Embracing Mystery…

Having been in seminary for a little more than two months, I keep coming up against one realization: I don’t know very much. Compared to the average church congregant, I might know more about church history or theology or even about Scripture. But that doesn’t mean that what I think I know can’t be refuted or debated. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers – regardless of how I might feel from time to time.

After every new book I read, I’m led to two or three more books I feel I need to read in order to address the questions that came to mind in that first book. It’s like as soon as I think I’ve figured something out about God, someone asks a question or points something out that wrecks my previous view and I have to start over again. After a while, it becomes rather exhausting.

Although, there’s a difference between my studies now and my studies when I first became a believer. Not sure if it was the culture, the church, or just some belief I developed in my own head, but I had this idea that I had to find all the answers and be able to answer anyone who may question my beliefs. I felt I needed to be well versed in theological self-defense, giving a verbal round-house kick to every question that tried to shake my faith. Heretics near and far would fear my apologetics.

As ridiculous as this sounds, this was my approach. I came to Scripture not looking to be fed something that improved the way I treated my neighbor, but to find a verse proving my point in every argument. The problem with this mentality is that it treats Scripture like an answer book and God as though He could be caged in to our little theology boxes. And once we’re able to quantify and document Him, we’ll place Him on a shelf like a paperback novel that intrigued us for a moment, but that we eventually figured out.

What this leaves out is any capacity for mystery. We don’t allow ourselves to wonder, to allow a question to sit and season awhile. And we don’t allow ourselves to doubt.

“Such doubt is not the enemy of faith but an essential element within it. For faith in God does not bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved paradoxes. Rather, it can be seen as a process of ‘unceasing interrogation.’… The spirit enters into our lives and puts disturbing questions. Without such creative doubt, religion becomes hard and cruel, degenerating into the spurious security which breeds intolerance and persecution. Without doubt, there is loss of inner reality and of inspirational power to religious language. The whole spiritual life must suffer from, and be seriously harmed by, the repression of doubt. – Kenneth Leech, as quoted in M. Robert Mulholland Jr.’s Invitation to a Journey, pg. 148 (Emphasis mine)

Frantically searching the Scriptures for the answer to that disturbing question could mean we are running from, as Leech puts it, “a process of ‘unceasing interrogation’” – a process we may very well need to undergo. What does this process look like, though?

I think it varies from person to person, but I know that it isn’t intellectual laziness. Allowing room for mystery isn’t the same as thinking to oneself, “Well, I asked the question, but I didn’t get an answer, so I suppose it will forever remain a mystery.” Instead it is the unending search – even if no answer is found.

God wants us to develop the capacity for mystery and wonder; not to develop a perfect systematic theology that refutes all the “liberal” questions attempting to undermine our faith. “And if there is no room for mystery there is no room for God, because God is the ultimate mystery,” (Mulholland, 149, emphasis mine).

A capacity for mystery is more about resolve than anything else; never ending in one’s search for whatever God has covered up. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out,” Proverbs 25:2.

Embrace mystery and make room for God. Paradoxically, you might find your faith being strengthened.

God bless.

Advertisements

Brewing My Own Theology…

An information packet from Western Seminary came in the mail yesterday. Yes, that same seminary I said I was going to apply to almost two years ago is again heavily on my mind. Only this time I’m simply going for it. Like several of my friends have advised, if I were to wait any longer, I’d most likely wind up never going at all. So I find it most reasonable to go when it is fresh on my mind and heart.

Something stirred in me, though, when I read through the brochures in the info packet. On one of them, there’s a line that reads, “Create your own doctrinal statement, instead of using ours.” Normally, my instinct is to cringe at the word “doctrine.” Ever since Calvary Fellowship went through at least two church splits, “doctrine” left a really bad taste in my mouth. But this time, something sort of clicked.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Scott Lamb (pastor of Emmaus Life) to talk about various things – football, politics, my chances of winning the U.S. Open next year, etc. One of the things that came up, though, was the importance of having your own theological system. Ah, “system,” another word that sends uncomfortable tingles up my spine. Some of its synonyms include “conformity,” “fixed order,” “rule,” and “routine” – all words that sound confining (and boring) more than they do liberating. And this is America; we’re all about liberation. We can’t have confining things.

But not to have a theological system would be contradictory. It’d be saying “I choose not to have a systematic theology,” which is actually laying a foundation for a theological system. And yet this is where I feel I’m being challenged; to develop my own set of beliefs, my own system.

