Did it ever strike you as odd that the Christian religion, which in the beginning was all about transformation, has become so impervious and resistant to change?
It is a widely held view in the Protestant tradition that being a Christian is to be in love with the 16th century; in the Catholic tradition it is the 13th century ‘... this is when Christians were real Christians!’ However, there is little if any evidence that this is the case but still, it allows us to make a religion of transformation into a religion of nostalgia.
Healthy religion says that real life is to live in the now. Nostalgia might be sweet and misty-eyed but it is as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike if it expects to affect change in society at any level.
You can only experience God, you can only introduce suffering humanity to God if you live in the now with an eye to the future rather than fixed on the days of yore.
One of the great weaknesses in today’s church is that while people look to it for answers to life’s big questions: poverty, unemployment, bereavement, depression, suicide and substance abuse to name a few, rather than addressing those questions the church is all too preoccupied with self preservation.
There’s a wonderful story about a visiting dignitary who was being shown around a state-of-the-art oil refinery. He couldn’t help but be impressed by the cleanliness of the place; everywhere brass pipes gleamed, machinery hummed and staff with clip boards strutted about in impeccable white coats.
‘This is the most efficient oil refinery in the world,’ explained the engineer proudly.
‘Really?’ said the dignitary. ‘How much oil does it produce?’
‘Oh, just enough to lubricate itself,’ said the engineer.
Now we all know that there are many in the church who are struggling against the odds to help those in need in their community. Much good is done and many lives are turned around by their selfless devotion, but it is equally true that to many, the word ‘salvation’ means, ‘You have to become like me!’
Some find it surprising that Jesus had little time for the religious leaders of his day and they had no love for him.
Pointing to them on at least one occasion he described them thus: ‘They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden’.
Jesus makes no such demands. To him only one rule is called for and it applies equally to us all: ‘I give you a new commandment,’ he said. ‘As I have loved you, you should love each other.’
Think for a moment of the pious murderers who gathered gleefully at the foot of the cross that day. According to Jesus they did not know they were doing wrong, and so they did not ask for forgiveness, they did not repent, no remorse, and yet Jesus cried out, ‘Father, forgive them.’ On that basis you could say that they were forgiven and didn’t know it!
So the question has got to be; might the unchurched and the de-churched be more likely to respond positively if they were to be told that they are already forgiven rather than insisting that forgiveness is available only if they ask for it?
We’re not told much about the hate-filled, self righteous, hypocrites who gloated over the Master’s death, but I imagine that if and when they discovered that the penalty for their wicked crime was paid for by their victim, surely that would have melted their hearts of stone. Well wouldn’t it?
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