Bible Studies
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Friday, 20 May 2005

By Jim Jordal

"The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there."

H. Richard Niebuhr, as quoted by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Martin Luther did not discover anything new. What he did was to take radically something that was always there, but had previously been ignored by religious authorities. His courageous act in departing from religious orthodoxy upset the power structure and initiated a religious revolution that swept Europe and changed the face of world religions.

The American movement for the abolition of slavery also had similar roots. Through radical interpretation of certain scriptures speaking to human liberation and freedom, the Abolition movement ignited a spark that ended slavery in the United States. The Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements did the same, creating massive social change in this country and even around the world.

So what could happen today if Christians took seriously what the Bible clearly states concerning human poverty, exploitation, oppression, and injustice? What miracles could occur if we took the words of Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ Himself seriously enough to act on them? What if we ceased playing religious games around these commands, and began doing them?

For example, what if we took time to truly understand what some of us pray almost every Sunday, "Forgive us our transgressions (debts) as we forgive those who transgress against us (our debtors)"? What if we realized that the Greek word translated as transgressions means more than moral failings and trespasses; but also debts in the full financial sense of the term. What if we went beyond the usual meaning of friendship and social interaction owed to neighbors, and began to think of forgiving the mountainous monetary debts (Jubilee 2000 resulted in some debts being forgiven, but many more remain) owed to rich nations by suffering LDCs (Least Developed Countries)?

And what if we really believed and acted upon what we call the "Golden Rule"? As Jesus said, "…whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them, for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12). What if powerful, greedy multinational corporations of the West applied this commandment to their business practices in general and to the cultural destruction and financial destitution often directly related to their exploitative globalization? What if affluent, apathetic Christians in the Western world allowed this commandment to moderate their roles in both helping to create and to perpetuate poverty in their own countries?

What if we in our placid, traditional, and totally safe churches actually did what Christ commanded in His Great Commission? He ordered, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all that I have commanded you…" (Matt. 28:19-20a). We send missionaries to all corners of the earth in obedience to the first portion of this commandment, but what about the second? What about teaching and responding to Jesus' many injunctions against poverty, greed, oppression, and injustice? We're good at accepting grace, but what about responding to this unmerited gift with obedience to what Christ taught?

Most American religions celebrate worship as the supreme expression of faith. But God says otherwise. In at least 14 different Bible passages God clearly states that obedience is more important than worship or sacrifice. His anger and even disgust at our substitution of worship and sacrifice for obedience is perhaps best related by the prophet Isaiah, who spoke for God when he said: "Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood" (Isa. 1:13-15).

The prophet goes on to explain why God is angry and what He wants. He says, "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isa. 1:16-17).

In the gospel of Mark a scribe approached Jesus with the question, "Which is the first commandment of all?" Jesus replied as he had on previous occasions that it was to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. The scribe evidently "got the message" about love and obedience because he then combined what Jesus had said with what he already knew from the Old Testament by saying: "And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:28-33).

Folks, radical Christianity means not just to know what God says, but to do what He commands. Real faith demands action. Without at least some effort to obey God's word, worship is worse than wasted time: it's actually displeasing to God. Now, I'm not suggesting we cancel our worship services, but that we become aware of the absolute necessity of doing something with what we know. As James said, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18b).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1978, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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