Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: II Timothy 4:3-4
Old Testament: Joel 2:23-32
New Testament: I Timothy 4:1-8
We live in the modern world. America is the mecca of science and technology. We are used to scientific research generating technological marvels. Many of us have benefited from our increase in human knowledge.
We don’t consider ourselves to be fanciful thinkers. We know the difference between fantasy and reality. We see the world for what it is. When we see living dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, or space craft in Star Wars, we know they’re not real. We’re not going to see them in real life. When we see a man with supernatural powers, like Superman, we know this isn’t real.
Media producers make big money manufacturing artificial images of the human imagination to excite us. Many of these artificial images are reproductions of ancient myths. The Lord of the Rings, Hogwarts of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones are modern twists to ancient myths.
There’s power in myths. Myths generate social movements. The modern world is not immune to their tremendous influence.
Take for instance, the Aryan myth. Those of us who fought in the Second World War were combatting the Aryan myth in Europe. That’s the Nazis’ myth that the German people were descendants of an ancient Aryan priesthood. That myth generated a global war.
Then there is the myth of the kami. Kami is a Japanese name. They were the mythological gods that gave birth to the Japanese people. Those of us who fought in the Pacific were combatting the Japanese myth that they are a divine people. They believed their destiny was to rule over other nations.
Myths that are benign fantasies are amusing. Myths that deny human life is another thing. We have fought against myths that empower a nation to believe it has the right to conquer other nations.
Myths and mythology are ways of the world. People are fascinated by them. They appeal to our need to transcend our lives. They convey greatness upon people who create mythological sagas and legends.
Christianity emerged from the world of myth. But it isn’t based on a myth. Christianity is based on a historical event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God created the Church to challenge worldly myths. Our faith has grown into a world-wide community of Jesus Christ despite myths and mythologies that tried to prevent its growth.
The power in Jesus Christ and His teachings excite the human heart. His power robbed myths and legends from their capacity to attract people.
Only Jesus Christ offers hope for new life in this world. Only Jesus Christ offers the future of new life in the world beyond this life. Jesus – who He was, who He is, what He has done, what He is doing – is the world’s one true hope.
But we should never under-estimate the influence of myths upon the Church’s life. Myths are pressing against the Christian mind. Myths are influencing the Christian heart. Myths are tearing apart the Christian community. We must always be aware of their capacity to disease the Christian mission.
When the Church’s mission is diseased by myth and mythology, Christianity has been torn apart. In 1560, Scottish Christians began to critique the Church’ mission. They were questioning whether the Church was being faithful to her original purpose. When they could read the words of Jesus from the Bible in Gallic, they realized several things.
- Christ called His disciples to live simple lives. He called His disciples to live lives of simplicity. “Give up all you have and follow me.” They didn’t see this worldly denial in the Church’s leaders.
- When Jesus said, “Don’t be anxious about your lives, what you shall eat and what you shall wear,” they heard Church leaders being called with them to live such lives.
- Lavish cathedrals and social gatherings in the Church’s name seemed to deny Jesus’ teachings.
- Christ called His people to “judge not lest ye be judged.” They didn’t see Christ’s call to humility in Church leaders. John Hus, Patrick Hamilton, and George Wishart died as martyrs for wanting to read the Bible in their own language. It seemed to many Christians that clergy authority had crossed Jesus’ boundary not to judge.
- Jesus taught in the Parable of the Tares that the weeds shouldn’t be removed from the field of the harvest. The Church’s persecution of Church reformers seemed to directly oppose what Jesus was teaching. It wasn’t up to any Church leader to remove a member of Christ’s Church from the faith simply because that person was concerned about the Church’s purity.
- Christ called His people to care for the poor and the needy. These Scots Christians could not understand why Church law and civil law favored the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
Sixteenth century Scottish Christians complained the Church was operating behind human-made myths. These myths reinforced the Church’s power to not teach Jesus Christ’s lessons, not be accountable to Jesus teachings.
As far as they were concerned the Church was conducting itself in a way that denied Jesus Christ being the head of the Church. For these Church reformers, the Church was not following what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ. The Church was practicing a mythology about Church authority that did not properly represent Jesus Christ.
