Monday, April 13, 2009

Christ's True Spirit Lives - seen in this guy's article?

The Courier-Journal, Louisville's daily newspaper, published the title-linked Easter opinion editorial by Highland Presbyterian Church's Pastor Emeritus, James O. Chatham. Below is the text of the article.

Like many true followers of Jesus Christ (disciples of the Messiah, the Savior), known by their faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6), I was disappointed but not surprised by the article. Where is the concept of Christ's Kingdom? The thief on the cross said to the dying Lord, "Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." Jesus has a Kingdom, and that makes Him the King. There are no competing crowns under His monarchy. He is Lord, and Lord alone, and His followers rightly worship Him. In fact, all people will bow before Him and confess that He alone is Lord on Judgment Day (Philippians 2:10-11).

Buddha, or even Charles Darwin, may inspire folks to treat others kindly as inhabitants of this world, but they lie in tombs still to this day (interestingly, Darwin lies in Westminster Abbey) and offer nothing of eternal value. Where is the mention of the Christmas message that goes side-by-side the Easter message, that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh? Why does this liberal and cultural Christian mention and bash John 14:6 to the exclusion of several other passages that say the same thing, teaching Jesus' exclusivity, such as Acts 4:12, which says, Salvation is found in
no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Once again, disappointing but not surprising...

The transforming message of Easter

Easter proclaims that God raised Jesus from the dead, that the women who took spices to his tomb found it empty, and that in the following days his disciples experienced his Spirit alive and vital, teaching them, working powerfully among them, emboldening them with courage, calling them to continue Jesus' work. These events founded the church. From this tiny mustard seed, the whole of Christianity grew.

In recent times, however, several observers have asked whether Christianity has been a good thing or not. Has it not inflicted on the world far more damage than repair? With the percentage of church members in the United States steadily dropping, are people finally catching on? And, one has to admit, these skeptics have a powerful case.

Christianity has often been staunchly patronizing, thinking of itself as the only true faith while all others are nothing. "No man cometh to the Father but by me," a badly misinterpreted statement from the Gospel of John, has formed the center of our exclusive claim. Recently we have been realizing that other religions have made strong contributions to human wholeness and world morality.

Christianity has been repeatedly cruel, especially toward the Jewish heritage from which we were born. We have demonized Jews, branding them as "those who killed Jesus" (I believe the intended point of the story is that we all killed Jesus!), and we have appointed ourselves as instruments of God's retribution.

Christianity has generated tons of guilt, too many times convincing children that they are worthless sinners perpetually short of the perfection God requires. Many people struggle throughout their adult lives trying to shed the guilt implanted by Christianity when they were young.

Christianity has at times been highly intrusive, believing it possesses a God-given commission to barge into people's lives and dictate what they must do. This ranges from the obnoxious buttonholer, "Have you been saved, brother?", to groups who use legislation to imprint their own version of morality upon everyone else.

Christianity has shown a rich capacity to be divisive, building walls of suspicion, anger, and hatred against those it does not like. A highly effective fund-raising technique has been the stoking of fear and hatred.

Christianity has played a major role in the killing of thousands of people. I cringed in horror as President George W. Bush, leading up to invading Iraq, let the nation know, implicitly but clearly, that his guidance came directly from God. Christianity has too often made human leaders arrogant and haughty, convinced that they possess a wisdom superior to the rest of us, leading to vast suffering and death.

Is this really what Christ's Spirit alive among us meant to produce? Absolutely no! But we humans have done horrible things in Christ's name. Those suspecting that Christianity was a bad idea have ample cause to question.

But, then, there is another angle.

Christian faith, along with Judaism, has long engendered basic decency, honesty, compassion and goodness in millions of people. You and I were not exactly born civilized. Untutored, we can become savages. Some human community has to teach us harmony and good in relating to one another. Christianity and Judaism have been at this for years, mostly quietly. "Thou shalt not kill" (thou shalt honor the sanctity of human life), "Thou shalt not commit adultery," "Thou shalt not steal," "Thou shalt not bear false witness," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," "Love one another": these precepts have formed a strong foundation for human community.

Countless Christians discern, from reading their Bibles, that God has a special empathy for "the poor, the widow and the orphan," those in society least able to take care of themselves. Churches pour forth every week thousands upon thousands of people committed to helping their fellow human beings in need, from food pantry volunteers to Habitat builders to school tutors to sandbag brigades. I suspect that most of the hundreds of benevolent foundations across this country found their origins in the theology of Judaism and the Church. Christianity sparks self-giving.

Some churches speak prophetically, calling the country and its leaders to a higher vision, a greater justice, a stronger compassion, a deeper wisdom. Synagogue, church and newspaper share the awesome task of keeping a critical eye on power, both political and economic. When these stop watching, our country and our democracy will be in deep trouble.

And then there is the, "God was with me," factor.

Untold numbers of humble Christian believers have made their way through struggle, pain, difficulty, torture and living hell primarily by the fact, as they will say, that "God was with me." In 40 years of ministry, hundreds of believers have told me that. Who is to deny the testimony?

All of which is why I will stick with the church, despite our gross failures. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God can raise us, too, and make of this broken tool an instrument for good. The Spirit alive among us can start with a mustard seed and build a new world. I live in the belief that it will happen.

1 comment:

ChiMoose said...

Attaboy, Chip. Hopefully you won't be the last person to call this article out for what it really is.