Shifting Superstition and Concrete Reality

Religion as Superstition

“Religion” (or being “religious”) is counterfeit to faith and is a human-made version of the Faith (or Faithfulness) of Christ which enlivens a religion-less faith (that faith that is without a set culture, an accepted norm, a perverted “sameness.”). In the Scriptures, the word “religious” is scarcely used (Acts 17:22 and James 1:26). In both accounts the word is used in a negative context. The word “religion” is used a few more times (Acts 25:19; 26:5; Col. 2:23; James 1:26-27). At best the term is used neutrally, and in Paul’s use it is exclusively used as a counterfeit to the established form of worship by God. There are many allusions to this “religious religion” in Paul’s letters. Nearly all of Paul’s adversaries were adherents to a religion that was but a ghostly form of true faith (2Tim. 3:5). This is the so-called “gospel” of “another” Christ (Gal. 1:6-9) and the “Jesus” of “another gospel” (2Cor. 11:4). Paul clearly explains that this counterfeit is not really another gospel, but a perversion of the true Good News. At its root, the Greek word for both “religion” and “religious” speaks of superstitions; not in the sense of black cats and walking under ladders, but in a ceremonial, sacramental, ritualistic sense that replaces (rather than enhances) the unadulterated Faith of Christ. Paul plainly states that “his gospel” was the Good News that did not come from the religious norm of the times (Gal. 1:11). His Good News was for “the Gentiles” – the un-churched, today (Gal. 2:2, 7). Faith is not of “superstitions,” strict rituals, temporal signs, or ceremonial pomp and pleasantry. Faith is the faithfulness of Christ in Christ; the sheer logic of the Resurrection life of Christ, alone; concrete reality over sacramental shadows; the total and complete lack of hypocrisy.

The Argument: Killed By Death

In Luke chapter 11 Jesus is railing against the religious leaders for not only refusing to enter into knowledge themselves, but also for refusing to let the people they’re supposed to be leading to enter therein (VS 52). In his letter to the Romans (chapter 2), Paul argues the same point and then concludes, “The name of God is slandered because of you” (VS 24), which is a loose translation of the account where God through Isaiah is making the same argument (Is. 52:5). The argument is that, as a rule, we are not expressing a loving faith of Good News, but a conquering religion of fear. Though we speak of love and tolerance, our religion thrives on people’s ignorance, making us all slaves of fear – the enslavement of the human mind, making us blind (and dumb). There is no healing or wholeness in religion, but only a feeding on the taste of pain in an attempt to satisfy our sick appetites. Jesus is now sorrow made flesh; the church, shallow – simpletons starved for a dream that is not its own – just another brand of misery. The argument herewith: Religion is what killed Christ (Matt. 27:20). Faith is for what He died (Rom. 3:25).

Rest in the Concrete Reality

It was not religion that empowered Jesus to go to the cross. Neither was it religion that equipped Him to hang, nailed with the sins of humanity. Nor was it religion that raised Him from the dead. It certainly is not religion in which He presently lives in resurrection power. And, likewise, it is not religion that equips humanity with that resurrection power. It was/is, the Faith of Christ – a personal relationship lived-out in community that is concretized in who God says God is. The Faith of Christ carried Christ to the killing Cross, then, raised Christ from the endless grave and, now, empowers Christ to forever live in the reality of the Resurrection Life. And that Resurrection Life is made available to all humanity through the Faithfulness of Christ.

Agent of Change: The Faith(fulness) OF, not in, Christ 

Religion is humanity’s counterfeit attempt to duplicate Faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). All religion has the same origin and, contrary to popular belief, the same outcome. Humanity was made with an inert desire to walk with God. Having fallen out of relationship with God, humanity’s desire now results in religious intentions, which are driven by a religious nature (Romans 1). Let it be a lesson to humanity that faith cannot be an outward indoctrination, but that it must necessarily be an inward transformation. Such an inward transformation is only probable in the Resurrection Life of Christ; made possible by the Faithfulness of Christ. Faith in Christ is nice, but the Faith of Christ is powerful. Faith in Christ is based on humanity and its frailty, while the Faith of Christ is based on divinity and its reality. The Faith of Christ was the agent of change, those many years ago, when Jesus came to free humanity from its religion (and its results). And the Faith of Christ is still the agent of change, today, when the church decides to be free from its human religion (and its results).

