Monday, September 27, 2010

Fast Food for Christians

A few days back my buddy Mannaseh wrote a self revealing piece about health and food. It rang true with me and I have pondered it since. Finding inspiration in the mundane is a particular hobby of mine and this blog post about food (how much more mundane can a topic be?) was no exception.

I was immediately struck by a spiritual parallel that most American Christians will understand. The phenomenon of fast food gospel. Since I just coined the phrase, allow me to explain. What I mean by fast food gospel is the practice of preaching exclusively topical sermons, littered with pop culture references, pulling obscure verses together to try and make a point, and generally preaching to “tickle the ears”, as the New Testament puts it, of the hearers.

More and more we are moving away from teaching the entire Bible. Most people are fortunate to have heard contextually accurate sermons regarding more than half of the New Testament, let alone the old. It just isn't convenient. Why dig through an entire life story of some long dead “hero of faith” when we can hash up a story from the headlines, or better yet, the latest movie.

Now, if you read me often you'll know I just wrote a piece about Machete, so I am not opposed to taking inspiration from almost any source, but, using this technique exclusively creates Churches full of believers that think the Bible is nothing but a series of USA Today type headlines: not a full on tabloid, but not exactly a full fledged newspaper either. They are getting the Reader's Digest version.

While it may seem fun to take verses and twist them around to make them mean what you want, the scripture itself has several warning regarding people who do such things. They're called Wolves in Sheep's clothing, False Teachers and a few other choice terms, such as well decorated tombs and poisonous snakes. And for good reason, it makes for spiritually overweight, lazy believers who can never hope to accomplish the hard things when God asks.

The stories are there for a reason. The context matters. If we find out that David, for instance, was a man after God's own heart who did the whole will of God (according to Acts chapter 13), we might miss something if we don't realize that he also had time for adultery and murder and was a miserable failure as a father.

But we are too busy inventing new doctrines to keep the padded seats, with armrests, full. (remember when it used to be pews, ah the good old days) It's hard to tell people that Job got his stuff back, but only after God let the devil steal it, or that there was a prophet who was commanded to marry a professional harlot (hooker) and then buy her back on the slave auction block when she ran around on him. What about Moses, who was in hiding in the desert from a well deserved murder rap when he stumbled across the burning bush, or how Paul was on his way to kill Christians when God struck him blind? Things like this don't sit well with our modern ideas about holiness, which typically has more to do with having your finances “in order” than anything else.

We have entered an era of fast food sermons and Bible studies. And, I am afraid that there are a lot of Christians with spiritual diabetes who couldn't stomach a full meal of the truth. When we deal with the hard truths of scripture we tend to gloss over these incidents as being the spiritual equivalent of a weight loss product ad: before salvation (photo of debaucherous behavior) after salvation (perfect little angel that looks like a mormon elder). But that wasn't so. It was after three years of ministry with THE SON OF GOD, that Peter lost his cool, chopped off a man's ear and cussed out two, count 'em, two servant girls in one night. Six weeks later this dude is preaching a sermon that was understood by people in at least thirteen different languages!

Paul writes letters to Churches who were allowing their members to engage in temple prostitution, and while he called them to repentance, it apparently never occurred to him to question the sincerity of their faith.

Jesus sums it up like this: There was a vineyard owner with two sons. He said to the first, “Go pick grapes” the boy said. “Yes, father.” But, never got off his butt to go. He told the second the same thing. He said, “No, thanks.” But, later changed his mind and went. Then Jesus asked, “Which one did as the Father desired?”

Samuel said that to obey, was better than sacrifice, and I think we can apply this to any religious observance. What counted with the vineyard owner's son, is what counted with David. They both took what the father asked to heart, and, better late than never, they did it.

So, the latest and greatest devotional may make “quiet time” fun time at your house, but if you are not being challenged to go out and rescue the lost, and give aid to those in need, and then following through on it, burn the damn thing. Crack open a real Bible, read about a few of the people that God was excited about. Have a real spiritual steak and salad. See how they handled the hard stuff, sometimes right, more often than not, wrong, then right. Now go follow their example. (skip the adultery and murder, that part's no fun)

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