A jab is “to strike with a short straight blow.” Contained within this letter are some verbal jabs at our practices in the Churches of Christ. Two things you should keep in mind. One is that I am not writing these things because I have never been guilty of any of them, and I am aware of susceptibilities to spiritual arrogance. Also, my intention is not to demean, but to provoke thinking and self-examination. So let me jab.
1.) Respect for human freedom
When I read the gospels I am amazed at the restraint of our savior, Jesus Christ. He had the power to force people to obey him, and if they didn’t, destroy them. Had he done so though, he would have been playing by Satan’s rules, not God’s. Jesus demonstrated he was not going to play by Satan’s rules when Satan tempted him in the wilderness.
Satan has the power to coerce and force and trick even the unwilling to follow him to destruction. He uses manipulative strategies and techniques to impose his will and gain followers. His power is coercive and external, and we well know he can get people to do just about anything he wants.
In contrast Jesus showed incredible restraint and respect for human freedom, even to the point of letting people spit in his face, whip him, and crucify him. Jesus did not twist persons’ arms, so to speak, or manipulate them, or force himself on the unwilling. He was content for persons to choose freely for themselves.
God’s power is non-coercive based upon human choice, and transforming internally, from the inside out, rather than imposing externally which results in hypocrisy, sham, and weakness. God knows that power can force obedience, but He doesn’t want a fearful, emotional, vacillating response from man, but a free response of love to His love shown in Christ. John Milton put it this way: Jesus “held it more humane, more heavenly first/By winning words to conquer willing hearts,/And make persuasion do the work of fear.”
God does not negate man’s freedom, and Jesus did not trade it away to get the response of man the Father and Son want in our lives. This brings me to the point I want to make in this jab. In our legalistic and sectarian strivings for unity we have been willing to negate or trade away our freedom in Christ in order to compel others to agree with us and control them. Instead of showing restraint as Jesus taught by example and precept, we resort to shortcuts involving coercion, fear, marking, name-calling, shunning, and threats, to achieve an inconsistent unity of conformity. We have made our inferences from the scripture “the true doctrine” and binding upon others as conditions of fellowship and unity. We have manifested an inclination to divide rather than “bearing with one another in love.” To put it bluntly we have sacrificed the respect for human freedom manifested by Christ for an untenable shortcut human solution to satisfy our ambitions and needs.
2.) The Kingdom Of God
Over the years it has intrigued me that the disciples closest to Jesus misunderstood the nature of the kingdom of God. They thought of the kingdom as a visible one to replace the rule of Rome. Even after Jesus was resurrected they asked him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They had much difficulty accepting the fact that Jesus the Messiah had come not as a conquering king, but as a humble servant-king.
When I contemplate the misunderstanding of the disciples, and tend to be somewhat critical of them, I end up being ashamed of myself. Almost two thousand years later we manifest that either we do not understand the nature of the kingdom, or if we do, we ignore its nature and purpose.
We are to be an alternative society demonstrating to the world faith in God and the validity and value of His principles of living and relating to one another. Have we done that effectively or have we become a comfortable part of this world willing to blend and follow rather than transcend and lead? You know the answer. Let me pose some more specific relative questions that you can also answer for yourself, but to which my answers indicate we lack understanding and/or commitment.
a.) Are we a community that welcomes people of all abilities, backgrounds, genders, opinions, races, and social classes?
b.) Are we a community that cares most for those deemed our weakest members?
c.) Are we a community that “esteems others” in that community “better than” ourselves?
d.) Are we a community known for our service to one another, as well as those not of the community?
e.) Are we a community known for our love and unity or for polarization and divisions?
3.) Romans 2:17-29
This passage of scripture is primarily aimed at Jews. Prior to this passage the apostle Paul had told the Gentiles that they are condemned for failing to keep what might be called universal law relative to knowledge of God. In Romans 1:20 he said: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” Then in Romans 2:14-15 he said, “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves ‘their’ thoughts accusing or else excusing ‘them’.”
The Jews felt superior to the Gentiles because they had the Law of Moses. Their leaders had studied it, thought they knew it, taught it, and were regarded as experts regarding its content. What does Paul tell them though? “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11) and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Neither Jew nor Gentile could be saved by law, no matter what the law, because they couldn’t keep it perfectly.
There’s a lesson or parallel here for the legalistic sectarian leaders of our day who think and use the new covenant scriptures as a better law code than the Law of Moses. Like the Jews of Paul’s day they have studied it, think they know it, teach it, and see themselves as experts regarding its content. They think they will be saved by their correct law keeping and those not of them will be lost. Do they really want to be judged upon the basis of law keeping? Do they really think they can earn eternal salvation by their good works? Pitifully they are diluting and destroying grace with that mindset. Nobody will be saved through a system of law. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God’s alternative to law and its penalty is grace in Jesus Christ.
J. James Albert
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