living the faith not through doctrine, but through the body of Christ

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

Philippians 4:17-18

Having lived in an evangelical world for decades as a Christian, I have lived in the air that doctrine above all else is what mattered. If we had our squares right about Christ and the gospel, and we believed, then we were all set to go, born again and assured of eternal life. Add to that the necessity of believing in an inerrant Bible, every jot and tittle without error at least in the point being made or what was said. And with all of that, the necessity of witnessing so that people would be saved from eternal hell fire in torment forever. No one or very few lived up to all of that, and those who took it seriously the most seemed to put a lot of nuance on most everything.

I live and will always live with some respect for evangelicalism, even though I have long been adrift from it, and now no longer identify as such. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t take Scripture seriously as sacred or see the gospel as something other than central in my life and the life of the world, active in the church. I believe all of that and more, and don’t see doctrine as something that is unimportant.

But I believe what makes all the difference, and actually the only thing that does make the difference is Christ’s presence. Is Christ present? is the question. Because of that presence, yes we will come to accept and believe certain things. And together we will read and discern from Scripture with reference to God’s will on earth now, not just for our individual lives, but also for the church, and for the life of the world, in all the complexities of that. The richness and tapestry of Scripture certainly gives us much to pause and reflect on as we consider everything.

The main point I want to make briefly is that we live the faith not through doctrine, but through Christ’s body the church. Each of us contribute to the whole, living as we really are in our real struggles, in all the struggle, but with the light and life of Christ present in each. And from that reflection from Christ, we are light to each other, indeed even called “light in the Lord.” We are real, we struggle, we are not perfect, but we also love and seek to love, and to be entirely true to the full will of God. But we do this in relationship, especially as church. This is so central, but I’m afraid is all but lost today.

Because of this, through the Spirit I can live as a follower of Christ in each situation, in the challenges faced, even in what might seem threatening. We in Christ are in this together. Somehow Christ’s light on others seems channeled as it were to ourselves and inexplicitly way beyond our understanding the light of Christ might even help others in the same way through us.

All in a normal day, in the normal life in and through Jesus.

building on the one foundation

According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Let each builder choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If the work that someone has built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a wage. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:10-15

Paul makes it clear that the one foundation is Jesus Christ. Paul’s presentation of the good news of Christ was given to him by God as the apostle to the gentiles, while Peter at that particular period of time was designated by God as the apostle to the Jews. Too many want to go to Paul’s writings and camp on them to understand this foundation.

Instead, I believe we really need to start at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And we need to find key texts as well as read through all, considering our Lord Jesus’s life, teaching, works, suffering, death, and resurrection before we go to the ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit and all that follows. Instead of “the Romans road” we need to go to the gospel road found in the gospel accounts, which ends up being the way of the cross and we can call that the Way of the Cross, referring to Jesus who not only set that path in his purposefully taking it his full embrace of the death of the cross for the salvation of the world, but he also made that the path of salvation in which all who name his name are to follow. Mark’s account is a great place to start, though to read them in order is good as well.

Paul’s word in his first letter to the Corinthians are to a church which is not acting according to what they profess to live on, the foundation. They are not building well, whether it’s solely their church leaders, or a combination of leaders and the rest of them, on the foundation, Christ, not well at all overall. Their lives together are to be built on what Jesus taught, how Jesus lived, and in the faith of Jesus as well, a faith of hope and love which sees death as the necessary precursor to resurrection. And love at the heart and outworking of it all. Instead (see the entire chapter through link above) they were caught up in divisions, in worldly ways of thinking, not at all different than what we face today and any day except in its particular manifestations during that time.

According to our Scripture passage, works will be burned, even as the worker themselves are saved. And other works will remain. Works that are of Christ, in accordance with all he taught, commanded (see Matthew 28:18-20) within the very life of Christ given to his followers by the Spirit (see especially John 14-16, etc.).

Paul was writing it to a specific situation (again the link for the immediate context, and good to read the entire letter), and after considering that, we need to look at our own context and situation today. If we keep prayerfully looking together, sooner than later I don’t think it will be hard to see what is of Christ and the rule and life of the good news he brought, and what is contrary to that. This critique of Paul has been needed by the church for at least much of its history especially during certain pivotal times and what followed, and certainly no less so today. The problems of white Christian nationalism along with the failure of discernment to see and acknowledge those who are partakers of the one Spirit, etc., etc. And none of us are exempt from necessary critique which comes from the light of this passage through the light given by God and the Holy Spirit: Christ himself. Together we need to hold on to that for ourselves and for each other. In and through Jesus.

from the place of privilege and power (and willful or unwilful ignorance)

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength being small;
if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
And will he not repay all according to their deeds?

