Monday, July 28, 2014

Life's (not so) Little Lessons, #1: Church Myths

I was reminded this weekend, perhaps more personally and profoundly, that many people still equate man's religion with Christianity, and that's very sad. It means the devil is winning this spiritual battle on Earth by distorting and diluting God's truth found in scripture.

What is popular about Christianity as portrayed in media, Christian worldview, the 'Prosperity Gospel', and even church history, such as The Crusades, screams so loudly that it is assumed to be an accurate representation, at least to some degree, and is therefore held tightly by those who believe it, or a joke to those who question it.

Not only that, but whatever people have come to believe, through these channels plus whatever religion they grew up with or whatever inspired them (be it music, an emotional experience, a physical miracle, creation appreciation, academics, literature, etc.), is deeply ingrained in their hearts; they truly believe these things to be absolutely correct and provide ultimate meaning. Even if they admit to only having a partial picture, they will often either defend their personal beliefs fiercely (sometimes without realizing that's what they are doing), or they will refuse to discuss another opinion.

Once in a while, someone will be open to discussing scripture. When that happens, I love it. I love them! I'm motivated by love, and grateful for the opportunity, to share with all gentleness the reason for the hope that is in me. "And they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free."

Here are some common myths that need to be dispelled by scripture:

1. The Church is just an extension of Israel.
Actually, the Church, which is also called the body of Christ, is so different that the Ten Commandments given to Israel are considered "the ministry of death" compared to "the ministry of the Spirit".

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:7-11)

2. It's all about salvation and/or behavior modification.
Rather, salvation is the entry way to a higher calling, and behavior modification is the result, not the cause, of understanding spiritual truth. Interestingly, behavior modification is not required for salvation.

It is by grace people are saved, and that is a gift of God, not of any action on the person's part. Simply believe, yes, but make sure you know what you're believing in.

3. Do as you're told and don't ask questions.
This is bad, and can be an indication of a cult. When a human leader claims such authority as to be obeyed blindly, or such respect as to be unquestionable, there's a problem.

Scripture, on the other hand, is open to inspection and can gently answer your skeptical questions quite well. Bring them on! But also bring a teachable attitude, one of humility, not of arrogance. Even the best college professor can teach a student who is convinced they already know it all.

God rewards those who diligently seek Him when His Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. Diligently seeking Him inevitably means asking questions. The object is not just to 'do or die', but to increase the quality of the questions and to keep searching until you really understand the answers.

...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Act s17:11)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:16)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

4. Christianity is just another religious set of beliefs and rituals.
Fortunately, not at all. A person becomes a "new creation" in Christ when they are born again, born of the Spirit. It is at this point they can grow spiritually.

Beliefs without spiritual rebirth are simply guidelines and principles and, yes, they can look like other religions, or deemed shallow by atheists. Spiritual truths cannot be understood by someone who is not spiritual.

In our natural states, before being born again, we can only begin to see that there are spiritual truths to learn. That is why Jesus spoke in parables; He could speak to both natural man and spiritual man at the same time, yet each would hear what could benefit them, if they believed it.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:16-17)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

5. It's basically the same as all other religions, "Do unto others..." and other rules or principles of morality.
Not at all! A deeper study of scripture soon reveals that the Church is a very special and unique plan of the God the Father, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells a Christian, and attainable through Jesus Christ. 

The Christian life is all about growing into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. These rules and principles will be useful to us as we fight this spiritual battle for truth. But, to understand the Father's plan is to understand the manifold wisdom of God, if we turn in faith toward Him. The Father's plan itself is so much more, exceedingly abundantly more, than just performing 'random acts of kindness'. 

Rather, let's seek to improve our relationship with God once we know what the Father's plan is. It's along that path we'll begin to discover immeasurable riches of His grace, unsearchable treasures hidden in Christ, etc.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)

6. Yeah, but the Pastor/Minister/Reverend/Priest/Leader said...
Ultimately, we are responsible for listening to God through His word (scripture). The leader may be trying his best to interpret and teach God's truth, but we cannot answer to God with, "But the guy/gal with the mic at the front of the church building said..." Instead, we should search the scriptures to see if what they are saying is true.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

If you have any questions about the above, please contact me or leave a comment. 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thank you!