Paradigm Bombing 101
by Christopher C. MacDonald
How would you like having your calling ground down from passionate love for God to exhausted religious functionary?
It's a smart bomb,
the kind that actually finds it's target.
And it is Paul who reminds us to be tolerant in these situations. He does so while sitting in a fricken dungeon. People come to him and say "Hey Paul...how's it goin? How's the food? Oh...not so good huh...well anyhoo...umn....there are these charlatans out there making big bucks off the Gospel....you want we should rub them out?"
Paul says no. He only cares that Jesus is being preached, even if it is by self-absorbed idiots who are doing it for themselves.
Pretty amazing...but then he doesn't have a session or board of directors to answer to. Sometimes prison is the lesser of two evils.
C'mon...at some point for you Jesus was probably the focal point...but that changed huh?
If not you might wanna look at that.
CHRIST IS THE LIVING CENTER
yesterday, today and forever.
"THIS CONVERSATION IS OVER!"
I went by a church named "Christ the King" Church. The sermon and offering was on the building fund. Apparently Jesus is King, but broke. He still has nowhere to lay his head.
They're working on it for Him.
The "Jesus Seminar"
Like a "Beatles Seminar" where all who assembled met to determine which songs where "authentic". The criteria being their initial pubescent reaction to a particular type of song on their first album. Other less "authentic" songs would be re-referenced to other bands from the period.
In the end all authentic Beatles songs are contained on a single CD.
But the Walrus is still Paul.
"Effective Biblical Parenting"
"Divorce Recovery Workshop"
"I Do...Still: A Couples Journey"
"Small Group Accountability"
"Growing Godly Children"
I see it in myself.
If only I could be good or smart enough!
Paul says "Oh thou foolish Mac!, Having begun in the Spirit will you now be perfected in your own strength?"
Crap! Now I have that old Police song in my head about the canary in the coal mine...crap crap crap!
I don't invite my friends to church not because they will be offended, but because they will be bored, or worse, offended by the boredom and will turn at the end of service and glare at me like "thanks for inviting me...let me know the next time you have to go to the dentist for a root canal so I can come along and watch."
We've become passive viewers instead of active worshippers. Awe has been replaced by appreciation for performers.
Can someone answer this...please?
"We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world....But now that you know God- or rather are known by God- how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?
Do you wish to be enslaved all over again?"
Do you wish to be enslaved again?
Then embrace the new Christianized system of "effective Christian living". Embrace the Gospel of Betterment and you will soon lose all taste for Christ and His cross.
It's also a lot like playing the "pop goes the weasel" game down at Chucky Cheese's...you know the one where the weasels pop up and you have to nail them in the head with the little mallet...yea yea...but just as soon as you nail one three others pop up elswhere...you never get them all.
This explains why theocentric worship has gone away.
This explains why theology for regular folk has gone away.
This explains why a deeply spiritually hungry generation has rejected the Church as irrelevant. They are correct.
This explains why suffering no longer makes any sense.
"Knowledge is power"
The upside was we had real vowels...that and the falafel.
Most modernistic scholars approach this Hebrew religion from a distinctly dualistic mind set. It's like dark sunglasses that mask out all the color and diversity.
Trinitarian theology also decimates dualistic thinking, which is perhaps why we avoid it.
"The Jesus Principle" is a Gnostic Jesus.
The "Commemorative" Jesus is a Gnostic Jesus.
This is an actual assignment. Get off yer butt and give it a whack.
Want to "please the Father" Just let Jesus be the focus. The Father LOVES that and the Holy Spirit will breath a sigh of relief.
Jesus vanishes again in the fog of religious "betterment".
"What is the chief end of humanity?
To glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
-The Westminster Shorter Catechism
We are not called to impersonal knowledge and power, but rather to know God and be known by Him.
What was lost and what was gained in the Fall?
Lost was shameless intimacy with God. What was gained was shame-filled knowledge of evil and holiness...our evil, God;s holiness.
