Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Bushfish, Part 3: Why I Find the Bushfish So Objectionable (Second Objection)

I used to be an atheist.

Because I had never seen God, I concluded He didn't exist.

I wrote off those who confessed faith as weak people who needed a crutch.

More than that, I deemed believers--particularly Christian believers--as fearful infants who spent their lives trying to placate an angry God.

Over time, I came to regard the proposition that this world came into being on its own as intellectually suspect.

I came to believe also that life is sometimes so scary, that it's sensible to have a crutch and that God is a better one than booze, drugs, money, status, or any of a thousand other dependencies we may develop. As a friend of mine once told another friend of ours, "Pray to God and rely on Him. If you're right, the result is that you'll be with Him forever. If you're wrong, what will you be out?"

But my last objection to Christian faith was the least informed and the most off-base. That was my dismissal of those with faith in Christ as "fearful infants who spent their lives trying to placate an angry God."

You see, I thought that Christian faith was like all the other religions of the world. All other religious systems, whether aimed at bringing a person to absorption into God following a long chain of reincarnations, or satori, or nirvana, or going to heaven with a harem, or winning the Lottery have one thing in common. They all believe that human beings can and must work to advance themselves spiritually to achieve these lofty heights. Under these systems, adherents must do certain good deeds, go through proscribed rituals, make specified sacrifices, say parroted prayers, attain vaunted behavior patterns, do a penance, or buy a ticket.

The Judeo-Christian tradition, expressed ultimately in the person and lordship of Jesus Christ turns all such notions on their heads.

The first thing that a person who comes to follow Jesus Christ admits is that no one, including themselves, is capable of the perfection that all other religious systems say we must strive for.

The second thing a follow of Christ admits is that we need a Savior or Advocate Who can fill the gap between the goodness we desire to evidence and the place where we are. More than that, we admit that Christ is the One Who can give us this new life, not our efforts or goodness.

Thirdly, to become a follower of Christ and beneficiary of His blessings is not a matter of our doing. It's a matter of our surrender. We surrender to the God we know in Christ and ask Him to imbue our lives with the righteousness, forgiveness, purpose, and everlasting life that He gives to those with faith in Him.

The book of Ephesians in the New Testament portion of the Bible says:
For by grace [literally, charity, in this case, God's charity] you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God---not the result of works, so that no one may boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9]
The Christian believes that we have a relationship with the eternal God of the universe because of what God has done for us through Jesus' death and resurrection and our simple trusting faith in Him. As the most famous passage of Scripture puts it:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. [John 3:16]
This leads to my second objection to the Bushfish, a car magnet which appropriates the most ancient symbol of Christian faith--the fish--to promote or agree to the politics of President Bush:

It sends a signal that Christian faith is an attainment, a particular set of political behaviors, a proscribed way of voting. It says, "If you vote this way, you're in the righteousness club and if you don't, your out of the club."

Don't say that I'm overreacting. I have heard people say this overtly and the Bushfish is a symbol of this sentiment.

As such, the Bushfish represents one of the worst of all Christian heresies, what Martin Luther called "works righteousness."

Works righteousness is the common human notion that can only enslave us, that tells us we are righteous once we adhere to a certain code of behavior, such as voting for or supporting conservative Republicans, or condemning liberal Democrats as faithless secularists. (Keep in mind that I am a conservative Republican. But I don't believe that as a Christian I must be a conservative Republican and that I'm free to vote for Democrats.)

Works righteousness also insists that if you can get people to adhere to a certain set of propositions or proscribed behavior patterns, you will have made them "righteous," irrespective of any inward difference in their consciences or their relationship with God. This was the very approach of the Pharisees so often condemned by Jesus. The Pharisees were religionists who should have known better, but who cheapened Biblical faith by boiling it down to a kind of mercantile transaction between a Clerk-God and "customers" who bought him off with their deeds.

Works righteousness is really the religion of the devil, designed to get us caught up in looking good (what that Ephesians passage would call boasting), rather than humbly submitting ourselves to the Lord Who, as we surrender to Him more each day, can begin to make us good from the inside out.

Works righteousness leads to smugness, judgmentalism, and self-righteousness.

Righteousness as a gift from God leads to humilty, graciousness, and love for God and neighbor.

You can tell from the language on the Bushfish web site which of these two divergent paths it represents. It writes off all opposition to President Bush, even that expressed by evangelical Christians, as un-Christian secularism.

Not only is this intellectually suspect, it's flat-out wrong.

There are thoughtful Christians who believe, for example, that it may not be a good idea for we Christians to force the Ten Commandments down the throats of our fellow citizens on public property. I'm one of those Christians. The government entity which can today force the Ten Commandments down a community's throat, may be forced to swallow someone else's creed tomorrow. People cannot be made Christian by majority vote or by being forced to read Commandments.

Jesus has proscribed an entirely different method for helping others to know the new life He wants to give all people.

Just this past Sunday, Christians all over the world celebrated the third great festival of the Church Year: Pentecost. (The other two festivals are Christmas and Easter.) On the first Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' resurrection and ten days after His ascension back to heaven, God sent His Holy Spirit to Jesus' praying followers, turning them into the Church and empowering them to lovingly share the good message--the Gospel--of God's free gifts of forgiveness and new life offered to all who follow Christ!

The process of sharing Christ is what the Bible calls evangelism--good newsing. It takes time, patience, love, and absolute reliance on God to see it through. Through political activism, it's impossible for you to get a majority in the Congress, take control of the White House, or pack the Supreme Court and then pass laws or get judicial rulings that will magically make America a Christian nation.

Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is a matter of people allowing their wills to bend to the Lordship of Jesus. It cannot be commanded of them, just by making them adhere to laws that we think--and which may or may not be--Christian.

Peter, one of Jesus' first followers and a guy known for being rather pushy, realized this. That's why Peter's recommendation for introducing people to God-righteousness rather than works righteousness is so striking. Peter says:
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. [First Peter 3:15-16]
Frankly, the sorry spiritual state of America today is not attributable to a dearth of evangelical political activity or a failure to get the right judges in our courts. Many of the pieces of legislation and lots of the judicial rulings that have upset or angered us as Christians would not have even been thinkable had we as a Church not grown so lazy about fulfilling our primary mission of sharing Christ with unbelieving people and so, making disciples for Him. On this, we have been asleep at the switch.

More than that, if Americans were reconciled to Christ and seeking to do God's will, it wouldn't matter how many heinous things our laws allowed us to do. America will not change until Americans change and that is a matter of people's hearts, minds, and wills being surrendered to the good God we know through Christ, not who's on the Supreme Court. It's perfectly possible for Christians to advance a political agenda, even electing a President and controlling the Congress, and still lose America for Jesus Christ.

America's spiritual somnambulence has only grown more acute the more deeply we Christians have mixed our "faith" with partisan politics.

We need to give up on works righteousness and embrace the righteousness that comes from God alone. It's fine for us to have political opinions. (God knows I have enough of them!) But we must not allow our proclamation of Christ to become a sideshow.

Nor can we allow it to be subordinated to a particular set of political propositions or partisans.

And we must not let our faith relationship with God be boiled down to a list of do's and don't's, no matter how laudable.

Our message shouldn't be, "Vote for Bush and be a Christian," but more along the lines of what Paul wrote to the first-century church at Rome:
But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

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