Believe in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

I think the church is confused with what ‘belief’ actually means. The church uses the definition of belief as ‘what you think on something’ – I think this is in fact mis-guided and misses the way it is used in the gospel.

I think the gospel writers used belief as something ‘you do because you value it’. It’s not that works defines faith, but works are part of your belief set. To me, a belief without an action to it – is not a real belief – it’s like smoke and mirrors – magic – because you think with that belief you did something when in fact you did not (ex: Trinity is real).

Our faith has become severely mis-guided and wants to point fingers at people that don’t ‘think’ like them – dividing people up. Problem is, this is exactly the opposite effect Jesus actual teachings actually have – so I am not sure most people in churches aren’t turning schizo on some level. We see a Jesus talking about people being defined as ‘what you do’ and then we have a faith that says ‘believe what he did’ (which is actually doing nothing and saying you did something).

I have stated it is more important what you do with what you think is truth than what you actually think is truth – and I think this is gospelic viewpoint. Jesus talks about ‘building’ a foundation from his teachings or the idea of the tree’s ‘bearing’ fruit – it’s all about producing. If the centre of your faith is about belief – believing what exactly?

I recently had a talk with another person (Gene) about the 6 ministers being financially looked at by a person from the US Senate (our new tax collecter/Samaritan in this scenario). Here is how it summed up for me: “On the other hand, it’s still the Rod of God. God using pagans to keep his people in line.” (Gene)…”Think of this Gene – if he’s using pagans to help Christians ‘see the light’ on this issue – then aren’t the pagans more enlightened – since they knew what was right and did it? What does that say about the comparison of pagan and Christian? Interesting.” (SVS)

That example in and of itself shows what I am talking about here…that gospelic viewpoint on belief. I think the other ‘thoughts’ about God are fun but they produce nothing in the end…and to think they do is wishful…so maybe we need to call them ‘thoughts about who God is’ and not beliefs. I rest my foot on the idea that this simple premise would permeate Christian faith again and endue it with a real living perspective.

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27 thoughts on “Believe in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

  1. I totally agree but I think we must be careful not to make people feel that works are required. I know in most cases we should see charity (and other fruits of love) from someone who professes to know and follow Jesus, but not always. Some are poor and cannot be charitable. Some are physically challenged and cannot help out in a lot of ways. In just the same way, many who come to Christ must learn a whole new way of living and it can take some time. They will grow in their abilities, but it does not help if we make this seem like an expectation.

    Now if you are addressing the leaders of the faith, I say yes, we must see some fruit in their life. It is their example that will guide the effectiveness of many.

  2. It sounds like this is coming down to how we judge people (in a good way). If someone says they are a good person, I don’t take them at their word, I look at their actions. Are they kind? Are they just? Do they protest evil? Then that person is good. However, if this same person decides to steal from a grocery store, then I realize the person is lying.

    To me, someone’s belief set doesn’t amount to much. As you say, it’s what they do with that belief set. I don’t think that believing in most of the standard doctrines of Christianity would make someone be a good person — such as the Trinity, or atonement. But believing that God loves us? Believing that God will help us? Believing that God loves everyone, and that God sees them as His beloved children? That will affect how someone acts, and you find those beliefs in a majority of religions. You somewhat find it with some atheists, if they believe that everyone has inherent worth, and deserves to be treated well.

    Have you ever read anything by Marcus Borg? He describes four different ideas of faith. There is faith as belief, which is a dominant one. However, faith is also “trust,” as in trusting in God, rather than a set of statements about God. There is also faith as “fidelity,” as in being loyal to God, not straying and so forth. There’s also faith as “vision,” or a way of seeing. The latter three are very much action-oriented, because you can do those without a doctrinal belief.

  3. I have heard of Borg – never read any of his stuff as of yet – a lot of people mention him in Christian blogs…some good, some bad. I really dig his depth on the word faith – which is something I also think is part of the problem – narrow definitions in our faith system need to be expanded (which he does quite nicely).

    I think I am onto the same thought here with the word belief/believe – the definition in mainstream Christianity is way too narrow. Which is why I think Borg has done some serious reading into the gospels and must see this also – the ideas within the gospels do not match up with the current Christian interpretations…I could name so many but that’s 1/2 the reason I blog in the first place (so people can walk and talk with me about them).

