Friday, September 30, 2011

Pastor or Prophet?

As a pastor, I worry that I have failed. As a prophet, I believe that I have received a prophet's reward -persecution. And those who embrace those prophetic messages with me are marginalized as well. But the thing is this: My entire ministry has been overshadowed by this nagging feeling that we are preaching a doctrine that promotes Empire instead of the gospel of the Kingdom.

And, Calvinism has made it much more palatable to our consciences. If one had to draw a line in the sand, I am going to end up on the Calvinist side, but that isn't the point. The point is the doctrine of the elect, combined with the doctrine that no works can purchase our salvation can lead to a whole group of people who do not believe that Jesus was serious when He said that he would deny the Kingdom of God to those who refuse to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and etc. In their opinion, Jesus couldn't have been serious because that would lead to a “works” based righteousness.

And Brother Paul, and the book of Romans, enters into this debate. Jesus said: “I have more truth to tell you, but you cannot abide it now, but the Holy Spirit, when He comes will reveal to you more truth.” Many have said that Jesus was intentionally incomplete in His teaching of the gospel. Others have said that this establishes two different gospels. 

Here is what we agree on: Jesus' words force us to combine works with faith. Here is what we disagree on: Paul's words debunk the concept that Jesus couldn't have been serious in Matthew 25. There are those who say that Paul's concept of “no works can save us” trumps Jesus words in Matthew 25. And, that this is what Jesus was referring to when He said that there was more to this to be later revealed.

Of course, I am saying nothing new here when I say this: “shouldn't Paul be interpreted in the light of Jesus rather than Jesus in the light of Paul?”

Before I get attacked, let me clear this up. Do I believe that salvation is by faith? Of course I do. Do I believe that if a work could save me then Jesus would have died in vain? Of course I do. But I also believe that apart from works, faith is dead.

If one holds to a strict interpretation of justification by faith alone, without works, then one throws out the three years of Jesus teaching. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would come and convince people about Him. That must mean about Him and His teaching and His atonement. We can't throw out His teaching in favor of His atonement.

And I know the concept that if we are truly born again, our response will be good works, out of gratitude, not compulsion. But the thing is, good works are not just acts of gratitude, they are commands placed upon us.

Paul does not trump Jesus. And that was never Paul's intention. Remember when he met with the elders in Antioch? They agreed on every point about Paul's gospel, a gospel that required none of the Jewish law religious rules. The only thing they spoke of was this: “That Paul remember the poor, the very thing that he was eager to do.” Paul made it clear of his commitment to the poor. And yet, somehow this concept of election and faith alone has indeed worked itself into a doctrine where the poor are not as important to the faith as they were to Jesus.

What do we do?