"Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves.
For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you."
-Book of Matthew, Chapter 7
A good friend of mine told me once that she has chosen to live by this mantra; "Judge not lest ye be judged."
I thought this was profound and exceptionally relevant. Quite frankly, I wish more Christians would adopt this mantra.
I observe a lot of things about the western church. I believe there is much beauty to be found in the traditions, and beliefs that make up the American body of Jesus Christ.
But there can also be quite a lot of ugliness.
When we are cut open, and examined honestly, what lies within us isn't pretty. I think it's a human thing. I mean we're like mad scientists in the lab of life. We strive to create things for good, but we end up unleashing monsters that wreak havoc on others in the neighborhood.
Take, for instance, doctrines.
The term doctrine is defined as: "A principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief."
There are quite a lot of different doctrines that govern the Christian faith. Ideas about the afterlife, heaven, hell, the trinity, Jesus and his divinity, the sacred bond of marriage...all sorts of cool stuff.
An author I greatly admire once said, that doctrines are to help humans comprehend an incomprehensible God. They are tools that we use to identify the divine, and its workings within our lives.
Doctrines aren't God. They are more like simple pictures that our finite brain uses in an attempt to wrap their minds around something that is bigger, more powerful and grander than we can even imagine.
So, once this simple truth is realized, there needs to be a degree of recognition of the implications this will have for someone who chooses to embrace the doctrines of Christianty. Are these doctrines the final word, or is there room for different possibilities and perspectives within the Christian faith?
This is a difficult question to ask oneself because it requires the individual to be completely honest with themselves, and this, in turn, requires courage.
What I mean is this...
As humans, we have been created to desire knowledge. We experience things, we learn, then we try new things. These new things lead us to keep pushing toward the next thing.
The entire human history has been built on the pursuit of progress. Humanity is not content to stay within certain parameters, or boundaries that are set, but rather we continue to push and expand these boundaries. It is why we no longer drive donkeys to work, or live in unfurnished houses.
It's why the iPod is currently in fashion, not the record player.
It is why we have been to the moon, and crossed the oceans in search of new lands.
The need to know drives us.
The search for God holds no less intrigue in the human mind.
We want to know the divine.
We crave seeing what, if anything, lies beyond this short life.
Religions are designed to answer these questions for us.
What happens when the God that people are trying to describe, cannot be described?
What if he is too big for words?
To complex to explain?
What if this God is beyond the ideas that humans have tried to use to describe him?
What if his ulitmate plans are unknowable?
This is where courage is necessary. For a species who is desperately seeking to explain, control, and manipulate life to their own ends it is incredibly scary to admit that just the opposite is true when it comes to God.
As a Christian, I believe in the Bible.
I believe that God has chosen to act within human history, and has given us tangible examples, and ways in which we can scratch the surface when we attempt to explain or relate to him.
But to some, these simple ideas, these doctrines, that are commonplace right now can become all that God is.
These doctrines, agreed upon by numerous different, very real, very fallible people throughout history can become all that God is, thus eliminating any mystery. Eliminating any doubt, or hesitation, or question.
The same author I mentioned earlier once noted that, "Doctrine is a wonderful servant, and a horrible master."
What happens when our doctrines break out of the secret lab?
What happens when they run amok in the village?
What happens when they are no longer a servant, but a monster that is bent on terrorizing others?
The love of doctrines, and the elimination of possibility and flexibility, cannot do anything but breed judgement. The very thing Jesus condemned can become commonplace amongst those who follow him, and when that happens it leaves no tolerance for those who do not embrace the same tenants of the Christian faith.
It occurred to me how dangerous this can be today.
Christians, for years upon years, have claimed to believe something other than an endless list of rules. They have claimed that God is beyond words, beyond being able to be carved into a statue. They have claimed that this God cannot be put into our religious little "box."
Christianity wasn't instituted as a religion but, rather, as a new way of living. A belief that was built on the idea that, once one allows God to reside in their heart, that the individual cannot stay the same.
They become, not only freer, but more generous.
I walked away from Christianity because people I knew, who professed to be Christians, seemed more interested in keeping "the rules." They were consumed with a list of laws and regulation and that, to me, looked just like every other religion on the block.
If you believe the "right" things, you're in.
If you don't, you're out.
And the way you kept these rules was by hiding your dirt.
