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The Much Neglected Simple Teaching of Jesus

November 30, 2017

The most neglected statement of Jesus is that Hillel’s “Golden Rule” is what “SUMS UP” the entire Law. His detractors were of course focusing directly on the Law, even atomizing it into more and more “principles”. Christianity followed suit, only dropping the more “Jewish”-associated laws, and eventually placing a great emphasis on sexual-related principles. Islam, drawing on both religions followed suit, exchanging some Hebrew laws for more Arabic-flavored ones.

All have at times aimed to keep their respective “cultures”, (if not seeking to expand them to the world), “pure”.
This will always involve believing oneself has met the “standards” of the Law, and is thus now “called” to enforce them on others, in the name of “preserving morality” if nothing else.

So, recently taking a job “Security Awareness” class, and hearing about the latest threats from ISIS, to create easy to build rail devices to derail trains, and various ways to attack Times Square, I kept thinking, “Who appointed these people the judges and executioners of the ‘infidels’?” The same thing with many conservative Christians; and though it may seem unfair to compare them, the MINDSET, and its underlying presumptions (“righteousness” of the Law, and the need to spread “God’s truth”), are the same. What’s different is the power held.

Judaism once held formidable power over its people in Bible times (even enough to influence the mighty Romans over them, to a certain extent). What we saw in the New Testament was the final death throes of its power, as it was rapidly going down, and would end as a power structure only a few decades later.
The church arose from this, but quickly followed suit, gaining tremendous world power, even over the big bad Romans, and the Western civilizations that sprang from it. But with this power comes great compromise of Biblical principle, and great corruption, as a lot of stuff has to be justified, which in turn is often attempted to be compensated by overemphasizing certain other points of “morality”, in order to maintain the “righteous” appearance.
So it too reached a peak, and it was technology (starting with the printing press) that caused it to crack and start to come down. Hence, all the complaints of loss of power, beginning with the Enlightenment, and continuing through the last century of sociopolitical developments.

Islam, being the youngest of the three religions, is simply not as far down that pattern, but still vying for power. Christians have naturally turned up the heat on them as a “false religion”, and also political enemy, but both seem to be in agreement that America is sinful and needs to be punished. When natural disasters hit here, and conservative Christians pronounce them as “curses”, you would think they should be on the same side as the Islamists who simply seek to punish us directly, themselves, as “God’s agents” (which Christians also used to do, when they had more power, and some more radical groups wish they could still do today).

But the Christians are the ones who upheld the Gospel teaching that no men are “good”, for “all have sinned”. Many had loudly leveled this at the modern “world” and liberal segments of the Church, which had begun arguing for the “goodness“ of man, especially in the face of the teaching of Hell.

But the problem was, when it came to applying that to themselves (and those under their sphere of control, which included the whole “nation” or “culture” of past times), they essentially overrode it with concepts like “regeneration”, “providence” and “exceptionality”. They now could act like every other greedy or warring group of people while in the very breath of condemning them for it, because it’s “different” when they do it. They were the “called”, and “chosen”, and “sanctified”. But then that’s what the religions before them said.

The difference they claim is that they follow Jesus, the Savior. But He taught that the Law was fulfilled by “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”. By going back to the points of the Law, they could actually engineer it so that killing, stealing, and even raping, could sometimes be justified, even while “normally” condemned in the Commandments, as they preached them to others.
Going along with this, Christians were also instructed “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18. When it comes to this chapter, many focus more on the first two verses, and then believe living peaceably is not possible as they see “the world” encroaching on them. But they don’t see the many ways they actually provoke the world, including under the premise of trying to control it).

They’ve gone from excoriating modern liberal culture for turning from the overly sensitive propriety of the past (where even the word “pregnant” was too ‘dirty’ for TV), to now trying to be John Wayne and mocking them as “snowflakes” and “whiners” who need to “grow a pair” instead of running to their “safe spaces”. They themselves largely follow this current president, who embodies everything they used to scold society for, from vulgarity to infidelity. Is being “tough and insensitive” ungodly, or is it now the new “godly”? Make up your minds!
The standard always changes, when focusing on point-by-point morality. (Which is basically opposite of what Christians have always said; that turning away from black and white rules “relativizes” morality! They’ve long preached against the “relativism” or “situational ethics” of people saying “what we’re doing is OK as long as we’re not hurting anyone else”, but this is actually closer to the intent of the Golden Rule).