I’ve written several mission statements throughout the last few years, but never really anything regarding my beliefs. A big reason for this is because, in several areas, I’m still figuring out what I believe. I think all of us are, to some extent anyway. No, I don’t mean we’re all questioning the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus (though some of us may be), but to say that we’re figuring out how to put our beliefs into our own words, rather than regurgitate something we were once told (like the Western Seminary brochure said).

“But what about sticking to ‘sound doctrine’?” you might ask. And it’s a good question. In theory, if we’re all off developing our own theological systems, then shouldn’t we all come up with something different? And if that were true, wouldn’t we be straying from ‘sound doctrine’? I don’t think so. I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, diligent in our studies, and forever seeking to be like Jesus – always returning to the cross – then we’d wind up looking very much alike.

Accepting the systems and statements of famous pastors (or infamous ones) can be good. A lot of the time, the famous theologians and pastors are really smart people. But not always. They’re still as human as we are and prone to similar mistakes. Thus, even if only on a surface level, God wants each of us to pursue Him with our minds so that we can fend off belief statements and theological systems that lead us away from Him.

So where to begin? Answering that question is rather simple: God. Our faith, our belief in God, His Son Jesus, His Spirit do not exist only within our minds. We did not come to believe in God through abstract ideas and concepts; we came to believe in Him when He revealed Himself to us. To further understand how He works, we must continue to seek Him.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.”
Proverbs 25:2

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

God bless.

God and Groceries…

It’s kind of weird not having a home church. I mean, I love where I am because, for the most part, it’s just God and me. But thinking back to where I was six months ago or even this time last year, I had a home church – a fellowship that felt like family. We sang together, prayed together, ate food together, and even played some flag football on Super Bowl Sunday. I miss it. I really do.

But that’s not what hit me tonight on my way to the grocery store. At my new apartment, we didn’t yet have a cutting board and not too many chef knives, so I went to Safeway to get them. As soon as I got in the car and started driving, though, I felt compelled to pray for a home church. For the past two Wednesday nights, I had gone to First Baptist Church way out on Coburg Road. Tonight, however, I needed alone with God.

“I just don’t know if I can call any church home right now,” I confessed.

The two churches I’ve attended since Danny’s last sermon are great churches; the people are awesome, loving, and energetic. But as of right now, I don’t feel like either can be considered “home.” Going to Calvary every Sunday morning was great because I knew the people and they knew me. And, this might sound kind of lame, but I had a lot more theological conversations there.

I’ve written many posts about my interests in theology, but in case you don’t know, I like talking about God’s nature. I like comparing the Gospels side by side to see if they really were describing the same theological background or if they perhaps saw things a little differently. I like digging a little deeper into the Jewish mindset of Jesus’ day just to grasp how profound and yet simple His teachings were. And I like being able to think that God is bigger than man-made doctrines and systematic theologies.

“God, if I can find a body of believers – even if it’s just two other people – who has similar views and interests, that’d be great,” I prayed.

I asked Him this because I find the Bible to be the most fascinating book I’ve ever picked up. Books on systematic theology don’t quite cut it. Sure, they sometimes give me something to look at as I’m reading through Scripture, but oftentimes they’re an annoying set of goggles that I feel pressured to look through. In high school, I avoided peer pressure because I knew the consequences. I’m the exact same way when it comes to theology.

Neither of the churches I’ve attended gave me that vibe – not the pastors, not the worship leaders, and not the average church-goers. That’s not why I’m writing tonight. I’m writing because I know what I want in my walk with God: A strong, genuine faith in Him and His sovereignty. This is no new thing, but I think faith in God is better than faith in human systems and what the majority is saying about Him. I think God wants us to come to Him crying, “Abba, Father!” instead of clinging to our neat lists of beliefs.

I don’t want to attack anyone else’s faith: If you believe Scripture’s flawless to the “T,” fine. But the moment someone says I have to believe the same thing in order to truly follow God, I’m going resist – because that part isn’t in the Bible. Being “like minded” meant focusing on the one, unifying aspect of the church: Jesus Christ. Pastor Ben Cross of First B. gave a wonderful message on unity a couple weeks back. He said that true unity doesn’t come from conformity, but rather diversity. It’s the practice of allowing Christ to work in our hearts so much so that we acknowledge them and overcome them to be together, to serve together, to love together – that’s what makes the church beautiful in God’s eyes.