The most ignored aspect of Paul's teaching? His CONSTANT instructions to each community of live with each other full of compassion, forbearance, patience, kindness, grace and love.
Oh...and he says we should stop lying to each other, which ain't gonna happen until all of the above becomes a reality...because let's face it...you people cannot be trusted. If I tell you I whack off, or that I drink or smoke you'll run for the nails and the wood, or worse...have a sit down with me. So I'll just have to keep my issues to myself thank you.
Or join one of the 57 different types of "Anonymous" groups who believe only in the "Unknown God" of Mars Hill...
So, currently, you can have:
1) honesty and and anonymity as you actively follow an Unknown God and make your life about betterment and "recovery"; or,
2) you can play the religious game in the Church, follow a commemorative Jesus and keep your real sins to yourself in quiet despair.
GRACE and TRUTH with Christ ALONE as the Center of life lived out. Utter reliance on His grace and transforming power from within via the Spirit.
Be rescued. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Pleasing God not by being good enough, but by admitting you can never be and letting Christ be your righteousness.
You'll feel great..
....the canaries will appreciate it too.
Church is in line for nonstop paradigm bombing over the next ten years.
It's a good thing. It's long overdue. Someone should have started the bombing
raid about 15 years ago. Perhaps they did. If so, they dropped too early.
I've dropped too early myself. I wrote a paper called The Haunt of Jackals in the early 90s that is still a bit premature. It's okay. It'll wait.
There are many paradigm bombs to be dropped because the Church is so utterly lost within itself right now. That's as far as I wanna go on that line because Church bashing these days is just too easy and nothing good comes from it. And worse, it just disheartens those truly good men and women in ministry who bear outrageous crap day in and day out as representatives of a largely Christless-church that they themselves personally lament.
BOMBS....ER, BOMB AWAY
Well I only have my own paradigm bomb to drop. That's good for a number of reasons. First it deflects the backlash to all those who are doing the bombing. Safety in numbers. Plus, I'm no prophet and I don't plan to be a martyr, at least not a conventional one. I don't take myself that seriously.
But I do have to take seriously my own personal paradigm bomb. It's my calling, my responsibility and I have to do my job...which is simply to drop the thing as close to the center as possible (an irony which will become apparent later).
Other bombs are coming from others. Stay tuned. But here is my bomb. It will sound foolish and simple at first glance, but that's the diabolical nature of the problem.
We've lost Christ. He has all but vanished.
Go to any "successful" Church in your area and you will hear lip-service given to Jesus. The end of the prayers are licked and sealed with His name and His cross is spoken of with reverence. But Jesus' very living and breathing Presence is made commemorative where it could be actual. His radical callings are muted and drowned out with songs about US, and we are made the center of all concern. We have become the ground of all being.
And it pains me, but for clarity's sake I must go on just a bit further (I take no joy in this).
Paul, sitting in a dungeon when he really wanted to travel the world and deliver Christ personally wrote in depth on the centrality of Christ. To ignore this is to ignore the entire bent of holy writ, old and new testaments.
"It was the Father's God pleasure for ALL the fulness to dwell in Him and for Him to have first place in all things."
Of course it goes on and on and on...First and Last, Alpha and Omega, the Cornerstone, the Way, Truth and Life...we could spend years just studying all the names and metaphors attributed to this one Jesus of Nazareth. But suffice it to say that we were created in Him, through Him and ultimately for Him. It's all about Him where life is concerned.
But is that where we live? Is that what we explore daily? Is that how we worship?
And please understand exactly what I am saying plainly. The single most important fact in the universe for you and I is simply this...that Christ is the Center. Even God the Father wants Jesus to be the focal point...the starting point, the sole model, the True and only Center.
Nothing could be simpler. Yet nothing could be further from the Church's mind and heart.
The Church, as the Bride of Christ, does not hunger and desire her husband with a passion come what may. She wants to use his benefits, live with his protective name, and live life on her terms. She is an adulteress who began her journey as a wretch but wants now to rule. And to do so, her husband must be muted or eliminated.