Community: Unity in Common

Oneness and sameness are not synonymous.

Reap The Vision

To be “common” is to be of frequent occurrence; the normative, the usual, simply normal. Two or more people can hold a thing “in common,” making it general commodity. We’ve heard of “common knowledge,” describing something that the majority should generally know. We hear a lot about so-called “common sense,” which isn’t very common and doesn’t make much sense anymore. A group of people could have a “common belief;” a shared belief system that gives identity to and is very important for the group of individuals that hold it. The idea of “common” also expands into mathematics, speech, grammar, anatomy, and law, etc. but the meaning doesn’t drift far from the original intent.

“Unity” is a state of being one; oneness. To speak of “unity” infers combined parts; two or more parts have come (or were put) together to form one whole. Often the ideology of “unity” (oneness) takes on…

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Toleration of the Intolerable

It seems that I must bring this one back around…

Reap The Vision

Tolerance is insisted upon only by the intolerable. If I do not tolerate your insistence of my tolerance, will you self-impose your toleration and tolerate the fact that I do not? We cry “tolerance,” not because we want everyone to be free, but because we want everyone enslaved. If this were not true, then, there would be no reason to cry “tolerance.” I don’t have to tolerate your opinion and you can’t force my toleration of it and, at the same time, call it “tolerance.” Forced tolerance is, in fact, the intolerance of the forceful.

The ideology of tolerance, in religion, presupposes superiority and, therefore, inferiority. What I mean is this idea that Christianity must be tolerant is based on faulty premises. In fact, the very basis of the argument is self-contradicting. The attempt to lift one religion over the other has less to do with God and more to do with the corrupted…

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A Challenge to Christian Vanity

The Qualifier

I am not interested in challenging social conventions – whether or not there are “adult words” or whether the prohibition against “cussing” is a valid moral/ethical code or not. I am only interested in whether or not we are thinking. I wish to challenge our religion; our religious defense mechanisms. My desire is to challenge our deaf, dumb and blind traditions; those that are not given a second’s thought but are simply (and ignorantly) regurgitated as fact/truth statements.

Convenient Ignorance

Haven’t we conveniently found a way around the injunction against “using the Lord’s name in vain” when we simply make it about words? Even when we use lyrical rhyming words and/or synonyms are we not still speaking contrary to the spirit of the injunction? Our issue, truly, is not the words but the condition of our hearts and minds. Isn’t it telling that we actually think we can fool God by choice words or the words we choose not? I mean, if the mind and the heart are in it, do the words used change the severity and/or the intent of the injunction? No, it is not God that is the fool.

Reduced to Words, Then

Since we want to make this about words: First, when the precept was given (Exodus 20:7), using the name of God combined with a “cuss” word would have been unheard of, and absurd. The two word combination considered, traditionally, as “using the Lord’s name in vain” would be completely unintelligible to the Hebrews, for, there are no words for the vulgarity of Western languages in ancient Israel. It would have been (literally) impossible to declare God’s damning of anyone or anything by using this particular compound word.

Secondly, we are going to have to define “the Lord’s name,” and the word “vain.” By “name” are we saying “God?” That is not the name of the Hebrew/Christian God, but a title, according to the Scriptures. Most of the religions of the world have gods, and the Hebrew word does not differentiate between the Jewish/Christian God and any other god. To draw the distinction, the Hebrew/Christian God declares the name, “YHWH” (translated “Lord” in many Bibles), and “elohym” (which is actually the plural of “god”) as a title, in the text. Obviously, it goes without saying that God’s name is not Lord but YHWH. “Lord” was the word used, rather than writing the name (“YHWH”), by the various scribes for fear of “using the Lord’s name in vain.” Incidentally, the Greek word for G/god (theos), used throughout the New Testament, is a term that refers to “a generic deity.” In Arabic, the same word is “Allah” (do with that what you have to…).

