February 17, 2020
  • 4:15 pm معايدة صاحب الغبطةيوحنا العاشر بطريرك أنطاكية وسائر المشرقميلاد ٢٠١٩
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Armchair Christians

One of the greatest obstacles to faith in God is religion. Seriously. Many of us grew up thinking that what we learned from our families and from our religious leaders had something to do with faith in God. We were believers, while out there in the big bad world, were other people who were the non-believers. Atheists, or maybe agnostics, or just people who had no religion. I’ve had a problem with this for my whole life and I’m still struggling with this tendency to think like that. In this video, I would like to describe what I mean by religion, although I think it’s not religion that is so hard to define, as it is faith. Most of us think of religion as something that we refer to in a census. As in, “what is your religion?” Baptist? Mormon? Catholic? You name it. It immediately conjures up images of a place where you go on Sunday, or Saturday in some cases. Where you worship God along with other people. Or it may be just someone’s home where you study the Bible together. That’s religion. Someone wrote to me and said that they were looking for someone to worship God and study the Bible with. It sounded innocent enough. But only if you’ve never experienced real faith in the creator of the universe. What he was really describing is religion, not faith in God. Think about it: “worship God”? What does that mean? Is it really something you need to do in some formal way with other people? Shouldn’t you just be worshipping God in your overall life and attitude every day of the year? And then there is “studying the Bible”. How did that become the be-all and end-all of Christian faith? The Bible did not even exist at the time that the stuff mentioned in it was happening. No one in the Bible ever had a Bible. Think about that for a moment, too. Paul uses the word “study” a couple of times in his epistles, and what do we all immediately think of? Doesn’t it just naturally conjure up pictures of traditional Church Bible study? Whether it’s being led from a pulpit or just someone reading their Bible on the train on their way to work? But the people Paul was writing to did not even have a private copy of any of the letters he wrote. They were lucky to have seen any of them even once as they were passed on from church to church. So what was Paul asking them to study? I’m totally convinced that he was talking about something that we need to do in the nitty-gritty of life out there on the streets in all our interactions with other people. We need to be thinking about what is going on and trying to fit it all together with such fundamental questions as: How does this relate to what God wants me to be doing? Paul said that this is the kind of studying that is aimed at extracting something he called “The Word of Truth” from all of these situations and interactions. I’m not talking about getting into arguments over whose doctrine is right and whose doctrine is wrong. That’s just more religion; more playing Church. God wants us to come to terms with him daily in all that we do. He wants us to be constantly looking for what he is trying to say to us through everything that is happening to us. I think we would have to say that this kind of interaction directly between us and God doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. The nearest thing to it is just people saying, “I think God wants me to do or believe such-and-such”. And then that, too, becomes a kind of religious argument over who is right and who is wrong. What I’m thinking about is more the mystery of our very existence and the even greater mystery of God’s existence. These are momentous concepts, and our appreciation for them is soul changing. I’m not talking about our “understanding”,–because that gets us back into theology– but just our appreciation of mankind’s existence in the vastness of the universe and the possibility that the creator of all this has something even better planned for us if we will just open our hearts to hearing from him. Now let me illustrate it this way: I believe that Jesus is going to return at some point in the future. Churches all over the world say they believe it too. Some of their liturgies actually say, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” But do we really believe such a thing? I mean, we live our whole lives in the moment. More concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us. More concerned about how we can make a bit more money, than about our whole existence being transformed into a completely new dimension as the creator himself enters time and space. And if we do think about the creator returning to this planet to lead us personally it really starts sounding totally absurd to our everyday mind. Can you see why I feel that religion doesn’t come close to creating that consciousness of an infinite creator intervening into our life as we know it? In a way that may actually bring total end to governments all over the world. To jobs and paychecks. To sickness and health care. Let’s be honest. We only rarely think about God in that way. And when we do, most of us find it just too overpowering. We turn back to our books, or to have video games, or to some other mundane task or distraction. And God gets relegated