Sermon Title: What Should We Emphasize In Order to Promote True Christianity in This Country?
I “preached” Sunday. (Some say what I do is not really “preaching”, but that’s another question.) We began with these two lists of questions, and me asking what differences they could detect between the lists as I read them. The congregation had them on a handout so they could follow along.
Here’s list #1 – Eight questions to solve (or create?) the “9% problem.” These are questions that George Barna (the pollster) used so he could discover how many church attenders actually have a truly Biblical worldview. He concluded that only 9% of professing American Christians do.
1. Do absolute moral truths exist?
2. Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
3. Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
4. Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
5. Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
6. Is Satan real?
7. Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
8. Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?
Here’s list #2: – more questions, also difficult, but from the New Testament – from Jesus and the Apostles. The above list piqued my curiosity – I wondered what questions Jesus would be asking if he were circulating among the churches today. (“If he were”??!!) So I went browsing in my Bible. Here are some questions I found in the New Testament.
1. Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? (Lk 6:46)
2. What shall I do, Lord? (Acts 22:10)
3. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (I Jn 3:17)
4. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mt 16:2)
5. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (Jn 5:44)
6. If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? (Lk 6:33)
7. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Lk 6:41)
8. Who is wise and understanding among you? (Jas 3:13)
9. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? (James 2:5)
10. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (Gal 3:2)
What differences do you detect between these two lists? We’re not being fussy here – just want some feedback / observations. (I learn a lot that way!) I’ll comment further in a couple of days or so, and will include 2 or 3 of the responses we got to that query on Sunday morning.
Thank you, Rob, and especially thank you for your length; (makes me feel a little less lonesome;-)). I have considered to stay silent to avoid sounding immature. For by comparison with your report, you will feel, see ro guess the way I deal with the same problems is very much academical, essentially not (yet) exposed to the rough winds of testing these, my faiths down in the deepest, the soberest sphere of reality. But after these explanations, I hope, I may dare to contribute what I think. After all, look back at Thanksgiving day’s blog entry (Being Thankful Requires a Little Thought): Thinking is not all, but without the realm of thoughts productively in action, there would not be much thanking too.
So let me state, in my eyes …
First are the questions an affirmative answer to which other people should be induced to abstract from the whole of witness to the Gospel which their live surroudings has to offer, i.e. including from our (Christian) lives.
Second are the questions our (Christian) lives must face once we realize we can’t persuade ourselves of the insights listed in the first set of â€œtruthsâ€? (cf. remark below) without at the same time persuading others that our lives (still essentially, but hopefully decreasingly) belie them.
To give a catchy formula, perhaps a little dashing, but sincere: First are the questions of the curious, second of the â€œcure-ye-usâ€? type of Christian.
(The first type dreams of taking a glance into Godâ€™s book of life (Rev. 20:12) and in default of access concocts a scheme of detecting evidence in this aeon. So they find – and banalize! – every one of the tears-stained teachings that â€œcure-ye-usâ€? Christians learn by seeing their live efforts fall short of that holiness which prompts question 5, first list. I wonâ€™t condemn by these remarks those who heartily accept questions type I â€“ and genuinely strive to expand recognition of those teachings with their personal relatives or acquaintances, within their congregations or, in way of a true, helpful â€œsalt ministryâ€? on a public level. But to broadcast such a list and publish it as a watershed between true and false means to create the rift that the juxtaposition of question 5 on the one and 7 and 1f on the other hand is (later) meant to heal: the eternal question of the relation of faith and obedience, which is insoluble in terms of mere thinking.)
Remark to question one: I object to any use of “truth” in the plural (“thruths” is colloquial for aspects of truth, true sides, streaks of reality or maybe “super-reality”, insights, circumstances, facts etc.). So, I am not sure, on a spontaneous level of judgment, whether question 1 is at all more true than it is wrong. I take it as a rendering of the (true) conviction that tolerance is one (major) form and outlet of love and forbearance, but not love the fruit of an essentially tolerant spirit. You may express the same truth thus:
Lifestyle is serviceable to truth, the one and only absolute of morals, not vice versa: Truth may never be conceived dependent on the empiricism of (your or my or anybody elseâ€™s) lifestyle. (for the sole exception, see question 3, first list)
Nails. That’s funny. After i got up from the keys i thought some more (of course) and wondered if what i’m talking about hasn’t become my hammer for all those nails i now see. Hmm. At any rate– thanks, and you’re welcome.
That last paragraph just absolutely nails it down, Rob. Thanks for the effort.
