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God's Ways Are Above Men's Ways (or so the saying goes)
With liberality we churchgoers throw around the phrase, "God's ways are higher than men's ways." Because this saying is so uncomplicated and, especially after we have repeated it so many times, it seems unbelievable that we still fail to understand it. One indication that we do not understand this saying, "God's ways are higher than men's ways," is our inability to live it as everyday, relevant truth.
Because this is an overused statement, I want to say the same thing in a different way, that God, because He is God, works in many unexpected ways.
Does religion or any man-made invention ever succeed spiritually? No, these things left to themselves can never affect any spiritual reality.
So let's avoid smugness over the few times that God seems to have worked through man-made religion. If God ever did this, then it is only a greater proof of His patient grace. That God continues to establish His kingdom despite men's religious roadblocks makes this spiritual work of His even more miraculous.
Ironically, it better serves the purposes of religious experts to have little or nothing to do with God, because there's a good chance that He'll put them out of business if He gets too close. Therefore, religious experts are more foolish than openly Godless people because they know about God and yet, instead of acknowledging Him as God, they would rather keep their titles and positions.
If there is one quality we can expect from God, it is that His ways always exceed human expectation. For this reason, it is only by God's otherworldly method, which is death ourselves in Christ, that we can ever begin to appreciate the hidden wisdom of God in Christ. When our fleshly estimations are dead and gone, only then will we appreciate God's divine genius and worship Him just as He is.
"But wait," I hear someone say, "Look at this stuff we've been inventing! Look at these ways we have to communicate religion to the masses, not only quickly, but with all sorts of smells, bells and whistles! We can have a single church service with ten thousand people in attendance isn't that something?" I will admit that Christian pop culture has devised some elaborate worship methods and technologically advanced evangelisms. But much of these things were birthed either out of a fear of man or else out of a spirit of business-like expedience. Modern religious methods are like self-heating cans of soup just push the button and, voila, a hot meal ready to eat!
Consider the systematic methods by which churchgoers speak about God or their faith with un-churched people. These systematic methods are derived from a field of study called "apologetics," which is supposed to "prove" or "defend" our invisible, eternal, untouchable, unapproachable God. Apologetics sounds nice on paper, but it amounts to an elaborately misguided effort to communicate spiritual truth via intellectual means.
Apologetic success is achieved through overwhelming the cerebrum of an un-churched person with a barrage of argumentation that clears a path (as dynamite clears a path) for a guaranteed opening to this poor person's soul. The goal is to blast away enough intellectual space in a person's callused mind to make room for the spiritually-loaded truth about Christ. This scholarly onslaught resembles shelling a hostile fortification by sea in order to soften it up for the ground attack. The part that I fail to comprehend about this, and other highly-praised churchy practices, is where faithful practitioners transition their fleshly efforts into something led by God's Spirit.
This is one of a variety of ways in which mainstream church practice is useful for churchgoers who want to hit the road with their faith without ever bothering to ask God if this is really what He wants. It's not that I'm out to get apologetics, it just so happens that this field of study is especially suited to illustrate the control-happy mindset that pervades mainstream Christianity.
The way that we churchgoers reach out for Christ is a dependable indication of our inward convictions about Christ. And the ways that we try to expand the church is an extension of how we suppose the church ought to function inwardly. Therefore, if our communication of God to the "un-churched" depends primarily on the cerebrum or on some fleeting emotional appeal, then our private relationships with God must be based on such things as well.
Apologetics is a predictable, step-by-step run-down of all the really good reasons why a person really really should believe in Jesus Christ. And this is popular because it makes sense to average Joe Churchgoer.
Mainstream evangelism, or apologetics, amounts to backing people into an intellectual corner with the "truth" of Christ. The apologetic Christian approaches his prey locked and loaded with his devastatingly logical arguments, all of which point menacingly toward a warm, nurturing relationship with Jesus Christ. It is the apologetic expert's job to know how to shoot down every conceivable objection to Christ and also be able to dismantle, with machine-like precision, any argument that opposes the wonderful, fluffy truth of the gospel. The apologetic Christian does his congregation proud with his arsenal of right answers.
But neither this method nor many other methods of "practicing one's faith," have anything to do with faith. Neither apologetics nor commonly practiced church-isms spring from an eternal hope in one's heart. Sadly, a churchgoer needn't even know Christ to excel at churchy activities.
Choosing haphazardly to "defend" or "practice" one's faith is not inherently virtuous because there is never a point where obedience ends and then starts up again in a Christ-follower's life. In other words, a Christ-follower needn't stress out about when to start acting like a Christ-follower because following Christ is already his or her permanently-installed identity. On the same note, a genuine Christ-follower recognizes the nonsense of trying really hard to make God happy or earn heavenly brownie points.
"Defending one's faith," as it is known in mainstream church circles, tends to spring from an insecure desire to be more right than one's opponent. This cannot result from knowing Christ or from following His example because He was never inspired by insecurity to be defensive. Granted, He spoke harshly to religious hypocrites. And He took some time to reason with the reasonable. But anyone who is acquainted with Him cannot liken Him to Rambo.
