Thursday, February 16, 2017

JESUS WAS A RADICAL

The term "radical" is certainly in vogue, whether used as a noun or an adjective.  TV newspersons and pundits, comedians, the social media, whether of the right or left, love throwing this word around; usually - though not always - negatively to describe those with whom they disagree.  "The radical right," "the radical left."  Our former president as well as a presidential candidate, was criticized for not using the phrase "radical Islam" to describe middle eastern terrorists.

Then I saw a meme on Facebook - a photo of a Klan rally with the words "Radical Christianity" on it in bold letters.  My immediate reaction was to comment, "NO!  These people know nothing of what it means to follow Jesus." Then I started pondering the definition of the word "Radical" and what "radical Christianity" would really be.  My conclusions:
            No, the Klan is not radical Christianity!  (It's neither radical nor Christianity.)
            Radical Christianity is what every Christian should strive for!
            Jesus Himself was radical - a radical - perhaps the most radical human being who ever lived!

Before the reader picks up stones, I ask you to hear me out.  First, we should seek to define what a radical is; what does the word mean?  My dictionary (Merriam- Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition) gives a number of definitions which seem almost contradictory.  I believe the following are relevant:

radical (adj.)  [...from Latin radic, - radix root ...]
1:  of, relating to, or proceeding from a root ...
2:  of or relating to the origin:  FUNDAMENTAL
3a:  marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional:  EXTREME
  b:  tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ...

radical (noun)
1b:  a basic principle:  FOUNDATION ... 
3:  one who is radical

How can one word convey both the ideas of getting back to the root and of departing from tradition?  I'm not sure how it can, but I see both definitions in the person of Jesus as He is portrayed in the Gospels - as He walked this earth as the God-man 2,000 years ago and as He preached and taught.  He was radical.

He was radical in His ethics and in His ethical demands.  They were, to use Mr. Webster's word "marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional."  They were "tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions ... "  Look at His sermon as recorded in Matthew, chapters 5 through 7:

"You've heard that it was said to the ancients, 'You shall not commit murder ....'  But I say to you that anyone who hates his brother, will be guilty of judgment." (5:21, 22)

"You've heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that anyone who looks at a woman so as to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."  (5:27, 28)

And on and on with ethical demands that seem to "depart from the traditional."  Read the whole sermon.  Yet a close reading of these radical demands and their Old Testament precedents should bring us to conclude that He was taking us back to "the root," or as He says elsewhere, to "the Spirit of the (Old Testament) Law."

He was radical in His political views.  When His disciples were arguing over who was the greatest among them, He said this:

"The kings of the nations lord it over them and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.'  But not so with you!  But the one who is greatest among you should become as the youngest and the one who leads as one who serves."  (Luke 22:25, 26)

He was radical in His religious views.  He had no respect for the religious leaders of His day.  He tore into them verbally, telling them that they "shut up the Kingdom of Heaven before peoples' faces" and told them that they weren't entering the Kingdom and they were keeping out those who wanted to enter.  (Matthew 23:13.  Again read the whole chapter.)

And He made radical demands of any who desired to follow Him.  He demanded that the disciple turn his back on all relationships, that he "take up his cross," that he "say goodbye to all that he has."  (Luke 14:25-27, 33)

Jesus was a radical by anyone's definition.  He was an extremist.  He was definitely not a conservative.

So then why are we who claim to be His followers anything but radical?  We are comfortable with the status quo.  We cozy up to those in power, whether religious or political.  We are more concerned about "family values" than about Jesus' values.  We even equate the words "Christian" and "conservative."  We are cautious and afraid.  We run our churches in the same manner as "the kings of the nations" do.
 
What happened?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

LIVING FOR JESUS IN TRUMP'S AMERICA

I haven't posted anything for quite a while.  After the election in November, I posted three angry rants for which I make no apology.  My feelings have not changed much since then except to go from anger to befuddlement.
 
