Posts Tagged ‘End of religion’

I would like to introduce a new subject to my blog–the birth of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I was introduced to a provocative theory regarding the accurate birth date for Jesus Christ—and you guessed it—it is not December 25th. This theory fascinated me because it was based on real biblical, historical, and scientific evidence, and not on tradition. Because of this, I have been investigating the historical events leading up to and surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ for over 30 years.

It may come as a surprise that it has been widely known for several centuries, that not only was Jesus of Nazareth not born on December 25th, but in fact could not have been born on December 25th. In over 30 years of researching the birth of Christ, I have yet to discover a single serious biblical or historical scholar who defends a December 25 birth date for Jesus of Nazareth with enough significant reliable evidence to even put a dent in the mountain of evidence that suggests an alternative date.

Given the fact that it is widely known that Jesus could not have been born on December 25th and that no serious biblical scholar has suggested such for several centuries, it is frankly rather astonishing how often people are surprised when informed that Jesus of Nazareth was not born on Christmas Day.

This fact is accompanied by the tragic and ironic fact that the sources for most of what we think we know about the birth of Christ tend to be Christmas cards, Christmas carols, Christmas pageants, and nativity scenes—most of which are built on the false assumption that Jesus was born on December 25th. When it comes to an accurate knowledge of Christ’s birth, and even to a significant degree, who Jesus was and what he was like when he walked the Earth—the “Christmas” sources have done more harm than good.

This is doubly ironic when we consider the fact, that I will share in detail in a later segment, that we have known for several hundred years that Jesus was not born on December 25th—which means that most, if not all, of the “Christmas” related sources that presume a December 25th birth date were developed within a time frame when this fact was already well-known.

The holiday we now celebrate (“Christmas”) is an invention that occurred primarily in America starting in the late 18th century and developing into its current form through the 19th and early 20th centuries. Any association with the birth of Christ is based, although frequently unknowingly, on incorrect facts.

More to come…

On the road from religion to relationship there was one specific discovery that caught me particularly unaware. And when I make this statement, I have chosen the word unaware quite deliberately. I considered using the words off guard, or surprised, or unexpected, but I think the word unaware works best. This is because I wasn’t surprised or caught off guard by the content of this realization, but by the depth and tragedy of its effect. I was aware of the fact of the matter, but I was unaware of just how deeply we are affected by it. I was unaware of just how deeply affected the human race was, and is, by the Fall.

Without going into unnecessary detail concerning the machinations of the Fall, the realization I arrived at is that humanity was rendered dysfunctional by the Fall, and by this I mean deeply, deeply dysfunctional, not the run-of-the-mill dysfunction I was taught in Sunday School.

Furthermore, and what I mean by “run-of-the-mill” dysfunction, is that I believe much of mainstream Christianity is either unaware of this fact, and/or utterly unwilling to admit it. (After all it is very uncomfortable to admit that we aren’t guilty of minor deviations from normal behavior, but are in fact wholly wrong-headed). As a matter of fact, I believe this is one of the root causes behind religion, and therefore the necessity of the journey from religion to relationship. Much, if not most, of mainstream Christianity is Christianity practiced as religion (not what it’s supposed to be), and not as the relationship with God it is intended to be, because we do not really address our deeply dysfunctional nature. Once “saved,” we proclaim that we are new creations in Christ (which is true), but then we blithely continue on our way, living entrenched within our religious paradigms, swapping out New Testament terminology in place of secular psycho-babble, and declaring we are “living the abundant life,” when not much has really changed.

I also came to realize that one of the areas where this hits the hardest is that fallen/dysfunctional humanity is incapable of formulating a correct mindset concerning the true nature and character of God. And furthermore, we unknowingly carry our erroneous viewpoints about God into our new faith when we get saved. This is particularly tragic because there are hundreds of verses in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, that can be used to proof text and therefore “validate” our dysfunctional point of view, thereby camouflaging wrong ideas about God in biblical language.

One way that we incorrectly view God is that because he is transcendent (which he is by the way—don’t get me wrong), we “translate” that into distant, detached, and even unsympathetic. He is “out there” somewhere, watching, and ticking off merits and demerits on his divine scorecard. This comes from viewing God as a divine judge overseeing a judicial paradigm, dispensing divine justice. This is an Old Covenant/religious view of God, not a relational one. The relational viewpoint is of God as father. And while we all are more than aware of this label (father), do we really look at God as a father, our father? Or do we look at him as divine judge, but we just call him father? Likewise, we tend to overemphasize God’s omnipresence and are only casually aware of his indwelling presence. While both are true, the New Covenant/relational paradigm is father, and indwelling. Think about it—God can be omnipresent and a divine judge without the slightest hint of real relationship.

This is the crux, pun intended, of the revolutionary paradigm shift that happened at the incarnation.

