Sunday, March 31, 2013

He IS Alive!

Seven Stanzas At Easter
By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Hymn to God the Father

A Hymn to God the Father
by John Donne

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Relationship, Not Religion?

I've addressed the phrase "Relationship, not religion" before, but I'd like here to trace its evolution and implore believers to be careful and precise in what they say because most of the believers I know who say this phrase don't realize that what they mean often isn't heard.

Spiritual, but Not Religious
When I was in college, this phrase was all the rage.  At the time, most churches blew it off.  Eventually, the secular world did, too.  At first it meant that someone had some kind of spirituality in his or her life, but no ties to any denomination or world religion.  Later, as it became overused, it took on a connotation of someone flighty and wishy-washy, someone unwilling to stand on what he or she really believed.  However, even as the phrase lost its power, its ideas stuck with society.  We see this in the fact that more people than ever claim no religion at all, yet many also claim they are spiritual or have some kind of spiritual belief.  The phrase fits our relativistic society well: You be spiritual the way you want, I'll be spiritual the way I want and no one's wrong or right.

Relationship, Not Religion
Enter the church.  As society began to drift heartily away from the Christian church, the church took notice.  Realizing that spirituality had become a focus, the church put forth this phrase.  Do you notice that, in fact, "relationship, not religion" is a parallel phrase to "spiritual, but not religious"?  To attract our culture and draw people in, the church took up a "spiritual" mantra.  "No, it isn't about religion," the church said.  "When you come into our church, we aren't about that religious stuff.  We're about a relationship with God/Jesus."  But what did the church mean by that?  At first, and often still today, the church actually means "Relationship, not legalism," but that doesn't have two catchy R's in it and smacks of Christianese so it doesn't get a pass.  Still, most churches who used the phrase and still do will go on to explain its meaning.  What they mean is that Christianity isn't about following a bunch of rules to get to God.  It isn't even about following a bunch of rules to get God to like me after I'm saved.  I love God, I have a relationship with him and I obey him simply because I love him so much.  Friends, that is the truth!  Christianity can never be what it is intended to be if you operate in legalism.  A heart that loves God is a heart that obeys God because it loves him.  If that is true, then why is this phrase a problem at all?

Relationship, Not Religion--Alternate Meaning
Today this phrase is bandied around quite a bit.  But if you ever hear someone say it, your next question should be, "What do you mean by that?"  Because this phrase has moved away from "relationship, not legalism."  Slowly, this phrase has morphed into meaning "relationship, not doctrine."  Many churches today shy away from any emphasis or talk of doctrine.  The line is this: "Look, we are just about having a relationship with Jesus. We don't claim that he's God or the only way.  You don't need 'salvation' to come to him.  The Bible isn't really trustworthy anyway, but you can still learn from Jesus and have a relationship with him."  In the Bible belt where I live, evangelical churches are often blissfully unaware of this understanding of the phrase "relationship, but not religion."  However, many other churches around the country do taut this meaning as well as many secular venues.  I saw an example of this while reading an article on a secular news site.  The author claimed he was a Christian and said that there were some things the church needed to give up, among them the fact that Jesus is the only way, the fact that the Bible can be trusted, the fact that the Bible has anything meaningful to say on moral issues like homosexuality, etc.  By the end of the article I found myself asking, "Why are you even a Christian?"  He threw out all the Christian foundations.  How can he be a Christian?  Because he's got a relationship, he doesn't need religion and by religion, he means doctrine.  I'm going to get close to Jesus, but I don't need his truth claims.

So, Christian friends, we need to be aware of the meaning of this phrase.  Inadvertently, the church has pushed the first phrase above: "spiritual, but not religious."  "Relationship, but not religion" has evolved into a phrase that equals "spiritual, but not religious."  It has come to widely mean I'll take the relationship with Jesus, but not the Bible's truth claims.  Some people may wonder why this matters.  It's just words.  Friends, words are meant to communicate ideas.  There is power in words to formulate thinking.  I am reminded of a similar issue that started with Thomas Aquinas.  Before Aquinas, most biblical scholars focused on the fact that God is sovereign and reveals himself to man.  Aquinas, however, asserted that God can be known to an extent without special revelation.  That is, man can observe the world and know God.  Aquinas was correct according to Romans 1.  But Aquinas would also note that some things cannot be known by man without God telling him.  However, this idea that God can be known without the Word took root.  It next became, "If I can know about God with my own senses, I can trust myself over the Bible," then "If I can know about God with my own senses, I don't need the Bible" and eventually, "If I don't need the Bible and I can trust myself, then I don't need God at all."  Phrases and words move cultures.  What will be the next meaning of "Relationship, not religion"?

How do we handle this?  Define your meaning, my Christian friend.  Speak accurately and be clear.  Realize that catch phrases in the church have different meanings and make sure when you speak those around you know what you mean.
For previous posts on this topic, see below...

Christianity IS a Religion
Jesus, Redeemer of Religion
Don't Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater