imagesCATWS6SQThe question is not what we can learn from the Church about the essential teachings of the Bible, but whether or not the Church understands anything about the Bible at all. The only option seems to be a Church of half-truths or one that has not a clue as to what Jesus was all about.

I first came to this realization in 1996. I was visiting my brother in a marina, who at the time lived there on a boat. After talking to him about my emerging faith, and speaking about it, unwittingly, by relaying the problems I was having reconciling in my mind what the Church was teaching from the pulpit and the prophetic priorities that I saw in the Bible, I said goodbye and started walking the dock back to my car. It was then that a wave of terror washed over me, such as has never happened since.

Billy Graham came to mind. For the first time I asked myself: does he sermonize on the fulfillments of the Messiah by Jesus, or on how our faith in him is launched and nurtured by the unfolding truth of Jesus in the Old Testament? Did he not preach to the masses that, if they knew they were “sinners,” which he did not define or did so only loosely, they could enter into the Body of Christ simply by asking Jesus to forgive them?

The terror of which I speak followed on this realization: the possibility that idea of Billy Graham as a symbol of not the righteous faith of the whole Church, regardless of denomination, but a corrupt one, might not be so far-fetched. Billy Graham has always been in my mind a kind of pure lens to a view of Christianity that, if lost, would become unredeemable. How could I think what my mind was trying to think?  Who, or what, could take his place?

Having come to consider that maybe I was wrong putting any man before the biblical claims or the moral bearing of the Church, it freed me to focus exclusively on what the Bible was saying, starting just with the possibility that the fallen condition of the Church could be so ridiculously understated or misapplied that perhaps the reality is that nothing Christianity does or believes bears any resemblance to the faith that Jesus established. Maybe, just maybe, there are very few places where one can go to hear the original gospel. That the whole notion of sin and carnality has been so radically and slickly redefined that no one even notices. That we hold these people like Graham, or the Pope, up because there is nothing left to hold up which is truly undefiled and of a demonstrably of transcendent origin.

That the degree to which faith resembles more the 1st century type the more compulsory is the vision of our world a picture, in my mind, of a few pilgrims walking through a burned out and gutted wasteland inhabited almost entirely by countless clueless souls.  Where the Spirit moves from one to another trying to break their self-absorption by just getting them to notice these little objects scattered around the landscape that are obviously remarkable, but with only a few who respond to his question “why do you doubt your senses?”  without something like Scrooge said to Marley’s ghost: “you may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Now, this suspicion, or almost doctrinal tenet, that the world is deluded and only myself and my group see things clearly, is certainly not new with me. A lot of people think Billy Graham is a heretic. Catholics think Protestants are lost and Protestants think Catholics are apostates. Agnostics think they have figured out how everyone gets obsessed with things impossible for them to know, and the Bill Maher’s think that most of the world is smoking a God bong.

Most people think that they are right and most others are wrong about something. Certainly those that take a stand on issues that are more complex, unsettled, and need more time, patience and brain power,  such as religion pro and con, where there are more opportunities for a wide range of opinions to form, people are more likely to fall into a belief group and belief minority against another belief group or the belief majority. Atheists think religious people are deluded. The religious think atheists are deluded.  Ford people think Chevrolet people are screwed, and vice-versa. The more you like Angel Food Cake the more you will tend to think those that hate it must have had some psychological defect. Surveys have shown, for example, that those a majority of those who don’t attend church believe that it is full of hypocrites, meaning that, of course, that they are not 1. And the more you have an opinion that is but rarely shared, the more likely you are to feel special, in on a big secret that others are not plugged into, and persecuted.

The difference between what I was experiencing, and what I now experience,  and that of merely being in a small group that holds something dear that others don’t and who are messed up and headed for destruction is the reason why I find myself in my tiny group. What made it so shocking to me was that I found among the relatively small group of the fundamentalists, not to mention the wider ecumenical expanse, to be on the one hand almost to a man ignorant of my charge, while it is a charge that is almost without argument the main one that was leveled by Jesus against the religious.

Yes, its terrifying to consider, especially for a new believer, as I was at the time. But its not something that we should think unlikely or strange, but almost compulsory considering what we know is the nature of man, of ourselves. Should it be a shock to discover that any internal investigation of an organization into its own wrongdoings, instead of an investigation by an outside, objective authority, would result in a report that everything that is wrong with it is due entirely to outside, uncontrolled influences? A Barna survey of U.S Church’s published this very thing:

Just 9% of clergy said they were completely satisfied with their ability to measure and assess the spiritual health of their congregation. Still, few pastors (8%) were expressly dissatisfied, leaving a majority of leaders moderately satisfied.2

This same survey shows, however, that at the very least, by the metric of its stated priorities, Church leadership is causing the destruction that they decry and then put on others. Pastor’s favor the “practice of spiritual disciplines” (19%) and Church activities (15%) far above that of Biblical knowledge (9%) as an indicator of spiritual maturity. Even the Barna pollsters cannot seem to make a meaningful distinction between “Biblical knowledge” and any particular scriptural taxonomy in their survey.

