Monday, August 25, 2008

God is Hard to Love

So I'm reading about church history and various Hellenistic philosophies and have reached the sobering conclusion that everything in church, aside from prayer and Scripture, deviates from the genuine orthopraxy as demonstrated by the apostles and described in the New Testament. It's quite a mindfuck, but if you want to read about the origins of mainline Christian liturgies, you will be thrust with two revelations:

1) So much of what we do week after week is not only based on pagan sources, it effectively inhibits the natural expression of the church, which, done properly, serves as a body under the headship of Christ. In other words, Christianity is not about "playing church" or orders of worship (liturgy) or sermons; it's about every time God presses upon your heart to bring food to a needy family or hold the shop door open for an elder or when He encourages you to strengthen your brothers and sisters with supportive words or gestures. Restated, Christianity is supposed to be a way of life, but it has been subverted by human tradition and complacency into a habit.

Don't be surprised at how inane and un-kingdom-building church distractions can be. The great controversies that I've observed since becoming a member at my church have included such saucy demons as "the drums were too loud" or "why do we perform so many modern songs and not enough hymns?" Strangely, none ever laments that "church" has ceased to signify or express itself as the unified Body of Christ and has metamorphosized into an austere club for those who believe in New Testament theology but don't think Christ would be so bold as to ask them to drift from their comfort zones so treasures may be amassed in heaven.

But here is the falacy!! Church has become a brand, a feather in the cap of Jesus's influence. It ought to be an imageless and transparent lifestyle, the individual members having so yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit that Christ just beams through their complexion. But we are sinners, and so we fight this invisible war with an enemy that transcends our strength, and then we succumb to his bait, ultimately contributing to the cause opposite the one we adhese to our car bumpers.

The book I'm reading that's changing my way of thinking is entitled Pagan Christianity, written by Frank Viola and George Barna. Please note that I am not content to trust it inherently, though it's annotated sources are abundant and impressive. It has coerced me into ordering a 7000-page collection on the history of the church. I am also studying the Hellenistic belief systems, as I noted above, specifically between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. In other words, I want to understand the philosophical and cultural landscape of the time of Jesus and the apostles. If my research takes me where the signs suggest, I will have to abandon the liturgical church, with all its Roman ceremonies and idols. Although Pagan Christianity does a great job illustrating the historicity of our practices and symbols, it seems quite clear to me that no matter the aesthetics, we should have great cause to judge everything we see in a church building. Paul and his followers met in private homes and occasionally assembled at bigger venues, but it was never under any particular guise. Why is it that we have been rendered so ignorant as to think engraven images of animals and crosses any different? God never showed us His face. He concealed Himself in a cloud when speaking to Moses and most of those to whom He appeared. We have no genuine idea of what Christ looked like, yet we fill churches with His "visage." We wear crucifixes, a clear blasphemy in Mosaic law, which Christ did not come to abolish, but appease our conscience with the tender delusion that a supposed image of anything, when worshipped, is not something a consistent God once condemned. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I rather think that if God didn't want to show us His face, He neither wanted us to fixate on what it might look like. And certainly, if we were to transgress to that extent, He would NEVER have wanted us to carve images and worship them in His place. But we use them for ambience and bombast that the apostles had no time for; they were, as it were, too busy investing in people who might invest in more people.

But I digress. I still have much to learn, including this matter of how come this was allowed to happen in the first place, seeing as it stifles Christ's headship of His members.

2) Because of all the above, it is perfectly natural to feel spiritually unsettled if sitting in a pew like a spectator doesn't bring you closer to God or into a right relationship with Him. The "goal" of the Christian is to achieve the kind of submission to Christ that would transform the believer into one of His earnest servants, able to call down the powers of heaven in the name of Jesus Christ himself. If church, in its militaristic assembly, has failed to accomplish the above in your life, then you should take solace in the knowledge that it can't, and there is no certain deficiency on your part to make yourself receptive to God. In fact, there are very sound arguments that suggest it prevents you from being the kind of person that successfully and faithfully serves for God's glory and kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 12, it speaks of the church as being the unified Body of Christ, but what kind of connection is achieved among members if all face the pulpit and never interact with or encourage or edify one another like genuine brothers and sisters? I am not here suggesting that it is a bad thing to worship God in assembly, but I am saying that God, as He tells us in the epistles, intended for church to be much, much more than we practice. With a grain of salt, we have become wholly ignorant to God's instruction through Paul, even though it is likely with good intentions that most have been involved in this.

