The Mixed Messages of Good Friday

At the close of each Sunday morning sermon we extended the invitation to come forward to repent, confess, and be baptized. If it was cold weather we had to arrange with one of the churches in Franklin (Tenn.) that had a baptistery. Consequently, we only baptized during protracted meetings in July. Actually we were all baptized around twelve years old. It was the Church of Christ rite of passage, with little thought about repentance.

It is difficult to excite a twelve-year-old boy with the idea of Salvation, or convince him of the wonders of Heaven, or the fire and brimstone of Hell. The Church, the family, the extended congregation gave me a sense of belonging. We were Christians.

The agony of the Crucifixion is overshadowed by the Resurrection. This was God's will from before the creation, to give his only begotten son for mankind for the atonement of their sins. Christ was the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified, arose, walked among the disciples, ascended into Heaven, sits on the right hand of God, and will return to redeem his disciples.

Several people have posted graphic pictures of Jesus on the Cross. His blood-soaked body from the crown of thorns; the lashes of the whip; the rough wood of the cross; nails in each palm; with a longer spike through both feet portray the humanity and pain of the Crucifixion.

These two images are preserved and recorded by the Apostles, the early disciples, the early Christian martyrs and historians. In the Reign of Constantine, Christianity became the religion of the state and Catholic Church. In the reformation we restored the message to the people in their languages and broke free from the Pope and the King. We in the Church of Christ added the Restoration claiming a separate identity from Protestantism, and it all made perfect sense and was logical to me.

Somewhere in this Good Friday and Easter week we are absorbed in the certainty that we are saved. Through faith and an accompanying ritual our sins were washed away and we are safe in the arms of God. I am one of many chosen of God, saved by the blood of Jesus. All of this is in the Bible, and I accept that.

Then I pick up my Bible and I read the words of Jesus and I find another message. I see a young man astonishing the priests and scholars. He rounds up a motley crew of fisherman and a tax collector and sets out to save the world. He blessed the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. He had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. His was a message from God.

Much of His message was about hypocrisy; about the jot and tittle of the law; about straining at the gnat and neglecting the weightier matters; about whited sepulchers and dead men's bones; about millstones on the backs of the people; about the speck of sawdust and the two-by-four. He came into a world governed by Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, the Sanhedrin Council, within the Roman Empire. He came into a world of Jews held in captivity by Rome, which scoffed at their religion but was complicit in the execution of the radical reformer who was a threat to religious orthodoxy and to Caesar.

He healed the sick, cast out demons, made the lame walk and the blind to see, raised the dead, walked on water, and pulled tax money out of a fish. He rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. He appeared before Caiaphus and Pilate to be punished for offending two governments.

We have arrived at a time in the history of Christianity in which our emphasis is on our personal salvation and ourselves. It seems that many who assume the leadership and voice of religion are not exemplary messengers of Christ. We have developed a religion of proclamation of elitism, a chosen people, people of faith, unlike the lowly publican. We have become a judgmental and intolerant people. We have become a religion of the healthy and the wealthy, the successful, the rich, the conservative. We have become the Church of the Temple, the Cathedral, the mega-church, and televangelism.

We have ventured into partisan politics, commerce, sectarian education, the gun culture, and Constitutional revisionism. We have reached into Leviticus and Deuteronomy and rekindled our acceptance of gender chauvinism, cruel and unusual punishment, and embarked upon the enforcement of Old Testament law into every aspect of the lives of others who commit sins different from our own. We endorse candidates who prefer the rich over the poor. We have supported wars of aggression out of fear and hatred against people who did us no harm.

There is a fear among some that America is becoming a secular nation, turning its back on God, making war on Christianity, trampling on the Constitution, abandoning our traditional values, coming to take our guns and Bibles, redefining our morality, and taking away the rights of individuals and states.

I have a hard time understanding that. Our founding fathers went to a lot of thought in forming a secular government. The only times they mentioned religion were to forbid Congressional establishment, forbid any religious test to hold public office, and the affirmation of free exercise of religion. America is blessed in that we are a nation with a Christian majority that tolerates freedom to all religions and disbelievers who flee from religion. The Constitution is the foundation of our government amended to extend rights to people denied those rights by slavery, prejudice, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, and judgmental exclusion. Government does not define nor legislate morality, or traditional values. No one from government is coming to take our guns or our Bibles, or indoctrinate our children in government schools with strange textbooks. There is no war on Christianity. There is division within Christianity, between liberals and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans, between the literalists and the philosophical, between the culture of today and the culture of the past that we remember either with nostalgia, remorse, or guilt.

Outside the walls of Christianity I find some people who believe in some supernatural being of "whom" they are in awe. They realize there is something greater than ourselves. Something makes us humble but provides us with human worth and drives us to be the salt of the Earth and the light of the World, and part of the overall configuration of the Universe and its inhabitants. They do not seem to be inspired by the God of the Old Testament; the God of a six-day creation; the vengeful God of Israel; or the God requiring the sacrifice of animals or an only child.

They are not impressed by fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, or the Catholic hierarchy. While they distance themselves from orthodox religion many of them embrace a secular morality that is very similar to the morality that Jesus taught-love, tolerance, compassion, non-violence, forgiveness, and brotherhood. I still defer to the thinking of my grandmother who believed that God did not put her on Earth to get ready for next world, but rather to make this one better, and if she did what was right he would take care of her, but she was in no hurry for salvation.

Whatever religion I think I might have came mostly from her, inspired to some extent by her faith in the One who died on Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday, whom God sent on a mission to change the hearts and minds of people, the way they think and the way they treat each other.

Bill Peach is a retired business owner who writes on faith and politics. He is the author of Politics, Preaching & Philosophy and lives in historic Franklin, TN.