Whether or not Christ is like Rambo, it would be more useful for us westerners, in our current, headstrong state, to imitate Christ the Lamb. He is a Lion as well, true enough. But for the sake of us control-laden churchgoers, let's consider first how Christ was the Lamb of God.
He was like a lamb in His death, led willingly to the slaughter, never raising His voice in self-defense. Is this weakness? No, but rather this shows an otherworldly strength by which Christ, grounded in His perfect trust in Almighty God, conquered a whole world of sin. Did God consider Him faithful because He bickered really well? No, but rather, Christ's unexpected honor was to keep quiet when assaulted and trust in God to work out even the most adverse circumstances. Evidently, God requires much more than a life well-argued.
It would be inconvenient for students of mainstream apologetics to consider whether Jesus Himself ever cared to make intellectual sense to His listeners. And it would be dangerous for anyone dedicated to this field to ask whether Christ's methods were ever systematic, predictable or easily measured. The obvious fact is that Christ rarely makes sense to people, even to His own disciples. And what's more, He depends far more on supernatural manifestations than on intellectual appeals to get His point across.
Doing traditional outreach, or any other same-old-churchy-thing, is like pounding away at cold iron. "But at least we're doing something," is the thought of many Christian self-starters. "And we're certainly not going to give up our trusty old hammers now that we've finally got the hang of banging them against the cold metal of church tradition. Besides, we like noisy loud things!"
But God gives a greater grace. The grace of God in Christ is far superior to anything the human mind can concoct. It does not make sense to us naturally and yet it blows to bits every lofty thought and every intellectual defense that people raise up against the knowledge of God.
We who have tasted the riches of knowing Christ cannot resist esteeming every worldly institution as nothing and even less than nothing in comparison. Our only treasure is our nearness to Him, and our only success is our living likeness to Him. Daily dependence on Christ is our only game plan.
Anyone who has experienced Christ's authority to save will take it for granted that He demolishes the most guarded little world of the most stubborn doubters. And every time we catch a glimpse of His authority to save we also catch a glimpse of the power He has to subject the whole universe to Himself. This is the Savior we know and love and trust. Do our actions reflect this?
It is an unassuming kind of authority we Christ-followers embrace. Our Savior is Christ. Christ is God. He is who He is, even when I don't feel like admitting it.
Christ frees His followers and simplifies their outlooks so they no longer feel the need to assert themselves. Words fail to describe how liberating this is.
This is truth that stands apart from my ability to explain it or anyone else's ability to defend it, that those who belong to Christ are fundamentally different from those that are not His. Christ living powerfully through us is our only argument. He validates Himself by being Himself through His people.
We can boldly follow Christ because He is unlike natural humans, who have to stumble about to find any truth. Apart from Him we can't even know ourselves. But Christ knows exactly who He is right now, just as He has always known who He is. He is fully God. He is who He is.
Only real-life experience can prove the validity of this statement, that Christ-followers are completely different from everyone else who does not follow Him. I can't give you a canonized run-down of all the things that set Christ's people apart, but I can at least tell you that He is the One who accomplishes every impossible thing on behalf of His people. He proves Himself to be the Truth as He sets His people free to follow Him.
Our western ways of procuring spiritual success resemble an impatient city-slicker who goes out on an impulse and purchases a non-fruit-bearing tree. What he wanted was a fruit-bearing tree, so he goes to the grocery store to buy as much fruit as he can so he can tape that fruit to his tree and make it at least look like a fruit-bearing tree. For all of one day he goes to work taping fruit to his tree. And, for a few days afterward, his tree vaguely resembles a fruit-bearing tree, sort of. But, before long, either the tape will give way and drop the fruit, or the transplanted fruit will shrivel and die as it hangs there, disconnected from the tree's nutritional flow.
In a similar way as this city-slicker, we churchgoers habitually disregard God's spiritual direction. And, as far as we're concerned, it isn't we who are failing, but rather it is God who is failing to produce the immediate results that we expect.
For this reason most of us churchgoers aren't big fans of patient prayer. But we can understand big numbers. We crave juicy statistics or any substantial number we might punch into our churchy calculators. We estimate, according to our short-sighted calculations, that reaching so-many-people with a single, well-worded email is more expedient than reaching whomever God permits, over however many years He requires us to persevere.
God's priorities are generally difficult for us westerners to grasp, because our daily lives are swallowed up by a shallow, expedient mindset. Therefore, our best option at this point is to humble ourselves and wait for God to do the talking, the directing and the providing.
And it will continue to be impossible for us to look inward at ourselves from a spiritually objective point of view until the Spirit of Christ compels us. In the same way, it is indisputably difficult to see anything wrong with the culture, traditions and religious methods that envelop every aspect of our life-understanding. Therefore it remains for us to cry out to the Lord for any Spirit-led understanding we can get, even if that means He has to start all of us again from scratch.
by Patrick Roberts
This is an excerpt from To the Church of the West, Scattered Throughout the World, find this book as well as other resources at www.BooksByPatrick.com
Patrick is an average Christ-seeker. His goal is to turn people to Jesus Christ.
The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.