Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Food for thought

Here's a rant dripping with cynisism if ever there was one. I could be wrong - often am, but hey, at least it's food for thought. I go off on a few tangents, sorry. I tried to be organised but found disorganisation easier. =)

I have recently been reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People", by Dale Carnegie. It is an interesting book, that says things we could all guess but often ignore. Not surprisingly, to have friends, you must be friendly. The core of this book comes from what being truely friendly actually is - a genuine love for other people. People love people who genuinely love them, it's simple.

And yet, the examples he gives in the book amply reflect how little most people actually care about others, and how much they care about themselves. The book has many examples showing just what lengths people will go to bolster their ego and make themselves feel important. People become driven, even controlled by satisfying their egos. Yes, many people are self-centered, and sadly Christians are often no exception.

I think the Pharisees of Jesus' time were self-centered, proud, and always seeking to bolster their ego. Jesus rebuked them, but as I perused the internet I was amazed at the variety of ideas on why He did so. By most outward measures, the Pharisees would have been good, Godly people - yet it is clear their hearts were "far from God". The most common idea was that they "tried to make themselves righteous by following the law." Yet, I wonder if that is really at the core of thier rebuke.

Matt 23:13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves... 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Pharisees were outwardly devout, but Jesus called them hypocrites - for they were not devoted to God, but to themselves. They glorified their selfish ways, and indeed added more Laws so that they could glory in keeping them as Josephus writes: "The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses." The pride of the Pharisees is evident in Jesus' story in Luke 18:9-14.

Many seem to take this story to illustrate that the Pharisees thought they could make themselves righteous by following the law. People look to this verse and others like Romans 10:2-3, and say that they thought they could be saved by "keeping the law" instead of "believing in Christ" - but I think this is missing the point. It seems Jesus rebuked the "white-washed tombs" because they honoured God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They tried to make the Word of God into a set of rules that they could follow without actually obeying the heart of the law, because that's hard, so that they would still be able to gloat and bolster their egos by 'following the law'.

So, perhaps the "error of the Pharisees" was not one of trying to obtain righteousness by keeping the law. I suspect they knew all to well the condition of their hearts and their lack of devotion to God. Perhaps, they didn't want 'righteousness'; and chose instead respect, admiration, and large egos as they served not God but themselves.


It is clearly bad for our faith to be merely an external act, while insides our un-loving, selfish hearts are nothing more than a clanging gong. I wonder at the comparison between the Pharisees and the modern church. Like the Pharisees, Christians today are in general devout - but fortunately many are truly devoted to God rather than themselves, and are thus not so hypocritical. Hopefully, many Christians today are not as self-centred and proud and eager to bolter their egos as the Pharisees. These are good things about the majority of the modern church.

Yet, some in the modern church take pains to state we are 'saved by grace' and not by following 'Law', which they say was what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for. Not only does 'law' refer to Mosiac law, but I gather they think that obeying any set of rules does not save someone into the kingdom of God - and this is the irony, I find. While they say people are not saved by 'keeping the law' - they believe people are saved by following several "steps to Salvation".

A quick search on the internet yielded these great 'recipes' for "Salvation" (i.e. becoming a Christian, gaining eternal life, etc etc), to which I have given names and added comments to in bold:

5-Step Baptist

1) hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2) believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God
3) repent of sins in order to be saved
4) confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God
5) be baptized in order to be saved

4-Step Pentecostal

1) realize God loves you and wants you to have eternal life.

2) realize that you are sinful, and your sin separates you from God.

3) realize that only in JESUS CHRIST can forgiveness of sin and salvation be yours.

4) receive Jesus Christ as your personal savior and Lord.

5-Step Alter-Call Special

Step 1 - Awareness of our sinful nature
Will you now admit that you need help? Do you see that you cannot meet God’s perfect standard no matter how hard you try? Do you see that you need forgiveness for your sin?

Step 2 - Repentance
Repentance is not being sorry! It is a change of mind followed by a change in actions. Do you choose now to turn from sin? Will you begin now to do things God’s way?

Step 3- Believe in Jesus Christ
Do you believe that Jesus lived here as a man, died, rose from the dead, and was seen by many? Do you believe that His sacrifice was for you? Will you allow the blood of Jesus to cover your sin?

Step 4 - Receive the Gift
Do you now believe in your heart that God sent Jesus to rescue you from sin and certain death? Will you say with your mouth, Jesus is Lord? Are you ready make Jesus the lord of your life?

