The real reason for Easter is___________________?
Come on kiddies, you know the answer.
Easter egg hunts?
No, silly. Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! Shall we talk about Christmas next? You know, the “reason” for the season. Give me my presents, Santa. Uh, thank you Jesus, for, uh, well, for something.
I read a number of Evangelical websites and blogs. Some days, I want to pull my hair out or bang my forehead on the table as I read about the latest faux threat to modern civilization or the “persecution” American Christians are facing because they have to treat LGBTQ as if they are human. I derisively laugh, cuss, and shake my head, but I must continue to wade through the bovine waste river if I plan to be an informed and literate writer. It’s my cross to bear. Buncha homophobes, the lot of them
I subscribe to the One Million Moms newsletter. One Million Moms is a smelly armpit of The American Family Association (AFA). Million Mommies is what I call the female outrage wing of AFA. They focus on boycotting companies that advertise things on TV shows they think are offensive, immoral, or anti-Christian. Their website lists the current outrages and companies who have changed their ways due to a Million Mommies boycott or letter-writing campaign. (Uber, Oreo, Frank’s Hot Sauce) They are well-organized, avid letter writers, and by all accounts, obsessed with the sex other people are having.
Monica Cole is the director of One Million Moms. Several years ago, Cole sent out a weekly Million Mommies newsletter that was different from others I have received in the past. No call to action, no letters to write, no boycott, no panties in a bunch. In other words, none of the usual angst-filled Million Mommies stuff. Cole, concerned for sinners such as you and me, made that week’s newsletter all about Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, and the Christian gospel. She hoped readers would forward it on to lost friends and family members:
If you know of someone who is not saved, please pass this on to them. Share the greatest gift of all with them: a relationship with Jesus Christ and eternal life. Also, share this with your brothers and sisters in Christ so they may use this to share with others. God commands that we share the gospel with others. We need to help one another become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.
What I found interesting is how Cole explained the gospel and salvation, Here’s what Cole thinks the gospel is and what a sinner should do to find salvation:
Resurrection Sunday is a time to Rejoice! Jesus paid a debt for us that no one else could ever pay so that we could be in heaven with Him for eternity. God gave the perfect sacrifice, His only Son, and if we believe in Him, then we will be forgiven and saved from our sins.
To be saved, you must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for EVERYONE’S sins, including your own, and receive Him as your personal Savior so that one day you can be with our Heavenly Father. If you believe Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, you will also need to admit you are a sinner – as we all are. Romans 3:23 KJV says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If you have never confessed your sin and belief in Christ, take time to do it right now. Jesus is the only way to be saved from your sins and receive eternal life.
On the third day, he rose again from the dead. This is the Good News that Christians celebrate: His Resurrection! He is ALIVE! And one day our Savior will return. He, and only He, sets us free from our sins! “Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.’” John 14:6 KJV
The birth of Jesus is wonderful, but the resurrection is even more exciting. It is the finale to the Christmas story. Jesus accomplished what he came for. Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross were documented in John 19:30 as, “It is finished.” He knew that all was now completed and that Scripture would be fulfilled. To suggest that more needs to be done to earn your way to heaven is the same as saying Jesus died for nothing. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV
Nails were not what held Jesus to the cross. Jesus had the power to come down from that cross, but He knew this is what had to be done for His believers to be saved. He died on the cross for you and me because of His love for us. He loved us that much! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 KJV
According to Cole, to be saved, people must believe and do the following:
- Admit that Jesus died on the cross for their sins
- Admit that they are sinners
- Receive Him (Jesus) as their personal Savior
If people will do this they will:
- Be saved from their sins
- Receive eternal life
- One day live with the Heavenly Father
Man, I am sooooo glad I did this 48 years ago. Praise Jesus, I am still gloriously, wonderfully saved! My eternal reservation is booked and I am ready to go when Jesus either calls my name or comes in the clouds to fetch me. I may be an atheist, but I sincerely prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good to go, right? A-w-e-s-o-m-e!
Sadly, this is the bankrupt gospel preached in thousands and thousands of Evangelical and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. It is the gospel preached by the likes of the late Jack Hyles, Bob Gray, Sr., Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Bethel Church Redding, Joyce Meyer, Greg Laurie, and most Evangelical megachurch pastors. It is a gospel that requires nothing more than I’ve-got-a-pulse sincerity and mental assent to a propositional set of facts. This gospel is what Deitrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
I call this gospel the 1-2-3 repeat after me gospel. (Please see One, Two, Three, Repeat After Me: Salvation Bob Gray Style.) In theological terms, this truncated gospel is called decisional regeneration or easy believism. That I can still be considered a Christian should be offensive to every follower of Jesus, yet many people think that I am still a born-again child of God and Heaven will someday be my eternal home. I might lose some rewards, have my gym pass revoked, or my mansion might not be as spiffy as Charles Spurgeon’s, but my future is secure, all because I prayed the sinner’s prayer at age 15 at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.
