THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Misunderstood Teachings of Jesus Part 4
By Christopher Schwinger
Misunderstood Teachings of Jesus, the Series
Reconciliation with God and Man
The Prodigal and his Brother
Blasphemy and Forgiveness
I find a good application beginning with the letter "p" in each of these 3 misunderstandings.
About reconciling with other people, we can learn to have different priorities in our relationships. Instead of putting so much emotional effort into trying to please God, the goal should be to just live our lives, letting encounters with people unfold which give us a chance to form meaningful bonds. It was the relationships which transcended every social barrier, probably more than the theology, which drew so many Gentiles to Christianity in the early church. No one genuinely wants to become a Christian just because they hear from someone how to avoid getting punished by God. There have to be meaningful, here-and-now relationships that prove the merit of Christianity to someone who is seeking. "And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love" is a song by Peter Scholtes. When we go into personal encounters anxiously wondering whether God expects us to handle them in a certain way, we're missing the end goal, which is to be salt and light because it is our nature. If you have to try hard to please God in order to fulfill an expectation He put on you in the Sermon on the Mount, you've missed the point of the Sermon on the Mount. The more we think about how to avoid God's wrath, the less energy we have for being a positive influence on the world. If you are focused on removing something negative (God's wrath), you can't have as much success as if you live out your own positive vision.
The parable of the prodigal son is meaningful to me because it gives me a helpful perspective. God values genuineness in a relationship so much that He's willing to put up with prolonged, sometimes even permanent, separation from us until we come to Him willingly. I've learned with much pain that I am always going to be in a very small minority when it comes to how much I want to be like God. It used to really bother me when other people would not reciprocate my kindness. Now I realize it's just always going to be this way because most people are fundamentally lazy and don't want to become more righteous. The prodigal chose to have a harder life without the support of his father, and many people are willing to pour tons of energy into things which exhaust them in their desperate search for meaning, such as Mormons who are coerced into proselytizing others and Muslims who believe God dislikes them if they don't pray five times a day. Living a life of emotional freedom by accepting God's grace enables you to love others without having to try hard to love them, and instead love them because it's your nature in Christ. It can still be exhausting, but it's more like the hard work the prodigal son would've done under the supervision of his father, and it's rewarding because there are meaningful relationships.
The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit doctrine is applicable for our philosophy of Scripture interpretation. The same kind of fear about whether we've misunderstanding God's will runs throughout Christendom — notably regarding the role of baptism, among a lot of other issues. I think it's a mistake when people see the New Testament as the final word on everything, because the people who wrote it were undergoing changes in their own viewpoints over time, too. The Jerusalem Christians made a prohibition in their first church council in Acts 15 against eating meat that had been consecrated to idols, and they still held to that belief in Acts 21, while Paul had by then written 1 Corinthians and Romans, in which he said it's not a problem because the idols are not real gods, and told believers to determine its rightness and wrongness by whether other people would get the wrong impression about your beliefs. I've also learned not to view the first century apostles as superheroes, but to instead work through their ideas and try to contribute my own perspective about them. The books of the New Testament have so many good ideas, but if we just listen to them uncritically, we're going to start worrying needlessly — for example, that Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians about hair and head coverings have some bearing on how much God will bless us. Seventh-Day Adventism teaches a grace-based Christianity in most ways except in thinking God requires us to keep parts of the Mosaic Law. The Spirit of God blesses Seventh-Day Adventists, but they are probably limiting their own potential to reach mainstream people because they take this strict literal interpretation of the Bible too far. They could point to the Acts 15 church edict and say it's impossible the early church leaders were mistaken on something, which is why I say it's better to use reason and minimize our reliance on the strict, specific wording of a Bible passage. The Charismatic movement of Christianity which emphasizes efforts to bring greater doses of the Holy Spirit's power can't be argued against just from verses; you have to show how its philosophy is self-centered and undermines the importance of the Son's teaching.
Therefore, the greatest thing anyone can gain from the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit doctrine is to think critically, not just take verses literally and try to figure out how every book of the Bible sees things the same way. There's nothing wrong with finding some differences in them and making value judgments. It's okay to acknowledge 1 John as a more mature outlook about God's love than the fear-based motivators in the Book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews may not have understood God's love as fully, but that's okay; he added great contributions of his own. It's okay to consider some of Paul's points better than others. There's nothing sacrilegious about appreciating the convergence of human imperfection and divine ideas which are throughout the Bible. It actually exalts our own dignity because we see that God can interact with our own imperfect minds also. There is danger in taking things too literally in the Bible, like the Appalachian preachers who do snake-handling ceremonies because of Mark 16:18, but there's healthy freedom in using our minds to understand the points made in the New Testament and come to our own conclusions, and sometimes come to new discoveries the apostles didn't make.
Image Credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna; "Appearance of Christ on Mt. Galilee"; 1308-1311; Public Domain
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Controversial-Issues | False-Teaching | Jesus-Christ
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