Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is it me? Or is it something else?

I don't know about you, but I've notice that the older I get, the more I study and think about life, I realize I know nothing and that life is not about me. Now some of you may agree with the first statement regarding my lack of knowledge. I was always a late bloomer. I don't think I grew up until I was in my thirties and at that, only because I was forced to recognize that I wasn't in control. My college years were, to say the least, less than stellar. I learned how to study long after I was out of school.

But, there were some foundations laid that have carried me through all my rabbit trail theologies. One of those foundations was that there is only one message we have as Christians and that is Christ and the Good News of his victory over death through his death, burial and resurrection. Paul the Apostle said, I preach Christ and him crucified. He said, "For me, to live, is Christ."
It wasn't about Paul, it was about Jesus Christ. It wasn't about what Paul did or didn't do. It was about Jesus Christ working and living and loving through Paul. Christ and the cross was the source of everything in Paul.

So that is the first foundation stone I've always believed in my Christian life. Now, have I lived that? No. All too often I've tried to be rather than obey. Did you get that? When Christ is not the foundation of our life, we try to do something to become like Christ rather than letting HIM be the source of my being. If I focus on being all I can be, I end up with a false works gospel. If Christ is my life then I become like him by his action in my life. He provides the faith to obey. He provides the ability to become what I am and he provides the action to do what he commands.

The second foundation stone I've never abandoned was a firm belief and trust in the validity and authority of the Holy Scripture, The Bible. I believe in the verbal, plenary (complete), inspiration of the Scriptures as given to the authors and assembled by the church. My trust is in what we Protestants hold to as the 66 books of the Bible. As for the Deutero-canonicals, I agree they are important and valid for study, but lack the authority of the rest of the sixty-six books. I firmly hold to what the leaders of the Reformation taught, Sola Scriptura. I know the doctrine of Sola Scripture is debated but I'll just let the debaters debate. I'm not into that dog hunt. It's not up for debate with me.

Now what has all that got to do with me. Well, here's where my use of the term curmudgeon comes that I referred to on Facebook the other day. I'm getting sick and tired of watching the church descend into a works theology. I studied Catholicism for ten years and came to the conclusion it was largely a salvation by works theology. Despite all their protestations to the otherwise, that is the fact. They have confused the works of salvation and sanctification and made them mean the same thing. I fear we Protestants are headed in the same direction.

When I came out of the bins of Catholic theological studies, blew off the dust and brushed the cobwebs of history off my clothes, and stepped into the sunshine of the twenty-first century, I was blinded by what I saw. I had to rub my theological eyes and put on sunglasses to see more clearly what was going on. And what I saw confused me at first, but then as my eyes adjusted I began to wonder, "What is this church I've claimed to be a member of all my life?"

Oh, I've been faithfully attending church, gleefully participating, grousing about cosmetic changes, but mostly chalking it up to my growing older and less flexible. But I'm an introvert and love studying, so I started reading again. And boy, did I get an education. New terms I'd never heard of like, Emergent Church, Emerging Church, Life style evangelism, Ten steps to Holiness sermons, How To Be All You Can Be programs. I heard preached Be The Real You if you just do...You fill in the blank.

I sat back and scratched my bald head and is this. I just left this stuff behind in the church history section of my library. It's the same mistake the Catholic church made, only now in new terminology. And then to boot, I see syncretism seeping into the old theologies with ancient Bhuddist and Hindu practices of meditation being practiced. The reason given is that this is how the early Christian fathers practiced their faith.

In a strong theological term...BALONEY!!! I don't know of any early church father who practiced Bhuddist practices. Yes, they practiced contemplation and meditation, but I just don't see where far Eastern practices were a part of their worship. I know some of my Reformed brethren may disagree with me here because any form of contemplation is held in suspect by many of them. But trust me, I've done my homework on this. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.

But back to my main point. Go online and read through the titles of most of the sermons you find. How many emphasize some kind of verbal statement like, what must I do, or How to (you fill in the blank)? Or "You Can Be A Better Saint by...." Or, Six Ways to Become..., or How to Pray? Or "You Can Be A Better Saint by..." I saw one today called Red Neck Christmas. The lead line was, "We Must Understand God's Holiness and Admit Our Sinfulness"
Now, that sounds innocent enough and it may be a good sermon. But if the lead verb is "I must" or "I need to" rather than how Christ does his work in us to accomplish what we are to be, then you've entered a works theology. And that is a false theology.