Christ must be silenced or diverted as a figure head for other issues that are controllable.
Politics, morality, focusing on the family, promoting healthy lifestyles, the pursuit of guiding principles which eliminate the need for a personal God are all obvious. They are the new legalism.
And we have still not really listened to Paul.
I cannot think of any one writer in all of history so misunderstood as Paul. I guess there are reasons to deliberately miss his plain meanings. Or perhaps, up until recently, there was still some reluctance to overtly defile the words of Jesus directly. That's all changed since the Jesus Seminar...although Jesus did at least rate a Seminar, which Paul never did. They simply twisted and maligned and deliberately slandered this guy who spent most of his Christian "experience" under arrest.
It has always seemed to me that Paul is maligned by all who would not just simply read him and take him plainly and clearly.
Looking across the small but potent Pauline corpus we are immediately struck by his protective nature. He sees to clear enemies to truly Good News: Legalism and Gnosticism.
This is where I assert we have never taken Paul seriously, because we utterly ignore these two enemies that Paul clearly identifies as natural and many millenia-long enemies.
When was the last time your church addressed the subtleties of Legalism or Gnosticism?
Paul and John would insist that above all else we be on the lookout not for the sins of others (as they have been nailed to the tree with Jesus) or for incorrect doctrine (since no doctrinal test for salvation is ever postulated), but rather pursue direct relationship via faith.
Still, this is not he primary agenda on Sunday morning.
Actually, the docket for "Christian Education" on a Sunday morning at your church is most probably:
(er...it's over THERE >>>>>>>>>>>>>>)
But some object that Paul's focus on Gnosticism and Legalism is far too theological...just too academic.
Yea...those Gentile clothesmakers Paul was writing to in backwater Philippi were real scholars weren't they?
Naw...wake up an smell the Galatian Roast. The temptation to turn back from Living Christ to either dead religion or detached superior knowledge is always at hand. But, as we shall see, it is far more subtle in our age.
No one stands defiantly outside our doors ready to slam this crap down our throat. It is more like a gas that creeps over and under the transom, and silently puts us to sleep.
But I need to give you more specifics. If it is like a gas then you'll need is a good supply of canaries.
When the canary keels over, it's time to get out. You're in danger...the room is full of bad gas.
Right now the modern church is filled with it. Those sensitive to it just leave and don't come back. Other wear a mask. Others just sleep.
It has replaced the potent aroma of Christ's Living presence in Theocentric worship. And it runs in the same two directions that Paul and John wrote about so long ago.
The obvious one, or more obvious one (let's face it...neither are that obvious or well meaning believer's would not pursue them like newly planted trout do powerbait).
Why have I never seen a church offer a 6-part series on the dangers of legalism when the great apostle sees it as the single largest enemy to utter fidelity to Christ? How can we ignore a potent cancer that Paul himself says makes the Cross of Christ "of no effect"...that nullifies the single most important event in human history if we are to survive at all?
Admittedly, modern legalism is more squirrely, and a little harder to identify. So, how do we identify it?
"By it's fruit," just like Jesus says.
Is the fruit arrived at via grace? Is it via "unmerited favor" as Paul teaches? Or is it otherwise? It not just about the ends, it's about the means...the vehicle we use to get "there."
It's grace, based in the free gift of God in Christ. There is your baseline. And most every church would assent to this truth.
But, is that how your church operates?
Or does it have a system of action/reaction?
Does it have a linear series of principles?
Does it believe in cause and effect?
In short, doesn't it really believe in KARMA?
Well, Karma may exist in some form. Long term Karma, "Instant Karma"...whatever...but grace, in the words of Bono "travels outside of Karma" and that is as Gospel as it gets.
Grace travels outside of Karma.
The Good News is about God breaking through the "elementary principles" of this world and the Law to rescue and transform us into the glorious image of Christ. This revolution happens from the inside out and cannot be imposed from the outside. Legalism imposes from the outside and it always fails.
