Get Away from My God!

I came across this lovely post recently:

Plan worship only for people who can worship.

Many churches plan their worship services as though unbelievers can worship. But the Apostle Paul makes plain in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” Anyone can utter the words, of course, but unless the Holy Spirit indwells a person they cannot say such things as a sincere expression of true worship. In other words, those who do not know Jesus as Lord (and thus do not have the Holy Spirit) cannot worship God, so why design the worship of God for those incapable of worship? We plan evangelistic services and events for unbelievers; worship services are for believers.

via 10 More Ways to Improve Your Church Worship Service.

I cannot describe the way this post affected me.  Let’s just say we’ve heard things like this before:

  • “The Jews do not really  have feelings.  They are animals.  They are not like us. Therefore it is okay to kill them.”
  • “Animals do not really have feelings.  They are animals!  Their experience is different from ours.  Therefore it is okay to kill them, no matter how cruelly, and to act as if we have the God-given right to do so.”
  • “Black people are not fully human.  They do not really have feelings.  They are not like us.  Therefore it is okay to enslave them, to separate them from their families, and to treat them as the beasts we believe they are.”

Obviously the post I quoted is not in any way saying it’s okay to kill non-Christians.  That is not my point.  My point is that man’s inhumanity to man (and beasts) always begins with drawing the same kind of line they draw here.  “Their experience is not like ours.”  “They can’t really know and worship God.”  “They are of a fundamentally different kind than we are.”  “There are ‘them’ over there, and there are ‘us’ over here.”  Therefore, of course, we can either mistreat them, or at the very least consider them lower, lesser, and different from the rest of us.  They do not share in our experience of being human — or perhaps, better said, we do not share in THEIR experience of being human, sin-bound and secular as they are.

For those who can’t let this post rest without knowing what other way could there be to interpret the scripture above, this is easy.  God (the Holy Spirit) is the one who enables us to recognize God, as Jesus affirmed with Peter’s confession, and with Nicodemus’ recognition of him.  If a person recognizes or acknowledges God, it is because God allows himself to be seen.  A person can, like Nicodemus (John 3, for whoever cares), see God but not even realize what they are seeing.  In fact, no Christian has ever been alive on this planet who realized what they were seeing.  God has never been seen — not by anyone — even those who claim to see him.  So if a person who is not a Christian comes into church and seeks to worship God, then God is already stirring, already alive, already moving within that person.  And of course he would be, for God is doing this in all of us at all times.  [Heaven forbid that a person might actually be attempting to respond to God in a way that doesn’t fit properly in the box.  That’s definitely something we have to squash immediately!]

So if it is true that in God we live and move and have our being, then God is making himself known to everyone throughout the creation.  We do not get to say, “Those people over there cannot worship God.”  All we get to say is that God is mystery, and reveals himself to people in ways that he chooses.  The only way the post above makes sense is if a person has already decided a priori, that certain people cannot worship God (this happens through the building of a so-called “Biblical case” which, ironically, ends up at odds with the clear message of Christ).  But in Jesus we have the linchpin of the Christian faith, who:

  • Was not a Christian and had never heard of the term Christian.  It’s not even a huge leap to say Jesus would probably not have even cared for the term.
  • Was a full-blooded Jew.   His understanding of the world was shaped not by 20th century Christianity, but by ancient Judaism.
  • Never discussed the importance of knowing God through any version of what we now call “the sinner’s prayer.”  Jesus was definitely not an evangelical.
  • Habitually and wantonly forgave sins.  He forgave sins of people who were coming for physical healing, perhaps people who were often not even aware they needed forgiveness.  He didn’t even wait for people to ask.
  • Uttered the words, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”  Those were his words, and yet when someone believes those words and repeats them out loud, the church gets weirded out and often charges a person with being New Age.

Of course non-Christians can worship God!  Of course someone who has not said “the sinner’s prayer” can know and be known by God.  Of course God is moving and active in every heart, every mind, every life.  And of course, if you are not a Christian and found the quoted post above offensive and/or hurtful, it’s not just in your head.  Something harmful has happened.  Someone has tried to tell you where God can and cannot make himself known and who is and is not in a position to “receive the signal” God is transmitting.  This is garbage, dear readers.  Don’t think for a minute that God is not as close to you — flawed, broken, imperfect you — as your own heartbeat, right now in the exact condition you are in.  That’s the message Jesus preached.  The only reason Jesus is still remembered today is because his message was different from what was common in his time.  It is sad to see how many ways we’ve gotten around what he said and gotten back to the very message he came to oppose.

No matter how much someone screams, “Get away from my God!” and no matter how many people are listening, fortunately God himself ignores this kind of language.  At least we know that’s true as God is embodied in Jesus.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Paul Golder

    So much of what you write reminds me of when I sought an answer to the emptiness within myself. It wasn’t until I took an honest look at John 3, that I realized that for the most part, my searching was in vain, and I could now see the Truth.

    It was at that very moment I believed in what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for me, and at that moment I knew the very presence of Christ Himself. No doubt the Spirit was the one to lead me to that point, but there has been no further journey to my salvation. The completed work on the cross had set me free.

    I will be the first to admit that my salvation was just the beginning of the journey I have been on, with my Savior, for 30 years. But the assurance of my future, the confidence in His Word, and the gift of faith He bestowed upon me through the Glorious Gospel, is truly a completed work.

