Subversion and Distancing by Law Chapter 4 From Jesus to Religion

Chapter 4

Subversion and Distancing by Law

“For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Rom. 10:4). RSV
Our beginning point will be the symbol of the old covenant Law or Scripture. We will begin by making the bold statement that revelation did away with the Old Testa-ment Law (Torah) and Scripture by encompassing its essence and superseding it by personifying it in the living symbol of Jesus. It was the reinstatement of the old and lifeless symbol of Law (written code) that marked the beginning of the subversion of the faith and a return to religion. This is not to say that the Law does not reveal God, for it surely does.

Furthermore, the Old Testament Scripture is useful for a number of things. It can aid us in understanding God as long as it is interpreted in light of the more complete revelation of God in Christ. It can also aid us in making ethical choices, though the decisive factor is the Spirit of Christ. Surely, the Scripture with its great stories of faith gives us encouragement (2 Tim. 3:16, Rom. 15:4). However, we need to remember when it comes to revealing God, the Law reveals Him in a hidden or veiled form, giving us only a shadow of His essence. It did this through the sacred symbols of mediation we find in the Old Testament, the old covenant itself being one of the sub-symbols of the Old Testament Scripture. These symbols were given to point to and foreshadow the final and complete revelation of God, which is Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and the end (goal) of all Old Testament symbols. For once the reality has come, there is no need for the shadow to remain (Rom. 3:21, 10:4, Heb. 8:3-6, 10:1-4).
The truth that Jesus was the end and fulfillment of the Law was not a truth immediately grasped by the disciples or the early church. However, as time passed (at least 15 years) and the church began to expand into the world of the Gentiles (the people of the world), serious questions began to arise as to the relationship of the Old Testament Law and the Gentiles. Over a decade passed before the Law and its religion would be brought under the scrutiny of revelation and viewed anew through the Christ event. This may help us to understand why some time passed before the church developed a theology regarding the relationship of Law and Gospel. It simply was not an issue until the church began to invite the world to join it in the Christ event. At that time, the church was forced through circumstances to look at its religion and the religion of its fathers, in light of the revelation of Christ. The result of this shook the pillars of the Jewish religion. The conclusion of the Christian movement was that none of the symbols of its religion could be bound on the people of the world. These symbols included the Law itself, holy days, priesthood, circumcision, holy places, etc. (Acts. 15:5-12).
For many today, a similar crisis is dawning. For the primitive church, it was a question of whether their Jewish religion could be separated from their faith in Christ. Some decided it could; others decided it could not be separated from their faith; the latter ended up either subverting the faith or returning to Judaism. The question today is, can we separate our religious things from our Christ things? Will we listen to the Spirit as many did in the early church or will we revert to law and institutions? Will we allow others the time and freedom to make Christ a part of their culture, or will we impose our institutionalized religion and our mummified traditions on them? Do we dare let the living Christ out of our institutionalized religion as the early church did?
As the result of the early church’s decisions, we see in the first century a general and progressive movement away from religion toward a new and radical way of approaching God. It was the way of faith apart from religion. In fact, it was not new, for this was the way it all began with a man named Abraham (Rom. 4). Abraham had a relationship with God apart from the mediation of Law or Scripture – in other words, apart from organized religion. However, shortly after the death of the apostles, we begin to see a movement back toward religion. This movement back to religion began when the church turned back to the old covenant symbol of Law (100 to 200 A.D.). As time went on, the old covenant symbol of Law was expanded to take in all the creeds and traditions of the church and became known as Canon Law. During this earlier period (100 to 200 A.D.) there was some resistance to the reinstatement of Law, but for the most part it was accepted with little resistance. The reason for this ready acceptance of Law probably came as the result of the chaos that had entered the church after the death of the apostles. Because of this, the church began to be filled with wandering charismatics and disorderly members. Therefore, it seemed logical and expedient to return to Law. Besides, there was still a large Jewish element in the church that exercised a great influence on the entire church. This group had never totally abandoned their religion and would feel comfortable with this movement to reinstate the symbol of Law into the faith. Plus, the Roman culture that the church had moved into was steeped in Law. All this made it all too easy to return to the symbols of Law and religion, thus, subverting the faith and distancing the people through a symbol of mediation (Law or religion).
The consequences of reinstating the symbol of Law in the Christian movement were many. One of the major consequences was the impression that man not only had to believe in Christ for salvation, but he had to also practice the right religion in order to be saved. In other words, one would have to conform to human beliefs and traditions. It is to this that the apostle Paul spoke when he said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus. 3:4-5). Some have interpreted the phrase “righteous things” to mean good deeds in general, but it is obvious from the context Paul is talking about the practice of religion and the attitude that religion is going to somehow save you. This self-righteous attitude of right religion has now been translated into the “right church” mentality that is so prevalent in the Christian church today. Religion may have a number of practical benefits, but it will never save anyone. Good religion may lead one to revelation and therefore salvation, but one will never find salvation in religion. Salvation is only in revelation (Jesus).
It would be safe to say there is good religion and bad religion. Good religion is whatever we do or believe that brings us closer to God. Bad religion is whatever we do or believe that distances us from God. If I had my choice, I would hope that I would choose good religion. However, good religion will not save anyone and bad religion will not condemn anyone, unless it blinds one to revelation, which it has the propensity to do. The only thing that counts in Christ is faith that works through love (Gal 5:6). Religion counts for nothing. Religion at its best can only be one’s interpretation of revelation. Therefore, religion is the private property of the individual and should never be bound on others, and no one should get so serious about his religion that he allows it to separate him from his brothers in Christ. I think we all need a little more practice in distinguishing between religion and revelation – in other words, distinguishing human deduction from the facts of the faith. We need to recognize when people or institutions impose their deductions on others, those deductions become nothing more than human laws and constitute a return to Law (religion).
Here we need to remember to be cautious in interpreting the Scriptures with a Western mindset that sees an ethical meaning in the word Law. In some passages, it does carry an ethical meaning, but in many it simply means religion. Religion, in this context, means the Old Testament Scriptures and the system of ritual that grew out of them. One can be saved without religion, but one cannot be saved without ethics. We are not saved by our ethics, but we are saved unto an ethical life in Christ. When one has a right relationship with God, one will begin to live like Jesus. Anyone who does not live the ethical life of Jesus cannot be a Christian (1 John 1:6). The ethical life of the Christian centers on Jesus and is embodied in love for his brothers in Christ. However, being saved does not necessitate one being religious. In fact, you could say for the Christian, that Christ is our only ethic and our religion. For those wishing to study further the relationship of law and religion, I would recommend the following: Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People by E.P. Sanders and Jesus, Paul, and the Law by James D.G. Dunn.