In 1560, after decades of discontent, Scottish clergy and lords from around the Scottish kingdom gathered to sign a National Covenant before Grey Friars Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. Today, there is a Martyrs Monument to 20,000 Presbyterian martyrs who died for their faith. It commemorates the spot where the National Covenant was signed.
The Scottish priest, John Knox, drafted a confession of faith with four other church leaders. In that confession the Scottish Church declares three “Notes of the True Church.” Those three notes distinguish the true Church from what they believed to be a Church that had lost Jesus Christ as its head.
Those three notes were
- The true preaching of God’s Word as revealed by God, the prophets and Apostles.
- The right administration of Christ’s sacraments according to God’s Word that is sealed in our hearts.
- Church discipline rightly administered according to God’s Word where vice is repressed and virtue upheld.
These three notes are not old reformation slogans that are irrelevant in the new millennia. They remain our challenge in 2016 when we face the myths of the post-modern, post-Christian world.
The most powerful myths we have today aren’t images that fly by us or terrorize us on the silver screen. The most powerful myths that challenge Christians today aren’t forms of nationalist imperialism, although they still exist.
The most powerful myths today challenge the very essence of God’s own being. They have been developed by Christians trying to improve society. Yet they exert tremendous influence in our society. Let’s look at a three of the most powerful myths that challenge our Christian life today.
The first myth is that human existence is totally material. Human life, human happiness is totally, completely, utterly dependent upon material wealth. Our value, our worth comes from our material equality with other people.
Anything less creates self-alienation.
This is the myth created by several Christians from the nineteenth century. Saint Simon de Comte, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, were all baptized Christians. De Comte and Fourier were Roman Catholics. Marx and Engels were raised as Lutherans. Owen was from Wales – a Christian nation – but was raised without religion.
As we know, this myth led to the repudiation of God. These writers led to the claim the Church’s belief in God is an opiate of the people. It’s designed to anesthetize hopeless people from their condition. The anesthesia is the promise of a future life of bliss in Jesus Christ.
Each of these men were deeply upset about the terrible poverty they saw around them at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Saint Simon de Comte, was not an atheist. He had confidence the Church could take a new tact in its mission. Care for the poor would be the new Christianity.
The other three writers who followed took their turns attacking the Church. Owen, Marx and Engels repudiated Christianity and the Church.
The disease within Christian faith that has developed is to identify the Church’s mission simply as a matter of wealth. Distributing funds has become more important for Christian communions than teaching Jesus Christ’s lessons for social improvement.
Too many congregations believe mission is what we send money to do by paid missionaries overseas or in urban neighborhoods. Many have lost their ability to explain to another person who is Jesus and what His teachings offer that will give that person new life.
If we’re going to live out the first note of the true church, we the people of Christ’s Church must preach the true Word of God. The true Word of God isn’t that our hope and happiness comes from material possessions. The true Word of God is that Jesus Christ is the world’s hope.
His life, His teachings, His promises, His presence, His reality is the truth that will bring new life. He leads us to care for our neighbor beyond material needs. He challenges us to look beyond temporary, quick fixes to people’s problems that require spiritual re-formation.
Our value, the value of our neighbor, lies in a relationship with Jesus Christ more than it does wealth and possessions. That is the true Word of God. It is Jesus who says in John 6, “Do not labor for the bread that perishes. Labor for the food which endures to eternal life . . . I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in me shall never thirst.”
We are being called by God today to not chase after other myths, but to preach the true Word of God revealed by the Prophets and the Apostles.
The second myth is human community can only occur through free love. This myth claims the only way genuine human community can be experienced is through free love. Love should not be inhibited by moral standards or ethical prohibitions. Human happiness only occurs through the free passion of love.
Anything less generates human alienation, caused by judgment.
Once again, Christian writers created this myth despite God’s Word. Charles Fourier, Albert Brisbane, and Frederich Engels built a grand vision of utopia from their belief in the power of free love to give human happiness.
They declared emancipation from the Judeo-Christian covenant with God with its call to obeying God’s moral code. They were essentially denying Jesus Christ’s death on the cross calling for human repentance.