    I agree with you that there is no formula like the ones used according to Western taste. There is but one thing of first importance, and that is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

    The Scriptures show us that if we confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. For it is with our heart that we believe and are justified, and it is with our mouth that we confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

    There is great power in the Gospel, and it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.

    • You are right that I am on a journey. However, my journey is not toward your way of thinking, it is away from it.

      I believe the problem with this transactional view of salvation for most people is that most will go on to simply tack God onto the projects and plans of the flesh (ego, self) and thereby to be all the more dangerous for it. I do not believe this path logically or naturally leads to the emptying of ourselves which Jesus embodied for us, but merely becomes one more instrument of the ego. I’m not saying no one finds deliverance through it but when that happens it is not because of the rightness of this way of thinking but only by the grace of God. And perhaps that is as it should be — since that is the only way any of us are ultimately reconciled with God to begin with. Where progressive emptying of the self (a la Christ in Philippians) occurs, then God is there. Where the ego increasingly takes root (except now with “spiritual” projects and plans), then where is God? It seems your way of thinking about this allows one to be considered “saved” even if fruits (which are by definition supposed to be evidence) of the spirit are not there, even if one is not growing in love, etc. If an apple tree does not bear apples, then I must either conclude that it is not in fact an apple tree, or else it is dead.

      What you said about the power in the Gospel for everyone who believes is completely correct, of course. Too bad that we in the church have exercised such a dualistic, Aristotelian, and transactional way of understanding this text and have made it almost the equivalent of getting a Snicker’s bar from a vending machine, where the quarters are our “belief” and “confession” and the candy bar is our personal “salvation.” I agree with you 100% about the words themselves — just not about what they mean.

      • Paul Golder

        I fully understand what you are saying. I just have one final question.

        As a Pastor in the Free Methodist Church you once stood before witnesses and affirmed your agreement with the Articles of Religion (specifically, in this case, paragraphs 3102-3106 of The Discipline).

        Has this changed?

        • Yet another place, Paul, where I’m not going with you. I have people in my life to whom I am accountable, and any of them have the right to take me to task whenever they wish. These are people I love, whose guidance I respect and desire, and who have invested in my life and ministry. They are proper channels for accountability in my life.

          You are correct that I and every FM pastor affirmed agreement with the Articles of Religion. And practically every one of us has, at various times and in various ways, had questions, issues, or even misgivings about some of those things at certain times. That’s pretty normal. Are you aware of that? So the constant question for me is what does it mean to fulfill these vows I made as my relationship with God grows and changes? If at some point I and/or the people to whom I am accountable feel that I can no longer be a leader in the church, then I step aside.

          Question for you. Do you have an understanding of how it comes across for you to ask me that question?

  • Dan Flowers

    I don’t, Paul…for what it’s worth. In fact I don’t know how anyone could read every word of all 66 books (which I have), and honestly still think it was 100% the true, infallible words of God.

    I’ve recently completed a read of the Holy Koran, most of the book of Mormon, and the writings of Buddha – and I feel the same way about those incredible works.

    Although I know beyond a doubt that they point the way to God and that any seeker can find God sufficiently in any place.

    If Christians would honestly and openly read the works of other world religions – most would see so clearly who they are in God and also recognize where the world and culture of the time was coming out in the words of the writers – not the infallible words of God.

  • Paul Golder

    I hope you don’t mind, I have a question I would like to ask. But before I do I need to ask a preliminary question (just so that I can know if we are speaking from the same reference point).

    Do you believe that all 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the true, infallible Words of God?

    Thanks
    Paul

    • I choose to opt out of our soundbyte characterizations of each other. You’ll need to come up with your own take on my views, Paul. That’s what my blog is for.

      My post On The Turning may help you see the ways in which I am proud to be an evangelical and the ways I feel really misled by that tradition and find it lacking in both depth and sufficiency.

      • Paul Golder

        Thanks for the reply, I’ve read it before and other of your writings, and they remind me of myself when I once leaned toward Universalism ( if you’ll forgive the label ).

        Placing aside soundbite characterizations, I would hope I could ask you a second question:

        If a member of your congregation, or a student of yours asked “What must I do to be saved?”, what would you reply?

        • That’s a good question, Paul. Let’s start with the fact that I would NOT take them through the typical Accept, Believe, and Confess model that is characteristic of evangelical approaches to conversion. It doesn’t seem to have been all that effective in creating disciples of Christ, at least not here in the States. I think this is because it takes an active process of the Spirit and turns it into a discrete event, thereby necessarily leading to confusion as to what the process itself actually is — or perhaps in many cases even causing people to miss almost completely that a process is even going on. Salvation is something, clearly, that is “worked out” over time. I think our ABC model is simply too formulaic and not vital enough to capture this incredible, mysterious process that is going on when a person is seeking God (in other words, ABC is false to the process). Of course even the seeking itself is already God at work (what Wesley called “prevenient grace”), and that must be pointed out as well.

          When the rich man asked Jesus what he must do to be saved, Jesus responded “Keep the commandments and get rid of your stuff” (interesting that salvation was clearly available before Christ died). But clearly Jesus did not require this of everyone. So I think we’re best to do it today the way Jesus did it then, which for us means engaging people in the good old-fashioned process of spiritual direction, helping them discern the movements of God in their lives and then to continue responding to those movements. The church has a long and rich history of this, but evangelicalism has almost completely lost touch with it. Spiritual direction is not sufficiently formulaic and precise, and cannot be mass produced for consumption according to Western taste. It is, however, highly relational, and thus it is the best way of helping people understand what it means to know God, and to know God is to be saved.