Distancing Through Symbols of Mediation
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2:5).
In this chapter, we will be studying the subversion of the Christian faith and the corresponding distancing of people from God and their ordinary experiences of life. I will attempt to trace this distancing by noting the symbols that people have placed between them and God by organized religion. I understand that this concept may be hard for many to conceptualize. Therefore, I will attempt with the following diagrams to illustrate the process of distancing.
To begin with, I want to stress the fact that distancing is what we might refer to as a group dynamic. Often the individual or the community cannot detect this easily. The reason for this lack of perception, on the part of the individual and community, is because of the amount of time involved in the process of distancing. This process seldom takes place in one generation, but usually takes three to four generations before change becomes noticeable. It is also obvious that this dynamic change affects some individuals and groups more than others and in different ways. However, it would be very difficult to be part of a religious community and not experience in some way the effects of the symbols of mediation and corresponding distancing of God from the everyday experiences of life.
Even after the changes are noticed in a movement, there is very little chance for reformation. The reason for this inability to reform is, by the time the distancing is noticed, the leadership in a movement is benefiting so greatly from the system that has evolved, to change would be unthinkable. It would mean institutional suicide. Therefore, it becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reform the existing structures from within. Most reformers end up going outside the existing structures and forming new ones. The Lord Himself said, “You cannot put new wine into old wine skins.”
In Diagram I, I show what this study of distancing seems to be indicating. It shows that the distance between God and man is always equal and the same for the distance between man and his brother.
Therefore, the symbols of mediation that distance us from God also distance us from our brother. The symbols that distance us from our brother also distance us equally from God. If you want to know your relationship or standing before God, just look at the standing and relationship that you have with your brother. By brother, I do not mean a little closed community that one has created in his own image, but the entire body of Christ. That would include all those who believe and have been baptized into Christ. Moreover, if you want to know if there are any mediators between you and God, just look at your relationship with your brother. Whatever mediates between you and your brother also stands between you and God. This idea is based on the fact that my Christian brother is the image of God with God’s Spirit dwelling in him. In this, he is a living symbol of God. Therefore, how I relate to my brother is the way I relate to God. The true test of my relationship with God is not based on the degree of my religiosity or the correctness of my belief system, but rather on my relationship with my brother. God is as far away as your brother. Read the following New Testament passages: (James 3:9, I John. 2:9-11, 3:14, 23-24, Matt. 5:23-24, 6:14, 25:31-46).
In Diagram I, the foundation block represents the relationship of the believer to God and his brother when all the symbols of mediation are destroyed and broken down by a full relationship with Jesus (Eph. 2:14). This relationship is an at-oneness with God and one’s brother. This at-oneness with God took place when Christ atoned for our sin. The proof that one’s sins have been forgiven is an at-oneness with one’s brothers in Christ. Without this at-oneness with one’s brothers in Christ, there is no evidence that one’s sins have been forgiven. In fact, the lack of at-oneness with the Christian community is a sign that one’s sins have not been forgiven (Matt. 5:23-24, 1 John 3:16-24).
Each column and block in Diagram I represents additional forms of distancing or of mediation that stand between God and man and between man and his fellow man. The more mediators that are placed between God and the people, the further God is removed from their everyday experience and the harder it becomes for them to have a personal relationship with Him or their brother. As pointed out above, the effect of mediators varies from person to person depending on the environment and a number of personal characteristics. However, it would be hard to deny that it is quite difficult for the average person not to come to some degree under the spell of the different forms of mediation. The forms of mediation in our diagram will also help us to understand the misdirected faith of so many religious people today. Their faith simply does not penetrate the forms of mediation to reach God, but rather is misplaced in the mediators themselves (see Diagram II, below). In this, men place their faith in the bodyreligious, law, Holy men, institutions, icons, or rituals, etc., which are nothing more than their own good works and idols created by their own hands.
These diagrams can also help us to understand the division in the Christian movement. It is easy to see that as the church adds mediators, it is building a system that would foster alienation and discord among its ranks. It is simply a matter of time before some of its members will begin to reject the different forms of mediation. I believe that much of the system was built to protect the unity of the institution by controlling an unregenerate membership. However, all such systems eventually become self-serving and oppressive. When this happens, it is just a matter of time before some in the group will revolt in an effort to free themselves from the tyrannical system and its mediators.