    Ken, I think you mention a few cases where only attitude can be seen – and not so much action – and that’s understandable. For me works does not always mean actual work – but can mean developing the attitude of loving your neighbor/enemy – or development of our values as they work out in reality. I really could care less if someone wants to say the prayer and all that jazz…do they want to work on their values and find the best for any given situation – that’s important stuff. I see Jesus teaching us that simple thing – live a life that respects others – which in turn respects God also.

    So I can say I love atheists, gay people, conservatives, liberals, satanists, people in jail, poor people, myself, people in other faiths, etc. Jesus really did pin it with one simple sentence ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ (and that’s really the only standard you ever need).

  4. Society,
    I agree, that to claim belief, but to have no or very little actions based upon said belief is “smoke and mirriors.”

    When you say, “I think the church is confused with what ‘belief’ actually means,” what church are you refering to? That is such a all encompasing statement. It sounds as if you have a grudge against the Body of Christ?

    I find this paragraph very interesting: I recently had a talk with another person (Gene) about the 6 ministers being financially looked at by a person from the US Senate (our new tax collecter/Samaritan in this scenario). Here is how it summed up for me: “On the other hand, it’s still the Rod of God. God using pagans to keep his people in line.” (Gene)…”Think of this Gene – if he’s using pagans to help Christians ’see the light’ on this issue – then aren’t the pagans more enlightened – since they knew what was right and did it? What does that say about the comparison of pagan and Christian? Interesting.” (SVS)
    ———-For sure, God has used pagans to bring back his people to Himself. —-However, just because God uses pagans to ‘help Christians see the light’ does not necessarily mean that the pagan is more enlightened. In the case of the 6 pastors, it is about breaking the law of the land, and that surely is not a determining factor as to whether they are more enlightened or not. If they were to charge them with breaking God’s law [morals/ethics], then enlightened may be up for debate. However, this is strictly a law issue. And futher more, if God is using the Senator to straighten out His 6 children, why would that necessarily indicate the Senator is more enlighened than the 6? I use the Assyrians and the Babylonians as and example. God use the Assyrians to try and bring Israel back into line. Were the Assyrians more enlightened than the Northern kingdom of Israel, or were they simply a tool used of God? God used the Babylonians to try and bring the Southern kingdom of Judah back in line. Were the Babylonians more enlightened than Judah, or were they merely a tool in the hands of God?

    You say: if he’s using pagans to help Christians ’see the light’ on this issue – then aren’t the pagans more enlightened – since they knew what was right and did it? What does that say about the comparison of pagan and Christian? Interesting.”

    ——The pagan cares not whether the Christian sees the “light” on the issue in the case of the 6. It is only about the right and wrong of the law. You will not hear the words morals and ethics thrown around it the courts by the pagan–it will be, they broke the law. And too, it doesn’t say anything about the comparison of pagan and Christian. It only points to the sin of 6 pastors {if found guilty}. It is, in reality, not a condemnation of anyone, but the guilty. Oh, the Christian haters will try and paint us all as party to the 6–but they would be wrong.

    Oh well, another disagreement.
    MAKE IT a great weekend.
    fishon

  5. fishon,

    You may be right that the Senator is not “enlightened” in the Christian sense, but there is certainly no light at all in a leader of faith that embezzles the donations of supporters. These six in question are living a life of luxury while posing as a minister of Christ! They are workers of iniquity! They are the durge of the faith, well actually they are only posing to be of the faith, and they should be in jail they rest of their life!

    Maybe the Senator is not a believer but he/she would be doing the faith a good service by convicting them. Maybe it would give some spine to the servants of God who stand by and let this hypocrisy go on in the name of Jesus.

  6. brotherken,
    Though I did not mention it in my reply to the original article, Senator Grassely is a Christian, and always known to be one. I happen to believe [no proof] that his Christian ‘enlightenment’ was a driving force behind him starting the investigation. There are thousands of much more wealthy people than the 6, and he has not started an investigation on them. Why these 6? Just like you and I, we know that biblical Christianity does not seem to line up with how they make their money and live from it. The head of the Church [Jesus] lived more than modestly. Sometimes he didn’t have a pillow.