Proverbs 24:10-12

Today is the second year of the newest US federal holiday, Juneteenth. It commemorates the day when slaves in Texas at last realized that they were free, a freedom that had to be enforced. Unfortunately that freedom was not maintained over the decades following so that there was an ongoing need not only to resist the evil of white supremacy seen in lynchings of blacks, but also the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement to claim basic human rights and equality.

To think that all is much better now so that there’s a level playing field and that all is well and good is simply to be uninformed and ignorant of the problems from the past that are very much present. And it’s a continued refusal to listen and consider the cries of those who suffer not only a secondary status at best, but injustice simply because of their skin color or ethnicity. It is an ongoing problem here in the United States due to white supremacy and the support of that in Christian nationalism, which when looked at is found to be racist so that it really amounts to white Christian nationalism in keeping with its story of the founding of the United States. And with the insistence that history not be taught, for example how much of the US economy and US itself was actually built by slaves.

Juneteenth is celebration for those set free, but it should include the rest of us to consider what this means in the present time, and to lament over the wrong and injury suffered, as well as to lament and resist calls for renewed white supremacist rule thought to return the US to an imagined and fabricated greatness and glory of the past. Make no mistake about it, it seems clear that at least there are forces out there active to bring this all about. And a major part of Christianity here is deafly silent because of the complicity of many with this from its ranks, not to mention it doesn’t seem to have either a sufficient theology and understanding of the gospel along with the will to counter that and present a better alternative.

It is a challenging time. But we have to stand up to it in a peaceful way. Willing though not wanting to risk life and limb but preferring to be facilitators of more needed change. With eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts open to learn from others and from God. And to pray and act accordingly, especially from the lead of those who know firsthand what this is all about. In and through Jesus.

making disciples

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

It is true that many hold onto a faith which does involve working at change of life, but seems mostly about the hope of eternal life, sins forgiven, and an emphasis on how undeserving we are. Of course, we’re unworthy in and of ourselves, but there are passages that indicate that somehow God’s grace is at work to make us worthy, to help us live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.

Why it is that so many are vibrant in an evangelical faith, maybe even a gospel faith, but back to more of the common evangelical faith of today. Evangelical is from the Greek word from the New Testament meaning gospel. But in present evangelical understanding there’s a marked emphasis on assurance of eternal life. Yesterday in a sermon at First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio, Lynn Miller said this:

Nothing is more disturbing to the secular culture around us than the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that the evidence of your salvation in Christ is not your belief that you will go to heaven when you die, but the evidence that you are living according to his teachings while you are still alive. And living according to the teachings of Jesus is disturbing. Jesus says he loves the stranger, the widow and the orphan. In this self-centered culture that surrounds us, that is disturbing.

The problem is that the church is not really fully committed if committed at all to the work of making disciples. A disciple is a follower of Christ, committed to following him come what may. Today that is done through faith and baptism through which there is a commitment together as church to hold each other accountable as all together seek to follow Christ in all of life.

Sadly, even in many of the best of churches, there’s mostly an emphasis on the blessed assurance that is ours in Christ which is good, along with practical application of Scripture to help us in our lives. And some are much better in holding people to what Scripture is saying, the challenge there. But it needs to be made clear, no bones about it that if we’re not in to follow Christ, and such following has to be total, complete, than we’re not in the faith taught by Christ and found in the New Testament. Period.

This will be messy and not easy, and we can well understand that if we look at our own lives. But there has to be both the individual committed to Christ within the church, and the church committed to the individual. All of us committed to each other since we are after all a part of each other as one body in Christ. We seek to follow Christ in everything and to do so together. I need other’s help and in God’s economy and will, they need mine as well. In love and prayers, in listening and helping. Through everything. Finding God’s good will for us which includes mission to the world since by our lives we’re light in the Lord. In the way of Jesus, in and through him.

taking Scripture seriously

That very night the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas off to Beroea, and when they arrived they went to the Jewish synagogue. These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, including not a few Greek women and men of high standing. But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there, too, to stir up and incite the crowds. 

Acts 17:10-13

There is a tradition within Christianity among us that among other things is supposed to be Bible-centered. And really when you think about it, that idea in some form has especially been prominent since the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther reacted to the legalism he perceived in his experience in the Roman Catholic Church and understandably read back that experience into Romans where Paul writes that the just shall live by faith. Today we have what is no less than a culture war in which this view of the role of the Bible is supposedly central.

What Scripture is supposed to do, what it’s about is the light of the good news of God in and through Jesus. Details have to be seen in context, an important part of that in the covenants God made with humankind, what Christians call the old covenant and the new covenant. And the main point is the one which can’t be lost. It’s about God’s promise to creation of a new creation in which all the brokenness of creation is repaired along with the reconciliation of all things to God through Christ. Really, when you start to think about it, quite staggering.

