Thursday, March 13, 2008

Allow me to clarify

I am thankful for the comments that I've already received from yesterday's post. So, please don't mind that I'm going to respond to them in this post, rather than in the comments. I had actually considered making it a two part post, but thought I should refrain. And now I see that I left out some important stuff in favor of brevity. My mistake.
So, allow me to begin by apologizing for mistakenly assuming that everybody would know just what I was talking about when I used the term "legalism". Also, I used the term "unconditional love" without ever explaining what I mean by that either. Fortunately for me - and all of you as well - the two seem to go hand-in-hand for my purposes.
Legalism, as I was using the term, is best explained as the idea that the Christian faith is a list of of rules, of dos and don'ts. Legalism stems from the notion that as long as you're keeping the Ten Commandments, you're being a good Christian. Or to take it one step further (as so many churches do), as long as you're not breaking any of God's laws - except for those which were expressly broken in the New Testament by either Jesus, Himself, or by the apostles after His resurrection - then you're being a good Christian. In other words, it's OK to eat ham now, and to do "things" on Sunday that aren't really work, but could be considered work by the pharisees.
Legalism is also what allows Christians to look at "the rest of the world" and declare them to be sinners. And legalism is why the church is so often identified by what it doesn't approve of, instead of being known by our love, as Jesus said we should be. At least, these are my best explainations of what legalism is, or what it does.
As far as the legalism that Alpha-1 speaks of in his comment; I wouldn't quite call the personal rules that we adhere to, as a hedge around our own relationship with God, to be a form of legalism, because they are your own personal rules. And as Paul said, "whatever is not done in faith is sin". You and I might have different personal rules around our relationship. But I don't mean for that to sound as if I'm saying that my freedom from the law is my "license to sin". It just means that we may have different personal rules that we apply to our individual situations.
Think of someone who is "straight-edge", and won't even drink wine during Communion because of their own convictions. We may observe that rule out of respect for them, but we aren't really imposing it upon anyone. But if we were imposing that rule upon someone as a church or church leader, then that would be legalism. That would be what might happen in an institutional church. And I choose this particular point because I have heard in sermons, from more than one church, that Jesus didn't really turn water into wine. He turned water into something that was a foretaste of what will be in Heaven for us to drink.
Yeah, right...
Now, why did I decide that unconditional love goes hand-in-hand with the idea of legalism?
Because in legalism, the type I just finished explaining, there is little room for unconditional love. There's room for judging others when they don't keep the same laws that I do. But there's no requirement for me to actually love anyone.
I can keep the Ten Commandments without loving anyone. It doesn't take love in my heart to not commit idolatry, to honor my parents, to not work on Sunday, to not steal from or to kill someone, or even to not covet their spouse or their belongings. And it certainly doesn't take love in my heart for me not to lie. In fact, some people use their "brutal honesty" as their most effective weapon to hurt people. That is not what love does, especially not unconditional love.
Unconditional love, as far as this discussion is concerned, is all about serving others. It's about putting the needs of others before my own. It's about making sacrifices for the sake of someone else's well being. It's not about what I get out of it, but what I can give.
Unconditional love loves even when it's not convenient. Unconditional love loves even when that love is not returned, or when it is flat out rejected. Unconditional love moves us to care for people that we might otherwise turn a blind eye to. And when it comes to the Christian faith, unconditional love means loving someone like Jesus did, whether they ever come to know Him or not. We are not meant to love someone only because they're likely to become a Christian, or because they'll probably join our church. That's why it's called unconditional - we don't attach any strings to it.
So, when I speak of my calling being to love unconditionally, what I'm really saying is that I have a calling to serve others to the best of my ability. I have a calling in my life to do whatever I can, to give whatever I can, even if it causes me some hardships, pain or a broken heart.