The institutionalized churches use what we might call the vertical dimension to justify their alienation and division toward their brothers (note Diagram III). The vertical dimension makes a hard and fast distinction between one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with one’s brother. It then places the emphasis on one’s relationship with God or truth, saying you must be right with God before you can be right with your brother. Of course, in keeping one’s relationship with God, a brother might be totally ignored or even crucified in the name of truth or God’s Law.
This one-dimensional view of one’s relationship with God and man is attacked by the Lord Jesus in a number of places in the New Testament and is shown to be a grotesque error of religious people. For example, there is the story of the Good Samaritan in which the religionists were too busy with the things of God to be concerned with their neighbor. Then there is the story of the disciples picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees who lived in the vertical dimension reacted to this by criticizing Jesus and the disciples for breaking the Sabbath day law. In this, they showed they had more concern for the Law than for the needs of their brother. In their eyes the most important thing was the law or truth; not their brother’s needs (Matt. 12:1-13). In the parable of the Lost Son, we see both the horizontal man who takes too much license with God’s will and the vertical dimensional man who makes the Law the absolute instead of the well-being of his brother. Both of these brothers in the story were outside the Father’s will. Here we must ask a soulsearching question, “Could the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees be living in and from the vertical and horizontal dimensions?” (Matt. 16:5-12).
Most Christians would agree that there is nothing more important than worshiping God, but few seem to understand that the first and highest form of worship is love for one’s brother. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John. 15:8). In the context of this passage, the fruit that glorifies (worships) the Father is the fruit of Christian love and service to one another (Heb. 13:16). No one can truly worship in a vertical dimension until he has come through the horizontal dimension of first loving, forgiving, and accepting his brothers. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
The vertical dimension itself is a dimension of division, for it divides things that, from God’s point of view, cannot be divided. It was from the vertical dimension that an expert in the law asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered the question by uniting the vertical and horizontal dimension knowing that they are wholly dependent on one another and cannot be separated (Matt. 22:3740). However, those who live in a vertical dimension do divide the dimensions and in turn put the stress on the vertical. When this happens they can and do justify any behavior toward their brother in the name of serving God or in the name of truth. On the other hand, there are those who live only from the horizontal dimension who are as far out of balance as those who live solely from the vertical. These are people who practice freedom at the expense of truth. The goal of the Christian should be to live in a third dimension which we might call a Christ-centered dimension, for it is in Christ that God and man becomes one, uniting all the dimensions of life.
The question arises; can we not just overlook the mediators in our brother’s system and be one big happy family? Unfortunately, the answer is no. This is because mediators are not just the things of one’s tradition or culture, which by all means should just be overlooked, but are rather things that are inimical to the cause of Christ and actually distance men not only from their brothers, but from God. Therefore, God’s people should never accept any mediator that men place between them and God. If we do accept the mediators of our brother, we then fall into the error of living solely from the horizontal position instead of a Christ-centered position. However, rejecting a mediator that a brother’s faith has not pierced or outgrown is a far cry from rejecting a brother. If we begin to reject people because of the mediators in their belief system, we ourselves revert back to the vertical dimension, which Christ had freed us from. Here it is important to note that a person may still be a part of a system that has forms of mediation and yet has a faith that has pierced the forms of mediation and is acceptable to God. Mediators who are pierced by faith soon become transparent and then vanish away. However, this is a gradual process, and we should show the utmost patience with those who are struggling to see through the mediators of organized religion (Diagram II).