In all honesty, I don’t think church-shopping is a difficult process. It might seem like it because there are so many different ones, but when it gets right down to it, it’s like buying a loaf of bread. Some taste different, some smell different, some have weird packaging labels, and some might even look weird, but once you’ve eaten, it’ll give you the nourishment you need. Likewise, if God’s Spirit is present, church shopping simply becomes a matter of just picking one and going with it. If God’s yeast is there, you’ll grow.

And one major sign of the Spirit’s presence is a church’s ability to unify from and through diversity.

God bless.

Drinking the Water of Christ…

(This is the 3rd message of the Galatians series I’m doing for the high school group at Calvary Fellowship. However, no one showed up yesterday, so this will actually be next week’s message. I thought I’d post it anyway. Hope you enjoy!)

Although it seems really odd to us today, circumcision was a major part of Judaism in Paul’s time. It was a way to separate Jew from Gentile – Israelite from Greek. But what Paul often describes in his letters was how circumcision became a form of slavery in the spiritual sense.

“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek,” Galatians 2:3

This verse alludes to the heart of the issue: Embracing the freedom of the gospel or seek the acceptance of the dominant religious elite by keeping the traditions of old.

We touched on this the first week by talking about where we place identity; is it with those who seek the acceptance of society or with someone else? But this week we’re looking at what is truly liberating about the gospel of Jesus.

Judaism, especially ancient Judaism, is a rather legalistic religion. If you ever get a chance, just breeze through Leviticus 11-15 – I know, not a very exciting book to read, but these chapters describe the purity laws of Judaism. If you were a Jew, you held these laws no matter what. But at the time of Jesus and Paul there was another set of laws which the priests and religious elite held their fellow Jews to.

Even though it was written down a couple hundred years after Christ’s death, the Mishnah (which is a part of what’s called the Talmud) represents the kind of oral traditions that were prevalent in Jesus’ time. These oral laws were as equally authoritative in that time period as the rest of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

An example comes from Mark 2:23-28:

“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’

And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’

And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Notice the key word in this passage, “lawful.” Judaism in Jesus’ time had become a very systematic religion that was mostly void of any authentic faith in God. People were more concerned about keeping accordance with what their religious leaders were telling them than actually seeking out a personal relationship with God. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he had to deal with this problem head on.

The systematic nature of ancient Judaism is a nature that has permeated every religion of our day. Groups of leaders come together to set up these codes of conduct that they want all their followers to abide by. No doubt some have a good intent behind it; they want to make sure they’re obeying God rather than man. But what always gets overlooked is how their own commandments and laws become more authoritative than the commandments and laws of God. This was the issue with the Galatian churches; Jewish-Christians were coming forward appearing to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, but still clinging to the traditions of old – and requiring everyone else to do the same.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” – Matthew 15:7-9 

What is the gospel? It is the good news that Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. These religious systems attempt to enable all followers to attain a certain level of spirituality by what they do. If they obey, then their lives are going to be great. If they don’t obey, then they’re lives are going to be hell. Paul’s words to the Galatians meant this: It is not by what you do or what you believe in; it is by whom you believe in that saves you – not just from hell or condemnation, but from the legalistic systems of this world.

Followers of the Way, which was a way of describing followers of Christ back in antiquity, were hated not because they were annoying people with funeral protests and Koran burnings; they annoyed people because they believed in Jesus – a God-man who broke their system to pieces.

Obviously the system still pervades in our day. We have countless books about systematic theology (the title alone should be a warning) and what Christians should believe. But Paul repeatedly argues that what we really need to believe in is the fact that we are loved so much by our God He died for us so we may live with Him in eternity.

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:3-4

This week’s encouragement is to think about why we show up to church. Is it because we’re trying to please that false god of religious legalism? Is it because we’re trying to fit in with the rest of the Christian crowd? Is it because we’re trying to look good to the elites of our society? Or is it because we thirst for something beyond the system?

“People who have been starved of water for a long time will drink anything, even if it is polluted,” NT Wright, Simply Christian

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” – Jesus, John 4:13-14

Which well are you drinking from?

Hangin’ With God…

Sometimes hanging out with people is boring. Everyone’s sitting on a couch, chair, the floor, or each other watching TV or a movie while eating. All the while there really isn’t much conversation. Maybe if something funny happens on the screen, someone will chime in with something adding to the humor. Or if a great play happens everyone will cheer or boo, depending on which team they’re rooting for. But no one really talks about their day, their classes, friends that are frustrating them, or how they shouldn’t have had a burrito for lunch.

I’ve often wondered what Jesus would be up to if He had come in physical form in our day. The Gospels say He often ate dinner with people. So would He hang out with us as we watch baseball and drink beer? Would He wonder with us how a certain movie will end? And would He get frustrated at the popcorn stuck in His teeth?

