Monday, February 22, 2010

Badges? We Don't Need no Stinking Badges!

What is wrong with Christianity? Well for starters, it has relatively little to do with Jesus Christ. Oddly, Reformed Judaism seems closer to Jesus' teachings than much of what we call "Christianity."

What follows is my arcane religious argument that Jesus called men to reject Law and choose Life. It is written by a bible-head, for bible-heads. But if you are a spiritual seeker, a secular doubter, or a religious head-scratcher, hang in here. If you can be flexible with the strange vocabulary, you just might enjoy the discussion.

This is my thesis, and here I shall nail it to the door of the Wittenblog Cathedral:

I will write the things below because I know they are our common ground. Where we disagree is on our conclusions. Please read closely and with a bible open. The Law is not for sons of God, period. That’s my conclusion.

“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Therefore the Law was made a tutor unto Christ, so that by faith we become righteous. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under tutelage. You are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, of course, "The Law" still exists, and it is holy. And it stands in the midst of this garden of human experience just like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil stood beside the Tree of Life. From one we receive the free gift of Life from our Maker and Savior, but from the other we receive Death slow and certain. For we are commanded, “Thou shalt not eat from it, lest ye die.”

In exactly this way, the Law IS holy, but to live by it is sin. Thus it “produces death in me through what is good.” [Ro 7:13] To live by the Law, even partially, is to reject Grace. Notice that Adam did not curse the Tree of Life, nor chop it down, nor burn it up. All he did was eat from it. He just ate a little, and apparently he swallowed the seeds. One brush with the Law was all it took to bring utter condemnation to Adam and to all his descendants for all time. But, thanks to God, “the gift is not like the trespass, but through a single act of righteousness it brings life for all men.” [Ro 4]. St. Paul warned us explicitly not to let Grace and Law coexist in out lives. Rather he likens the Law to a mocking house slave: “Cast out the bondwoman and her son”! [Gal 4:30]

Let me anticipate the next objection. The conventional view of this matter says that this passage in Galatians is speaking of the “Jewish Law & Religion” in particular, and specifically circumcision as a qualification for salvation. Granted, Paul does address this as the topic of concern in Galatia. However, to limit his broad characterizations of Law in this way is just absolutely wrong.

In fact, Paul parallels the Law (taking circumcision, in this case) precisely with the paganism the Galatians (who were Gallic, not Jewish) had turned from when they heard the Gospel. “When you did not know God, you were slaves to things that are no gods. But now that you know God--rather, are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wished to be enslaved to them all over again?” [Gal 4:8-9.] It is untenable to say that Paul limited his concept of “the Law” to Jewish ceremonial ordinance, or circumcision. We will do well to remember that this is the same St Paul who had his companion be circumcised before entering the Jewish temple.

We could make this entire “Galatians” argument from Romans 1-8, or from the Sermon on the Mount, or from Mark 2, or from 2 Corinthians 3, or from Colossians 2. There is no subject with so much ink devoted to it as this matter of ditching the law and walking in the Spirit, by faith. It is utterly false when we say that we are saved by Jesus, but live by the law; that we are saved by grace but live under law, or that we walk by the spirit within the boundaries of Law.

How can we blur these things together when the bible contrasts them so violently? Yet we blur the curse that binds us until it's indistinguishable from the grace that frees us, as though it were just two different ways of saying the same thing. It is not.

Finally there is a gross misconception that somehow the Law helps you live a life pleasing to God, and that to throw off its restraint is to succumb to evil. But the scripture clearly says that "the Law was given that sin might increase", and that it "produces all kinds of evil desires" within. Living by Law does not help you walk straight, it guarantees failure.

I am astonished at how Christians cling misty-eyed to Law, despite and against all the stark biblical admonitions. Yet in the mainstream, “being a Christian" demands men be devoted to the very curse from which Jesus died to redeem us [Gal 3:13].