Probably to a significant extent because of an engrained modernist enlightenment way of approaching the biblical text, details that may be relevant or not are parsed out and made to be more or less essentials, or at least litmus tests on whether or not one accepts Scripture as something more than just a human book, “the authority of Scripture.” I won’t name any of those issues here. They’re pretty obvious. But I will say that not only is the reading and interpretation sometimes stretched and at least questionable, but I wonder if the main point is being missed or at least pushed to the side.

No one took Scripture more seriously than the Jews in Thessalonica who opposed Paul and Paul’s message of the gospel. At least that is what they all thought, what Paul himself once thought along with them. They were dead set in defending to the letter and even if necessary to the death their interpretation of Scripture. And it turns out that they were after all was said and done, wrong.

The Jews in Beroea got it right because they listened to the gospel presentation from Paul, then sought to discern together from Scripture whether or not it was true. As a result, many of them came to faith. They weren’t hung up on what turned out to be side issues like circumcision in which Paul would at least ultimately contradict what Scripture, the Torah actually said. They were attentive to what turned out to be the main point, the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus.

I would argue that this is what we must be about today. If we work on that, then details will be more apt to fall into their proper place in our interpretation and understanding. And we must try to judge our understanding of side issues in that light. When we do, we’ll find that Christ is central, God’s work in Christ. This will lead us to God, and to God’s good will. And it will help us to discern together where that good news is taking root and bearing fruit.

That in essence is what Scripture is all about. If we’re really to take Scripture seriously, that is the point we will be concerned about. And all else will be seen in that light. Yes, with the work of interpretation of the texts with all the relevant disciplines in play like biblical background studies in culture, etc.

We must take the Bible completely seriously for what it is. Scripture inspired by God to give us the word of truth, yes the saving good news of God in and through Jesus.

a peace that’s not only personal

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
he sets up walls and bulwarks as a safeguard.
Open the gates,
so that the righteous nation that maintains faithfulness
may enter in.
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for in the LORD GOD
you have an everlasting rock.
For he has brought low
the inhabitants of the height;
the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.

Isaiah 26:1-6;  NRSVue

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (KJV) is a well known verse turned into song. That this applies to us as individuals is wonderfully and blessedly true. But to be faithful to the biblical text, we need to read the context, the whole. We’ll then discover that it indeed has societal, global implications. It’s about a nation that maintains faithfulness. And that faithfulness as we see also in the context is with reference to justice, and specifically justice for the poor.

Yes, we can personalize and enjoy this passage ourselves. But we’ll miss a lot, even the point of this passage, if we focus only on that. One of the most serious weaknesses of precious promise books, whatever good they actually do have. It’s a city no less, given to justice for the poor. Something which needs to be heard loud and clear today. What churches should be about. A central part of the expression of our faith. In and through Jesus.

strongholds

I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you but bold toward you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as humans but do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:1-5; NRSVue

The strongholds here refer to everything that is set up in opposition to the knowledge of God, all that is contrary to God. I think now of systems of evil benefiting some, often a relatively small number of the rich and powerful at the expense of many. Oftentimes such an arrangement is seen as necessary for this or that reason, with arguments like that’s the way things are, and that’s the way life works. Those on the bottom rung can be thankful they have work and an existence, even if it’s dismal. But the dismal aspect is ignored if not denied on the basis that somehow this is all these people deserve or are able to achieve. And that those over them even somehow are being generous. That is so antithetical to the good news of God in Christ which is not only about the individual soul, but about all things, all of life. Unless the entire Bible doesn’t matter. Only through reading it all can we fully understand and appreciate the good news in Christ.

What Paul is directly talking about here is everything set up against the knowledge of God as given in the good news of Christ. This is especially critical to those who do not have faith, who have not yet received it. But Paul is writing here to a church that indeed has received it yet are thinking and acting in ways contrary to it. The good news in Christ is meant to crush all strongholds. And what is especially critical in Paul’s mind which we see time and again in his letters, not the least in this letter is the relationships believers have with each other and how believers relate to the world. It’s meant to be all in love in accordance with the gospel.

When I think of strongholds, I typically think of that which hinders us from the fullness of experience of the gospel, by God’s grace the righteousness and peace and joy that accompanies it. It is noteworthy that just two chapters later in our Bibles, Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, the tormenting messenger of Satan that Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove. But the Lord wanted Paul to live in that. It’s hard to parse this out, because I don’t believe such weaknesses would include bents toward sin which would leave us susceptible. But such experience can help us draw near to God in ways we otherwise would not.