Step 5 - Jesus as Savior
If you can answer yes to the questions above, you are ready to receive the the free gift of God and make Jesus your Lord and Savior. He will now become the sacrifice for you so you can have a good relationship with God. To receive the gift all you have to do is ask for it.

I recognize that I am a sinner, and in need of help. I am asking forgiveness for the sins I have committed and making the decision to turn from my evil ways and follow your ways. I believe that Jesus lived on earth as a man, died, and rose from the dead to take my place
(What?). I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord (Lord of China? Europe? What is a Lord anyway? Doesn't seem to affect me, does it? I'll try it for a few weeks anyway.). I now receive your free gift of salvation (Of course, I don't really feel like I've just got anything - I don't even really know what the thing I don't feel is. But I'm "declaring in faith", and that makes me feel spiritual doesn't it? Something about life after death, I think... too bad about life now then.).

Congratulations you are now part of the body of Christ!

There they are - three popular fast-food recipies for Salivation, which should all be served after an entrée of stirring singing on top of smooth background music, with a side of ice-cool preaching, and sprinkled with nuts.

All these miss the point and power of the Gospel. Needless to say, I think most of the verses used to support these recipes are grossly misinterpreted. And I wonder how many false teachers (who think they are expousing the truth) use these as fashionable ways to boost their egos and their wallets as they, like the Pharisees, 'cross sea and land to make a single convert, and make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as themselves' (Matt 23:15). Converts are born again into new life, but it is only one in their imaginations. "The Kingdom of God is unseen", quote Christians, but it should not require a leap of ignorance to think one's life is transformed when it is not. Welcome to the real world - we should be freed from sin in this life.

It seems to me these simple steps to Salvation are just a different set of 'laws' by which we are supposedly saved. The external "keeping the law" of the Pharisees is replaced by an external "changing how you live", a believing a set of statements, and a recieving of something 'freely given' (So long as you do all the preceeding steps, of course. Wouldn't want to have Salvation actually freely given by grace through faith now, would we?). The shallowness of it sickens me. Most people who pass through the Christian Take-Away shop and order one of these recipes don't stay for long, because they find it is not real. A religous, external "Gospel" does not set free and change lives. Nevertheless, I am sure many people have come to stay the Kingdom after being served such 5-course dishes, but I am equally sure it is only by God's grace and often little to do with these steps.

It is clear that we cannot obtain the grace of God by following a man-made formula. Yet, why do so many Christians these days think we can? I am convinced that Salvation cannot be packaged into a neat recipe for mass-indoctrination. I think the Gospel's power is found not in religious alter-call ceremony, but rather in the reality of love revealed by the church and the Holy Spirit.

So we should be devoted to God and not ourselves, and out of that devotion to God should come a real love for other people. I am far from perfect here. This self-centered capitalist society has gulled me into selfishness somewhat. Just as it was for the Pharisees, it is hard to be devoted to God instead of myself. So, when I see someone who is homeless and hungry out on the street, instead of pretending not to notice or care, I would care for him and invite him to my home, feed him, and help him in his life. Perhaps, I would help him get a job, show him he is loved by being the one person in his life who actually considers his life more important than a few days of my own. Truly, that would be showing someone the power of the Gospel - something that could inspire someone to love that much, and forever change someone's life. I pray my self-centeredness will decrease enough for me to do such things. For whatever we do for the least of these, we do as unto Christ.

The Gospel is so that we love God and love others, and in love, real faith is inherently practical. What is the opposite to love? Not hatred, but apathy. If selfishness is being devoted to one's self, surely devotion to God and others is it's opposite. So, I pray we can all become a little more focussed on the heart of the Gospel, and be doers of the Word and not just sayers of the 5 Key Steps to Take-Away Faith.

(There's a play on words at the end there... quite proud of it... wait, that's pride... hmmm... but if pride is mixed with humour does it still count?)


Mike said...
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Mike said...

BONGGGGG...... BONGGGGGGG..... BONGGGGGG.... Is what I have to say to much of that.

I agree with your McChurch analogy, and I think that it is a sad fact that some people reduce their faith to something like that.

However, a lot of what you said in cynicism I wholeheartedly agree with. For example:

1) realize God loves you and wants you to have eternal life.

Surely that is something that is a necessary step for forming a relationship with God, and thus (presumably) a step towards salvation??

I don't want to pretend to know how it is that as Christians we are saved, but I know that Jesus did something important, (what it is I am not entirely sure), and there is something in there about God's grace that works its way in somehow.

