The thief on the cross believed Jesus and was saved.
Having been released from all that bound him to his former life he was ready to believe with all his heart and strength the simple truth of what he was now confronted. But, what was it that he believed? Was it dogma, homiletics, patristics, liturgies, hermeneutics, apologetics, creeds, or any such thing? No! He simply heard the plain words of the Savior and chose to believe them. The thief was called to do what every man is called to do, die, and for him it was unambiguous. For most it is the dogma and religiosity of the commercial church that hinders the way of salvation and receiving sight; for the thief there was none of that. The difference between him and I was that he was dying and would, in a short time, be with Jesus in Paradise, but I am alive and remain in the world. Yet, His command stands firm, that I must also die; die to this world. That death for me was not the immediate satisfaction of just going to sleep, but an agonizing, slow, painful, death, of picking up a cross, and a wondering where my Lord was at in it all. Jesus rested, with His cross, in the fact that His Father was truthful; and pleasing Him was His highest objective, even when He too wondered where the Father had gone. It is this initial death that gains us entrance to the Promised Land, and the continual dying that holds us firm.
“Unless a grain of corn falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.” John 12:24
It was by the revelation of this truth that what I once believed to be the Church, was not the Church. For the simple and the foolish, myself included, coming to an understanding of the true Church is not a matter of study or the intellect, but rather an immediate casting aside of all that hides the real meaning of the teaching of the Gospel. The illumination may be seen to be similar to that of a man who looking at a poorly printed map, vainly tries to find his way through a foreign city, then suddenly, by identifying a landmark realizes that he is going the wrong direction; and by turning himself, clearly sees what he must do and where he must go. That was my experience, and the experience of many others who have seen the light of truth. What I once believed to be the Church was really a misrepresentation of the truth; a poorly printed map which had been handed down over very many years. Once the landmark was identified, everything that was confusing became understandable; and walls that once blocked my path began to crumble; things that were once hard to grasp now shown like the light of day.
This, in itself was a kind of death. The shock that I had gone so far out of the way; having wasted so much time and effort; I felt I wanted to die. But, at the same time hope sprang into my heart, the hope that I needn’t go any further in the wrong direction; that I would start on the right path and at last I would arrive, although delayed.
The telltale marks of the real Church were there all the time, but my association with the commercial church caused me to ignore the signs. My conflicting desires acted as false prophets reassuring me that I must push on and become a part of the machine. But, in all honesty, the machine was repulsive to me; I was repulsive to myself; and what I hated in myself, I saw in others, but I ignored the signs. I never found in the church’s teaching the proof of the things I read in the New Testament. What I always felt, and what I came to know, was that the principals that were most important to me were not important at all to the Church. Out of all the simple teachings of Jesus she found things that were more esoteric, mystical, and intellectual as the most important. I never gave it much thought over all those years and attributed it to the idiosyncratic differences of personal beliefs. Besides love, self-sacrifice, and humility, there is also dogma, rehearsals of creeds, apologetics, theological surveys, and other external things and meanings.
Even though the strangeness of the Catholic and Orthodox Church always disgusted me, so did the Protestant Church also develop in me, this same feeling. Now it was not just disgusting and harmless. Her indifference to persecutions, wars, violence, allegiances, and government, were now seen as noxious and dangerous. The things she was indifferent to became for me the very essence of Christ’s teaching. If the essence of Jesus’ teaching is the thing that is indifferent to the Church, could it possibly be the “Church”? Yet, the Church acknowledged the very things that it was indifferent to, and the lines of separation became cloudy and it was difficult for me to put a finger on the problem; I only knew that something was wrong.
The veil that covers the faces of the Jews to the truth about Jesus, covers the face of Protestantism also. What was plain and clear is concealed by the Church; while they preach in the most precise manner their school of thought, and the multitude of particulars that follow from them. Nowhere does Jesus speak more clearly than on the Sermon on the Mount, yet the pulpits opinion is that these are only indications of the perfection which we should strive for, but are realistically unattainable because of sin. The whole interim period between sinner and saint is filled with organizational formulas to achieve this obedience: Church attendance, prayer, baptism, confession, tithing, communion, study, choirs, conferences, and committee meetings, but never attaining to the obedience requested by Jesus in that Sermon; those essentials are reduced to impracticable and provisionary wishes. Is it the practice of our Lord to speak in such clear language, to demand the impracticable, knowing that we are not capable of obeying? Would He deliberately appeal to every man’s ability to obey, knowing it was impossible?
This episode is not unlike Israel’s failure at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 10:11-14:45).
Imagine what excitement there must have been in the Israelite camp as the time arrived for the entire nation to leave Mount Sinai, where they had been camped for nearly a year, and to finally set out to possess the Promised Land! This is a land that none of the Israelites had ever seen, although they were told that it was a “land of milk and honey.” After all the sure proofs of God’s existence and ability to care for so many people (about a million or so) their spirits were excited, but it only took a little discouragement from ten men, those ten of the twelve sent to spy out the land they were about to inherit, to mount a rebellion and demand to be taken back where they came from. Those, who would be their leaders to lead them into the beautiful land, lacked trust and faith, and moved the whole nation into disbelief that it could not be taken, that what Moses was asking them to do was impossible.