Pay attention to what is being preached in your service this Sunday. Make a list. How long did it take for the pastor to say Jesus? Do you know I've sat through an entire sermon without hearing the word Jesus once? What is the lead verb in the message or points of the message? Is it Jesus doing something or is it what you must do or can be? Is the work of the cross in relation to the subject ever discussed? Did you know the cross is swiftly becoming the most despised word in Protestant preaching? (An aside, is it even present in the place of worship) Did you know the cross is off limits because many pastors and church leaders believe that it's too offensive to the one visiting for the first time?

Well, shut my mouth! That sounds like something I read in I Corinthians 1:18 about the cross being foolishness. So, what's new? Of course the cross is foolishness and offensive. But without the cross, we have no message.

Let me expand on one of my questions regarding verbs in the sermon. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs. If he isn't you may have a salvation by works statement or sermon. And here is a bigger question. Are they verbs of Jesus or verbs of pop-psychology?
We are having more sermons based upon psychology than Bible. And that is dangerous. I think, far too often, topics germane to psychology are brought to a text and the text becomes the foundation of the topic brought to it. That is, in my way of thinking, a misuse of scripture. As it's been said often, "A text taken out of context is a pretext". I'm hearing a lot of pretext sermons today. And our people are hurting for it.

Biblical ignorance is at an all time high today. The Bible is no longer given the respect it once had. Church has become a country club rather than a gathering around the altar, the word and sacrament. It's time we return to the preaching of the cross and how Christ is our source of becoming, the one who is the source of our value, love and strength. I believe the most powerful way we can do this is to bring back the readings in the services of the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, Gospel and the creeds. When done right, you give the congregation a foundation of belief that provides a source of strength for every day.

One other point and I'm done with being the least for today. I want to harp on Discipleship for a moment. We are being bombarded today with the phrase, "Jesus-Follower." People are dropping the word Christian because it is so misunderstood by many and replacing it with "Jesus-Follower." Folks, that is a works based belief. The action of the verb is on me. It is something I do. I am a Christian, pure and simple. You want to know what it means? Ask me. I am one bought, sealed and delivered by Christ. He makes me what I am. That's where the verb belongs.

I am a disciple of Christ. Oh..that makes me a Jesus follower doesn't it? Well, wait a minute. What is a disciple? If I look into my hand dandy little Greek Lexicon I read, disciple, from the word "mathetes" It means pupil. It is one who is taught. And the command in Matthew 28:19 is to go into the world and make "mathetes" pupils. Today, we have added a second meaning to something that is not inherent in the original. We've added follower. What Christ is saying, He the teacher (didaskalos) teaches us "methetes" to go into the world and make "mathetes", students.

We've turned the great commission on its proverbial ear and made it into a works based faith. If we follow Christ we will be rewarded by him. But what he's really saying, is since we are taught by him through the word, we are then to go and teach others, make pupils.

Maybe I'm belaboring the point. Yes, we follow Christ. Of course. But only because he is the source of our life. There is no way I can do enough to totally please my Lord. He told me to be perfect. Well, from this blog, you know that ain't happening!
So I rely on his grace, his cross, his power because on the cross, he made me perfect in him. And while I don't see the full effects of that today, I know he is using daily living to mold me according to his purposes. Sometimes he chips, sometimes he molds, sometimes he stomps, but since I'm his child, it's his work of love to make me like him. As a result, I slowly become more like him. But it's all grace. By grace alone, folks. It's his work.

I'm done.


  1. You're right Richard.

    At our Anglican church (Toowoomba Australia) we still have the full liturgy with all the readings every week - Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, Gospel. And our priest always preaches on the readings. When he does that we can't help but be convicted of the work of Christ in our lives. It's not us ... it's HIM!

  2. Thanks Anon...It is so hard to remember that we aren't at the center of all things. I pray more and more of us will remember it is all about Jesus Christ. Wow..Australia. It never ceases to amaze me how far we can reach with his medium.