Tag Archives: religion

Just Who Did Jesus Tick off, Anyway??

Politics and religion often polarize us. Recently, I’ve heard some people say Jesus was very political and enraged his culture. I disagree. Had He done that, He would’ve kept the unsaved—the ‘unholy’—from the Kingdom of God just as the Pharisees had. A holy war against the unreligious would’ve placed the Kingdom so far out of reach and unattractive (as is often the case today) that it would’ve been unattainable to those who needed to enter. But, in reality, the political background of the Pharisees just didn’t seem to matter to Jesus (nothing in the Bible suggests that it did). The only thing that He ‘raged’ against was the religious nature of some of the Pharisees—a force that kept people from the Kingdom of God. Let’s look at a few examples.

Jesus explained that the Pharisees in their religiosity kept people from His Father’s Kingdom:  But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people … (Matthew 23:13). Considering that Jesus came to introduce the Kingdom to humankind, this makes sense.

Jesus also overturned the money changers’ tables during Passover at the beginning and end of His ministry (John 2:13-22 & Mark 11:15-19). Why? They had commercialized the things of God—not unlike what we often see today in our consumeristic Christianity.

He also verbally attacked Pharisaical attitudes and behaviors in Matthew chapter 23 by pointing out their hypocritical nature (1-4). He calls them “blind guides” (23:16) and a “Brood of vipers” (23:33). Finally, He asks them, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (23:33). As I mentioned earlier, He challenged the forces that restricted access to His Father’s Kingdom while tending to teach the non-religious sinners patiently. Perhaps the religious Pharisees were unteachable whereas the nonreligious were.

Just to be clear: we must stand firm when confronting the immoralities of the day. But we must do it gently and lovingly as a witness to the unbelieving world. So, what’s my point, then? Don’t use Jesus as a fall guy for violent or subversive rhetoric, speech, or behavior. Instead, have compassion on the lost, don’t wage holy wars against the unholy, and focus on reforming unhealthy religious behavior starting with ourselves. Only then will we be godly models others will trust and listen to and mimic as we shine the light of Christ and shape cultures.

Next week, I’ll share with you the life and times of John Bar Zebedee – John ‘the Revelator,’ who was the only apostle not to be martyred as he honored Christ’s charge to care for Mary, fostered the church in Ephesus, and warned of things to come.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

One body, 30,000 toes??

“Ron: Why do we have so many different kinds of churches??” Wow! Where on earth do I begin in answering this question? One source estimates that 30,000 or more different Christian organizations exist globally, and another states that more than 200 different church flavors make their home in the United States. The short answer is that it was never meant to be this way and wasn’t until about 400 years ago. Since then, a tendency toward individualism and a theological ‘wild, wild, west’ have led to many personal interpretations of the Bible and segregated churches. Add to that unchecked personal beliefs that God has given special revelation to some, and we end up with more Body of Christ fractures than the oil fields of western North Dakota! Perhaps a little church history would help us understand how we got here in such a short time – in about one-fifth of Christianity’s history.

The earliest and simplest Christianity modeled Christ in community and trained and then baptized anyone devoting their lives to the Father through the Son. Of course, there were occasional heresies and rebellions, but that was the basic approach. Over time, the Church split over differences in faith practices. For about 1,600 years, only two primary partitions of Christianity existed: Orthodoxy in the east and Roman Catholicism from about Rome westward.

Sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism, like many institutions, suffered corruption and some supposed unbiblical practices. Protestor Martin Luther (and others) pushed back against such things as indulgences and the idea that good deeds or money could earn a ticket to heaven. Although it doesn’t appear that Luther intended the eventual splintering of Christianity that we’ve witnessed over the last 400-ish years, this is what ensued. What began as an intended reformation of the Roman Catholic church brought on many unintended theological divisions and different worship practices.

Today, many Christian fragments exist, even within denominations. And they fall along a continuum of extremes. For some congregations, humans have no free will to choose a partnership with God. At the other end of the spectrum, God has no influence and exists only to make people feel good and respond when they need Him. Perhaps we should stop deciding for God how He will use His authority! He is indeed the Lord of all, and He seeks relationships with those who choose to receive the Living Water of Christ and walk by the Holy Spirit.