Man, you asked for it.
In the fall of 1997 i got into an argument with my grandfather’s wife. Her ex-husband, by her account, was cruel and intolerable. Her son, on the other hand, was kind-hearted and likable. Sadly, the young man couldn’t conquer some problems that landed on him, and he ended up committing suicide.
The dispute was about who was in more trouble. I was standing on two hard-and-fast rules of my religion: if you believe in Jesus, you’re on your way, no matter what, and if you kill yourself, you’re dead– no matter what. When i asked, she revealed that her ex-husband did in fact attend church, and was a believer, as was her son… So i announced that because her evil husband knew Jesus, he was forgiven– but because her son killed himself, he wasn’t. That upset her a lot.
i was 18. Some weeks later, i threw away the first chance i had at getting a degree by dropping out of the tech college where my grandfather had paid out of his pocket to send me. i moved back to Ohio, picked up where i left off with my friends, and within a month got arrested for breaking and entering. That’s who knew that believing Jesus rose again was the last step in securing eternal life. i believed in God, moral truth, Satan, creation, the usual. Much good it did.
Now i’m on the opposite side of that argument. How ironic. A man who mistreats his family has 2 choices, repentance or justice. Forgiveness is great but not in the 0% APR Bank of Jesus’ Blood no-spending-limit infinite-cash-advance credit sense. Jesus said that unless a man is born again, they can’t enter the kingdom. Well, that’s what had never happened. Because it did, i understand mercy… the kind of mercy i expect my God to extend toward her son. i never should have gotten a clue.
The questions asked by George Barna should have included the one question that i didn’t ask myself: If all of the above are true, do the implications of those beliefs influence every aspect of my human existence? For me, it was obviously no– but i might have argued in my ignorance that it did. i was still dead.
Those 8 questions are easy. Swearing to the right answers is all it takes to enter the Jesus club, and once you’re in, you can rest assured. But the 9% who answered correctly aren’t the 9% who know Jesus and are known by Him.
When i got that clue, one of the freshest insights was this: If the majority of church people are satisfied that belief is the first and last phase of salvation, then 85% (a number i grabbed out of the air) of Christians aren’t. That was because i knew people who in my past had made it a point to adjust their lives to some standard, even though so many people were examples of Christianity as mere recital. i was going by how often i could remember being exposed to the idea that being born again means that God actually changes you. In my memory, the difference between the church-types and the rest of the world was too small.
So how many of the 9% who “answered correctly” are actually alive in Christ? 9%? That would be 0.81% of everyone, but it doesn’t reveal that some people who aren’t taught the precise wording are still believing in and living for God– even the atheists referred to by Dyson. What the line of questions doesn’t reveal, one might accuse it of hiding.
But the standard… some church types are even worse, as revealed by the 10 questions. While the recital is perfect, the implications and their actions are mutated into something hateful and quite unlike Christ. It’s no coincidence… in order to release oneself from the implications of the really hard questions, one would limit the importance to those easy questions. It’s easy for me to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. i can’t prove or disprove it, but it’s profound enough to be acceptable. It’s not easy to love someone, including everyone who isn’t lovable, but Jesus does and expects us to.
Paul said in Galatians 1;8, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” A gospel that doesn’t both require and promise personal change into Christ’s pattern is a different gospel. A God who only requires one to say that He is, and not seek His will, is an idol created for personal comfort.
Then this oversimplified salvation allows for a double standard exemplified by a false Jesus. They didn’t mention that His sinless life included– even was preceded by– sinless thoughts! “God expects you to stop doing this and this and this, but He doesn’t expect anything more from me– I don’t have that problem and I already got it together.” How easy! But also, “I can stop _______ because it’s WRONG in GOD’s eyes and therefore in mine… and if you don’t stop, GOD and I have no obligation to you.” Love is not entirely necessary in this false God’s eyes. And i don’t want to hear about tough love, because that’s definitely not how i feel about an unbeliever. “Freely you have received, freely give.” Should that exclude mercy?
The first line of questioning is inadequate. It doesn’t prevent the devil from offering (or us from inserting) a thousand provisions for the flesh. It doesn’t teach one about love and forgiveness and mercy and equality. The second line of questions puts the first under “given/assumed” and then demands everything, like the First Commandment. The first might show the difference between a believer and an unbeliever, but the second reveals the difference between a hearer and a doer of the Word. The first allows for my old self to go on uninhibited, a holier-than-thou… and the second pronounces, enables, and orders the opposite.