As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

By This...

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you say you are Catholic.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you were baptized by immersion.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you follow the ancient Orthodox way.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you speak in tongues.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you are a Calvinist and not Arminian.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you pray long and wordy prayers.
Teacher: No dear student! That's what men say. Try that again.

Student: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Teacher: Yes dear student! That's what the Bible says.

The Glass Ceiling

I like to belong, don’t you? It’s good to be part of something important. Churches often expected me to fit their mold in order to belong. It was not an entirely unreasonable expectation. I wanted that feeling of belonging. However, the mold was often a glass ceiling. I sensed that I was being held down. Other churches also had excellent ideas or good understandings on certain aspects of our faith, or a profound liturgy that inspired me.

This sometimes put me at odds with church politics. I was no longer a blind follower, but a perceived threat. Yet my desire to learn never ceased. I wanted to grow up in the Lord, but felt like some churches only wanted blind followers who would only learn what was to be found within their four walls. I grew beyond needing a sense of belonging to this or that church. It was still important but less so. The real belonging that counts is belonging to Christ.

When God Leaves the Building

In most churches where I've been, I have perceived that God was there. However, occasionally I have sensed that God just was not present. What would make God leave a house of worship? In Matthew 23:37-39 Jesus predicted Jerusalem's house would be abandoned. Yet, God did not leave too soon, or lightly. Jesus as God with us spoke of Jerusalem in endearing terms. How often he had wanted to gather her children and protect them, as a hen gathers her chicks.

But, Jerusalem was "heir to a tragic tradition wherein God's messengers were persecuted and killed."* As a result, the House of God would become abandoned. Are there conditions upon which God would return? Would those be similar conditions whereby he would return to a church that he had left? For I tell you this, you won't ever see me again until you say, "Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!" That's what Jesus said.

* Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol. 33B: Word Biblical Commentary : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (680). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

A City Judged

The old saying that you are either for us or against us is frequently a false dichotomy. Often there are other options like neutrality. In cases where there are genuinely only two options, it is not a false dilemma but a truism. In eternity, there will be no neutral choice between good and evil, no loving both forever. That’s why Jesus could say, he that is not against us is for us in Luke 9:50, but when George Bush said, you’re either with us or against us in 2001, emotionally it was powerful, but logically it was a false dichotomy.

With that thought in mind, perhaps we can better understand Jesus’ condemnation of a whole city. Jerusalem had harbored those who murdered the prophets, without punishing them, and would soon condone the crucifixion of the Son of God. Jerusalem’s corporate failure to respond to God would be the cause of her punishment. “You were not willing.” That’s what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #7

It was not just ancient Israelites who killed the Old Testament prophets. It was not just the Jews and Romans who victimized early Christians. It was not just the Catholic Church which consented to the murder of martyrs. It has also been Protestants who persecuted Catholics and Orthodox who still mistreat Protestants. We cannot point a finger without pointing it at our own sins. Despite our protests, are we any different?

Rather than identifying with the evils of Christian history, are we like the Pharisees who deceived themselves that they were different? Rather than confess our sins, do we live in denial? In Matthew 23:29-36 Jesus condemned religious leaders who would become involved not only his own crucifixion, but also the martyrdom of his followers. If it is possible for very dedicated and devout people to kill and crucify, scourge, and persecute God’s prophets, what about us? How have we treated the prophets, wise men and scribes sent by Jesus?

Disasters of Hypocrisy #6

Whitewashing a wall has taken on color in recent years. One original purpose of whitewash was to cover up structural defects. Similarly, Jesus accused the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27-28 of being like whitewashed tombs – clean looking on the outside, but full of bones and unclean dead bodies on the inside. Outside they gave people the appearance of keeping the law, but in reality, their fastidiousness with the letter of the law, made them lawbreakers, because they broke the spirit of the law.

It is part of our society to put on a brave face. But, in reality we can be dying on the inside. I have been to churches where if you wore a sad face you were sharply criticized for not "smiling in God's house." The idea must be that Christians never suffer and must therefore always be smiling. That is of course not reality. A whitewashed pretentiousness is not what God wants at all. That's what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #5

Image is important to churches. We want to be well thought of in the community and that can be a good thing. However, there is a far more important factor that can be neglected if we focus on outward appearance. Our inner spiritual lives suffer when doing church things becomes too burdensome and time-consuming.