Now, what is the definition of the word “vain?” Dictionary.com defines vain as, “conceited; futile,” and to do something “in vain” is to attempt to do it “without effect.” Thesaurus.com defines vain as, “egotistical; useless” and “failing to achieve a goal.” Even more revealing is the word “vain” as used in Exodus 20:7 – which, in the Hebrew, is the word saw, meaning, “deceit, lie, or falsehood.” The Complete Word Study Dictionary explains it thusly: “God used the word to indicate that He punished Judah in vain [to no avail]. The word is used by the psalmist to state that all activities such as laboring, guarding, rising early, staying up late, and toiling for food were useless without God’s assistance (Ps. 127:1-2). In the Ten Commandments, the word is used to describe what is prohibited (Deut. 5:20). The word is used in Proverbs to indicate that which the author desires to be kept away from him; in this case, falsehood and lies (Pro. 30:8). Idols were declared worthless with the usage of the noun in Jeremiah (Jer. 18:15). These idols were those that led the people of God to forget Him.” (Emphasis mine)

Christian Vanity; the Alter Christ, Our Alter Ego

So, how does one in the New Testament era (from Pentecost to the present), then, go about using “the name of the Lord in vain?” By definition, it is to take the name of Jesus Christ – that is, to claim to be a “Christian” – and then not live out of the faithfulness of Christ. It is to claim to be a Christian and then to live in and out of simple human religion, and deny the faithfulness of Christ as life for living. It is easily defined as “failing to achieve the goal” of the name Christian. It is to claim the transformation of the Cross of Christ only to live out of the old depraved nature that was crucified – counterfeiting faith with contrary religious practices – Denying the Resurrection Life of Christ to simply live a lifestyle of a counterfeit culture of corruption (i.e., the Church Culture). “Christianos” (Christian), according to both uses of the word in the Greek New Testament, is a derivative of the name “Christos” (Christ). It speaks of one who is owned by the Resurrected Christ and, therefore, expresses his worldview.

Transformative Words: The Transformation of the Mind

Plainly: Am I to understand that, thousands of years ago when God sent the Decalogue down with Moses from Mt Sinai – when God carved the Ten Commandments as the pillars of life for Israel – it was insisted upon that one of these ten foundational precepts was that no one could string together the words god and damn? Really?!

It is far too easy to make of this (and many other things in the Scriptures) something we can simply obtain, and obtain by simple restraint. Oh, how we can pat ourselves on the back for not stringing two words together, though. Isn’t God so proud of us for not combining a “name” (a title, really) with another word and cuss someone/thing?! My argument is that, “using the Lord’s name in vain” – as it is found in the Scriptures and in its logical implication – is far more challenging than a selection of words. It now becomes about transformed natures. Now it becomes about internal workings, rather than external words. And it is now a thinking faith and not a senseless religious tradition. It now refers to the faithfulness of Christ in action, rather than the frailty of humanity in words.

On Homosexuality

I think that the Church, as a rule, is having the wrong conversations (and making the wrong arguments) on homosexuality and (so-called) “same sex marriage.” Concerning the latter, we must attempt (at least) to understand the “same sex” aspect before we can voice an opinion on the “marriage” aspect of the phrase and phenomenon – for the notion carries with it two distinct conversations. Concerning the former, the Church has a sense that it is correct in its view and uses the Scriptures as evidence of the fact. Therefore, let’s examine the texts void of dogma – principles accepted as truth statements of an ideology or belief system – and platitudes – discourse of clichés that are disconnected from reality and originality. Unless, of course, we are simply standing on church tradition and the interpretations of those who think they know best (and/or better), in which case we have no need for a discussion on the matter.

