Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who's your Savior?

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for He has looked favorably on His people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of His servant David." (Luke 1: 68-69).

... In the first century, [savior] did not yet mean what it means for many Christians today. Because Christians have for centuries spoken of Jesus as saving us from our sins through his death on the cross, many Christians automatically connect Jesus as savior with atonement for sins. But in the Bible, the primary meaning of the term is "rescuer," "deliverer."

For example, Psalms speaks of God as Israel's "Savior who has done great things in Egypt ... and awesome deeds by the Red Sea" (106: 21-22). So also Hosea connects God as savior to the exodus: "Yet I have been the Lord your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God by me, and besides me there is no savior" (13:4). A song attributed to King David speaks of God as "my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence" (2 Sam. 22.3). Jeremiah addresses God as the "hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble" (14:8). In none of these instances is there any connection between "savior" and being saved from sin. To think that speaking of Jesus as savior refers primarily to his death as a sacrifice from sin narrows and reduces the meaning of this rich term.

... what the "mighty savior" of whom Zechariah sings will do is the theme of the middle part [in Luke]. He is the fulfillment of God's promise, "the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham," namely, "that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us," so "that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him in all our days" (1:71, 73-75). "Being rescued from the hands of our enemies" is the role of the "mighty savior"; this is what it means to be saved."

The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth, by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

I'm wondering if the idea of Jesus as a Savior from sins, and thus saving "to" heaven, is taking the easy way out. The salvation itself is something that comes to past in the next life, is something one must have faith in. Therefore, it's not something that can be necessarily demonstrated in this life. Yes, we can see amazing turnarounds in the lives of those that repent -- but we can see that turnaround in any sort of religion. We can even see that in someone who goes from a fundamentalist Christian to agnostic/atheist.

Not only that, but the sin is very self-centered. Jesus saves you from the sin that's inside you, the "old man," the nonspiritual man that has earned the wrath of God. The focus becomes on being rescued from something you deserve ... and if you think you deserve an eternal torment, it might be hard to ask for salvation from an unjust situation, because is there such a thing?

But if you start saying that God is a Savior from times of trouble, or from war, or from enemies ... that' something that speaks a lot more towards this life. Being rescued from the land of Egypt was something that occurred in a non-heaven life. Even the song that Zechariah sings about Jesus gives the impression of this life. Of something that can, or even will, occur in the here-and-now. God saves an innocent person from the hands of his/her enemies. Half the time in Psalms, the psalmist seems to be crying out over the injustice, asking God to deliver him from something that he doesn't deserve.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not what Jesus Intended

"Brothers, I am not a pastor. I am a healthcare worker. I do HIV/AIDS work in Khayelitsha." At this everyone nodded. Known as an informal settlement to some, a squatter area to others, Khayelitsha is the third-largest township in South Africa. Its shacks made of scavenged building supplies stretch along the nearby airport road as far as the eye can see, providing substandard shelter for immigrants from villages across the eastern half of the country. Around half a million black and colored people had landed there seeking a better life after the fall of the apartheid, but now they suffered from predictable problems associated with migration, poverty, and unemployment: substance abuse, domestic violence, and HIV infection. Many of these pastors were working in Khayelitsha, setting up tents to conduct services there Sunday by Sunday.

The young man continued, "You pastors are ..." He hesitated as he raised one outstretched hand toward heaven. "You are causing such destruction in Khayelitsha. It reaches to the skies. I know you mean well, but you don't realize that you cause devastation in the lives of the people among whom I work."

Eyes widened, pastors shifted in their seats, and the young man continued. "You come to Khayelitsha every Sunday and set up your tents, which is good, but I have listened to your preaching, and you are preoccupied with three things, and three things only. First, you constantly talk about healing. You tell people they can be healed of HIV, and some of them believe you, so they stop taking their medication. When they stop, they develop new resistant strains of the disease that don't respond well to the medications, and they spread these tougher infections to other people, leaving them much sicker than before. Then you're always telling the people they need to be born again, but after they're born again on Sunday, they're still unemployed on Monday. They may be born again, but what good is that if their problems are the same as before? You know as well as I do that if they're unemployed, they're going to be caught in the poverty web of substance abuse, crime and gangs, domestic violence, and HIV. What good is that? All this born-again talk is nonsense ..."

"Then what do you do? After telling these desperately poor people to get born again and healed, then you tell them to tithe. You tell them to 'sow financial seed' into your ministries and they will receive a hundredfold in return. But you're the only ones getting a return on their investment. You could be helping so much. You could be monitoring people to learn employable skills, you could teach them and help them in so many ways, but it's always the same thing: healing, getting born again, and tithing ..."

"You know your problem? You Pentecostals and you evangelicals specialized. You specialized in healing, in getting people born again, in creating financially successful churches -- but you need to go beyond that. It's time to get a better message -- something bigger than just those things. If you stop there, all your preaching is nonsense ..."