The Mediation of the Law

The Law is both a symbol of mediation and actually a mediator between God and man. In other words, the Law stands between God and man, increasing the distance between the two. However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find that it is clearly stated, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). In Christ, the lifeless mediator of Law has been replaced by the living and life-giving mediator, Jesus Christ. It is in the one mediator, Jesus Christ, God and man are united. In fact, all of humanity is potentially united in this one symbol of unity and peace. When the symbol of Law is added, it shatters this oneness, distancing God from man and dividing mankind. In view of the division in the Christian church, we would have to conclude that the symbol of Law is still very much a part of the mentality of the majority of Christians. This becomes even more obvious when you consider that creeds and theological systems, when accepted as absolutes, are nothing more than laws, whether verbal or written.

In view of what has been said about the Old Testament symbols of Law and Scripture, one would expect to find a great deal of information on this subject in the writings. In fact, this is the case. The New Testament is filled with teachings that address the relationship between the Law and revelation (Christ).

In keeping with the flow of thought, I feel one of the best texts in the New Testament for our study would be one that uses the analogy between a veil and religion. It may surprise some to learn that the apostle Paul used this analogy in a very similar way to our usage. He does this in 2 Corinthians, the third chapter, where he makes a contrast between the old way (Jewish religion) and the new way of faith in Christ.

Paul said; “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Paul here affirms that believers do not just read the Bible about the work of God. Like their Lord, they are the word and work of God. Through the power of the Spirit, they are becoming the word and are experiencing the work of God in their own lives. In fact, all men can see God at work in them as He transforms them into the image of His Son. In truth, they are becoming living Scripture. In other words, they are becoming living symbols of the will and presence of God. Therefore, the Church is thus not only receiver of the Word of revelation, but is itself revelation and Word of God. Only in so far as it is itself Word of God, can it understand the Word of God. Revelation can be understood only on the basis of revelation. The Word is in the Church in so far as the Church is the recipient of revelation. But the Word is also itself Church, in so far as the Church itself is revelation and the Word wishes to have the form of a created body. (Christ The Center, Bonhoeffer, pages 5859)

The apostle Paul goes on to say, “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:1-5). If we approach this passage using symbolism as our mindset, we find Paul contrasting the effectiveness and meaning of certain symbols. The contrast is between the old covenant or Law, which to the Jews was a symbol of God’s presence and acceptance, and the new covenant symbol of God’s Spirit-filled people, which also symbolized God’s presence and acceptance. In this, Paul is pointing out that the very presence of the Christian community is in itself a symbol of God’s presence, acceptance, and in this case, a witness to Paul’s own ministry. In making this contrast, Paul is pointing out that the new covenant along with its symbolism is superior to the old. He also tells us why it is superior. The reason is the old is based on the symbol of Law (letter) and the new on the symbol of Spirit. He infers in this, the Spirit is greater than the Law (letter) for without the Spirit, the letter is powerless and ineffective. For the law (written code) is in itself a lifeless symbol that has no power to impart life; therefore, he characterizes law (religion alone with its sacred books) as leading to death, for the law has no life in itself. Thus, it cannot impart life. However, the Spirit is life-giving because it is alive and imparts life to all who receive it through faith in Christ. In Paul’s thinking, it seems life must come from life and death comes from death or the lifeless. Therefore, one receives either life or death from one’s absolute. In this context, Paul is telling his readers if they choose as their absolute the lifeless symbol of Law [religion], they will die, for there is no life in that symbol. In saying this, his plea is for them to put their faith in the quickening symbols of Christ and His Spirit and not in the lifeless symbols of religion.

Beginning with verse seven of the text, Paul begins to sharpen the contrast between the ministry of the new covenant which he says imparts the Spirit and life, and the old covenant which is a ministry of the letter (Law) and imparts death. (Also note Galatians 4:1-4). Under the old covenant, Moses and the Law were symbols of mediation that stood between God and the people. Under the new covenant, Christ and the Spirit are the only mediators between God and His people. Paul goes on to say, “Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts” (2 Cor. 3:7-11).