Do you feel like a failure in Church?
Do you feel like the people around you have it more together than you?
So do they.
And so, under the "principle" driven modern church real believers live lives of utter despair and silent self-recrimination because it just doesn't work and they feel empty and tired of all self-effort.
There has always been two ways...old covenant through the Law, the way of Moses; and the way of Jesus that the way of Moses finally points to out of desperation.
So we initially embrace the free gift of God, but soon lapse back to the new set of "principles" the new Gospel of Linearity" as Crabb calls it, where we do "our part" and then God has to do God's part.
Which is not Gospel. It is Karma, and God is unnecessary really, because you have principles to guide and provide for you. God is just the gas that makes your "better life" go.
And Jesus? He becomes the theological and philosophical"backstop" for the activity of the church. Christ as living head is silenced because He bring radical grace, mercy and a call to be like Himself. We'd much rather embrace the outward forms of religion and Christendom than live in the nakedness of faith in Christ the Living.
TO KNOW OR NOT TO KNOW?
If you watch the first canary and flee when it keels over you may find yourself in another dangerous cavern. Gnosticism is that expansive cavern. The word comes from the Greek "gignosko"... "to know." It is primary about having the best and powerful knowledge.
The one downside to having the new faith spread via Greek in the Ancient world was the inherent contextual bias of Greek thought. So as the "Gospel" went out to the Gentiles it carried with it a distinct Greek "tint" which was foreign to it's own core message. The authors of various New Testament letters, which were all penned in Greek for wide dissemination) worked against this inherent limitation by addressing Gnostic issues directly from a Hebraic mindset. Paul most most direct, the Apostle John even more so.
Paul denounced the preoccupation with having the correct "gnosis" in the same way he takes on achieving self-salvation via our own righteousness and keeping the Law. All self-effort is doomed. Grace via faith is the only answer.
John, writing much later, has the advantage of seeing the beginnings of a fully worked-out Gnosticism that would attempt (and still does) to reinterpret the entire Gospel message in Greek terms. His antidote is simple and direct. By insisting on the centrality of Christ not as body-less myth, but as physical incarnation (God in the flesh) John strikes at the core of Gnostic dualistic thinking. The Gnostic duality between body and spirit is irrelevant and irrevocably nearsighted in light of incarnation. Any Christ without a physical body is no Christ at all.
Now if you ask a modern minister or pastor about Christ, they will most often admit that Jesus had a body. They will admit this most readily at Easter and Christmas. The rest of the year Jesus will become largely a phantom...a Gnostic phantom.
"How so?" you ask incredulously (I mean no pastor entitles a sermon "Jesus the Gnostic Phantom"...and would be shocked to be accused of doing such.).
It's unwitting, but here is my proof. Pick ten churches in your phone book in random fashion and call them on Thursday of this week. Ask simply for the sermon title. Write these sermon titles down on a piece of paper. Choose the sermon that sounds most like it might be primarily about who God or Jesus is and not about us, our betterment, or how to live a more effective and useful life. Go to that church on Sunday and listen to that sermon and see if it is indeed about God, about Jesus and Who He is (after all it was the "Father's good pleasure for Him to have first place in all things" right?)
In most cases (not all) the sermon will quickly turn to US and our betterment. Christ may be brought in as an example (as if this was His sole role), but really the basis will quickly become an examination of "biblical principles" followed by their practical application "for our lives."
Who needs God? Who needs Jesus? We have the principles after all! I do not need to be saved from anything because with the right information, the right principles, I can tackle anything!
Again, I revert to Paul who questions the Colossians only slightly less vehemently on their spiritually Gnostic principles than he does the Galatians and Romans for their legalism. He holds up Christ as the Life-giving head through Whom all growth comes over and against the "elementary principles of this world" that consist of impersonal prohibitions, rules, visions, and self-abasement. Sounds like modern Christendom to me.