Now, do you see what I did there? I used the word crux to get you to think that the focal point of the paradigm shift between the Old and New Covenants is the cross. And while the temporal cross in Judea is the source of the blood of the New Covenant, it is the blood shed on the eternal cross before the foundation of the world that provides the blood of the Everlasting Covenant. Additionally, we (again) tend to see the blood of the temporal cross as satisfying a judicial paradigm—that Jesus was the sacrifice required by God to forgive the sins of the world (a paradigm that is demonstrably incorrect, but that is a different topic for different day). But, it is the blood of the Everlasting Covenant that is relational in nature because the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world set forth God’s deliberate intention to exit eternity, enter time and space, and dwell with his creation. In a word, the incarnation is the focal point of divine-human relationship.

Unfortunately the relational nature of the incarnation has been eclipsed by our judicial/religious mindset, reducing Jesus to little more than a distant on-looker as opposed to God with us. In our judicial paradigm the cross has replaced Jesus himself as the point of eternal significance.

Jesus is the place where the divine and human are united. Jesus is the place where God and humanity come together, connect, and relate (there’s that word again). The eternal purpose and ultimate intention of the Godhead is that the eternal son would become human so that he could mediate the divine life to us, with us, in us.

Another tragedy of the judicial paradigm is that justification has been over-emphasized almost to the exclusion of adoption—again, a systematic paradigm instead of a relational one. Our notion of “the Gospel” is all about humanity’s need for forgiveness. This is of course critically important because we all need forgiveness, but it falls short of the point—forgiveness paves the way for adoption. Forgiveness as a legal paradigm fulfills Jesus’ obligation and then conveniently sends him on his way—ascended to the right hand of the father, and no longer needed. Adoption however, is relational and speaks to our true identity as sons and daughters of God—continually connected to divine life.

Finally, and probably most alarming to many of us (if we are caught unaware) is our perception of God’s holiness. If we were to ask 100 Christians to name one characteristic about God’s nature, it is indubitable that the vast majority, if not all, would say, “God is ‘holy’.” But again, this reveals an alarming discrepancy in our understanding about God. This is yet another example of viewing God through a judicial paradigm common to religious thought. In our minds, holy means moral perfection (read: legal perfection). Because we have not been taught a relational paradigm about God to begin with, and we default to our fallen (old man) religious nature and espouse a religious/judicial mindset, we are completely unaware (there’s that word again), that the single most fundamental truth about God is not that he is holy, it is that he is relational. The true definition of holiness is the expression of beauty, joy, passion, and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their relationship, harmony, and intimacy together.

God’s eternal purpose and ultimate intention, as expressed in the Everlasting Covenant, cut by the members of the Godhead before creation, is that God desires to share himself with his creation. Nothing fulfills the purpose of God more than to receive a revelation of his love and then have that love transform us, and lead us through the rest of our lives as a visible expression and ezer kenegdo of the invisible God in the earth.

Have you ever heard a minister say…?

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

If you have, did the minister who said this ever take the time to explain what this statement means in a substantive way? Did he or she “unpack” this statement so that it can be easily understood and then readily disseminated to others? Or, frankly, did the minister making this statement presume that the meaning is self-evident, and that the statement accurately represents the status quo—(that most Christians are presently experiencing relationship with Christ as opposed to religion)?

In my experience, the phrase “Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship,” has pretty much always been used as kind of punch line and was never followed with the kind of substantive explanation I would have expected, or at least hoped for—for example, “If Christianity truly is a relationship, and not a religion, maybe we should camp out here for a while and really explore what this means and what it looks like.” Instead, when asked to explain in more depth, the responses I received, while essentially accurate, tended to be superficial, such as, “Religion is the form—but not the power,” or “Religion is a set of rules—but relationship is intimacy with God.” Again, in my experience, no minister I have heard make this statement ever really made a significant attempt to explain it in a meaningful way, but instead appeared to be operating under the assumption previously mentioned—that the meaning of the statement is self-evident, and that current state of affairs reflects this obvious if under elucidated paradigm. In addition, every time I tried to press for a deeper explanation, I was met with even more “non-answers.” And when I pressed a little harder still, it was made quite clear to me that my questions were making people uncomfortable and were therefore becoming unwelcome.

Now I am not the kind of person who is deterred by a lack of answers—in fact I am essentially the opposite. If I don’t get an answer to a question, I don’t get discouraged, I get determined. So despite the lack of answers and cooperation, I set off to find the answers “myself”—so to speak.

Because this statement…

“Christianity is not a religion—it’s a relationship.”

… deserves to be explained.

This series of essays, in large part, is the record of my journey from religion to relationship.

So, if Christianity truly isn’t a religion, and truly is a relationship, what does this mean exactly?