To show how this happens, if you go strictly by the letter, of “thou shalt not steal”, then you can engage in (or at least condone) various devious financial practices, yet maintain it was all technically lawful (such as “predatory lending”, or the reasoning that “prices and wages are what you agreed upon, and if you don’t like it, go elsewhere”) and be able to truly reason that you (or the system you’re defending) have not violated the commandment. You can even go as far as to appeal to “conscience”, and “the conviction of the Spirit” (which many will say is what supersedes “the letter” of the Law, and is supposed to be all the “more binding”, and “proof” of salvation), and just the technical legality of it can still justify just about any measure taken.
Even the so-called “spirit of the Law” from the Sermon on the Mount you can excuse yourself from. You can condemn others for “bitterness” and “envy” (“spiritual ‘murder'”) towards those who have the upper hand, while displaying a lot of hostility towards those you think you have “just cause” to be angry about, especially by declaring them “anti-God”, or any other entity you identify with, such as “the nation”. We end up with only certain people ever having the right to voice displeasure at anything, while the standard (we preach to and judge others by but aren’t following ourselves) is that man is supposed to only be “thankful”.

But if you go by “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; that would instantly sweep away all of these sorts of rationalizations. So it’s actually much easier (for the “flesh”, believe it or not) to stick to a discrete “commandment”! You look “lawful” and “obedient”, and get to compare and preach to the “lawless”, on top of it!

Meanwhile, what they continue to step up their energies against is leftism, gays, in addition to Islam, of course. The Gospel that starts with the sinfulness of all men (and therefore no room for them to “cast the speck out of someone else’s eye”) is left out, as it’s presumed that some have “repented” into a virtual goodness, and so it’s them against all the bad, [unrepentant] “sinners”.

One common statement I’ve seen is “The Christian view of our moral condition is that, apart from Christ, ‘no one does good, not even one’ (Rom. 3:12).”
This makes it sound like once you “receive” Christ, then you CAN do good, in the sense Paul is denying here (instead of that ‘goodness’ being imputed from Christ). This leads both to presuppositionalism (my interpretations, anger at others behaviors, etc. must be right, because I’ve been ‘regenerated’ and the other side’s position can be dismissed because they aren’t), but also judgmentalism toward those not seen as doing good enough.
On top of this is “God gave His law (filled with commands and comfort) so that we’d know how to live as His image bearers in a broken world.” Both of these statements from CRI articles (one of the centers of mainstream evangelical doctrine); it clearly indicates a notion of the Law being given to maintain order, to help fix the world, as well as benefit the individual. So, putting it together, with Christ, we are more able to do the “good” of keeping the Law, and thus be both more “moral”, and more emotionally healthier. They will all admit that we’re “not perfect” at it, but in practice, it becomes at least we are better than the unbeliever, the doubter, the “backslider”, etc.

In actuality, this position is already moderated down from earlier teaching, whose modern adherents will often criticize the “new evangelicals” for “making God’s Law all about us”. While they have a point there (which I often cite in regards to the popular “Christian victory” teaching), still this often stems from a view where God’s Law and order is a totally disconnected thing that just happens to benefit man sometimes (such as the niceness society would have without killing, stealing, etc.), but it’s really about “His own pleasure/Glory/holiness” etc.
So we had better order our lives by the moral Law, just to make Him happy, but it really in the end doesn’t matter how we treat our fellow man; that’s just a fringe benefit, if other people are deserving of it; but most really aren’t, since man defaults to being a sinner. This is another way we can justify a lot of unkindness toward men (appealing to instances such as the Canaanites, or just God’s “hatred” and judgment of sin in general).

Jesus had showed people what that Law really required, making it obvious it was really futile to seek justification through it; and leaving people to walk away thwarted, but likely to pretend it never happened, and just go back to where they were and keep plugging on as much as they could. The people had taken the “letter” and focused on certain aspects of it, even adding to them, to make sure the basic commandment wasn’t violated; while omitting “the weightier matters”.
I keep thinking how the Islamists need to hear the Gospel message which begins with the fact that “none are good”, but they’ve already heard overall Christian messages, and never got from them this sense. Instead, what they heard was basic agreement on moralism, but the difference was which religion, and associated culture was to bear the rule in enforcing it. So the Islamists maintain that it’s theirs, and the Christians insist it is theirs. They talk right past each other, and then the only thing left to do is to fight.

Both groups seem to believe that “sinners” have forfeited their right to live freely (if, at all). But to live is our natural instinct, and so people have the right to at least resist being under the control of those who show themselves to be a threat to living. They don’t get the whole “chosen ruler” concept, and see no difference between all the different people and groups claiming it. Anyone and everyone can and is saying that. They can’t all be true. God or conscience can’t have “showed” anyone that all of them are right. But they can all possibly be wrong, though!

(PS, in the class, someone asked why the Las Vegas shooter wasn’t considered a “terrorist” like the Islamists, which is a big point liberals are making to show the categories are racist, and we were told “terrorism” is defined as having a religious or political motivation, while they still don’t know what exactly the Vegas shooter’s purpose was. That’s why people like him get assumed to be simply “mentally ill”. If they find that the shooter was some Christian or other conservative trying to punish “Sin City”, would then then upgrade him to “terrorist” status? Possibly, as Timothy McVeigh was considered a terrorist).