    Wow, I can bet I never hear you to be one in the blogs that say “Judge not….” You say some pretty harsh stuff. Oh, by the way, if they are guilty, you are right. How could they be stopped if someone doesn’t make a judgement that they are/may be doing something wrong? Can’t. We have to make some judgements.

    At the very least, I wish they were not on TV to bilk the folks. Now I am not saying that people don’t come to the Lord in their ministries, but the harm they do, I believe is far more reaching than the few they help. And if they are guilty of crimes–jail. And if they seek forgiveness, forgive.
    fishon

  7. I saw a sermon by preacher Paul Washer speaking to an American congregation who said, “Most of you say you’d like to go on a mission trip with me to Africa or South America. But you really wouldn’t want to do that because most of you would be excommunicated from the church there!” Full sermon here. He gives a powerful indictment of the failure of American Christianity to follow the true gospel. He takes no prisoners. Ken, if you haven’t seen that sermon, I highly recommend it.

    I am pleased to see that the prosperity preachers are being investigated. It certainly can’t be bad for Christianity that they be exposed. The worse thing that could happen is that they go on interminably with impunity, taking the hours before and after a Greg Laurie hour as if they belonged there.

    Romans 16:17-18 has an interesting point on false teachers.

    17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

    Bingo. How times never change.

  8. SVS … wow! I just taught on this exact thing last Sunday with the Jr. high @ the structure … and was asked to teach it to Sr. high this week. The bottom line is that the “church” has substituted belief (i.e. what we think) and action (i.e. what we do) for a long time. Like, the proverbial diet framework … someone reads about being healthy, how to change their lifestyle, etc. and thinks, “Hey! I’m actually ‘doing’ something.” And until we put feet to what we say we believe, we’re clanging gongs, you know? It’s just crazy … and I’m looking @ myself, too.

    BTW, take the time to look up Borg and NT Wright. They TAKE time, too. Not your pablum pop-reading. But they will open your eyes in new and exciting ways.

    Good luck!

  9. Marcus Borg is a leading member of the “Jesus Seminar.” Enough said.

    That doesn’t disqualify anything he says about Jesus or the Bible. Those who really do like Marcus Borg appreciate him because he gives them a way to view the Bible and Christianity without a literal viewpoint, because these people can no longer follow the literal viewpoint. He still helps people find a way to connect.

  10. He may not be disqualified in your view, but he surely is in mine. Anyone who uses colored marbles to decide if what Jesus said was a “maybe,” or “maybe so,” “Yes,” “No,” is a fruit cake.

    “The Jesus Seminar was organized under the auspices of the Westar Institute to renew the quest of the historical Jesus and to report the results of its research to more than a handful of gospel specialists. At its inception in 1985, thirty scholars took up the challenge. Eventually more than two hundred professionally trained specialists, called Fellows, joined the group. The Seminar meets twice a year to debate technical papers that have been prepared and circulated in advance. At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows of the Seminar vote, using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of Jesus’ words or deeds. Dropping colored beads into a box has become a trademark of the Seminar.” ——–Check it out.

    It’s kinda like this; Borg doesn’t take the Bible and Christianity from a literal view point, there are many of us who don’t take him literally. He and his buddies are creating a “Lego” Jesus. A Jesus that fits what they want, not who the Bible says he is.

    If I sound a little on edge, yep. Guys like Borg do that to me.
    fishon

  11. I’m well aware of how the Jesus Seminar functions. But all the marbles are are a system of voting, on those technical papers prepared in advance. It would be like me saying you’re disqualified to discuss who a valid president is because you used a voting booth. To disqualify him based on what he belongs to, or that he uses marbles to vote on something, is not evaluating him based on the scholarship he does.

    He and his buddies are creating a “Lego” Jesus. A Jesus that fits what they want, not who the Bible says he is.

    Everyone does this, regardless of how literal they take the Bible. Some see a Jesus in a Christus Victor fashion, others in a pental substition. Most may find everything in the Bible literally true, yet it’s two different perspectives going on there, and it is two Jesus’, in a way.