In this section, Paul reminds his readers that when Moses came down from the mountain after receiving the Law (Ten Commandments), his face was reflecting the image or glory of God. Then upon returning, we find Moses putting a veil over his face so the people could not look directly at the image of God being reflected by his face. In this act, Moses was symbolizing what God was doing in the act of giving the Law. God was in this act veiling Himself in the Law and putting the Law and Moses as mediators between Himself and the people. Thus, the people were limited in having a personal relationship with God. However, under the new covenant, which is Christ, the veil has been lifted and believers can know God and have a personal relationship with Him in and through the God-man Jesus Christ. Unlike the new covenant, the old covenant was founded on the principle of human mediation. Therefore, it could not impart life, because no human has life in himself or herself to impart to another. Thus, Moses and the Levitical priesthood could only impart Law, which is as powerless to impart life as the human mediator who gives it. Thus, law can only be a symbol of the distancing of God from the people. In contrast, the new covenant, which is Christ, is founded on the principle of Spirit and because the Spirit has life in itself, it has the power to impart the Spirit (life) that leads to oneness with God and a sense of God’s immediacy. The Spirit then reveals God in the believer, which in turn allows and helps the believer to understand the true intent or spirit of the law. Therefore, the new covenant surpasses the old in glory, for through it, the Spirit is imparted and remains in the believer by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:2-5). Thus, under the new covenant, the believer begins with faith and abides by faith and that leaves no room for religion (Law) and its works of righteousness (Titus. 3:5). In addition, the new covenant through the power of the Spirit reveals God to the believer and through the believer to the world, something that the old did not have the power to do.

Furthermore, from observing verse seven of this section (2 Cor. 3:7-11), we see the ministry of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments, is referred to as a ministry that brought death. The Ten Commandments formed the basis or the foundation of the entire old covenant. It was when Moses received the Ten commandments from God that his face began to reflect the glory of God. But gradually, that glory faded away. Paul here uses this fading glory in the face of Moses to illustrate what was happening in the transitional period he and the early church lived in. In this period, the superior ministry of the Spirit had come and the ministry of Moses and the Law [religion] was fading away (v.11). There was a time when Moses and the Law did reflect God, though in a veiled way, but now God was being reflected in a much fuller way by His Son and in the believers through the Spirit that dwells in them. Under the old covenant the cry was to the Law and to the testimony (Isa. 8:20), but under the new, it is to Christ and the Spirit. To the believer, Jesus is the only Law and the only testimony.

From the overall context of 2 Corinthians, chapter three, we can then infer that the written code is no longer a symbol of the presence of God, nor is it able to impart life for it has no life in and of itself. Therefore, neither the Law nor Scripture can symbolize or mediate the presence or acceptance of God. At their very best they can only be viewed as witnesses who point us to Christ; who is the Living Word that gives life to all who come to Him through the word of His testimony, which imparts the Spirit. In Christ, all Christians, like the Corinthians are becoming the embodiment of Scripture through the power of the Spirit even as the Lord Himself was the embodiment of the Old Testament Torah. It is in the believers’ hearts and lives that the Word of God is effective and becomes living and active and is read by all men. Some may not read the written Scriptures, but they cannot help but read and see God personified in the lives of His people even as He was in His Son.

It is the Christian community, filled with the Spirit that is now becoming living Scriptures that are read by all men. It is through this living Word of God, that is, God’s people, that the veil of religion is lifted allowing man to see and seek God. “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to do this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:13-18).

In the above, Paul continues to build the contrast between the two covenants by pointing out that Christians are not like Moses who veiled the glory of God, but rather they reflect God’s glory by reflecting the glory or image of Christ who is the image of God. When men looked at Moses, who symbolizes the revelation of God, they could not see a clear image of God because of the veil (religion, Law) he had over his face. Paul likens this to people reading the old covenant. He says that when they read it apart from Christ, their minds are darkened. Is this not the case today, when men try to understand God through the system and greed of the Christian religion? Only in and through the symbol of Christ alone can one have a clear understanding of God’s nature or glory. In view of this, the Old Testament should always be interpreted in light of the Christ event and the New Testament Scripture. Therefore, the New Covenant, with its symbols of Christ and His Spirit-filled people supersedes the symbols of Moses and the old covenant Scripture. In other words, revelation supersedes all religion. In a very true sense, the Word of God is God embodied in His Son and His people. Today, in this New Testament period, God’s glory or image is being powerfully reflected in the face of Christ and His people, which are the living symbols of the new covenant.

From the above we can understand that God revealed Himself in a veiled form in and through the old covenant (Law or religion) and its symbols of mediations. In contrast, He now reveals Himself fully (to those seeking Him) in and through His Son and His Spirit-filled people. It is now the work of the Spirit to first reveal Christ in His people and then reveal Christ to the world through His people. The gospel, which is the bearer of the Spirit, is embodied in all believers and is in their mouths and in their hearts and is heard and read (seen) by all men (Rom. 10:7-18). It is through the living Scriptures of His Spirit-filled people who God now draws near to man. When the symbol of Law is added, God is distanced from the people and the faith is subverted.

Moreover, we see in the reinstatement of Law the first step in the evolution of the Jesus movement from a simple faith and way of life, to a religion that has exceeded all others in its complexities and institutionalization.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 3

Chapter 3
From Jesus to Religion
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1Tim 4:1-2).
Our title reflects the movement of history – the history of the Jesus movement and how a movement that began with the revelation of God in His Son Jesus Christ could grow into a religion that represents the very opposite of what the original revelation represented. In this chapter, we will observe this movement from revelation to religion by tracing the addition of foreign symbols, as well as noting the changes in the original symbols and their meanings.
We begin with the master or central symbol of the Christian movement. This symbol, of course, is Jesus Himself. Jesus not only lived physically, but He also lived symbolically (Luke 2:34). He was the symbol of God amongst us. Karl Rahner said, “The Logos is the symbol of the Father.” We might say that He is the self-revelation or self-expression of God Himself. Therefore, the very nature of God is expressed symbolically in and through Jesus.

