Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Republican Christianity, Part 2

After I wrote the piece on Republican Christianity earlier today, I had the following comment on Facebook:

>>>Jesus did indeed tell people who was their neighbor and He said to help those. He did not say give your money to the government to do those things. In fact a close examination of the Good Samaritan tells us that both the church and the government passed the needy man up. Jesus wanted us to act individually to help t5hose in need.

In fact He eschewed government and told Peter to give what was Cesar's to Cesar. Jesus knew government can and does change and therefore will let you down. He knew even the church will let you down.

True Christianity is not difficult, it is simple. The passage you mention is for that man alone because Jesus recognized he was in love with his possessions and would not let them go. Just as Jesus knew Judas would betray Him because Judas was not willing to give up the idea of wealth.

Jesus also believed in free will giving and the government confiscates our money to spend it where we do not wish it spent.

Also wealth and success is preached in the Bible. Job is an example of wealth and success, so is Joseph and Abraham and the list goes on. They achieved these through faith in God, the God of the bible.<<<

Here, for my record, is my reply (also posted earlier on Facebook):

To take the last point first, because it is key, in my view: “Also wealth and success is preached in the Bible. Job is an example of wealth and success, so is Joseph and Abraham and the list goes on. They achieved these through fai...th in God, the God of the bible.” Jesus said (John 14/6), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Jesus in Matthew 5/17 says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets, thereby releasing believers from the Mosaic law. What the Hebrew Bible presents is a Hebrew understanding of Yahweh. Jesus clarified and perfected that view. There is not one word spoken by Jesus that equates God’s favor with material success or power. Rather, Jesus promises a difficult path to his followers (Luke 9/23): “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Denial and cross–bearing are difficult. The virtuous life is difficult. To be a Christian requires struggle, self–denial, and even failure in the eyes of the world (“the last shall be first”). No where does Jesus promise his followers anything but difficulty here on earth. Had his teaching been what you and the Falwells and Robertsons preach, then he would have met Judas’ expectations and he would have been an earthly Messiah. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” he told his followers (John 18/36). The rewards of discipleship are spiritual in this world and eternal life in the next. Jesus not once promised his followers anything but the cross and self–denial.

A close examination of the Good Samaritan says nothing at all about government aid to the needy. The Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be an unorthodox Jewish sect, whose counterclaims to righteousness were untenable. Jews were forbidden to have any contact with, or even to speak to Samaritans. The fact that it was the Samaritan who helped the injured Jew, rather than a priest or a temple politician, has nothing to do with how a society helps its needy. It instead makes the point that Jesus considers everybody, even members of this outlaw Samaritan sect, to be his neighbor. Jesus is trying to teach that there are no boundaries to his requirement that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

In Matthew 22, the Pharisees send people to Jesus to try to trick him into a breach of the law. They ask Jesus if it’s ok to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. Jesus’s reply: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Nowhere in the scripture are we treated to an understanding of what Jesus thought about governmental stability or about the uses to which Caesar would put the collected taxes. Jesus was advising his disciples to be obedient to secular law. He also was screwing with the Pharisees.

True Christianity is difficult. It is challenging. It requires total dedication. The passage I quoted (Matthew 25/34–40) has nothing at all to do with Jesus’s admonition to the rich young man. Matthew 25 and surrounding Scripture are a series of basic teachings of Jesus. The passage you want is found in three of the Gospels: Matthew 19/16–30, Mark 10/17–31, and Luke 18/18–30. These are the accounts of Jesus’s encounter with the young man who would not be able to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. That requirement, by the way, is not limited to the rich young man. Peter, in each account, says essentially, “Lord, we’ve given up everything to follow you; what’s in it for us?” The Gospel requirement is and always has been a requirement to be poor—if not poor in material goods, then at least poor in spirit. Only the poor in spirit know that they need God.

You write, finally, “Jesus also believed in free will giving and the government confiscates our money to spend it where we do not wish it spent.” See what Jesus had to say about Caesar and God. It is a huge stretch for you to claim that Jesus would be against social programs of the government, especially since his earliest followers held all things in common (read Acts again). If the government is going to tax me, then I would hope that Christians would vote for programs that help the sick, the dying, the immigrant, the uneducated, the hungry, and the naked.

Your theology is what I consider to be an American version of Christianity that is lethal. It perverts the teachings of Jesus in an attempt to justify the selfish, materialistic American way of life. I have enjoyed writing this piece, but I doubt that it will make any difference to you or to anybody else. I write it because I believe it and you and others who believe as you do scare me.

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