Monday, November 17, 2014

delivered from the earthly

My last full post, preoccupation with spiritual life, ended on an incomplete note. It might have seemed that I err on the side of tossing values and standards to the wind, promoting a "do what you want" attitude as long as you believe in Jesus and love one another. That is not my purpose. Rather, I am working out flaws and errors in much of what has passed for Christianity today. I don't claim that I have arrived at all the correct answers. I am exploring, learning, asking questions, and testing the waters.

There is a prevalent attitude in Christian circles these days that is demanding and very expectation-based. Once someone claims Christ, there is this expectation that the person must now have it all together…or we who are “wiser” will tell them how to get it all together. Some are more reasonable than others and this looks very different depending what circles you wander in. If that person does not yet have it all together, then there is, at least a time-line that we have to put them on for when they need to get their act together. If they don't achieve that maturity within a certain timeline, that's when we attempt to lay down the law with them. This is the state when barriers start to go up. I've done it to others. People have done it to me. I have seen it done time and time again, to my friends, family, acquaintances. It's so exhausting. Encased within this mentality is expectation that they should conform to how we perceive the Christian life should look in its matured state, which involves a full-time abandonment of the flesh and earthly things. Christianity has become a special club to become delivered from all earthly things, including our own selves. Sadly, this takes the work of the Cross and, usually unintentionally, makes it insufficient. It can cover our justification, but it cannot secure our sanctification unless we do something. This is why Christians work so hard to look, act, talk and be godly. There are authors upon authors and preachers upon preachers who work so hard to help us get this sanctification thing right. However, most might disagree with me here. They might say that they 100% wholeheartedly believe that sanctification is God's work in us through the Holy Spirit. And they may very well believe it. I am not questioning that. I am questioning how they expect that to be lived out. To be honest, when you are involved in Christian circles that adopt this mindset of relating to other Christians, it is incredibly difficult, almost impossible, to see its errors. I speak from my own experience, but I have also seen this pattern repeated amongst various individuals that I know. In fact, I have seen this pattern emerging more and more in recent days. It has led to an enormous pool of hurt, jaded, bitter, and disillusioned Christians. It's easy to just let that be the final word and never work out the details, especially when one has been deeply wounded. I carry such wounds myself, many of them are from having to watch some dear loved ones walk a similar path. So, I make it my one aim to understand, to learn, to acquire the knowledge, but also the humility and grace to deal with such harsh realities within Christianity today. I want to be seen as approachable by brothers and sisters who may disagree with where I stand, but I also still harbor much fear in being rejected by those who I have called friends - individuals who, at one point, I was completely on the same page with them in regards to grace, the flesh vs the spirit, standards of Christian living, etc. The whole nine yards - I have been there. But now I am wrestling it out...what was it that actually got me there?

I'll just call it for what it is.


I know. That's harsh. describes nazism [lower-case] as a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to control a specified activity, practice, etc. It's this deeply ingrained disdain for other forms of that practice. Perhaps you do not like to think of it as a form of nazism because, clearly, it doesn't take the form of  what we think of when we hear that word. I am not saying Christians are Nazis. Let's just make that clear. I am simply saying that the same heart-attitude that was present in the Germans (not only them, but all humanity) is the same attitude that Christians have adopted when we relate to non-Christians or Christians who don't look or live in a Christian way. In my understanding, this attitude seems to be the worldly mindset that Scriptures firmly tell us NOT to conform to. Unfortunately, it is so subtle and deceitful. In essence, it all comes down to control. Our nature thrives on control. Control of ourselves. Control of others. Control of God. Control is a fruit of fear, misplaced identity, and misplaced trust. I hope to write more about this in a future post because this is an incredibly dangerous and unhealthy way that we relate to our Christian brothers and sisters. It's a self-consuming engine in the long-run, but it often breeds disunity. Isn't it insanity that Christianity contains more denominations than any other known religion? I am fairly certain it's safe to assume that Catholics and Mormons are more united in their statements of faith than most Christians. I don't have the statistics to back that up, so please prove me wrong! However, having explored many "flavors" of Christianity (and I know I've barely touched the tip of the iceberg of Christian "flavors" in my personal experience, but just to be specific, I have been immersed in both Reformed and Charismatic circles and the many variations one finds within these two - sometimes, it has been a blending of both these theological camps), I have been introduced to the many varied and subtle walls and boundaries erected to "protect" and "sustain" their version of Christianity.

Recently, I came upon a very, very unexpected discovery.  Christoplatonism. Author and preacher, Randy Alcorn, coined the term in his book, Heaven. Now, some back story. The paragraphs in italics are Alcorn’s words.

In the writings of Greek philosopher Plato, we find that, for him, “the body is a hindrance, as it opposes and even imprisons the soul (Phaedo 65-68; 91-94).  Plato's statement, "soma sema" ("a body, a tomb"), he asserts that the spirit's highest destiny is to be forever free from the body.” This vein of thought stretched far as many of us are “familiar with Paul's defense of the physical resurrection to the Corinthians, who were immersed in the Greek philosophy of dualism. They'd been taught that the spiritual was incompatible with the physical.” 

