Friday, February 9, 2024

Perish the Rescuing...


Perish the Rescuing…


2 Corinthians 4:3-6
4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake.

4:6 For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.



Paul has a unique way, doesn’t he? His gospel is so simple—God loves us, God saves us, we serve God out of gratitude, and witness our salvation because God’s love and grace compel us to invite others to the party. Pure and simple. 


The early church complicated Paul’s gospel. The invitation that went out to all brought in some, shall we say, “interesting” characters. Former pagans who had trouble letting go of the “former” label, former Jews who had trouble letting go of the “former” label, as well, and a few who were attracted to the “power” the gospel might afford them, should they have a silver tongue and a penchant for making friends and influencing people (Apollo, anyone?) The upstart church in Corinth was a nightclub full of these kinds of people. The good news was that the gospel WAS for all people, and the “heavy lifting” of redemption had been done by the totality of Jesus Christ. 


I say “totality” of Jesus Christ, in that the Christ event is one package: the eternal Son of God born into the world in what theologians would label the “incarnation”; the “fulcrum” events, such as his baptism by the Jewish repentance preacher, John the Baptist, “handing him off” as the budding Savior of the WHOLE world, and the “win” over the devil and this world’s temptations of power; his teachings that were truly “other-worldly,” including “turning the other cheek” and “forgiving seventy times seven”; carrying his own cross to his death on Golgotha; and his resurrection on the third day, a final “win-win” over death and eternal condemnation. “Jesus paid it ALL, ALL to him [we] owe.” Paul’s gospel, all wrapped up in and by Jesus, like a “Hello Fresh” entrĂ©e; no other ingredients needed.


The trouble with this is, anyone can be a witness, and the message can remain simple enough for anyone to be transformed by it. Thanks to the “human” element, the church quickly began to shake out both individual power seekers, and to develop a hierarchy that would provide them with an office and its perks. When Paul talks in this passage of “unbelievers,” he may not have been addressing those who had not yet heard his simple gospel, or those who had heard the first edition, but who had thus far rejected it. He may well have been addressing those who it first attracted and brought into “the family,” but who were now enjoying the status and influence it brought to them, as they assumed leadership positions.


Paul tips his hand in verse four: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake.” Subservience and humility was a long way from what Paul had to oppose in the Corinthian church, as he attempted to keep it from falling into egotistical ruin at the hands of manipulative, less-educated, but power-savvy converts. Paul, the brilliant writer and purveyor of the simple gospel that welcomed all into the fold of faith, had a tiger by the tail in Corinth.


Fast-forward to the 21st century. In Tim Alberta’s new book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism, he details the contemporary “evangelical” movement and its Corinth-like prostitution of the simple gospel of Jesus and his dramatic convert, Paul the Apostle. This is a sordid tale of power, lust, money, and political intrigue that smacks of Antichrist and his minions. From Franklin Graham to Jerry Falwell, Jr.—the headliners—to lesser known leaders like Charlie Kirk, Alberta dissects their hijacking of love and justice, substituting in its place the Kingdom of Trump and the “branch offices” of a plethora of independent and Southern Baptist churches who have peddled a complex gospel that reigns over those who seek God’s pardon, influences what they believe and for whom they vote, and hides lustful sins, because, after all, “enjoying their bodies are the reward for giving [themselves] for the gospel.” (This latter statement was that of the late Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologeticist celebrated by evangelicals, who was found after his death to have been a major lech.) 


Whatever moral beliefs some Christians may have about abortion, many of these spiritual high-rollers have distorted them and parlayed them into a political powerhouse; the same game applies to the condemnation of persons in the LGBTQ community, especially those who are transgender. They have convinced millions of modern “believers” that such persons who engage in these “practices”—even those who ally with them—are not “eligible” for inclusion in the gospel. Their version of the gospel, not the simple “All-y, All-y in free” gospel of Paul. And the horror of this movie doesn’t end, according to Alberta. They are gearing up for “round two,” after a large majority of Americans and not a few believers in a God of love and redemption voted out the leader of a heinous, chaotic “round one” that exploded on our TVs on January 6 of 2021. Most of Alberta’s “evangelicals” were allies of IT, and a few were even represented on the Capitol steps that day.