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2 Comments
  1. What about the “Great End Times Apostasy”?
    https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/01/31/progressive-christians-saving-jesus-extinction/

    The Jesus I knew as a child and came to aspire to in adulthood is still here, and it is the heretics who are preserving him.
    It is the maligned backsliders, the Godless heathens, and the derided social justice warriors who are replicating his compassion for hurting people, his welcome for foreigners, his generosity toward the hungry, his gentleness for the marginalized.

    I’ve been visiting these local Progressive faith communities every week, and they are doing joy-giving, life-affirming, wall-leveling work—alongside people of every color, orientation, and nation of origin.

    They are providing Sanctuary for refugees, making meals for multitudes, offering embrace to the estranged, standing between the vulnerable people and the opportunistic predators around them—you know, like Jesus would.

    And in our gatherings, Atheists and Muslims and Jews and Agnostics have stepped into these communities and found something they have not found in the counterfeit Christianity so loud in this country: they have found welcome.

    It’s all been fully and beautifully surprising, to see this Jesus still alive here in these people.

    This reminded me of something.
    All this time, I’ve never gone after the whole “end-time one-world religion” premise, that has driven conservative (and especially dispensational) denunciations of liberal forms of religion (and moderates or even other conservatives seen as “compromising” with modernity. It was mentioned here: https://erictb.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/an-example-of-the-legalism-of-the-running-the-race-teaching but this was addressing what naturally stems from the premise, and that’s the whole “running the race/paddling upstream” concept).

    “One world religion” is never mentioned in scripture. When we look at the prophecies this is based on, we see a “woman riding the Beast”, which everyone recognizes as a corrupt religious body that bears rule over “the world” in the “end times”.
    Where they’ve gone off track, is what that “world” that was ending was, and therefore, what the end actually was. Since they think it’s the end of the physical world, then they had to assume this “harlot Church” ruled over the entire physical world. From there, it was figured the only way it could accomplish that was from integrating all other religions.

    The Roman Catholic Church had fit the bill, growing to control and influence much of the Western World, and often adopting native religious practices along the way, to make conversion of the people easier. When American Protestantism began losing its power to liberal religion, and even other faiths, and increasing syncretization as some tried to harmonize them all, they became very reactive in their use of prophecy, and so this led to the forecast that the merger of all religions, around the common them of “peace, love and acceptance”, would be the “One World end-times deception”, with the leftist principles of “equality” forced by a “totalitarian government” being the political “beast” the bad woman rides on. The mission of true people of God therefore is to resist and oppose everyone else and defend their own lives and power. Hence, the ironic love for Trump. Also to jump scriptural promises of imminent judgment to us today, to try to control by fear.

    This is why we see the backward focus, where love is the endtime deception, and Law and all the strife it brings (including outright meanspiritedness), is the “truth”, of God’s “gospel”.
    Meanwhile, who in fact the “harlot” was, was the established, conservative, originally ordained by God, but corrupted institution trying to hold on to its previous power. This is what we are seeing again today.

  2. Traditional assumption on what “sin” is:

    •Assign [in practice CONSCIOUS] deliberate motives to non-Christian “world”; an “agenda” to oppose God and His ‘servants’ for no other reason than a desire for pleasure or independence, which God forbids, and His servants have all (presumably, or at least hopefully, if we’re honest) forsaken
    •(e.g. why scientists won’t accept creationism, why society doesn’t want one religion promoted in the public sphere, why entertainers push racy material, why 60’s generation rebelled, why homosexuals persist in their behavior, etc.)

    •allows them to conveniently ignore how their actions contributed to some of these events
    •Use Rom.1 argument
    •Plays right into “us vs them” premise
    •Ignores ongoing [in practice] sinfulness of Christians, (regardless of how “conservative”), creating the great irony of those who preach “sin” and “repentance” the most fervently being the most fierce deniers of it in themselves (and particularly in institutions they identify with).
    •Assumes the “grand story” of God’s dealing in the world is what’s basically a “tug of war” around pleasure; that man and Satan’s whole goal is pleasure, which is then what “sin” is all about, and God’s whole aim is to rein it all in, which the Law was for. The Gospel becomes a deal where God gives an “offer” of trading in one for the other, (one being “easy” by “default” and the other being “hard” and requiring the “will”) and it is the utmost anathema to say anyone can “have both”.

    You do not need all these assumptions to have a biblical doctrine of “sin”. This actually betrays a shifting away from true biblical definition. “Sin” is “transgression of the Law”. As the Law is summed up by “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, then its ‘transgression’ is summed up as “Whoever knows to do good and does it not, TO HIM it is sin“ (i.e. what “sin” preachers long decried as “situational”).

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