personal experience

Is Jesus Your Private Lord and Savior?

"Is Jesus your personal Lord and Savior?"

I was asked the question in college just about each week I attended the after-church-social-time at the coffee bar down the road from the church. I did not have much money and discovered that the evangelical church had money and would buy deserts in bulk. I participated in worship but then sat through the social time so I could take a few of these baked "meals" to go.

This important question is not one to scoff at. It is a question about your priorities, values and how you were living them out. If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior then that means that your priorities and values reflected those of Jesus. Christians think that the priorities and values of Jesus are very good and trust that the world is transformed when they are lived out. 

Too often when we think about this question of Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, we (the Church) has failed to communicate what just that means. We have gotten lazy and just let the fringe define what this means. So let me be clear: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior is not a punch card to heaven. It is not the secret code or the earned merit to get access to the Grace of God. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is personal, it is not private. And therein lies the difference. 

Photo by  Dayne Topkin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Jesus is not your private Lord and Savior. In fact, Jesus not not anyone's private Lord and Savior. Jesus does not do private. Jesus is very personal, but not private. 

Accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior means at the very least you are living with those you find abhorrent and frustrating. It means being committed to upholding the value of another person even if you are repulsed by them. Yes, we need to keep proper boundaries when there is abuse, but boundaries drawn to isolate ourselves from everyone so that we live "just me and Jesus" is a misunderstanding of boundaries. 

If Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior than it means that you have given up the idea of exclusively practicing spirituality or religion on your own "private" time and "private" way. If your relationship with Jesus is private then you are treating him as your butler, not your Lord. 

A UMC Problem: Authorities in an Age of Authority

Church historian Phyllis Tickle (1934-2015), has argued that every 500 years the culture goes through an upheaval, and the last upheaval was called the Great Reformation. For those of you counting, this year marks the 500 year mark since Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenburg door. If Tickle is accurate, then we are right in the middle of a new upheaval (which she calls a "new rose"). 

Tickle also makes it clear that a core issue in these upheavals is the question, "Where now is our authority?" Here is a three minute video that makes the point from Tickle herself:

If you did not watch this video, Tickle sates that Luther's theses were at their core an argument that the Pope was not the authority any longer because the office had become corrupted. As such, Luther argued, the old authority is not longer authoritative. What he offered as the new authority was the scripture (Sola Scriptura).

This new authority has held, according to Tickle, for 350 years but is now facing the same situation the Pope faced with Luther. Sola Scriptura is no longer culturally identified as authoritative as it was because it has become used by so many for corrupt purposes. (Note I am not saying scripture or the Pope are corrupt but have been used for corrupt purposes).

Now that we are in the middle of this 500 year upheaval, the question is the same - "Where now is our authority?" And just as Luther offered a new locus of authority, others today offer their own sense of where the authority is now. Here is a short list of examples as I see them (please note these are generalities and I am aware of the shortcomings of making generalities):

  • Non and Post-denominational Christians elevate scripture as sola authoritative [When a church calls itself a "Bible Church" (as though other Christian churches are not) it is sort of a give away.]
  • Secularists and Democrats elevate science as sola authoritative
  • Academics and Technocrats elevate reason as sola authoritative
  • Conservatives and Catholics elevate tradition as sola authoritative
  • Pentecostals and Relativists elevate experience as sola authoritative

Again, there are great exceptions to this short list, and truthfully I am sure that I can be wrong on the diagnosis, but I believe the point stands - in the upheaval, every camp is claiming an authority and the more there is unrest the tighter each camp will cling to their declared authority. Which leads to the problem in the United Methodist Church: The UMC does not claim an authority. The UMC claims authorities.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was a man who placed a preimum on Scripture, but also understood there were other authorities that were valid and gifts from God. Wesley was a priest who did not want to break from the Anglican Church (thus upholding tradition), he was a product of the Enlightenment (thus upholding reason) and he had a number of powerful personal encounters with God, such as when his "heart was strangely warmed" (upholding experience). Wesley knew of the value of holding these authorities in tension and the danger of putting all authority in one source.

The UMC faces the problem of holding onto the community of authorities that guide us while living in a time where people want/need/desire to collapse all authority into one source. When things are complex, there is a desire to simplify things and seek one authority source. The Christian witness of the Trinitarian God is that the mystery and interconnection of a community of authority is where we find God.

Now if we could just hold on.

Vanilla Ketchup And Understanding the Bible

In 1999 a little study was conducted in Germany using ketchup. The Germans who were formula fed as an infant, preferred ketchup that was scented with vanilla than the Germans who were breast fed as infants. Those who preferred the vanilla scented ketchup did not make the connection that how they were fed as infants influenced their later in life ketchup preference later in life. (Citation). It is a silly little example of something that we all know - what foods you like and dislike are influenced by your experiences. 

We accept this about our tastes in food as well as of other things that are even more silly. For instance, expecting parents will not give their baby the same name of someone they know and think is a jerk. There was no way our boys were going to be named Ryan or Eric for this exact reason. We all know that there is nothing wrong with those names but our experiences, even irrationally, affect our decisions. 

The same is true for understanding the Bible. We want to think that we can objectively read and understand the Bible. We want to think that we "just looking at the scriptures" when we try to understand them. We want to think that we can read the Bible in isolation of our experiences. Additionally, we tend to think that others are more prone to allow experiences/culture to influence their interpretation of the Bible than we are. 

I think vanilla scented ketchup sounds disgusting, I am not sure that I want to call it real ketchup.  However, many others believe ketchup without vanilla scent is incomplete ketchup. Both sides are unaware of how their infant diet affects their understanding of orthodox ketchup.

Maybe our understanding of what is orthodox is less influenced by a rational and objective set of decisions, and more about experiences we never would imagine would matter.