Those who choose to live in a Christ-centered dimension will soon find those who live in the vertical or horizontal dimensions often misunderstand them. You will find it is quite hard to reject people’s forms of mediation without leaving the impression that you are rejecting them. You will also find that those living in the vertical dimension usually react in a hostile way toward those who reject their forms of mediation. They will probably call you liberal and most likely charge you with compromising the faith. In turn, those living in the horizontal dimension will usually label anything that stands between them and their fellow Christians as legalistic and will also withdraw their fellowship, of course in a more civilized way than those who are in the vertical dimension. One of the laws of liberalism is that you must always be nice. In liberalism, openness becomes nothing more than another form of law or mediation. It is obvious that it is not easy to live outside the vertical or horizontal dimension without mediators. If you do not agree, just look at what those who endorse the vertical and horizontal viewpoint did to the only complete God-centered man (Jesus). They crucified Him in the name of God and justified it by appealing to the vertical and horizontal dimensions. Both liberals and conservatives use Christ to support a value center of law and truth or love and freedom. The Christ-centered person has Christ as the center. Christ embodies the concepts of law, truth, love, and freedom. To be in Christ means to stand in all of these concepts at once. Only in Christ can these things be kept in balance. If Christ is not the center, one of the other concepts will invariably be the center.
The Way of the Cross
It is time for those wishing to truly follow Jesus to leave behind the vertical and horizontal dimensions and enter into the new and living dimension of being in Christ and viewing all things anew (2 Cor. 5:16). “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (Heb. 13:13). Yes, let us go outside the liberal and conservative camps to a new way of thinking and living in relationship to one another. The good news of the gospel is that we need not divide up into the liberal or conservative camps like this world, nor do we have to live in the vertical or horizontal dimensions. We can now live in Christ. To my brothers in the conservative and liberal camps, I would plead with you to consider that there is a Christ-centered way of looking at all things which does not align with either the liberal or conservative camp. There is the way of Christ.
To those in the Protestant and Catholic camps, I would also beseech you in the name of Christ, to consider that there is another way of viewing things beside the way of your parties. There is the way of Christ, which is to have the mind of Christ. If all those who believed in Christ had His mind, we all know there would be no division among us. In view of the fact there is division, it seems quite obvious many do not have His mind. Let us all seek the mind of Christ and the unity that would come to His church if we all had His mind. We can begin by examining ourselves and by looking at the mediators we have placed between our brothers and ourselves. We must do this for Christ to increase in the world. For Christ cannot increase until these mediators decrease.
This book is a study about the phenomena we call religion. It is a study in contrast, for throughout this study we will be contrasting religion in its many forms with the revelation of God we see in Christ and His teachings. For some, this will be confusing and even unsettling because of the many presuppositions people may hold. Some Christians have never looked at their religion in contrast to Christ. They have taken it for granted that the revelation of God in Christ and the Christian religion were one and the same. For those who have made that assumption, I hope this book will serve as a catalyst to further study and reflection.
It is also my hope that this essay will be read widely by the various sects of Christendom who have taken their religion so seriously that they are judging one another as unworthy of the kingdom. In reading this, I hope that one will come to realize that religion must decrease if Christ is to increase. It is my prayer that these sects will come to see religion is the middle wall of hostility that keeps believers in Christ divided and in seeing this, they will begin to discern the difference between religion and faith in Christ.
For many, the hardest thing to do will be to draw a clear distinction between faith in Christ and religion. The line between faith and religion is often ambiguous. However, I believe with
honest reflection, the distinction will be seen by those willing to face the consequence of knowing the difference. Some will reject the difference because they sense the anxiety that comes from trying to live without religion. It is much easier to walk by religion than revelation. Religion has the tendency of taking all ambiguity and uncertainty out of life, and even out of God. Living without the mediation of religion is to live in a state of constant anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, needless to say, a life without religion has the propensity to help one to trust more in God.
The difference between faith and religion has always been noted by some of the best thinkers in and outside of Christianity. Karl Barth, speaking about the Christian religion said, “This religion, too, stands under the judgment that religion is unbelief…This judgment means that all this Christianity of ours, and all the details of it are not as much what they ought to be and pretend to be a work of faith, and therefore of obedience to the divine revelation [Jesus]. What we have here is in its own way—a different way from that of other religions, but no less seriously-unbelief, i.e. opposition to the divine revelation, and therefore active idolatry and self-righteousness.” Church Dogmatics (1.2 page 327)
The renowned atheist Nietzsche, in speaking about modern Christianity, said,
“One should not confuse Christianity as a historical reality with that one root that its name calls to mind: the other roots from which it has grown up have been far more powerful. It is an unexampled misuse of words when such manifestations of decay and abortions as “Christian church,” “Christian faith” and “Christian life” label themselves with that holy name. What did Christ deny? Everything that is today called Christian. The entire Christian teaching as to what shall be believed, the entire Christian “truth,” is idle falsehood and deception: and precisely the opposite of what inspired the Christian movement in the beginning.
