Christian liberty and the doctrine of love.

I am a Christian.  I was raised in a Christian home, but I chose to make my faith my own as I matured into an adult.  My reasons for choosing to maintain a faith in Christ and belief in the Bible will warrant an entry of their own at a future date, but right now I want to discuss something else.

The modern incarnation of Christianity is problematic.  To be entirely honest, I usually prefer to call myself simply “a believer,” because to call one’s self a Christian invites a lot of misconceptions.

I read an article this morning that greatly disturbed me.  The story came from the New York Times, and gave a piercing critique of the Trinity Broadcasting Network and its financial practices.  You can click here for the full story for as long as it is freely available.

I began the draft of this piece before I read the article, but the article provides a convenient jumping-off point for my topic.  TBN is the face of modern Christianity to much of the world; they broadcast Christian programming to much of the world.  Wherever the TBN feed is accessed, viewers see a nepotistic empire making promises of God’s blessings–provided that your “love offering” is sown properly.

Modern Christianity has become irrevocably tied to the culture in which it existed.  Not even religion can exist within the environment of a profit-oriented culture without taking on aspects of such a culture.  In America, the prosperity doctrine has turned Christianity into a product.

But Christianity did not start as a product!  It was not meant to be a product!  True belief is not in the false bastardization of the real thing, but in the original!

Prosperity doctrine is a purely Western invention.  It has nothing to do with scripture or the gospel; it is the belief that individual financial success is decided in the life of believers by God based on their faith and attitude.

This line of thinking is not only non-Bliblical, but extremely narrow-minded.  If it is true that one’s faith determines their financial wealth, then there are thousands of South American, African, Asian and Middle Eastern believers who must believe in a lie, because they die for their faith every day, and they do so in material poverty.

Since prosperity theology is an ignorant fabrication of what a real relationship with the Lord should be like, I would like to offer a few verses of actual scripture to remind us of what true belief is about.  There is a specific way in which the Bible tells Christians to relate to one another: through love.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

And:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 14:12-15

And what commandments are these?

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,

Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

These are just a few verses of many in which Christ sums up the nature of Christian living.  Christ emphasized one thing above all others: love.
Christianity is not about rules, laws or keeping a tally of rights and wrongs.  Furthermore, Christians are not given the authority by God to judge the entire world by their own standards.  There is not even one standard given to Christians for daily living except that they be in touch with God through an active relationship of prayer and study.  If a believer is seeking God and listening for his will, He will speak into the believer’s life according to the believer’s needs.
This is where American Christianity falls so short of healthy understanding.  Too often, Christians never read the Bible to hear God speak into their own lives as individuals.  Instead, they wait for another teacher or personality to interpret scriptures for them and give a broad, generalized statement of what is “right” or “wrong.”  Naturally, guidance comes from others within the church, but if we, as flawed human beings, rely too much on other flawed human beings for guidance instead of God and his word, we are overcomplicating matters.
Christianity, at it’s core, is incredibly simple.  After Christ left the earth, the apostle, Paul was faced with a problem as a church leader.  Believers who came from traditional Jewish religious backgrounds tried to enforce Judaism on the new Greek and Roman believers, pressuring them to undergo circumcision and other strictly Jewish affirmations of faith.
Paul was completely astounded that believers anywhere could be so illogical.  When salvation is freely offered through a relationship with Christ, with nothing asked in return, why would anyone even want to try to save themselves?  Paul wrote to them on the subject?

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Galatians 3:1-6

 This ties in directly with Paul’s writings to the Romans, in which he stated the case just as plainly.

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Romans 1:14-18

This is where the heart of salvation lies.  And this is the part which is lost far too often in the American presentation of Christianity.
In the near-constant drive to increase service attendance, raise money or find media exposure (all laughably “in the name of the gospel”), the gospel message becomes secondary to the image of the speaking church or institution.  The Western church splintered itself into fragments through the creation of denominations, and now there is a sudden push to present some sterilized, standardized version of the gospel.  But as we trip over ourselves to undo years of judgment, are we really delivering the gospel?
Through their creation of a “church culture,” the American Christian church lost the ability to effectively communicate their faith to non-believers without defaulting to the jargon and niche parlance of institutionalized (mass-marketed) belief.  Believer need to accept that the lingo of the church means little or nothing when repeated outside of the church, and adjust their language accordingly.  Not the message; the language.
The world doesn’t need the language of judgement, denominationalism, salvation through works or anything other than love.  Christians are very good at speaking one way and acting another.  We speak the language of the New Testament, but our actions are as Old Testament as they can be.
Christ came to earth and literally sacrificed himself so that we don’t have to justify ourselves through our own actions!  So why do we set up an unreachable standard for every person to whom we speak?  Non-believers shouldn’t be judged the same way as believers; they haven’t accepted the same standard for their lives.  Two people speaking different languages cannot agree on anything, because there is no understanding.
Christ spoke his words in Aramaic, but the meaning of his words always corresponded with the intent of his actions.  And what was it that Christ communicated in word and deed?  Love.
Plain and simple.
He spoke about love.  He asked for love in return.  And he told us to do the same.
All else is secondary.
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
External Links:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/05/us/tbn-fight-offers-glimpse-inside-lavish-tv-ministry.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology

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