We might have missed the point.

November 1, 2014.

It’s time for a paradigm shift.

Few characters are more disliked by Christians today in the New Testament than the Pharisees. This stems, of course, from a generally negative depiction of this sect in the pages of scripture. The Pharisees were notorious for being the “holier-than-thou” Jews, binding heavy burdens on the people though the Law that even they were unwilling to uphold. They were the strictest sect of the Jews, holding fast to the minute letter of the law and condemning those who would not abide in these confines. Yet, I don’t think all the Pharisees did this through insincerity, though some of them did. I believe that there was good potion of the Pharisees who honestly believed that their way was the way of God, and only through their teachings would the Messiah come. One of the ideas that the Pharisees had was if all of the Jews could live righteously for just one day, the Messiah would come to save them from their Roman oppressors. Amongst these sincere Pharisees was a man named Saul, who we would later know as the apostle Paul. Everything that Paul did as a Pharisee before he was converted was out of complete sincerity and zeal for the Almighty. I don’t think he was alone. And yet, Jesus came and rebuked the Pharisees. Does that not seem odd?

Perhaps it does seem odd to us today, but let’s take a look at why it might not make sense if we didn’t have the background we do. Were the Pharisees following the law of God? Yes, in great detail actually. They even made laws that would prevent them from getting close to breaking God’s laws (thus the binding heavy burdens on the people). Were the Pharisees righteous? It would seem so, as Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, implying they indeed had a certain level of righteousness (ref. Matt. 5:20). Did the Pharisees worship God as laid out in the Law? Of course they did. Did the Pharisees abstain from sin (at least the sin that they could saw as sin)? Again, another one of their hall marks. But if the Pharisees were keeping the Law of God, even in great detail, then why would Jesus, the Son of God, rebuke them for it? Why would He give the seven woes to them in Matthew 23? I believe the answer is revealed in one of those woes:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
(Matthew 23:23-24)

They had missed the point.

Religion was not about a relationship with God anymore, but was about following the rules. Many of them had become hypocrites (the main reason for Jesus’ woe’s). They had turned the covenant that was supposed to be a light to the world and lead people to God into a list of things the people had to abide by lest they be struck down by God. They had missed the entire point of the Law. They had missed the greatest command. They had turned religion into something it was never meant to be, for they used it as a dividing wedge between them and the people it was meant to save. They were using their righteousness as a bargaining chip for salvation, as opposed to simply being in the close relationship with God as He had set up from the beginning without worry.

They had missed the point.

The Pharisees weren’t alone in this, and to be fair, their strict keeping of the Law was not completely illogical. God did expect the Law to be kept in its entirety. But the Pharisees took it to a whole new level. But really, many people in the bible simply missed the point when it came to their relationship with God. The Israelites, time and again when they were led out of Egypt, missed the point. They saw the mighty wonders that God did for them to lead them out, but then as soon as something they perceived as bad happened, they thought they were just going to die in the wilderness outside of Egypt (ref. early Exodus). Naaman missed the point when he went be healed of his leprosy by the prophet Elisha (ref. II Kings 5). He heard the word of God, but expected a show. King Belshazzar missed the point when Daniel interpreted the words written on the wall by a detached hand that was a prophecy from the Lord about the kingdom being stripped away from the King and given to another (ref. Dan. 5). He tried to make Daniel the third ruler in a kingdom that was about to fall!

In the New Testament we see the same in the letters. The Corinthians had missed several key points. They were focusing on who baptized, forming factions based on big names in the church, instead of unity in the Lord (ref. I Cor. 1-3). Then they missed the point of freedom from the law, taking that to mean they could live in sin, and even boast about it (ref. I Cor. 5). Then there was the problem of the Lord’s supper where they missed the point of communion and were even segregated during the meal (ref. I Cor. 11). Even further, they missed the whole point of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit that they had been blessed with, using them for selfish desires and causing chaos in the assembly (ref. I Cor. 12-13). The Ephesians missed the point of the unifying power of Christ for the Jews and Gentiles, forming the two into one people of God (ref. Eph. 1-4). The Galatians had apparently missed the point of the gospel, quickly deserting it and following another, which was not really another (ref. Gal. 1). Then you have the seven churches written to in the first few chapters of the book of Revelation, most of which had missed the point of Christianity all together (ref. Rev. 2-3). They seem to have all missed the point in some way or another.