And quoting quite a lot of Bible verses (if you were one of the people God loved the most).
Rules, and memorizing a lot of Bible verses never helped me with my struggles in life. So it seemed kind of stupid for me to pretend they did.
Then I met Jesus, and he was beautifully inconvenient.
Someone who challenged the establishment, and befriended those who were "out."
And when I met him, I realized that I was wrecked.
I was a mess (not to say I've got it all together today by any means), and I needed someone to clean up all the junk inside. The things I couldn't carry on my own. The things that were dragging me under the deep dark water.
When I met Jesus, I finally realized why my genuine Christian friends (not the showboaters) were saying that it was worthwhile.
It was literally life changing.
It continues to be life changing for me to this day!
The concept of Christianity is really quite simple...
It isn't possible to "do all the right things." Humans have been trying to live the right way, and invent the right systems for years, and they've failed. Miserably. There is something profoundly broken written in our hearts.
All the laws and regulations of a religion won't keep you clean.
It doesn't matter which doctrines you subscribe to, religion has tried for years to produce the ideal man, and this too has failed.
Allowing God to work within your heart, and move you, daily, toward the person he desires you to be....that, is the only reality that will bring freedom.
One more problem with clinging purely to doctrine as the final word, and I'll finish up for today...
Much of what the Protestant evangelicals fail to realize about the current doctrines they embrace, is that they're different, in many ways, than the original teachings of Christianity in its pre-Reformation state. Protestants threw away many generally accepted doctrines of their time and, essentially, began a religion of their own.
Was this good or bad? I'll let you decide for yourself.
What is interesting is this...
Currently the same people who were originally branded heretics 400 some odd years ago, are the ones who are branding others heretics for challenging some of the conventional perceptions of Christian doctrines.
The old saying that history repeats itself, would seem to be quite true.
Take, for instance, the intense "doctrine battle" about Hell that occurred this past spring. The idea, or concept, of hell as being a place of eternal (unending) torment, separated from God for eternity is thought, by many young evangelicals, to be the ultimate truth of rejecting Jesus Christ.
It's because they have been taught, from a young age, that this is exactly what Jesus meant by hell all along.
So when a new perspective on the interpretation of the doctrine of hell comes along, the immediate reaction is defensive posturing on the part of the child who has grown up in church.
Because they have, essentially, been taught that this particular interpretation of hell is the way it's going to be.
There is no room for possibility because, somehow, our finite brains have been able to explain exactly what happens when people pass away. Somehow we have gained the knowledge of all that awaits beyond this life for us, and just how, exactly, God plans for it to be.
Can you see the flaw in this way of thinking?
By accepting a doctrine, words and ideas that humans have strung together to try to explain the unexplainable, as the exact way it will be, with no room for possibility, we are essentially saying that we have explained God and his purposes.
God isn't that simple.
We don't have all the answers.
There will be some mystery when participating in the Christian faith.
Here is where honesty is completely necessary.
We need to be honest about our convictions...
Our convictions are generally based upon the interpretations of others who have come before us, or are even still amongst us.
The way we view certain principles of Christianity are heavily reliant upon those we follow.
The prominent thinkers of our day are influenced by the prominent thinkers of their day. Those thinkers, in turn, were influenced by others before them.
Christianity is constantly evolving and, if we have the courage to admit it, no single person, not even the early church followers, have gotten every detail right.
Some doctrines have been kept, others tossed.
Some are passively accepted, while others are controversial to this day.
If there is no flexibility when it comes to our beloved doctrines, then it simply breeds the monster of judgement, exclusion, and even (if we aren't careful) contempt or bigotry.
To avoid this, I believe we need to continually turn the prism.
To see the light hit it and reflect in different ways.
To formulate our opinions in knowledge, yet leave ourselves the freedom to bend and flex where and when necessary.
Ask the difficult questions, and respond to questions without wrath and judgement, but rather in love. We should never be so hasty to judge another, because we ourselves do not know how the universe will ultimately unfold. We do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our way of viewing things is the right way.
At that point we may, quite possibly, begin to see Christians gain the capacity to love others more fully. To view things outside their own boxes, and to be free of the master of doctrine. It may be in that moment that those who profess to follow Christ will be free of the great responsibility of having to have all the answers.
To let God be God.
And to let mysteries remain mysterious.
The question is, do we have the courage to take the first step?