Since it is the end of the year and everybody seems to be doing a list. I thought I would jump in with one of my own. Please understand, I am writing this from my point of view as a follower of Jesus. If that is not the path you follow I pray after you have finished reading some of the arrogant sting of the so-called Christian faith will have been removed. The Creator of this universe is far bigger then any self described human made faith or set of beliefs.
Now it has been said my writing style is not the warm comforting and cuddly stuff but rather more “in your face,” “take it or leave it style.” This list will be no different.
For far too long the institutional church has taken the position they own the faith and simply rent it to us. They give us traditions, pronouncements, laws and creeds and if we do not live by them since we are nothing more then renters we get evicted, or as the Roman Catholic Church has done for centuries ex-communicated.
A quick read of Matthew 23 makes my point about the institutional church pretty clearly. To my brothers and sisters in the clergy all I can say here is if the shoe fits
It is pretty apparent Jesus knew and said the everyday people were being sold a bill of goods. They were being forced to rent their faith.
So without further delay, here are the 10 reasons to own your faith rather then rent it. 10) There is no “Hell” to be sent to.
The institutional church has used this bogus concept for centuries to keep our fear button pushed in all the way. Hell by translation and definition is a “state of being” not a place. Further, it is a state one places themselves in through their own action. By definition “hell” is the total absence of God. God’s biggest desire is to be in relationship with that which God created. It stands to reason, then, that God never wants to be totally absent to us. Why else would Jesus warn of that “blasphemy of the holy spirit” was only unforgivable sin? The only way that could be accomplished is if one was totally absent of God to begin with. That absence would be our choice, our action, not God’s. Own the fact that when we die we will be with God. Further, all the biblical discussion around hell is simply drawing a picture of what it must feel like to be totally absent of God not a place to be found on a map or geological survey.
9) Forgiveness is the only way to experience total freedom.
The only way to stay in a relationship with God is to forgive as God forgives us. To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with those whom God created. It is only through setting aside our anger, our hurt feelings, and our indignity that we find our happiness, peace and our dignity.
Remember the first words of Jesus from the cross were, “Father, forgive them.” If he does not do that then there isn’t any resurrection, dead is dead. If we do not find a way to forgive there is only death and destruction to follow. Own your life, don’t rent it and lose it.
8) God is a lot more creative than God gets credit for.
I remember a great piece of theology from one of the original Star Trek shows, where aliens explain to Captain Kirk why they appeared as humans rather then their natural state. They said, “We appeared to you humans as you would understand us.”
It certainly explains why there are so many different faiths, races and cultures. Everyone and everything is at a different place of understanding and learning and God meets us wherever that place or understanding is. Own the fact that God is greater then the limitations we place on ourselves by renting our faith.
7) Our relationship with God is far more important then any sin we commit.
I think the best example of this being true is in the story of the “Prodigal son” from Luke 15:11-32. Jesus tells this story to give us an idea of what God and heaven are like. There are three very important points here: 1) the son desired to be in relationship. 2) “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” 3) “But the father wasn’t listening” Get it? When we desire to be in relationship with God, God runs to us, finds us embraces us, our shortcomings (sin) don’t matter. Own your relationship with God, don’t rent from sin.
6) The Bible is not the infallible, inerrant word of God.
“The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God’s punishment, and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the ‘literal and inerrant word of God,’ I always ask, ‘Have you ever read it’?” Episcopal Bishop John Shelby
The Bible contains an understanding of the will of God, but parts of the Bible do not reflect God’s will. Every injunction, instruction, prohibition, etc. in the Bible needs to be analyzed carefully to determine whether it was directed to a specific culture at a specific time and place, or should be applied to all cultures and all eras.
Further, the Bible was written by individuals to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Many of the authors were severely limited by culture and their lack of scientific knowledge. I believe that it is important to recognize that many biblical passages contain factual errors and that many do not reflect accurately or consistently the will of God. Of course, in order for one to know this or conclude this, one has to do the hard work of studying the Bible for oneself. Own your Bible, don’t rent it from the church. In addition, this means one needs to read a variety of scholarship on this collection of sacred text as well. This can be a difficult challenge since many people are like lightning and take the path of least resistance. 5) God is all about inclusion not exclusion.
We only need to look as far as the life and ministry of Jesus to see that everyone is invited, some may choose not to come but everyone is invited. There are some who would say Jesus was exclusionary and cite the story of the rich man. However, over the years, the story has gotten twisted into meaning that wealth is bad. In reality it was about the heart. Where was this man’s heart in relationship with God or his riches? God, or Jesus, didn’t exclude him – he excluded himself. This is what makes owning one’s faith a difficult task, it requires we take responsibility for our choices. 4) No one can be denied a place at the Lord’s table.
This has been a major point of power and control the institutional church since it has assumed the power to say who is in and who is out. Jesus said “as often as you do this, do this in remembrance of me.” There are no strings attached to this, no dogma, no creed, no formula for belief, no magic words. Just a simple act of memorial designed to remind us what we have been taught by Jesus. When one owns their faith they can never be denied a place at the table. It is only when we rent our faith we get tuned away. 3) God is a “Chess Master” not a “Puppet Master.”
Over the years Fundamentalism has turned God into the ultimate magician. God will fix that, do this, heal this or that. This alone has set up the war between faith and science. God created us with a mind and the ability to think. As we learn and grow we can, and will, do more things that seem astounding. Jesus is quoted at one point saying, “These things I have done you will do and even greater things.” Yup, that will happen when we use our God-given brains to think.
God is not a puppet master. If anything, God may be a chess master. This game of chess is a little different. God is not interested in taking our King, because God has already given us God’s. So it is all about the moves that are made in the game (life). We make a move; God makes a move in response. This is the way we prepare for our next spiritual step. It is called growth. Growth does not come without experience, choice and the consequences of those choices. Owning one’s faith lets us take responsibility for our actions without playing the blame game or having a puppet master. 2) “Do not commit murder” applies to the courts, the state, the feds and most assuredly all people.
Jesus could not have been clearer when he is recorded as saying, “Let the first one without sin cast the first stone.” Sin is recognized as any thought, word or deed that separates you from God. Well who has not done that? There is no twisting this folks; we are not supposed to be in the business of killing folks. We can give all the excuses we want, however it is pretty clear renters of the faith can justify killing, owners of the faith cannot. Couple this teaching with the whole concept of forgiveness and my point is made. 1) Ultimately we will be measured by who we feed, dress, give drink to and/or visit, not by some “sinners prayer.” I am amazed at the smoke and mirrors the institutional church has used over the years. They have come up with all kinds of rules to be obeyed, directives to be followed and even prayers to be said to get into heaven. This completely ignores what the man they claim to follow said about the subject. Read Matthew 25:31-46 for yourself, but suffice it to say when one owns their faith this will be the focus of their life rather then a whole host of things which grab us now.
So as we move into 2012 how can you (we) have a much better year despite the challenges? Tearing up the rental agreement we have with our faith and taking ownership of it would be a good place to start.
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, where Whosoever Founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew was ordained, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994.