[Response #3 from SEATTLE - Part 7 of "A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi", a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]
Dear M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Melissa: (Hey, correct spelling and alliteration!)
Hahahaha!! Now shouldn’t you have been listening or praying or singing at the church service the other day, not writing emails in your head! LOL. You crack me up. You are a theology junkie! Maybe we both need a 12-step recovery program…LOL
Now on to your response . . . I think we might be going around in circles here a bit. I don’t totally disagree with what you are saying. In fact, I find myself nodding my head as I read. These are my only clarifications:
I definitely think that part of what Jesus is saying here includes non-believers. My point was simply that Jesus said that the world would hate us as it hated him, and the majority of those that hated Jesus were the religious crowd. I think that idea is definitely implied in Jesus’ statement here (that would have been who the disciples thought of instantly), although his use of the word “world” certainly encompasses more than that.
And, though admittedly there are some differences in Jewish religion of the 1st century and Christianity today (though I don’t agree with all the differences that you propose), I definitely think it still applies to us in both ways today. While I agree that the religious leaders didn’t approve of or follow Jesus as the Messiah, they DID claim to follow God. And there are many, I believe, that claim to follow God today that when it comes right down to it are a bit uncomfortable with the radical life and teachings of Jesus. At least they live that way. The difference may be that the Pharisees never claimed to follow Jesus and many today do, but obviously saying you follow Jesus and actually following Him are very different things. In that way, there may be many more similarities than you might think.
In fact, I don’t think it takes much imagination to say there are many today that could be described by your words: “Pious and self-righteous, pure blood [Christians] who had always been in charge” offended by “sinners with equal access to eternal life” . . . “because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.” (arrangement mine)
Now, I’m not trying to label anyone into that category, because really it is a matter of the heart. I simply think there are certain parallels. Certainly there are people, like me, that often get caught up in religion rather than following Christ. It is as much a struggle for me as any Pharisee of old. Religion is dangerous at all times. In Jesus’ time. And in our time.
What concerns me is that some people read that statement of Jesus and take it not as a caution of the logical outcome of His radical message (of course many will reject it), but as a mandate for their methodology. So you hear things like, “Well, Jesus said we would be hated, so we’ll do whatever it takes for them to hate us the most.” And while those sentiments carry the noble feeling of doing our “religious duty,” I’m afraid they are a very poor way of understanding Jesus’ final prayer for his people, which ends with his desire that the “world” may know Him because of their “LOVE” for each other. (John 17)
I believe Jesus is saying that the natural conclusion is that so-called believers and unbelievers will hate us if we truly follow him, not that we should do everything in our power TO BE hated by people. It isn’t a badge of honor or a litmus test of some kind, it is simply a reality of living a radical Jesus life.
And so in this clarification, I totally agree with your last line of that point, “Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves ‘religious.’”
Look, I’m not saying we should agree with pop culture that says sin isn’t sin. Taking a stance on what we believe to be sin is important. And while I’m for critically thinking and making sure we are labeling sin correctly, I don’t think we should just tell people that whatever they do is ok by God.
For instance, there are many people who don’t choose to believe in Christ that also don’t appreciate my stance on the nature of homosexuality. And I’m sure I’m not popular in those circles either.
You see, I know the “world” is going to at times hate me. And that is ok. I just want to make sure that they hate me not because of my attitude but because of the radical message of Jesus. The truth does divide people. I get that. I just want to make sure it is the truth that is doing the dividing and not me.
Again, my problem with [megapastor] is not his truth, but his methods. Do people need truth? Absolutely. But I think most people need relationship to really experience truth. Remember, Jesus said he was Truth. But he wasn’t some cold, philosophical concept of truth. He wasn’t truth on a sign. He wasn’t truth in a government’s law.
He was Incarnational Truth. Relational Truth.
Truth, as defined by the life of Jesus, is more than “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”. It is Truth that becomes flesh and lives in our mess and dies for people who will never deserve it and many that will never accept it. It is Truth in relationship. It doesn’t compromise, but it doesn’t demean or coerce either. It is a Truth that woos like a lover, not compels like a tyrant.
And so in the end, I may love people, fight for people and invest in people, but they may still choose to hate the message of Jesus that I believe in. And maybe me because of it. I’m totally ok with that. Wide path, narrow path. I just don’t want any of my actions to unnecessarily cause rejection. If they reject Jesus, fine. I just don’t want my methods to be why. If any part of the message of life being accepted by them relies on me as the messenger, I want to err on the side of love not protest.
Now, should churches be doing more than a carwash and food drives? Of course! I’m a preacher! I think people need God’s word. But, I think we have divorced the social components of the gospel from the propositional truth components. We tend to break down into camps of either one or the other, when Jesus seemed to hold on to both. And it is the extremism (of either side) that I think becomes dangerous and leads to lazy spirituality or capricious elitism.
And so, in my mind, I feel as though we agree a great deal here. Hopefully you agree! ☺ I’m all for calling sin what it is. Humanity needs to know where it is broken, so it can be healed. And, I’m for staying the course on those convictions through cultural pressure.
My only clarifications here are that we think very carefully about the methods we use in offering these truths to people who are free to choose to ignore them. And then be OK to live in a world where many will not agree with us though we give our own lives to show them. That we would be so committed to bringing Truth to people that we would sacrifice even our own rights or lives to bring them to Him, not simply take the easy way out (from my perspective) and protest them.
Power-under. Not power-over.
As far as your last line about being united, I agree with that as well. I don’t hate [megapastor]. I don’t even know him personally. And I hope I don’t come off that way. In reality, I’ve thought a lot about that and I do choose to love him. To be a consistent lover of people, like Jesus, I’m called to love the brothers and sisters I disagree with as much as I love the people I think they often turn off. Like it or not, right or wrong, they are my family. And you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family. ☺
However, while I love them, I will still question their methods, their theology and their understanding of God’s grace. For it was within these ranks that Jesus reserves his challenges and questions. And beyond the pattern of His life, it is those letters to the churches in Revelation and the words in 1 Corinthians (among others) that compel me to do so. For these are words directed towards believers and the correction we are to make within the community of Christ.
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . [but] with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)
Apparently, Paul saved his moral criticism for the believers as well, rather than outsiders.
Now, I gotta go cause my wife is making dinner and I told her that I would be home 30 minutes ago. And yes, I probably could stand to miss a meal here and there, but if I get home in time I’ll be able to watch my daughter put banana chunks in her hair while she eats and who would wanna miss that?
Grace and Peace,