“Platonic ideas began making inroads into Christian theology through the writings of Philo (ca 20 BC - ad 50). An Alexandria Jew, Philo admired Greek culture and was enamored with Plato's philosophy. He was also proud of his Jewish heritage. In his desire to offer the Greeks the best of Judaism and the Jews the best of Greek philosophy, he allegorized Scripture. Philo’s ideas caught on. Alexandria became the home of a new school of theological thought.”

In Appendix A of Alcorn’s book, Heaven, he continues with a history lesson on how Plato’s ideas caught fire and spread throughout the ages. If you are interested, I highly recommend you read it yourself, but I merely wanted to provide a summarize background for where and when Plato’s ideas began to merge with Christianity. Alcorn goes one to explain how their emphasis on the spiritual caused them to interpret the Scriptures through a lens of the physical descriptions and prophecies as only spiritual symbols. For example, John’s descriptions in Revelation of the streets paved in gold and gates of pearls, were to be interpreted that the heavenly city will not be material as present earthly cities. Those descriptions were taken merely symbols for the radiance and glory of the New Jerusalem, rather than the actual physical reality of what it will look like.

While Alcorn discusses Greek philosophies hijacking Christianity in regards to its understanding of heaven and its interpretations of Scripture, it is clear that this thinking has permeated Christianity in more areas than just the topic of heaven. The Gnostics and Medieval Christians were an extreme example of this unhealthy thinking, abstaining from sex, certain foods,  and all pleasures. Nevertheless, it continues on today, perhaps in more subtle and less obvious forms. It is most usually linked with pure intentions of desiring Christ alone, longing to see Him exalted and glorified in all actions, words, choices, and forms of art. While the desire to promote Christ in all things should be encouraged, the attitude that follows those noble intentions should be rebuked. This attitude, when left unchecked, begins to say “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.” In much of Christianity today, "Christoplatonism appears to take the spiritual high ground" and any "attempts to refute this false philosophy often appear to be materialistic, hedonistic, or worldly" (Alcorn).

A clear example of this that comes to my mind, is a well-known Christian female author and speaker  wrote a lengthy post about "dabbling in darkness." In one post she ruled out Twilight, X-Files, Buffy, Angel Charmed, Dracula, horoscopes, hypnosis, palm-reading, tarot cards, ouija boards, zodiac charms, fortune-telling, pagan paraphernalia (like Buddha statues), clothes or jewelry with skeletons, skulls, monsters, etc., and anything that promotes superstition, witchcraft, or séances.
Clearly, these things are not beneficial for us. Even if some of these things weren't associated with cult practices, we all can agree that buying a buddha statue and watching X-files isn't gonna enhance our life! Personally speaking, I am not into those things. However, while I can wholeheartedly agree with the Christian author that bringing certain things into our lives can interfere with our thought-life and we may put our minds on things that are not at all beneficial to us, I cannot agree with the concluding attitude that comes with this. I have personally witnessed it in my life, when I began going through a long list of ruling things out. And I have seen others, who are involved in ministry or merely serious about their relationship with Christ, take this same path. It begins with a well-intended firm stance that this thing (movie, object, etc) does not reflect Christ to us and should be thrown out. It starts with non-beneficial items and then it begins to move further out, crossing into every sphere of life. Everything gets thrown out or destroyed and, eventually, we lose our ability to objectively discern whether the thing, in and of itself, is truly damaging. Then, it infects the way we view others. We see a Christian friend with that object or thing and we begin to doubt their intentions and heart. We doubt their maturity. We lose respect in them. We begin to avoid them. We see them as foolish, immature, or not in Christ. We think that “thing” did it. It “led” them astray. Then, we begin to wonder if they are truly a follower of Christ because a believer only looks like A and could never look like B. We see them as unhealthy and “lesser than” and unable to “hear from God” as we do.

Do you see my point?

It is a downward spiral.

I do not believe there should ever be open discussion or teaching about the things we deem as evil or good and right or wrong unless we first are willing to approach it in a complete new way. We as Christians are always, always quick to make lists (whether those lists are right or wrong is not the point at the moment!) and quick to say “Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch.” before we ask God to grant us new eyes in order to see that thing and ourselves in a true context.

Alcohol, Harry Potter, Rated R films, genres of music (like metal or new age), Hollywood, even homosexual/transgendered people are all a handful of things we Christians avoid like the black plague. Then, we (very loudly) shout, “Don’t touch them!” As if we will become infected upon contact, as if it will drive God from our lives, as if it will block out the Holy Spirit’s voice and work in our lives.