To summarize, there are 30,000 Christian ‘toes’ because each has a mind of its own and often wiggles to its own beat. Now, it isn’t all bad: some Christ-minded cultures that devote to God and love others have provided diverse and meaningful ways to put true faith into practice. Next week, we’ll explore worship and contrast Big-T truths of the Christian faith against the little-t truths of those worshipful practices.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Covenantal Anesthesia

Today, we prevent unwanted pregnancies not by abstinence but contraception. No discipline; no problem. Do whatever feels good. Promises made in the dark remain unkept in an age where words and actions are disconnected and often in complete opposition.

Today, we avert the consequences of other ungodly acts such as homosexuality through medicine and contraceptive methods. Lying and litigation are acceptable means by which to achieve objectives. These aren’t God’s ways or representative of His love, which equates to justice and mercy. His speech results in action; He has always done what He says He will do. This was the posture of the early Church: speech-action that mirrored their faith and produced good works accordingly. Their speech and actions were indistinguishable.

Second-century Christian and Church leader Justin notes this of his contemporary Christians: “… community doesn’t consider people true Christians if they simply quote Christ’s teachings but don’t live them.” (Justin, 1 Apol. 16.8 by Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, 15). He also lists the saying of Jesus under four categories: sexual ethics, actionable/charitable love, patience, and truth-telling. (ibid.) Many early Church leaders reported that the Christians lived among the non-Christians in community eating, drinking, and working beside them. However, their charity, honesty, and purity as well as patience under trials and hardships set them apart and made an impact that attracted those around the Christians to desire to learn of God’s kingdom and join the faith. Not so today in a world of watered-down preaching full of funny stories and anecdotes framed by entertaining music, coffee, and donuts; no so in a world where churches become the most expensive light-killing lampshades on the planet by hiding and entertaining consumers.

Today, the Western Church looks mostly like the world: same behaviors and worldviews; similar lack of patience, unrepentance, unforgiveness, divorce statistics, selfish driving habits, litigation, financial irresponsibility, and so-on. Why? In my experience as a minister, researcher, and writer, a driving factor is the lack of choice where a covenant with God is concerned.

Removing the consequences of immorality, lying, etc. through contraception, litigation, and ungodly laws can lure us into believing that the lack of consequences imply acceptance. Similarly, and in my experience, Western Christians are lured into believing that God exists to serve them and that prosperity is the goal because covenant and consequences have often been removed in the Church. Churchgoers are anesthetized by receiving a half-baked gospel where, if anything, a silent and personal ‘sinner’s prayer can save them without reciprocation. They are told there’s nothing they have to do – Jesus did it all! No self-discipline, no charity, no sacrifice, no two-way marriage-like covenantal response. No consequence for the pleasure-seeking individual uninterested in communal care who practices behavior antithetical to God’s ways. No accountability. No ongoing spiritual formation or discipleship (Barna, The State of the Church, 2016, for instance: https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/). What to do?

There can be a fix – a positive change that once again draws others to our faith. Turn off the anethsiea of a covenantless gospel; stop entertaining and teach. Hold Christians accountable for ungodly behavior and gently train through discipleship. Move out of the church buildings and live out faith among others in our communities whether at work, play, or dwelling so that they may see our good works, patience, and purity and wonder just as the ancients did.

Blessings,

rb

http://www.ronbraley.com

http://www.findingdiscipleship.org

Communion – Food for Thought

The sacrament/ordinance of Communion invites different thoughts and even an air of mystery depending on your religious background. Regardless, we typically understand it to be either a Spirit-enabled grace or remembrance related to Jesus’ sacrifice; whether grace or memory will, again, depend on religious affiliation. However, the sacrifice is but one of two major points of consideration. Remembering only the sacrifice, we seemingly gloss over the other – the covenant Jesus’ sacrifice enabled. That marriage-like covenant will be the focus of my blog.

God and our Christ have always communicated with us in terms and contexts humans understand and to which we can relate. For instance, Jesus used fishing terminology when teaching fishermen and farming concepts when instructing farmers. Likewise, God used or established human practices to guide performance and dress rehearsals for things to hope for in the future.

