FAITHFUL TO JESUS

Old Rugged CrossThe indiscriminate power of the authoritarian state is clearly evident on Good Friday. Jesus stands before Pilate on the false charge of sedition.

Because a government or ruling power says it is, sedition is a crime. In other words, it is powerful or the state’s way of assuring its power remains unchallenged.

John Adams

John Adams – 2nd U.S. President

John Adams attempted to quell unrest in the early United States by accusing protester as being seditious and jailed them. Adams’ attempt to silence his opposition failed and Constitution prevailed.[1]

The Constitution makes no provision for religion, other than to prohibit its establishment as part of our governmental structure. No king is anointed by the pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ultimate goal of the enlightenment era writers of the Constitution was to provide for a secular country ruled by law with the people as sovereign.

In this country we have the right to redress grievances with the state; that is with our governments at all levels. But, this is a limited right. Try to raise a protest in the streets without a government permit. If the protest, even permitted ones, gets too much for the state, it will invoke sedition laws. We find then the First Amendment rights are limited and subject to state approval and dissenters can be falsely charged with sedition in order to silence speech.

Lately, events the United States lead me to think about the way this nation deals with Christ. Would he be thought of as seditious or left-wing hot head, just making trouble for the “good folk” of our country?” Mostly likely, if not altogether ignored, his words likely would be misunderstood and incorrectly applied. Think about Jesus in the public arena today. Jesus’ name has become a swear word and a form of derision. There is no doubt in my mind that the good Christians of this country would crucify him without hesitation. Christ actually is crucified by the degradation of our social structure and also by the prevailing religious adherences practiced in this country, which may be worse.

Nonetheless, a significant number of people, both in government and in the society generally, want the country to be a Christian nation; if not a Christian country at least a religious country.

One scholar recently described America as religiously bi-polar,

America is a religious country, Hebrew and philosemitic (sic.), progressive and providential, enlightened and pious, religious in its secularity, secular in its religiosity, this-worldly in its apocalyptic, Protestant in its Catholicism and offering immortality not so much by faith as by natural right.[2]

The majority in this country will tolerate other religions that do not meet their standards of “Bible-believing,” or “born-again” standards, but the demand is to be a “Christian” nation based on the “Bible” with Jesus as a benevolent dictator.

The issue is this: in America people have turned Jesus into what they want him to be, not who he was. They want his words to be the words they want, not what he is recorded as saying. Further, God, in this country, is a fictional creation. Americans say, “In God we trust,” but what god do we trust. Do Americans truly trust the God of Jesus, who is the creator of the universe?

Pleiades_large

The Pleiades

Do Americans trust in the God of the Prophet Amos Israel? Amos taught,

Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name.[3]

An Evangelical scholar has recently noted that in this postmodern era of skepticism, irony and distrust

Christianity has often been divested of its original charisma and has come to serve and reinforce the conventions of human society—to reinforce the status quo.”[4]

He goes further and says,

The presentation of Jesus in the New Testament, however, indicates that he regularly went against this pattern. Christianity is based on the teachings of a Messiah that was willing to die rather than be compromised, willing to say things that disturb as often as they provided comfort. Jesus is the great deconstructor of normal human social life. So the postmodern[5] turn is the radical call of Christianity that resonates with the prophetic language in the Hebrew Scriptures and is central to the demands of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.”[6]

This post-modern turn goes against the prevailing religion practiced by most Christians in the middle of America. In fact, most would not recognize the term “post-modern.” All they want is that “old time religion,” and most mid-continent Americans want America to be a Christian country, just like ancient Israel was a Jewish country.

In that time place in ancient Judea, there was no provision for the freedom of speech and the disestablishment of religion. Therefore, it was easy to silence Jesus. In a Christian America, Jesus would be silenced as he was two-thousand years ago. Only those followers dedicated to his words of good news will complain and if they complain, they too will experience the Jesus’ fate.

Looking over the Scripture selections for Good Friday, the selection from the Letter to the Hebrews is helpful in understanding more clearly what the good news of Good Friday. The good news is a new covenant, a new way of knowing and loving God. This new covenant puts God’s laws in the hearts of his people. God puts the laws on their minds. Because it is in them, the faithful don’t have to be taught the new covenant. Because of the death of Jesus on the Cross, “God will not remember their sins.”[7] An established religion does not put God in our hearts, it only makes God a civic virtue.

Therefore, despite the remaking of Christ by nationalism, governments, or our own prejudices, Jesus’ teaching remains paramount in our understanding of the Christian mission in the world. Allowing the powerful define what it means to be faithful reflects the fecklessness of the first century Jerusalem Pharisees, Sadducees, and the priestly temple cults.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews called on his audience to approach God, seeking to be in God’s presence through Christ Jesus, and then hold fast to faith—don’t let the state or politicians define faith. If anything else, the one accomplishment of Christ’s death on the cross ought to be our steadfast adherence to the hope of the Gospel even in face of opposition and suffering.

In light of that hope, the faithful must consider how to provoke the Church. Individually, we can provoke each other to live the Gospels’ words, but such provocation is stronger when acting together to be Christ’s Body continuing his ministry in the world.[8]

So, in all of Good Friday we see the power of the state, the complicity of collaborators, torture, and ultimately death. Despite all of those evils, it is a day that allows those who would follow Jesus to live faithfully together.[9]


[1] The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed by the Federalist-dominated 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous (Alien Friends Act of 1798) or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798), and criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government (Sedition Act of 1798). Source, Wikipedia (not edited).

[2] Martin, David, On Secularization, Routledge, 2005, as quoted by James Wellman, Patheos.Com, April 3, 2017.

[3] Amos 5:8.

[4] Wellman, James, Ph.D., originally published in The Immanent Frame, April 3, 2017.  http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2017/04/03/weak-theology-and-the-anti-gospel-of-american-exceptionalism/.

[5] Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief. Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the mid to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism which marked a departure from modernism. While encompassing a broad range of ideas, postmodernism is typically defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony or distrust toward grand narratives, ideologies and various tenets of Enlightenment rationality, including notions of human nature, social progress, objective reality and morality, absolute truth, and reason. Instead, it asserts that claims to knowledge and truth are products of unique social, historical or political discourses and interpretations, and are therefore contextual and constructed to varying degrees. Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence, and self-referentiality. Source: Wikipedia, subject to revision.

[6] Op. Sec., Wellman.

[7] Hebrews 10:17.

[8] Peterson, Dwight, Hebrews 10:16-25 Commentary, Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org.

[9] Ibid.

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