CHRISTianity For Two . . . Hold The Baloney!
"The problem with Christianity is that there are too many Christians!" (This was to be the title for this little tome, but it has too many words!)
My reason for writing is my deep belief in God and my desire to share this happy estate with other people. I believe most people believe in God and, to one degree or another, in Jesus as some mysterious part of God. It often stops there because of the obnoxious behavior of so many so-called "Christians". Yes, I, too, have often been off-put by the overbearing attitudes of Christians.
Mark Twain is credited with a rather telling statement. "When I think of all the detestable people I know went to Heaven, I am prompted to lead a much different life." I say, "Amen".
Therefore, I promise not to endlessly spout The Bible at you, and I absolutely pledge not to write with a typical preacher's "south'un acksayunt!" I will try with all of my being to avoid the jargon ("baloney") behind which many Christian antagonists hide. On my word as a gentleman I will try to "hold the baloney".
The starting point for this discussion must be that you fall into the category of being one who at least believes there is power or wisdom behind everything - a supreme being or God. This is a totally illogical reality that cannot be easily explained and certainly not proven by anything like what we call science. So, if you're still with me, fasten your seat belt, this could be a bumpy but hopefully fun ride.
If we believe in God, there is a natural desire to know more about Him and somehow rely on Him . . . at least when we get into a jam. Can we call God our "friend"? You bet! This is why I write today. God is already our friend and begs us to be His friend. He is my friend and can be (already is!) yours: CHRISTianity For Two . . . Hold The Baloney!
Having at least glimpsed at the baloney issue, let's look at my opening thought: "The problem with Christianity is that there are too many Christians!" (I almost just launched into a discussion on the meaning of "is" but, seeing where that got the last guy, I'll just deal with the phrase "too many".) How can a Christian think there are too many Christians?
It's simple. For most people who claim to be Christian, their definition of "Christian" begins and ends with themselves. "Anyone who caves in to my abrasive, self-absorbed definition of being Christian, qualifies. If you are precisely like me and carry my foibles around on your sleeve - you are a Christian. If not, you're bound for hell, or at least worthy of my contempt." This attitude is completely un-Christian according to Jesus' own words. It was born in the biases of the various man-made varieties of churches, called denominations. Unfortunately, it carries over into the people who follow the preachers like witless sheep after the clanging bell of a Judas-goat. In many respects what is called Christianity (the church) seems to preoccupy itself with drawing people away from what Jesus taught and into itself.
This bias often, and to the annoyance of most of us, takes on the shape of many "thou shalt nots". I call this brand of Christianity: "Thou-shalt-not-inanity". I have seen people shunned away from their homes by allegedly "good Christians" because they cut their lawn on a Sunday afternoon. This flies in the face of what Jesus Himself apparently said many times, that we should not judge other people and that Sunday was made for people, not people for Sunday.
For many Christians, a sip of beer or wine lubricates the slide to hell. I hold no quarrel with them applying this arbitrary standard to themselves, but I hold contempt for them applying it to everyone else. This in spite of Jesus Himself turning water into wine and addressing the healthful and beneficial use of drinks from ferment. Having said that, if drink is a problem that separates you from God, don't drink.
When I was growing up, the "shalt nots" included: all cinema, all card games, TV (even in its innocent infancy), dancing, cussing, doing anything but going to church and eating on Sunday (both of which we indulged greatly!), touching the opposite sex before marriage, smoking anything, drinking even a drop, makeup of any kind, jewelry (other than a wedding band), jazz and more. Christians in those days were an even greater bore than they are now. Each of us must decide whether or not any of these things can get between us and our Creator. If it does, ditch it.
Frequently denominational or nationalistic fervor pollute what we mistake for Christianity. The country of origin of a particular brand of faith gets mistaken for faith itself. This was conspicuous in the early work of missionaries. However, I saw this in my own denomination while growing up and subsequently. In my case "Christian" was unofficially defined by how "English" one could become. There was little bearing on one's morality or lack thereof, simply the trappings of being English. It sounds silly, but it is true of many denominations. For some it is Dutch, for others Latin and for others Scottish or Swedish or English or German, or whatever. While this is innocent enough on the face of things, it is diverting rubbish nonetheless. Being Christian derives from believing in Jesus as the human manifestation of God and living as much like Him as possible. It has nothing whatever to do with nationality or even denomination.