"By talking only about individuals being born again, [you] keep Khayelitsha and our whole nation from being born again in a fuller sense of the term."

Everything Must Change, by Brian D. McLaren.

Putting aside the fact that there were several sects of Christianity floating around in the first few centuries, I often wonder if the gospel went astray with the marriage of Rome and Christianity. As soon as the religion became a political force, as soon as it had that political power and clout and became the only official and recognized religion, and as soon as it persecuted the "bad" religions ... can you really still relate to the oppressed? If your political clout means that you will have access to medicines, and food, and education, can you truly relate to those who struggle? The struggle and oppression are no longer a lifestyle for the Christian. How can you be free from oppression or poverty -- something that Jesus promised, if you're not in either camp?

If you no longer cry out for a Savior to be rescued from Rome, but rather get to dictate how Rome operates, then can you still hear the cries of those Rome crushes?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Good fruit hiding in the bad.

I've come across this concept on a few different blogs now, and I'd be curious as to what others think.

One of the difficulties I have in the idea of an exclusive truth boiling down to the right belief set is that we are given specific criteria as to how one stands with God: the fruits of the Spirit, or the fact that the peacemakers are the children of God, or that if we love someone, we know God, and so forth. Or the idea of the peace that "passeth all understanding". I can find examples of those in all religions, not just Christianity. If I have someone living that way, I have a really hard time telling them their relationship with God is wrong, especially if they're producing much better fruit that I am.

However, what I'm essentially told is that good fruit is truly only good if it's produced by someone with the right relationship with God. All other fruits are counterfeits fruits, or are really bad fruits, or something else along those lines. Or it is fruit that's produced, but it's not fruit that truly comes from God.

I can't help but feel this changes the meaning of the word "good." For instance, loving your enemies is good. Feeding the poor is good. Helping those struck by a natural disaster is good. Contributing to charity is good.

In each sense, "good" holds a basic definition. If I describe a person as good, or an act as good, we all know what that means.

But if good fruits can really only be produced by someone with the right faith, then doesn't that make the word "good" relative? Doesn't the word essentially get boiled down to whatever a Christian does? If I have an atheist and a Christian both loving a horrible person, only the Christian is actually doing a good act? And it's not because loving a horrible person is good, it's because the Christian is the one loving the person.

Yet if I reverse that, and have the atheist and Christian both killing innocent people, both are seen as doing the "bad fruit." It's not because of anyone's faith or relationship with God, but because killing innocent people is evil within itself.

Doesn't this seem like a discrepancy in evaluating fruit? We judge bad fruit based on the acts themselves, and good fruits based on a person's faith?

Not only that, but if we're specifically told that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit, then there's an expectation of that "good" and "bad" mean, and it can't mean that it's whatever a Christian does, because then the very example becomes meaningless. Instead, there's certain behavior expected. But if we can all only access the good tree after repentance and faith, then it seems that every single non-Christian should only produce bad fruit. They can't produce any good fruit, because that only comes from God.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When the kindgom comes, the fruit's already there.

I ran across a reading of Matthew 21: 43, which said, "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits."

Now, I've looked at various Bibles, and it's also translated as the kingdom will be given to a people who will produce the fruit. I have no idea how the Greek works here, especially since I'm seeing both ways in a lot of Bibles.

There's also the context to consider. The quote itself falls amidst a parable of the landowner, who has a vineyard (with a wall put around it, dug a wine press, and builds a tower), rents it out, and goes on a journey. When the harvest comes, the landowner sends his slaves to receive the produce. One slave is beaten, one killed, one stoned. Another group of slaves is sent, and the same occurs. The landowner sends his son, figuring that the son will do okay. The renters say that they will kill the heir, and seize the heir's inheritance, and do that. Jesus then asks what the landowner will do when he finally arrives at the vineyard.

The Pharisees say that the current tenants will get what they deserve, and the landowner will rent out the land again to people who will actually cooperate, and pay what's due to the landowner at the proper time.

Jesus asks if they've never heard of the stone that the builders rejected becomes the chief cornerstone, it came from the Lord and is marvelous to the eyes. At that point, Jesus says that the kingdom will be removed from the Pharisees, and given to those who produce/are producing/will produce the fruit.

What if it is given to a people already producing the fruit? Can people produce the fruit of the kingdom before even being given the kingdom? If so, what does this do with the idea that true good fruit can only occur after one is saved?

I'm also wondering what 'fruits' are referred to here. I'm assuming that the tenants were working the land, and simply not giving any of the produce back to the actual owner. So literal fruit was produced. Therefore, more than just developing the land, and using the land for its literal purpose, must be required. Recognition of the owner's rights must be taken into account. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the land, and thus the produce, wasn't the tenants in the first place? They were simply renting?