Onward Christian Fortresses?

 

Viewed from the six lane highway, the structure appears to be a brick fortress surrounded by acres of treeless grass and a vast moonscape of parking lot. The function without form building inspires no awe, no upward glance and no transcendent thought. The surrounding barren landscape contains no greenhouse, no food or flower gardens, no observatory and no animal shelter. There is nothing of nature’s bounty in my view, only the requisite shrubs to offset the stark landscape. Behold, another mega-church built to feed the souls of six thousand; another unadorned mega-church in a far western suburb of architecturally savvy Chicago.

Every other Saturday I visit someone several towns away. As I do I pass this mega-church going and coming, typically between 10 and 11:30 am. This Saturday, like all the other times before, I saw, again to my astonishment, that there were no cars in the parking lot. There was no activity whatsoever. I wondered at a stewardship that builds a Scripture fort surrounded by acres of asphalt parking that is to be filled only periodically by the six thousand. The transmutation of creation into an austere block complex hurt my soul to see. And, what about the transmutation of the six thousand?

As a child, I first attended a Baptist church and later, Bible/Free churches. Beauty was a no show at these churches. There were, of course, colorful Sunday school materials – what is considered Christian education resources – for the kids. And with a constant pamphlet diet – a three point sermon with alliteration – there was no hunger for intellectual activity. I observed, as did Mark Noll in his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind“: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” I saw extreme resistance to obtaining knowledge. The pews were there to be used, but scholarly books, not so much. It would not be too far off to say that understanding was gained by and strictly limited to what the Bible ‘teachers’, self-help pablum and popular seminars say the Bible says.

Over some fifty years I have heard the same bad theology passed down from generation to generation. Not once in the Bible church did I ever hear a sermon or a class talk about the Kingdom of God being here and now – a major thrust of the four Gospels. The sermons, to an Amen, were, “You need to get saved so you can get to heaven. If you are saved then you need to come forward to rededicate your life. Then you must think seriously about becoming a missionary. Everyone must get to heaven because this world will be judged harshly.” Imagine how our world would change if we prayed for and practiced “on earth as it is in heaven”, and prepared for the return of our King? He will be bringing heaven down to earth to join them together.

There was and is also the highly profitable Rapture fantasy series based on a mis-reading of the Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. And, of course, there is the teaching of a literal six-day creationism. Science must be eschewed as being antagonistic toward God and His Word. I learned otherwise on my own.

And, there is the constant reiteration of the mis-understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Sadly, Romans, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, has been reduced to a quirky systematic theology – all about us. Paul’s circular letter to the Christians in and around Rome speaks of God’s plan to redeem his creation. The letter is a well thought out dissertation reminding Jewish and gentile Christians in Rome of God’s covenantal faithfulness, his righteousness. It was meant to reinforce an Old Testament understanding of God’s plan for redeeming his creation that was in place all along.

I never heard this at church. Instead, I heard the four spiritual laws imposed onto Romans. And with this I was taught that God imputes – gives – his righteousness to me, sinner that I am. But, this thinking has no basis in Romans given its Scriptural context of Genesis 15 and the Abrahamic covenant. Regarding my righteousness: I am made righteous in the law court of God by God’s exercise of His covenant faithfulness and his desire to put the world to right.

I don’t recall anyone over those years, except for a few visiting professors, who seriously studied theology, N.T. Greek or Hebrew to understand the context of what was written. Often, the visiting seminary professors would reassert the same bad theology using highfalutin terms and out-of-context proof texts.

I have heard countless sermons based on poached verses to create a ‘relevant” topic to preach on Sunday mornings. Relevance and accommodation are apparently key to mega-ness. The mega-church I’ve mentioned offers two services: traditional and contemporary worship. As such, this church divides the Body of Christ into sects for mega-accommodation.

Am I jaded about the Evangelical church? After many years of being involved with these Bible churches, in some sense I am. That is perhaps why I can see the six thousand continuing to come back to the mega-church because it looks… bigly: “There has to be something for me inside this Yuge Assembly of Bricks Church.”

If the election of Donald Trump, supported by the many Evangelicals who voted for him tells you anything, and if the existence of the mega-church tells you anything it is that the Evangelical assembly line approach to Christianity must go onward. And, Bible fortresses must be built.

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A coincidence? I found this audio link on Twitter this morning:

Reflections on horrible preaching

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“The day-to-day services of the Christian churches are embarrassing reminders of the fact that religion is losing its sublime godwardness, and turning instead towards the world of mass production.”

― Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.” ―Roger Scruton, Beauty

What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being – the truth that being is a gift, and receiving it is a task. This is a truth of theology that demands exposition as such.” ― Roger Scruton, Face of God: the Gifford Lectures

“The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind. Such efforts will lead to the kind of intellectual integrity that sometimes receives recognition. But for the Christian that recognition is only a fairly inconsequential by-product. The real point is valuing what God has made, believing that the creation is as “good” as he said it was, and exploring the fullest dimensions of what it meant for the Son of God to “become flesh and dwell among us.” Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One whose recognition is important, the One before whom all hearts are open.” ― Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

“Doubly Dead and Uprooted”

tree limb

The title of this post comes from the following scripture passage, written by Judah.

