Thursday, April 16, 2015

God Works In Mysterious..Clichés?

My last post attacked the downright inaccurate and foolish things non-Christians typically say about Christ and Christianity. I now turn my attention to those whom I call brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible is clear that we need to be on guard from those on the outside who would corrupt what the Bible teaches but we also need to be vigilant to protect the church from ourselves. 

Much of the critical writing and thinking I do is against those professing to be believers. I don't consider outside threats to be as threatening because they are easily discerned as being not Christian. I don't focus much effort on comparing Islam to the Bible because it's not very influential in the life of even the weakest believer. Atheism isn't much of a threat because it's so clearly anti-God that it's only influence will be on people who already don't want to believe. The greatest threat has and always will be from within Christendom. Wolves in sheep's clothing - if you will - are our biggest threat, but we are all also threats to ourselves when we fail to rightly divide the word of truth. 

I'm a huge threat to myself because of what I can try to force onto the text and into the Bible. If I want God to be this powerful force who only pours out His righteous wrath on people I don't like, then I'll see Him that way if I don't consider the whole counsel of God. So I need to protect myself from myself and I don't do that by contemplating something inside of me but by studying something external (God's word) and praying that God would eliminate the subjective and allow the objective to become the predominant and ultimate authority in my life. 

In my own experience I know I've fallen for some terse and seemingly innocent and catchy sayings. Some of the sayings I'll discuss are ones I'm guilty of indulging in; thus distorting my view of God. 

1. Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship

Interesting note: Jefferson Bethke helped popularize this. He
also posted a low-hanging-fruit list of things Christians should
stop saying and didn't include this terribly obfuscated statement!

I'm not suggesting this is heretical. I'm simply saying it paints an unclear picture as to what Christianity is and is not. The word religion has been corrupted and twisted to be something ceremonial, traditional, rigid and overbearing. No one will deny that, right? It has a negative connotation and one that's been well earned. But that's not because Christianity is inherently a bad religion but because every other religion is inherently bad. Oh I just said that. Christianity is the only good religion because it's the only religion that actually worships God. Other religions either worship a god that doesn't exist for bring wrong worship to the one true God. 

What do we think of when we think of relationship? We think of going on dates, hanging out watching movies, having ice cream, maybe sharing a good cry and just doing life together. Relationships are great! Sign me up for a relationship! 

Do you see where this bait-and-switch tactic is misleading and can potentially ignore the demands of Christ? When you think about relationship are you thinking about giving up your sin? Are you thinking that you might lose a lot of relationships in pursuit of this one relationship? Are you thinking at all about giving over the control of your finances to someone? Probably not. 

We Christians have a good understanding of what this saying means but I doubt a non-Christian does. They are thinking of this saying in purely carnal and temporal terms. And since this saying is intended to woo non-believers into the church, it's best we either cease saying it or give some disclaimers when we say it. 

And just a common sense thing mandates that Christianity is a religion. It's silly to say it's not. 

2. Unchurched

Better alternatives: sinners, non-Christians, pagans, heathens, Gentiles, God-haters, anti-Christs

The same people  who are wholly opposed to the word religion are the ones saying unchurched. Church has a negative connotation for the same reasons religion does. Why then do you use unchurched as a synonym for someone who is not in a "relationship" with Christ? Why is it a bad thing these people are unchurched if church is so negative? Shouldn't you be reaching out to churched people who have endured religion? Shouldn't you be calling these people single since they aren't in a relationship with Christ yet? Can we stop acting like we're dating Jesus? Can we start calling ourselves slaves to Christ? That's the "relationship" we're in and we should be and will be eternally grateful that we have the privilege to call Jesus, Lord. Amen? 

3. Where 2 or 3 are gathered Christ is there

Matthew 18:19-21 
19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Is that passage about some mystical apparition of Christ or is it about confirming that a right decision, specifically about church discipline, has been made?
Christ, God incarnate, is ALWAYS everywhere at all times. Whether it's just you or 3,000 folks, He's there. I don't think that the people who say this even believe or realize what they are saying because I'm sure they've all prayed when they were alone. They recognize that God hears prayer even when there's less than 2 people involved. I sympathize with the sentiment behind it and it's another saying with good intentions - it's just not right. 

We all want Christ to be in our midst, right? That'd be awesome. The good news, no, the great news, is that He promised us something better than His physical self. 

John 16:6-8 
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is better than having Christ in our presence!

4. God works in mysterious ways

I agree with this one! He absolutely does work in ways that are inexplicable or far above our minds. 

Isaiah 55:8-9  
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,  
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.e  
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,  
So are My ways higher than your ways 
 And My thoughts than your thoughts.
I'm not denying for a second that God works in mysterious ways or ways which we can't understand or explain. I don't like this phrase because we use it too often. Too often we'll just dismiss something as God working in a mysterious way when what He did was actually quite obvious or something He clearly laid out in Scripture!

"I talked to my Christian friend about his not living a life pleasing to God and he confessed and has begun turning his life around!"

"Wow! God works in mysterious ways!"

