Sunday, January 13, 2013

What liberal and conservative Christians both get wrong

Borrowed from the world of politics, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have been applied to religion, sometimes with success, but often not. There are more than two “camps” in the broad and varied spectrum of religions, including Christianity, but the liberal and conservative views (as they are commonly understood) both manage to seem to get the true message of Jesus wrong, or at best, half right.

The “liberal” Christian seems to say “Jesus just taught us to be nice.” While the other side says, in effect, “Jesus just taught us to have faith.” Both speak to the Truth, but manage to take their general belief systems to extremes, and in the process, manage to miss the point of Jesus’ mission, and do so almost entirely.

They look to passages (or parts of them) in which Jesus tends to say we should just be nice to one another. “Jesus,” they say, “just wants us to love our neighbors. Jesus says God is Love, and that’s all we need to do.” They emphasize the radical message of Jesus and say this translates today into working for social justice for groups that are oppressed, and that, they say, is the core of the Gospel. They go on to say we should never judge another person, and believe discerning any behavior as "wrong" is somehow illegitimate.

The “conservative” Christian, in contrast, says, “All we need to do is have faith in Jesus, and we will, upon making a brief prayer to God, instantly (and some say, permanently) be “saved” and will be guaranteed a place in Heaven when we die.” Further, they claim that any good deeds, any “works” done here on earth are looked upon by God as unnecessarily and are purely done out of gratitude for that free and instant gift of salvation.

Both miss some rather important aspects of the Gospel as Jesus himself preached it, and are guilty of selectively reading and interpreting his words.

The “liberal,” while understanding correctly that Jesus came to preach the radical message of loving one’s neighbor JUST AS we love ourselves, often misses the more radical teaching that we are to pray for and love our enemies, too. Further, Jesus’ Great Commandment wasn't ONLY to love our neighbor. That was the second commandment, the first, and more important, was to love our God with all our hearts, minds, strength and heart. That is truly a challenging command – one that requires the effort of our entire being to accomplish. Clearly, “just be nice to one another” is not a complete message of the Gospel.

When “liberal Christians” claim that we should never judge another, they misread Jesus, who was largely speaking about the hypocrisy of judging those clearly sinning against God, while those judging are in fact were doing the same thing. Taking the beam out of one’s eye before judging those with splinters in theirs conveys that concept that those who love and serve God must look after one another.

And the "liberal" side seems to miss that every command of Jesus was made for us to INDIVIDUALLY act. He called no one to form a political party, an interest group, or see all people as a single oppressed minority to champion through group action, except the poor, and even in this case, he stresses how we can and must deal individually to alleviate their suffering. There was no call to march on Rome and demand greater welfare benefits. No, the call of Jesus is simply to "feed the hungry" and "clothe the naked" where they are, and to do so NOW.

The “conservative,” while correctly stating that faith is the beginning of our life with God – as God’s Prophet Jesus revealed to us in his teachings, life and death – miss the point. This is only the START of this journey, not the end.

Jesus calls us to obey his Gospel and live it, not just believe in it. Belief, or just saying “Master, Master!” isn't enough. That is an incomplete faith.

Jesus explicitly taught us what must be done to inherit eternal life: yes, we must believe, but we also must obey the commandments we've known all along. And yes, that includes doing good works on behalf of our neighbors. As the disciple John wrote, if we say we live in Jesus, we must walk just as he walked; and those who say they live in him, but don’t walk as he walked, are deceiving themselves. Faith without works, as James said, is useless, pointless, and dead.

When Jesus says that we will not be forgiven by God if we do not first forgive others (and do so continually) he gives us a view into how God expects us to live, and puts conditions on his freely offered gift of salvation and eternal life with Him. Those who believe, but fail to act, have a confidence in salvation they have no right to demand from God, who gives according to His own judgment. And to judge others as “unsaved” is neither our place nor do we have the ability to know God’s mind on the subject.

Jesus calls us to act each day individually on his Good and Beneficial Message (that is, “Gospel”) to bring it about in THIS life, and to act with God always in mind, putting God and Others, not ourselves, first. Let’s be about God’s business.

Scripture Cited:
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matt. 22:34-40

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matt. 7:3-5

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matt. 7:21-23

"Why do you call Me, ‘Master, Master’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46

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