That Luther Moment

I think every Christ Follower needs to have what I have decided to call That Luther Moment, a moment when they wrestle with the faith that they thought they knew.  Historically we know that it’s likely Luther didn’t actually nail any thing to the church door in Wittenberg, mainly because his desire was to open a dialog with church leadership regarding the sale of indulgences, a practice that was being abused in the name of God.  So while when my Luther moment came I took a page from popular and unproven tradition, it’s no less of an important step in my growth as a Christ Follower.

If our faith is comparable to a walk, or a run if you’re Paul that implies a beginning and an end.  It’s hard to see an end to faith but the more I study the more I realize that when we shuffle off this mortal coil, when we finally are able to see face to face instead of through this dark and murky glass (poetic enough for you?) things will change, including our faith.  I maintain that our walk or race takes on the most significance when we are willing to entertain the idea that we have it all wrong, or at least huge chunks of it wrong. This is not something that is easy for anyone to do.  It means that we have to question what we have been brought up to understand Christianity to be.  It means coming face to face with the fact that what we have been taught at church or in Sunday school, may not be the whole story, that there are other sides of things that there are other interpretations of what is being read.  That’s the thing really no matter what anyone says they are interpreting scripture and as we all know interpretation is almost always tinted with the person doing the interpretations opinion, accent and bias.

Verbal language is a complex thing.  We know this, anyone who has taken a foreign language for any length of time knows that just because you have the technical aspects of the language down, just because you know the dictionary meaning of a word, doesn’t mean you know how to use those words in a real conversation.  I took two years of Spanish in High School because back when I went that’s what you had to have to graduate.  My mom assumed that I could understand the language, and if I were honest I too thought that it would be fine, that I could end up in Mexico or Spain or wherever and instantly be able to order off the menu.  Then came college and friends that were from the many places that speak the language, and well I realized that knowing what the words meant didn’t at all qualify me to speak or hold conversations, in fact it was the opposite,  knowing the dictionary definition could actually hamper the conversation process depending on where the person speaking was from.  Somewhere in a box I have a notebook from my freshman year of college where I was attempting to learn conversational Spanish, mainly because there was a girl I was interested in who spoke it and I wanted to know what she was saying, I wanted to impress her, the notebook has a few phrases but then remains empty, likely when my interest in the girl faded…

I think it’s the same thing when we look at Christianity and the Bible.  We are used to it being interpreted for us by the people that we grew up with.  We have pastors, and church traditions and grandparents and parents that all have a certain way of reading scripture, of talking about it and of studying it.  We latch onto these things, we grow up this way and so when we read scripture we interpret it the same way they do, and we must be right because, well lets face it that’s the way it is because it’s all we know, it’s all that makes sense to us, it’s our language of the Bible, and our language must be right and well everyone else who claims to follow Christ must all follow the same set of rules in interpretation, must put on the same lenses, must read it the same way. We push this further in further into our understanding of faith and what it is, we choose a translation of the Bible and it becomes the “real” Bible only to find that other people use a different translation and to them it’s the “real” Bible.  Then comes the crisis.  The time in our life that we are no longer surrounded by our tribe, and we are exposed to other ideas and understandings of what scripture says, or we come face to face with people who have been raised in a completely different religious system.  Suddenly we are faced with the fact that what we knew as gospel truth, what we have been told God meant isn’t what someone else has been told God meant, or that their idea of God is even the same as our understanding of God.  Please track with me here.  I’m not saying that all roads lead to heaven.  I don’t think all religions are the same, and by that admission I am also saying to my friends of different religions that I think they have it wrong when it comes to the whole eternity thing.  I believe when Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.”  That means there is one way to God, but even as I write this, I find myself feeling bad, because what about the people who were born and raised their entire life believing differently.  It’s a hard thing to wrestle with, and I find that doing so is an important part of my faith.

