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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Church, etc...

Recently I have avoided much theological talk so as to avoid the opposition to my thoughts. Some, though well intended, are all I need to ruin a perfectly beautiful day. So, call me a glutton for punishment, here I go again...

As I too often feel I need to do, I think I need to remind people of my point of view concerning Christianity and the Church at large. I don't ever try to discuss these topics as a "them" thing. Its always "us," "me," or "we." Never "them" or "you all." I find myself as part of a group that has a lot of problems. And I don't mind pointing that out. Call it raising awareness. There are lots of things wrong with our world and with Christianity. That's all there is to it. Pain and suffering and ignorance and hypocrisy and and beauty and love and hate all intertwined for some reason. Good is there, but bad is there as well. WE need to acknowledge that. That's what I try to do, I think. And I know it gets taken as criticism, and it is to some degree. But I don't care. I feel like a lot of Christians are like the kid who broke his mom's flower vase. It wasn't mom or dad, and he was the only other one there. But he flatly denies it when confronted by his parents. People CHOOSE to ignore problems. And I won't be counted in that number.

The Bible says that true religion is taking care of widows and orphans. This was huge to Hebrews. And there's so much emphasis throughout the Bible, particularly by Jesus and the first century church, on taking care of the poor. I don't feel like church is church unless these things are a priority. Jesus specifically went to the marginalized and oppressed. Though we try to portray American evangelical Christianity as the minority, we most certainly aren't beaten down or outcast anymore. We need to be about the things our God cares about. Jesus's first message in the temple begins with "I've come to preach the good news to the poor... to free the oppressed..." The famous Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus saying "blessed are the poor." It is obvious that Christianity needs to focus on ending extreme poverty. It is a basic principle of our faith.

That phrase ("ending extreme poverty") seems to open a whole can of worms for some people. Few things make me as angry as Christians who object when this is brought up. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Well John David, Jesus says that the poor will always be with us." And that's so sad to use that as a defensive comment to say that physical and material needs aren't as important as someone's "salvation."

First of all, a lil background on the situation. In this text, the disciples are all chillin with Jesus when a woman comes in, breaks open a bottle of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus. Its a special thing. Very personal, symbolic act of sacrifice and annointing. But then Judas gets all pissed and says (probably very pieously) that they could have sold the perfume and given the money to the poor. Jesus replies that "you will always have the poor among you. You will not always have me."

Okay now, let's talk. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy here. In context, it says there will always be poor, so be generous and help them out (Deut chpt 15). Also, he's talking about that moment in time when someone does something personal and intimate with him. And, HE NEVER SAYS WE CAN'T END EXTREME POVERTY!!!

Extreme poverty is the lack of basic needs for survival: medicine, water, food, shelter, clothing... The basics just to live. 1.2 billion people are in this state right now. At this very moment. 50,000 people die daily from lack of basic needs right now. Fifty thousand. There are books being written, organizations rising up, people raising their voice on how we can end this right now. Literally. Its possible, because of the massive amounts of wealth in the Western World (...us), to practically end extreme poverty right now. We, as a church, need to be at the forefront of this movement. We need to be the ones giving our money. Getting our hands dirty. Befriending the homeless. Making sure people can feed their kids. Pushing for legislation for the US government to put our tax dollars towards this cause. We should be the driving force behind it all.

Instead, I hear skepticism. I hear people quoting Jesus as to why we can't do it. I hear lies.

You may not agree with me on everything. Fine. To quote Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." I think there are more important things to worry about than splitting hairs on theological issues. At the end of the day, our concern needs to come to down to loving this world. Both the people on it and the planet itself. The world is crying for social justice. I just think we should be the ones coming to help.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey John David. I believe this weekend Sean Dunbar and I are going to take sandwiches to the homeless in Nashville you want to come. I know this isnt a comment, but I see that you need to do something. I would love if you came. Brittany could hang out with the fam. and we could go out. By the way I agree with everything you said is. Now lets go and do it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry the above comment is me Collin. I am sure you knew that though.

howertonjosh said...

JD - First off, I agree with almost everything you said. I'm studying a lot of church history right now (in classes... I'm not studious enough to go for them on my own!) and realizing more and more the emphasis that the early church (which, by no means, is an authority as to what is right) had on caring for the downcast and needy. (too many parenthesis in one paragraph... Mr. Cesler would be on me.)