Modern principle driven preaching has taken us back to the Fall in Genesis 3, not the cross. It takes us back to the initial temptation of the serpent to possess the "knowledge of Good and evil" that God alone possessed. And where has our advanced knowledge of Good and Evil gotten us in the modern American Church?
Most of you know.
It has severely bent our worship from genuine awe and reverence of a transcendent and loving God of rescue into self-satisfied (and boring) personal performances to be clapped at. It has stripped the preacher of his role as prophet and teacher and made him a practical entertainer and motivational speaker to be either enjoyed or evaluated. Community is a joke because we have missed the first two ingredients: honesty and grace-filled faith.
GRACE AND TRUTH
Not only have we ignored the Bible in it's consistent denunciation of both pride filled knowledge and legalistic religion ...we have missed the subtle exhortations for how to live with each other.
Jesus, the focal point, comes with "grace and truth" and we are called to do the same.
Sure, we cannot do it the same way given our dust-like and twisted nature, but still we are image-bearers. So Paul tells most every community at one time or another to 1) be honest with each other; and 2) show compassion and grace for each other.
Is that what we "Christians" are known for?
Is that what you experience?
Can you go to your church on any given day and pull any old "believer" (saved by grace alone) off to the side and confess what is really up and down in your life? Hell no! They'll be roasting little cocktail weenies over your flaming carcass before you can say "Tim LaHaye".
How about the pastor? Nope...not him either (and it is usually a him) unless he has become a "gracer" (which means that sin is not real to him).
So we have a problem exercising truth and faith-filled grace.
I think it's the "Lordship" issue. Not the "Lordship Issue" that is so often used as a blunt instrument of coercion, but the real issue: faith.
It's a Jesus issue.
See, if Jesus is everything He says He is, and the Gospel is Good News...and if it is really all about rescue and transformation on God's terms (and not ours) then we can relax.
We can then be honest. We can then be broken. We can extend some mirror image of grace to all who are as lost and broken as we are. Why wouldn't we? Does a man or woman who has been rescued from terrible ordeal ever get up and criticize another person's rescue?
So we have lost connection with our own rescue and lapsed into either religious Legalism or religious Gnosticism instead of living in vital faith and dependence on the God Who says "my grace is sufficient for you."
Or, as Paul might ask "Having begun in the Spirit will we now be perfected in the flesh?"
The answer to this dilemma is both simple and clearly outlined in the New Testament. The "just shall live by faith" not by the ostensibly clear sight of either Legalism or Gnosticism. Live in faith, rely solely on His grace. Let Christ the Living One be the center that He truly is today. Let the "Father's good pleasure" be yours as well.
The temptation to turn back to Legalism or Gnosticism will not go away. They just come back in another disguise.
Keep a couple of canaries with you always...or better still...just walk up and out of those cavernous places into the light of day. And when you smell the fresh clean air outside and feel the warm light of God's grace on your shoulders, look down at your hands and open the left and then the right hand and set those canaries free.
It was for freedom that Christ came and comes today. It is what He offers you at this very moment because He is alive and He is with you and loves you.
Just ask Him.
Back to the DOGHOUSE
"Where are the Humble?" (This appears on the sign in front of the hugest most gaudy church I have ever seen).
"Conquering the Seven Deadly Sins" (which are apocryphal)
"Building True Character" (this is a series trying to answer questions raised by the seventeen 12-step groups meeting at the church that have replaced group Bible studies)
"Building the House of God" (this is really about the building project and a way of addressing that church members are only giving a 3 percent tithe).
"The New Community" (a scary message on "accountability groups" that send true sinners fleeing and make the self-righteous feel smug).
etc...blah blah blah...
Theocentric worship instead of "betterment".
Inner transformation and Christ-likeness instead of "recovery" (which is too often recovery into the "suck of self" not the cross).
Extension of God's grace, mercy and humility with others.
Service instead of power;
love instead of coercion.
Knowing God and being known by Him instead of learning and exercising the "principles"...
ALL ABOUT KNOWING CHRIST
NOT ALL ABOUT US.
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