So, my question is, if so many people in the scriptures (not to mention the times in history that we could point to and say that Christians had missed the point, such as the crusades), have we too missed the point of Christianity today? Is this possible?

It is not only possible, but unfortunately I believe it is often very true in American Christianity. I was reading a post from an acquaintance that is a fairly vocal atheist, speaking out against Christianity and Christians quite often, where he said that the universe had given Christians a chance to prove themselves as he had a flat tire right outside a church building. The cars filled up the parking lot, but not one of them came to see if he needed any help. The person who did stop to help was an atheist. As hard as it was to read that, has this what Christianity has become? Have we really missed the point that severely? Now, I know we cannot base everything off of this one instance, but it may indeed be the norm, unfortunately. It reminds me of a teaching of Jesus.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
(Matthew 25:41-46)

They were looking for the wrong things. They said “But, but but, when did we see you hungry, or in need of clothes, or sick? We never got the chance!” But the reply is heavy. They had the chance, they just failed to see it. They missed the point. Christianity isn’t just about following some list of rules, being a good citizen and being generally holy when it comes to the “filthy” things of the world such as sex, drugs and alcohol. Christianity is so much more, so much better, than that. If we are focusing on condemning sin as opposed to building one another up and having relationships with the children of God and bidding the world to come to Christ, we have missed the point.

Here are four examples where I think we have missed the point.

1. Sunday morning worship.

It is not wrong to come together to worship the Lord on Sunday mornings. It is not wrong to reassemble on Sunday nights. It is not wrong to study with the church on Wednesday nights. These can all be considered good things. But where we’ve missed the point is the fact that these must not be the only times we study, worship and act like Christians. I know you’ve heard it many times before that we must not only be “Sunday Morning Christians,” but how often do we actually apply this concept? Sure, we can say it all we want, but until we starting living it, it will do us no good. Worship is not reserved for Sunday morning. Worship should be done through our lives, the way we live. Listen to Paul’s admonition to the Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:1-2)

There is no call in the New Testament for a Sunday Morning worship service as the only time that we are to praise, glorify and honor God. Yet many of us reserve these three to four hours on Sundays and Wednesdays for their “God time” or when they worship. Actually, that’s kind of insulting to God, is it not? Christianity is not about going to church, but about being the church. I don’t care if you are at the church building every time the doors are open, if you are not living your life for Christ when those doors are closed, you’ve completely missed the point of Christianity. The same goes for me. Any anyone else who bears the name of Christ.

It is quite ironic that most of our fighting and arguing come over the four hours a week that we are at a building instead of the 164 other hours in the week that we should be living for Christ.

2. Friends at church.

Secondly, I think at times we miss the whole point of the church from the get go. Church is not meeting together in a building three times a week. Church is a family, a community, a fellowship. We are the church. We do not have friends at church, we have a Christian family. We meet together with out brothers and sisters who we should have deeper relationships with than people who are not in our family. I know that this cannot always be the case as we often will have deep relationships with the people we spend the most time with, but that’s also my point. If we are only spending 3-4 hours a week with our Christian family, and that is when we are at a worship service, then we have completely missed the point. I say this for myself too, as I don’t spend enough time with the family now that I am not at a place that made that aspect of Christianity easy anymore.

The whole point of the church is to have a strong relationship with one another in Christ. It was not so we could have a group of people to assemble with and praise God, and then go home. Yes, worship will stem from a gathering of the family, but if that is the sole purpose and fellowship is not obtained, have we not missed the point? It is time for a paradigm shift in American Christianity. We need to get past our formalities and “Sunday best,” and start being members of one another. We are a family, and we need to start acting like one. We need to eat together and spend time together outside of our “worship services.” A family does not only see each other three times a week in a formal setting.