Usually it is the wonderfully dedicated who are most prone to burn out, because they spend the most time in helping do the busy work that churches require. That can be building maintenance, music practice, flower arranging, and involvement in community charities with no end in sight. God's business can easily become big business with its incessant demands on time, talent and treasure.

The inside, family and spiritual lives suffer under overly demanding church responsibilities. This was also a problem for the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26. First clean the inside of the cup, so that its outside may be clean as well. That's what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #4

A waitress once remarked to us that the worst customers of the week in her restaurant, the ones that complained the most and tipped the least, were the Sunday-after-church people. We are focused on doing religious stuff but easily forget that true religion is to love our neighbor. We strain out an unclean gnat but miss the bigger picture, the unclean camel.

This is as bad as the Pharisees who were exceptionally fastidious in tithing of minutia such as mint, dill and cumin, but neglected weightier matters. Jesus complimented them for tithing, a requirement under the law, but condemned them for neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Perhaps counting mint leaves for an offering is not our focus, but we can easily be overly concerned with religious trivia of other sorts – worship methods, insignificant traditions, icons that are not painted just right, liturgical minutiae and so on. Let's not forget important things like justice, mercy and faithfulness. That's what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #3

A friend of mine was a blind marathon runner in his younger years. He required a guide who would run the lengthy races with him. The two were connected by a piece of string. Imagine the folly of him trying to run such a marathon with an equally blind guide. That is like the stupidity of petty and arbitrary religion which neglects the most important beliefs of Christianity and focuses on empty-headed fluff and divisive dogmas.

In Matthew 23:16-22 Jesus dissected the fallacious arguments of the Pharisees over oaths. Their logic why some oaths were considered binding and others not was defective. Jesus called them blind guides because despite their vast religious knowledge, they lacked spiritual insight, arguing over irrelevant trivia rather than focusing on essential principles. We cannot diminish the things of heaven without diminishing God himself. Anyone who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it. That's what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #2

The evangelistic zeal of certain devout people is exemplary. Some are courageously willing to do uncomfortable things like travel land and sea to spread their message. However, zeal is not enough. The message must also be healthy and orthodox. Active recruitment for a false gospel must surely be one of the most futile endeavors. Often, a new convert is twice as zealous as his recruiter, and the vile cycle of deceit only gathers momentum. What a waste!

Those who are on the road to hell are always on the lookout for fresh apprentices. This is the hypocrisy of dishonest religion, a deceived creed not honorable enough to scrutinize its own errors, or to fully acknowledge the Savior of the world. Like the Pharisees in Matthew 23:15 such deceivers will travel land and sea to make one convert, and then when they have found one, make him twice much a child of hell as they are. That's what Jesus said.

Disasters of Hypocrisy #1

Many religious people are hypocrites. What is a hypocrite? It is someone whose life is a Hollywood performance. They are an actor, a pretender and not the genuine article. A polite term that is sometimes used for such a fraud is a nominal Christian, someone who is a Christian in name only. If we claim to be Christians yet allowed the Gospel message to make only a surface change in our lives, then we fail to enter the kingdom of heaven.

A tendency of human nature is to persuade others to be just like us. So, if we have failed to enter in, then we certainly don't want our friends to get too "religious" on us either. Dangerously, just like Jesus warned the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13, when we play the hypocrite, we lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. We do not go in ourselves, and when others are going in, we stop them. That's what Jesus said.

How be Exalted

Jesus said that those who humble themselves will be exalted. What does that mean? It is one of those universal principles for this life and the next. For instance, when we flatter ourselves, people naturally tend to look down on us. We actually lower ourselves in their eyes. On the contrary, if we have a modest opinion of ourselves, then others tend to honor us more highly.

When we behave in an unassuming manner of humility and servanthood we are inclined to have a more attractive personality. When we assign ourselves a lower rank and prefer to give honor and deference to others, people like us and will be far more liable to praise us. The same is true of our reward in eternity. If we have the bad habit of exalting ourselves in this life, our eternal reward will be far more humble. On the other hand, if we humble ourselves, we will be exalted. That's what Jesus said.