I'm befuddled at the thinking of some persons I know, for whom I had had great respect - even some who had quite an influence on me in my life as a Christian.  And there were some others whom I had thought that I had influenced.  I've seen their posts and shares on social media and have wondered where they are coming from - an alternative universe?  They praise our new president Donald Trump as God's man for America.  They praise the "testimonies" of Trump's minions; they seem to see a new and brighter day for America - and apparently for the church.

Yet whenever I turn on the television news I see and hear a ranting, lying, racist, misogynistic, narcissistic bully, a man whose speech and behavior is completely opposed to every-thing a follower of Christ would stand for.  And his minions support him in  this.  We're told that the lies he used last week were actually the fault of the "news media" or someone else.  And, of course, we have this great new phrase, "Alternative facts."

I could go on and on about the bizarre looniness that our new president and his minions spout.  I could go on and on about my fears regarding his actions in the next few weeks and years, but all anyone has to do is turn on the news to hear and see this circus.  I am afraid for my country.

But America is not my greatest concern.  Our nation has gone off in the wrong direction many times in the past and so far we as a nation have survived.  And even if we don't, I realize God is sovereign.  And I realize that my hope is not in America.  It may be that we who follow Jesus will have to stand alone -  even in America!

My greatest concern is for the Church of Jesus Christ and my relationship to it.  I'm speaking of the total visible church - what Paul calls "the body of Christ" and to which I belong.  I cannot understand the fact that so many who claim to be followers of Christ are infatuated with a hateful, narcissistic playground bully.

I hope that the reader will understand - this post is not simply a rant against our president or a complaint about America.  It is an expression of the dilemma I - and many of my fellow American Christians face:  how do we live for Jesus in opposition to our ungodly national leaders and not find ourselves in opposition to the Church of which a great share are infatuated with these leaders - of which church we are a part?

There are some, I fear, who feel they should separate themselves from that Church.  But we can't if we belong to Jesus Christ.  We may separate from a particular organized group (and I have done that in the past) only to find the same situation in another group.  Do we isolate ourselves from others totally? We cannot do that.

I love the Church; I love the local group of which I am a member.  I have many Christian friends in this city and others all over the world with whom I communicate.  How am I to react when our conversation turns to their love affair with Trump?  Or when it turns to their hatred for our former President?  When I find it easier to talk with my unbelieving friends than with my brothers and sisters in Christ?

I know I am not alone, that there are many who have not drunk the Kool-Aid, who have  the same dilemma I have: following Jesus demands of us that we refuse to compromise truth and yet demands that we act in love.

Friday, November 18, 2016

NIEMOLLER FOR TODAY

Martin Friedrich Gustav Niemoller was a German Lutheran pastor and founder of the "Confessing Church," that small minority that opposed Nazism.  He spent 7 years in Nazi concentration camps.  He is remembered for the quotation that some consider a poem:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me --
And there was no one left to speak for me."

There are many variations on the quotation, since Niemoller often spoke extemporaneously and was widely quoted (and possibly misquoted).  Some versions include Communists, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses -- all groups which suffered under Hitler.

Niemoller believed that the German Protestant churches were in some way complicit in the persecution through their silence.

America has chosen a man for President who in many ways is bringing back memories of Der Fuhrer.  I recognize that practically every President has been compared to Hitler by some group and that none has even come close.  But Donald Trump is different!  He is a man who has preached and stirred up hatred for certain ethnic and religious minorities, seemingly blaming them for what's wrong with American.  He has received endorsement from radical White Supremacists and numerous hate groups,  while only mildly distancing himself from them.  And what has the (white) church done?  Some have even endorsed this man.  Others have given bland counsel on submission and unity.  Some have publicly defended this man and even served as his "advisors."  And the rest of us have simply kept silent.  So with apologies to Martin Niemoller I decided to rewrite his poem for today:

First he'll come for the Mexicans,
but we won't say anything because we're not Mexicans.
Then he'll come for the Muslims,
but we won't say anything because we're not Muslims.
Then he'll come for the African Americans,
but we won't say anything because we're not African Americans.
Then he'll come for the Native Americans,
but we won't say anything because we're not Native Americans.
Then he'll come for the news media,
but we won't say anything because we're not of the news media.
Then he'll come for the feminists,
but we won't say anything because we're not feminists.
Then he'll come for the gays,
but we won't say anything because we're not gay.
But he won't come for us because we voted for him.