Honestly, I think he would.

But only for a little while.

Why only a little while? Because I think Jesus is the kind of guy who’d do whatever it’d take to reach someone – to get on a level where they would clearly hear Him – and then use wisdom to bring us forward into something more. He would hang out with us intentionally; not just because He’s bored.

We often think – either consciously or sub-consciously – that our time with God ought to be at church or in the small Bible study. But really, He’s always with us. Jesus says that He’ll be with us always (Matthew 28:20), which I take to mean He’s there with me as I work at my job, as I drive behind the slow-moving car, as I wait in the excessively-long line at the DMV, and even as I write these words. Somehow, knowing that He is always there changes the way I seek Him.

I often find myself in the habit of extreme “devo-time.” No, I’m not sky-diving as I read through a Gospel. When I say “extreme,” I mean that I’m strictly following a set pattern of devotional time with God. I stick to whatever habit, whatever routine I’ve given myself and treat it as if it’s the only time that God is ever with me. I seem to “listen” to God as I read Scripture, but when I feel the urge to honk my horn at the guy who cut me off, I rarely choose to listen to Him.

As I said before, God is constantly hanging out with us whether we like it or not. Sometimes it feels like we’re on a date with Him; and yet other times it feels like dealing with the roommate who never showers. But no matter what, He’s right there.

I haven’t read through a daily-devotional book in quite a long time simply because I make such a routine out of it that I lose the sense of God’s presence in every aspect of my life. It changes the way I pray and worship, too: Instead of talking to God like He’s my best friend, I’m simply asking Him to do stuff for me; or instead of praising Him like He’s my favorite athlete, I simply focus on singing the songs right, standing when everyone stands, raising my hands when everyone else raises their hands, and sitting when everyone else is sitting. Books that structure how I read, pray, worship, and operate my day tend to make me less reliant on God and more reliant on the man-made system.

Man has had a long history of depending on our own systems instead of God. But God is right here with us; that’s what “Immanuel” means! We don’t need our daily devos, doctrines, dogmas, purification systems, systematic theologies, and formulaic beliefs about how God operates with us. Those all can be helpful at times, but we don’t need them like we need oxygen. We need God. And I think it’s just as easy as hanging out with friends.

God bless.

Ehrman’s Error…

My first experience with Bart Ehrman actually proved more positive than negative. Reading through Misquoting Jesus gave me a much different and brutally-honest perspective of the Biblical manuscripts we have – such a perspective that compelled me to dive much deeper into the study of Scripture. After reading Misquoting, I turned to his text book, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, and received an even deeper education into the formulation of each book of the New Testament. In comparison to Misquoting, Ehrman’s text book was also much more balanced.

As a recent post of mine makes clear, inerrancy is not an essential doctrine for my faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, if anything, it dilutes Scripture for me – dulling it down to a mere book on doctrine and systematic theology rather than a unique, inspirational text that interacts with the divine God, Yahweh. From this standpoint, I gravitated (at least initially) towards Ehrman’s approach much easier than many of my friends might. But after reading the first chapter of his most recent book, Forged, I must say that Bart Ehrman has gone off his rocker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ehrman, he’s gained much publicity for his controversial books: Misquoting Jesus; Jesus, Interrupted; God’s Problem; and finally Forged. While I haven’t read either Jesus, Interrupted or God’s Problem, I could easily detect throughout Misquoting an undertone of cynicism and bitterness towards Christianity. I detect an even more intense undertone in Forged. But that’s beside the point. What really ticked me off was certain moments in his new book where he’d mention something in passing that was completely subjective, but yet he wouldn’t back up his claim with the evidence. The premise of this new book is to see how the New Testament books were all (or at least mostly) deliberately forged by other names and not the names the books claim to. He claims “objectivity,” but fails to recognize his conclusions are completely subjective.

Ehrman does admit that this new book is not a thorough study of ancient forgeries. Be that as it may, as a “layperson,” I want evidence. If you’re going to make a claim such as “[W]e know of over a hundred writings from the first four centuries that were claimed by one Christian author or another to have been forged by fellow Christians,” you better have the objective evidence – that is, evidence not stilted by one’s own personal agendas when reading the text – to back it up. I personally believe that pure, untainted objectivity is extremely unlikely, bordering impossible. There always seems to be some deep root of subjectivity that has a major influence on how we read texts and formulate opinions. In a paper for one of my English classes, I called this natural-subjectivity our “literary goggles.” We all have them. Some are more obvious than others; while some are less. Ehrman’s literary goggles are laid out flat on the table in his introduction.