Precisely that which is Christian in the ecclesiastical sense is anti-Christian in essence: things and people instead of symbols; history instead of eternal facts; forms, rites, dogmas instead of a way of life. Utter indifference to dogmas, cults, priests, church, and theology is Christian.” The Will to Power (page 98)
We may not be able to understand everything that Nietzsche is inferring, but we can see that he is clearly making a distinction between Christianity and the revelation of God in Christ.
Next, let us look at what Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian philosopher has to say about modern Christianity, which he refers to as Christendom,
“Christendom is an effort of the human race to go back to walking on all fours, to get rid of Christianity, to do it knavishly under the pretext that this is Christianity, claiming that it is Christianity perfected. The Christianity of
Christendom takes away from Christianity the offense, the paradox, etc., and instead of that introduces probability, the plainly comprehensible. That is, it transforms Christianity into something entirely different from what it is in the New Testament, yea, into exactly the opposite; and this is the Christianity of Christendom, of us men. The Instant (5,2).
A modern day disciple of Kierkegaard, Jacques Ellul, adds these provocative thoughts:“How has it come about that the development of Christianity and the church has given birth to a society, a civilization, a culture that are completely opposite to what we read in the Bible, to what is indisputably the text of the law, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul? I say advisedly “completely opposite.” There is not just contradiction on one point but on all points. On the one hand, Christianity has been accused of a whole list of faults, crimes, and deceptions that are nowhere to be found in the original text and inspiration. On the other hand, revelation has been progressively modeled and reinterpreted according to the practice of Christianity and the church. Critics have been unwilling to consider anything but this practice, this concrete reality, absolutely refusing to refer to the truth of what is said. There is not just deviation but radical and essential contradiction, or real subversion.” The Subversion of Christianity (page 1)
“Gandhi could discern the tension between Jesus and Christianity more clearly than Christians. On one occasion a missionary inquired, ‘Mr. Gandhi, what is the greatest enemy of Christ in India today?’ Without a moment’s hesitation Gandhi gave the answer, ‘Christianity!’” Verdict (1987 essay 31)
With such a great cloud of witnesses who seem to be saying that the faith of Christ is something other than modern Christianity, it would seem wise for us to at least give this some consideration and put our own faith to the acid test of truth. In writing on the subject of religion, there is a problem with the term itself. “Any discussion of religion in its plurality of forms is inevitably beset by problems of terminology… Accordingly we have to improvise, sometimes using words in stretched senses to cover two or more related ideas-and thereby risking the wrath of those who can see the semantic stretching but not the communicational need that it serves.” John Hick, “An Interpretation of Religion” (page 9). It would be impossible to give the reader a definition of how we will use the term religion in this study. The study itself defines the term for it is a study in contrast.
It is my belief that this intensive study is of an utmost importance for the Christian movement. In the West, our world views are changing at a rapid pace, and traditional institutions that support the established world views are being questioned and put to the test. Much of traditional Christianity and its institutions, when weighed in the balance, will be found wanting. For this we should praise God, for they never truly reflected the revelation of God in Christ.
The only regret is that it is not Christians who can take the credit for their demise. But Christians can look on this time as an opportunity to share with people the revelation of Christ. This is the time to free the living Christ from the wrappings of worn out old religious forms and traditions. It is the time to turn from our lifeless creeds and theology to the living Christ. It is time to hold out to the world the true and living revelation of God. However, this will be impossible unless we can make a clear distinction between revelation and the worn out forms of religion. We hope that this study will help in making this needed distinction.
To be Continued
Lyle Duell Lebanon, Maine lyleduell.me firstname.lastname@example.org