A Radical Faith
I went to a church last sunday that I hadn't attended in a while. I won't say which one, but I knew and was known by quite a number of people there. It was really a nice friendly atmosphere. I picked up the bulletin and noticed all kinds of programs they had coming up, the activities of all the different "ministries". Most of them were either some kind of study or a recreational activity, ISRAEL TOUR, VBS, rip roaring fun, ski trip. My wife even picked up a "Position Paper by the Elders" on Caring Enough to Correct, a full-blown study of Correction, Discipline, Reconciliation and Restoration in the Local Church. It took an eisogesic approach but it didn't really say much anyway. Yep, this was the same church where the pastor resigned because the elders had a desire for a different "mode of operating", and nothing else. BUT that was in the past.
It was really neat seeing all the people I knew. They wondered what I did, where I was working, etcetera. It felt good, but when I thought about it, it could have been the same way at a Fraternal Order of Eagles meetings. I'd get the same friendly greetings. There was nothing wrong with that but there wasn't anything different there that made it a church. It was just an establishment, much like the synagogues of Jesus' time. Unfortunately, it's just as easy to be sucked into such a cozy environment as it is to find fraternal friendship at the F.O.E., or for a alcoholic to find comfort at the local bar. So, you just blend in.
Though this is a RADICAL faith column, what I try to convey is not that we should be radical in our beliefs or actions, but that the Christian faith, is by nature a faith that is life-changing, impacting and spiritually revolutionary. Yes, I said revolutionary. Just as Jesus lead a revolt of sorts against the religious establishment of His day, believers should be willing to take part in a similar revolt against the hypocrisy, deadness, and deception of our own religious establishment. But, remember, this is a spiritual revolution, just as Jesus' revolution was a spiritual one. It's not a physical, militant, or hostile takeover one. Though there are some doctrinal concerns, it wasn't primarily a doctrinal battle, either. Jesus was leading the revolution that could transform a person out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light. He called it the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God and described it as being within.
Do you know WHY they crucified Jesus? I mean, what was he convicted of, to make him a criminal worthy of crucifixion. It's pretty easy to look up, at the end of each of the gospels, but the short answer is nothing. Herod and Pilate both found him innocent of any charges. He was crucified because the people stirred up by the Pharisees, were demanding it. It sounds crazy to us that someone could be killed because of the persistant demands of a group of people who were ignoring all logic, but that is exactly what happened. Jesus, who loved, served, healed and taught, was crucified solely because he was hated, primarily by the religious leaders of his day, the kingdom of darkness.
Now, to try to tie all this together, lets look at a promise that Jesus gave to his disciples. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; " John 15:18-20a
Being a Christian, inherently, involves activities that we will be persecuted for. Of course, just being persecuted doesn't mean we're Christian, but persecution is inherent. Whether it be sharing the gospel with someone, demonstrating the error of something, or outright exposing the deception of an individual or organization, any activity that could be used to transform someone out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light is a threat to this world. Jesus' exposure (and seeming humiliation) of the Pharisees was what lead the Pharisees to plot and eventually kill Jesus. He was a threat to their world, their kingdom.
Jesus' exposure of the Pharisees was something that was repeated throughout each of the gospels. Jesus' warnings about the Pharisees, and rebuke of the Pharisees, weren't do predominantly included by chance. Jesus could've pointed to the sinners and their deeds, carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, injustice, and such and warned of this kingdom of darkness. Occasionally he does mention sin in that context, and many of the letters of the New Testament point out these things as works of darkness. But, Jesus was probably so insistant upon exposing the Pharisees because they were in the deepest darkness of all.
The Pharisees self-righteousness was so protected by their outward appearances, that they couldn't see their own heart. A prostitute knows her sinfulness. Deny it, maybe, but it's plain. The Pharisee's heart was so darkened that it needed some extra illumination, that Jesus provided. A few were later converted, but most just turned off the light, and ignored what they couldn't deny.
The term Pharisee was really used to describe a sect of the Jewish faith, and in its basic beliefs, they were the same beliefs as Jesus and Paul had. They believed in a coming Messiah, and a resurrection. In most things they were doctrinally right on target. Practically, though, their religious system had developed into such a deceptive piece of machinery that in the middle of orthodoxy, there was corruption of a different sort. The Pharisees often allied with others in business dealings where they had something to gain. They phrased their deceptive promises (swearing by the temple) in such a way as to appear truthful beyond any doubt, while thinking they could hold themselves blameless.
What really made them so Pharisaic, or hypocrital was their dependence upon what they looked like. And what made them so dependent upon appearance was the fact that they didn't have faith, they depended upon their own actions. That's the radical that set Christ's believers, and the righteous people before Christ, apart from the religious establishment. And that message is what the gospel is all about, true faith in God, through Jesus.
The same is true today. Many of the evangelical churches and organization are doctrinally right on target. Practically, though, their religious system has developed into such a monstrous and deceptive piece of machinery that in the middle of orthodoxy, there was corruption of a different sort. Instead of money-changing, there are organizational structures that capitalize on the needs for more churches, ministerial training, missionary trips, not to mention Christian authors pouring out books on any subject that you can put a religious slant on.
Most believers would be familiar with the Faith Chapter in the Bible, but I'll mention it briefly. Hebrews 11 describes several people and their life of faith, and what they did as a result of their faith. In Hebrews, as well as elsewhere, people are described as righteous, based on their faith. In a finishing look at people of faith, the author of Hebrews described those who "quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." as well as those who "were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated - of whom the world was not worthy." The person with faith could either conquer or suffer.
When Peter wrote about believers in a Gentile world, he brought out two surprises. When he instructs them to "live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.", and then tells them "They are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy, and they abuse you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." People in darkness just don't understand what it means to be in God's kingdom. It's a shock. It doesn't make sense to them, and it's a threat to them.
Though our lives of faith may be a surprise to them, Peter also reminds us NOT to be surprised at being persecution. Echoing Jesus' words that 'if they persecute Me, they will persecute you,' Peter says, "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But, rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings." I Peter 4:12,13.
Just as in Jesus' case with the crucifixion, sometimes we may be facing accusations and sentences that just don't make sense, and have no basis in fact. They crucified Jesus for nothing but because of their own hate. Their persecution of you may be the same way. Don't be surprised, that's the nature of the kingdom of darkness. The nature of our kingdom demands a faith that endures and overcomes such persecution. But, also, don't be surprised when this very persecution opens doors to spread the gospel. "[they will] persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. " Luke 21:12,13
A Radical Faith. Teaching. Revolution. Persecution. The kingdom of heaven. It all ties in together. These are some of the things that make up a Christian mind-set. You can go this road or you could decide on a mind-set that rejects anything that isn't proper religious etiquette and one that concerns itself with the socially acceptable religious establishment and all its activities. The second one is certainly easier, cozier.