I would be far less than honest if I didn’t say that reading Alberta’s book was a gut punch to a person who has given my all to offer the simple, inclusive gospel of Jesus and Paul to the people I served over 36 years as a pastor, and a number of years as a church member and lay Christian witness before that. As a fan of the original “Star Trek” TV series, I recall an episode wherein some “alien force” occupies the body of a 24th century man, causing him to willy-nilly murder people “just for fun.” The science minds of that episode trace the galactic “travel” of this blood-thirsty entity to a path of planets that experienced horrible, unexplained killings, and leading all the way back to Planet Earth, and a series of murders perpetrated by “Jack the Ripper.” Reading Alberta’s The Kingdom, the Power, the Glory, and holding his 21stcentury research up against Paul’s writings in Corinthians, reminded me of this weird “Star Trek” episode. It would seem that the same “evil spirit” that was at work distorting God’s truth in Corinth in the first century is at work in the worst of the right-wing, “evangelical” movement. Maybe it is.


These same “evangelicals” have built a whole control structure around what was offered by Christ as a simple gospel. HOW one appropriates the gospel, HOW one “is saved,” and how one VOTES after they are saved has been codified into a process known as “being a Bible-believing, born again Christian.” They have been diligent “gatekeepers” of how one becomes a Christian, how one must “behave” as a Christian, and even more specifically what “doctrines” one must believe. Those who do not buy the whole package are disregarded (and disrespected) as the “liberal elite.” Sadly, some of this mindset have infected Methodism and brought about a schism—Methodism, a sect founded by a Paul-like, highly educated man who preached a simple gospel and offered the “hand of fellowship” to any who believed that simple gospel, what he called the “essentials of faith.” 


This “ratcheting up” and complicating of the simple process of redemption is part and parcel of how these people maintain control of the movement. “Rescuing the perishing” has turned into big business, political power, and personal aggrandizement, in so many cases, according to Tim Alberta, whose own pastor/father started to get caught up in this power struggle before he died. (This was a motivating factor of Alberta’s in writing this book.) “Rescuing the perishing” has become quite a lucrative market, spawning huge “churches” of like-minded parishioners and voters. One mega-church pastor profiled by Alberta actually started maturing in his faith, reading the Early Church Fathers, and later scholars and theologians such as Miroslav Volf and N.T. Wright, and dropped the “evangelical” scam, preaching anew the simple gospel and its application to living the Christian walk. His church shrunk from 1,500 on Sundays to less than 150, because it had been a house built on the sinking sand of a politicized gospel promising power and prosperity. Actual Christian living and believing didn’t carry as much appeal, I guess.


Sorry for being so negative in this message, but I do believe it is TIME to PERISH THE RESCUING (supporting the convoluted, power-controlled religion now labeled “evangelical”) and offer once again the inclusive, simple gospel instituted by Jesus Christ the Savior and written about by Paul the Apostle. Thankfully, there have been countless servants and heralds of this gospel throughout the centuries, furthering and preserving the church. But, the church is now endangered (and is beginning to recede) because of this “Rescue the Perishing” gospel business. Broad swaths of the American populace are now seeing “Christianity,” Trump’s MAGA movement, and these loud-mouthed evangelist/”super pastors” as totally in cahoots with one another. And they are leaving the church behind. It is worth noting that this is just coming to America; it’s been going on in Europe for decades, thanks largely to the hierarchical, patriarchal “rule” of the Roman Catholic Church, and the ineffective efforts of the Protestant mainline. A rebirth of the simple gospel may save us all, if it is not too late. From our lips to God’s ears. Amen.


1 comment:

Doug C. said...

Spot on, IMHO.
- Doug

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