On the other hand, I think someone would be horribly remiss to read the Scripture as portraying physical needs as equal in importance with spiritual needs - or putting physical needs above spiritual needs where "spiritual needs" are a person's inherent sinfulness and rebellion against a holy God and need of atonement in Jesus. For instance, the verses you quoted from the Sermon on the Mount and Isaiah (that Jesus quoted) are both referring specifically to spiritual needs. "Blessed are the poor... in spirit." "I've come to proclaim freedom for the captives... and the day of vengeance of our God"

If such a thing as hell exists - and Jesus was decidedly pro-hell in his teaching - then isn't a person's physical wellbeing of secondary importance when compared to the physical need of salvation from eternal destruction? This DOES NOT minimize the importance or terror of physical suffering. It does magnify the eternal danger of leaving a person in spiritual neediness.

Beginning with The Fall, isn't physical suffering in the world a symptom of the spiritual fracture that had taken place? To ease the symptoms of a person's spiritual disease without treating (or making a patient aware) of the foundational problem seems tantamount to evil from an eternal perspective because the patient is now less likely to realize the Problem.

- Josh Howerton

PS - BOO to anonymous disagreement responses! (obviously not referring to Collin)

Anonymous said...

I understand how important it is for evangelicals to view spiritual health as the primary goal of religion, but from a humanistic standpoint (which is, in this case, absolutely not antireligous), one cannot survive on words alone.

If salvation of the poor in spirit is so important, then I suggest more people really get on learning the languages of the starving billions, teaching them to read, and, well, you know, doing whatever it takes to make sure that they survive long enough to listen and to learn if you're so concerned with their spiritual well-being.

You might be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but try teaching them to a dead dog...

-BH

howertonjosh said...

BH - right on, man. Your response is something that's personally convicting for me. I just walked right past an old lady taking out her trash (like a complete and utter Jesus-less jerk) and didn't think a thing about it.

Really, I was just troubled (and could have misunderstood) about the statement "...And that's so sad to use that as a defensive comment to say that physical and material needs aren't as important as someone's 'salvation'" where it sounds like the term "salvation" is being poked fun at with quotation marks and that physical needs are supposed to be "as important" as spiritual ones. Someone being hungry and destitute is bad. Someone suffering God's wrath for eternity is a terror.

Meeting the physical needs of a fractured and hurting world should be exactly what you said - a means to the end of treating their desperate spiritual need for rescuing through Jesus.

I agree that humanism isn't anti-religious. Neither is offering babies as ritual sacrifices. I am wondering how humanism (defined as humanity-centered) isn't the opposite of the Christian message/gospel though.

howertonjosh said...

PS - because I'm too dumb to see my own errors until later most of the time... meeting physical needs of people is not for the SOLE purpose of the spread of the gospel. Those actions ultimately make God more famous by manifesting his perfect character.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

I've never been comfortable thinking of humanism as an anti-Christian religion.

I'm not comfortable with outright rejection of any set of beliefs.

I've got no qualms with anyone who is a Christian who claims that they're also humanistic.

I don't think that you can live in this world and focus solely on God. I don't think God would want you to.

I'm sorry to say that I'm not a theologian, I have no scripture to quote, and my thoughts on the absolute truth of scripture is a bit controversial (enough so that I don't want to discuss it). I just base my beliefs on personal conviction, observation and study.

I'm comfortable with my belief set, and that's good enough for me...

Enjoyed your perspective though. Enjoy all perspectives that are delivered convincingly and respectfully.

Good to hear your name again, too.

-B(en)H(olton)

John David said...

Holy crap! I would like to point out that Howie totally disagrees with some of my thoughts, but does so in a way that doesn't make me cry myself to sleep. He also doesn't have to respond in a "only my beliefs are right" kind of way. I greatly appreciate that Josh.

Perhaps I tend to under-emphasize that eternity of the soul in some of my writing. But only because I feel like much of the church is ignoring the physical and material needs of a suffering humanity. I strongly feel that both are necessary focuses of the church. And I agree with Josh whole-heartedly, we do the world an injustice if we only meet the physical needs of people and ignore the real issue at hand.

Most certainly, I wasn't "poking fun" at salvation. I am just uneasy about the term seeing as most people within our faith totally misunderstand it. And perhaps you may disagree, but I don't feel like you can put one on a different level than the other. I think that the eternal and the physical go hand-in-hand. I think they must. I think we must come to see that.

howertonjosh said...

BEN HOLTON! You're probably not going to believe me when I say that I knew that was you... but I did and was thinking about high school this morning. Wow that was a long time ago.