The statement seems to imply that “relationship” is better than “religion”—so if this is true, why is it true? What are the distinctions between the two (Christianity as religion versus Christianity as relationship) and why does it matter?

And finally, and maybe most importantly—even at face value, this statement appears to imply that living in a relationship with Jesus Christ is not only possible but preferable to this thing called religion—and that the word religion, as used in this context, is pejorative (expressing contempt or disapproval). So if this is true—how do we “do” this? How do we live in relationship with Jesus Christ—and not in religion?

You see—life in Christ is not just about new or different ways to “do church,” or learning new “abundant life principles,” or learning to “exercise our spiritual authority.” Frankly, Christianity is not about us inviting Jesus into our lives as much as it is about the fact that Jesus has invited us into his life—the life he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. Jesus has invited us to share his relationship with the Father—in fact to live in his relationship with the Father.

This relationship (there’s that word), the eternal relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the origin and exemplar of all relationships. This is what sets Christianity apart from all “religions” and from Christianity practiced as a religion—God, the Godhead—is relational by definition, and the expression of this relationship—God’s original thought, eternal purpose, and ultimate intention—is the reason for creation itself.

Finally, nothing fulfills the eternal purpose, ultimate intention, and original thought of God more than to receive a revelation of His love, then to have His love overwhelm you, then transform you, and then lead you through the rest of your life as a visible expression and perfect counterpart (ezer kenegdo) of the invisible God in the earth.

Once upon a time, a well-intentioned ministerial friend, speaking within the context of Christian leaders who make mistakes and emotionally or psychologically hurt their congregants said: “You don’t have a right to be hurt–you have a right to be healed.” Such is the psycho-babble of religion. At the time I did not know how to respond, but I do now… horse-hockey (I’ll be moderately polite). What a load of cheese-whiz. This is nothing but arrogance camouflaged as wisdom. Of course everybody wants to be healed, which causes us to conveniently ignore the outrageous insult handed down in the first clause. Does someone with a broken leg not have the “right” to be injured? Does someone with cancer not have the “right” to be in pain? Would we ever say something so ridiculous to someone with a physical malady? The implication is, “You’re not ‘really’ in pain.” But emotional injuries are no less real–especially ones at the hands of those in positions of influence or authority in our lives–parents, employers, teachers, ministers, etc–that often take years to recover from. To unilaterally dismiss someone’s genuine emotional injury and the accompanying pain re-opens the wound, rubs salt in it, and then blames the one injured for not being compassionate enough to “forgive” their attacker of any responsibility or consequence for their actions–the implication is cover for the abuser because of the position. When Jesus encountered sin due to genuine human frailty he always demonstrated enormous compassion. But there was a certain group that garnered little to no compassion from Jesus, but stern warnings. Woe unto you religious leaders for you shall receive the greater condemnation. This does not mean that so-called Christian leaders are unforgiveable–God forbid. But statements such as the one quoted above are asking us to excuse the inexcusable–and there’s a huge difference.

Full Title: The Least, The Lost, The Last, The Losers, and the Little Ones: Revisiting the Parables of Jesus In Light of Religion Versus Relationship

The Lost: The Parable of the So-Called Prodigal Son (Or as I prefer to call it: My So-Called Life) Luke 15:11–32

Read: The Parable of the (So-Called) Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11–32

It has long been recognized that the commonly used title for this parable (The Prodigal Son) is less than the best. It does not accurately summarize the story as a whole or even the primary point(s) we are to take away. Even worse, it prejudices our opinion with regard to interpretation before we even read the story. This is a parable about a father and two sons—understanding all three of which is critical to understanding the parable as a whole.

(11) And he said, A certain man had two sons: (12) And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. [Luke 15:11–12 KJV]

As is often the case with such stories, there are details that are part of the initial premise that should arrest our attention. The first and most obvious of these details, the fact that the younger son requests his inheritance prematurely, should move us to ask: “When does one usually receive their inheritance?” The equally obvious answer is only after our parents have died.

From reading the parable even once through we are already aware of the fact that the younger son is likely foolish and arrogant, but this pretty much seals the deal. By asking for his inheritance prematurely, the younger son is indicating the depth of his contempt for his father—essentially declaring either “Would you just up and die already?” or, “You’re dead to me already.” Either way, he is rather clearly crossing a significant threshold with regard to his relationship (or more accurately his lack of relationship) with his father. This combined with what we will read in verse 13, most likely indicates crossing a point of no return.

What should really slap us in the face however is the fact that his father grants his request! For most of us, regardless of whether we are on the parent or progeny side of the equation, we generally understand the typical scenario to look something like this: Which ever parent dies first, the estate goes fully to the surviving spouse first. Then once the surviving spouse dies, the children will get their share. Although there certainly may be some variations on this theme, it is reasonably certain that this is how it goes down most of the time. And even if we take cultural considerations into account, primarily the right of primogeniture—the practice of the eldest son receiving a double portion in order to care for his mother if his father dies first—the younger son’s request is severely out of order. One does not inherit until your parents, or at least your father, is dead.