In his book, The Power of Symbols in Religion and Culture, F.W. Dillistone points to Christ as a central symbol of the Christian faith. “In my view it is both fitting and true to the witness of New Testament writers to confess Jesus as the central symbol of God. ‘Centre’ is a category which has played a dual role in human affairs. Both in a circle and in a straight line, the centre is a point of major significance; society is normally ordered from a central place: a covenant or agreement between two parties also finds its guarantee through joint assent and signature at a central place. Jesus, as symbol, becomes the centre in both ways. It is the confession of Christians of all ages that Jesus Himself, revealed through the words and life-patterns of His followers and interpreted to successive generations by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was the central symbol, potentially uniting the whole of humanity to God Himself.”

The Immediacy of God

It is also important for us to understand the basic meaning of the symbolism of Jesus’ life. Jesus’ presence in the world was a symbol that God Himself was now present in the world of men. This is not to say that God was not actually present in Christ, but is a way to look beyond the physical presence to the spiritual meaning. Matthew captures the very essence of the symbolic meaning of Jesus when he records the announcement of the angel to Joseph. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:23). The implications of God being among us are staggering, for it implies that all the symbols that mediated a transcended God are no longer needed. The God of the other world has come into the world of men in the person of His son. Therefore, the religious symbols that mediate His presence in the past are no longer needed. The coming of God among His people in the person of Jesus has rendered all the mediating symbolism of religions obsolete, old, and destined to vanish away (Heb. 8:13). Thus, God’s people now have direct access and fellowship with the Father in Jesus Christ. Hence, all symbols of the Christian faith must symbolize the presence of God among His people in their ordinary and everyday experiences. Any symbol that does not must be viewed suspiciously as a possible subversion of the faith and a distancing of God from His people. All such symbols are questionable and should be scrutinized to see if they belong in the Christian movement. These symbols surely should never be bound on other believers as symbols of God’s acceptance or symbols of acceptable fellowship that mediates between believers.

In view of this, the entire enterprise of religion itself, along with its sacred symbols of mediation might be brought into question. At the very least, we must begin to view religion with a suspicion that it may not be everything it seems to be. In fact, if we are right, it is the very opposite of what it appears to be. It appears, at least to the majority, to be a symbol of the presence of God. However, in reality it is a symbol of the absence and negation of the true God, who no longer dwells in the sacred or holy, but rather in the everyday and ordinary. Keeping with this line of thought, we could say that religion itself is a symbol and it is a symbol that speaks. When it speaks, it speaks of a God who is out there somewhere in another world, a God who is wholly other and removed from the world of men; a God who is distant from His people and who must be approached in and through the sacred. Yet, when we turn to revelation, we find that God is no longer to be found in the sacred symbols of religion, but rather in the symbols of His one and only Son Jesus Christ and His Spirit that abides with and in His Spirit-filled people. In these two living symbols, God has drawn near to His people in the everyday for everyone. There is no longer a need for believers to approach God through the sacred symbols of religion. Though religious symbols may induce feelings of other-worldliness, they cannot and do not draw us closer to God. In the end, all religious symbols other than Jesus and the Spirit, will distance people from God. For in the end, at least for the majority of men, all religious symbolism slips into idolatry.
When the apostle John saw the New Jerusalem, the city of God, coming down out of heaven, he proclaimed, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). John’s words become pregnant with meaning, when one understands that for the Jews, the temple was the master or central symbol of their religion and mediated the presence of God. One implication of this is that in the city of God there are no religious symbols that mediate the presence of God. For in that city, there is no need for religion as a mediator for God, because God is present in the person of His Son. That city is now represented on earth by the body of Christ (Gal. 4:26). The temple or sacred place has now been replaced with the symbol of Jesus and His Spirit-filled body (1 Cor. 3:16, 2 Cor. 6:14-18). Hence, the symbols of religion have no place in the city of God or the Christian movement. Today the church as the body of Christ, created by the Word, imbibed with the Spirit is now the master symbol of the living God’s presence. However, the church can only be this symbol as long as it is walking in the power of the Spirit and is enlivened by the life of its Lord. When a church loses the Spirit of Jesus, it becomes nothing more than a lifeless symbol that relies on ritual and form, which are nothing more than hollow and empty symbols of religion. When the church loses the Spirit, it becomes a lifeless institution that tries to invoke the grace of God through its ritual and its ostentatiousness. In this, it does not hear God nor does it see God in the ordinary and everyday. In its lifelessness, it becomes nothing more than a mute idol that neither sees nor hears.

In addition to Christ and the Spirit representing the real presence of God among His people, these living symbols also represent the unity and oneness of God and man. In Christ, God and man have become one. The implication of this is, if God and man are one in Christ, this oneness should overflow into the relationship that man has with his fellowmen. Consequently, Christ is not only the symbol of the presence of God but also of reconciliation between men and the Old Testament idea of shalom. “He is our peace (shalom) who…has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two” (Eph. 2:1415). In view of this, we might state the following axiom: Any symbol or an interpretation of a symbol that promotes or stands for division has been misinterpreted or is an unauthorized addition to the Christian faith. All authorized symbols rightly interpreted will point to Christ and promote the unity of the Spirit.

