October 29, 2017: Jesus on Fake Religion!

Posted on : Oct 26th, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

It is hard to believe that this Sunday we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  For many of us today that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot.  But to those in Western Europe in the early 1500’s, it was the beginning of a movement that shook the Christian Church at its core.

Today, in the Protestant tradition we just take who we are for granted.  But the adjective “Protestant” came from the root word “protesters.”  Our ancestors were protesters who wanted significant reform in the Christian Church.  So great were the divisions between the protesters and the established church hierarchy of the Roman Church that almost everyone in that first generation of Reformers was put to death.  They were labeled heretics, witches, subversives, liars, agitators, and worse.  Reformers were decapitated, drowned, burned at the stake, and shot dead.

What did they want?  They wanted no authoritarian rule such as the doctrine of “Papal Infallibility.”  They wanted the scriptures to be available in all the common languages spoken and read in Europe.  They wanted scripture to be the sole source of authority in the church; not religious dogma.  They wanted scripture interpreted from an educated perspective, not mystical tradition.  They wanted the selling of salvation to be stopped immediately and for the church to clearly state that salvation is always and only a free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Salvation can’t be bought.  It can’t be earned.  They wanted an end to mandatory celibacy as a requirement to serve God.  And they wanted a return to the image of Jesus as the one who is loving, compassionate, forgiving, inclusive, embracing and welcoming of everyone, not a wrathful judge.  None of those changes came about easily or quickly.

The Protestant Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517 when a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses or “grievances” on the door of the [Roman Catholic] Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany.  For 100 years afterwards, there were “holy wars” between the Reformers and the establishment of the Church in Rome.  It was a bloody mess.

Jump ahead 500 years to today.  Many people are convinced that we are in another time of Reformation.  The Christian Church today is deeply divided over issues of power and authority, over sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.  We are deeply divided by issues of Biblical Authority, especially around issues of science, salvation and sexuality.

What is new this time is that this cultural shift is happening both within and outside Christianity.  This shift is identified by three different names.  Interestingly, the name one uses reveals one’s bias.

Some name the period we are in as the “Post-Christian” era.  Those who see it from that perspective are primarily Christian.  They remember an era in history when Christianity was the dominant religion and Christian values (as determined by the privileged white majority) permeated society.

Another name for this cultural shift is the “Secular” era. The “Secular” era refers to a culture in which no religion has any cultural authority.  The majority of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party defines itself as “secular.”  These are folks who are often referred to as “the nones.”  That is, they have no religious affiliation.  Many of them have never had any religious affiliation and don’t ever want it.

The third name for this cultural shift is the “Post-Modern” era.  The “Modern period” is a culturally defined period of the 18th – early 20th century in which science and religion split.  Those who defined themselves as “modern” believed in science and relegated the practice of religion to the uninformed.  The “postmodern” world goes well beyond that.  It is firmly rooted in technology, robotics, science, diversity, equality and humanitarianism.

Whether you call this cultural shift “Post-Christian,” “Secular” or “Post-Modern,” when you couple it with a radical split within Christianity between conservatives / evangelicals and progressives / liberals, you have one volatile mess.

No one who practices Christianity today doubts that we are in the midst of a huge cultural and religious shift.  At the moment, our uncertainty is about how this all ends.  Will Christianity survive in the next centuries?   Will the Christian Church survive, and should it?  Those are the big questions that are before us today as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Should be a fun Sunday!



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 15: 1-2, 15-20

Two teachings of Jesus

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

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