But not this father, and not this time. This father grants his younger son’s request and presumably sells off enough of his estate to pay him off in cash. The rest of the estate, from the context presumably a farm or other agricultural interest, goes to the older brother—a point that becomes critical later on.

I prefer the King James Version of the Bible for this text because of the translation of one particular Greek word. In the second half of verse 12, we read: “And he divided unto them his living.” The word his is in italics here due to the practice of the King James translators to call our attention to any words not found in the critical Greek text. But the word I want to focus on is the word living. Most other translations use words like wealth, assets, substance, or possessions—the WEB uses the word livelihood—but the word living is actually the most accurate, because in Greek it is ton bion—one of the Greek words for life. In addition, although no English version I am aware of tips us off, the Greek word for goods (v. 12—“give me the portion of goods that falleth to me”), is the word ten oisian, which can be translated either substance or being. The net result of these Greeks words yields the understanding that by giving them their inheritance early, the father is in effect “dying.” In other words the father is willingly laying down his life (being) for his sons. So in a manner of speaking, when his younger son said, “Hey Dad, drop dead”—he did. As previously indicated, and as is usually the case, this sets the stage for all that follows.

And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. [Luke 15:13 KJV]

As hinted at earlier, when we combine the fact that the younger son considered his father to be “dead already” with the now revealed fact that he wasted no time getting out of Dodge, and to a far country no less, it is fair to assume that he had some pretty significant “Daddy issues” and didn’t plan on returning. And now that his father is “dead” so to speak, there seems to be little doubt that we will never see him again.

But even before verse 13 ends we get a hint that this may not be so. We soon learn that the “get-rich-quick” younger son just as quickly squanders his existence on what the King James Version calls “riotous” living. We are not told specifically what his particular vices are, but again it is fair to assume that it is a least “wine, women, and song,” if not worse.

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. [Luke 15:14 KJV]

I am particularly fond of this verse. Not because I wish any greater harm to fall on this insolent little twerp, but because this scenario, although fictitious, rings so true. I have little doubt that the younger son didn’t plan on running out of money. As a matter of fact, he may have held a small portion in reserve for when the major partying would eventually come to an end. But now the unexpected happens, a famine “just happens” to come along—and no ordinary famine—a mighty famine. If the younger son wasn’t “dead” (hint, hint) broke already—he is now.

And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. (16) And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. [Luke 15:15–16 KJV]

Although we are never told with any certainty the ethnicity of the family in this story, we are certain of who Jesus’ audience is—and it is fair to assume that Jesus utilized this portion of the story to deliberately provoke Jewish religious sensibilities. The younger son was clearly young and foolish, and most likely cocky or even flat out arrogant—but we can all relate to unforeseen tragedy, and famine in the ancient Middle East was a matter of life and death. Was the impudent whelp, young? Who hasn’t been young at least once in their life? Was he foolish? He certainly isn’t alone on that count. But a mighty famine isn’t his fault—is it? Did the young man deserve to perish simply for being young and foolish? And this can’t be an example of reaping what he has sown because it is affecting everyone. So for a Jew, or at least a Jewish audience, this is about as low as you can go. Working for a pig farmer is bad enough, but he is now hungry enough that pig food sounds appealing, and still no one would help him.

(17) And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! (18) I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, (19) And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. [Luke 15:17–19 KJV]

Shazam! Thank God he finally “comes to himself.” The younger son wakes up one morning and realizes that his life as he once knew it is now over—in other words, he wakes up dead. As a matter of fact, I have waited until now to take note of the fact that the substance he wastes in verse 13, is the same Greek word as verse 12 (ten oisian) meaning his being—his life. (He has wasted life.)

Furthermore, he realizes his folly and begins composing his confession to his father. And while I have little doubt that he is genuinely remorseful and this is truly a critical turning point in the story, we must remember to keep it within the context of the whole story. Take note of the content of his “confession” as it stands at this point.

• I have sinned against heaven, and before thee
• I am no more worthy to be called thy son
• Make me as one of thy hired servants

“Make me as one of your hired servants.” This isn’t confession—it’s negotiation. So apparently he’s not quite dead yet—but he’s close—he’ll be stone dead in a minute. But for now, with his last gasping breath, he is trying to make a trade—one life (albeit a wasted one) for another—because it may be as a servant, but it’s better than my wasted life—all without actually having to “die.”