    He does not take it literally. But that does not mean the Bible, or Christianity, doesn’t hold value for him. It has nothing to do with what he wants, it has to do with what he’s learned. Same with many who hold his viewpoint. I don’t hold my viewpoint of Jesus because I “want” to, I do so because intellecually, I can hold no other viewpoint.

  12. “That is such a all encompasing statement. It sounds as if you have a grudge against the Body of Christ?” (fishon)

    True that is a generalization – but a lot of churches hold to the idea of you believe correctly then you are ‘saved’…I am not under that ‘belief’ anymore – since it is pretty much saying little to nothing is required of you in a said faith system in Christianity. I think this is why we see 6 ministers acting like Judas’ (pilfering the money box) and less like Jesus’ – because why should they – they are ‘saved’ by what they believe anyways.

    To me that is the true conundrum of our faith – we believe in being saved for what someone else did (which I am not ruling out) – but once we get there then there is very little we have to do because isn’t it all ‘finished’? I can’t really be saved by my actions anyways – so they play around on the back-burner of that idea (as proof we believe what is said). I kind of figure we are called to ‘follow Jesus’ even up to the idea of the ‘cross’ (sacrifice)…and maybe as Paul said – we share in that same suffering – not apart from it.

    “Oh, the Christian haters will try and paint us all as party to the 6–but they would be wrong.” (fishon)

    Agreed – we can’t make a general assumption all people of the faith are of the same mind as those ministers…my bad on that one – I am trying to avoid generalizations but I keep on messing up on it.

  13. “And until we put feet to what we say we believe, we’re clanging gongs, you know?” (LGF)

    Awesome – this is a message that needs to get out there so we can properly put our beliefs in the right definition – because we will never find concensus in this faith about every issue concering God – but as if God cares that we can’t quite figure Him out – we are trying you know…but we are limited. I give huge props to you for sharing – much appreciated.

  14. For me the goal of questions and blogs about these issues is to open our eyes to the idea of acceptance and mercy – also to defining the ideas within our faith – and this is one I see as a huge one – defining belief/believe in light of how it is used in the gospels. For me, it always seems to be pointing to believing God’s ‘words’ and incorporating them into our lives in all arenas (even blogging).

  15. All of the Jesus Seminar “scholars” share the belief in a presupposition of naturalism. They are in no way representative of “scholars” as a whole. Thus none of the miracles of Jesus, including the resurrection, are up for consideration.

    Wouldn’t this make them more like scholars, and not less than? As it is, we can easily say that the conservative scholars share a belief in the presuppostion of the supernatural. But most scholars do presume a natural explanation for most things, because of how the world functions. If there is something that defies those laws, then it comes under closer scrutiny. If we read a Native American myth, we don’t give it equal weight to something about George Washington, precisely because of those presuppostions. We need those, or anything goes in the scholarly world.

    The miralces and resurrection are up for consideration, but in different ways compared to conservative scholars. Marcus Borg, for instance, sees the resurrection as spiritual. The miracles are considered based on the message they convey. Would they be considered as a literal event? Probably not.

    The goal of the Jesus Seminar is not to help people find a way to connect, but to help them find a way to disconnect.

    I’m sorry, but this is not true. I’m not saying this based on an attachement to these scholars, but on the reaction people have had to the scholars of the seminars — personal experience, both from myself and others. It has allowed people to still find value in the Bible, in God, in the Christian way of life. Marcus Borg was raised in a fundamentalist/conservative religion, and only by going this route was he able to still connect to the Christian faith. And he’s incredibly thankful for that.

    OSS – In the spirit of full disclosure (heard that on TV) you are a deist, correct?

    Some days. Other days I believe in a God who personally cares.

  16. Jim,

    I’m sorry, but this is not true.

    This statement is unnecessarily harsh, and looking as though I’m calling you a deliberate liar. I believe part of the complication is that you seem to take the Jesus Seminar as a unified whole, and I’m taking the scholars on an individual basis. I’m also looking at the reactions to these books on an individual basis, and not to the Seminar itself.