Chapters 10-12 of Numbers was Moses’ introduction to Israel’s great failure at Kadesh, as recorded in chapters 13 and 14. The way the book is structured we see that the failure at Kadesh is the climax of a long sequence of failures on the part of the nation that culminates in judgment.
Today, and for many centuries, our leaders have continually preached the impossibility of fulfilling the demands of Jesus as laid down in His Great Sermon, and today the masses of Christendom are a wandering bunch of wretches with their nation under a curse. Their wars and executions; their “eye for an eye” mentality, has gained them nothing; and now we stand on the precipice of annihilation, and still we are discouraged from obedience and taking the Land. The one thing that is necessary for safety and security, obedience to the Lord, we are told is too much, and the people loose spirit and demand easier things like prayer and communion. Haven’t they read that, “Obedience is better than sacrifice”?
When we read initially the words of our Savior we experienced a joyful confidence that we could do whatever He wished, then we are confronted with the Churches “Reformed” teaching that our wills are in bondage to evil, and that we cannot do what Jesus ask, and we are weakened, and appear as grasshoppers in our own eyes. The spirit of Kadesh Barnea is alive within the Church today. Where is the spirit of Joshua and Caleb encouraging the people that they can do what Jesus asks?
Only with the turning away from the commercial Church did Jesus’ words, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” have any force or real meaning. As I was growing more and more dissatisfied with my own life and the life of the one I called the Church, I became more sensitized to sin, not only in my own life, but in the lives of those professing to be followers and leaders. Where was the miraculous power in so many sermons and so many sideshows? It was not present in my life, nor was it present wherever I looked, only failure, pride, and sin. The charlatans fed on the disillusioned masses who had been convinced that they could experience what they preached with just a little more effort; and like a child, I too, was tricked, and still have trouble shaking off all the well-entrenched lies. It was by turning away from the glitter that I was able to see the light, and like a child I accepted the plainness of what I saw, and my world changed.
When my own disillusionment came I was left alone with the mysterious Book. I couldn’t reject it, because I believed it, but I couldn’t believe the accepted and popular interpretation. I arrived at my understanding of the words of Christ, not because I systematically studied theology, or harmonized the Gospels, or knew the Greek alphabet; it was precisely because I forgot all that that I came to an understanding. What I understood was that Jesus had said just what He said. And with that undisguised understanding of His words came the understanding of the essence of His spirit, which is the essence of the Father. Jesus came to manifest a life as it is lived in Heaven, and brought us a good report, that that life can be lived right now. He has come and He has lived that Heavenly life in our presence, and avows that we can do likewise. Jesus overcame evil with good and so can we, regardless that our Christian leaders say otherwise.
“Ye have heard that it was said. . ., but I say unto you, resist not an evil person.” Matthew 5:39
For the first time I understood those words; I understood what He was saying. Do not resist evil with violence; do not use the legal system to avenge a wrong; do not judge and condemn your fellow man by sitting on juries; forgive and you shall be forgiven; do as you would like to be done unto; love your fellow man and don’t murder him through police forces and armies. All of these thing are for the expressed purpose of returning evil for evil; and these things are what divides the Church from the church and is at the root of so much pain and sorrow.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees you shall in no way enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:20
The Pharisees spoke of many good things, but they didn’t do them. They killed, cursed, judged, condemned, and only spoke about mercy and forgiveness, then stoned them who were less guilty than themselves. The Protestant and Catholic Churches all around the world do the very same thing, and teach men to be honest jurors, Christian soldiers, defenders of national and family honor, to swear allegiance to a national cause that approves of organized murder, that it is okay to kill in self-defense, and to persecute those who would believe the unembellished words of their Savior.
What is the true Church? I guess the Church is the living body of all those who direct their lives according to the words of Jesus, as explained and expounded by His Apostles, according to Kingdom principles, in the here and now. If these principles, as delivered by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 are lived out they will, as Jesus said, result in persecution. If we look at the modern Church we will not discover those marks that differentiate the primitive Church from the modern Church, and those marks are the marks of persecution, and we must ask, why? The answer to that question is because all of Jesus’ teaching has been turned to say the exact opposite of what He said, and is being taught from almost every pulpit.
One more concluding article will follow then on to new ground. There are many battles being waged on many fronts within the Church today. Heretics are coming out of the woodwork and waxing bold, and there are very few lifting a shout. Most are content to sit in their comfortable pews and refuse to acknowledge that there is severe spiritual crisis being played out in every home across this nation, and are content to believe that their pastor or priest has the answer. Our country is in the toilet, submerged in filth, and time is running out. It is time to be asking questions, and more importantly, to be getting answers.
I challenge any reader to prove me wrong, including our esteemed leaders.
Till next time, God forgive us,