Click for audio version read by author: transactional-religion.mp3
It is easy to reject a rather mercenary Christianity which proposes that all we need do to escape eternal damnation is to say “Jesus is Lord” and then go our merry way. It is also easy to reject a religion that mercilessly condemns failure, is scrupulous at finding fault, and offers condescending assistance in time of need. Or a smug belief system that overlooks human suffering to prioritize proselytizing. It is disgusting to see a religion align itself with those who embody the antithesis of its precepts just to gain political advantage. Unfortunately these are the ideas that come to mind when one hears the word ”Christian” in today’s desperate culture.
I realize that these are over-simplified characterizations, not accurate assessments of all of American Christianity, but the perception is real. “Some on the religious right will thunder that this is a result of a secular ‘war on Christianity.’ “Christians and Christianity are mocked, belittled, smeared and attacked,” declared an essay on Fox News’s website, plaintively titled How Long Will I Be Allowed to Remain a Christian? ”This mockery of Christians is, as I’ve written many times, both real and wrong. But a far bigger threat to the “brand” of Christianity comes, I think, from religious blowhards who have entangled faith with bigotry, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. For some young people, Christianity is associated less with love than with hate.” (Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times Oct 16, 2019)
I doubt Jesus would validate the current politically entangled and culturally re-theologized version of His teachings. He does say that we will be hated by all men for HIs name sake, but what we have today is a fractured church either eminently acculturated or morally indignant. Jesus asserted that He is the divine emissary Who alone deserves, even demands, total trust if real life will be entered at all. He announces that there is no other road that leads to eternity. Very narrow, offensive to religious systems, but unequivocal. Jesus’ last words to us was to go into all the world and make disciples. So persuading people of His Person and message is our responsibility if we have any care at all for people in hopeless bondage to sin and self. His call is to personal holiness towards God and service to man. He calls us to love one another despite personal cost as He did, to deny ourselves in order to foster spiritual growth, to honor Him in all we say and do, and to reach out to help others do the same. As we allow Him access to our souls we cannot help but be moved with compassion as He was with the physical as well as spiritual plight of our neighbors. This requires us to act at least as much as we study.
My little rant here is a sermon to myself, an attempt to jolt myself and my brethren out of complacency, to rethink what has become perhaps a too familiar but inaccurate idea of what it means to be ambassadors for Jesus. As we do this, evaluating what it looks like to be a follower, we can do our little part to roll back the misperception of our Jesus. Or at least let people reject Him for the right reasons. This is a soul searching, heart wrenching challenge, one I hope and pray each one of us will take. Challenging because it may mean we have to reprioritize our time – perhaps fewer church meetings and more service. Maybe we will need to reevaluate our opinionizing and learn to hold our convictions with carefulness, thoughtful rather than dismissive. Vulnerable rather than doctrinal. Perhaps we will need to challenge our Christian friends to think more inclusively, speak more kindly, pray more intensely, serve more intentionally, courteously considering opposing viewpoints. It is easy to have a twitter brain, sitting back in smug security throwing out moral imperatives for others with little regard for how the recipients look at Jesus when they hear our pronouncements. Perhaps we can plan a trip outside of our little Christian bubble. It is way messy to actually connect with people outside our comfort zone, but infinitely worth the effort.
I love this insert in John 14 in the Voice. It is worth some reflective contemplation as we consider our calling. Each of us has a specific and unique purpose, invited to serve our own generation in the will of God as David was. What a precious gift!
God becomes flesh and lives among humanity, not just to have a transaction with people and ultimately die, but to continue to be with them and to send His Spirit to be present with believers. So God calls His Spirit-indwelled people to something greater, something more significant: they are here as redeeming forces on this earth; their time here is about reclaiming the things He has created. Believing God has created the entire cosmos and that it is restored in Jesus, the believer’s work here through the Spirit is to say, “This belongs to God,” and to help point out the beauty of creation to everyone. And most of all, to live in it themselves by the power of the Holy Spirit who plants the teachings of the Lord in their hearts