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. [Luke 15:20 KJV]

This is clearly one of the most important take-away points of the entire story—you simply do not see someone “yet a great way off” if you’re not looking for them. Despite the enormous price he paid, despite the fact that his son rather clearly considered him dead, despite the fact that for all he knew his son was dead, or never returning—the father has never stopped hoping his son would come home. And when he does (come home), the father does not “make sure he learned his lesson” first, doesn’t make him wallow in remorse, or even let him blurt out his confession first—he runs to meet him and smothers him with affection.

I have heard it said that culturally, elder men such as this father simply did not run in public—to hike up one’s robes and sprint through the pasture was undignified—even shameful. If this is so, it makes this parable all the more poignant, because it demonstrates that the father was willing to pay any price for his son—even taking the shame upon himself. Whatever shame and mockery the son felt in returning with his tail between his legs was trumped by the father dashing through the dust and dung to meet him.

And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. [Luke 15:21 KJV]

Take note of the distinction between his actual confession and his planned confession. The “make me as one of your hired servants” clause is conspicuously absent—no more negotiating, no more trading—finally—stone dead.

(22) But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: (23) And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: (24) For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. [Luke 15:22–24 KJV]

Did I say “Shazam” already? I guess I should have saved it for now—Shazam! Although there are many take away points from this parable, this is clearly the crux (pun intended) of the matter—death and resurrection. The dead are made alive, the lost are found. And right in the middle of it all—a veal roast.

The fatted-calf is a rather unusual “sacrifice”—because we usually don’t look at this as a sacrifice—just a good meal. But think about it. The fatted-calf has but one purpose in “life”—death. It stands around in a stall all day, getting well-marbled and waiting to drop dead at a moment’s notice so people can have a cookout. In my opinion this makes the fatted-calf the most conspicuous Christ figure in the whole story.

(25) Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. (26) And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. (27) And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. (28a) And he was angry, and would not go in. [Luke 15:25–28a KJV]

Angry? Why is he angry? Your long lost brother is home, your bereaved father who has never given up hope is beside himself with joy, there’s beef on the barbeque, and you’re angry? That’s carrying one huge grudge for an awful long time. Forgive me for being blunt, but here goes. This is where I believe the traditional title “The Prodigal Son” prejudices our interpretation from the start and we totally miss the point we are supposed to take away about the elder son—that the elder son had no better relationship with his father than the younger son.

(28b) Therefore came his father out, and intreated him. (29) And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. (30) But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. [Luke 15:28b–30 KJV]

Because the elder son wouldn’t go in the father comes out and entreats him. I imagine he said something to the affect of, “I know you’re upset with your brother—but please do this for me”—but the elder brother would have none of it. Furthermore, he feels compelled to explain to his father why he won’t go in, and in doing so describes his “life” and how he feels about it—and in so doing also describes his “relationship” with his father (again, or lack thereof). “Lo, these many years do I serve thee…” The Greek word for serve here is the word douleo, which is better translated slave—“Lo, these many years have I slaved for you.” Some relationship—huh? And furthermore, he goes on to whine, “I did everything right, and he did everything wrong, and yet you love him more!” Plus, “You gave him the most costly sacrifice of all and never even gave me a stupid goat!” In other words, “You never gave me anything!” And this is where he is dead wrong—not dead (and that’s the problem)—but definitely dead wrong.

Also take note of the fact that the elder son accuses the younger son of wasting his father’s living (“devoured thy living” v.30). But the father has been “dead” since the beginning of the parable. Therefore, the younger son could not have wasted his father’s living—he wasted his own living. But possibly even more important is the fact that the elder son implies “But I didn’t waste your living like my brother did.” But this is equally fallacious. The elder brother didn’t “not waste” his father’s living—he didn’t “not waste” what already belonged to him (since his father has been dead the whole time)—his own life. But there are two points we should take away from this. The first is that the elder brother can’t accuse the younger brother of wasting his father’s money and pat himself on the pack for not wasting his father’s money in the same breath—since in both cases, it wasn’t his father’s money. The second is, when we once again realize that they are talking about wasting their “lives,” the elder brother is under the mistaken impression that while the younger brother clearly wasted his “life,” that he (the elder brother) didn’t waste his! But the quality of his so-called life, “Lo, these many years have I slaved for you,” speaks for itself and betrays him.

(31) And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. (32) It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. [Luke 15:31–32 KJV]

Remember how I said at the outset that the father’s actions set the tone for the whole story? The father preemptively laid down his life for both his sons. From the moment he “died” the elder son (since his younger brother soon beats feet out of town) owned everything. In other words, the “father’s life” has always been available to him this entire time, but instead of living by the father’s life, he lived as a slave, overburdened by rule keeping and obligation.

Parties (celebration, weddings, festivals, etc) in Scripture are indicative of relationship. And there is no greater cause for celebration than resurrection. If the elder son cannot recognize this, it is genuinely too bad—especially because he doesn’t seem to realize that his life isn’t really much of a life, and that he too should probably just admit that he is already dead and thereby get a new one.