So if you find yourself uninspired by the church, don't write off God. But there is a catch here. Where traditional, ritualistic church doesn't build up the Body, organic church requires an extreme, essentially lethal commitment to God. One must surrender oneself entirely to be part of the functioning Body of Christ. I think that there are some very earnest people who respond to God often, but I have met few who even make it a priority. This is largely due to false teaching and our sinful nature, which has blocked off the internal hints that suggest we aren't as in tune with the Spirit as we could be. I am deathly frightened by the idea that entire generations have died, confident in a salvation that might not be granted them. Brass tacks: When Christ divides the sheep from the goats, it won't matter how well you sang God's praises on Sunday morning or studied your Bible; it will come down to whether or not you fed Him when He was hungry or went to visit Him in prison or made the Bible the guide to your every decision.

I don't know what to do next, but I guess I won't be going to Bible college next year. There are some pastors who I tremendously respect, but I just can't reconcile any career that might pattern myself after a church that is more organized than organic. By the way, if we wonder why we never see miracles in church, and yet people in extreme poverty allegedly do, it should arouse the following suspicion in you: do miracles happen at all, or do they only happen to certain people? My theology forces me to answer thusly: In affluent cultures, materialism is the underlying religion; in poor regions, the culture is so bleak and merciless that it doesn't have the sheer power to influence people enough as to distort God's message. People in other areas have only God to lean on, whereas we inhabit areas that are so richly blessed that our eyes can't help but see the blessings and their abundance and forget the Blesser. We have so much that we shouldn't logically question or doubt whether we should ever run out of blessings. And yet, we are still human and still pine for comfort and belonging and a relationship with our Creator, but so compelling are the distractions and adverts and legalisms and postmodernisms and trends that we have become so twisted as to not make spiritual health the top of our agenda. Why should we see miracles? And why should I continue to adhere to a system that fails to stimulate, but succeeds at simulating something we've become too ignorant to identify or want: a permanent residence with God.

But I'm discouraged. I haven't allowed God to seep into the deeper parts of myself, and it's why I'm finding out the hard way that all the theology in the world won't fill the void in my heart. No idea what to do next. None.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

When I Grow Up, I Wanna Be a Scriptducta

scriptducta // n. a Bible-thumpin' rappa "Holy Moses, that scriptducta is all abizzout the Benjamites!"

Poo. So many negative, uninspired posts. ("Keep it simple.")

Alright then, a bit of healthy bardin' it up!

(c) 2008 Scriptducta Scriptductin Ltd.
lyrics: MC Trunk

We wuz chillin' w'th'LORD and He was talkin' bout sin
'bout not schlepping that new wine in tha old wineskins
When a ruler, sans one daughter, now come sauntering in
Wept and begged, "Jesus, touch her, and she'll smile again!"

So's the Lord, so composed, dropped such luminous rhymes
And the vein crossed His temple kept impeccable time
Then some leper-ass hoochie skulked and tugged on His cloak
The whole mob halted, knelt for stones, when He spoke:

"Take heart, bleeding lady, your faith has healed you!
Now don't be frontin', healed for nothin'
Be blameless 'fo' the Father been revealed you."


That's all I have so far.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Crux of the Matter

"This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: 3 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

Seems simple enough. But have you ever wondered why God doesn't answer most of those prayers?

Okay, let's rephrase it, then: Why should our sincerity determine whether God answers? If God loves us, as He so often suggests-- if He calls out to us, as He so often suggests-- if He taps at the door every instant of our life on earth, why does He let these opportunities drift on by? Why are deathbed prayers and conversions so unrequited? (Granted, this is my own perception of the matter.)

Even when God came specifically to save the lost sheep of Israel, some fell through the cracks. Matthew 13:58 says that lack of faith denies miracles. If I'm to use a bit of deduction, I'd say the same applies to prayer. There's a huge disjunction there. If my conscious mind is not my will, I feel lost. If my volition is not expressed in my deliberate thought, if my earnestness is not intrinsically conducted through things I speak with my mouth, how can I know what I truly, truly desire? When I joined the Wesleyan church, for instance, I submitted myself to the discipline and gave up my weekly lotto tickets. Translation: the faith I had placed in a chance windfall not only belonged to God, it should be appropriately placed in Him. Fair enough, I stopped buying the things. Sure, I saved a couple bucks a week, but it doesn't seem like I'll possibly pay off my car loan by the time I feel God has called me to study theology. So what gives?

