The Hero With A Thousand Faces-Jesus

Jesus the perfect Hero

The Old Testimony is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. The Apostle Paul, Hebrews 10:1

Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” discovered that there were a number of central themes and motifs in many of the myths of heroes throughout the world.  This raises the question does this phenomenon point to something or someone beyond itself or is it just an accident?  Campbell infers that the very purpose of myths is to point beyond themselves to something deeply profound and yet hidden.  If this is true what about the phenomenon of myth and the fact that all share the same motif?

In ancient times, there were gods, heroes, demigods and humans.  The demigods were divided up into demons and angels.  The gods and heroes beckoned men to a higher standard and to living a virtuous and courageous life.  The negative demigods or demons tried to hold humanity down to the earth and to live on a mere animal level.  The good demigods were the angels or messengers that were mediators for the gods.  The heroes mission was to overcome and save his people from the dragon or the serpent which symbolically represented the chief evil in the world.  Often we see the hero save his people by leading them to a promise land where they would be prosperous and safe from the forces of evil.  To accomplish this the hero would have to suffer many things and sometimes even sacrifice himself.  However, there was never an end to the story of the hero for there was always rebirth and resurrection.

We live in a world without real heroes.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman make great heroes for children but they lack the authenticity to inspire adults unto living a virtuous life.  However, human beings need actual heroes that can save us from the dragons in our  lives and inspire us to move up to higher ground and to live courageously in the face of the dragon (death) which is devouring us.  For an adult, an actual hero must be grounded in reality, i.e. there must be a factual element in their story.  The hero must be truly virtuous, courageous himself and experience the sufferings and victories of a life well lived. They must have the power to do what they promised, and their powers must come from the gods.  If they have no super powers they cannot be heroes.  They would simply be mere men.  At the very least, they must have a special relationship with the gods that set them apart from other men.  They are the chosen ones.

How do we explain the similarities of all of the myths, and the central themes of their story.  I believe that in the myths, we see how God communicates to men through stories.  Myths are one of the languages of God.  The myths basically are shadows of good things to come or in some cases the bad that is to come.  In other words, they are living metaphors of the truth.  They are like the truth, but in themselves are not the truth, but rather they are vessels that bring to those who have eyes that see, the truth[1].  The New Testament writers looked upon the Old Testament as a shadow of good things that were to come but not the reality (Heb 10:1).  The Old Testament stories were shadows pointing to the mighty hero who was to come.  The whole theme of the Old Testament is that someone is coming and as we move into the gospels it changes to someone has come, and when we get to last book of the New Testament, it changes once more to someone is coming again.  The theme of the entire Bible is, someone is coming and that someone is going to be the mighty hero who will embody all heroes of history.

What am I saying?  In Jesus the myth becomes real as the apostle John says, “The Word[2] became flesh and dwelled (literally, tented) among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten from the father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1).  The apostle Paul also said, God was in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.”  In Christ, the veil of the myth is lifted and we see face to face the divine glory.  In Jesus, all the hero myths of history are fulfilled and clarified.  On the cross, he said “it is finished”.  God was unveiled in his final and complete form.  The revelation of God was complete.  God’s self-communication became a living being.

Moreover, in Jesus we see the perfect hero, which must be expected if the above is true.  Jesus covers all the bases and fulfills the needs of all men.  He is The Prophet, the Righteous King and The Faithful Priest.  Even more important, he is the Eternal one that never dies.  Did you ever notice that in most hero myths the hero never dies, or he dies and comes back to life.  In his resurrection, Jesus’ hero-ship is made perfect, and he becomes the standard of all truth and the judge of all the earth  “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “the Father has committed all things to the Son” and “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.”

In the resurrection of the Jesus-hero we see his mission fulfilled; in going home leaving his people with the promise that he was coming back for them, to lead them out of the hostile country of darkness and into a place of glorious light.  His resurrection guarantees that he has the power to do what he promised.  No matter what you are experiencing on your journey Jesus has the power to save you and to help you complete your journey in hope and joy.

In summary, it might be said that there may be a 1000 heroes but they all have the same face and that is the face of Jesus.  The face of the mighty hero who would stand at the end of time.  This may not be a popular message in a pluralistic world where everything is supposed to be equal.  However, personally I believe that that pluralistic world dogma where everything is equal is the biggest lie of all time.  Not all heroes are equal.  There is a hierarchy of heroes and Jesus is on the top.  This does not take away from the other heroes, it simply means that they are to be viewed through the final revelation that comes through Jesus Christ.

