The Church of Whatever We Want Jesus to Be

Paul's Letter
Valentin de Boulogne – Public Domain

If ever there was a person who was an authority of the Christian gospel, it was the Apostle Paul. Author of one-third of our New Testament, Paul penned letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia, both of which have become premiere sources for our understanding of the gospel.

Notice how Paul begins his letter to the Romans:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. Romans 1:1 (NASB)

This verse provides a point of convergence for all Christians. Would any of us dispute Paul’s calling—or his authority for that matter? We all might also agree that the gospel (good news) is integral to the Christian faith. Even those who do not consider themselves to be evangelicals still revere the centrality of the gospel.

Christ's Resurrection
Noel Coypel – Public Domain

Professing Christians begin to diverge when it comes to the heart and purpose of the gospel. Jesus came to earth as God incarnate—that is God in the flesh, in human form. The Son of God walked amongst us as the Son of Man. After fulfilling a supernatural ministry on earth, Jesus suffered a torturous death on a wooden cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men and women. But death could not hold the Son of God! On the third day following, Jesus rose in power from the grave, never to die again.

Sadly, there are some professing Christians who would disagree with this Biblically-based representation of the good news of Jesus Christ. They might say, “Humans aren’t all that bad and are able to please God by being good people and doing nice things—like helping little old ladies across the street.” They might say, “Sure, Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he never believed himself to be God. A few misguided souls simply misunderstood his teachings.” Further still, they might say, “Jesus never performed any actual miracles and we all know the resurrection to be scientifically impossible.” “Of course, these things are recorded in the Bible, but the book is more of a teaching tool intended to help modify human behavior than it is the inspired word of God,” they might say.

It is not my goal to be rude, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a perspective can be called “Christian” when it attempts to strike a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith. If we remove the reality of Christ’s miracles and His subsequent resurrection, we lose the power to transform human lives. Christianity, then, becomes more of a humanistic self-improvement project than the radical, life-changing movement it was intended to be.

I understand that some people find certain tenets of the Christian faith to be repulsive. Seriously, how many of us relish the thought of needing a Savior to remind us that we are thoroughly inadequate in heaven’s eyes? The picture of a bloody sacrifice does little to make me feel warm and fuzzy. And, of course, dying to my own selfish desires has never been at the top of my bucket list!

I disagree with the theology of Unitarian Universalists but I do respect them for their honesty; they don’t claim to be Christian. On the other hand, I really struggle with those who profess Christianity but deny the substance thereof. It is one thing to disagree about the meaning of Scripture. It’s a totally different issue to deny its authority.

Church of WhateverWe live in a world in which the title “Christian” means just about everything; therefore, it means nothing. What makes this state especially sad are the precious human lives adversely affected by such confusion. Would we, perhaps, be better to make a distinction between those who embrace the supremacy and authority of Christ, and those who would like to reinterpret the Bible according to their own desires? We could call one group the church of Jesus Christ and the other the church of whatever we want Jesus to be.

I realize that the abrasive tone of this post breaks from my usual pattern but I believe there are times when we sacrifice honesty for the sake of nicety. If you would like to make your own religion, have at it! Enjoy yourself! Do it up right! Create whatever makes you feel good. But let’s not forget that Jesus Christ is the head of His church and that He will form and shape her according to His desires—not ours.

Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

This is the third and final guest blog post by my friend Gary Buterbaugh.

Photo by Chris Morgan - CC BY-SA 2.0

I find that I am a part of two VERY different communities.  One is the church – I became a Christian at an early age and have been very involved in the church since my teen years. I do not endorse everything the church does and since the church is such a diverse organization, I do not feel that I can speak for the church as a whole.

The other community is the gay community. I have never been active in this community and like to say that I have only visited it. I have not had a commitment to the gay community’s agenda nor have I been involved in a gay relationship at any point in time. I am also in disagreement with much of what the radical gay community says, does and represents.

However, by nature of my struggle since my teen years with same-sex-attraction (SSA), and involvement for many years in homosexual activity, I am in fact part of that community. In that community I readily identify with other gays and lesbians who have experienced God’s grace and seen His redemptive power in their lives. As a member of both communities, I think I am in a unique position to identify what I see as those issues that the two communities should be able to most easily agree on and those which they would probably most easily disagree on.

Both communities agree to the basic premise that all persons should be treated with respect, although many within both communities frequently use language and slurs to demean those who hold views different than their own. If the church is to have significant ministry in the gay community to proclaim the good news that Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and wholeness, it must begin by asking forgiveness for the way it has treated individuals within the gay community. Where individuals and local churches have done this, God’s grace has been able to bring healing.

But the gay community routinely labels all evangelical Christians and the churches to which they belong as homophobic and hateful. This is not only not helpful, but untrue. There are a few who deserve this label, but most Christians harbor no ill feeling towards gay people; they simply do not know what to say (or not say) and worry that their actions and words might be taken as offensive or ridiculed.

Photo by Charlie Nguyen - CC BY 2.0

Both communities should also be able to agree that because of discrimination on the part of others, as well as personal internal conflict, those who deal with SSA and homosexuality have a special need to be loved and understood. (The high suicide rates among teens who deal with homo-sexuality are widely reported.) The church has not always treated those who deal with SSA and homosexuality with the same love that God showed when He gave His only Son. I believe the church needs to repent of this.

But there are several things on which both communities may never agree upon. This does not mean they cannot respect those in the other community.

  • The church says that there are things that are right and things that are wrong, and that the Bible speaks clearly on sexual issues. The gay community is more likely to believe that right and wrong is relative and that sex is the way to express love and experience pleasure.
  • Many in the gay community (all in the more radical gay community) believe that children should be taught about the gay lifestyle while most in the church believe that children should be taught about moral values and sexual issues in the home and church.
  • The church would lean towards beliefs that homosexual behavior is an expression of one’s sinful state. The gay community would lean toward the belief that individuals are born gay.
  • The gay community would tend to think that it is okay to act-out on SSA feelings (although some may say this should be done within the confines of a committed relationship). The church teaches that sex outside marriage between a man and a woman is both sinful and destructive for the individuals involved and the institution of the family.
  • The church believes that God has the power to change. The gay community would be more likely to believe that there is no need for change.
  • The church sees God primarily as a God of love, love is His very essence. The gay community is more likely not to describe God (and especially His church) as being loving because of the struggle they have experienced.

There is a good chance that we will always disagree on these issues. But as a member of both communities, I can’t say strongly enough that everyone and their opinions need to be respected, and their right to speak them needs to be upheld!