Moreover, any symbol that diverts attention away from the center symbol of Jesus must also be rejected. Even the symbol of the Spirit must point to the central symbol of Jesus Christ. Any theology that makes the Spirit or anything else the center must be rejected as a subversion of the faith. It is only when men have focused on something other than Jesus that division can creep into the Christian movement. In fact, all the sects of Christendom propagate them-selves by focusing on one or more symbols other than Christ. If these symbols are removed, there remains no reason for the existence of the sect. Therefore, we find that the membership of most sects have become propagators and protectors of religious symbols instead of proclaiming faith in Christ. In doing this, they have caused unprecedented division. However, in doing this, they end up diverting attention away from the central symbol of Christ to lesser symbols or they relegate the symbol of Christ to the same level of a lesser symbol. Though they vehemently deny this, their actions speak symbolically louder than their words. They separate and divide over symbols other than Jesus. They spend more time talking and studying about lesser symbols than Jesus. If Jesus is the central symbol, why do the churches spend so much of their time talking about the lesser symbols of the Bible, such as men, creeds, morality, prophecy, and the like, often without even showing how they relate to Jesus? Without Jesus being the center, people will soon find themselves living from the flesh [law], filled with division and strife. Only when a group has Jesus as the center, will it become a sign and a symbol of the Spirit of Christ and unity in the Christian community.

The Distancing and Subversion of God

In view of what has been said, I think it is fair to say that religion is like a veil of symbols, which creates a darkness that hides God and shields the people from His presence. In other words, religion removes God from the everyday and distances Him from His people. He is then no longer viewed as being among His people, but rather in some distant heaven. His only presence on earth is seen in religion and its sacred symbols of mediation. We can gather from the popularity of religion that many men do not want to live in an unmediatedIt’s state in the presence of the true God. So they lock Him away in their sacred boxes of sacred places, people, times, and books. For if they can put God back into the sacred, then they can live with the illusion that He does not know what they are doing in the everyday. This allows them to live in two worlds – the sacred and the secular while living by two different standards. However, any god who can be put into our little religious boxes is not the God you read about in the Scriptures and surely is not a God, who can help us in time of need. The god in the box, the God of all religion, becomes an idol; an idol, which Christ came to destroy.

I have charged the Christian religion with the heinous crime of subverting the revelation of God. I have also established the motive. That is, man does not want to live in the presence of revelation. For he does not want to conform to
its norms, nor does he want to continually stand under its judgment. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light (revelation) because their deeds were evil” (John. 3:19). Though men hate revelation and refuse to conform to it, at the same time, they know that they cannot live without it, for then they would have no hope. So man finds himself in a paradox where he cannot live with or without revelation. How does he solve the problem? He solves the problem by watering down, changing, and subverting revelation to where it feels comfortable to live with. These changes usually take the form of changes in the meaning of symbols or the addition of unauthorized symbols. In adding unauthorized symbols man sets himself up as the judge of revelation instead of allowing revelation to sit in judgment of him.

In addition, he usurps the authority of God Himself and in actuality, sits in judgment of God. In this, man commits the religious sin of playing god before God. Needless to say, God is not impressed with this parody. It is here that the atheist shows himself more righteous than the religious man. For the atheist openly rejects revelation, while the religious man knavishly subverts it in the name of God.

In the next chapter we will begin to trace this subversion of revelation by observing the changes and additions in the symbols found in the Christian movement. As we trace this subversion, we need to remember that these changes did not happen overnight. Many of them took decades, even centuries, to creep into the faith and often these changes did not go unchallenged by some of the church fathers. However, the forces behind these changes were too powerful and the majority of the church found itself being swept along by a tidal wave of change and subversion. Even so, there has always remained a group in the church that has resisted this subversion. These were often the ones labeled radical or even heretical.

From Jesus to Religion-Chapter 1

Chapter 1
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.

Vertical Dimension

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.

From Jesus to Religion (Introduction)

                                                                  Introduction
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 lyleduel@gmail.com

The Death of Religion

The Death of Religion[1]

The Christ event, the death and resurrection of Christ, symbolizes many things like the end of the old order and the beginning of the new  “It represented a new way of approaching God and a new and better covenant. However, many fail to see that the first part the equation, the death of Christ marked the end of religion as a way to approach God.  So, we could say that when Christ died, all religion died with him, along with all of its idols.”  In view of this statement, I thought it good to give the readers a working definition of what we mean by religion.

The most common idea that comes to mind when we hear the word religion is one of ceremonial and other worldliness.  However, when we look deeper we begin to see a sense of religion in just about everything we humans say and do.  We see it in our devotion and ceremonialism in regards to our professionalism and nationalism.  Robert D. Brinsnead goes so far as to say, “To be a person is to be religious, because a person is by nature homo religious.”  One man said, “that a man’s religion is his ultimate concern” and we all have an ultimate concern.

We can also understand the word religion in a narrow sense to mean an institution that forms the foundation of a society and gives it the moral fabric that holds it together[2].  Religion as an institution can be created by humans as in the case of the world’s great religions like Buddhism,  Islam, and modern Christianity, or it can be a divinely created religion like ancient Judaism or primitive Christianity.  It can be organized like the great religions around the world, or unorganized like American civil religion or New-Age religion.  It may even take the form of non-religion like atheistic communism, which itself has become a religion.  It is religion in the form of institution that we will be discussing in this article.

From the above we can gather that we can never be completely free from religion in its broadest sense and probably not in any sense of the word.  However, we can strive to be free of bad religion in every sense of the word.  We might say that anything we do or say that does not lead to life is bad religion.

If you didn’t notice, let me draw your attention to the fact that in talking about religion I did not classify primitive Christianity as a religion.  I did this for the simple reason that it is not a religion but rather a way of life.  Jesus Christ never founded an organized religion nor did he intend his followers to fabricate one.  In fact, Jesus’ intent was to destroy religion as a mediator between God and man.  Therefore, primitive Christianity in the first century, like its Lord, stood against all institutionalized religion.  It called upon all men everywhere to cease building the institutions of religion, which is a call for man to stop making idols and to start having a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  The command of God in the gospel is that all men must come out of religion into his Son (II Cor 6:14-18).  This calling out of religion includes modern Christianity, which is a total subversion of primitive Christianity.