Isn’t it funny, when we encounter a season of significant adversity, and everything seems to be going south that we sometimes say, “I want my life back”! Although I can relate to the frustration because I have done this myself, the reality is that the Father would rather that we just admit that we’re dead already so he can give us a new one.

In conclusion, the younger son rejected a relationship with his father by rebelling—the elder son rejected a relationship with his father by “living” (if you can call it that) a life of rule keeping and obligation—in a word—religion. And what’s worse, the elder son absolutely refuses to give up his crappy so-called life for a new one!

The tragic irony is that when the father entreats the elder son, he is asking him to join the party—in effect saying, “If you’ll just die to your twisted idea of what life is supposed to be, you can have a new one!” Or to put a different way—just admit the fact that you’re already dead!

But the ultimate tragedy is the cliffhanger ending—we never know if the elder son goes into the party—it doesn’t appear as though he does. The parable has been a plethora of death—dead father—dead younger son—dead calf—dead everything except a dead older brother.

What does the father have with his younger son at the end of the parable that he doesn’t have at the beginning? An affectionate relationship. What does the father have with his elder son that he didn’t have at the beginning? Unfortunately we’ll never know.

God does not want the indentured servitude of slaves—he wants the extravagant affection of a relationship with sons and daughters.

The kingdom of heaven in not advanced by human achievement and worldly methodologies, regardless of how cleverly disguised they are as “Christian principles.” If human effort gained anything then the Gospel of Jesus Christ is pointless (Galatians 3:21). God simply does not define success the way the world defines success. The kingdom of heaven is advanced by paradox. The last shall be first. Losers win. The least are greatest. The lost are found. And the dead… are resurrected.

A good friend of mine once shared the following illustration of forgiveness…

It’s like a debt. If someone sins against you, it’s basically like you holding an I.O.U.—they owe you for the hurt or damage done—but you don’t cash in the I.O.U. (demand payment), you hand it over to Jesus. This doesn’t mean that the person who hurt you does not owe you—they do, they created a debt—but you’re just not demanding payment.

The Old Testament standard for sin induced debt is quite clear, and equitable to a fault…

(19) …if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; (20) Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. [Leviticus 24:19–20 KJV]

Keep this in mind for second while I share a different illustration, closely related to the first, shared by a different friend.

So you’re sitting at home one afternoon, minding your own business when a knock comes at your door. You open the door to find your neighbor Joe. Before you can barely get, “Hey Joe, how are you?” out of your mouth, Joe hauls back and punches you square in the nose, and then runs off.

More mentally stunned than physically hurt, you step back inside to get a washcloth and some ice for your bloody nose, and begin to try to process what just happened. Once again, before you’ve barely had a chance to figure it out, the phone rings—its Joe.

“Hey________” (insert your name here), he says, “I’m really sorry.” “I don’t know what I was thinking, I was confused and angry,” he continues. “You didn’t deserve that, would you please forgive me?”

“Sure Joe,” you respond, “of course I forgive you.” You hang up the phone and presume that life is pretty much back to normal.

To make a long story short, the exact same thing happens the next day—knock on the door, punch in the nose, phone call, “please forgive me,” “of course,” etc.

And the next day…

And the next…

This continues daily. Each day Joe punches you, calls you, asks for forgiveness, and you “forgive” him.

But there is also absolutely sign that this pattern is going to stop any time soon.

So now we have come to the place where we must combine what we have learned from each illustration…

In the daily punch-in-the-nose story, each day you “forgive” Joe. Technically, he “owes” you a punch in the nose for each day, but you have forgiven him in that you do not “demand payment.”

So here’s the big question. Even though you have “forgiven” Joe, because there is no sign of his behavior changing, when do you stop answering the door?

I have heard some Christians suggest that to truly forgive means you must continue to allow “Joe” to “punch you in the nose.”

But now, let me alter the illustration slightly and see if the same principle applies.

What if you were a third party and were watching this happen to a friend or loved one? What if the person getting “punched” was a good friend, a spouse, or a child? Would you counsel them to “forgive” and continue “opening the door”? Are you “loving” your friend, spouse, or child by telling them they must continue to “forgive” and allow themselves to be hurt?

Do you think this is what Jesus meant when he told Peter “Until seventy times seven?”

What do you think?

In general terms all world religions have at least three, and usually five, foundational components in common. Last week I posted The Sacred Space—this week, The Holy Man.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Holy Man”?

Like the sacred space, all religions have a holy man or woman. Some religions exclude women from being religious officials, some religions exclude men from being religious officials, and some religions embrace both as religious officials. The holy person can therefore be a priest or priestess, rabbi, imam, guru, shaman, etc. Frequently there is an entire specialized group of religious officials that are delineated into a tiered hierarchy with some type of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the top. The names or labels may vary—but there is always some type of high priest or priestess who is “more holy” than the other religious officials and (especially) the common man. Like the sacred space, the primary point is that this person or persons, is somehow special and set apart from “other” persons for God’s use or God’s work. The separation between the holy man and the common man is where we get the idea of clergy and laity. The clergy are the religious experts while the laity is comprised of non-experts, or commoners.

