Unfaithful to Jesus? It’s Time to be Faithful and Committed!
It is my conviction that a great deal of American Christianity today has been and is unfaithful to Jesus’ life and teachings especially, but not limited to, evangelical conservative Christianity. There are also mainline expressions I would describe likewise. As a Lutheran pastor of almost 40 years I have experienced it in my home denomination even though the ELCA is generally considered a more progressive expression of Christianity.
In the first chapter of John, known as the Prologue of John it reads, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.”[i] Of course this is a direct reference to Jesus. A part of what this profound passage of scripture means is that Jesus is the norm of the Christian’s life experience. Jesus is the guiding principle or core inner creative energy for the one who claims to be his follower and names him as Lord. Jesus is the one who informs and leads the follower on a path of continually evolving personal transformation that includes shaping one’s core values and principles, the very foundation of a Christian’s life and being.
Jesus never taught a strict system of rewards and punishments that largely characterized the religion of his day. If anything, he turned the whole thing upside-down and inside-out lifting up the morally lowly and sinners and admonishing the strictly and morally religious. A great deal of today’s American Christian religious expression is condescending, judgmental, exclusionary and cheers at hateful political rhetoric that sows seeds of fear and violence.
Most of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and peace, simplicity, downward mobility, forgiveness and love for the enemy, radical inclusivity, reverence for the earth, the dangers of greed, affirmation of the oppressed, poor and lowly go largely unnoticed or acknowledged even by those who in some way, shape or form name themselves after him.
Instead of taking Jesus seriously in his teachings about the way of nonviolence and at least wrestling with his words,[ii] people are not ashamed to put a gun in his hand and make him a card carrying member of the NRA and not even be willing to have a conversation about reasonable gun laws.
Instead of embracing his teachings on the justice-based economic values of the Kingdom of God which turn many of our conventional economic values on their head, [iii] people are brazen enough to have Jesus parrot their own distorted and selfish views like: “people make their own beds” or “people get what they deserve” or “the poor are just lazy, hence undeserving” or whatever.
Instead of affirming Jesus’ teachings on the dangers of greed and narcissism and the core value of self-giving, people are shameless enough to create and espouse an entire self-justifying religion called “the prosperity gospel” that sees endless riches and lavish self-indulgence as a gift from God of which they are deserving.
Instead of following Jesus’ lead in the area of the inclusivity and the intrinsic value of every person that characterized his life as he embraced the many and various people who were largely dehumanized and marginalized in the first century: women, children, Samaritans, gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, a huge catch-all group of social rejects referred to as “sinners” and others deemed “ritually unclean,” many Christians espouse hateful, condescending views and lobby for prejudicial polices of discrimination against our LGBT neighbors, Latinos, African Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Palestinians, the poor, women and others. There are currently several states where legislation has passed or is pending that discriminates against our LGBT neighbors based on “religious freedom,” not to mention the hateful rhetoric cheered by Christians uttered by several of our presidential candidates toward Muslims and immigrants.
Instead of trusting, even a smidgen, Jesus’ most radical teachings on love toward the adversary and enemy, it seems as if many Christians are totally comfortable with the idea expressed by one of the presidential candidates when he said about ISIS, “we will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” [iv] For starters, the staggering human cost resulting from such a policy would kill and murder thousands of innocents.
Even though environmental concerns were not an issue in the time of Jesus, he showed a genuine reverence for God’s creation especially evident in his use of nature-based metaphors in his teachings[v] seen especially in the parables and in the Sermon on the Mount. There are many self-proclaiming Christians today who are climate-change-deniers and are comfortable with environmental exploitation and irresponsibility rather than environmental conservation and responsibility.
I could go on with examples, but I hope you are getting my point that there is a history within American Christianity of blatant unfaithfulness to the life and teachings of our own Jesus. Rather than engaging Jesus in a way that puts the Christian on an evolutionary developmental spiritual path of being transformed continually by the love and grace that is clearly seen in the Jesus of the gospels, it seems that Jesus has been virtually removed as the authoritative and transformative “Word made flesh” from much of American Christianity. There seemingly has been a mass Christian surrender to hated, violence, prejudice, greed, fear, exclusivity, narcissism and environmental irresponsibility.
Jesus ministry was about human transformation by the power of love. “God is love.”[vi] Jesus awakened his disciples to the God Presence of love that lived within them that can only be expressed in the countless expressions of authentic love that were revealed in his life.
The time has arrived for the many expressions that exist within American Christianity to take the real Jesus seriously. We must repent of our unfaithfulness, grotesque hypocrisy and self-created false and blasphemous images of Jesus and begin to follow the authentic Jesus clearly and unequivocally revealed in the gospels, “the Word made flesh.” The time has come to be faithful and committed.
[i] John 1:14
[ii], Matthew 5:9, 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-36
[iii] Matthew 20:1-16; Luke 1:52-54
[iv] Ted Cruz, speech given in Iowa December 5, 2015
[v] Matthew 6:28-29
[vi] 1 John 4:16