to arguments over various theories on Sundays, and perhaps Wednesday nights. “Worship” and “Bible studies”, remember? Now, I want to explain what got me thinking about this. A friend sent me the text of an article written by a theologian in his 80s from the United Kingdom. The guy’s name is Anthony Buzzard. And the article was called “The Amazing Shift Away from Jesus in the Popular Gospel”. He had overwhelming evidence of something that I’ve been saying for many years now. (even though I often secretly worry that I might be exaggerating the situation.) But this guy, Anthony Buzzard, had shocking evidence. He started with a quote from Billy Graham saying this: “Jesus came to do three day’s work.” The quote was taken from a tract produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1980, called: “What is the gospel?” The tract says that Jesus came not primarily to preach the gospel but he came rather that there might be a gospel to preach. Buzzard goes on to quote Roy Gustafson from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who explains the quote. Gustafson says: “What then is the gospel? The fact that the Lord Jesus died to save us is one half of the gospel. “The fact that he rose from the dead is the other half of the gospel.” He leaves no room at all for anything that Jesus taught. How does that sit with what Jesus himself understood as his reason for coming in Luke 4:43. Jesus says “I came to preach the gospel of the kingdom. That is the reason why I was sent.” But of course, based on the Billy Graham gospel, you’ll never hear Jesus say that because you’ve already been told that what he taught is not even part of the gospel. He came to die on the cross, then rise from the dead, and after that we neither want nor need anything that he might think he wants to offer. Now, let me quote from Buzzard, who took strong exception to the Billy Graham lie. He says: “The saving gospel…this gospel about the kingdom from Matthew 24:14 “was the center of all biblical preaching. “It is the message which Satan hates. (Luke 8:12) “It is called, throughout the New Testament, the Word, or the Word of the Lord. “The term, Word, is positively not just another way of saying, Bible. “The Word is the core of the Bible. And that core is found in the saving words of Jesus: “His gospel of the kingdom. “To abandon Jesus’ gospel is to abandon him. (Mark 8:38) “The evangelical gospel in contemporary America leaves out Jesus’ own gospel and distorts the gospel of Paul.” Buzzard has rightly identified the conscious and deliberate decision by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association to leave out the teachings of Jesus in their own teachings. But Buzzard doesn’t stop there. He notes that the problem was there as early as when the Apostles Creed was put together. (Unless of course it was edited down later.) The creed moves directly from a statement of faith in the virgin birth to Jesus’s crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Buzzard says: “If the Jesus claimed as Savior is not anchored in the historical figure recorded in the New Testament “who knows what kind of Jesus may be embraced? “It seems clear to me that Satan could well play on the weakness of the religious spirit of man “by presenting a Jesus who is only vaguely and superficially the Jesus of the Bible. “The counterfeit could, however, be most subtle. “Satanic strategy would work hard to separate Jesus from his own teachings “laid out in their clearest form in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. “Jesus might then only be a religious symbol “offered as a spiritual panacea for the world’s and individual’s ills. “Now, there’s no denying that this is exactly what has happened. “The Jesus of the churches bears no resemblance to the Jesus of the four Gospels. “He’s being crowded out in favor of the false Christ of our own invention.” Buzzard goes even deeper. He quotes from Martin Luther and John Calvin proving further evidence that whatever the Reformation was in terms of the sins of the Catholic Church it was also a great excuse for creating yet another false church with yet another false gospel. I’ve always personally noted a strong emphasis on the Gospel of John in preference to the three synoptic Gospels among any religious leaders I’ve known. I suspected it had to do with a last-ditch attempt to steer people away from the more obvious teachings of Jesus in the synoptic gospels and into some rather deep theological statements in John’s Gospel. Buzzard confirms this. He quotes Luther’s preface to his 1522 translation of the New Testament where Luther says: “John’s gospel is the only gospel which is delicately sensitive to what is the essence of the gospel. “And it is to be widely preferred to the other three, and placed on a higher level.” Do you hear what Luther is saying here? He’s saying that Matthew’s Gospel Mark’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel are–how did he put it? Insensitive to the essence of the gospel. What greater evidence could we ask for of heresy than this arrogant assumption that he, Martin Luther had the essence of the gospel of Christ. and that, somehow, Matthew, Mark, and Luke had all missed the boat as far as Christianity was concerned. Buzzard also quotes from the forward to Calvin’s commentary on John’s Gospel were Calvin states that it