I really became frustrated with this book when I came across page 22. Ehrman says in passing, “The book of Hebrews was particularly debated; the book does not explicitly claim to be written by Paul, but there are hints at the end that the author wants readers to think that he’s Paul (13:22-25),” but does not back up this passing claim with any evidence nor does he refer to a later chapter where he might. And if you actually look up the passage in Hebrews, one is not clearly driven to Ehrman’s conclusions:

“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.”

Pauline language? Yes. Author’s attempt at deceiving you? No – at least not “objectively” as Ehrman claims. It could well be a common way of communities writing back and forth. And, as Ehrman implies (he likes the word “intimate,” which basically means “imply”) in Misquoting, for all we know it could have been a later scribe thinking it was a Pauline letter and therefore added in something that would suggest it as so. It does not decisively mean the author of Hebrews was intending to mislead his audience. Not even close.

What really gets under my skin from this book is his self-contradiction at the end of chapter one. Presenting his case as seemingly-objective as possible, he then ends the chapter with this: “We simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds to see what they were thinking, deep down, when they decided to hide their own identity and to claim, deceitfully, that they were someone else,” (42). But wait a minute, if “[w]e simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds,” then how do we know they were deliberately being deceptive? How do we know that they intended to deceive their readers?

What Ehrman fails to acknowledge to the “layperson” is that the arguments and debates are much bigger than how he presents it. In discussing Ehrman two days ago, Dr. Falk (my favorite professor) said, “He’s still a fundamentalist – just from the other side. And he doesn’t seem to acknowledge it.”

Erhman’s error simply is making a strongly-subjective claim in the name of objectivity. As he says, we can never know what the New Testament authors intended with their writing. For all we know, they could be the names written on the cover. And even if they happen not to be, there isn’t conclusive, objective evidence to show they deliberately intended to deceive their readers for their own agendas. Ehrman cheats the “layperson” by not presenting the full argument; there are many more elements that go into textual criticism than what he has presented thus far. I may pull back my words a little as I read, but right now, I doubt it. Bart Ehrman has gone against what is true to authentic scholarship – even his own scholarship. His literary goggles have begun to blind him.

He Who Would Be Right Must First Be Wrong…

After being in Portland for only four hours, I suddenly want to live there. The city lights, the sky-scrapers, the amplified-Eugene feel just appeals to me in a way I can’t really explain. I’m sure it has its drawbacks, but what town doesn’t? Lincoln City has the beach, but it also has thousands and thousands of tourists during the summer. But unlike Lincoln City or Eugene, Portland has a mysterious feel to it. The last time I was in downtown Portland or even near it was when I was in eighth grade. I’ve driven through Portland and gone to several places on the outskirts, but I haven’t actually been in the city for eight years. And since I don’t go there often, I don’t know the city very well. There’s a mystery about it because I’m incredibly curious. And I’m easily distracted by shiny buildings and bright lights.

When I think about moving away from Eugene, though, I get a little nervous. Not only would I have to meet a bunch of new people, but I’d have to find a healthy church, a Christ-like church. Here in Eugene, I’ve been with Calvary Fellowship my entire college career and it’s been awesome. I’ve been challenged spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and sometimes even physically (we have a former wrestler as one of our pastors and sometimes he gets that fire in his eyes and attacks whatever moves next to him). I’ve grown to appreciate Danny O’Neil’s style of teaching every Sunday morning and his overall way of looking at Jesus. It’s encouraging and inspiring. But does Portland have that?

Taking a step back and looking at the surface of Christianity, which is usually what the Christian pop culture looks like, I see a side of it all that I want to avoid. I see a side of Christianity that stresses believing the right things, learning from the right pastors, going to the right churches, and knowing the Bible through the lens of systematic theology. It carries the illusion of simplicity without the challenge. It makes being a Christian look like a style of career, not a style of living. You go to church every Sunday, tithe once a month, learn all the right verses to all the right doctrines, and basically prepare yourself to defend what you believe. What’s wrong in all of this? Well, certain Scriptures get overlooked, like the words of Jesus.