Proselytizing to the Law Codes

The first major text used by the Church comes out of Leviticus (20:13). Now, I must begin by stating that, if one is utilizing the Jewish Scriptures to base one’s argument then, logically, that one is bound by the same Jewish Scriptures. In other words, if you are going to hold another accountable to the Mosaic Law, then you must also adhere to the same laws. Men, you must adhere to all the male codes, and women, to all the female codes (and, ladies, seeing that the Mosaic Law assumes a Patriarchal system, just ask a man what you are supposed to do and who you’re supposed to be). Incidentally, when and where was the last time you offered your prescribed sacred sacrifices? Or stoned your neighbor for stealing your goat? This is “reductio ad absurdum” – reduced to absurdity – on purpose, in the hopes of making a point. If one insists on adherence to the Jewish Law Codes then that one has converted to Judaism (in name only) and has abandoned Christianity. But I digress…

The Levitical text reads, literally, “a man (iysh) who has sexual intercourse with a male (zakar)…” While “man” is a noun, “male” is a verb, it speaks of a male sacrifice. Many of the surrounding cultures had sex – as a form of worship of a certain deity or deities – with the human or animal sacrifice (Hammurabi, Middle Assyrian, and Hittite Law Codes of the era also contained sexual rules). Thus, the prohibition, here, is against contrary forms of worship. God’s Law Codes function to identify Israel as a called out and different people, and to preserve Israel’s distinct identity.

Why was Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed?

Other Jewish (or Old Testament) texts used are the narrative concerning the (so-called) destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Basically, the argument is that God destroyed these two cities because of their homosexual tendencies (never mind the fact that Lot offers his daughter to be raped and abused by the hording men!). But these same Scriptures offer another and competing interpretation of the events: Sodom (and her sister cities) didn’t help the poor and the needy; she prostituted herself, instead, to contrary worldviews and counterfeit gods. So God set precedent with her (Ez. 16:49-50). Nowhere does Ezekiel state that the city was destroyed because of homosexuality.

Exchange of Function: Recalling History

Interestingly, none of the Gospel accounts record Jesus addressing the matter of homosexuality. The first New Testament allusion to the subject is found in Romans (1:26-27): “…women exchanged the natural function for that which is against nature…” Whatever ‘the natural function’ and ‘that which is against nature’ means, it does not speak of homosexuality in Greek or in context. Understanding Pauline Theology, it speaks of an exchange of worldviews in one’s actions and deeds. “Likewise, men abandoned the natural function of women and enflamed their lusts toward one another.” This speaks of contrary worldviews, the perversion of creation. At the time of the writing of this letter, the slave-trade and the stealing of young boys for the purpose of sex was an epidemic in the Greco-Roman world. Also at this time, the Emperor of Rome, Nero, shocked the empire by announcing his marriage to a young Roman boy. Paul is not issuing a prohibition but is recalling history – this is what humans (as a whole) have done, and this is what God did because of what humanity had done.

Male Temple Prostitution

The last two references in the New Testament are found in the Corinthian Correspondence and the First Letter to Timothy. “Don’t you know that those without God’s own right-standing with God-self will not have a place in God’s worldview? Don’t be fooled… not effeminate nor homosexuals…” (1Cor. 6:9). And “The law is not made for those with God’s own right-standing with God-self, but for… homosexuals…” (1Tim. 1:10). In the former text, the word “effeminate” means, soft; it speaks of a male with female attributes, specifically a male temple prostitute. In both texts, the word translated, “homosexual,” is the Greek word arsenokoitais, and it speaks of self-abuse. First, as in the Mosaic Code account, don’t (conveniently) miss the others mentioned in both texts, and simply lift out of context the English translation of “homosexuals.” Secondly, both texts speak of temple prostitution and, therefore, refer to contrary forms of worship. All three New Testament accounts speak not to a lifestyle choice, but to the prohibition against the taking from others, rather than giving. They speak to the “perversion” of God’s worldview into a contrary worldview; the sacrifice of the spirit for the flesh, which is thoroughly a Pauline concept and principle (connoted by the qualifier “God’s own right-standing with God-self”).

Logic Will Never Fail You

Allow me to make a few observations:

  • If there is a general prohibition against homosexuality particularly, with the punishment being God’s abandonment and the exclusion of entrance to the Kingdom of God especially, then all other rules in the Law Codes, and the subsequent punishments, likewise, apply to all humanity.
  • But if that is true, then the Theology of the Cross is lost and the definition and application of “Forgiveness” is meaningless and of no use to God or humanity.
  • And if God does have a prohibition against homosexuality, but forgives all other transgressions against the Law Codes, then all logic falls to the ground; there is no consistency to God’s thought process and God is subject to change God’s mind at any time, including God’s present worldview – which defies the notion of “God’ by definition.

