Monday, December 25, 2006

Cliche- "I have a personal relationship with God" Part 2

"I have a personal relationship with God." We have been considering this popular Christian cliche. In the last post we looked at the most popular texts in the OT used to support this idea. The conclusion we came to is that these verses do not teach that the Psalmist had a personal relationship with God per se, but they also do not teach against the idea that the Psalmist had a personal relationship with God. These popular verses teach that David had a love for God and a desire for His presence. The Psalmist did not desire the presence of God because of the warm fuzzies it brought to His soul. He did not desire the presence of God for the sake of having some sort of fulfilling devotional. He desired the presence of God because he was about to be slaughtered by his enemies. God was his only protection.

Therefore, "as the deer pants for the waters so my soul longeth after Thee O God," because as long as You are not near I have no protection.

I am not attempting to do away with the idea that we are to have a personal relationship with God, rather I am showing that context determines meaning. Cliches are only helpful when used correctly. When they are used as the unquestionable determiner of any given passage then they not only unhelpful, but even dangerous.

Someone at this point may say, "Aren't you being kind of picky. You yourself agree that this idea of having a personal relationship with God is a Biblical idea. I understand that many misinterpret certain verses because they lean too heavily on this concept, but at least they are not going away with some totally heretical teaching. How then can it be so bad?"

How can you know if something is Biblical or not unless if you test it in light of Scripture? It is impossible to test something in light of Scripture if you come to the Scripture using it as the determiner (i.e. the foundation of interpretation) of what Scripture means. When context is the foundation of interpretation then everything is put in a place where it may be tested. Remember, this is why Luther got so angry at the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Because they were interpreting Scripture in light of church tradition. Church tradition was the RCC's interpretational foundation. They were never able to see their error because they were treating church tradition in much the same way that American Christian's treat popular cliche's. They used church tradition as the unquestionable foundation of interpreting Scripture. Church tradition was never put into question because it became the basis used by the RCC to determine what Scripture meant. Many today are using cliche's in the same way. Cliches are never questioned or limited because they have become the basis used by contemporary Christians to question everything else, including Scripture and what it means.

Luther stood under the text and began testing Church Tradition by the Scriptures. When he did this he began to see how in need of testing Church tradition was. American Christianity needs to do the same thing in regard to her beloved cliches. They need to test them in light of Scripture and discard the ones that do not line up. Luther was not afraid to publicly reject the most beloved teachings of the Catholic Church if they could not be found in the Scriptures. We need to be ready to do the same. We need to be ready to reject even the most fundamental ideas of modern day Christian culture if they do not line up with the Scriptures.

How would you react if I told you that the Bible did not teach that every individual Christian has a relationship with God? What would be your response? Would you start quoting Scripture correctly interpreted to me, or would you just get frustrated and call me a heretic? This is what I am trying to expose here. I am trying to show you that you are (most likely) more protective of your popular cliches than you are of the Scriptures read in context.

Learn to be a doubter! "What? A doubter?" YES! A DOUBTER! Doubt the things that you have been taught your whole life until they are either affirmed or rejected by the Scriptures read in context. There is one thing you must not doubt though and that is Sola Scriptura itself. Do not doubt that God has spoken in His Holy Word. Lean on it, rely on it. Let it be what informs you of what is right and wrong.

What exactly then is at stake when you do not let context be the sole influencer of your interpretation?

1. That which guides your interpretation may be heretical. This, of course, will lead to a heretical interpretation. For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses (JW's) use their other inspired writings to guide their interpretation. These writings teach that Jesus is not God. Therefore, when they go to Col. 1:15-20, for example, which clearly teaches that Jesus is God, they twist it. JW's say that Col. 1:15-20 teaches that Jesus is only human. They get it completely wrong. Why? Because that which is informing their interpretation is completely wrong.

What is at stake if you are leaning on something other than context to determine meaning? You will not be able to detect the most heretical doctrines. It may be a matter of heaven or hell. No one who rejects the deity of Christ is going to Heaven. The Book of John makes this very clear.

At this point you may say, "I get the point. But, I am not a JW. I don't believe anything that far out. Popular Christian cliches are much more faithful to the Bible than the heretical teachings of the JW movement."

How do you know that you are not that "far out?" The only way to discern if the cliches you hold to are not heretical is if you test them in light of Scripture. And so long as your cliches are informing the way you interpret the Bible, you will never be able to test them in light of Scripture.

2. Heretical teaching is not the only negative consequence of not leaning upon context for meaning. Another result of letting cliches determine the meaning of a text is bondage. "Bondage?" Yes! Bondage!

Let me illustrate by using the cliche that says, "I have a personal relationship with God." This idea has spread through Christianity like wildfire. As stated before, I do believe the Bible teaches this. You may say, "Then what is your problem?" Just because something is Biblical does not mean that it cannot be used wrongly. For example, the JW's teach that Jesus is human. Is this Biblical? Of course it is. But they abuse this teaching by emphasizing to the exclusion of the deity of Christ. They forsake the parts of Scripture that talk about the deity of Christ for the sake of those passages which talk about the humanity of Christ.