How is that mysterious? The guy did as he was commanded and the person responded the way God wanted.  Both persons were operating within God's will for their lives! There's no mystery there. The only way that would be mysterious is if the person didn't repent. Then we'd wonder why a Christian was choosing to live in open rebellion! But that wouldn't be God working in a mysterious way, that would be a man being mysterious!

And furthermore, what do you think the Bible is? It's God's revealed character and will for our lives. It's the polar opposite of a mystery. It's a detailed explanation!

I wish not to rationalize everything. I know God does things that are incredible. I've seen His providence work in my life and the lives of others in ways that are so immeasurable amazing that I marvel more at His meticulous providence than I do the miracles. 

5. At all times preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words

This silly statement has been thoroughly fleshed out by better men. Suffice it to say that the Gospel is the proclamation of good news and news, by definition, is information and can only be revealed with words. Me giving someone a cold glass of water will not lead them to salvation. Me telling them of Christ's substitutionary death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins and His rising from the dead can save them if they call on Christ as Lord and Savior. So it's always necessary to use words. 

Romans 10:14 & 15
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

6. Quit putting God in a box!!!

I'm usually never real sure what this means. It's played as a trump card when their spiritual experience is compared to Scripture. 

  • "I had a dream where God told me it was ok to do this thing that goes against the Bible."
  • "This little boy went to heaven and.."

God is not in a box and I'm not trying to put Him inside one. He is, however, constrained by His holy nature and cannot, because of His holiness, do things contrary to His nature. So He can't do things that run contrary to what we know about Him in the Bible. He also must do things He says He'll do in the Bible. So when He says people will be brought to saving faith through the preaching of the word and sharing of good news? That's how they'll be saved. They won't be saved by having a vision of Jesus, or some other charismatic type religious spiritual experience. Or if God says tongues are a sign for unbelieving Jews I'm going to assume He means what He said and therefore tongues aren't intended for 21st century Americans to have chaotic spiritual experiences. Or when God says you'll know a prophet is from Him if that prophet is 100% right, I'll assume that's true today. So when "prophets" today are like 10% right I have good reason to say they aren't actually prophets. 

Two side notes: My most retweeted tweet ever was: "Quit putting God in a box is" is better translated as "quit comparing my spiritual experiences with Scripture." 

And one of my first posts ever on this blog addressed this topic more thoroughly. 

7. Pharisee! 

Ostensibly the belief that God's word is not to be taken lightly and never to be changed is what the Pharisees believed. Some may even be calling me a Pharisee because I'm criticizing popular and pithy axioms. But I submit to you that I am not a Pharisee and neither is anyone else who desires to accurately study, interpret and explain the Bible. 
Watch and read what Jesus says about the Pharisees in Matthew 5. Throughout this section of Scripture He's rebuking the Pharisees and teaching the Jews. He repeatedly says, "You have heard that the ancients were told......but I say to you"
That's a big but (pause for laughter). Jesus is correcting false teaching. Jesus is correcting the twisting of His Father's word. Being that Jesus was Himself the Incarnate Word, He can speak with greater authority than I about reverence for what God has revealed to us. He doesn't rebuke the Pharisees for being too fervent for accuracy but for being inaccurate!
I mean not to be self-congratulatory and pat myself on the back; my aim is to encourage us to refrain from calling someone a Pharisee for being Biblical. It's deeply and profoundly ironic that I am trying to accurately define the pejorative P-word using the very techniques people inaccurately accuse the Pharisees of using. Namely that they were too Biblical and used the Bible too much and now I'm using the Bible to prove that the Pharisees' problem wasn't using the Bible but misusing the Bible. 

Don't cause the world to collapse on itself. This might happen the next time someone inaccurately uses the Bible to prove to me that the Pharisees were too concerned about accuracy and that I'm being like a Pharisee when I strive for accuracy. Do you see the problem? My critics think they have a more accurate understanding of Scripture than I do because of their inaccurate understanding of the Pharisees. This then makes them, not me, akin to the Pharisees. So the very group they purport me to be a part of is the very group they emulate. 

We really must be careful with our words. We all misspeak and we all say inaccurate things. We should all strive to be perfect in our speech but we'll still continually slip. The area we have much greater control over is the cliches we tolerate or perpetuate. Whenever some new buzzword comes out we need to carefully examine it. I have no idea what missional means, so I don't say it. Even the word gospel is losing meaning because it's so overused. The Gospel is still the Good News but because everyone is using it, it's losing its perspicacious meaning. Think about how the word Christian no longer means much and now the word evangelical means little. Carefully choose your words. Be ready to define words. And always default to quoting the Bible over and above catchphrases.

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  1. You really are a Pharisee! God will not be boxed in by your RELIGION!! I bet you don't even preach the gospel by your lifestyle...
    Ever heard of reaching the unchurched?! That's not gonna happen unless we live out God's mysteries. I'm gonna go pray with a few people for that Jesus will be present.

  2. At first I thought you were just dense but now I see you cleverly and hilariously worked each and every point into your comment. Bravo, my friend. Bravo.