I believe we need to seek to claim and live in God’s promises which are “yes and amen” through the good news of Christ. We need to plead and insist that God answer. Such prayer is probably entirely necessary for us, because we’re so given to being not that serious about whatever it is. So it’s good that we keep praying for ourselves and others and not let up. And even wrestle with God in the process.

It is the gospel, the good news in Jesus which tears down all kinds of strongholds, whether systemic evil in the world, the sin which binds people, or the struggles we experience as believers in the spiritual battle we’re in. Something to think and pray about. God will help us as we persevere. What once was a stronghold can be like Paul says above, destroyed. With the new thoughts Christ gives us as we commit ourselves to full obedience together. In and through Jesus.

what remains a core essential in my practice of the faith

Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105; NRSVue

…rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James 1:21-22; NRSVue

There is nothing more important to me than remaining in scripture throughout any day. What I’m referring to here is to take one verse, phrase, sentence, the next part and turn it over and over again in my head for a time. One ought to be reading through scripture as well. You can listen to scripture online. The intent must be not just to know something, but to be changed by scripture, by God’s word that comes out of that.

I consider scripture inspired by God to give us the word of God and ultimately to point us to the Word himself, Jesus. It’s not like God doesn’t speak to people in other ways. Without a doubt God does. But scripture, “holy writ” has always been central to the church over the centuries as well as to God’s people before.

The gospel and the church are of course central to the follower of Christ, and a whole host of other things are important as well. But we understand all of that only through being in scripture. Note though that the church universal by the Spirit is quite important in helping us understand what we’re reading, even the point of it all.

For me it’s a matter of keeping myself afloat in my faith with the realization that while I do continue meditating on scripture, only God can give what’s needed. And I need it all. Somehow every part of scripture has its place, and some quite prominent in all the ways needed. As we read here:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17; NRSVue

In and through Jesus.

by faith we have an understanding

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Hebrews 11:3; NRSVue

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

John 20:24-29; NRSVue

Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9; NRSVue

Our Christian faith rests on Christ and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. There are many things in scripture which can’t be verified historically, and some are contradicted by findings. Given our modernist rationalist mindset, we want to verify anything and everything before we believe it. But scripture insists that we have it backward. As Augustine well said:

For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe so that you may understand.

We don’t have to have everything verified, in fact not anything. Though I think one can make a good case for the historicity of Christ’s resurrection (see N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God) but when it’s all said and done, I’m not sure it can actually be proven. Yet if you read the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) along with Acts and what follows, I think it’s much easier to accept than not. Certainly the apostles and early disciples believed it along with those who followed, and right up to the present day.

But the point of this post is that though we can’t see it, though it may contradict our understanding and senses, whatever may be the case, we will enter into whatever reality there actually is only through faith. We have to accept the testimony concerning the gospel, the good news in Jesus. That may be a struggle, but if we set our hearts and minds to that, it will come. God will help us. In the meantime, we need to be patient with ourselves and others. We can’t force it; God gives it. Like Thomas we need to ask, seek and knock. God will assuredly answer and give us much more than rational knowledge and all the answers, but will help us begin to enter into the reality ourselves. In and through Jesus.

what is sacrosanct to us?

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31; NRSVue

“Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27; NRSVue

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”

John 21:20-22; NRSVue

One of the most telling questions we can ask ourselves might be something like, What is sacrosanct to me? What do I live for? What do I base my life on? What might I be willing to die for?

We might give what we think is the correct answer, but our lives might belie that, in other words say something else. I was once in a conversation with another Christian who when I said I don’t base my life on the US Constitution seemed taken back and asked what I base it on, to which I answered, the Sermon on the Mount. Of course just what he meant would have to be uncovered, and there well could have been some misunderstanding in the exchange. But as followers of Christ we really need to seriously and prayerfully consider this question.

Jesus doesn’t leave much room. From the passages above, we find that we’re either following him in love for God and for our neighbor, including our enemies as we find in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount which he insists that we’re to build our lives on, or we’re not.

So much else can get into the mix. We might think the gospel is sacrosanct or what’s most important and sacred to us, and what that points to, but some political ideology might end up being mixed in with that, which actually weakens our commitment to the gospel or might even make it null and avoid altogether. And we may end up disagreeing on what the gospel means in application. We have to ask ourselves is what unites us in Christ in spite of what differences we have. What unites us thus forms us and directs us in how we should look at this life and the world.

There’s much more involved in all of this for sure. And we’ll have to live with many disagreements or at least different ways of looking at things in this present existence. And we certainly should listen and consider what we can learn from each other. But in spite of all of that, the heart is the heart, what is truly sacred, and that’s where we’re to be united, to be one in all of life. In and through Jesus.