would be advantageous to change the order of the four Gospels, so that people would read John’s Gospel before reading the others. Since the others are primarily concerned with Jesus as a man, that is flesh while it is John who captures his so-called “soul”. Okay, so there we have it. Another theologian–one who is even older than me and who’s probably a good deal more well known or respected than me and he is saying exactly what I am saying I felt great excitement as I read what Buzzard was saying eagerly anticipating what his conclusion would be on getting us all back to the teachings of Jesus. “The gospel of the kingdom”, as he repeatedly called it. But his essay then switched tack suddenly and quite dramatically bringing up repeated reference to land. The gospel, he said…the true gospel of the kingdom (he consistently left out reference to it being the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.) That gospel of the kingdom, according to him was all about restoring land to the people who had been promised land in the Old Testament. He waffled around a bit, making it hard to nail down exactly what he was saying but definitely land was crucial. Oh well, no big deal. As long as he’s ready to obey Jesus in all that Jesus said about this new invisible kingdom where our heavenly father feeds us, if we trust him and spend our time building this kingdom. So I went to his website and clicked on a link which asked, “which Commandments should Christians keep?” Here are some quotes from what I found: “It is pointless to go around claiming to be following Jesus if we reject his plain teachings. “Jesus commanded belief in his gospel of the kingdom. “He also commanded men and women to be baptized in water. “This was a public ceremony of initiation into the church he promised to build.” Buzzard then quotes from 1 Corinthians 6 about drunks and thieves and other immoral people before finishing. “One of the very easy and clear teachings of Jesus “is that when we have learned about the gospel of the kingdom “and are ready to make a decision to believe it, and thus follow Jesus, then we should be baptized in water.” Of course, any of you who have actually read the four Gospels (John included) would know that this is definitely not one of the very easy and clear teachings of Jesus. Buzzard says, “Baptism is an apostolic practice because Jesus commanded it . “Jesus commanded water baptism in the Great Commission. “We do not need to have years of training before baptism. “In the New Testament, people committed themselves to Jesus just after some basic teaching “a basic exposure to the gospel, and the aims and claims of Jesus.” Now, it’s noteworthy that in Buzzards paper on which commandments we must obey he has not listed a single command of Jesus apart from the one reference to baptism just before he ascended to heaven. And then he finds it necessary to deceive his audience by repeatedly saying that Jesus told them to baptize with water. This is something he never said. Nor did he himself ever baptize anyone with water. That is what is very clearly and very easily learned from even a cursory reading of the Gospels. My heart dropped when I discovered that Buzzard had not the slightest interest in any of the teachings of Jesus apart from this one most misunderstood and obscure teaching. This great feeling of disappointment is also what I was referring to in the first half of this video when I said that religion, with its obsession on corporate worship and Bible studies is so very far away from true spirituality. It’s so easy for someone like Buzzard to come along and preach a great theory. He has the institutional church by the throat. They absolutely have missed it. But because all he is really interested in is selling another book or creating another Bible study group he does exactly the same thing as those whom he so thoroughly exposes. He turns straight away from the Jesus of the four Gospels and races back into a lot of theoretical and theological double-talk that means nothing at all in the light of eternity. Buzzard has written a whole book on the doctrine of the Trinity not to mention all that he is written about water baptism. I’m yet to find anything he has written about obedience to the most obvious teachings of Jesus. It’s all pointless theory and pointless point-scoring (if I may mix my metaphors a bit). That’s why I’ve called this video armchair Christians. Everyone is sitting around reading Bibles and pontificating on various interpretations perhaps with the occasional person getting up out of one armchair and moving to another in another part of the library. But no one actually obeying anything that Jesus said. All talk and no real action. Please! Can we get over this hang-up of religion and start obeying Jesus? As I’ve said before, I know a few people (very few people, in fact) who have quit their jobs, sold all their possessions, and pooled their resources with others doing the same thing. So that they can get out on the streets and onto the internet full-time in service to God. That seems to be consistent with what happened in the Bible when someone encountered Jesus. So if you want to get off the armchair and do something like that then contact me at the address on screen, and tell me a bit about yourself and where you live. I look forward to hearing from you today.

Otis Rodgers