So Much About So Little

WE KNOW A LOT ABOUT A LITTLE BIT OF STUFF

This thought came to me while I was watching Luther for the 100th time. Here it is: “We know so much about so little.”

Martin Luther at the beginning of the movie is in a crisis of spiritual identity and has come to a crossroad in his faith. He can’t comprehend the God that he has been taught to believe in. In the
movie Martin had performed (and botched) a religious ceremony. His father was there and ridiculed him for his mistake during the ceremony and even his choice to become a monk. The strain between them is very apparent and the idea that he projected his relationship with his father into his concept of God is definitely implied.

MCDLUTH EC005

LUTHER, Bruno Ganz, Joseph Fiennes, 2003

Later he was sent as an ambassador to Rome. On his return he was so disillusioned by his experiences there that his friend and mentor became very concerned. During their subsequent discussion his mentor asked a surprising question. He asked him if he had ever read the New Testament scriptures, Martin’s answer was equally surprising, no he hadn’t. He knew so much about the doctrines, concepts and theories of his religion and yet nothing about the scripture or the Savior it was supposedly based on.

We as believers and “Christians” have reached that place again.
A place where we know the doctrines, concepts and theories that have been handed down to us and not the scripture or the Savior it is supposedly based on.

Is it important to know doctrine?
Absolutely, Biblical doctrine is the skeletal system of the body of Christ. I must make a distinction here, though, because there is a difference between religious doctrine and Biblical doctrine. The doctrine of Grace does not belong to the Baptists, no more than the doctrine of Jesus name baptism belongs to the United Pentecostal Church International. The identity of Christ, communion, holiness, speaking in tongues, the inerrancy of the Bible, these cannot be claimed by any “denomination” or religious persuasion, they are Biblical doctrine.

We know so much about so little, we think these doctrines are exclusive to a certain religion. We did not invent or develop them, they are Biblical. When we begin to claim these doctrines as our own or assign them to certain groups, we misrepresent them and devalue them. Some one who leaves the Baptist concept must not walk away from the doctrine of Grace, a person who turns from the UPCI cannot walk away from Jesus name baptism. Communion was instituted by Jesus Christ, not a religious scholar or council. Truth is not a religion. Even within each religious organization there are fractures and rifts. There are parties (usually called conservatives and liberals) that campaign against one another, rarely over Biblical doctrine, more often over internal religious concepts.

Their arguments are usually over hierarchy and not higher knowledge. The terms conservative and liberal are so misused. Most of the guys I know who call themselves ultra-conservative should really be called what they are, legalists.

I see the church, stumbling under the oppressive weight of the law they have reinstituted, suffering the stigma of religious persuasion… not the stigma of Christ. He said we would suffer persecution for His name sake, not for our religiosity. We have subjected ourselves to the ridicule of the world due to doctrines and concepts that are so ambiguous and usually based in church culture and/or traditions.

We must ask the questions, “Does the world know Christ more because of us and our rigid adherence to our philosophies and traditions? In the tabernacle and later the Temple the veil was meant to keep everyone out, not just the unbelievers. The only place to hang religion is on the outside of the Holy Place and it always separates man from God. When will we see beyond the dirty sheet we’ve hung in place of the torn veil and into the Holy Place? We’re not on the inside looking out, we’re on the outside,
too.

I was sitting next to a friend of mine once, and he said something I have said in the past. He was referring to a preacher from a different group and he called him a “denominational” preacher. I pointed out that since he was licensed with a “denomination” he was a “denominational” preacher as well.

That’s how we think, though, because that’s how we are taught. No offense to my friend, he’s probably reading this, that’s just how we are.

In fact, most of the preachers who are a part of a denomination are “denominational” preachers in the fact that they spend most of their time perpetuating their denominational positions and doctrines and trying to conform their congregants, and not preaching Christ. Or they’re afraid to preach or teach something that might be considered too close to what another persuasion teaches, not recognizing the difference between Biblical doctrine and religious doctrine. We know so much about so
little.
I have dreaded the day when we begin to tell believers to leave the interpretation of scripture to those who are “qualified” and begin to develop literature to help people understand our position without comparison to scriptures. The day a man stands before a body of believers and declares that only the governing body and its representatives are qualified to understand and interpret scripture is the day that demands reformation. When I first wrote this chapter I ended this paragraph with, “That day is upon us,” but it sounded a little too melodramatic so I deleted it, so forget about it.