An excellent example of God’s use of an existing practice to guide contemporary behavior was the covenant He formed with Abraham with its cutting, shedding of blood, and the promise of servitude. It constituted the basis for the renewed covenant through Moses and the dress rehearsals of the Passover feast (e.g. 1Corinthians 5:7) and a marriage-like relationship with Israel. Both rehearsals would eventually be fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrifice and resulting marriage-like covenant. But what do covenant, sacrifice, and marriage have to do with Communion?

Jesus and Paul made clear that the Church is the Bride of Christ (see the fulfillment steps below) just as Israel was the Bride of God (e.g. Exodus 19:5-6; Isaiah 54:5-8). And why not? Marriage is a covenant, and there’s no other human relationship meant to be as close. Therefore, the Jewish marriage served as a good ‘dress rehearsal’ for the relationship of God with the world through the Christ.

Understanding the process Jesus and His disciples were familiar with will help in the interpretation of Jesus, Paul, and John’s comments related to the bride, a cup of the covenant, separation and preparation of a home, the return of Christ, and the wedding supper. Here are major steps of the Jewish betrothal/marriage process we fulfill with Jesus until His return:

Ancient Jewish Betrothal & Our Fulfillment

  1. Father of the groom selects a potential bride: 2Corinthians 11:2
  2. Covenant sealed by bride and groom drinking from the cup of covenant: Matthew 26:27-29
  3. Separation (John Chapter 14; Matthew 9:14-15) & building of a home: John 14:2-3
  4. Father determined the day/hour of the marriage gathering: Mark 13:26-32

Ancient Jewish Wedding & Our Fulfillment

  1. Wedding announcement by shouts and trumpet: Matthew 24:30-31; 1Thessalonians 4:16-17
  2. Wedding feast and the drinking of the last cup: Matthew 26:29; Revelation 19:7-9
  3. The wife goes to her new home: Revelation 21:1-2 & 9-10

 

In closing, my challenge is that we as His Bride not only remember Jesus’ sacrifice during the sharing of wine and bread but also the marriage-like covenant His shed blood and broken body made possible.

 

Blessings,

Rb

 

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-20167 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!

Dunkin’ Do-Nots

I found the Sacrament (or Ordinance) of Baptism fascinating, and it reminds me of so many questions and internal friction spawned by this simple and yet critical Christian function! Dip or dunk? Necessary for salvation? Public or private? Prescriptive or Descriptive?

Baptism was prescribed from the beginning and had a presence in ancient Israel and pagan rituals, but what purpose does it serve for contemporary Christianity? Humanmade doctrine varies, and you’ll find it an act that imparts grace on the newly-born and old alike for the sacramental-minded. And there, a sprinkle is likely to be just as effective as a complete dunking as long as an individual ordained in the particular sect or denomination performs the rite. On the other hand, you’d be more likely to find baptism an ordinance of immersion and more of a symbolic act of burial and resurrection than an impartation of Godly grace if you’re of a Protestant persuasion. Which is correct, and does the function impact the salvation of those being doused or dunked?

What the Bible makes clear: Baptism in our New Testament context is meant to represent the forgiveness of sin and symbolize rebirth in Christ. It provided accountability, at least in the beginning, through the public profession of faith – often in the face of possible martyrdom. But that the ritual is necessary for salvation is unlikely; that idea may be part of a misunderstanding of salvation and a focus on praxis as opposed to the heart.

First of all, and contrary to our contemporary desire, the Bible teaches us that salvation – a rescuing by definition – will be a stay from God’s future wrath (e.g. 1Peter 1:3-5). Second, Jesus had a lot to say about our heart (intent) and the idea of choosing and following. And, Paul seems to corroborate the concept of persevering in our covenant with God. Finally, the Bible and this week’s lectures confirm that our confession of choice is synonymous with a ‘dying to self,’ and dying is indeed necessary before burial and resurrection baptism symbolizes. So, while it may not be directly related to salvation itself, baptism is meant to be a visible sign (not unlike circumcision in God’s covenant with Israel) that someone has ‘counted the cost’ and chosen to covenant with God. In other words, the ‘washing’ implies an educated commitment.

A common practice in the early church (still done in some Christian circles today) was to spend perhaps many months training a new ‘believer’ before baptism to ensure they understood what they were about to do. Contrast the practice with our Western tendency to get someone to say a ‘sinner’s prayer’ and seek baptism with little or no knowledge of the God with whom they’re supposed to covenant!