No, not all the words of Jesus go overlooked, but the ones that are considered are looked at because of what doctrines they imply. For instance, when Jesus prays to God asking Him to sanctify His disciples “in the truth; [His] word is truth” we don’t read this as a prayer asking God to sanctify His people in Himself; we read it as how Jesus supposedly affirms the doctrine of inerrancy. There are plenty of other references to Jesus’ words in light of doctrines, but my point is this: we take our only insight into what Jesus said and we kill the life of it by making a systematic theology out of it. We don’t feed off God’s Word as in God’s “Logos”; we feed off our own organized religious interpretation of the Bible, the second testament to the Word of God. What gets overlooked when we doctrinalize Scripture is the style of living (living in the day to day) that Jesus calls us to. If it doesn’t get overlooked, at the very least it’s treated with lesser importance than walking in “sound doctrine.” All the while, we ignore how Jesus defines “sound doctrine”; loving God and loving others.

The doctrine of unconditional, selfless love isn’t being written about that often these days. Instead, books about what every Christian should believe are rising to the top of the Best Seller list for Christian literature. Entire series of sermons that go through long books of the Bible are devoted to teaching people “sound doctrine” through the lens of systematic theology. The problem with systematic theology is that it is un-Christ-like; it’s systematic. If you read Scripture just to read it, throwing aside whatever we’ve understood about doctrine and theology, we see a Christ who was known and loved because He loved, not because He went around thumping everybody’s head with a Bible. He listened to the people’s stories, He empathized with the people’s pain and suffering (whether they were rich or poor, healthy or sick), and He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (Matthew 20:28).

The religious elitists of our time, who are most frequently ourselves, take the truth of Jesus, the truth of Scripture and lord it over everybody else. But yet it’s Jesus who says, “It shall not be so among you,” (Matthew 20:26). Humility and servitude and selfless love are the things that should be at the top of our doctrines. Then why are most followers of Jesus abandoning ship when a tradition gets questioned and flocking to churches that “have it all together”? Why, instead of listening and trying to understand those who disagree with us, are we defending our beliefs against theirs? When we’re quick to defend our beliefs, we’re quick to assume that anyone who disagrees with us is attacking us. But if we take a step back, set our egos aside, and open our ears, we might realize that those who disagree with us are merely offering up alternative ways of looking at life. They offer different perspectives.

We don’t have to believe what they offer us, we don’t have to agree with them, but at the very least we can show them Christ’s love by trying to listen and understand what they’re saying. It seems to me that we have a bad tendency (myself included) to get emotional when we’re told our beliefs are wrong. Instead, maybe we should humble ourselves and listen to what the arguments and ideas are before we try to prove them wrong. The University of Oregon has had a debate team for quite some time. When they first started out, they implemented a new style of argument: cross examination. This style beckoned the Oregon team to understand the opposing teams’ arguments before presenting their own. If you’re like me and have the tendency to argue, then maybe this approach would help you be more Christ-like in the whole process.

But before we even consider arguing our beliefs and defending our doctrines and proving ourselves in the right, we have a third option: we could let go. We could turn the other cheek by saying, “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from, but I just disagree,” and then move on to more important things like loving others as Christ would. I might be crazy, but I think when the end comes, Jesus won’t evaluate how well we defended our doctrines and systematic theologies; He’ll look at how well we reflected His character.

This is the kind of church I’d want to find if I moved to Portland. Yeah, no church will ever do this perfectly and that no matter what I’ll have to take the good with the bad. But at the very least, I think the church (the global one) should have the primary focus of reflecting Christ’s character. And if I’m not at a church (smaller, local one) with this vision – this Christ-exalting, Christ-amplifying, Christ-loving vision – then I shouldn’t consider it a home church. Thankfully, though, I won’t really have to worry about all that for a while since I’m not looking to move to Portland any time soon, at least I don’t think so anyway. But I think I should keep this in mind even while being a part of Calvary Fellowship. Right now things are good, vision is set on showing Christ’s love, and people are being active with their faith. Things could change, though, and I think every follower of Jesus should be aware. And if change does come, I think it’s important to remain committed to that church. With as many churches as there are out there, it’s so easy to bail out to the next one when we see something we don’t like. I don’t want to do that if I move to Portland and I don’t want to do that now. Endurance and patience are, after all, Christ-like characteristics.

If Jesus were around today, I’d wonder what He might say to our doctrines and systematic theologies. I wonder if He would do like He did when He overturned the merchants’ tables in the Temple. Or maybe He’d walk right past it all and hang out with the homosexuals and the Muslims and the drug addicts, not because He believes everything’s relative, but because He is love; because love is humble. I want to meet Jesus one day, face to face. And if it turns out that He comes back and immediately goes to the marginalized, I can only hope that I’d be there with them to meet Him.