Monthly Archives: October 2018

A Sense of Proportion

I find it interesting – and, given my personal belief in the completed work of Christ, somewhat frustrating – that many Christians believe that there are a whole lot of hoops that people need to jump through in order to be ‘saved’.

Jesus said in a few places (Mt 19:14; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:17) that the Gospel is far more easily accepted by ‘little children’, though, which suggests to me that actually the Gospel is very simple. And I also believe that not only is the Gospel simple, but also that religious people have added (and continue to add) layer upon layer of conditions and caveats to that simple Gospel, thus making it virtually unreachable.

Jesus had this to say about people in His day who did things like that:

“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)

This strongly suggests to me that in fact the imposing of religious burdens on people is a far cry from the freedom that Jesus actually came to bring us. In short, He came to bring us Rest:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

– Mt 11:28-30 (Message)

It’s also analogous to a military combat aircraft. Of itself, a modern jet fighter is fast, clean, manoeuvrable and sleek.

But once you start adding missiles, bombs, fuel tanks and other pods and stuff onto the underwing racks, the aeroplane rapidly becomes far heavier, more unwieldy and harder to fly, and its performance is reduced drastically. The aircraft becomes ‘dirty’, to use flying parlance, and it is no longer ‘clean’.

In short, the more you burden it, the harder it becomes to fly. And I do wonder if actually some Christians’ faith actually does ‘fly’ as it should do, to continue the analogy, so burdensome have all these various add-ons and requirements become.

And that’s not at all what Jesus came to give us!

 

In a previous post, I have examined the dire outlook which is the logical conclusion of taking literally the ideas of the ‘narrow way’ and the ‘wide way’, as put forward by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:23-24. Today, I thought I would try putting some numbers to this concept, and follow that with a little bit of logic (albeit fairly tongue-in-cheek!), to give us some idea of just how crazy this doctrine is, in the light of the fact that Jesus is usually claimed to be a ‘perfect Saviour’. Using this logic, Jesus actually ends up appearing to be nothing of the sort, as we shall see.

Right, let’s get started. There is, we are told, a wide way, and a narrow way (Mt 7:13-14). By definition, the narrow way is less travelled, because Jesus said that ‘few are those who find it’. We can therefore assume that the narrow way is not as broad as the wide way, and that less people travel the narrow way than they do the wide way. What sort of proportion are we talking about here? Well, most Evangelicals would use backward logic and say that since only about 1% of the worlds population have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, and said it ‘properly’ at that, then it’s about 1% on the narrow way, and the other 99% on the wide way. But I am going to be more generous than that today. I want to use the most generous figures I can get away with, and still show how ludicrous the numbers are even in spite of this.

It is estimated that roughly 33% of the world’s population is (nominally) Christian. [1] So I am going to use this figure – one third – at each stage in my argument, which as I said is generous, but hey. So, one third of the world’s population find the narrow path, which we assume is Christianity. Now, each Christian religious group will have their own ideas as to what additional doctrines are ‘essential’ to [what they would call] being a Christian, so let’s add some of these ideas in to the formula. A typical set of required Evangelical beliefs, and the numbers resulting from them, would go something like this:

Of that one third of the world who are nominally Christians, let’s assume that one third of those are in the ‘right’ denominational field. For Evangelicals, that is of course Protestantism as opposed to Roman Catholicism.

Of that number, one third will be in the right Protestant denomination (e.g. Baptist, Pentecostal or whatever) [2]

One third of these will claim that they are following the correct leader or be in the correct congregation.

One third of these will have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’

One third of those will not only have said it, but actually meant it/said it ‘properly’/said the ‘correct form’ of the prayer

Of those people, many people in that congregation are those that ‘God hates’ [3]; only one third are in his ‘good books’.

One third of those people in His good books will be actively keeping the correct laws/Rules as determined by that church; (some will not, and will be closet ‘sinners’ and therefore ‘lost’)

Of those keeping the Rules, only one third will ‘endure unto the End’ (Mt 24:13)

Of those that ‘endure unto the End’, only one third will have confessed every single sin before they die.