So, dunk, dip, or sprinkle as long as the recipient ends up as more than just wet!

Blessings,

Rb

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-20167publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!

And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!

Evangelism: When enough is enough . . .

I’ve often witnessed someone focusing on trying to maintain what ends up being a tumultuous and unhealthy relationship because they believe they’ll eventually ‘lead the other person to Christ’. In business, this could be considered a bad ROI – Return on Investment – of the resources spent trying to ‘save’ someone.
We’re not responsible for saving people, only for passing on the good news of salvation from God’s wrath to come. The receiver must choose what to do with the information and any prompting by the Spirit of God. Granted, evangelizing that good news will benefit from relationships; however, you may reach a point when ‘enough is enough’ – especially if the relationship is emotionally or spiritually harmful to you. And, your time may be better spent in moving forward in telling others the good news and discipling those who become willing participants in a covenant with God through the Christ.

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” —Matthew 9:37-38.

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” —Matthew 10:14.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” —Matthew 7:6.

Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-2015 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!
And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from http://www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!

The Church: Then and Now

People have asked me several times to explain how today’s churches compare to the first-century Church. Good things can come from the Christian culture and church business model we experience today (some missions, some training, some benevolence, and governance).  However, they’re limited in scope and pale in comparison to the overshadowing abuse of Scripture, lack of discipleship training, and overarching concern about supporting the business of church.

Jesus intended for us to do three things per His commandments: treat God the Father appropriately, treat our fellow humans charitably, and spread the good news of salvation. This is what the early Church did despite great persecution and poverty, and they succeeded by sharing resources and using spiritual gifts. Everyone was on the same functional level and they filled roles as the Spirit of God enabled them. Today, churches are segregated business units with paid professionals, organizational charts, and exorbitant capital and operational expenses. The focus has, therefore, shifted from evangelism and charity to managing the business, and attracting and appeasing consumers of religious and emotional experiences.

A picture is certainly worth a thousand words, so you’ll find below a table that summarizes Church roles and responsibilities. It includes a comparison of the ancient and modern Churches and related Scripture references.

 

Function or Role

1st-Century Church

Today’s Church

Related Scripture

       
Evangelism One of three critical functions; To be done by all Not a priority or typically nurtured; Related to a lack of discipleship and training efforts Psalms 96

Matthew 28:19-20

Mark 16:15

Luke 24:47

Acts 1:8

Romans 1:16 and 10:12-15

2Corinthians 5:18-20

Benevolence: Brothers & Sisters in Christ Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church; we’ll be judged by Jesus for our involvement;  To be done by all Not a focus for resources or activities (only about 1% of funds collected) Matthew 25:41-43

Acts 2:45, 4:32-35, and 6:1-5

Romans 12:5-13

1Corinthians 16:1-5

2Corinthians 8:10-20 and 9:1-5

Ephesians 4:28

James 2:13-17

1John 3:14-18

Benevolence: Traveling Evangelists Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church Some missionary support; most care of missionaries/traveling evangelists comes from individual followers of Jesus outside normal ‘tithes’ Acts 20:34-35

Romans 16:1-2

1Corinthians 9:1-14

2Corinthians 11:7-9

Philippians 4:14-19

Titus 3:13-14

3John 1:7-8

Discipleship One of three important functions of the Church (the other two: benevolence and evangelism); done by those more mature in their faith Not generally a priority as evidenced by Scriptural illiteracy and lack of programs (95% or more of those who say they believe in Jesus don’t read the Bible or regularly engage in study) Matthew 28:19-20

Romans 6:17 and 10:17

Colossians 1:28 and 3:16

2Timothy 3:16

Titus 1:9 and 2:3

Hebrews 5:12-14

Governance Oversight through mature Christians and Bishops (overseers) Multiple levels of responsibilities; incumbents are usually paid Acts 14:23;

1Corinthians 12:27-29

1Timothy 3:1-13 and 5:17

Fund Raising Done for benevolence without mandate or limit Done through threats of robbing God (OT Scriptural misuse) or promises of prosperity; Funds are used primarily for salaries, real-estate, or related business expenses See ‘Benevolence’ scriptures above
Worship Outward; participatory More inward; audience and performance-based Ephesians 5:19

Colossians 3:16

 

Which ‘Church’ do you belong to?