Thursday, January 18, 2018

The value of works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. -Ephesians 2:8-9

Above is a rather famous passage that distinguishes Christianity from most other world religions. In everything from Islam to Hinduism, works usually come into play in most beliefs version of salvation. Probably because it just seems to be human nature to think and believe that works or deeds are the way to manufacture righteousness and earn your way into the afterlife. So much so that people try to interject it into Christianity as well. Despite that this passage and others like it refutes our assumptions about the role of works. Even when scripture reveals no amount of work would ever truly be enough.(Galatians 2:16, Luke 18:26,27)

Yet, even for those who know and believe this verse, don’t always understand it completely. There seems to be another opposite extreme assumption about this passage. That since works have nothing to do with salvation, then works cannot possibly have any value at all. Which often becomes an excuse to not serve. That idea is completely ridiculous though. Works, deeds, and service do indeed have much value, just not for salvation. Hence, the reason for this blog entry, I will reveal the value of our works beyond salvation.

All you have to do is read the very next verse in this passage to see that works are not without value.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -Ephesians 2:10 (As you can see, we do this passage a great disservice by leaving out verse 10.)

The implication being that works play into fulfilling our purpose. Even psychologists are noticing that people who pursue a meaningful life are more satisfied than those who merely seek a happy life. So obviously we can’t truly be fulfilled without fulfilling our purpose, which involves service and works.

Works build up the church - Ephesians 4:11-13

Service is the path to greatness in the eyes of God - Matthew 20:20-28

Deeds demonstrate repentance - Acts 26:20

Service brings blessings - John 12:26, 13:17

Good Deeds serve as an example to non-believers -1 Peter 2:12

Let us not forget that Jesus flat us called us to serve thorough works in John 13:1-17. As he indicated later in verse 14:23-24, to do as he commands is a way we express our love for God. For a true believer; that alone should be enough alone to value works, even if it doesn't bring us salvation.

Works do not save us; we serve through good deeds because we are saved. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one that should not be overlooked.

The Visual PARABLEist

a man serving the word to the least of these which gets God's approval.
click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What the church should NOT do

I have been watching Leah Remini’s Scientology: The Aftermath, and bought her book Troublemaker. In this moment, I feel compelled to respond to what I have observed. While I always try to tell people that no matter how good and righteous a belief system may be, people are still people. They are imperfect, faulted, and prone to error. So we often see many common human failings infiltrating religious institutions, even when their theology strictly forbids it. However, it seems that this is what separates Scientology from most other world religions. Many of these human failings I allude to are part of Scientology’s doctrine. So in many ways the church of Scientology serves as a perfect example of what a religious institution should not do. Which I will go over some of the main ones for you to consider.