I said I was going to write about "too many" and have so far touched on the:
- Myopic, self-absorbed, judgmental, "my-way-or-the-highway" Christians
- Nationalistic Christianity
Let's think about "too many". Do you know how many denominations exist within Christianity? Neither do I. Nor do I care. (Some say over 30,000!) Each one claims to hold the real and eternal "truth". The focus of each is in proving all others wrong - divisiveness and unfounded elitism. They cumulatively believe in so much that they believe in nothing. Further, within each denomination there are divisions and schisms which are not always friendly. Catholics claim to be "the one true church", cordially but stiffly eschewing all others, while Episcopalians claim to be "Catholics absent the Pope." The Eastern Orthodox is rather Catholic, but not quite. Lutherans are divided as are Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, and on and on the list goes. All are right and all are wrong.
There is a story about John Wesley, Founder of Methodism, that illustrates the point. Whether or not it is true, it is right. John was evidently dreaming and was fearfully brought to the gates of hell. He timorously inquired of the gatekeeper: "Got any Catholics in there?" The reply brought a smile to his face: "Thousands!" Feeling a rush of confidence he inquired: "How about Baptists & Lutherans?" Again his confidence grew as the gatekeeper replied: "Hoards of ‘em!" As Wesley ran through the various denominations and began to run out, he finally, and with great confidence asked: "Any Methodists?" He was crushed by the reply: "We're bursting with Methodists!"
At this point in his dream he was rushed to the gates of Heaven. He started down the same list again and every single time the response renewed his confidence in Methodism because every other denomination brought forth the same answer: "We have none of them!" Finally, with bristling enthusiasm and confidence he asked: "How many Methodists up here?" The reply devastated him: "Nary a one!" "Well then, who do you have in Heaven?" "Christians, my boy, Christians!"
Each denomination has its own list of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" often called canons or doctrines (meaning "rules"). Most practice various and varied rituals called "sacraments", meaning "formal religious rites". Some of these rites include: baptism of various kinds (dunking, sprinkling, anointing, etc.), marriage, funerals, Holy Communion (generally called the Eucharist, which is the eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Jesus' suffering on the cross), Christening and others. There is as much variety in these practices and their observance as there are denominations. All of these things, along with many opposite thoughts, can be justified by clipping and pasting bits of minutia from the Bible, which brings us to another of our "too manys" - the Bible.
Today it seems there is a Bible to support every whim that society can concoct. Do you know how many alleged translations have cropped up in the last fifty years or so? I don't either, but the answer is "most of them". A great mind of the twentieth century, Malcom Muggeridge, referred to these latter-day alterations of the Bible as "dreadful gibberish". I agree with his assessment of these clumsy attempts to humanize The Book. However, if it takes one of these to get you closer to God, use it! I, personally, find the poetry, the cadence and mystery of the King James version transcendent, beautiful and inspiring. However, there is a real danger in relying too heavily on any of the myriad Bibles today.
How can there be a danger in The Bible? It is simple. Many people have relied on The Bible to the point of worshipping it rather than God. Further, in this reliance they have ascribed to The Bible an aura of infallibility that is quite unholy. Using The Bible one can justify anything from angelic living to The Inquisition - and it has been done. The Bible should point us toward a personal relationship with and reliance on God as our friend - nothing else.
Toward this goal I recommend that you look over several different Bibles and select at least one that you feel comfortable with, but be sure that the words of Jesus are somehow set apart (usually in red letters) from the words of mere human beings. Then let your reading be dominated by those words of Jesus. You will soon be convinced of His position as part of God. Further, you will never get directed wrongly, as you certainly will reading the words of the others. Jesus is, after all, a part of God.
How can there be a "part of God"? The Bible, Jesus in particular, speaks of a God in three parts, often called The Trinity. It gets a little complicated here, in that the three beings of this "Trinity" are one being. This should not throw anyone who has had a true and loving marriage. I could not imagine myself as a separate being from my wife, nor she from me - we are one. However, my father gave me an illustration as a kid that made it clear for me: water. Water is always water, but it can be liquid, gas as in steam and solid as in ice - it remains water. The same bucket of water can be all three at once if heat is applied.