I believe that perhaps we may need a "Confessing Church" again today. 

Revised 12/3/2016


               
 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

DOES UNITY TRUMP TRUTH?


Most articles I read in Evangelical Christian magazines and websites since the recent presidential election are attempts at being irenic.  There are pleas for unity and sometimes gentle rebukes to those who are upset.  Politics we are told, should not divide the church.  Those who voted for the losing side are warned that they may have put their hope in a particular candidate rather than the Lord.  This is a time for Christian unity.  (I must confess that often I begin reading these articles, but don't finish.)  Then there are the Facebook posts reprimanding those who protest, often accompanied with a few Scripture verses on submission to human government.

Unity and submission; that sums it all up.  Your side lost; get over it!  Quit being a crybaby!

However, as I think back on the history of the church, and as I ponder the Christian heroes of the last two millennia, I am often struck by the fact that these heroes were not submissive and they didn't strive for unity at all costs.  In fact, they often were the focal points of great division.  They were men and women who dared to speak truths that were contrary to contemporary church thinking.

There was John Huss (or Jan Hus) who dared to speak out against the medieval church in Bohemia and who was executed for his words and actions.  John Wycliffe who dared to translate the Bible into the English language, followed by William Tyndale who did the same, called by some God's Outlaw, who was also executed for his "crime."  And, of course, there was  Martin Luther who split the German church by his insistence on preaching righteousness by faith.  We who call ourselves Protestants celebrate these men as our heroes.

And, of course, there were many more - Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, both banished by the Puritan Church of New England for preaching and teaching a Christianity that was not tied to the colonial government.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, who stood against the evils of Naziism and was put to death for his efforts.  Martin Niemoller who did the same, was imprisoned for his stand and somehow survived.

We tend to forget that among other things, the Civil Rights' movement was essentially a religious movement, primarily led by Christians - even preachers, especially Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., another martyr.  Many (most?) of his opponents were members of southern white churches.

In all of these cases, those we consider heroes were bucking an established church, one that had a too cozy relationship with the government.  And they were condemned for, among other things, their divisiveness and refusals to submit.

We need not stop there; we could go back to the prophets of ancient Israel, who spoke against the apostasy of their nation, the only nation that could lay claim to be a nation chosen by God.  Just looking into one book of the Bible - 1 Kings - we find Elijah, whom King Ahab called "the troubler of Israel" (18:17) and Micaiah of whom the same king said, "I hate him because he doesn't prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (22:8).  And there were many, many more, some who died for their stand.

And dare we forget the One who is at the center of our faith - Jesus?  He did not come to bring unity within the "church" of His day - the Jewish leaders who were only too cozy with their Roman conquerors.  He even made the following troubling claim:  "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-36).  Not much unity and submission here!

I believe that a great segment of the Church of Jesus Christ has lost its witness through its allegiance to one political party, to the point that the candidates and the pronouncements of that party have taken precedence over the principles of Christianity.

America has elected as their president one who has preached an America that is in contradiction to the morals and teachings of Jesus.  I will not elaborate on his pronouncements here (see previous post); anyone who has seen and heard him on television news should know what he stands for.  Of course, there are some who will tell us (as I have been told), "America is not the church!"  And they are correct; we live in a secular nation that has to quite an extent, abandoned its Christian background.

But this man was endorsed by many prominent (mostly white) Christians who are considered spokespersons for the Christian community.  And the statistics tell us that 4 out of 5 evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump.  It looks to me as though the church has once again crawled in bed with the enemy.

As I have said before, I fear for my nation, but I fear more for my church.  And I make no apologies for the position I have taken.

It may be that the time will come when we will have to say with Martin Luther, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen!"