is how we worship on Sunday’s considered to be a measurement of faithfulness. Corporate worship is mentioned by the apostles, but never in the manner described in this article.

It is evident to me that we need a new way of thinking about faithfulness. I believe the Hebrew prophet Isaiah can help us here. In Isaiah 1, we find one of the most sobering passages in Scripture: “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of assemblies-I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly…Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”[3] God was not pleased with an Israel who was corporately worshiping him and offering sacrifices while they ignored the oppressed. God was much less concerned with their assembling and their sacrificing than he was how they loved others.

But what about Jesus? What did Jesus expect of his followers? Well, he said blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He also placed substantial importance on the idea of loving our enemies, and the least of these. In Matthew 25, Jesus depicts a final judgement for us. In this illustration, the difference between the sheep and the goats is not that the sheep have good theology, and the goats don’t. Nor is the difference between the two that the sheep have good church attendance, and the goats don’t. Rather, the difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the sick, while the goats did not.[4]

Do we care for the poor, the sick and the needy? We can have perfect church attendance and perfectly accurate doctrinal beliefs, but if we are not caring for these people, then we are not faithful to the cause of Christ. To have freedom in Christ means to be a blessing to others, for the glory of God.

In light of this, I think it best for Christians when discussing faithfulness to stop asking ourselves and others about church services on Sunday mornings, and start asking ourselves if we are caring for the people who Christ called us to love.

[1]. 1 Cor. 9:19.

[2]. Tit. 2:14.

[3]. Is. 1:13, 16-17.

[4]. Mt. 25:31-46.

 

Free in Christ

I served in the U.S. Navy for 8 and one-half years, five of those years on the same Submarine, the USS Trout (SS-566).  When I first became a Christian some of my shipmates said, “Woody has got religion!”

There are many religions in the world including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc.  Each requires strict adherence to a set doctrine or list of rules.  Christ did not come to issue a new set of rules to live by, he came to rid humankind of the guilt of sin and have a relationship.

There is a tendency to make Christianity simply a religion among religions of the world; just a different set of rules and doctrine.  It is not so.  Christianity is about a relationship with the founder – Jesus Christ.

G.C. Brewer wrote, “People would rather Jesus give us a set of rules to save ourselves rather than accept him as Savior.”  In his 2013 book entitled, “gods at war,” Kyle Idleman wrote, “One of the most common gods of success is the worship of religious rules. We put our trust in our own mastery of rule keeping. The god of success invites you to save yourself instead of depending upon Jesus to do it.” (P. 135)

Paul had lived under the restraints of Moses’ law, but he gave all of that up for a relationship with Christ (Philippians 3:2-11).  In his letter to the Galatians he wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

The big deal in your life and mine is to decide WHO Jesus is.  Is he the Son of God or not? In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”   It was Peter who had the insight to respond, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter was right on!  Then Jesus revealed that it would be upon this truth that he would build his church.  His church is us, me and you.  Acknowledging and receiving this truth is what gives us freedom.

“Jesus paid it all.” “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”  “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) It appears that this revelation has been hacked. Jesus stated plainly that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Adding obligations takes away freedom. Often it is more about tradition and ritual than it is about Christ.

Ask yourself, “What have I put my trust in?”

When Paul was fighting within himself about his imperfections he exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am!”  And then he cried out, “WHO will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)  Notice, he did not ask “what” can rescue me.  There is no system of religion that will erase our sin. Jesus alone has paid that price.

At the end of his life Paul wrote Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12b)

Jim Woodell, Executive Director
John 3:17 Ministry for Women

 

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” – Galatians 5:1

Let’s start a conversation this Independence day. It is a conversation about our freedom in Christ and exactly what that means for a Christian. There are so many things in this world that can enslave us. If we aren’t careful we can even do things to keep each other bound up. What does it mean to be free in Christ? Does it mean freedom from the Law of Moses? Does it mean freedom from sin and the spiritual forces of darkness? Also, how do we deal with each other in light of the freedom we have in Christ as we don’t all see things the same way? Christ has indeed set us free. But what does that mean? Let’s talk.