Of those few that confess Every. Single. Sin., only one third will have absolutely no fears or doubts when they cross over – these fears and doubts also being a ‘sin’ and therefore sufficient to ‘disqualify’ that person.

Of those that stand before Jesus and say ‘Lord, Lord, did we not [do lots of things for you]’ (Mt 7:22), to only one third will Jesus not say, “Away from Me; I never knew you!” (Mt 7:23) because they didn’t do those things from the correct motivation or whatever.

Only to those remaining after all these tests will Jesus say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into your inheritance’ (Mt 25:23).

And that’s not even including those who have/have not been baptised, those who believe/don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant/infallible Word of God, those who believe/don’t believe in Hell, those who believe/don’t believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true version, those who do or do not feed the hungry, visit those in prison and clothe the naked, those who hate gay people, those who don’t hate Donald Trump, those who vote differently from how God would vote, you get the picture. There are so, so many hoops that Evangelical churches would have you jump through that it’s nigh on impossible to pass all the tests.

Try calculating that even roughly [4] and even only including the factors I have [sort of] quantified above, and you end up with a vanishingly small fraction of people who will ‘qualify’ – because, let’s face it, every Christian has slightly different beliefs and will in no way believe in all of those things, plus the other random hoops that every different group invents for themselves. Therefore, for someone to qualify for Heaven by jumping through Every. Single. One. of those hoops is more or less impossible to attain. And that’s all presuming a Saviour who is apparently capable of ‘keeping [us] from falling’, although given that list of pitfalls that are all supposedly our fault, it doesn’t sound all that hopeful, now does it?

By the way, I should re-emphasise somewhat sarcastically at this point that this is all supposed to be “Good News”.

You’d never have guessed, would you?

Of course, I don’t believe any of this. I’m just emphasising how silly all these ‘requirements’ are. Of course Jesus is an effective Saviour – infinitely more effective, in fact, than these people give Him credit for!

In fact, Jesus is indeed the One Who is ‘…Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy!’ (Jude 24-25) It’s all based on what He has done, not on what we will do, believe, achieve or assent to. All these hoops to jump through? In reality, God doesn’t care about them because they don’t actually exist. Leave them behind, ignore them and take no notice of those who advocate them.

So, what shall we say then? I think we should reiterate the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28, which I will quote once again for your edification:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Mt 11:28 (Message)

Come to Jesus. That’s where the freedom lies. As I emphasise in many of my blog posts, the Christian life is not about rules and regulations, it’s about freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from care and worry, freedom from human regulations, freedom from the fear of man, judgement and God – freedom, freedom, freedom! If it’s not about freedom, it’s not the Gospel!

So, take heart! Jesus came to free us from the letter of the Law, and in fact nailed it to the Cross in Himself (Col 2:14). We are no longer bound by the Law; we are instead living under Grace (Rom 6:14). In fact, none of the ‘requirements’ listed above apply to any of us. What matters is not rules, requirements and regulations; what matters is the New Creation (Gal 6:15). If you are In Christ, you are a new creation, and there is no going back. If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:8; 2Tim 2:11) – and that death we died is a one-way deal!

Dead to sin, dead to Law (which is the power of sin) and alive to God in Christ Jesus!

Oh, glory!


[1] 2012 figures, from Wikipedia entry ‘List of Religious Populations

[2] Obviously ‘Our’ denomination is the right one to be ‘in’, and indeed the ‘only’ one to be in. Everyone else is ‘out’! Funny how these things work, isn’t it? 😉

[3] Mark Driscoll: “Some of you: God hates you!” – link to YouTube video

[4] To save you the effort, I have calculated this for you. The proportion of people who would make it to Heaven by fulfilling every one of these criteria simultaneously would be 0.000055% of all people, or one in approximately 1.8 million people. Calculating this even further, this means that of the worlds population of approximately 7.4 billion people, there would only be just over 4,000 people in Heaven. The rest, according to standard Evangelical doctrine, burn forever in the fires of Hell. No wonder I don’t believe in that concept!