Science is speaking to the discussion.

Recent studies concerning fetal development during the three trimesters of pregnancy are adding to the conversation. In the first trimester sexual organs are developed – usually either male or female (“usually” because, rarely, neither organ or both organs are developed in the same fetus). But it is not until the third trimester that the brain is developed enough to release a dominate chemical of either testosterone or estrogen. If, for example, a male organ develops in the first trimester, but the brain releases more of the estrogen chemical, or a female organ with the chemical testosterone, then a crisis of identity becomes inevitable. The argument that “God made me gay” is without sound theology, but to say that “I was born this way” is, therefore, reasonable.

Politics is (negatively) speaking to the discussion.

There is what can only be described as, “an agenda,” that is using the homosexual culture/counter-culture to forward its own worldview. It is destructive and cares only for those who adhere to its language. For example, the notion of “Gay Rights” does not speak to the conversation in a positive sense, but only serves to take from all others in the discussion. In politically correct fashion, it desires to silence all opinions to the contrary, changing the dialogue to a monologue. Homosexuals (and other cultures/counter-cultures) are being used and, ironically, abused by this agenda. The resulting aftermath will be thoroughly catastrophic for humans generally and homosexuals particularly. I think, after reflecting on many conversations, that most Christians take exception to the agenda, but mistakenly assign blame to the culture/counterculture itself.

Theology can speak to the discussion.

The church must enter the discussion, however. We must have a voice in the conversation. We cannot stick our (proverbial) fingers in our ears and go on with the interpretations as we’ve always known them, as if they’re somehow authoritative. Fear is yet another “agenda.” To be afraid of information and/or contrary arguments to our own is ignoring (and is ignorant of) the reality of the Community that we claim. God’s worldview is not about “right or wrong,” “good and bad.” God’s worldview is over against all contrary worldviews. The primary article of God’s worldview – the work of Christ on His cross and the resulting Resurrection Life – is not concerning specific ”sins,” but “Sin” in general. Sin (hamartia, in the Greek) is “to miss God’s intended mark for humanity and, subsequently, to move the mark of God’s intension for humanity.” Sins (plural) are as a result of the Sin of a contrary worldview. Like everything else, the Cruciform speaks to our contrary worldviews because the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection Life have spoken to our missing of the mark. If it is the flesh, then the Cruciform will kill it. This is the language I wish to add to the conversation.

Culture of Conversion

I’ve touched on this subject, previously, in many places, but it deserves more focused attention. Over the centuries the church has established its own culture (negatively speaking), a “Church Culture.” By this I mean, in its attempt to separate the secular from the sacred it has succeeded in many ways only in alienating anyone and everyone outside and without its own culture. It is as if when one is converted, that one is converted to a culture. If that one fits not nicely and neatly into that church culture, then, that one is obviously not converted and in need of conversion. That is to say, “This is Christianity, and if you do not accept this culture, then you have rejected Christ.”

Granted, most in this church culture do not make this explicate claim, but the implications are clear even if the words are not. Those outside of the church and its culture (call them “un-churched” or “de-churched,” unsaved, heathen, pagan, or whatever), as well as newcomers to the faith (and old-timers as well), suffer the confusion and down-right confounding of this church culture. The world rightly views the church as the expression of Jesus Christ on earth. But what is implied in this expression is a certain culture which one must be a part. If that one rejects that church culture, then that one thereby also rejects Christ (or so it would seem). For 1500 years the outsider has had a choice of coldness toward God because of (at least a perceived) rejection, an endless struggle from within oneself of his/her place with God because the culture is not their own, or a complete and total conversional conformity to the culture of the church.

