Religous Thinking: Simple or Complex?

Most Christians do not engage in theological disputes … for good reasons!

Doctrinal statements have gone a long way to divide believers by defining the walls of their various sects. Most Christians, in an effort to avoid theological conflict, would rather just attend religious gatherings (go to church), live a good life, participate in a charity and avoid theological discussion altogether. But why are theological talks so contentious? Why are doctrinal statements and presentations of Christian beliefs so complicated? Why do they sound more like abstract philosophy rather than an approach for successful living?

How one thinks is called a "philosophy". There are only two fundamental philosophical categories: "oriental" and "occidental", meaning East and West. The Eastern way of thinking is relatively simple and concrete, while the Western way of thinking is abstract, complicated, and sometimes contradictory. The Bible originated in the Eastern-Oriental culture, but the majority of its readers are from the Western-Occidental culture. Few Bible teachers or Bible students are aware of these conceptual differences.Consequently, a lot of the original message gets lost in translation by interpreting the thoughts of one culture through the filter of another. The following quote states the situation:

"Deep down in the heart of every person is a hidden desire to reinterpret Jesus in the light of our own culture, political bent, or favorite theological belief." –> Francis Chen and Preston Sprinkle in their jointly written book, Erasing Hell

Unfortunately, this is true. Jesus was a Hebrew thinker, a product of his Hebrew culture, as were his followers. Do not mistake Judaism for the Hebrew culture, as so many Hebrew Roots folks have done. They are similar but not the same. Very few Bible teachers attempt to discover how a Hebrew thinks, nor has an inkling of the differences among the ancient Hebrew culture, Judaism, and modern interpretations of Jesus. This situation would not exist if non-Jewish church leaders centuries ago had heeded the apostle Paul's instructions:

"As regards the gospel, they [Jews & Judaism] are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers." (Romans 11:28 [ESV])

If the apostles Paul's instructions were heeded, Christians would be looking into the Old Testament for the thinking pattern and belief structure behind the New Testament writings. The writings of the Hebrew prophets would be the only guide to understanding Jesus, his disciples and the first century church. Instead, the New Testament is typically read as a stand-alone document, without reference to its heritage in the Hebrew culture and the Jew's forefathers. Reading scripture outside of its Hebrew cultural context leads to misunderstanding and twisting the message. This is especially a problem for modern western Bible readers, but it is not exclusively a modern problem.

"And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." (II Peter 3:15-16 [ESV])

Twisting scripture and complicating faith was not uncommon in the first century too. Jesus confronted the the Pharisees who reformed and added to Torah Observance [1] and produced Judaism. For both Jews and gentiles, twisting scripture has produced very complicated parodies of the originals. The forefathers of the Jews, the ancient Hebrew prophets, were simple and concrete in their thinking. But centuries of non-Hebrew religious traditions have obscured and complicated the original thinking of the those Hebrews, the definers of the “One God” faith.

But what if we can throw off the bias of western traditions and culture? What if we could still read scripture while keeping the Hebrew concepts and their comprehension of reality in mind? What if we could again read the simplicity of the Hebrew's faith in Jehovah?

The first difference would be an absence of theological disputes. Differences of understanding would be resolved by a study of the Hebrew culture, by working together the Old Testament and Biblical Anthropology. However, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testamen can offer specific direction for modern situations. But Jesus had an answer for that situation. Jesus explained it in John 14:15-21 when he gave his apostles the promise of holy spirit, the New Covenant.

That's the beauty of the New Covenant. The heart of God's instructions is now written in the believer's heart via holy spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34). God's spirit in believers leads them in the way of God's love. Jesus did not leave his followers as orphans to guess how to practice his love, but gave us holy spirit so we can be led by the head of the church personally and individually in every situation. In the ancient Hebrew culture, it is not what you think that makes you a believer, but what you do: how you act. That's what holy spirit leading is for: leading you to act in situations as Jesus would have.

Without personal guidance by holy spirit in a situation, the correct loving action is a guess at best. Taking scripture as a rule book for all situations is the error of the Pharisees who had a rule for every situation, either from the Torah Observance [1] or they invented one and called it "The Law". Not so with Jesus nor under the New Covenant. Personal guidance via holy spirit is how Jesus lived and how he comes to the believer and acts as head of the church. Without each and every believer being guided by holy spirit, the church floats in a sea of speculation, confusion and disputes over rules and doctrines.

Another difference we would see if we kept the Hebrew culture in mind while reading scripture would be in the belief system itself. The fourth century philosophical concepts of Trinity and Jesus' deity would never have been suggested, since they contradict the Hebrew culture and Mosaic Law. Fourth century philosophical concepts would not exist, nor would have been inserted anachronistically [2] into scripture. Holy spirit would not be a personality or deity, but simply the presence and power of God to lead the believer as it was for Jesus. We would never have built mega-churches after the manner of pagan temples, nor organized them after the manner of the Roman Empire. We would not qualify people for Christian leadership based solely upon their education. And the list goes on and on …

Instead, men would lead by virtue of having a reputation for manifesting the power of God to heal and and love to deliver all people. All gatherings of believers would be characterized by the power of God present, and their love to care for one another. Believers would meet in homes, community centers, and in public places. Prejudice due to racial and ethnic differences would not exist. There would be no 'ethnic churches'. And the list goes on and on …

The true practice of the Christian faith would be a lifestyle of love and service. People would worship in spirit: by manifesting holy spirit abilities and obeying the leading of the spirit only. All the pagan trappings and traditions of religion so common today would simply not exist in the Christian faith. The impact of implementing the apostles' instructions would be that far reaching. Such sweeping changes would upset the very fabric of modern Christianity. Most Christian leaders will do almost anything to avoid such a reformation. It would tear down their institutions and controlling systems. For them, the truth must be suppressed to maintain the status quo. There will only be a very few who will ever embrace the transformed Nazarene faith of Jesus' apostles. Do you have the courage to uncomplicate your faith, and to opt for the original apostolic simplicity of the New Covenant written in your heart?

[1] Torah Observance is a Jewish phrase meaning doing the the things contained in the Laws of Moses found in the first five books of the Bible. The Pharisees reinterpreted the Law thus reforming it and then added laws of their own in an attempt to make following it less a matter of judgment and more a matter of legalistic ritual covering every aspect of behavior. Jesus objected to the Pharisee reforms and additions. Jesus lived and taught the heart of the Mosaic Law, not the Pharisee version hence the contention between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus was clearly not under their authority.

[2] An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of person(s), events, objects, or customs from different periods of time. Often the item misplaced in time is an object, but it may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a custom, or anything else associated with a particular period in time so that it is incorrect to place it outside its proper temporal domain. Source:  Wikipedia

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