1. Act as if you are beyond reproach. For the faithful, questions can serve as an opportunity to educate and promote better understanding of your ideals. However, you have to be well versed yourself to do that. For the easily threatened, it serves as an excuse to criticize, hate, and shame people who question them. Just what the church of Scientology teaches it’s people to do with zeal. Behavior which most other world religions discourage in writing, if not in action. Most religions recognize that you can’t help or inspire people you are demonizing. Or labeling them a “suppressive” to use the Scientology vernacular. (Matthew 21:45-46)
2. Forced submission. People submit to authority everyday. We do this with things as simple as paying sales tax, or stopping at a red traffic light. Some choose to do this because they see value in it. Some only because they fear the consequences of not doing so. As far as the government is concerned, their main concern is order, not sincerity. So it doesn’t matter to them why the public observes the laws, just as long as people do. That is where government and religious institutions should differ, the value of sincerity. Most belief systems recognize that the heart or the spirit is the root of our actions, so they address these things in one way or another to improve the individual, which leads to better behavior. Through that process people may see value in that religions authority, and choose to submit to it; sincerely. Which is how it should work. But in humanities short sightedness we often only look at the surface and merely address evil behavior directly. This often just creates an illusion of true transformation since the root cause of heart and spirit is overlooked. Scientology’s highly systematic approach would be near impossible to skip. However, they do fail to trust in their system enough to allow people to decide for themselves, to choose Scientology or not of their own freewill. If forced submission fails, you get labeled a suppressive and all ties to the church and the people you were in relationship within it are "disconnected". A fact they hold over your head to get you to submit against your will. (Joshua 24:15)
3. Violating your own principles for the sake of the greater good. Many an evil has been committed upon these grounds. However, no religious institution worth its salt would ever condone this. The fact is, if we resort to the same evils as our enemy on the battlefield, our enemies principles ultimately prevail, even if our enemies lose the war. Many shortsighted people have a hard time recognizing the truth of this in practice, including Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard apparently. For example, one of the foundational truths in Scientology is “clearing the planet of reactive minds.” Yet, somehow they do not see their hate and shame "fair game" policies towards suppressive people, and the institution of psychology as “reactive.” Nor, does current Scientology leader David Miscavige see his infamous violent outbursts as “reactive” either. To me, these doctrinal actions would qualify as the epitome of “reactive,” or wrong by their own standards. (Romans 2:1-4)
4. Cold indifference. We live in a crazy hostile world, full of pain, suffering, and every kind of evil imaginable. Trying to care about such a world, and deal with our scars from it can be overwhelming. So our response can often lead to an “us versus them” mentality as way to shield ourselves from that misery. Which leads us to limit our love to our own people, and all else is treated with cold indifference. Yet, in Scientology their central teaching revolves around achieving a state of “clear” that seems to be nothing more than cold indifference. It is most notable in the devout followers who have family members that have left the church. There is no love lost or regret at all over these broken relationships from the “clear” who are expected to disconnect. A human tendency that has only caused good people to do nothing in the face of evil. A human failing that is rationalized by Scientology. (First John 3:16-18)
5. Money. While a necessity of civilization. A disproportionate love for it can be devastating for that culture. It not only has spoiled many a religion but art, music, literature, cinema, and many of the other good things in life as well. Creating something beautiful, important, beneficial, relevant, or meaningful often takes a back seat to making profit. Not to mention the pursuit of it can inspire crime. While the lack of money may be a symptom of a problem, the moment we look at it as a solution, it starts to become a virtual god to us. This is so blatantly obvious in Scientology and their rather expensive path to “operating thetan“ status.(First Timothy 6:10)
6. legalism. It just seems to be human nature to systematize things, including religion. The Pharisees where prime examples of this 2000 years ago. They took the very narrative, and poetic living scriptures, and turned it into thousands of lifeless do’s and don’t’s. The flaw in legalism is that it is merely external, a conditioned response, obligatory actions that are not done in the spirit, or from the heart. Which seems to be the goal of Scientology, to condition out reactive behavior. While they may be onto something with the ides that people are definitely too reactionary, which causes much conflict in the world. It’s doubtful that can be the only cause of all human suffering. Even if it were, merely teaching people to avoid it instead of indulge it, hardly constitutes dealing with it in a constructive manner. If you read through the Gospels, and Acts of the apostles, while taking note of what the Pharisee’s did, and how Jesus and the apostles called them out in their heartless surface ways. One can plainly see that many churches of today have repeated all their mistakes. It just seems that people want rigid, fixed, and easy to understand and apply answers. So many churches, including Scientology, become eager to oblige them. Even if Jesus had no love for such camouflaged and formulaic people. (Matthew 23:25 and 26)

While I am sure, these practices have served many an institution in the short-term. In the long-term they have only breed disillusion and feelings of ill will towards the institutions that utilize such faulty strategies. As former church of Scientology board member Mike Rinder has indicated, their own actions will be their undoing. Actions rationalized by their own policies. Actions the wise should steer clear of. Actions that are slowly destroying the institutions that they claim to love and serve. Don’t be one of them.

A person entirely obscured by cold armor
click to enlarge