The next paragraph, however, was pretty much completely written in that tone, so I just left it. We are in a day of reformation where we must crumple and cast off the “indulgences” that the religious establishments have substituted with “holiness” standards or other inclusive rites and regulations, and then sold to the church in place of a true knowledge and relationship with Christ. In the era leading up to Luther’s protest, the Catholic church sold what was called an indulgence, which according to dictionary.com was “a partial remission of the temporal punishment, esp. purgatorial atonement, that is still due for a sin or sins after absolution.”

Basically the religious leaders preyed on their ignorant constituents by promising them freedom from purgatory, a place they invented I guess so they could sell indulgences. It’s kind of like the mafia coming in to sell you insurance to protect you from the mafia. Of course, we see the same things happening by religious leaders today.

Just like there has to be people who stand up against the mafia and risk everything there must come a revival of men and women willing to risk everything to declare the passion of Christ. What I mean by everything in this sense is their political or social standing in their religious organization.

Martin Luther‘s unwillingness to accept the misguidance of the religious establishment and his contemporaries’ abuse of the uneducated populace sparked a reformation, though it cost thousands of lives and splintered the religious community. It also developed into the Protestant movement and the translation of the German New Testament which was to become foundational in not only the spiritual but also the literary awakening in Germany. His desire to know Christ outside of religion literally changed the history of the world.

This type of thinking typically sparks concern in a lot of my more “traditional” contemporaries. They say “Are you saying we should just walk away from any kind of standard (code of conduct, dress regulations, etc.).”

My answer is this: Christianity is about balance. Moral and decent standards of living come from an outflow of a relationship with Christ. Modesty is a Biblical principle not a church doctrine. Standards of separation (as opposed to calling that holiness) are not “wrong” as long as we don’t substitute them for relationship. The code can never replace Christ.

Idolatry is placing anything between us and God, anything that obstructs our view of Him and His love and purpose in our lives. Our standards and our outward appearance have become the idol that is worshipped by so many people. It’s easier to follow a list of rigid rules than it is to seek God and learn to balance your own life. Working out our own salvation with fear and trembling is more than just a theological concept when you step away from legalism. It becomes a passion to find the mind and heart of God and not the council (not counsel) of men. The councils of men have gathered together for the last two millennia, establishing doctrines and dogmas based on erroneous interpretations of the word of God and adding rules and regulations that keep ignorant people ignorant.

The beauty of the church is that older saints have the ability to balance a lifetime of experience and hopefully a wealth of knowledge about His word, not just church doctrine. At the same time, though, as a former 83 year old pastor of mine stated, they are more likely to “play it safe” as opposed to fighting
for a reformation. That is understandable and necessary for the balance that we younger men and women need to stay grounded in Christ.

Change for the sake of change is not healthy for the body, but shedding off the old skin of man to grow more into the likeness of Christ is not only healthy, it is imperative. Pray fervently for the generation of change that is rising up, that we can become the Church and affect the world around us.

In the words of Luther:
“We obsess…over relics, indulgences, pilgrimages to holy places. Yet all the time, all the time, there is Christ. Christ. Christ, here… in every corner, in every hour of the day. He isn’t found in the bones of (dead) saints… but here, in your love for each other, in your love for one another… in sacraments, and in God’s holy word. If we, if we live the word, by faith… in love and service to one another, we need fear no man’s judgment.”

He was speaking as a 16th Century Catholic priest to mostly ignorant peasants and yet he very well could have been standing today speaking to people who have begun to obsess over our own relics, indulgences and pilgrimages to holy places.

When we see the church “location” as the “church” and develop a “holy place” mentality,and we make our gathering together a substitute for a passionate daily devotion to Christ, we may as well make the journey to Mecca and walk around the Kabala. I’m not saying that we should be irreverent about the “house of God” but that we should not consider meeting in a physical location twice a week to be the sum total of our spiritual existence.

The reason the place we meet is “holy” is because we meet God in that place. God doesn’t dwell in the edifice, He dwells in the people. If we met in the backroom of a bar or in the theater of the local high school, that place, while we were there worshipping Him, would be a holy place, until we left.

We are the church.

From Cardboard Astronaut

Here is a link to the #CRDBRDASTRNT Podcast, listen to this post in an audio message spoken in Louisville, KY. See more episodes by subscribing.

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