 Judah identifies himself first as a slave of the Lord Jesus and then as the brother of James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Judah is the half-brother of the Lord Jesus.

 Judah tells us that he earnestly wanted to write about God’s salvation realized but he turns quickly to the false teaching among his “beloved ones.” These false teachings sprung up in the early days of the church and even while the apostles, the eye witnesses, were still alive.

 Beware: false teaching is happening everywhere around us, even more so since the first century AD.

 In those days Gnostic teaching of the antinomian type was creeping into the church teaching. The Gnostic “false teachers” viewed the material as evil and the spiritual as good. Thus they cultivated their ‘spiritual’ lives and let the flesh to do whatever it desired to do. In effect, they gave license for all kinds of fleshy lawlessness including acceptance of the sexual perversion of homosexuality as normative within the church of the Lord Jesus.

 Gnosticism exists today in all its lawless or antinomian forms within many our churches: Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Evangelical.

 Here is Judah’s letter:

The Letter of Judah

 Contend for the faith

 Judah, slave of Jesus the Messiah, brother of James, to those who are called, the people whom God loves and whom Jesus, the Messiah, keeps safe! May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

 Beloved, I was doing my best to write to you about the rescue in which we share, but I found it necessary to write to you to urge you to struggle hard for the faith which was once and for all given to God’s people. Some people have sneaked in among you, it seems, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation ~ ungodly people, who are transforming God’s grace into licentiousness, and denying the one and only master, our Lord Jesus the Messiah.

 False Teachers

I do want to remind you, even though you know it all well, that when the Lord once and for all delivered his people out of Egypt, he subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. In the same way, when some of the angels did not keep to their rightful place of authority, but abandoned their own home, he kept them under conditions of darkness and in eternal chains to await the judgment of the great day. In similar fashion, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities round about, which had lived in gross immorality and lusted after unnatural flesh, are set before us as a pattern, undergoing the punishment of endless fire.

 However, these people are behaving in the same way! They are dreaming their way into defiling their flesh, rejecting authority, and cursing the glorious ones. Even Michael the archangel, when disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not presume to lay a charge against him of blasphemy, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you.” These people, however curse anything they don’t know. They are like dumb animals; there are some things they understand instinctively ~ but it is these very things that destroy them. A curse on them! They go off in the way of Cain; they give themselves over for money into Balaam’s deceitful ways; they are destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. These are the ones who pollute your love-feasts; they share your table without fear while simply looking after their own needs. They are waterless clouds blown along by the winds. They are the fruitless autumn trees, doubly dead and uprooted. They are stormy waves out at sea, splashing up their own shameful ways. They are wandering stars, and the deepest everlasting darkness has been kept for them in particular.

 Enoch, the seventh in line from Adam, prophesied about these people. “Look!” he said. “The Lord comes with ten thousand of his holy ones, to perform judgment against all, and to charge every human being with all the ungodly ways in which they have done ungodly things, and with every harsh word which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are always grumbling and complaining, chasing off after their own desires. From their mouths come arrogant words, buttering people up for the sake of gain.

Rescued by God’s Power

But you, my beloved ones, remember the words that were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus the Messiah. In the last time,” they said to you, “there will be scornful people who follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who cause divisions. They are living on the merely human level; they do not have the spirit. But you, beloved ones, build yourselves up in your most holy fait. Pray in the holy spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of god, as you wait for our Lord Jesus the Messiah to show you mercy which leads to the life of the age to come.

 With some people who are wavering, you must show mercy. Some you must rescue, snatching them from the fire. To others you must show mercy, but with fear, hating even the clothes that have been defiled by the flesh.

 Now to the one who is able to keep you standing upright, and to present you before his glory, undefiled and joyful ~to the one and only God, our savior through Jesus the Messiah our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all ages, and now, and to all the ages to come. Amen. (emphasis mine)

 

 “Doubly Dead and Uprooted” aptly describes the moral relativism, the lawlessness, of our day. People are uprooted from absolute truth and are just dead tree limbs, blown about by the winds and whims of our “values” culture.

 I have written about our culture’s ‘uprooting’ in previous posts.

America’s ‘Devalued’ Moral Currency

 

Tear Down That Anthropocentricity

 

 Many churches now teach a ‘feel-good gospel’ that is ‘inclusive’ …but also damning.

 With the church failing in its mission to make disciples, America is now rebuilding itself on a foundation of sand, of lawlessness, much like Europe has already done. We will soon be washed away. The torrents will come.

 My “beloved ones’: Reading Judah’s letter you can’t help notice that as someone who grew up with Jesus Judah understood his half-brother Jesus from his orthodox Jewish perspective to be the anticipated Messiah.

 Finally and most important of all, Judah mentions Jesus the “Messiah” over and over again within this short missive. The Kingdom of God on earth began in those days and continues to the present! Judah urged his brothers and sisters in the faith, including us, “to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.”

 

 

(Tree limb picture from Aerophant.com)