[1] Myths are like parables they can reveal the truth for those seeking it or veil the truth to those that are not seeking it (Luke 8:9-10).

[2] The Greek word for the word “Word” in John 1:1 is a logos which the Greeks believed was the cosmic order or the wisdom and power that ordered the universe. That power had been revealed in myths for thousands of years before the coming of Christ and John says that Christ was the embodiment of it.

From Jesus to Religion Chapter 6 Distancing Through Institutions

Chapter 6

Distancing Through Institutions

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12-13).

In our study of the subversion of the faith and the distancing of God from the common people and their everyday experiences, we have looked at two of the symbols that have been contributors. These are the symbols of law and of holy men. Very closely connected with these two is the symbol of institution. I propose all three of these symbols of mediation stand as forms of distancing God from man and promote the subverting of the Christian movement.
We need to begin our study of institutions by attempting to discover the meaning of the symbol of institution. When we think of the symbol of institution, the word summons up many sub-symbols that help us to conceptualize the meaning of institution. First and foremost, to have an institution there must be what we might call a symbol of being. This symbol represents an identity or a sense of being which seems to exist apart from the people who make up the institution. Thus, we can talk about the soul or spirit of an institution, and yet we often talk about institutions as though they were completely separate entities from the people who are a part of them. In other words, there is a sense that institutions have a life apart from the people who constitute the institutions. In ancient times people believed this sense of entity that seemed to be present in an institution and gave it life was a spiritual power that enlivened it, controlled it, and gave it power over men. Many moderns refer to this phenomenon as a group-consciousness. However, this term seems to be more of an observation than an explanation and ends up being as metaphysical as the ancient view.

Another prominent symbol that is closely connected with the symbol of institution is the symbol of law or tradition. In fact, I believe it would be safe to say the symbol of law makes up a large part of the foundation of any institution. For without law, an institution could not exist. Likewise, where you find law and tradition, of a necessity, you will also find the symbol of the professional to perform the traditions, administrate, enforce, propagate, and protect the law and the institution. In religion these professionals are represented by the symbol of holy men or clergy. In a true sense, this trinity of law, holy men, and institution cannot be separated because the symbols of holy men and law form the very foundation on which the institution is built. In turn, the institution will invest the holy men and law with the authority and office that is needed to sustain the institution. In fact, it could be the interaction of these three symbols which forms the almost mystical life of an institution: life that is not easily destroyed or changed and life that seems to exist apart from its members and seems to be more powerful than the sum total of its membership.

This leads to another sub-symbol of the institution, which is the symbol of power. All institutions have power and their power seems to be greater than the sum total of the power of their membership. From this we are forced to conclude that their power comes from some source other than themselves. Of course, religious institutions will claim their power comes from God, but unfortunately for them, the Bible places the power source of religion with the authorities and powers in the heavenly realms that are in rebellion against God (Eph. 6:12). Could it be that Bonhoeffer was right when he charged religion with being disobedience in the form of obedience? We also find not only do institutions have power, but that they tend to use their power to organize and control men through force or manipulation. Some may be thinking, does not the Bible tell us to obey the authorities? The answer is yes. And I might add, those passages have been worn out and abused by religion over and over again as religion tries to justify itself and its beguiling loyalty to the state. For the Christian, any obedience given to any institution is and must be qualified obedience, understanding that the powers that enliven institutions are themselves now in rebellion against God (Acts. 4:19).

The Christian obeys them because he believes that bad rule is better than no rule or chaos. The Christian is cautious of any and all institutions, whether religious or secular, recognizing the spiritual powers controlling them in the end stands against God and His Son (Ps. 2:1-30). Surely, no Christian should be so much in love with any institution of this world that he would allow it to stand between him and Jesus. To love the institutions of this world is to love the systems of this world and the ones who controls them (1 John. 2:15-17, 1 Cor. 4:4).