These Christians created communal living in the eighteenth century. Their writings were generated the hippie communes of the late sixties and early seventies. They morphed John Locke’s political doctrine of democracy into a world without self-control.
Locke studied Genesis carefully to arrive at his conclusion about political liberty. Jefferson imported it to America. But Fourier, Brisbane, and Engels recast community in sexual liberation.
The Church’s challenge is to recover the value of self-control for authentic community today. Self-control is the expression of love. Self-control is one of the fruits of Christ’s spirit in Galatians 2 for a purpose. It is what binds our relationships with one another.
Self-control is the basis for worshipping God. From self-control in love, we keep our promises to one another as men and women, parents and children. From self-control in love we honor one another. Through self-control in love we sacrifice for one another, provide for one another’s needs, care for one another.
The early Church learned that love is not free. Love comes with a price. That price is the self-sacrificing gift of grace from Jesus Christ that inspires us to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of those we love.
We show our loyalty to Christ through our loyalty to one another. We show our devotion to Christ through the words of devotion that bind us together. We show our devotion to Christ through the actions of compassion that help us to hear one another’s needs, respond appropriately to one another’s needs, and to be there for one another as Christ is for us.
This is the communion that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. When you love with self-control, love is never free. It can’t be free, because it’s not about satisfying ourselves. It’s about satisfying those we love.
Christians are being called today to not chase after the myth of free love. Its narcissism is tearing apart Christian community. Love as self-control is the true basis of a community that endures – whether it’s around the banquet table of Jesus Christ, or the dining room table of your home. Love as self-control is the sacrament of Christ rightly administered – the second note of the true Church.
Finally, the third myth that is being espoused today is it’s of no consequence what anyone believes. We’re free to believe whatever we want, whenever we want, any way we want.
If you push me that it matters, I’ll just take my beliefs somewhere else and its doesn’t really matter. Our faith has no public value for the community good.
Friends, this myth is a disease of Christianity today. To some extent, we Protestants have contributed to this. The reformation wasn’t about walking away from Christian faith as a public witness. It was about calling the Church to new purity that is accountable to Jesus Christ as it serves the public good.
A privatized Christian faith can’t say with one voice that a secular world can not serve the good of all humanity. A privatized Christian faith can’t garner enough pubic attention that things need to change in a free-wheeling society that pursues economic equality at the expense of each other as its salvation.
We’re risking that we’re teaching our children and their friends that we don’t have to be accountable to God’s Word to unite us. We’re risking the we’re showing our children that God’s Word isn’t important for making a better world. We can live without it and suffer no loss.
This is what exactly what young people are saying in Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus but not the Church. Millennials say they can follow Jesus without have accountability to Jesus Christ that you can only get within the Church.
The valuable of having four generations worshipping together at Church simultaneously is that each generation makes a contribution toward teaching the lessons of Jesus Christ to each other. It takes each generation together to find the will of Christ that unites us.
Without each generation in worship there isn’t just a loss to the other generations, there’s a loss for the public good. Bellevue would be impoverished if every congregation of Jesus Christ is closed along Lincoln Avenue because we don’t think it matters that we believe together, worship together, serve together, love together in the name of Jesus Christ.
America would be equally impoverished.
Remove Christians from public school classrooms, hospitals and nursing homes, courtrooms, police departments and military units. Remove the wisdom and example of Jesus Christ from banking and commerce, technology and media and you will have a very different nation.
It all will happen if there isn’t a Church where we gather in worship.
Remove the Church from the face of America. Our foreign policy will be no longer be tempered. Our domestic policy will not resemble anything we know as justice. All of these public expressions of our private lives depend upon the power of gathering together around God’s Word where God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ wherever we are.
We exercise ecclesiastical discipline when we in our homes encourage one another to be accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls us to unite in worship in His name. We exercise ecclesiastical discipline that benefit the commonwealth of God’s people when we teach our worship of Jesus Christ is for the public good.
This is the final note of the true Church that challenges the myths of our age. When we pay attention to the notes of the true church, we are a dynamic faith community that impresses the world with the hope and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
To Him be the Glory! Amen.