I’ve got great news for everyone! I’m sure there are some of us who have our concerns about our eternal fate so I want to put our minds at ease.
Thousands of years ago, an old fisherman saw the suffering that humans were enduring as they wondered what would happen to them when their lives on earth were over. So he vowed to do what he could to ensure that they would experience eternity in paradise. Because of his compassion, he became enlightened and could cross into eternal paradise. Because he was so compassionate, however, he vowed that he would wait until the last sentient being was saved before he would cross over into paradise. His name is now known as Amida and if we, even in our dying breath, say the words “Namu Amida Butsu”, we will be saved and be able to enter in to paradise. Isn’t that great news!? Now you do not have to worry about what lies ahead for us after our lives here are over!
If anyone hearing that story actually felt relieved, well, good for you. Most of us, on the other hand, most likely felt like “Huh? What in the world are you talking about?” This is the way that most people feel when we share the gospel of Jesus Christ. God sent his son to die for our sins and so Jesus emptied himself of divine power and allowed himself to be nailed to a cross. He was dead for three days and then was resurrected by God and now sits at the right hand of God. We commemorate this event by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus. Some day all of the dead people will be resurrected and Jesus will come back and we will be with him in Heaven after a time of tribulation and a millenium of peace. Do we ever stop and think how crazy this sounds? Don’t get me wrong – we believe it to be true and we stake our very existence on it, but really – do we think this sounds any more rational to others than the story of Amida sounds to us? It is important that we realize that we no longer live in a Christian culture. We live now in what has been called Post-Christendom. Most people do not go to church and do not relate to the story of Jesus that we call the gospel. The story of Amida is one from another culture to us just like the story of Jesus comes from a culture foreign to people living in Post-Christendom/ post-modernism today.
This disconnect is nothing new. When Paul was writing to the people of the church at Corinth he said in 1 Cor. 2:14: “But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.” We need to adopt a new way of speaking for those who do not understand the message. Is it wrong that they do not understand? Of course not! How could they? So how do we show people that the gospel is true? That’s just it – we SHOW them. Paul says in the same chapter in verses 1 – 5. He first says that because the people of Corinth did not at first have the Spirit, “I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” Instead, he said “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” In DEMONSTRATION of the Spirit. We cannot do much with magical words that people do not understand, rather we must demonstrate the gospel in how we live our lives as a testament to that truth.
We see where a lack of wisdom affects those outside the church. One area in which not necessarily a lack of wisdom, but a lack of using that wisdom leads to trouble is within the church. In 1054 we had the Great Schism that led to one of the biggest splits ever in the history of Christianity. This was the split over theology (or the Filioque to be specific – let me know if you want to hear more about this one). Most of us, we assume, would have sided with the west on this debate which means we side with the Roman Catholic Church. But wait! Most of us are Protestant after another huge split in the church – The Reformation. We don’t agree with the Catholic church. And on and on it goes with splits within denominations over same sex unions, ordination of homosexual pastors, ordination of women, issues of charisma, etc. etc. ad nauseum. This is like a story that Emo Philips told that I get a laugh out of:
(In a conversation with a suicidal man threatening to jump off a bridge)
“I said, ‘Are you a Christian or a Jew?’ He said, ‘A Christian.’
I said, ‘Me too. Protestant or Catholic?’ He said, ‘Protestant.’
I said, ‘Me too. What franchise?’ He says, ‘Baptist.’
I said, ‘Me too. Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?’ He says, ‘Northern Baptist.’
I said, ‘Me too. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?’ He says, ‘Northern Conservative Baptist.’
I said, ‘Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?’ He says, ‘Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist.’
I said, ‘Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Eastern Region?’ He says, ‘Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region.’
I said, ‘Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?’ He says, Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912.’
I said, ‘Die, heretic!’ and I pushed him over.”
Pretty ridiculous, eh? But how far is this from where we are at? Paul said in vs. 11 “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. ” So let’s not assume that we understand what another party is thinking as we base our argument. Is there any hint of how we can start agreeing on things and being of like mind? Paul thought so. He said in vs. 12 “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. ” What if, for example, when we get to Heaven that God chides us for assuming that Rob Bell was heretic by saying that God has too much love for there to be a hell? What if God says, “Did you really think that I, in my infinite love, could do something so cruel to my children?” Who knows what the truth is here, but we need to seek wisdom through the Spirit since it has been given to us freely rather than assuming we already have all the answers.
Let’s pray that since we have the mind of Christ (as Paul says in vs. 16) that we can use it and get a glimpse of what is truly right. Let us also remember that when we use God-speak on a skeptic they will just hear something like the teacher on Charlie Brown. But if we SHOW them by how we live and DEMONSTRATE the gospel, then they will hear, see, and experience something truly beautiful.