Institution-A Symbol of Death

Institutions are also dependent on the allegiance of their members. Often this allegiance is a blind allegiance to a mere illusion created by the institution (1 Thess. 2:11, 12). In order to do this, the institution must create a unique body of teachings and traditions that separates and sets itself apart from other similar institutions. Then it must indoctrinate and convince its members that its body of teachings and traditions are the truth and only truth. In order to accomplish this, it must create creeds and educational institutions with the sole purpose of propagating its body of teachings. Without realizing it, in this process, a group or movement becomes an institution and sets its body of truth (human deductions about the truth) and itself up as a mediator between God and the people. As a mediator it drives a wedge between its members and other Christians, as well as distancing the people from God by adding an additional mediator between God and His people. When the process is completed, the members are convinced that to leave the institution or question the institution is to leave God or question God. When this happens, their body of truth, which is nothing more than the embodiment of their human deductions about God, becomes the symbols of God’s acceptance and in reality replaces Jesus as the central symbol of their faith. This institutionalization of groups and movements seems to be the fate of all movements that take a physical form in what we call a church. It is here we see one of the paradoxes of life and faith. As life takes its form in a physical body and thus begins to die, so will group faith when it takes its form. Given adequate time, it will evolve into an institution of religion and when it does, it begins to die. Thus, the symbol of institution becomes a symbol of death and decay.

Faith and Institutions

Institutions are of men. Faith is of God. Therefore, faith is filled with life, mystery, and wonders and will come anew to every generation that is open to it. It does not need our help or the help of the institution we have built. In fact, our children and their children will spend a great deal of their time trying to reform or even destroy the institutions we are erecting today. Each generation must break down the religious symbols of the previous generations that have slipped into idolatry, which is the fate of all religious symbols. In contrast to faith, which is filled with life and comes from God, institutions are of men and represent man’s need to set in order his own life and his world. Institutionalism is one of man’s highest forms of self-righteousness and self-immortality. Therefore, it represents man’s chief form of idolatry. Institutions are memorials or symbols of man’s goodness and wisdom before man. However, they stand before God as symbols of egotism, pride, and man’s self-independence. Therefore, they are filled with death and are illusions of man’s vainglory and the hollow shells of yesterday’s faith. We might say that faith is man living from God. In contrast, institutions represent man living from himself. This explains why each generation must find its own faith and not try to live in and from the institutions passed down by its fathers. This is not being disloyal to our fathers’ religion, but rather recognition that faith is a living thing and not a family heirloom.

The Church as an Institution

I know the retort of some will be, “Did not Jesus establish the church, which is an institution?” If we use the modern or current definition of Church, we would have to say that Jesus did not establish a church. The word church has undergone such subversion and evolution that it no longer carries the original meaning. In its original context, it was not a religious word but rather a common word that simply meant a group of people who were called together for a meeting. If used in this way, the answer to the question, “Did Jesus establish a church?” would be yes. He called a group of men to meet in His name. However, this group of men and women who met in His name in the first century could hardly be viewed as an institution as defined above. They had no hierarchy, but rather were led by the Spirit of the living Christ. In contrast to the religions all around them, they had no clergy or holy men except the one true holy man, Jesus Christ. They had no law but Jesus; for to them He was the embodiment of the Law and the prophets. They had no tradition but divine tradition that was lived out by God Himself in the person of Jesus. “For I received from the Lord what I also passed onto you” (1 Cor.11: 23). The things that they received from the Lord were the only traditions they knew and those traditions, like the law, were embodied in the man Jesus Christ. It is obvious from the gospels that all human traditions were looked upon with a questionable eye (Mark 7:6-8, Mt 15:8, 9). In view of this, we might say Jesus has become for us our law, our tradition and our Faith
So we must conclude that Jesus did not establish an institution nor did He establish a church as the word is used today.

There has always been and there will always be a tension between the true followers of Jesus and the idea or symbol of institution. The reasons for this tension are many. For one thing, it was the institutions of the status quo and their professional henchmen that crucified Jesus. Jesus warned His disciples to be on their guard in regard to the religious professionals. Moreover, the disciples knew that the very life of Jesus stood opposed to the very essence of what institutions represented. The symbol of institution and the symbol of Jesus are in no way compatible.

CHART OF SYMBOLS:

OF INSTITUTION                                                OF JESUS

Authority                                                           * Servant hood

Power                                                                 * Weakness Structure

Security                                                              * Freedom

Law                                                                      * Grace /Freedom

Office                                                                   * Gifts of Ministry

Status Quo                                                          * Radical /Fringe

Rich/Middle-Class                                           * Poor/Oppressed

Self-Sufficient                                                    * Dependent on God

Ostentatious                                                       * Simplistic

When the wind of the Spirit is blowing among God’s people, the fire of Christian freedom will burn up the institutions of religion and reform the institutions of the world. In this we can be confident: when the Spirit of God begins to move among His people, the institutions of the world, both religious
and secular, will gather together to resist it. We see this resistance to God’s Spirit first in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus and then in the institutions’ effort to destroy God’s people (Rev. 12:1-12).