The Holy Man in the Old Testament-

In the Old Testament, the holy people included the twelve tribes of Israel, the Levites, the Aaronic priesthood (sons of Aaron), and the High Priest.

The Priests are Still Human (Look What Can Happen)-

Last week we mentioned that a literal geo-physical sacred space can be damaged or destroyed, or the people can be prohibited access in a variety of ways, thereby potentially compromising a system of atonement that relies on a geo-physical sacred space. Likewise, holy men and women are still human and therefore susceptible to human weaknesses and failures as well as external conditions.

What if an enemy captured or killed all priests? (All the first-born male children? Exodus 1:16.) Or, what if the priests were unavailable to officiate (for a variety of reasons). Or, what if the priests, although present, were corrupt?

Follow the Money-

What if the reason that the priests and Levites were unavailable to officiate sacrifices in the Temple was because they were out working “secular” jobs to feed their families because they were not being paid as stipulated by the sacred code—the Torah?

One of the purposes of the tithes (yes, tithes, plural), under the Old Covenant was to pay the Levites and Aaronic priests for doing their jobs—officiating in the tabernacle, Temple and Levitical cities—in other words—for being religious officials, or “holy men.” If the tithes weren’t paid, the Levites weren’t paid, and if the Levites weren’t paid, how were they to feed their families and “pay their bills” so to speak?

I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given {them}, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. [Nehemiah 13:10 NAS]

One of the main purposes of tithing under the Old Covenant was the maintenance of the mediating priesthood (Levites and Aaronic priests)—without whom, the system of atonement could not function.

This scenario brings into focus two interrelated concepts that will be discussed in detail in future work. The first is the role of money in supporting the Old Covenant system, which sets the stage for understanding the role of money in the New Covenant economy. The second is the nature, and therefore consequences of, a human mediating priesthood.

The knowledge that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) has given birth to a modern proverb—if you have suspicions about the integrity of an endeavor, “follow the money.” A mediator is a person specifically positioned between two or more people in a dispute in order to bring about an agreement or reconciliation. In religion, religious officials are usually mediators who stand between God and mankind (a.k.a. the “common” people, as opposed to the religious leaders/mediators, who are “holy”) for the purpose of overseeing the rituals that symbolize reconciliation—and they usually are paid to do so. Given the weakness of human nature and the corrupting power of money however, when one class of people officially stands between the rest of the believing community and God, and is paid to do so, the inherent integrity and stability of such a system is not the first thing that comes to mind. Human mediation combined with financial gain is a recipe for corruption and abuse, not stability. We’ll examine this scenario again on the other side of the cross.

The Weakness Inherent in the System-

These kinds of disruptions to the key components of the system of atonement could and did occur in the Old Testament and were a source of great consternation to God’s people, and help inform our understanding of how these concepts come into play on this side of the cross. Frankly, what good is a religious system that could so easily be disrupted? And if it could and did become disrupted, what does that say about God? If worshipping Him is so important and we need a system in order to worship Him properly, shouldn’t that system be a little more stable and secure? Shouldn’t God be protecting the system a little better?

But, what if no matter how “perfect” the system is—the weakness inherent in the system isn’t actually the system—but people?

The Role of Hierarchy-

We should also take note at this point of the fact that the whole notion of hierarchy, historically and etymologically, originates exclusively from religious structures, and only secondarily over time from civil structures. The English noun hierarchy is a derivative of the Greek verb hierarchia, which is a compound of the Greek words hierus (Strong’s #2409), which means “priest;” and arche (Strong’s #746), meaning first, beginning, or origin. Etymologically, hierarchy literally means “government by a group of priests,” and clearly refers to a religious order of authority. The higher one was on the religious ladder, the greater the access to the inner courts of the sacred space, and thereby closer to the presence of God. Frankly, the phrase religious hierarchy is almost redundant.

Understanding these components in the Old Covenant economy, how they point to and are fulfilled in Christ, and their new creation realities under the New Covenant is crucial to understanding and actually walking in the freedom and liberty Christ has called us to.These kinds of religious authority structures have been in place in the world’s religious systems for millennia. And although our so-called modern enlightened mindset may consider this notion antiquated and quaint—the idea was that the higher one was in the hierarchy, the holier one was.

Did We Miss the Point?-

The primary purpose of the mediating priesthood under the Old Covenant was to point to the person of Jesus Christ as our only human high priest and mediator.