3. Petty arguments and divisions.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
(Matthew 23:23-24)

Question. When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, which question do you think will more likely be asked: “Did you have a water fountain in your church building (yes, unfortunately some division are over something as simple as this)?”, or “Did you show the love of Christ to your brothers and sisters in Christ?” What about “Did you follow all the rigorous, well documented rules and regulations (read with heavy sarcasm) for worship correctly?” or “Did you spread my message to the lost and dying world?”

When we argue over the little things that honestly will probably not make any difference in the long run and forget about the weightier matters of the law, we miss the point. What is the greatest command? Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. The second? Love your neighbor as yourself. These are the weightier matters of the law! There is no love in quarreling and division, at least when it comes to small matters. Yes, when it is a major doctrinal issue that is essential for unity (think about passages such as Eph. 4:1-6), it must be addressed. We cannot go along with false teaching. However, most church divisions are over matters of opinion, and that is one of the saddest things in the world to me.

Is the rapture a real teaching? Are you allowed to clap in worship songs? Do you have to dress up for church? Should we pray to open and close a worship service? Who cares? None of these things matter if we are not living the Christian life and paying attention to the more important matters of salvation. Yes, there is a time and a place to discuss the smaller things, but they should never be allowed to stir up strife and division.

When we are focusing on agreeing about every little thing in the bible (which would be quite a feat indeed) instead of what we can do to spread the good news to a lost world, we have missed the point.

4.The gospel is for all.

Remember when I said that we have to be Christians even when we walk outside of the church building? This is where that concept plays a major role. One of my favorite hymns is titled “The Gospel is for All.” The lyrics are as follows:

Of one the Lord has made the race
Thro’ one has come the fall
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all

The blessed gosple is for all
The gospel is for all
Where sin has gone must go His grace
The gospel is for all

Say not the heathen are at home
Beyond we have no call
For why should we be blest alone?
The gospel is for all

Received ye freely, freely give
From ev’ry land they call
Unless they hear they cannot live
The gospel is for all

We sing these words from time to time, but do we live them? When’s the last time you have shared Christ with a coworker? Or with a friend at school? Or that man on the bus? Or that homeless woman you see on the side of the street constantly? These words hit home for me. I know that I don’t talk about the good news enough. My daily activities are rarely incorporated with conversations about Christ. Sure, I live the Christian life and set a good example, and that indeed is an important aspect. But if I don’t vocally spread the gospel, how will I ever reach anyone? One my favorite lines in the song above is “For why should we be blest alone? The Gospel is for all.” I like that not because it is a “feel good” line, but because it makes a sharp point. We are blessed, we have received the good news, we have salvation. Why should we be the only ones who receive salvation? There is room at the cross, and it is our job to spread the good news. The gospel truly is for all. Not just the people at our church. Not just the people we are comfortable around. Not just our family. Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for all of mankind, offering salvation to all who would come to Him. If our church is completely composed of second and third generation Christians who are comfortable with the people there and there are no new Christians, well, are we effectively spreading the gospel? Have we become too comfortable? When we contain our Christianity to when we are inside the doors of the Church building, or even to just when it is convenient to mention something outside, then we have completely missed the point.

This post is not meant to cause arguments or condemn anyone, as most of these points I can apply directly to myself. The point of this post is to encourage a paradigm shift in Christianity today to what the whole point of the plan of God for our reconciliation was originally, and even back to the very reason He created this universe in the first place. Read the story of the creation and see if you get a story of a overbearing God who is worried about us strictly adhering to a bunch of rigorous rules, or a God who created us to be in a relationship with Him, yes in obedience, but without fear of failure. The whole point of our existence is to be in fellowship with the Almighty. One day those who have come at His call will indeed get to experience this perfect fellowship. What’s the point of our time here before Jesus comes back? There are different points, but one of the main ones is to spread the good news. Let us focus on the glory of God, build one another up in love and spread the good news to any and all who will listen.

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
(II Peter 3:4-9)

Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 23, Romans 12, 14, I Corinthians 10.

Let’s get back to the point.

-Walter

Leave a Reply, seasoned with salt.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s