These institutions are symbolically spoken of in the Book of Revelation as the Beast, the Harlot, and the False Prophet. This unholy trinity represents the economy, political, and religious institutions of this world that are attempting to take the place of God in the eyes of man. The institutions of the world both religious and secular are nothing more than the scaffolding man uses in the erection of his towers of Babel. Both Biblical and secular history reflects God’s response to all this building of institutions. He grinds them into dust and scatters the people to the four winds. In fact, in our own time we are witnessing the destruction of the idols and towers of Babel that modern man has built and placed his faith in. We are witnessing the undoing of Western civilization and all of its institutions including the kingdom of Christendom. For those who have eyes that see, they have been given the honor of seeing God’s Spirit at work in the world in such a clear and powerful fashion that only a man blinded by bias could not see it. The stage is now being set for a tremendous movement of the Spirit of Christ and as always, the corresponding movement of the anti-Christ, which takes its physical form in the institutions of the world. We might be so bold as to say any institution that stands as a mediator, or places a mediator between God and man is anti-Christ. For in doing this, it is seeking to establish that which Christ has abolished.
The institutions of the world always stand in contrast and opposition to the movement of the Spirit. The best example of this can be seen in the history of the Israelites. Under God’s rule they were organized very loosely with the heads of each tribe ruling over the people and the prophets speaking for God as the need arose. When there was a crisis, God would intervene by raising up a judge through whom God would deal with the problem. When the problem was corrected the judge would return to his former calling. In this loosely knit structure, the Israelites demonstrated their faith in the leadership of God and the lack of faith in their own wisdom and power. However, it soon became obvious they were not content with this simple structure and wanted to be more like the nations around them. In short, they wanted the institutional structure of kingship and the security they thought went with it. In asking for kingship, the Israelites were rejecting the leadership of God. When Samuel the prophet asked God about this, God’s reply was, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected as their king, but me” (1 Sam. 8:7). We should not be too hard on the Israelites for in their desire for a king; they were simply reflecting man’s obsession with security and structure. However, God goes on to tell them of the high cost of the security of kingship. The cost would be the loss of much of their freedom and in the end the rejection of God.

We find a striking parallel to the above story of the Israelites and the Christian movement. With Israel, everything was fine as long as the people trusted God. God took care of them and spoke when the need arose. However, it seems the Israelites did not like the uncertainty and the ambiguity of this arrangement. So they clamored for a king. In like manner, we see the early church becoming anxious when its Lord did not return as expeditiously as they had believed He would. So we find them turning more and more to the structures that were being created by their own hands, structures that very much resembled the institutions of the world. In this, they replaced the headship of Jesus and the movement of the Spirit with institutions, traditions, law and, of course, holy men to interpret the law books. In fact, this subversion has been so complete, that the church no longer knows how to listen to the voice of God as He speaks through His prophets. The modern church has done a marvelous job of silencing God by locking Him up in a book or an institution. Some have gone so far as to say God no longer speaks and He no longer has spokesmen on the earth. In this, they have relegated the living God to the status of a dumb idol that neither hears nor speaks. Dead men can only speak through books and institutions; the living Christ can and does speak to His people through His Spirit that He gave to His servants, the prophets. This is not to say the Bible is not the word of God and needful for God’s people. God has given us the Bible as a witness to Christ and as a tool for discerning the words of those who claim to speak for God. In saying this, I understand and am fully aware of the terrible abuses of this idea by the fanatics and those who love the pre-eminence. However, I find the opposite view equally alarming, for it reduces the living God to a lifeless god that neither hears nor speaks except in a book, a book that has been staked out for and by the professionals and their institutions. Be assured that such book religion always evolves into clericalism and institutionalism.

The Bible and Institutions

The truth is, God intended the Bible for the average person who has the Spirit of Christ to help him understand the essentials. Moreover, as we have learned more about the Bible, it has become more and more evident the Bible was
never intended to be looked upon as a book of theology or law, but rather it is made up of pastoral letters sent to groups of ordinary people encouraging them and telling them how to live godly lives. In plain English, the Bible was written to and for the average person. However, the Bible is continually being distanced from the average person by the symbols of institutions (seminaries, Bible colleges, etc.,) and highly educated clergymen who spend most of their time arrogating their religious systems and institutions. No matter how hard we try to justify them, these symbols of institutions send a message to the average person that the Bible is hard to understand and in the end is a book for the highly educated. This is great for the religious professional and their institutions, for it makes people more dependent on them. But the problem is, these symbols are subversive in that they symbolically leave the impression that Christianity itself is difficult and is for the educated, which in turn usually means the middle class. In this, the poor and uneducated, for whom Christ died, are becoming less and less a part of the Western church and its leadership. In this, we have subverted the symbols of the Christian movement and have distanced God from the uneducated and the poor. However, we should not think this process we are witnessing is some new phenomenon, for it is not. It parallels what happened to the Jesus movement of the first four centuries. Now, as then, the faith is being subverted and God is being distanced from the people by the unauthorized symbols of law, holy men, and institutions along with all of their subsymbols.