First off, don't apologize you're not a theologian. I know my NFL quarterbacks better than I know my theology sometimes... which is a pretty sad statement about me of which I probably need to repent.

I do want to point out that there are some beliefs that you do outrightly reject (at least in practice). Namely, the belief that some beliefs should be outrightly rejected.

A question worth asking is "are there any religious statements that, if truly believed, could destroy you?" Statements such as "Jesus is not Lord" or "The Bible is a lie" or "God is evil and worthy only of hate" (Marquis de Sade). For me, the answer to this question is a resounding yes and, coupled with Jesus' love, is the motivating factor for things like feeding the hungry and bringing justice to the oppressed (physically and spiritually).

Of course, all of this comes from the Scriptures. Here again, I only see two options: either the Scriptures stand in authority over my beliefs or my beliefs stand in authority over the Scriptures. If you base your beliefs on personal study, observation, and conviction then you are the ultimate possessor of authority over truth... which I suck too bad to possess, I think.

Anonymous said...

Josh,

Your phrase "which I suck too bad to possess, I think," made me smile, man. I don't claim to outright know anything, I just know the history of translation and what the telephone game is.

Can you honestly tell me that you absolutely know King James (this is just an example) was a good enough and honest enough man to commission a totally accurate translation of the most important text to the development of the western world? That he (or others) absolutely did not do anything to alter the text, to reinterpret the original intended meaning? Think about how splintered the church is, how different denominations interpret key aspects of the Bible in such varied ways. If one denomination chose to retranslate the Bible, odds are, personal interpretations would corrupt the text... It's human nature.

King James was an English king, and they weren't known to be the most upstanding, honest men either. I sure do doubt their prisoners thought much of them...

I don't doubt the validity of Scripture, just that they remain as they were intended to be.

-BH (glad to be remembered, haha)

Saintdoc said...

John David you know how much I love you but I have to disagree with you on your view that the physical and spiritual should be equally important. I agree that the church has dropped the ball in following the word of the Lord when it comes to many issues and one of those is definitely caring for the poor. If we shift our focus to social justice and do some how eradicate poverty and do not share the gospel what good have we done? We have met the physical needs but without Jesus in that person’s life they will be like many of the people on our membership rolls. They will be happy in this world and spending eternity away from God. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” I believe the number one problem for the church is that we don’t believe in that power so we don’t tell anyone about it. Salvation is the only thing that will change a person’s life for good, for without God there is nothing that is good.

howertonjosh said...

Ben - The phone game... those were some good days. Didn't we play that game in Mr. Cesler's AP English class one time??? AP English was never above a good game.

It's a sweet thing to trust the validity of the Scriptures, is it not!? However, it seems strange that God would be sovereign enough to birth valid Scriptures, but
not enough to preserve them. There's also no need for a phone-game worry when the extant manuscripts of the NT date to within a lifetime of their autographs.

Even if there were a phone-game problem, from Genesis 3 to Revelation 21 the Bible's message is the same: mankind has chosen to suck but God saves us from ourselves (and the punishment we deserve) through trust in Jesus - and only trust in Jesus.

PS - Josh again. I forgot my password... another reason not to trust myself.

howertonjosh said...

saintdoc - you guys might agree more than you think. It seems like while the gospel and caring for physical needs are not equal in orthodoxy they're treated that way in orthopraxy.

James 2 pops into my head:
"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them 'go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

For the church, the spiritual gospel is the motivating factor behind spreading the physical good news for the world and the church nutting up and taking care of the physical needs of the world is confirmation (and even completion) of us having been saved and changed through faith.

No faith in Jesus and all our good works are really just efforts to make ourselves our own Savior and no "social conscience" (I feel like a tree-hugger using that word) and our faith looks to be dead in the water.

What do you think?

Saintdoc said...

Sorry for the delay in responding but I am currently vacationing with my family and this is the first chance I have gotten to check the net since I left last Friday. Anyway in response to Josh I would agree that we are totally in agreement when it comes to orthopraxy. But this cannot happen if faith in Jesus is not the motivator of our works. Otherwise it is as you said, “No faith in Jesus and all our good works are really just efforts to make ourselves our own Savior and no "social conscience". This however does not put the physical and spiritual on equal footing but simply states that our spiritual walk will produce a physical response to those in need around us.

howertonjosh said...

completely agreed. now, if i can just stop sucking at it...

hope vacation was good to you, man.