Wednesday

The end of Christianity?

On Sunday, we celebrated Easter. And, after participating in a six-week fast for Lent, I can say that I felt a good many mixed emotions. On the one hand I was excited that Lent was over (we were going to have a chocolate cheesecake after lunch!) and that it was Easter. I was excited that Christ had risen and for all that it means - abundant life, conquered death, victory over sin, etc.

Then, on the other hand, I was perplexed with anxiety over the church and over why we don't live transformed lives. During Lent, I felt God's presence with me as I prayed for strength to fast junk food and soda and as I prayed for the people in the world who did not have enough food to eat. However, during that last week a sense of gloom descended upon me. Maybe, in a mystical sort of way, the Lord was showing me what his last week was like, only within the context of my own life, which doesn't seem like much of a comparison, but who am I to argue? I also felt discouraged because our lives were so busy that we were not able to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. However, the busyness had to do with my kids and their achievements so in that sense I was happy. God has truly blessed me.

The reason I felt discouraged about the church was because of our lack of knowledge about scripture and our inability to get along. This was revived from somewhere in my soul as I read a Newsweek article by Andrew Sullivan, called "Christianity in Crisis". This article covers many issues and needs to digested slowly, so I think I'll stretch my commentary over two days. Here re some phrases from the article along with my commentary.

Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace Him.

I disagree with Sullivan. I don't think that true Christianity can be destroyed. However, I do believe that politicians, priests, and God-wants-you-rich-philosophy-pimping-evangelists have given Christianity a bad name. Unfortunately, these people are out in the limelight but there are many Christians who still have integrity, will stand up for the innocent, refuse to cover up sin and believe that God's greatest blessings are not simply the material. There are still Christians who seek to follow the Lord as purely as they can. It is because of them and because of the all-preserving power of the Holy Spirit that Christianity will remain.

Above all: give up power over others, because power, if it is to be effective, ultimately requires the threat of violence, and violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why, in his final apolitical act, Jesus never defended his innocence at trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and even turned to those nailing his hands to the wood on the cross and forgave them, and loved them.

Power, if used in a godly way, can do much good. Violence results when people disobey what is good in order to fulfill their own selfish wishes and desires. I am not talking about the kind of violence that results when a dictator rules over a group of people, but the natural order of things in a good society, when evil is punished in lawful ways. Even in the Old Testament we see this played out many times. And, what about when Jesus literally used a whip in the temple marketplace on those who were turning God's house into "a den of robbers," as Jesus called it. Jesus was humble with the power that he chose to keep. According to Philippians 2, Christ humbled himself:

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!"

There is a great difference when power is used for the advantage of all rather than using it for self-aggrandizement. In this article, Mr. Sullivan mentions that Christians, like Jesus, should not have political aspirations. However, we need to realize that in Jesus' historical context, any political aspirations on his part would not have been in line with God's will, which was that he be crucified, die, and rise again so that people could be delivered from sin. His followers' part in today's world would be to live in such a way that good results from what they do. Christians who feel moved to do so should go into politics and use the power for the advantage of all, not themselves - this is hardly what we are seeing today in the American political scene, despite professions of 'faith' on the part of most, if not all, of the candidates and incumbents. They can do this by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, which shapes our desires and motives so that they resemble God's desires and motives. In this way, the world can be changed. It will not come through political aspirations of the great monolithic bureaucracy of the church. I've talked about this before and you can read it here.

So many Christians today believe that they sin in word, thought and deed every day. I have a hard time accepting this viewpoint. If Christ truly lives in us then why don't we have the power to rise above sin and live transformed lives with a renewed mind? Where is that belief in the new creation that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 5:

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

If we live transformed lives, completely given over to God and his will, as John Wesley describes in his sermon on Christian Perfection, then we will be the people that God wants us to be for others. Sure, there are times when we make mistakes; there are times when we sin, but Christ is there to forgive us and help us make things right. Don't give up on Christianity, as Sullivan suggests. Give up the old ways of living and do everything you can to make the Christian experience something that will encourage others to follow God.

More on this tomorrow and then on Friday we'll visit with Wonda from Ant Hunnys on Etsy.