The criterion for understanding the Bible is not education or the lack of education. It is something that is totally different than the standards of the world. It is called spirituality and comes through true faith in Christ and comes to both the educated and uneducated alike. True spiritual knowledge comes to us not through the institutions of the world, even those that teach the Bible, but rather through the school of Christ; for only Christ can open our eyes to spiritual things because He alone has the power to give us the Spirit to aid us. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

We have some in the Jesus movement who believe and arrogate that the institutionalization of Christianity is God’s way of perfecting the movement. It does not take a lot of intelligence to guess who would propose such hokum. They are the ones who benefit the most from the institutions. Be assured that they can come up with all kinds of spiritual flim-flam to convince the naive of their views. But the blood of a formally uneducated carpenter who was crucified by the status quo and its religious henchmen cries out against them and their institutions. And be assured that God is able to save people, not because of the splendid bourgeois institutions that men have built, but in spite of them. Moreover, if men think they impress the world with the institutions they are building, think again. They do not impress the world; they are only becoming like them.

Revelation and Institutions

Does revelation have anything directly to say about institution? Yes, unfortunately. However, it does not use that term. If it had, the institutionalization of the Church may have been prevented or at least slowed. When it speaks about the concept of what we call institution, it uses terms and expressions that are foreign to the modern reader. It uses expressions like rulers, powers, authorities, and principalities. These same expressions were used in Biblical times to make reference to the spiritual counterparts of institutions in the unseen world. For the ancient believed every physical embodiment of power or authority had its counterpart in heaven or in the unseen world. So in ancient times, the concept of institution would have been associated with the spiritual powers. Early Christians viewed these powers as being in a state of rebellion against God and His Christ (Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5). From this, we would have to gather that the whole of revelation is antagonistic toward worldly power and any structures in which it may be embodied, whether religious or secular. In time, all human structure will become oppressive and enslave man. The spiritual powers are so powerful that they can even use the Bible to oppress and harm mankind (Rom. 7:11-12). I could go so far as to say Biblical writers would view even the concept of the city or even civilization itself suspiciously.

In view of this, I find it somewhat ironic to see the Christian church enthusiastic about building institutions. This is especially true when one considers the number of educational institutions that have been built by Christians that have in turn evolved into the most liberal and anti-Christian institutions in our culture. They surely must share the blame for the
destruction of the very culture that gave them birth. I am not saying this to denigrate Christianity or its institutions, but rather simply to point out an apparent contradiction and inconsistency, which seems to be the hallmark of the modern church, along with compromise as well.

To see the contrast between the modern church and revelation, all one needs to do is note the culture paradigms each looks to and is built on. The institutional church or the modern church is built on the institution or kingship paradigm, which is best set forth by the symbol of a pyramid. Under this paradigm, we have one man ruling and the others submitting and serving. This is the paradigm on which all of Western culture is built and has led to oppression of women and working class since the beginning of civilization. The foundation of this system or model is authority and law that is vested in the offices of institutions. It is a system that is dependent on power and might and the submission of the low ones to the high ones. In contrast, the Biblical paradigm is that of the body and is totally dependent on relationships and the life that flows from one life to another. Unlike the institution that draws its life from the powers, the body of Christ draws its life from the living Christ. Institutions can live without relationships, the true body of Christ cannot. In fact, institutions thrive on and promote the lack of relationship because real relationship reduces the need for the institution. In this, we can see the Body of Christ is not an organization or an institution, but rather a living organism totally unlike any institution or organization. Though this view is not new, it is seldom that it has been put into practice. The majority of Christians are still locked into an institutional pattern or model that takes its form in the pastoral system in independent churches or the hierarchy system in main line denominations.

