I am pleased to announce the release of our new book, How New is the New Covenant? – Discovering the Implications of Jesus is Lord.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force. – Matt. 11:12, KJV.
All my Christian life I have found the idea that Jesus somehow endorses violent human effort for His cause as very odd. It contradicts the rest of His teaching, the life He lived, the example He set, and the rest of the New Testament. What does this passage about the kingdom of heaven and violence mean?
Last week I presented a broad overview of how I believe the church has evolved in America during my lifetime. I now believe that there should be little doubt that the church is not only in rapid numerical decline but intellectually and spiritually we are almost powerless. A major reason for this condition lies in the loss of what I referred to as “the romance of orthodoxy.” When good orthodoxy is joined with a deep sense of mystery shaped by paradox I believe we see a better way to enter the next era of church history. I want to explore this idea today.
Many believers have been taught that the love of God toward them is conditional upon their behavior. Mix in psychological issues of shame, guilt, and unworthiness, the combination becomes a debilitating paralysis that can lead to despair, depression, and even suicide. Jesus’s words in John 15:10 are often used as a proof text by preachers to propagate this point of view. Let’s look at John 15:10 closely, paying attention to three important considerations: context, grammar, and culture. I will be covering some basic Greek, but I will try to keep it non-technical.
Recently I have been blessed with the expansion of relationship with brothers and sisters outside my direct church family. Like the gospel will do, and like Jesus will do, those lines become blurred and the family just becomes, well, more family: still the church–still the body–just more connected. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that doctrine can be a relational stumbling block in the “extended” family.
The following is a true story that clearly demonstrates the essence of the gospel in nonviolence. I wept in thankfulness the first time I read this. It is an incident cited by Kenneth Bailey[i] involving King Hussein of Jordan, and confirmed through high-ranking American intelligence officers stationed in Jordan at the time this event took place:
Whenever I bring up the topic of the importance of culture and context in understanding the Scriptures, folks sometimes respond with: “What about new converts, or uneducated people?” Aren’t you putting the gospel out of reach of the “non-scholar masses?”
However, Christian anti-intellectualism is a work of the flesh just as much as sexual immorality. Only it is more dangerous as it has been given tacit approval under a form of perceived superior spirituality in large segments of the Body of Christ.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they . . . – Hebrews 1:1-4, KJV.
Like sequels to a lousy B-grade horror movie, bad ideas often get recycled in the Body of Christ. It happened again for me this week in a painful phone conversation with a dear, damaged, soul. The bad-penny doctrine I am referring to is the concept of absolute submission to an alleged “spiritual covering” as a necessity for your spiritual welfare and advance. The spiritual covering is allegedly embodied in your pastor/leader, etc. This issue has been hit hundreds if not thousands of times over the years by myself and other authors and bloggers. As confirmed by my phone conversation this week, like a zombie, it just won’t die. For Jesus’ sake, and for the well being of His church, I am going to briefly hit it again here.
Would you listen to, or value the opinion, of someone who has memorized a restaurant’s menu, can explain it in flawless detail, can argue why their restaurant preference is better than the restaurant down the street, but who has actually never tasted the food on the menu they are talking about? We do it in Christianity all the time. We think accurate mastery of Bible stuff = life and substance. We think because we can explain the life of Jesus or Paul, that we possess the life of Jesus or Paul. Not necessarily. Just because someone has a strong opinion on a trendy topic based on the latest book they’ve read, or can debate this or that doctrine, or understands the Bible, etc., does not mean he or she is worth listening to . . . even if their stuff is “right.” It is those for whom the word has become flesh, those who are living it, not philosophizing about it, that are worth being listened to. Any fool can have an opinion on the restaurant. Only those who have paid the price to eat a meal there, are worth listening to.
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