In order to understand the degree of this subversion, we must further understand the contrast between modern Christianity and primitive Christianity, the latter we will refer to from now on as the Faith.  We will see from this contrast that the Faith was subversive to all religion and that modem Christianity is nothing more than a total perversion of the true Faith, which we will see has very little in common with religion in any of its form or institutions.

As we begin to observe organized religion, you will begin to see a common thread that runs through all religion.  That thread is that religion is the mediator between man and his absolute.  In some cases, this absolute is God, in others it is an idol.  An idol is anything made by man and exalted by man as his absolute.  This would include ideologies and theological belief systems that have been created to serve him in his understanding of God and reality.  Given time these systems usually are exalted to be absolutes.  When this happens they become idols and men soon found that these systems of belief that were intended to serve and liberate them, have in fact enslaved them[3].  The religious traditions and institutions that he has made to serve him by giving structure and form have become his master.  A modem example of this enslavement to an ideology is Marxism.  First, you have the ideology that was meant to enrich mankind.  Then you have the subversion of it by the followers of the founder.  Then you have the institution that enslaves while claiming to be the perfection of the ideas of its founder.

This subversion and movement away from the founders intentions can be seen equally well in the Christian movement.  The Christian church in its institutional form has watered down and has even subverted the teachings of its Lord to make them and itself acceptable to the masses.  This perversion is often done under the cloak of evangelism and the love of souls.  However, the truth about of the matter is that the institutionalized church loves numbers because it loves power and the status of the numbers.

Subsequently, in order to protect and propagate itself, the institution must also exalt itself to a place of being the sole mediator between its members and their absolute.  It usually also claims the right to invest the authority of mediation on certain sacred people, places, codes, and times.  Thus we have the creation of the distinction between the sacred and the profane.  As long as the institution has control over the sacred, it has a tremendous power over its followers.  It is in this area of distinction between the sacred and the profane that primitive Christianity became hostile to all religion.  For it proclaimed that in the resurrection of Christ, that God had declared all things clean or sacred, for He is the Lord of all things and all people.  In this act of raising his Son, he forever abolished the distinction between the sacred and profane.  Therefore, this act of God is also the abolition of all religion, which raises the question; can one believe in the resurrected Christ and religion at the same time?

We have already made the statement that religion mediates though the channels of sacred people (priests or clergymen), sacred places (temples, shrines, etc.), sacred laws (creeds, theological systems, laws, etc.) sacred times (Sabbath day, Sunday, etc.).  However, when we look at primitive Christianity we see an amazing absence of these sacred mediators.  Instead, we find that there is only one mediator between God and man, and that one mediator is not a religion nor any of its forms of mediation, but rather a man.  “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.  The testimony given in its proper time” (1 Tim 2:5,6).  If we build on this teaching of the apostle Paul, we must conclude that when Jesus Christ appeared, all religion ceased to mediate the presence of God.  In other words, when Jesus came to life, all institutionalized religion was put to death along with all its forms of mediation.  At least in the mind of God.

It was religion and its laws that judged Jesus to be the accursed one, but God reversed that judgment by raising him from the dead and declaring him to be the just one.  In justifying Jesus in this mighty act of raising him from the dead, God condemned to death all religion, placing it in the old order of things that was done away with through Christ (John 19:7,  Col. 2:13-17).  He also shows in this act that the real intent and purpose of the Law (religion) was to point people toward Christ and to bring them to faith in the perfect revelation of God which is Jesus Christ (John 1:17, Gal 3:23-25).  In restoring Law [religion] to its proper place and fulfilling it by his very presence, Jesus dismantled one of the main forms of mediation of religion.  In religion law rules as the absolute.  In the Faith it is the living Christ that rules and we could go so far as to say that his standard of rule is not a written code but rather the well-being of man (Mark 2:27).  When God raised Jesus from the dead and enthroned him at his right hand, He dethroned all religion.  The living Christ has replaced all religion (a system of law or theology).  To be involved in making new laws, religions, or systems of theology, is to stand opposed to the living Christ.

Moreover, where institutionalized religion rules there must also be a sacred group of people to teach and enforce the law, for the profane or common people as defined by religion, have no right to handle the sacred law.  Thus we have the need for the professional clergy that is set apart for the sacred.  However, when we look at primitive Christianity we find no evidence of a professional clergy that was set apart from other members of the community of Faith.  In fact, we find evidence that would contradict and even condemn any professionalization or sacralization of any group in the Christian movement.  The message we find in the New Testament is that in Jesus Christ all men are equal and have equal access to God through the one mediator, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, the apostle Peter could refer to all believers as priests of God (I Peter 2:9).

In the act of making all believers priests, God has forever done away with a separate or professional priesthood or clergy system.  In his book entitled “The Church” the Catholic theologian Hans Kung says, “all human priesthood has been fulfilled and finished by the unequal final, unrepeatable and hence unlimited sacrifice of the one continuing eternal high priest.  The perfect self-offering sacrifice replaces all cultic sacrifices offered by men; the perfect priest replaces all human priests” (page 469).  In commenting on 1 Peter 2:4, Kung says, “the word ‘priest’ ” occurs again here, not used in the sense of an official priesthood, and not in reference to the one high priest Christ, but applied through him and in him to all believers.  The WHOLE people, filled by the Spirit of Christ, becomes a priesthood set apart; all Christians are “priests”[4] (page 475). In making all Christians priests, God has made them equal and has forever destroyed the religious concept of mediation through sacred groups of men or women.  In this we again see a marked distinction between religion that promotes a sacred group of men and primitive Christianity that makes all men equal before God.