I personally cannot believe it was by accident that the apostle Paul used the paradigm of the body in imaging how Christians are to relate to Christ and to each other. It would have been completely natural and far easier for his readers and for him to use the paradigm or model of kingship or institution. However, he chose the paradigm of the body. This was no mere happenstance. He knew, unlike so many moderns, the church must not be imaged as institution. Unlike many moderns, he knew the symbol of institution and the symbol of Christ were totally incompatible with each other. We can gather from his usage and the contexts in his Corinthian correspondence, that he used the paradigm of the body in a polemical fashion against his opponents. In so doing, he showed the contrast between his message, which was a message of the cross and servant hood, and theirs, which was a message of personal power and domination. He tried to point out to the Christians in Corinth that in the end, his opponents’ message turned out to be nothing more than an attempt to win them to another worldly system or institution that depended on human tradition and a worldly paradigm of power, instead of Christ (1 Cor. 12: 12-31, 2 Cor. 11:1-21).

Today the Christian movement is facing a crisis. The crisis is that a secular society seems no longer interested in what the Church has to say. In fact, in recent years there has been a host of religious books on the evils of secularism. With few exceptions the authors seem to place the blame for this secularism on everything from Satan to the educational system. There may be some truth in their charges. However, the real culprit in this mystery of secularism is the Christian religion and its institutionalism. It is the Christian religion that has made the sharp distinction between the sacred and secular; a distinction that was abolished forever when God joined His creation in the person of His Son. It is the Christian religion that has preached for two thousand years that Christians must withdraw from the world. This is done in spite of the fact revelation tells us Christians are to go into the world. If anything, revelation tells us to come out of religion into the world and conquer it for Christ, which is somewhat difficult when we lock ourselves behind the closed doors of our institutions.

In creating the institutions of Christendom, the Christian religion has taken God out of the world and has put Him into the sacred. This becomes very obvious when you realize that the symbol of God in the world is the living symbol of His people. When you take God’s people out of the world, you in effect take God out, thus, opening up the world to secularism. It is truly amazing how the Christian religion and most other religions as well, can take God out of the world and in turn blame the world for rejecting God. The truth is, Christians and other religious people have rejected God’s world and have judged it profane and unholy even though God has pronounced it holy. “What God has called holy let no man call it unholy.” In the act of calling things unholy that God has called holy, the Christian religion has promoted the attitude of “us and them” which is the very antithesis of what the good news is all about.

Moreover, we can hardly blame the world for losing interest in a wholly other God, which is somewhere out there in a place called heaven where things are great and wonderful. He is portrayed as a God that is so distant from the everyday (the real) that He must be mediated to people though the sacred (the unreal). The God of religion or the sacred is a God that is aloof and uninterested in the ordinary and the everyday. To Him the everyday is profane, unholy, and worthless. It’s no wonder the people of the world ignore a God like this. If He ignores them, why should they not ignore Him? If this is not the case, why has He moved out? He has moved out of our public schools, colleges, the media, and even our bookstores and has taken up residence in the sacred. Was He kicked out? No, His own people moved Him out. His people who created Christian colleges, Christian schools, Christian bookstores, and a Christian media moved Him out. Is this God of the sacred, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ or is this a god that has been prefabricated by religious men who are afraid of the everyday [the real] and in turn have created a God in their own image? Is it not time for us to start asking some hard questions about all this religion of ours that has institutionalized God right out of the real world? Of course, this should not be surprising, for institutionalized religion has always been about the business of killing God and removing Him from the land of the living (Matt. 21:33-46).

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.

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

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

The Cursing of the Fig Tree?

The Cursing of the Fig Tree?

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.  Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it ( Mark 11:12-14).

What is the spiritual meaning of the cursing of the fig tree?  The answer is tied to the very person of the Lord Jesus. He is the creator and the fig tree should have recognized its creator and produced the fruit he was looking for. Its failure to produce fruit for the creator cannot be justify by the fruit being out of season, for seasons matter little to the creator who sets them. Therefore, the fruit tree is accursed because it did not recognize and honor its creator.

Like any allegory the story of the fig tree will break down if you try to take it literally or make too many applications. Therefore, you should look for the main application which best fits the context of the passage. It seems to me this allegory corresponds well with the parable of the Vineyard found in the 12th chapter of Mark verses 1-12. There the people of the Vineyard were accursed and destroyed because they did not recognize the son of the Vineyard owner. Both sections of Scripture seem to be talking about the fate of the Jews for not recognizing the son of God who had appeared among them. The Jews should had recognized their creator among them and bore the fruit of faith. There was no excuse for their blindness and they would be accursed, wither and die as foretold in Chapter 13. Note my article, ” Conflicting Visions of the Second Coming” on https://lyleduell.me/          http://wp.me/p5pJxI-lRS