A truer way of understanding this Trinity is that the Mind of God (generally referred to as The Father) is perfect and total wisdom, Christ Jesus, The Body of God (usually called The Son) is perfect and total Love, and the Soul of God (usually called The Holy Spirit) is perfect and total Power - the three aspects of God, Mind, Body and Soul. We, too, have these same three aspects, mind, body, and spirit or soul. It's really not so complicated.
That concept may be a bit of a speed-bump for some, but it should not derail the Gospel train. Almost all churches frequently pray "In The Name of The Father, The Son and Holy Spirit" - the three aspects of The Trinity.
Using my metaphor for the aspects of God, Jesus said to us that we cannot gain access to the Mind of God except through Himself, Jesus, the living body of God. He referred to Himself as "The Way", "The Truth", and "The Life". He meant that He is the access-way to the wisdom, Love and Power of God. Isn't it beautiful that access to the Wisdom and Power of God is through Christ Jesus, the aspect of Love? All that Jesus speaks about is in fact perfect truth, and through belief in Him one can have life divine - meaning now and/or in Heaven. He promised that He would send us a "Comforter", which is The Soul of God that answers our prayers and often guides us in subliminal ways.
What's a Christ? Christ is a Greek word for Messiah or Anointed One. Jesus makes the case, and for believers has demonstrated countless millions of times, that He is, in fact, The Christ promised in The Old Testament. It is upon this fact that all of Christendom, Christianity, was built and today exists.
Christ Jesus was predestined, as part of God, to take on the form of humanity and demonstrate this divine and perfect love by taking the punishment we earned by our evil behavior - sin. Sin is anything that pulls us away from that relationship as friend and child of God. Certainly a God of perfect wisdom could have come up with a better way to forgive us than by putting Himself through the hideous torture of dying on a cross. Of course. However, He gave us the freedom to mess up, and in that very humanity we chose to understand only sacrifice, so sacrifice it had to be. Jesus took it on with courage, human fear - every aspect of God felt all of the pain and dejection just as any of us would.
Jesus being the human embodiment of God was at once totally human and totally God, which is called The Incarnation. In this dual role he felt every lash of the whip, endured the spit on His face, felt each hammer blow as nails were driven into Him, every thorn in the mock crown that pierced His head, the spear in His side, and the feeling of total abandonment that each of us feels from time to time. He understands us because He was us.
When I was a little kid, I spilled my milk on the dining room table of friends we were visiting. Before I could even feel the shame or receive the wrath of my embarrassed parents, the host, a man named Ev Davis, said: "I did it!" and took the blame for me. That tiny act took place over fifty years ago, and it is as clear to me as yesterday, and the gratitude I felt then is with me as I share this with you.
When I think of all the milk I have spilt in all the devious, hateful, careless and stupid ways that one can err, I wonder that even God could love me. But He does. Jesus is the evidence of that Divine Love then, now and forever. In a very real way my sins and yours are what spilled His Blood all those years ago. It is I who tortured God's Son on that cross; it is you. And every sin we commit today renews His torment.
What does He ask of us? He simply wants our love. If we but beg His pardon, it is granted before we can think to ask. If we believe in Him and love Him, He will believe in and love us . . . as a very personal friend . . . The ultimate Friend. It is so simple and so free that it boggles the mind. This is what the church calls Salvation.
You may have noticed that I kept my promise not to throw The Bible at you and to avoid most jargon and "baloney". What about things like Heaven and Hell and the fall of Adam and other things we know the church jabbers about? Let me ask you a question. If you have been forgiven by God, accepted the sacrifice of Jesus in your behalf and talk to Him regularly as a friend, what difference could these things possibly make?
Should you wish, I have a little prayer that can help in this process of becoming God's friend:
Thank you for Your love for me.
I believe in You.
I beg you to forgive my sins.
Help me to love you just as You love me.
Help me to please you in my living.
Stay with, guide me, and comfort me in my troubles.
In The Name of Christ Jesus, Amen
Congratulations! You have just cemented the most important relationship humanly possible. It's that simple, and that divine. Count on God. Talk to Him even when you're not in a jam. Share this experience with someone else. That's real CHRISTianity . . . without the baloney.
God bless you!
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