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Itching Ears

Here’s a great piece by Lee O’Hare:


“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)

I get so tired of people using this scripture to supposedly confront and rebuke those of us who teach about the love of God and the Christ like nature of the Abba of Jesus as if we are simply making up doctrines to accommodate our wicked and rebellious desires and ungodly passions. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many of us have actually had to be convinced almost against our will and prior deep religious conditioning of the things we now believe and hold on to. Many of us have suffered the loss and ostracization of friends and family members and some have actually lost jobs and ministry positions, been branded as heretics and false teachers and deceivers because of what we now believe and teach.

So, why do we do this? Why do we allow ourselves to be so misunderstood and misrepresented and maligned by those with whom we once walked? It is because we have been convinced by a serious study of scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that we have been wrong about how we understood God and His character and nature and that He is in fact so much more loving, compassionate and merciful than anything we had previously been led to believe.

I would suggest that if anybody has “itching ears” it is those whose hearts have not yet been transformed by the love of Jesus and are still holding on to a pagan mythology of a wrathful and retributive God who will punish their enemies to satisfy their own punitive and vengeful nature and desires and NOT those of us who have repented of and renounced such unworthy and slanderous images we had previously projected upon God in our fallen desire to have a god who was just like us in our lust for vengeance and retribution.

Lee O’Hare, shared with his kind permission.

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Leadership in the Cage

The above picture depicts very nicely what I would like to see Religion become.

An empty cage.

You see, God loves it that people of faith have a hunger for Him, a seeking after meaning, and a desire to be near Him. He blesses their efforts with His Presence.

But Religion can also be a cage. A cage of seeking approval from God, humans, even ourselves, for what we do and what we are. And part of that approval relies on us not ‘rocking the boat’; not causing others to question their faith and so on. In some ways this is good, because not everyone wants to actually move on in their faith into deeper things. For them, the ‘security’ of ‘knowing’ what they want to know is what they want from their faith, and that’s fine.

But at the same time, for those who desire the freedom of the wide open spaces of God’s love (and that includes His full approval), there is the stultifying pressure to conform to others’ expectations. So many of Jesus’s parables and instructions, if you really look at them, were actually concerned with not being worried about what others think of us; but instead to seek God’s approval – or, more accurately, to rest in His already-existing approval of us.

And in the case of Church leadership, this is extremely important. If the Church really does need leaders (something I am not convinced of) then that leadership needs to be forward-looking, and leading their flock further into the things of God, not sitting with their wheels spinning in the mud. So here’s the brilliant Jeff Turner, addressing Church leadership in a simple yet profound piece:


If you’re a pastor, and people fear being hauled into your office for asking the wrong questions, reading the wrong books, or discussing the wrong ideas with the wrong people, I’m afraid you’re no longer operating as a pastor. Instead, you’ve taken on the role of elementary school principal, and have juvenilized those under your care in the process. You’re not there to squelch curiosity, or to tell people what they are to think. You should be the thought leader, and by that I mean the person pushing the boundaries, and calling people into the unknown!

Leaders aren’t leaders if they don’t ask “why?”, and they certainly can’t help people move beyond where they are if they don’t practice the art of questioning and wondering. Pastors: become curious about your faith, your God, and your place in this world again! Don’t leave people stuck in the tarpits of certainty, but help them move forward by becoming a student again!


Excellent.

I can so identify with this. You see, the way I see it is that if you have no questions, then by definition you think you have God all sorted out; all ‘taped’. There is nothing more to learn about God, which by definition means that we know nothing really about Him as He’s infinite; a never-ending fascinating Being Who’s full of surprises and amazing revelations. ‘Pressing in’ will be pointless because you’re not going to learn anything more about Him than your Bible, and your bosses, say you are allowed to.

I call that being in a cage.

Contrast that with the vast, open spaces and deep oceans of God’s freedom, with a never-ending voyage of discovery about His nature and His ways…and that voyage lasts forever…how is living in that former cage ever again going to feel like it’s where you belong?

My blog is about freedom. Use the search bar on my blog pages to find more about the freedom you have – as your birthright – as a believer and as a Child of God.

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