By stringing a bunch of Bible verses together, many Evangelical churches and pastors have reduced the Christian gospel to meaningless drivel. Being a Christian should mean something. Isn’t the essence of the Christian gospel following after Jesus? Can people really be Christians if they aren’t following Jesus, if they aren’t committed to believing and practicing his teachings?
Part of the problem is that there are at least five plans of salvation in the Bible. In the Old Testament, salvation was procured through keeping the law and blood sacrifice. In the New Testament, we have the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of Paul, the gospel of Peter, and the gospel of James. Each of these New Testament gospels is different from the others, and this is why there are so many Christian sects, each with their own gospel. Which gospel a sect, church, or pastor emphasizes determines what a person must do or believe to be a Christian.
Here in the 21st century, the gospel of Paul rules the salvation roost. Some sects, churches, and pastors try to merge Paul’s gospel with the others, resulting in a hybrid gospel. But, if being a Christian means following Jesus, shouldn’t HIS gospel be the one preached in Christian churches? Why do so few churches preach Jesus’s gospel? Why do they focus on Paul’s gospel and doctrine, and not Jesus’s gospel? Could the reason be that Jesus focused on how a person lives, and not what a person believes? Could the reason be that Jesus’ gospel required singular love and devotion to God and mankind — the two Great Commandments?
Take the sermon on the mount. Did Jesus preach anything remotely similar to Monica Cole’s gospel or the gospel that will be preached at countless Evangelical churches this Sunday? He did not. Jesus preached a gospel of works, a gospel that called on people to forsake their nets, family, and everything they held dear and follow after him. Jesus didn’t say to those gathered on the mount to hear him: say you are sorry for your sins and promise to believe in me after I die on the cross. He didn’t ask Jews to ask Jesus into their heart or walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. Compare what Jesus preached in Matthew 5-7 with what is preached in the average Evangelical church. The contrast couldn’t be starker. Jesus called to people and said follow me. Evangelical preachers call to people and say, believe these facts, pray this prayer. and you will be saved! Oh, and throw a tenner in the plate while you are at it.
The sermon on the mount is Jesus’ manifesto. He wanted to make sure people understood what it meant to be his follower. Any casual observer of Evangelicalism can see that the gospel preached by Jesus does not remotely resemble what is preached in most Evangelical churches. And it’s not just an Evangelical problem. Mainline and Catholic churches birthed generation after generation of nominal, name-only Christians. What we really have in America is cultural Christianity; a Christianity that bears little resemblance to the teachings and life of its founder.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus is quite clear about the essence of his gospel. Notice what he said:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Sheep and Goats. Saved and Lost. Everlasting Punishment and Life Eternal. All determined, not by what people believe, but by how they live. Evangelicals have all kinds of explanations for this passage of Scripture. It’s a difficult, complex passage, they say. Doesn’t seem that way to me. A literal reading of the text makes it clear: what separates the sheep/saved from the goats/lost are their works. Surely Jesus meant what he said, yes? Why all the ‘splaining and excuses? Why all the theological gymnastics? Yes, Jesus contradicts Paul, but aren’t Christians followers of Jesus, not Paul?
The late Keith Green, an Evangelical from the Jesus People era, sang a song about Matthew 25. I still remember the ending: the only difference between these two groups of people is what they did and did not do!
I may be an atheist, but I admire and respect any Christians who take seriously their faith and do their best to follow after Jesus.
There are many mainline, progressive, and liberal Christians who think the essence of Christianity is loving God with their heart, soul, and mind and loving their neighbor. After all, Jesus did say that the law and prophets, the entire Bible at the time, hinged on two commands: love God, love humanity.
But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Jesus also had this to say in Matthew 7:
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
I think I speak for many atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians when I say, if the Christianity on display in America remotely resembled Jesus’ gospel, I suspect we wouldn’t have much to complain about. If Evangelicals focused on loving God and loving humanity, the world would be a much better place. Instead, they focus on right beliefs, right morals, and right politics – my God, Evangelicals, again, overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump — and the result is what we see everywhere we look: hateful, mean, judgmental assholes who have no tolerance for any belief or way of life but their own. It is THIS Christianity that most of us find offensive.
No one should take this post as me saying that if Christianity was ______________, I would return to the fold. I think the historical foundation of Christianity is false and I cannot envision a way of looking beyond what I know in order to, by faith, “believe.” That said, I do admire people who take seriously the teachings of Jesus, and do their best to love others. I can say the same for any religion or worldview. The proof of its value is determined by the works of those who claim that particular religion as their own.
Keith Green? I am of the opinion that if he was still alive, he likely would have left Evangelicalism, thoroughly disgusted with what it has become.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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