Whenever you emphasize some aspect or teaching of scripture to the exclusion of other teachings of Scripture you will be effected negatively. I personally, have been affected in a negative way by Christianity's over emphasis on having a personal relationship with God. About three years ago I got all fed up with myself. I got sick of telling everyone that Jesus is my best friend when it wasn't really true. I felt compelled to speak like this though because it was the way we gauged our spirituality.

I remember arguing with myself about my personal relationship with God. My arguments would go like such:

"Ok, God is real. God is immanent. God is near."

"But where is He? I can't see Him. I surely can talk to Him, but I never hear His voice. How can I call Him my best friend when it is such a one sided relationship. I do all the talking. How can I call someone who is invisible my best friend? How can I call someone who is invisible and mute my best friend?"

"Ok, I am going to go pray now. Prayer is exciting, because this is where God and I hang out. Prayer is to be the place where it is me, God, and no one else. This is going to be great."

"Prayer is like big fat stinky fart to me right now. I really don't want to be here. How can I call God my best friend when I would rather be playing in traffic than praying? There is something wrong with me. There has got to be something wrong with me. All the other Christians I know who love God talk about their exciting prayer times and mine are as dull as a broken glow worm. What is wrong with me? Is there some sin in my life that I do not know about? I know that I have spent the past week going through my life trying to figure this out, but there has to be something blocking my relationship with God. Am I even a Christian? If I call God my friend, yea, my best friend, how is it that I hate praying? I really would rather hang out with a bum right now than be here in prayer. Bums are much more interesting than prayer. Sure they smell a little funny, but at least they talk back. Is God really present with me while I pray? I don't feel His presence at all. All of the godly people at church say that they feel God's presence when they pray. When I pray sometimes I get excited or emotional. Sometimes I am more aware of spiritual things, but I have never felt His presence before. Heck, what does it even mean to feel the Presence of God. What is wrong with me."

Does this sound all too familiar to anyone out there? I hate to break it to you, but exciting devotionals are not the evidence of great spirituality. Feeling like you are best friends with God is also not the greatest evidence of spirituality. What does it mean to have a personal relationship with God?

I went through a long bout with this. I was in bondage to this personal relationship with God idea. I really thought I was doing something wrong. I questioned my salvation. I was so focused on having exciting devotionals that I forgot about all the other important things in Scripture. You know, things like evangelism, serving others, loving my enemies etc.

What is more important according to the Bible, having a dynamic and exciting prayer life or prayerfully evangelizing? Which of the two is the better gauge of Spirituality: Fulfilling devotionals or prayerfully serving the Saints? Jesus did not have great things to say about the over introspective Pharisees. Surely Jesus did often times go off by His lonesome. What were his prayers like? Were they lively? Did He feel God's presence when He went off to pray? When Jesus was in the wilderness for such a long period of time, did He have a great time? When Jesus was in the wilderness did He get distracted by the cluster of ants by the big rock to His left or was He so spiritual that he experienced nothing but a closeness to God and big fat warm fuzzy in His heart of hearts?

Agreed, Jesus is a unique figure. Jesus was closer to God than any other human, because he descended from the very court room of God. But Jesus was also human. God was still invisible to Him.

What about Paul? Were his prayers always full of reality and passion? Were he and God best buddies? Did he feel the presence of God moving in his prayers? Was God his best friend? Are you more spiritual than Paul? Are you more spiritual than me because of your dynamic prayer life?

Guess what? The Scriptures don't speak to these things. Most Christians live a lie. They say that Jesus is their best friend, but in their heart they know that He is not. They try and try and try to make him to be so, but they know that it cannot be done. How can someone invisible and silent be a best friend.

Or maybe He is their best friend, but in a different way.

Is God my best friend? I really don't know if I can answer that. What do you mean by best friend? Yes God is my friend. I love God. I desire to know God more and more. If you are going to call God your best friend then you need to be able to define what this means by the Bible. I am not saying that you are wrong if you say that Jesus is your best friend. But an invisible/silent individual cannot be a best friend in the same sense that a visible/audible individual can.

One of the greatest problems with Christians today is that we desire to be all too spiritual. We say all these spiritual things without knowing what they really mean. This is not spirituality, it is pride. We want to talk the talk in front of the holy ones. Do you think that you are more spiritual than I because I am questioning whether or not Jesus can be a best friend? If so, then where do you get your spirituality-o-meter? From the Bible? Or from Popular Christianity?

We will continue our discussion about what it means to have a personal relationship with God in the next post. Don't get all depressed that I ruined your idea of Christianity. In the next post I will explain what I mean when I say "I have a personal relationship with God." While you may think that I stealing from you your most prized possession just wait. In the next post you will see how much more wild your relationship with God can be when you base it on Scripture.

I hope this post has been liberating for some people. When I got honest with myself about what God being my best friend, it liberated me. It meant that I didn't have to play the game of spirituality anymore. This didn't mean that I stopped praying. But it did mean that I stopped trying to make my prayers something they were never going to be.

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