Counter-cultures, therefore, developed which poise themselves against Christ (because of the church culture implication) or at least find themselves indifferent to Christ and the church (and it’s culture). The church culture deems such competing cultures “worldly,” “wrong,” and “of the devil” and closes in upon itself, making itself an exclusive club void, by definition, of any inclusivity. But God; God moved within these counter-cultures to make Himself known. God moved in the hearts of many in the church culture to reach out to the alienated, the marginalized, the forgotten, the broken, the poor and the lepers of the norm. God, if you will, enculturated the Good News of Jesus Christ. God is the God of all (each and every) human being (whether they know it or not). God is the God of all and every culture (whether they know it or not). God cannot be contained by a single nation, a single culture, or a single people.

Today the church finds within itself a reformation – a revolution. It finds itself in the midst of a paradigm shift – a violent collision of accepted norms. There are Christians who have not converted to the church culture, but have been captured by a living Christ. These do not accept the moral/ethical decrees of the church culture but, rather, surrender themselves to the death of Christ, complete the sufferings of Christ, and experience the resurrection life of Christ. They know nothing other than the ever-outstretched arms of Christ, who loves humanity with all-inclusiveness and every form of declension, without exclusion. They do not look like, act like, talk like, walk like, or smell like the accepted church culture, but they are the church nonetheless; deemed so by Jesus Christ, the theology of His cross, and the love of God. This church is not an exchange of culture, but a change of life. It is not a conformation but a transformation. God has not made of all people one culture (sameness), but He has made of all cultures one people (oneness).

The Vision Reigns Supreme

The Vision reigns supreme! This simple phrase is the only concrete rule to doing church in the present paradigm shift. It has also proved to be a phrase of contention for many within the church. One problem is that the Vision is not our own, but is in fact from the mind of God and placed in the imagination of God’s Vision casters. Another issue is that we must understand that all are not Vision casters, but most are Vision carriers. Carriers of the Vision must be in constant connection with a Vision caster. Casters of the Vision often do not see the details of the Vision but are always imagining it; recognizing it when they see it lived-out. Vision carriers are usually detail oriented. They catch the Vision by living out its values. Values are the principles of the Vision which are experienced as mission.

The Vision reigns supreme. The values of the community where the Vision is cast cannot contradict the Vision. Vision casters equip Vision carriers to own the Values of the Vision. For example: The Vision insists that Christ died for all humanity. Therefore, a value of the Vision is that all are enveloped in God’s love for humanity; there cannot be a single individual (or group) that is not included in the all-enveloping love of God. Thus, the mission is to express the love of God to all humanity, and not just a few. Likewise, the notion that church is about folks being either, “right” or “wrong,” is not a value of the Vision. The Vision does not differentiate between “right” and “wrong,” but between God’s holiness and humanity’s lack thereof. Simply, there are values that are the Vision, and there are values that are not. Examples of Values:

Law and Grace Cannot Co-Exist
The necessity of the Cruciform (the Form of the Crucifixion)
“Church” is defined not by bringing people IN, but by sending people OUT
“Church” is not a building but a people
Christ centeredness rather than self-centeredness
The Kingdom of God shapes the church
Church doesn’t dictate the shape of the Kingdom

When the Vision reigns supreme it does not displace God, but it demands Him. If it is not from the mind of God it is not Vision, but only and simply an agenda – a human made plan and purpose; a human worldview that may or may not lay claim to God. But its values will speak to its origin. Furthermore, if the Vision reigns supreme then an individual (or individuals) cannot have a plan of action around which they manipulate the Vision to fit, but must plan their action firmly within the Vision. We do not get to do what we think is proper and call it Vision, for it is an agenda (by definition). The Vision reigns supreme and we must adjust to that reality.

Though Vision carriers are drawn to certain Vision casters, they follow the values of the Vision casted. Vision carriers are drawn to Vision casters 1) whom they like, 2) whom they will listen to and, 3) with whom they want to serve the Vision. The Vision caster expresses the Vision to equip the Vision carriers. Vision carriers live-out the values of mission. The Vision caster mandates no more rules than one: The Vision reigns supreme. The Vision carriers are accountable to the Vision, not rules, and the Vision caster is accountable to the Vision carriers (because the carriers express the values). That is the Vision! The Vision Reigns Supreme!