Being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. [Hebrews 5:10 NAS]

(The “Order of Melchizedek” means that Jesus Christ is an eternal high priest, without beginning or end. See “The Everlasting Covenant.”)

Again, There’s More…

The Old Covenant mediating priesthood was a model of Jesus Christ as the only human mediator between God and man. No longer are certain persons set apart from “others” for God’s work. In Christ there is no more clergy-laity dichotomy, but all believers are priests unto God. As we are in Christ, so are we all priests unto God under the only human mediator and High Priest, the man Christ Jesus.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. [1 Timothy 2:5 KJV]

But ye {are} a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: [1 Peter 2:9 KJV]

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 2:5 NAS]

Take note that the above verse (1 Peter 2:5) mentions three of the five components—sacrifice (a future post), sacred space, and holy man—all three now a reality within every believer.

The Pastor: Christianity’s Holy Man-

The “Pastor” (or Senior Pastor, Apostle, whatever) is the Christianized version of the Holy Man/CEO that sits atop an ad hoc religious hierarchy. But the scriptures clearly teach that as members of the body of Christ and partakers of the New Covenant, all believers are priests unto God under the only high priest, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9, Hebrews 5:10, et al). Despite seemingly orthodox and historical practices, scripturally, there is no hierarchy in the body of Christ. Every believer is a priest with no other mediator between himself and God than the man Christ Jesus. Despite the fact that the clergy-laity dichotomy was destroyed at the cross, literally millions of Christians teach and/or follow this paradigm as orthodox doctrine. Furthermore, even among certain segments of Christianity that “proclaim” the end of the clergy-laity dichotomy, the practice is intellectually and theologically rationalized and continues unabated. But according to the New Covenant every believer is a priest unto God that ministers to God in the holy place of his own heart.

I should also point out that among certain subsections of Christianity that believe in the “five-fold gift ministries” listed in Ephesians 4:11, some teach that these are in fact hierarchical offices, usually citing 1 Corinthians 12:28 as their proof text. This is an extraordinarily difficult argument to prove however since the explicit context of 1 Corinthians 12 is that all members of the body of Christ perform certain functions, and that all are equally necessary for the body to function properly, which speaks strongly against the idea of hierarchy. In addition, the word office is never even used in the New Testament (at all—let alone in relationship to the five-fold gift ministries), and the five-fold gift ministries are never defined or described in a hierarchical fashion. Finally, we never see Paul, Peter, James, John, etc, establish a hierarchy, or teach others to do so. Jesus’ admonition concerning hierarchy is abundantly clear.

(42) But Jesus called them to {Himself} and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43) Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. (44) And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:42–45 NKJ]

The so-called doctrine of “covering” is one of the most egregious and oppressive lies currently being pedaled to the body of Christ. The scriptures make no claims that a member of the church of Christ needs to be under the covering of a pastor or group of elders in order to have right standing before God. Those who make such a claim are simply repackaging the old creation mediation model and teaching false submission in order to control others for their own ends.

Follow the Money (Again)-

Under the Old Covenant the majority of the believing community owed tithes (plural) to a minority of the believing community (the Levites and Aaronic priests) for the express purpose of performing the functions of mediators. One of the preeminent accomplishments of Christ’s completed work on the cross and explicit purpose of the New Covenant is unmediated access to the presence of God. (No human mediator other than the man Christ Jesus.) Therefore, the notion that the majority of a New Covenant believing community (the so-called “laity”) should pay religious officials (the so-called “clergy”—a minority subset of the believing community) to perform the functions of a mediating priesthood is exclusively an old creation model. The sad reality however is that through a combination of ignorance and obfuscation literally millions of New Covenant believers believe they are obligated to “give” (how’s that for an oxymoron?) money to their “Christian leaders.”

Ask Yourself These Questions-

How much time, energy, and money does your local assembly devote to teaching and practicing the priesthood of every believer as opposed to emphasizing the “vision of the house/pastor”? Your “pastor” is no more a priest than you (nor are you more a priest than him). He does not have a greater anointing than you, and he is definitely not your covering (mediator).

Do you and/or your local assembly, both individually and corporately have a heart-felt, intellectually established, life-changing, practically applicable revelation of…?

  • All believers are priests. There is no hierarchy in the body of Christ. We all have unmediated access to the presence of God.

There is an enormous difference between those men and women who function as pastors (apostles, prophets, teacher, evangelists, etc.) and those who believe, (either as a so-called “leader” or follower), in hierarchical offices in the body of Christ and that we are validated by our “proper understanding” of how these offices work together. Such doctrines and practices are nothing more than conforming to a hierarchy and a form of false submission that is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.

When Christianity is practiced properly—taking life as it comes and interpreting (or reinterpreting) each moment or each event in the reality of an indwelling relationship with the Lord of Life—each and every individual believer, is a holy man or woman with unmediated access to the presence of God.