Saturday, April 14, 2007

Losing at the religion game

You know, when you are with a group of people - all set to play a danger game - it is not easy to opt out. It is difficult to cope with how you will feel unless, before you opt out of the game, you are really prepared – prepared with what you will say – with a reason you will give for not playing along. And it will be difficult for you unless you are prepared for the ridicule you may get from that group. It is not easy, particularly for young people, when something like that happens.

I wonder how prepared we are for the word that we proclaim to be denounced as folly by those who are perishing. How prepared are we for the rejection of our religious position by those who are prepared to dismiss us as foolish or worse for holding to the historic Christian Gospel and faith?

St. Paul certainly seemed to have prepared himself mentally and in every way for the inevitable negative reception that his religious views would receive by some, if not many of the very people whom he was trying to reach with the saving message about Jesus Christ.

But you might say, I don’t need to concern myself about that for either or both of two reasons: You may say, “people won’t be showing disrespect for my religious beliefs because people just don’t do that nowadays” or you may say, “I won’t get any flack for my religious beliefs because, as a matter of principle, I never discuss them (outside of the church)”.

Well, the first of those statements is na├»ve and the second is unacceptable – so there – your opinions have been denounced and by your own pastor to boot!

But seriously, as your pastor, I cannot overlook unrealistic or unacceptable opinions on the subject of speaking about Christ, any more than the apostles themselves could. Would I be a loving pastor if I stood idly by while people played “Russian roulette” with human souls?

But you say, “Things are different today”. In our permissive age, the rules of the game have changed. Now people won’t condemn your opinions on religion or anything else. People today will all politely nod in approval and positively affirm whatever position you have as being valid for you”.

Perhaps that is the fashion today, but it only holds true to a point. As soon as you state an opinion that you hold to be true, not just yourself, but for everyone, then you have violated the rules of the game and will soon find that the polite affirmations you expected are replaced by condemnation.

Yes, what has happened is that religion has been reduced from a serious life and death matter to a kind of listening game. I listen to you, you listen to me, but nobody really hears anything.

And, according to the rules of this listening game, you are not allowed to believe in error as well as truth. You are allowed to only speak of what is true for you – how you personally feel etc. nothing beyond that.

As soon as you state that you also believe in error or that some people are wrong, then you are out of the game and the very people who were, at first, willing to listen to you, now will not hesitate to cover their ears because the game is over and, since you have forfeited the game, they no longer have to play along and listen.

People were doing this in Jesus’ day. They were listening but not hearing. And they were treating religion like a game in which they called the shots and they made the rules. To them Jesus said, 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
16 "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 "'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'

Don’t be surprised when those who claimed to be so tolerant, suddenly show the limits of their toleration. Paradoxically, they will demonstrate that can tolerate everything but intolerance condemning you as intolerant for believing in the existence of error as well as truth.

Yes, the rules have changed. The new rule is this: People will affirm your religious opinions – as long as you abide by the further rule that you won’t assert that your beliefs actually apply to anyone but yourself. You may speak for yourself, but that’s it. Don’t claim to have access to absolute or universal truth. If you do claim to have the objective truth, then what was politely received from you initially will be denounced as foolish, if not psychopathological.

This is the new “wisdom of the wise” in today’s age of disposable world-views and “drive-by religion”. Yet, however attractive they may seem on the surface, the new rules of religious debate make it even less likely that people who listen to what you have to say about your religious faith will believe it to be true for them, as well as for you, and even less likely to share with you a saving faith in Christ.

For that reason – for the sake of the eternal destiny of human souls - the “wisdom of the wise” , that foolishly reduces religion to a mere game, must be destroyed or at least replaced by the wisdom of God. This is why the apostle Paul tells us,
19 … it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 for since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom; it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For this reason, you and I must, just as the church herself must preach and unchanging message in the midst of a changing world. Only a changeless Christ can truly serve a changing world. We must proclaim the word of God, Incarnate, the Wisdom from on high, the truth unchanged, unchanging, the light of our dark sky.

Only this lantern to our footsteps shines on from age to age.