More importantly, why is my spiritual life so stale? Why is it that I can ask for the unsearchable truths and feel like I'm barking at the wind? Or chasing it, as Solomon would say. I think I finally have the answer, but there's a catch. In Luke 22, we see the famous exchange between Christ and Peter in which Christ predicts that Peter will deny Him three times. I think there is a profound message buried in verses 31 through 34, but I find it's a little more clear when I read it backwards.

Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:34)

We do this every time we fail to profess our faith.

But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33)

We take theoretical decisions in our minds as if we intended to live them out. Then we don't.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)

We assume that a commitment to Christ reaches its fulfillment in the knowledge of Christ. (Some people might define this disaffected, cerebral profession as gnosticism, for the record.)

Those who cling exceedingly well to their faith might even be found to reflect a strong "Christian" demeanour and God-honouring attitude. By this I mean strictly in terms of conduct. As it says in the Bible, we judge each other by actions, not intentions. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9-15 to note how differently God works.) Attitude as an outward manifestation accomplishes little in Christian terms. I believe it's an evidential sign that one is in tune with the Spirit, but having a "good disposition" hardly makes one a Christian. The world hosts many good people, but God is not after the well-behaved; He's after the God-seeking. Furthermore, we've all fallen short of His glory, so good can never be sufficient. That's why those who regard acting properly as a means to salvation are extracting such a diluted and cheap form of grace from God's instruction, but that's the kind of grace that would give most of us the confidence to impulsively chime "I would die for my faith!"

Well, guess what. You not only have to; you have to die today. Right this second. If God has His way, it would have been accomplished the moment you accepted Christ. But as C.S. Lewis so astutely put it: whatever you keep of yourself, you lose in the next life. (Don't expect me to cite that properly, at least not tonight.)

At present, I just don't have it in me to treat this subject exhaustively. Besides, others have done a better job of it. But I will say this, and with confidence: If God is to give anyone so much as an ounce of unsearchable truth, it inherently caries with it a certain responsibility. Not just to the one receiving it, that he or she should live it out, but that it is to be shared with everyone. Otherwise stated, learning the mysteries of God MUST render you into a different person than the one who originally asked to be taught these transcendent truths. If you're just going to take a factoid from God and get cold feet about whether you can splice it with your life because it seems "too big a sacrifice to make," because it seems like it would take you too far out of your comfort zone, why should God hand it down to you? Conversely, even if you don't ask for it yet are capable of living it out, you don't even need to ask. Consider Saul of Tarsus or that unimpressive harpist named David or Abram. Two of them were so transformed that God saw fit to rename them. All men were created for His worship, but two of the aforementioned had changed so much that God couldn't call them by their former selves anymore. Inevitably, if God is to give you a new identity, it will be a better one. But the letting go...

It's one thing to know that Christ is the truth. It's one thing to know that an eternal separation from God would be much more devastating than living sacrificially like the apostles did. But honestly, there's enough teaching floating around that it's pretty damned impossible not to encounter these doctrines before one's passing. The question is, do you have a spirit that not only seeks God, that not only knows about Him, but that is willing to follow Him? No matter what? It has occurred to me on many occasions that all Biblical stories are essentially God asking people to follow Him. Every new lesson I absorb only reinforces that analogy.

I don't honestly know how I'd answer, though. My problem is I haven't got an excuse left in the world, either. God has made too much effort to win me over. Many months ago, I acceded. So what? Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest I just twiddle thumbs until my body decays and my spirit floats upward. My conscience doesn't let me sleep if I close my eyes thinking that I have no obligation to my brothers and sisters (in Christ or otherwise). So now I need to search within myself to see which is stronger: the fear or the faith. It's not easy. No one said it would be. God doesn't want behaviour or tithes or any of that legalistic junk. He wants me. Body, mind, spirit, soul. Everything. I don't get to hang on to any of it, whether tangible or abstract. And I'm discouraged by the fact that I know how to let go of my material things, AKA the stuff I hold on to, but what I can't wrap my little mind around is how to release what I'm holding on with. What's worse, I'm running out of time.

And yet, I'm so hungry for truth. I just pray that one of these times, when I catch a glimpse of it and it threatens to change me, I won't balk at the process.