  17. OneSmallStep writes:
    “I’m well aware of how the Jesus Seminar functions. But all the marbles are are a system of voting, on those technical papers prepared in advance.”

    —–Do a little research and you will find that they vote on THE SAYINGS OF JESUS.
    red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.

    pink: Jesus probably said something like this.

    gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.

    black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.
    Taken right from http://www.westarinstitute.org/Polebridge/Title/5Gospels/Voting5G/voting5g.html

    fishon

  18. Fishon,

    If I say that I’m well aware of how the Jesus Seminar functions, that shouldn’t that indicate that I’m aware it includes votes on the sayings of Jesus? Those technical papers would include the sayings of Jesus, in terms of the culture of the time, or how Christianity developed after the crucifixion/resurrection. The papers would discuss how likely each statement is literal, and presenting evidence for the hypothesis. This isn’t like they meet to discuss how likely the feeding of the 5,000 is, and then vote on whether “I am the way, the truth, and the life” is a literal statement. They vote on each item on the agenda, which each person would’ve had a chance to study based on the papers circulated prior to the conference.

  19. OneSmallStep,
    Either the Bible was written by men directed by the Holy Spirit and it is “THE” Word of God for man, or it was written by men and their imaginations, and is therefore imperfect; full of man made moral, ethics, and principles.

    Now if it is the perfect Word of God, as I believe it is, then men like Borg and his cohorts do nothing to enhance mankind. Their work is bogus and foolish. If the Word of God is perfect, then those who try and decide which is and isn’t His Word, then their work is at best, dung.

    These men are so smart, they are smarter than God–therefore, they don’t need God and God, well, He will let them go the way of their intellect.

    As for me, I choose God and his Word [Bible], all of it, even though I don’t understand much of it over Borg’s intellect. I don’t trust it.
    fishon

  20. Fishon,

    **Either the Bible was written by men directed by the Holy Spirit and it is “THE” Word of God for man, or it was written by men and their imaginations, and is therefore imperfect; full of man made moral, ethics, and principles. **

    Or, it was written by men who had an encounter with the divine, and wrote it as the best they understood at the time.

    **If the Word of God is perfect, then those who try and decide which is and isn’t His Word, then their work is at best, dung. **

    But this has always been done, even when the Bible was compiled. Or the differences between the Prostestant and Catholic Bibles. They’re treating this the way they would any other historical document. Have you even read the amount of analysis they put in what they vote on? How they determine that, based on historical evidence and so forth?

    **These men are so smart, they are smarter than God–therefore, they don’t need God and God, well, He will let them go the way of their intellect. **

    Not every member would say this. First, it would depend on how one defines God, and if we go on the idea that God is Spirit, or Love, or Light, then they’re not going to agree with you. Second, some of them would say that tradition is important, and provides value. They would also say that they do need God, as it gives them a new way of seeing the world, or a source of help, or a way to help make the world better. Plus, just on a basic level, if there is an all-knowing God who is the source of all intelligence in the universe, then rational people aren’t going to say they are smarter than God.

    As it is, you’re making it sound like intellect is a bad thing. And this is not the “wisdom of the world” sort of thing. This is critically examining the evidence, comparing it to what they know of the time. The Bible, if it is as you say it is, should not then be off limits to this type of critique, or analysis. And if the analysis truly is “dung,” as you say, then it should be very insubstantial, or based on very little evidence or critical thinking, or any of that.

  21. “Either the Bible was written by men directed by the Holy Spirit and it is “THE” Word of God for man, or it was written by men and their imaginations” (fishon)

    I have to disagree with this definition since Paul said people wrote ‘inspired’ by God – which is different than under ‘direction’ of God. Direction sounds like someone was told to write by God – then wrote verbatim (which may be claimed by the prophets – if they wrote their own material) – but Paul and others seem to write on the basis of stuff they consider inspired (ie: the Tanakh) – and their experiences also inspired them to write. Did they have a list from God to write – I don’t think so.