Religion tells us the temple or Holy Place is the place where man will find and worship God.  In religion the temple or shrine is the symbol of the presence of God.  However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find the very opposite message.  In fact, the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was killed for telling religious people that God does not dwell in earthly dwellings made by man (Acts 7:48).  The apostle Paul proclaimed the same message when he visited Athens.  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples (church buildings) built by hands” (Acts 17:24).

In His polemics with the Pharisees, Jesus contrasted the physical temple in Jerusalem with his own body. In this, he was claiming to be the new temple of God.  No longer would men find God in earthly temples made out of brick and mortar, but now they would find him in a person.  As God dwelled in the physical body of Jesus, He now dwells in the spiritual body of Jesus, which is made up of all that believe in Jesus as their Lord (II Cor 6:16).  This group of people is referred to in scripture as the church.  In the Bible the word church is used to denote a people, never a building.  This is why the apostle Paul could refer to the church as the new temple of God in the new order.  From this it becomes obvious that the only place that God dwells in all of creation, is in the only thing that was created in his image, that is man.  God dwells in our brother and only in our brother.  Therefore mankind and only mankind is sacred.  What we do to our fellow man therefore, we are actually doing to God.  This is why Christians put such a high importance on human life.  This is why we must go to the aid of our brother; for helping our brother is helping God (Matt 25:26).  We that are brothers in Christ should remember this teaching when we begin to tear each other apart in the name of truth.  What truth is more important than our brother?

We also see in religion an emphasis on sacred times.  Both in Judaism and paganism we find a distinct separation between the sacred and the profane in regards to time.  In paganism, the times vary greatly. In Judaism, we find the Sabbath day or the seventh day set apart with a number of additional feast days as the sacred times for the Jewish people.  However, when we turn to the New Testament, we find the distinction between times abolished in Christ.  In the new order in Christ, all time becomes sacred because it all belongs to Christ.  For he is the creator and Lord of all time (Col 1:15-18).

The apostle Paul in writing to Gentile Christians that had been converted out of paganism, exhorted them not to go back to religion by observing special times and days.  “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not Gods.  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 by them all over again?  You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal 4:8-11).  He goes on to say, “therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat, drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col 2:16-17)  Some have misunderstood this passage thinking that Paul was saying that the reality behind the Sabbath was Sunday.  However when we look at the passage in its context we quickly see that the reality behind the Sabbath was not just another or different sacred day, but rather the person of Christ himself.  It is Christ that is the final and perfect rest for the people of God. (Heb 3:7-11).

By Through Christ, God has made all times sacred by entering into ALL of time in the person of His son Jesus.  In everything that Jesus did, he did it to the glory of God.  Therefore, everything he did was worship to the Father.  In this, Jesus demonstrated that God is present in all times and activities.  For in Jesus (God with us), God has entered into the very times and activities where Christ was involved.  In this God was telling us that the everyday and ordinary has become sacred.  Therefore, Christians no longer worship God at a particular time or place, for they worship him at all times in everything they do (Col 3:17).  This also means that our work, play and even our rest is worship to the Father, for we see Jesus involved in all of these things making them acceptable to the Father.  Christians do not come together to worship God in the traditional sense but rather to encourage and to exhort one another unto good works, which is worship in its true sense (Heb 10:24-25).  The good works that we do outside of our meetings are the highest form of worship for the spiritually mature.  Putting the emphasis on coming together to worship God in a sacred place at a sacred time is a digression back to religion and a movement away from God.  Note Herman Ridderbos, “Paul: An Outline of His Theology” (Page 481).

The modern church’s emphasis on corporate worship with its ritual, form, and structure is a move back to religion and an effort to take God out of the everyday or ordinary and place him back into the sacred.  Great attention is given to create the atmosphere that will give the worshiper the sense of the presence of God.  This sends the message that God is somehow more present in this religious atmosphere than in the nonreligious everyday.  It matters little whether the religious atmosphere is created by icons, ritual, esthetics or emotionalism; it all represents a return to religion.  When religion does this, it presents God as the totally other, that is, totally removed from the everyday, a God that must be approached through sacred people and sacred places.  However, in the New Testament we see a very human God that draws close to man in the everyday.  A God who has come among his people in the form of a man.  A God to whom all have equal access.  A God that is near and can be called on in any place and at any time.  A God that has hallowed the everyday with his presence.

Moreover, religion makes worship something you do in a sacred place and is directed toward God.  In contrast, when we look at the Faith, we find that worship is something you do in the everyday and is directed toward God through your fellow man.  “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb 13:16)  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)  From this we can gather that true religion and true worship is something that is done in the everyday and has very little, if anything, to do with what the modern church calls worship.  True worship is loving your brother and sharing the message of God’s love with your neighbor.

From all this, we can conclude that religion, instead of bringing or drawing us closer to God, actually distances us from God.  But if this is the case, how do we explain this phenomenon?  How could a faith that started out as a simple way of life turn into a religion?  How could God be taken out of the ordinary and placed back into the sacred? The answer is that the Christian faith was subverted by religion and human wisdom.  The tracing of the evolution of this subversion is beyond the scope of this article.  However, for those who would like a complete treatment of this subversion, I recommend “The Distancing of God” by Bernard J. Cooke and “The Subversion of Christianity” by Jacques Ellule.  These two books will forever change the way you look upon the Christian religion.

