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Category: Soteriology

Sacrifice

02

Left unchecked, an evangelical focus on Christ’s sacrificial death could be the death of the Church. It’s skewed our theology, messed up many of our relationships, and created a culture that thrives on guilt and judgment. But it’s not Jesus’ fault. He tried to warn us.

Here’s the deal: Jesus lived his message, and it was a message of love. But the present-day Christian addiction to the Calvary cross has replaced Jesus’ entire ministry — both before his death and after his resurrection — with a single act of sacrifice, making that willingness to die for a belief and a people the proof of Jesus’ love.

It doesn’t work that way. Sacrifice — of anything for anyone — is powerful because of its selflessness. But sacrifice has some problems as well.

1) Sacrifice, to be effective, requires the misfortune of others. I cannot save someone unless he needs saving, hence the Church’s reputation for passing judgment. 2) If the act of sacrificial death teaches us the value of someone we previously took for granted, it remains powerless to heal that relationship. There is no reconciliation without life. 3) The pursuit of sacrifice in the form of hoped-for martyrdom is to give up living altogether. What is the value of a life that was never lived? 4) Sacrifice, as we understand it, involves a completely selfless giving without any hope of receiving in return. It is not a contract. This makes death the end of all sacrifice. Except for one thing — Christians have the hope of resurrection. Unbelievers have no such hope. Logically, this would make the sacrificial death of an atheist more powerful (and more ethical) than the death of a believer.

I could go on.

But I’ll end with this, instead. When Jesus preached that “The Kingdom of Heaven is here” or that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice,” when he offered rest for our souls and spoke of a banquet to which all those found along the highways were invited, when he healed the lame and the blind and the bleeding, he was pointing to a wedding, not a funeral. And the wedding is here. Now.

It’s time to change our focus.

And our tone.

He was pointing to a wedding, not a funeral. And the wedding is here.

Fringe Christians

02

A student described to me a debate — hosted by his church — in which two men attacked each other for almost two hours. The issue? Whether water baptism is required for salvation. This student, exhausted by the speakers’ anger, told me he’d decided it doesn’t really matter.

Another student told me about a Christian teacher — respected in the community — who made the claim that figure skaters, female gymnasts, and English teachers are prone to lesbianism. This student wanted to be an English teacher. Now she’s reconsidering.

A chapel speaker had students stand if they’d read any of the Harry Potter books. He told them that they’d opened themselves up to demonic influences and that they were in danger of experiencing the fires of Hell.

No wonder the Church is largely considered irrelevant and even destructive. Fringe Christians like these seem — more and more — to be stealing attention away from the majority. They claim that the only issues that matter are the sanctity of life (code for anti-abortion), the institution of marriage (code for anti-gay marriage), and other inviolable pro-family principles (code for anti-yoga, Halloween, public Ten Commandments displays, Supreme Court appointments, and any other politically-expedient social issues).

But these people don’t represent the thousands of pre-Civil War Christians who set their slaves free and hired them back as workers, paying them a fair wage.

They don’t represent the German Christians during World War II, who had to be told by their government — again and again in official announcements — to stop giving up their bus seats to Jews.

They don’t represent the community of Amish Christians who shocked the world in 2006, when they publicly forgave a man who had killed their daughters.

And I hope they don’t represent you.

No wonder the Church is largely considered irrelevant and even destructive.

Socialization

02

In liturgical Christian tradition, children enter into the faith through a formal, church-directed process such as catechism or confirmation. Among evangelicals, it is largely understood that one becomes a Christian by making a personal decision to believe in Jesus Christ. Historically, Quakers fit with neither group, relying instead on a process of “socialization” in which children were raised into faith by their families and by the larger community of believers.

Howard Brinton’s survey of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century Quaker journals, published in 1972, demonstrates the process by which many young Friends first came to faith: a childhood experience of God’s presence, a period of youthful distraction, an “experience of a divided self,” and sharing publicly in open worship.

Of this first stage, William Penn wrote how it was when he was 12 years old that he first experienced “divine impressions” of the Lord’s presence. Mary Penington wrote that it was at the age of 10 or 11 that she first desired to know the nature of true prayer, later pouring out her soul “to the Lord in a very vehement manner.” John Crook decided at age 11 that he would “serve the Lord God of heaven and earth, whatsoever I suffer.”

But many of these young Quakers set faith aside in favor of “youthful frivolity,” investing their time in music, sports, fashion, friendships, humor – all activities we would deem normal. For these young Quakers, however, it wasn’t the activity itself that was wrong as much as it was the effect these activities had on them personally. They had become divided, tempted, as Margaret Lucas wrote, “to discharge myself of the worship due to God” in order “to attain happiness.” Job Scott wrote that he tried to “persuade (himself) there was no harm” in “frolicking and gaming.” Scott sometimes skipped meetings for worship in order to play cards with his friends. But he could not overcome a feeling that he was missing God’s best for his life, “returning home at night in condemnation, and sometimes sighing and crying.”

The point of change – the evidence of baptism by the Spirit into Christian community – frequently came through vocal ministry. John Yeardley, for instance, recorded that he spent 11 years of his life, resisting God’s nudging, refusing to share in open worship. But he finally came to a place in which he “could not doubt the time was fully come.” John Churchman wrote that it took him eight years to work up the courage to speak in meeting. But he finally stood, expressing “what was on my mind, and therein had peace.” Martha Routh first felt she should speak at age 14. But she did not speak in meeting until she was 29, and even then, she spoke but one sentence: “Be more willing to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”

Be more willing to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.

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