The Church Must Not Add To Jesus
One of the challenges that the Church has always faced is our tendency to “sanctify” our cultural baggage.
For the Jews in the first century it was fine that Gentiles decided to follow Jesus but, they reckoned, they needed to come in the right way and get circumcised first. (ie. stop being Gentiles and become Jews and then follow Jesus.) Paul wrote, among other things, a “strongly worded letter” to the churches in the region of Galatia. The letter was meant to convince them that they didn’t need to be circumcised, they just needed Jesus. It wasn’t as much about legalism as about adding anything to a relationship with Jesus.
In SCREWTAPE, C.S. Lewis lets us eavesdrop on the advice of a senior demon to his nephew, an up and coming demon in his own right. Screwtape’s nephew asks for advice on how to best keep his subject from continuing to follow Jesus (“the enemy”). The setting is WW2 and the question is, would it be best to encourage him to be a pacifist or a patriot.
“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘Cause,’ in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of pacifism.”
Paul’s message to the Galatians was basically this: Adding anything to a relationship with Jesus makes the good news the wrong news.
The problem is, two thousand years later, we still haven’t shaken the tendency to make our culture part of the good news. We travel from North America to share Jesus and we impart our culture as part of the Way. I’ve been to Trinidad and Tobago and sat through church gatherings that were more like a North American T.V. church broadcast than something that came from their hearts and minds. I’ve sat in a church service in China that could have been taking place right here in the city I live in other than the heat and language.
We’ve not only connected our culture to Jesus as we have shared him with the world but we’ve adopted the notion that you have to be like “me” to follow Jesus and we’ve sanctified things we love and called them “part” of the good news right here where we live.
Ego: I don’t follow the Law – I mean, sure I’ve been circumcised but that was the doctor, not me and I’ve never told someone they need to be circumcised to follow Jesus. So there.
CV: Hi Ego, thanks for that input. And of course you’re right.
E: I am? Uh, I mean, of course I am. I’m not sure you’ve ever told me that before…
CV: Well, I’ve never once heard you promote blood sacrifices.
E: Hey, I like a rare steak as much as the next guy…
CV: No, I mean I don’t think you have preached Moses or becoming like a Jew.
E: Ah, good, what are you talking about then?
CV: Have you ever told anyone or created the impression that followers of Jesus will vote Conservative or for Republicans but not Democrats?
E: Of course.
E: Wrong answer?
CV: No, truthful isn’t wrong, but I’m afraid you’ve mixed following Jesus with your culture. You’ve suggested that following Jesus is the same for everyone and your political take is necessarily the only take.
E: But Conservatives are for Christian values and Democrats or Liberals clearly aren’t!
CV: That’s a discussion for another time. My point is just that you’ve added something to following Jesus that Jesus didn’t. It’s like C.S. Lewis’ example. You can hold your opinion, you can even think I’m wrong, but if you make it part of following Jesus it’s not just your opinion anymore.
E: Apostate! We all know Obama is the anti-christ!
CV: Name calling! Nice. O.K., let’s take another approach. Let’s talk about money.
E: What about it?
CV: Ever told anyone they needed to tithe to the Church and God would bless them back?
E: It’s biblical!
CV: Really? Jesus said that? The good news that all you need to enjoy the blessing of God is a relationship with Jesus also says that you’ve got to give 10% of your income to get God’s blessing on your finances?
E: Urm. Well…sort of. You know it doesn’t say it exactly like that but the idea is there!
CV: Really? Where is that in the New Testament? See, this is the problem. How is the Tithe, which is part of the Old Covenant, any different from circumcision?
E: Seriously? You can’t tell a difference?
CV: I mean in the context of God’s blessing.
E: But Abraham tithed before the Law was given. So the tithe is bigger than that covenant.
CV: Really? Where is that in the Old Testament? I’m assuming you’ve read it?
E: Of course! I had to for a test in Bible College!
CV: The story is in Genesis 14. Here’s what happens. Abraham’s nephew gets kidnapped with his family and all he has – along with a whole city called Sodom. Abraham gathers a posse, goes out and defeats the marauders and rescues his nephew.
E: Right. Then he comes back and tithes to Melchizedek the priest.
CV: Well, he comes back and the king of Sodom comes out and the priest Melchizedek comes out to meet him. Here’s what happens in order: 1) Melchizedek makes a meal of bread and wine for Abraham and blesses him. 2) Abraham – AFTER the blessing – gives 10% of the recovered stolen goods to Melchizedek, not his INCOME, the BOOTY…
CV: Sorry E, 10% of the stolen goods – not his own stuff. Then 3) the king of Sodom says, “Give me the people and keep the stuff.” And Abraham says, “No way, no one can say the king of Sodom made me rich.” And he returns the people asks for shares for the posse and give the rest of their stuff back to them. Sound like a model for giving a tithe to the local church?
E: Not when you put it like that. But dude, you’re a pastor, you’re not supposed to tell people not to give 10% of their income to the Church!
CV: Well, I’m not telling people what they can or can’t do, what I’m saying is that we must not attach giving 10% of our income to following Jesus. That’s NOT the good news, Paul would say it’s the WRONG news.
E: But I’ve known people who gave $1000 away and then got $10,000 unexpectedly.
CV: And I know people who’ve gone to Vegas with $500 for a holiday and managed to spend a week there and a few thousand and come home with $1000 still in their pocket. Was that God or just how things happen some times?
E: You’re trying to confuse the issue.
CV: O.K., let me put it this way. If giving 10% of your income actually causes God to honour a covenant or promise then instead of taking food and money to starving people we should take up an offering FROM them to guarantee they’ll have more than they need – if we’re following your biblical principle?
CV: In fact, when famine hit the early church, Paul didn’t tell them to give more, he asked the other churches not experiencing famine to give as God led them to give. And that’s a radical idea.
E: Can I use “Apostate!” again?
CV: Sure, if it makes you feel better. Let me give you a few more reasons first. It’s not Jesus and the Law. It’s not Jesus and rules for good behavior. Not Jesus and meditation. Not Jesus and being a middle class white person. Not Jesus and Buddha, my Mother or even the Oprah.
Not Jesus and Bible study. Not Jesus and a daily hour of prayer. It’s Jesus and He’s enough. And that’s good news!