[1] This article may help some to see that religion and faith in God are not the same. A person can question religion without questing the existence of God. In like manner, a person can believe in Jesus Christ and yet reject many aspects of the Christian religion.

[2]  Some of the new atheist type have postulated that religion has nothing to do with shaping the morality of a culture. This position is so ridiculous that it’s not worth commenting on.

[3] These idols can consist of ideologies, pseudo-religions like scientism and political ideologies like nationalism, etc.

[4] Hans Kung

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

The Symbolism of The Christmas Tree

What is Christmas all about?  Well,  it’s about what you want it to be about.  It can be all about stress and anxiety but remember if it is, it is because you make it so.  You may have allowed the spirit of materialism to cloud your vision.  To me, Christmas is all about giving and children.  I can still remember the excitement, mystery and wonder of those early Christmases.  I remember knelling at the upstairs window with my sister looking for Santa Clause and his reindeer.  I remember the expectation of the coming morning and the excitement of opening the gifts.  I still love to see the grand kids faces as they open their gifts.  I especially enjoy watching the little ones playing with the Christmas paper.  They seem to be more excited about the paper than all the commotion around.

Of course, Christmas is also about the family.  It is one of those sacred days we in America have set aside for family and friends; a day in which we celebrate our families and our friendships.  Christmas is the last wall which separates us from being a total secular culture where nothing is sacred and all is profane.  I often wonder what our culture will look like when the desacralization is completed and there is nothing left of the sacred or the mystery and wonder that went with it.  When was the last time that you experienced some awe and wonder?

You know there is something else I like about Christmas.  I love the music.  It is so positive and up- lifting.  It speaks of hope, love and joy.  One of the main radio channels in our area plays nothing but Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  I love the guy who thought that one up.  I’m sure the teens hate him and it must grind on the skeptics among us.  Even they must concede that it’s a welcome change from the noise and the depressing lyrics of modern music.

I guess I should get back to the title of this article “The symbolism of the Christmas tree.”  The pine tree is not a unique symbol to Christianity.  It was used by numerous religious groups as a symbol of eternal life.  Many of these groups might have borrowed the imagery of the tree of life found in the Paradise of God in the book of Genesis.  Unlike other trees, the pine tree does not depend on the seasons of the year for it to produce life.  It appears to be alive when everything around it seems dead.  It is shaped like a cone and points to the heavens and reminds us that life comes from above and is eternal.

Let’s take a look at the ornaments from top to bottom.  On the top of the tree we usually find an angel or a star.  Both are fitting symbols.  The angel represents the messengers that announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds in the field “they brought a message of good news and great joy.”  If you use a star, it symbolizes the star of David which symbolizes the Messiah to be born into David’s family.  It is not surprising; therefore, that Jesus is referred to as the bright and Morningstar.  The star, therefore, is the symbol of Jesus. As the Morningstar rules over the night, so does Jesus’s rule over his people.

Then we have the lights, (they used to be real candles) which stands for all of God’s people that are called by the Messiah to be the light of the world.  They are to take the message of giving and hope given by the angles to the entire world and be about the business of punching holes in the darkness of this world.  How is your light shining this Christmas?

It has been our custom to hang on the tree little symbols of our family members and family events that have taken place during the years.  It is a great way sharing and remembering our family history.  But it also symbolizes how our story and the story of all mankind hangs on the same tree of life.  Did you know that the tree of life in the opening story in the Book of Genius is a symbol that points toward Jesus? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1-3).

Final, when we unwrap the meaning of the gifts under the tree we will see that they point to the great gift giver.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1;17)  This Christmas let’s learn the power of a thankful spirit.  Count the real gifts that God has given to you, your mate, your children and your friends.   Did you know that God blesses those that have a thankful spirit?

Have a merry Christmas and a great new year.

Grateful redeemed.

Lyle Duell

 

 

Securing the Future

Securing the Future

We live in very uncertain times.  So how in the world can we secure our future? I don’t have all of the answers to getting a hold on the future, but I do know that there is one thing which you’ve got to get a handle on before you can get a hold on the future.  That is death. The reason for this is that death robs all men of a future. Consequently, some men get a handle on the future by accepting their fate.  In essence, they accept that they have no future in the face of death.

That may seem brave but only if it’s true and only if it’s the only alternative, otherwise it’s foolishness.  Others (the majority) simply deny their death by refusing to think or talk about it.  I personally believe that there is another alternative.  It’s called hope.  You see hope is faith reaching into the future and pulling it into the present.

For faith to work you’ve got to make sure that when you send your faith out into the future that it finds something big enough to overcome death or a place where death cannot go.  When you do this you must be sure that the thing it brings back is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death.  In order to do this your faith must find something or someone who in themselves has overcome death.  You see I have heard from a lot of men who have made promises about securing the future and yet they themselves had no future.  To secure the future we need to have hope and faith in one that has himself secured the future.

Let me share with you a vision of the future that you might explore.  It’s worked for me and millions of others.  This vision of the future is a vision of a man.  Like all visions it is filled with symbolism so put on your thinking hat. Here it is “I (the apostle John) turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:12-18).”

If you have not guessed yet, this is a vision of the resurrected Christ.  When a person has placed their hope in the resurrected one they need not be afraid of death or anything else for someone else has secured the future for them. If the Book of Revelation teaches anything, it teaches that the future belongs to Jesus. God bore witness to this by raising him from the dead.  He was dead and behold He is alive forever and ever.  The gates of death and Hades can never shut in those who believe in the one who holds the keys to those gates. LD