But, secondly, humanity loves to regard,  take on, apply to themselves and extol their virtues that they steal from real virtue and twist into their service. Think of the communist elites that stole “justice,” “fairness,” and “equality,” and even the idea of shared property from the book of Acts, and used it to butcher 100 million people and enslave countless others.

Think of television, that was initially sold as the greatest tool of all time for teaching the knowledge of the ages, turned into Jersey Shore and Spongebob Squarepants. Think of the Nazi’s, who took “loyalty,” “patriotism,” and “purity” and set the world on fire. Think of our Christianity. No, I am not gong to say they started a lot of wars and all that nonsense.

I mean the Christianity that took “Jesus” and the Word of God” and its antitheses and made them into the spiritual and indiscriminate WMD of “morality,” “love,” “spirituality,” “law,” “sin,” “doctrine,” “Bible,” and so on. I know, its not at first easy to equate Hitler’s and Stalin’s dead with the Church and “love.”  “And for goodness sake,” you say,  “is not love something the world, and particularly the Church, needs more of?” Its not easy, by design (Mat 13:13), but its compulsory.

Of course, but a “love” which is so broadly conceived and represents an affection for nothing that has shown itself to be of transcendent origin is a vicious, capricious and deadly love indeed. It can morph into anything, with a guarantee that it will. Hitler and Stalin is about taking a loosely defined “virtue” and turning it into a physical holocaust because that virtue is so generally defined that we can call love and justice anything we want, like sending to a gulag someone for openly doubting the Revolution.  The other version of destruction is about the taking of virtue and turning it into a holocaust on  ultimate meaning, the result of which is a spiritual and unseen destruction, and far, far worse.

Take, for example, our use the idea of Law and Commandment. We use one like we use the other: they both refer to, of course, the Decalogue. They are what God told us to do. True enough, but what God told us to do in the Old Testament is not, in New Testament language, what God told us to do ultimately. Its not the end of the moral requirement, and if it was then there would be no need for the Messiah to come.

The usual way I have done this is to go over, as I have already done so many times, the essential nature of the Law of the OT, and why it was implemented. Then, knowing God’s plan, its easy to see why he asked for a different one, but one closely related but more invasive. This time, lets go directly to the NT writers and see how they spoke of the Law vs. the New Covenant faith, particularly in their use of the world “commandment.” Is the NT commandment ultimately the OT Law, or is it something else?

This casual and brief study is on the word εντολη, (entolay) because it is used most closely with the conception of the Law in our common discourse. Others, translated “command” and “commandment” in the KJV are such as επω, προστασσω, παραγελλω, διατασσω, κελευω, εντελλομαι, but these do not have the same sharp denotation.

 Matthew 5:19 (KJV) Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

A few things about this first mention of the word.

