The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.
Part 5: Sin and the Church of the Future?
Is it the same today as in 1200 BCE?
Copyright © 2017 Dorian Scott Cole
Some think that maybe we need a new definition of sin. The word doesn't fit well into modern culture, and the notions about what sin is, don't fit either. Preaching sin, guilt, and punishment have commonly served to drive people away from the church, and to focus on the wrong things.
The related idea of being tolerant of each other doesn't fit well either. Divorce affects nearly half of marriages, and single heads of household are now over 50%, since we apparently prefer not to live together and tolerate each other. LGBTQ issues remain unresolved or rejected by many churches and religious people who are adamant that it can't be tolerated. The younger generation simply leaves the church and refuses to participate because it no longer seems relevant. Outsiders keep it at arms length. The church is slowly decaying, with attendance dropping steadily since 1900, with many people having no idea what the mission of the church is.
In this study on sin and iniquity, I look at the idea of sin, origins, and how it applies today.
Part 5: Sin and the Church of the Future?
Shall we continue using the word "sin," even though most of the time in the Bible the word used is for an archer missing the bulls eye? Oh, but "sin" is much more delicious; it's scandal and much more the word for calling out people in our judgment, and beating them over the head. We love sin and the laws. Look at all of those glorious laws in the Bible.
Jesus was God's love letter to the world. He said on the cross, "It is finished." Interpret that as you will. But his message to the masses was, the leaders put a very heavy load on you with 613 Laws and the requirement of sacrifice. It's finished. The Law is fulfilled. My burden I put on you is light. I meet you where you are and offer you God's love, grace, forgiveness, just for the asking, and you immediately lose your oppressive load of guilt and are in my Kingdom. You have the important laws in your heart. Follow my ways.
What about everything Paul said? Paul was a Jew and he took the difficult road of leading non-Jews to Christ, a person whom he formerly persecuted. The Jews have their Law. Others (gentiles) do not have Jewish Law. They never did, and they can't unless they become Jews. Only Jews are under the Law. Becoming a Christian in no way makes you a Jew or subject to 613 Jewish Laws and customs. If the Jewish Law applies, it would only be the important laws, the 7 Noahide laws already written in your heart.
Paul had no power to make new laws. We are not under Law. We have no power to make laws. But Paul and we certainly have the power to point out things that are not good for us. Well, Paul got bogged down with hair, and so do we sometimes. We understand that those that voluntarily walk into moral promiscuity and idolatry, end up staying there and damaging or destroying themselves. Those are they who sleep around without commitment, those who steal other's husbands or wives, those who continually use business to take other's money in unfair exchanges, those who continuously ignore the very real needs of others, those who purposely injure others (like on the football field, or bullies, intimidators, wife beaters), illegal drug suppliers - those are the people who may not come back to a beneficial life. But when they do, the conversion is dramatic.
Following the path of love is difficult. So what shall we say then, we don't want this beautiful gift of love, forgiveness, grace, that God gave us through Christ, and throw it back in God's face. Let's just break this new covenant, this contract, this agreement and go back to Law because love is too hard. Guess what? There is no difference. Love is in Jewish Law. The requirement to help others and to make amends is there. And it totals 613 laws plus the requirement to fix it with those you have offended. The Law is not an escape, the Law condemns us, as Paul said.
There can never be enough laws. There are so many US laws that no one knows how many there are. There are over 20,000 just about guns. Don't you feel safer? People have tried to count the total number of US laws and failed. Source. And in court, not knowing a law is no excuse. Do you know all of the laws?
We can't make enough laws to regulate human behavior, and if we did, no one would even know them, and people are endlessly creative about finding ways around them. The law doesn't work. It's substandard. And it isn't up to the church to regulate human behavior anyway. It is up to individuals to do that. The church raises people's awareness of issues. That's the role of the church. Help people make informed decisions, not make their decisions for them. To stand by them as they struggle and be supportive. And respect the decisions they make and help them. That's difficult, but that is love.
Love isn't easy, but it's what we have. The Law, the complete writings of scripture, were fulfilled in Christ in one word: Love. Love shown to us by Christ, who never condemned anyone except leaders who misled the people. (He also had not so good things to say about those who harmed children. Give them drugs, teach them hate, use them sexually, injure them - things that wreck their lives and drive them away. This is what Paul saw in Hellenistic and Roman culture.)
Don't you think that 2000 years after Christ, we should be understanding this and teaching love? Not running around screaming about law and driving people away. And love should be the root of the church, not law?
We should hold in highest regard the principle that we evaluate things by love: does something help or harm others or ourselves? And understand that this is not 800 BCE and we have to adapt. Even Judaism Adapts. Ancient days didn't have pornography, bank fraud, illegal drugs, addictions (probably had some), birth control. A hundred years ago we didn't have TV and the Internet. The world is ever changing. But they certainly had idolatry (replacing God with other things, like money, sex...), and hiding from our responsibilities.
The church has been declining in attendance since 1900, with a few upward bumps from periods of war and the year 2000 apocalyptic nonsense. (God loves, and doesn't destroy unless nearly everyone is notoriously wicked (Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah)). People today have spiritual needs and they are searching, but they aren't finding help in the church. The things they do find in many churches either turn them off or scare them away. They enter and feel judged, not accepted. And they don't feel the church is relevant in their lives. Somehow the church has remained in 800 BCE or 1 BCE, and can't adapt. It's just another giver of law.
What have we made of God's gift to the world, his Good News? A way to hate others? A way to divide? Something to pound people over the head with?
Do we encounter others as Bible pounders, condemning? Or do we go to those with spiritual needs and invite them into a community of love, as Jesus did? What example do we set for our children, our neighbors, the world that watches us? Are we worshipping laws? Do we shout, "Worship this book of laws?" Or are we a community that reaches out to those in physical and spiritual need as Jesus did? Do we follow our own laws, ways, and culture, or do we adopt Jesus’ ways?
Do we expect people to live perfect lives from laws we impose on them? or do we remember Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and trying things and making mistakes is the human experience of learning and we stand by people as they learn.
Well, I for one fail miserably. I miss the entire target. So I keep acting like I try. Then my wife and sister dance on my head and call me a reprobate.
There are so many issues today that the church needs to inform people about. We need to be super-cautious about political divides, and focus on making this world a better place. If people are focused on this, they will find a way. It may be through government, non-governmental organizations, churches, individual actions, but we can make individual lives and the world better if we just focus on that.
What are we then?
A shining light of love to others
Or a clanging bell of damnation, focusing on the sin of a lost world, and calling for hell fire?
What should we take to others?
In the footsteps of Jesus, a message of Good News of forgiveness and a lighter load
or a message of laws to follow?
Tell others that there is a God and he has laws,
or people already know there is a God and have his important laws written in their heart, so show people the example of your life?
Guess what? Most people actually freely do things for others, and they like to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. It gives people a sense of purpose. If they see a great movement before them that they believe in and can engage in, they are more likely to join. Let's be that church. Let's be the church that Jesus started when he showed us the way, and see what happens.
End of series on Sin.