I have reflected upon the interesting fact that whenever the Apostles, the Jews, or the Gentiles came to Jesus seeking clear, specific answers, He rarely ever gave it to them. His answers felt unhelpful and, at times, ambiguous. He was challenging them and He still challenges us in this way. We want to know specifics on how to live, what to eat, what to wear, what we should or shouldn’t say, what to listen to or not, etc. Something about our human nature wants to be told what to do. I am starting to think we would very much enjoy it if God just programmed us to be robots so things could carry on in a predictable fashion. We want organization, control, order, and clarity. God is not opposed to those things, but He is after our hearts. So, in a sense, He does make life “difficult” for us by not being specific. We, on the other hand, adore specifics. When He does not give it to us, we take matters into our own hands. While we are busy trying to make an organized religion, He sits by and watches and is patient. He knows we will see as He sees one day. We’re learning and stumbling. But He knows it will take a lifetime to get us to glory. We think we’ve got things right, but He always has a way of lovingly humbling us.

I sense this post is greatly unorganized and probably feels a bit ambiguous. Like I said before, I am still searching these things out and I don't want to say that I have arrived at the ultimate answers, but I do hope and believe that I am beginning to see more clearly. However, at this point in my life, I am unwilling to truly share my whole self with any Christian who wants to insist that everything be organized into little boxes of right and wrong, good and evil, non-Christian and Christian, God-glorifying and not-God-glorifying. I am sensitive to those kinds of Christians because I lived in such an extreme mindset of that for years and it stings me. But I have hope that I am coming closer (but have not yet arrived) to a place of being at peace with what I believe God has given for me to enjoy versus what he gives other Christians to enjoy. I am coming closer to a place (but have not yet arrived) of being at content with the diversity of Christianity and that my brothers and sisters don’t have to look like me, eat what I eat, enjoy what I enjoy, etc.

So, before I close this post, here are some fun facts about me that many Christian friends of mine don't know!

 I love listening to progressive metal non-Christian bands like Kamelot and Nightwish. Their sweeping epic and moving songs remind me of the stories that God weaves through the human race, both sad and lovely. In fact, while on this topic, I will just say 80% of the music I listen to is not of the Christian genre and the musicians/artists are not Christian and never speak of Christ. Yet, when I listen to the music, I hear God’s heart for humanity, the glorious color of people and their stories, their heartbreaks, their emotions, etc. The diversity of mankind does speak of God's work.

One of my favorite films is Gravity (made by non-Christians and complete with a few swear words, lol!) and it reminded me so much more than any film ever created by a Christian of how God brings life from death, loss, and pain. A non-Christian film stirred my thoughts to Christ more than a Christian film ever could. To me, Gravity was Christ-exalting even though the filmmakers are completely oblivious that they just spoke of Him (the creation cannot help but glorify the Creator because its using the very tools the Creator used to glorify Himself – i.e. the theme of life from death). Some of my other top favorite films include selections like Road to Perdition and Interstellar.

At one point in my life, I was a fan of literature like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the sci-fi books by H.G. Wells like The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man. While I have (mostly) grown out of this fandom in terms of personal taste (I just like other different things more now), I still appreciate the other worlds and characters created by those author that remind me so much of the sad way that man degenerates when he denies his good Creator. It looks gruesome, but there’s no “pretty” way to portray man who looks for purpose and life outside of his Creator. For me, those books spark more in-depth conversation about God and man than all the safe, G-rated, “always-talking-about-Christ” Christian novels, which feel empty and artificial.

I like drinking wine because it is calming and a good digestive aid. I don’t feel the new to drink it in excess, but it’s kind of fun getting a bit tipsy (oops, did I just say that aloud?). Oh, I also enjoy a session of yoga here and there with essential oils, Native American flute music in the background, and deep rhythmic breathing. ;)

I think my point is clear. I enjoy things that, in some circles, are deemed as “un-Christ-like" and I do not in any way believe these things to be more of wrong, evil, sinful, right, godly, or good, etc. They are just things. He gives me the lens to see them in relation to Him.

I titled this post, “delivered from the earthly.” It’s meant to challenge you in what you have defined as “earthly.” For most of Christianity, they have allowed the unbiblical philosophies of Plato to define what is good and bad for Christians. Many of us continue to read Scriptures through this lens and this is my way of challenging you to find out if you are wearing a lens while reading Scripture, or in how you view Christians who don’t do life the way you do, or in what you are quick to judge as “only good” or “only evil.” This week, I am going to be reading through these passages from Mark 7 and Colossians 2 to allow my mind to be challenged. Notice how in Mark 7, after the discussion about what defiles a man, Jesus immediately departs to be with a Gentile woman (remember how lowly the Gentiles were in the eyes of the Jews - the Jews only saw them as not God's promised people and that no good could ever come from them or be for them). Also, notice in Colossians 2 that Paul begins with a lengthy description about our new identities before he discusses the judgements early Christians made on what not to handle, taste, and touch. The understanding of our new identities completely transforms the way we approach things.

Mark 7

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Colossians 2

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.