As for the heretical preaching that some of you might have been expecting. I wasn't sure if some of what I was saying might not be mistaken as salvation-by-works. If we're doing the will of the Father by acting with mercy, justice and compassion isn't that about works? To which I would simply explain that our salvation is still by our faith in the grace that allows us to act with mercy, justice and compassion.
But there is something else I hesitated to expand upon...
I mentioned the idea that God said He would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, and that He did not qualify that statement by saying only believers or decendants of Abraham, or of David, would be entitled to that outpouring of His Spirit. He said all flesh. And when I look around at how spirituality is such a big thing in the world today, I believe it's true.
I no longer believe that God will only use Christians to spread His gospel throughout the world. Because Christians aren't the only ones who are acting with mercy, justice and compassion. I already know of people, who are not Christians - who actually call themselves pagans for Christ, who operate in the gifts of the Spirit. I have been witness to Christians prophecying over these people about their ministries, and their callings, and I believe that God has a wonderful purpose for them in His great plan. And I don't mean that in the way people would say that about Judas Iscariot or Adolph Hitler. Perhaps more like I would say of Balaam's donkey, who was obviously neither a Jew nor a Christian - and yet, God spoke through him.
I believe that we are in an age when God is going to take what was meant for those of us who claim to be Christians and He will give it to those who have never allowed themselves to be bogged down by the dogma of what Christianity has become. I also believe that God will free those of us who have been bound by those dogmas so that we can serve Him with a wholehearted passion for His will to be done. He will use people that don't know or perhaps care to accept the traditions of the institutional church to achieve His glory. In the same way that salvation, which was meant for the Jews first, was taken from the Jews and given to the gentiles. God will use whomever He wishes to use. And most often that is the person whose heart is open and ready to be used by Him.
Is that heretical enough for everyone?
I'm looking forward to the diaogue that is just about to begin.

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Blogger Alpha-1 said...

I could go on but each time I try to type something long I get a 'blogger is unavailable' error so I have to ask you just one question. Are you saying there are more ways to the Father than through Jesus? Cause He said it himself, 'I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.' John 14:6

i will agree that God uses all of a creation to do his will, I will say that what people mean for evil God uses for Good. and I will agree that God pours out his spirit on all the earth, just like Jesus came to save the whole world, even tho we all know the world isnt going to be saved. Salvation is there for everyone, those who accept it are saved, those who reject it are condemned. I believe the same thing works with his Spirit. it is a package deal you cannot accept the spirit but deny Jesus and God, anymore than I can accept your right half and deny your left.

What happens in this world is nothing when compared to the world that is coming. this life is nothing more than a day when compared to the eternity that we all face, and Jesus is the Only way to face that eternity with any kind of hope.

maybe Im misunderstanding you, and you don't mean that if so please help me understand what you mean. Not with long explanations but with short ones. Are you saying that you believe that people can be holy (act in god's will) or Get to heaven without Jesus?

BTW so everyone knows this is JT I am just using a different account and I didnt want anyone to think I was trying to hide who I was.

8:30 PM  
Blogger M+ said...

No, JT, I'm not saying that there is any other way of salvation.
I'm saying that we're not saved by the dogma or theology of the church, but by God's grace through Christ's death and resurrection. How people express their faith in that truth is up to them. And how the Spirit chooses to use them is up to God.
That's all I'm saying. We still stand in agreement on those things which we've always agreed upon.

8:44 PM  
Blogger One Wink at a Time said...

Michael, this is Very Interesting and I want to give this my full attention. As usual, and I hate sounding like a broken record, I will try to put aside some time on the weekend.
Just wanted you to know I was here and reading.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Alpha-1 said...

good enough for me, as you know that is the only thing I care about. So I guess you could say I'm a little sensitive on that one topic.

What people think about the church (little 'c') or dogma or just about anything else doesnt matter one whit to me. What it means to be saved is my only benchmark.

I will say that I believe that people express their faith in many ways, including the organized church, dogmatic practices and traditions.

12:52 AM  
Blogger One Wink at a Time said...

Ok. I have read and believe that I fully understand what you've written about legalism and unconditional love.
I am now embarking upon the second part that starts "As for the heretical preaching..."
Yes, I am slow but I want to be thorough. Thanks for your patience.

9:47 PM  

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