    • Those in the Kingdom of Heaven include those who break the “commandments.” We need no scripture to prove this. We are all sinners.  But these Law breakers  obviously exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees (Mat 5:20). What are these commandments that the Pharisees break and teach others to break the commandments that those that are forgiven for breaking and teach others to obey? .
    • In Jam 2:10, Gal 3:10, what is obviously being talked about is a different kind of Law, not the one in which the  breaking of one point makes one guilty of all.
    • The comparison is made between the believer’s obedience, or fulfillment, of the “commandments” (“whoever shall do and teach them”), to Jesus’ fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets in Mat 5:17,18, 19.
    • Here in Matthew, all of the following “commandments” are a little different than “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not bear false witness.” They all stress a quiet attitude, motivation, faith, self reflection, internal, particular beliefs about Jesus, spiritual motivations and attitudes, the effect on others.
    • “That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” “Rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee.” God has something against man, but forgives him and sent them his Son [the prophets are fulfilled]. Man, in response, should also forgive his brother (fellow believer).
    • “Agree with thine adversary quickly.” Don’t get into an argument over petty points of the Law when the issue of Jesus’ revelation in the OT is most important. If you do you you will unnecessarily incite your opponent to anger and bring yourself to judgment over it.
    • “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust [the lust of religious carnality] after her [its illegal object] hath committed adultery [against God] with her already in his heart [that is supposed to believe the prophets oracles of Jesus as their only spiritual spouse].
    • “If thy right hand [used to teach the oracles of Christ] offend thee [is not competent, and causes religious errors to be taught], cut it off [cease your religious activity in this area, Repent.], and cast it from thee [with the intention of never doing it again]”
    • That whosoever shall put away his wife [spiritual spouse, Israel], saving for the cause of fornication [breaking prophetic covenant], causeth her to commit adultery [since she is still in this professed covenant, making her at least a titular denier of Messiah Jesus]. This would be a bad symbol of God’s covenant with the Jews, which God promises never to break. It is also a very Pharisee thing, since their constant denial of Jesus as the Messiah is the denial of their betrothed spiritual spouse, making Jesus out to be, falsely,  a false prophet, but themselves adulterers.
    • “Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:” Don’t prophesy about things that are already decreed by God and set as unchangeable, or things that you have no control over. If you do so, you do it only on guarantee of your own witness of character. That way, when you cant keep your oath, you don’t make God out to be a liar. Its a prophetic thing, again.
    • “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” This is “longsuffering.” See Ex 34:6; Nu 14:18; Ps 78:38; 86:15;9).
    • “Do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.” The truth, the prophetic scriptures of Jesus from the OT, is humble, unassuming, and speaks to the heart, not primarily the physical senses or, more importantly, the carnal religious sensibilities.
    • “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Pray for “thy Kingdom Come,” “daily bread,” “forgive us as we forgive them,” “deliver us from temptation.” This prophetic formula is a secret that is fulfilled openly by Jesus. So should our expression of faith in it. Prayers are for prophetic insight, truth, and the strength to show the world our prophetic faith.
    • Matthew 6:17:  “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” Same thing.
    • “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Its not money, or a reputation, its the  treasure of wisdom of Jesus from the OT, which is a testimony to your faith, and the cause of praise from God for a job well done.
    • “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Your clothing is Jesus, Messiah, or, his truth from the OT scriptures (Gen 3;21), and the truth of his fulfillments.
    • “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” The “Kingdom of God” is a prophetic, and prophesied Kingdom. If you seek it you also seek the prophetic oracles and prophetic types, particularly  of Jesus.
    • Remove the obstruction in your own eye the prevents you from seeing the truth instead of worrying about another’s.
    • Don’t preach to those who will not hear.
    • “Ask,: “seek,” “knock” for the truth. He will receive truth , bread, not scorpions. Truth is the good gift from Heaven. But this is the way to successfully walk what is only a narrow path to the Kingdom, that few find. Whoever does these things will build their house on the Rock (Jesus/prophetic Word of Jesus).

Get the idea?

This is what happens to a Law of stricture, a kind of spiritual training wheels for children who have very little self-control of their consciences,  that need structure to keep them safe and prepared for an adulthood in which they rely upon their own, but derived, moral senses. The essential difference between the one Law and the other is not in what one does, but why.

So, since here in the New Law, why, we ask, is one expected by Jesus to do these things (which are primarily a spiritual doing, not a physical doing)? As for my annotations of the verses above as having this messianically prophetic emphasis, the “why” people are asked by Jesus to do these things are of only a few possible things after we are willing to just ask this question, which none or few dare. His miracles? An authoritative bearing? Our “feelings? Or, could it be his fulfillment of the Prophets?

Of course, if any one reason and one alone will stand as a reason to believe in Jesus, it is impossible not to choose the last one: the prophets that spoke of him. If the miracles are genuine, Jesus was the messiah unless those miracles were prophesied as a messianic credential, and we therefore go back again to the OT as the source. All of the others, if not informed by the OT, from where are they? Not from the Bible.

We tolerate the idea of a faith in Jesus that is inconsiderate, ignorant, and not exclusively motivated by the OT unless we wish to define a saving faith that is essentially antagonistic to the messianic mantle that Jesus’ died to fulfill and for which he is a personification. This would be a faith in appearances and carnal sensibilities, a very primitive, pagan, un-salvific faith, not the one Jesus is talking about here. Like Billy Graham’s.

Consider that these people are “poor in spirit, they “mourn,” are “meek,” “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” are “merciful,” “pure in heart,” “peacemakers,” “persecuted.” He says that   “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” These people are in emulation of the prophets. Is there doubt that they would be motivated to follow these commandments by the same thing for which the prophets were motivated?

To be continued…

  1. http://www.religionnewsblog.com/20397/survey  (back)
  2. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/264-many-churchgoers-and-faith-leaders-struggle-to-define-spiritual-maturity#.U7xnnZVOWUl  (back)
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