    “If the Word of God is perfect, then those who try and decide which is and isn’t His Word,” (fishon)

    Speaking of generalizations, isn’t some of the bible known to have additions which were added at a later date? There is the trinity passage that was in 1 John (now removed) and the scene from John 8 (woman caught in adultery) is known to be added later (which could have happened by accident). For me, it seems like perfection can be messed with and made to look even more perfect. So I see the need for the critical scholarship on the manuscripts – but as for the Jesus Seminar – they don’t fascinate me that much – since they are voting on something they did not write and getting true concensus on ‘Jesus actual words’ cannot actually happen – they have little to go on outside of the writings.

    I see critical scholarship as a ‘good thing’ mind you – but I also know it’s limits. I have read the debate about hw the manuscripts were formed (Q and all those theories) – but none of them can be verified…even if one of them were true. I say the same for the Jesus Seminar – they can make all the calls they decide on what and who Jesus was or said – but this again is not something that can be confirmed – even if one of them was right. However, we do know for a good fact what is in those manuscripts does exist and was used in early Christian communities (and are tied to Jesus and the disciples) – beyond that we can say just about anything about these words – and we see this – all those denominations do not see the same things in the bible.

  22. isn’t some of the bible known to have additions which were added at a later date? There is the trinity passage that was in 1 John (now removed) and the scene from John 8 (woman caught in adultery) is known to be added later (which could have happened by accident).

    There’s also the ending in Mark.

    The other fascinating thing with this, in terms of additions, is how each Bible translates differently. There are the lines such as saying Jesus had compassion vs. Jesus was angry (I think this was in terms of the leper). There are also some lines in Romans that can either be “Faith in Jesus” or “Faith of Jesus.” That one little word can make a world of difference in how to interpret what Paul is saying. I don’t have the Bible with me, so I don’t know the exact verses.

    So I see the need for the critical scholarship on the manuscripts – but as for the Jesus Seminar – they don’t fascinate me that much

    What’s funny about this is that in the end, the Seminar itself doesn’t fascinate me either, in terms of what the outcome is. For one thing, those who disagree with the vote will just write a book or paper on it, demonstrating why.

    It just bothers me when all the things those scholars say is dismissed, simply because they belong to the Jesus Seminar. Marcus Borg is where I learned about the four different ways of faith, three of which I think should be much more promenient then they are. He’s also one of the scholars that informed me about the cultural context behind striking someone’s cheek (a backhand slap was an insult, so if you turned your cheek, the person had to slap you with the front of the hand and thus regard you as equal), or go the extra mile (Legally, romans could only make you carry a pack one mile. If you carried it longer, they’d be the ones in trouble, so you’d be in a position of power as they would have to ask for it back) and the cloak idea (if you give your cloak and undergarment, you leave the court naked and thus shame the person who took them from you by suing).

    Information like that is important, and gives much more depth to information in the Bible. Perhaps a conservative scholar shares information like that, but I honestly haven’t seen it in the books I’ve read, or the websites I’ve visited.

  23. “Perhaps a conservative scholar shares information like that” (OSS)

    I have to agree with this also – most conservative scholars I read are too worried about the veracity of the books that a lot of the stuff you mention – which is truly an in depth look at those passages – gets overlooked to maintian current status quo on interpretation (which I find a lot in churches I have attended – and even unto this day with the church people I converse with). I think people like Borg and a host of others are looking at those passages and seeing that there is more to them. I can appreciate that.

  24. society,
    I attended one of the more conservative Biblle College in the Country, and some of the illustrations OneSmallStep gave about the culture was most certainly taught. In fact, I learned that stuff in Sunday School [Adult].

    Society, you paint a way to broad brushed picture of what conservative may have in their books. And it depends greatly what the book is trying to teach. Way to broad, my man.
    fishon

  25. “you paint a way to broad brushed picture of what conservative may have in their books.” (fishon)

    Agreed – but again I do come from a conservative camp of my own and I ain’t from a perspective I have not handled and interacted with – so I am speaking from both experience and study – not guesswork. Secondly, it is a broad picture but I have yet to meet many liberal scholars who hold onto very narrow views on a subject – they may have reservations about a subject but they won’t defend it as absolutely ‘God breathed’ – since they know their human limitations. I find in Conservative faiths that limitation is different – and a lot of people limit the words of God only to become demi-gods themselves (God speaks to them).

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