Anyway, when faced with a different set of interpretive lenses for the first time when it comes to scripture, there are several different directions that can be taken.  We can dig trenches, build some barricades, surround ourselves with enough ammunition and remain as we are, refusing to even acknowledge that there is another way to look at the Bible.  We can decide that we were wrong for all those years, and utterly embrace the new interpretation, throwing away all that we once held dear, many times when we do this it’s in some vain attempt to appear tolerant, or evolved or emergent.  We can realize that things aren’t as black and white as we thought they were and walk away from our faith all together, claiming if there are so many different ways of looking at God and faith that’s just proof that the whole thing is a human construct, or we can have a Luther Moment…

Mine came a few years ago, at least the beginnings of it.  I took all my frustration and questions and anger and well I nailed the angst that comes from the empty feeling one has when they find out that they may have had some things wrong,  to a Facebook wall and unloaded on the leaders of the church of my youth.    Unlike Luther I wasn’t after dialog, I was past that,  I did hope that reading the things I posted could help leadership and perhaps some other person my age dealing with things to walk through them better, but that was as far as the good thoughts behind the post went.  Otherwise I was wrestling with people that wouldn’t enter the ring, or that were still surrounded by the group, so entrenched that it wasn’t necessary to entertain other thoughts.

Here’s what that moment did though, proof that all things can work for good, I began to dig into the Bible with a different mindset,  instead of looking at things with the lenses I had always worn, I began to look a them without any lenses at all.  I began digging deeper for historic meanings to things, looking at what was happening not through modern day lenses but what the people when the scriptures were being written and lived, were going through.  I began to look at Jesus, his life, his sacrifice his actions, and I realized that some of the stuff that I had always held as truth may not really be truth, at least not the way I thought it was.

I began to see that there were places in my faith where I was wrong, but I also saw that at least as far as I can tell from reading and studying there were places I was right.  Grace is a pretty big thing, but in some circles it is highly under rated.  I have friends who seem afraid of the word Grace, they don’t like to talk about it or at times attack it because in their eyes it has been appropriated by liberal Christians and turned into an excuse to allow people who don’t fit the mold into church and the kingdom.   There is also the side that has Grace emphasized to the point that there is no accountability at all, the idea that we’re all okay because in the end grace wins.  Some of my liberal brothers and sisters, the ones that I seem to be identifying with more and more, fall off the grace deep end and forget that there is a holiness to God that needs to be feared, not in that reverent wow, awe inspiring way, but in that wow I’m really dirty, and can’t begin to stand in the presence of a holy God, please don’t squash me like the bug that I am way.

What do we do with that, what do I do with that?  It’s hard to know.  Which brings me back to the idea that there is going to come a point when our faith, the faith that we have ends, mainly because when we see face to face, we are all going to realize just how much of it we had wrong, how much of our faith was based on our interpretation of things, not on God’s design.  If I look at Gods design for humanity, and realize that we were designed to have relationship with God, then sin and grace take on a new identity.  Sin is no longer a list of things that you don’t do, it’s whatever breaks that relationship with God, whatever gets in the way of communion with God,  this is huge, because to me at least that realization sheds new light on what Paul says here:

1 Corinthians 10:23–24 (NLT) — 23 You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24 Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.

There is a freedom that comes from grace, sure but humans in general don’t really know how to handle freedom, when we get a taste of it we want more and more and more, and soon what was okay becomes a problem, it begins to eat away at the time we used to spend with God.  If this is true then lists of sins don’t work, because the list would be exhaustive.  In addition to the big 17 (I come to that number based on the 10 commandments and the 7 deadly sins,) we would have to put family, friends, leisure, church, football… the list is endless because as humans everything we do, if we are not careful has the potential to become more important than God, and while we would never admit that it, that’s the bottom line. Sure we can make reasons, we don’t go to church because God understands we need time with our family, we go to church because well that’s what God wants us to do, all the while our spouse and children beg for three minutes of our time.  You get the picture.  The people at the church in Corinth were doing what we all do.  They had lost focus.

My Luther moment more than anything made me realize that I have a long way to go.  That I am going to be right about some things when I get to Heaven, and wrong about others.  My Luther moment made me realize that I can’t wait for the day when my faith is finished, because on that day it will be replaced with what I was designed for, a relationship with God that isn’t held hostage by human interpretation, years of tradition, and my own hard fought for nuggets of truth.

Happy Christmas to all.  See you in the New Year.

If you are interested in the sermons I preach on Sundays you can find them here…

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