All I know is that a relationship with God is like a friendship, you need to spend time together. The idiom is true, you DO become like the people you love. If you genuinely love God, then you are doomed to become more like him, not because you are desperately searching for "salvation", but that is just what happens when you spend a lot of time with someone.

Surely if you spend time with God, then whether or not you believe in Christus Victor, or one of the other atonement theories, that is something that God will sort out at the end?

I refuse to believe that we are required to believe a set of man-made doctrines about God in order to be "saved" (Because that is all they are). That is just illogical. What about the people who lived before the doctrines were developed? That is like saying that in order to be saved you need to own a motorcar. The people who died before the motorcar was invented are doomed no matter what they did.

Then you try and explain all that away with the whole "God's Grace will save those who did not buy a motorcar". That is even more baloney. If God is saving people through Grace, then what on earth is the point of the motorcar?

Basically, I think that "salvation" is achieved primarily through your relationship with God, and through that relationship you develop the attributes that some people confuse as "prerequisites" for salvation, when in fact it is just what happens when you love God and are close to him. That is why they call them fruits of the spirit I guess.

incognito said...

Thanks for your comment Mike. You make good points. There is plenty of what I wrote that is asking for correction I'm sure - I couldn't quite organise my thoughts very well...

Seems you've focussed on a particular point of the second recipe - one which is of course true, for we do need to realise God loves us. Yes, relationship is central, and love is central to that.

My cynisism was more refering to the three-line quote that if one repeats one becomes magically 'saved'.

incognito said...

Also, you said: "I refuse to believe that we are required to believe a set of man-made doctrines about God in order to be "saved" (Because that is all they are). That is just illogical. "

That is my point exactly.

Katherine said...

Just curious - was the use of the word 'Salivation' instead of 'Salvation' ["three popular fast-food recipies for Salivation" etc] an innocent typo, or a cunning play on the fast food theme? Rather amusing in either case :)

Your posts scare me. No offense to yourself (you could even take it as a compliment if you like I guess) but they do. After all these years following Christ, wanting to do and be what I should, I must admit I'm still a Pharisee at heart, and no amount of philosophising helps any of that. How, when it comes down to it, does a person change? I'm almost at my wits' end. Which is probably the point, if trust is supposed to be born out of realizing ones own limitations.

I think/hope that you and Mike are right, that God must be more lenient than we often suppose Him, regarding whether our doctrines are right or not. The extent to which He cares what we believe must in some way be relative to our circumstances, and probably centres around what our beliefs reveal about our hearts - eg, whether we've responded when He's called us in whatever way He has chosen to do so; or whether we have been courageous enough to reject harmful doctrines, given our circumstances; or whether we have been willing to humble ourselves and admit that we're baffled by matters too wonderful for us, or perhaps even whether we have sacrificed our own persuasions for the sake of peace with our brothers. Maybe that's a virtue after all. Not sure.

It's very strange hearing this sort of thing coming out of my mouth. I've always been very anti-relativist, and am partly ashamed of myself for caving.

Anyway, God bless.

incognito said...

Ahh Katherine, most marvellous comments...

"Your posts scare me." : They scare me too... which always takes me back to God's grace.

"After all these years following Christ, wanting to do and be what I should, I must admit I'm still a Pharisee at heart, and no amount of philosophising helps any of that. How, when it comes down to it, does a person change?" : Mmm... I think you are too hard on yourself. Yes, we are all selfish to some extent, yet I think it is not our condition that God is concerned with - but rather the 'gaze of our soul' as Tozer puts it. It is, to use my old analogy, that we are heading toward Christ with our hearts set upon our Lord - not how far we have come or how perfect our character or beliefs or doctrines are.

So, to a certain extent, what I've said here doesn't matter - because we aren't saved by a keeping set of rules anyway. Like I said, I don't think there's anything wrong with being devoted to God - seeking to be righteous and upright. I think the Pharisees didn't have that devotion.

Sorry to bring it all back to devotion to God, but I think that's what it's all about. This raises another interesting question... does God accept you even if you have wrong doctrine?

I should hope so - or else we are all doomed to destruction, for I doubt anyone has perfect doctrine. That's why I like to keep it simple, because there's less room for stupid ideas. As soon as you make it complex, you give heaps of room for our own wrong ideas - take Islam for instance. Perhaps, then, we'll see Muslims in heaven??? They may have some doctrines wrong, but surely they're devoted to God just as we are? Muslims often make Christians look terribly luke-warm in devotion to God.

Always remember God's grace - for there is by no other means by which God accepts us. Is is not given to us because we hold certain beliefs, or do certain things, but because the gaze of our souls is firmly fixed upon our Lord and Saviour - not on ourselves.