We are not under the Law, we are under grace! We do not live by the Law, we live by the Spirit! We do not follow the Law, we are led by the Spirit.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Power of What You Buy

How do we promote justice and the love of Christ with our spending power? We say that we want to bring "heaven to earth" with the peace and equality that Jesus brings, but how can we even do that in our daily lives here in suburban U.S. of A?

Is it a matter of trying to live more simply? Is it a matter of taking a bit more time to think about what we are buying? My friend Alice lives in Boston, and she has been giving it some thought:
    Tim & I are thinking through some radical lifestyle changes. I will do my best to share our developing thoughts/changes as they unfold.

    we are beating our swords into plowshares. today we simplified to be a one laptop family & we used some of the money from the sale of my old laptop to buy socks (hundreds of pairs) for various agencies serving homeless youth around the country. [** FYI, you can get some great wholesale deals on Ebay. We got socks for about $0.70/pair!]

    we are starting to write down everything we buy & investigate where it comes from. we currently don't make many frivolous purchases, but even so, we are slowing down and thinking about what we are buying. some purchases are obviously better than others, such as fair trade coffee or cage-free eggs or local'ish milk... but what about dog food? guitar strings? computer parts? how do we promote justice with our spending power? where do all our "essential" things come from? how can our daily purchases further a just global economy and let us buy with a clean conscious? every dollar we spend supports someone, somewhere. What are our purchases supporting? Justice? Equality? Fairness? Peace? Or is it creating a bigger divide between rich and poor?

    of course, how does spending more $ for such items balance with living simply and sharing lives with our less-resourced friends, some of whom are homeless?

    we have ruled out selling our house in favor of living in a bus or a tent, because we are confident God has called us to a life of hospitality (which involves having a home).

    we have also decided the dogs are currently essential. :)

    It must be noted: without love, a passion for justice can fashion a demagogue and a brute. 'Love takes no pleasure in other's sins, but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure what comes.' 1 Corinthians 13:6.

Alice and her husband are still in the process of figuring out practical, everyday ways to live out Jesus' radical message. In the past couple of years, I've often felt that we are completely removed from the origins of the goods that we buy -- our food, our drink, our DVDs, everything. And I have a desire to instill in my children a knowledge and understanding of love and justice, and how it relates to the things that we buy (and how those items are created).

So what do you think, kindly blog-readers? A great idea? Too much work? Off the mark? Let us (and Alice) know your thoughts.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

People of the Wind: Parable of the Kite

Years ago as a minister, I used the "parable of the kite" to preach that boundaries and rules may seem to imprison you, but in fact they set you free. I likened this to a kite: without a string to restrain it, it cannot fly. What a great proposition: Prohibition = Freedom! My parable captured a certain undeniable truth, and it became a signature theme in my ministry. It makes great preaching because people who like sermons also happen to like rules, even the rules they like to break.

Too bad, my parable was basically wrong.

Like my convenient parable, most of the teachings of the devout church follow this basic assumption. The vast majority of teaching follows the pattern: If you live according to the rules, you'll be okay. But I have come to believe that this paradigm, and even my beautiful kite metaphor, is actually contrary to Christ. In fact, while it perfectly captures the essence of Law-Religion, it is the antithesis of the life of the spirit, which is the heart of the Christian message. It is not a false religion exactly, but it is positively not the faith of Jesus and the apostles.

No wonder St Paul calls this arrangement "the Law of sin and death." Not only so, he also says that the rules by which we strive to live actually make matters worse because our sinful nature, "taking opportunity by the commandment, produces [in us] all manner of evil desire. Apart from the law sin was dead." [Ro 7:8]. And he urges us "Now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."

In other words, my parable of the kite is perfect...for those living under the law of sin and death. But for those freed by the blood of Jesus, it is a return to the Law. And agains St Paul is witheringly clear, "you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" [Gal 5:4]. But, thank God, "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." [Gal 5:18]