I was going through some old notebooks a few weeks ago, and I was surprised to find a hand written letter that I received several years ago, from a guy I had met in Ireland. This fellow, who we’ll call Matt, was very interested in what we were teaching. He was already a professing Christian, after some misspent youth, according to himself.
During our first conversations on the street and later over the phone, Matt seemed very sincere about wanting to know and follow what Jesus taught. Matt seemed to be a bit tired of playing the church game. Instead of simply “going to church,” Matt wanted to BE the church that he saw in the teachings of Jesus.
He wanted to do more for Jesus. He had already started a family, but he had enough faith (at the time) to believe that God would take care of him if he began a full-time ministry working alongside us. He began to sell his possessions (see Luke 14:33); he began to get his wife excited about becoming traveling missionaries. Over the course of the next 2 months, Matt and I had many long conversations about following the teachings of Jesus. He was a bit fearful each time he called, but after talking with him and trying to get him to examine his irrational fears, we would end each conversation on a strong note of encouragement, and he became more and more convinced he was following the will of God for his life.
Then, after a short break in our communication, everything changed. Matt had spoken to the “elders” of a local church he had once attended, and they felt the need to set this man “straight.”
Our conversations on the phone took a dramatic turn, and now Matt was reverting back to the same old churchy cliches that he and I had discussed at length over several calls, questioning the foundation that most of these loosely associated cliches rested upon.
At this point, I began to tell Matt that he was going to have to decide for himself who to listen to: Jesus’ clear teachings in the Gospels, or some distorted teachings that are mostly quotes from the apostle Paul that can at least APPEAR to contradict Jesus.
After several tense exchanges, and my flight back to the United States (that had been previously planned), I got a letter from him. Here are two paragraphs from that very letter, which give an insight into why people try to reject Jesus’ teachings in favor of a less “extreme” path…Matt writes:
By the way, I’ve been thinking over the doctrine you guys have, that a person is born again by the teachings of Jesus. After reading the books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, etc, I have had to conclude that your stand on that issue is a dangerous heresy. I know you will now rank me alongside the rest of the “apostate church”, but I must stand by the Bible – all of it. Paul said that what he writes was received from Jesus by special revelation (Gal. 1:12), so to reject it because what he says seems to contradict Jesus is wrong. There is a principle of hermeneutics called the law of non-contradiction. I’m sure you know what it means. Therefore what Paul said must (as well as all the biblical writers) line up, and agree, with Jesus’ own words. It’s true, Jesus said some things hard to understand, and it seems logical to assume that we must then go to the rest of the inspired writers for divine commentary.
We are not saved by obedience to Jesus’ commands; the whole O.T. sacrificial system shows us the utter inability of man to save himself. We are saved by grace through faith. It is the blood of Christ, which alone satisfied God’s fierce wrath against sin, that saves us. By believing that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification we receive grace, mercy and peace from God. It is then this grace which enables us to walk as He walked. this is the Gospel, and I cannot support your version of the Gospel any longer.
Our “version of the Gospel” was strangely enough NOT found in the books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, etc, as Matt looked to for “divine commentary” on Jesus’ own words. This is not to say that we are not inspired by the writings of Paul, which we do believe came by the inspiration of God. However, when one has to look to ANYONE else to diminish Jesus Christ’s OWN WORDS, I tend to suspect foul play.
By all means, those of you reading this right now, challenge our orthodoxy (“right thinking”) and our orthopraxy (“right practice”). But don’t ever try to tell us that TRYING to obey Jesus is somehow a mistaken, sinful, or dangerous thing.
We believe it is dangerous, sinful and heretical to avoid TRYING to follow Jesus. Notice to what extremes Matt has to go to in order to avoid the plain teachings of Jesus Christ. He felt the need to make sure that the apostle Paul’s writings had to “clarify” Jesus’ words. Jesus’ words are the STANDARD by which EVERYTHING else must fall in line with. That’s why Jesus is called the “chief cornerstone” (Mark 12:10). a cornerstone is defined as: “the foundation on which something is constructed or developed.”
The whole Christian life is built upon Jesus’ clear words. He is our foundation.