15 – The Problem with our Fundamentalism: Maybe God’s on Their Side

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Fundamentalism fails to see complexity in things. That is, a Samaritan may be on God’s side. We might not be. What is God’s side? His side is that we follow the teachings of Jesus and do what he said. This is what it means to call him Lord, to honour him. Fundamentalism sees people through theological divisions, and not as people just like us, with human needs like we have. In this case normal human compassion breaks down and disappears into religious extremism. This describes the situation in Israel when Jesus came. It describes much of the situation in the world today.

Fundamentalism looks for political and military solutions to our religious problems. It covers disputes over land and national success with religious justifications. If we don’t treat other groups properly in our land, we may find religious reasons for this. But if we treat others wrongly to support our faith then our faith is wrong. This was the big idea in the days of Jesus. The people wanted to use political and conquest solutions to deal with their enemies. This is how they used the law: they would prosecute and condemn anyone who wasn’t right with God. This is the Messiah they wanted: one who would conquer their ungodly enemies with the sword, lest they take over the land. They believed these were essential ways to protect the kingdom of God in this world, not knowing God is able to do that himself.

But Jesus introduced a surprising new dynamic for dealing with these problems, dealing with these worldly threats to our faith. Instead of seeking to punish or knock out these threats, his solution was to serve the people who are caught up in the wrong. His solution was to see these people, not as enemies, but as captives to the wrong way of doing things: to have compassion on them. His solution was to take up his cross, rather than to put the enemy on their cross. This is how he saw them when he was on his cross, when he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

So Jesus introduced a whole new dynamic to conquer the evil in this world and this new dynamic was suffering. Not the suffering that was already normal in the world, a suffering with bitterness, anger and the hope of sevenfold revenge. But suffering with kindness, with forgiveness and with a heart of care to those who harm you. This was the big new way of Jesus. So, as fundamentalists take up various methods of force to overcome the threats to their faith and way of life, Jesus’ followers deny these, and instead take up their cross. One way is using Jesus to sustain their own methods, the other way is following Jesus as Lord. This was the essential difference between Jesus and many others in his day, and it is the same essential difference between religious extremism and God inspired care for others today.

We aren’t saying that fundamentalists are always wrong. We aren’t taking sides with camps. Fundamentalists have a lot to offer us, like concern for the scriptures and for God’s truth. The fundamentalists who didn’t like the ungodliness of Rome had a point. It’s the same today. Taking up “modern morality” isn’t a good protest against fundamentalism. The truth about camps is always the same. We need each other, we learn from each other. Any time we don’t learn from 33 our neighbour, we are wrong at that point. This is why Jesus was so hard to categorize. He affirmed much that the fundamentalists affirmed.

The only difference Jesus had with the fundamentalists, and this was likely the main issue of his message and ministry, was about how they responded to the problems in the world. They responded with violence, either directly or indirectly, while Jesus responded with selfgiving care and suffering. For Jesus, this was the best way to show the truth. In Colossians this is what Paul said about the cross. When Jesus was stripped naked and lifted up on the cross, he stripped naked the ruling powers of this world. He exposed their selforientated leadership, with a God who comes down to serve his creation. He showed us true caring leadership. It was at this point that the Roman Centurion looked on and said, “Truly this man is the Son of God.” And in Rome that meant Caesar, Lord, Governor of the world. God’s nakedness made the sin of this world naked, but God’s nakedness was exposed as total love, the world’s as total selfishness. This is why God can tell us, “Love your enemies”, because he did it. And this is the difference between fundamentalism and following God.

This is partly what the Beatitudes are about. The new way of overcoming was in suffering. It isn’t the powerpeople who shape the future. It is the ones who suffer in the power of God’s Spirit. These shape the world. In fact, these own the world and they own the kingdom, they own the future and they own God as their Father.

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