Feel free to comment more. I always enjoy reading them.

Katherine said...

I think it is not our condition that God is concerned with - but rather the 'gaze of our soul'Okay well now I feel better. Yeah, been a bit down again the last couple of weeks since I got home. My head's been going round in circles again. Not related to the trip I don't think - it's just all hit me again for some reason. Maybe something to do with the stuff I'm reading. But anyway, yep, that gives me something to hold onto.

Re. seeing Muslims in heaven: over the past year I've pretty much come to the belief that we probably will. Some, that is, obviously. The people I met and the literature I read in my Arabic class, combined with all this other stuff, has inclined me towards that opinion/hope. Still don't quite know what to do with the Qur'an, but that's another story.

Crikey. What would my folks say if they heard me saying that? Sometimes I hardly recognise myself from what I was a year ago. Gah, it's all so strange. And I'm sick of talking about myself now :) Thanks for the help. See you tomorrow.

Joy and merriment to all.

Scott said...

Surely this confusion should not characterise the people of God!

The McDonald's gospel has put a cheap plastic veneer on grace, and made many people sick of hearing formulas. But any talk of, 'these are the steps of how you save yourself' must be rejected. Being born again is not acheived by a formula, but by the Spirit of God. We have made salvation into a insurance policy. But followers of Christ should be able to proclaim, 'How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God!' and...

" Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice..." (1 Peter 1:3-6)

p.s. Rueben, I just posted a long response to your post 'The fallacy of the satisfaction theory of the atonement'.

Mike said...

KT - what I suspect you are struggling with at the moment is very similar to what I have been struggling with for just on a year now.

The question - How are we saved...? Doctrine or Devotion?

My personal take on it was I had a very good friend who was Catholic, and being interested I decided to learn more about what it was that Catholics believed, and how it compared with where I was at that point.

What really threw me was the close-knit nature of what seemed to be solid, sensible doctrine, and really stupid church dogma. What scared me even more was the fact that they seemed to put equal weight on the doctrine as the tradition. This is where the topic of this post comes in. They believe things that were completely at loggerheads to what I did at the time. This lead me to question:

If I believed one thing, and they believed another, then surely we couldn't BOTH call ourselves Christians?

And if there were "wrong" Christians, and "right" christians, then how do I know which side is right? There are multitudes of Christian denominations, all of which agree with the Nicean Creed, and all of which vary substantially on various issues.

I asked myself, what if there IS no "right" denomination out there? what if they all got called heretics, and killed off? What if the "correct" dogma has not been discovered yet?

In this search for answers, I began to lose grip on my faith. Something that had served to anchor me through some very heavy seas suddenly seemed insubstantial - like trying to catch smoke in your fingers.

In the depths of my despair, I went to Parachute last year, and listened to Paul Colman give a talk on his take on what it meant to be a Christian.

He was a man who, like me, was bewildered by all the dogma that had grown up in the church like weeds in a garden. In his talk he pointed me to the two Commandments. Not the 10, but the two that Jesus gave.

1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
2) Love your neighbour as yourself.

This struck a deep chord with me. I felt I was over-complicating it with all this conflictiong dogma, like whether full-immersion is the only way, or whether people should pray to the Saints, or the ascention of Mary, stigmata, the whole nine yards.

My take on the whole thing - The dogma could all just be smoke and mirrors. Who knows? To me, that isn't what is important. What is important is 1 - your relationship with God, and 2 - how you treat other people. (We will be judged according to our deeds/hearts remember)

What happens after we get judged? I have no idea. All I know is that it will be like coming home.

incognito said...

Nice comment Mike. Couldn't agree more. I think it's best to focus on those two things mainly, and not get too caught up in the rest. The reason I write posts like this is to get this sort of discussion.

Katherine said...

I desperately want you to be right. Then I can just get on with it, instead of trying to get on with it whilst stewing over the fact that I don't understand my own faith, and feeling very foolish. It's just so hard to let go and admit that that's enough, and that my intellect cannot improve it. And even harder to think of explaining to people like my family and church that I'm unsure about some of the things they've taught me and hold so earnestly. Basically I guess I'm afraid of being somewhat more lonely in my faith than heretofore. But I imagine most of you will have been through that at some stage. And I suppose I'm afraid of being humbled by my God - again - though my mind knows He has always dealt gently with me. Bear with me a little longer - I'll probably summon up the courage quite soon I think.

Aaron said...

To answer your last question - no, humour always transcends morality ;)