In an excellent article on Lent, The God Article looks at the practice of giving up something in honour of the sacrifice of Jesus. I have always been appreciative of the practice of self-sacrifice as a spiritual discipline, and I believe it is still a valuable part of the church’s (and the Christ-follower’s) year-long journey. However (and this is a major “however”), I feel, like prayer, giving and fasting, giving up something for Lent is something you do privately–something only yourself and God know. That is the critical difference between what is a path to spiritual awareness or growth and simply another New Year’s resolution.
“So, why are those kinds of things what we most frequently give up for Lent? I’d say it’s because the way we practice Lent has turned it into nothing more than a time for religious New Year’s resolutions. The timing is perfect too. We’ve had just enough time to not follow through on our actual New Year’s resolutions and to start feeling guilty about it. Lent gives us a second chance to not follow through… um, I mean succeed.” (Read the entire article here.)
So whether or not I choose to give up something for Lent, I won’t be publicising it. That will be a matter between God and me. Whatever I do, I know it won’t have any impact on the love God has for me or on God’s acceptance of me, so I will feel no guilt if I fail. Disappointment? Maybe. Shame? No. Because it’s not about perfection, but about a heart that is moving in the right direction.
I spent the weekend reading a very well-written and thoroughly-researched book about a high profile international Christian ministry. This book revealed a host of secrets and hidden shortcomings of this ministry and its staff as well as questions about its abuse of power and laws.
I was incensed.
How could I stand by and let others keep that ministry in high regard? How could I let others get sucked into the manipulative dealings that allegedly were part of this organisations day-to-day operations? How could I listen to their music and read their books and say anything positive about what I had digested?
Naturally, I wanted to take my new-found knowledge and “shout it from the rooftops.”
In the middle of all my condemning thoughts and righteous anger, I stopped.
In my mind appeared the words of Jesus to a disciple who, like me, cared more about what another disciple would do in his life of following Jesus. Jesus said: ““. . . What is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
Light bulb moment: I am not responsible for what others do or don’t do. I am only responsible to make sure I am following Jesus faithfully, keeping my own life in order. What is it to me if they are reported to have said or done certain things? They are accountable to God for these things and his purifying fire will one day burn off all that is not fit to enter the kingdom.
This knocked my “righteous indignation” down a notch or two. I am still sad about the way it seems others are choosing to live their lives. Unrighteous actions done in the name of God still sicken and anger me. But there are enough self-proclaimed prophets whose role seems to be to call down fire on anyone who strays from their definition of the straight and narrow way. I don’t need to add one more angry and bitter voice to the milieu.
Rather, I am called to keep my own house in order and my own conscience clear before God, to be an instrument of God’s peace and love. The words the Master spoke are ringing in my ears: “What is that to you? You follow me.”
“If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe.”
Salvation is one of those often-used words in Christianity that can have so many different meanings and nuances of meaning. The most-often used is that of being “saved” from sin. I seems to go without saying in Evangelical circles that salvation is THE entire purpose of Jesus’ advent and death, and that this salvation is a personal and individual act of praying a certain prayer to “invite Jesus come into your life.”
I must confess that I am questioning a lot of the underlying modern-day assumptions about this teaching. Further, I need to admit that I don’t see a solid Biblical basis for a good amount of teaching on this subject. Rather, I’m afraid I see things such as “the sinner’s prayer,” “a personal Saviour” and “inviting Jesus in” as quite recent additions to the church’s historic understanding of salvation.
And whilst I am thinking about these things, I must also consider how much of what I believe is based on the paradigm I have been brought up to embrace.
Here is a conversation with a few questions which I read recently on another blog:
[Question:] I guess what I’m wrestling with is the question “Does Jesus play a crucial role in our salvation?” Consider this: What if Jesus had never been born and life for the Jews had progressed, or regressed, on into the 1st century and beyond? Could we still be reconciled to God and others? Couldn’t we realise our error, recognise God’s wisdom and repent? Or did we need a personal Savior? Or consider that Jesus had never been crucified, lived to be an old man, fell and broke his hip and died of pneumonia in the hospital. Couldn’t we still be reconciled with God and others without him dying on the cross?
[Response:] This is a serious and important question, and I don’t think I could do it justice without writing a whole Christology … To some degree, I think you’re asking about “penal substitutionary atonement theory” . . . Let me try to rephrase your questions like this:
Was the only reason Jesus came to save us from the wrath of God, to avert God’s wrath so we wouldn’t be tormented in hell forever?
Which is related to this question:
Does Jesus offer anything of value besides his blood to assuage the wrath of God?
Which is related to this question:
Is God unable to forgive sin without inflicting pain on someone?
When facing questions like these, you make a choice before you even start answering: do you try to answer these questions within conventional paradigms . . . or outside them? In my experience, when you step out of conventional paradigms, the questions begin to evaporate and different questions present themselves, questions like these:
What would it mean for God to be revealed in a vulnerable human being who is tortured and killed by religious and political elites?
If Jesus had never revealed God “in the flesh” as he did, what would we not know today?
In what ways does Jesus’ death intensify and strengthen our call to repentance and transformation?
I know I will be labelled as a heretic by some simply for the reason that I am giving a voice to someone’s questioning an important Biblical truth. I don’t think that’s fair, but you are fully within whatever right you think you may have to do so.
If, however, your criteria for orthodoxy is broad enough (and I hope it is) to include all who confess to a historic faith as stated in The Apostles’ Creed, then let me say that I affirm with full conviction every statement made in the Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Maybe it’s time we put our labels aside and look at the content of the heart (in the words of Dr King) rather than the colour of our theology-skin (possibly this is not so good a picture, but the thought is there).
If we are to be God’s people together, we must make room for conversations that we may not always agree with, but which allow all who are on the same journey a voice and a right to say, think and believe. We may see a doctrine in a different way, or express our opinion using different words or shades of meaning. And, in allowing one another freedom to discover the faith for themselves, we may just find that they have something to share that would be of value to us on our own journey.
That is, if we determine we are on a journey and not willing to settle into a lonely existence where only one voice–our voice–is heard.