As many of you know, one of the perqs of being a Platinum member of the blog is that at this level everyone is given the opportunity to make a post of their own, distributed only to Platinum members.  For these posts, members can talk about nearly anything they want, so long as it is related to the blog and not grievously snarky.  So far, we haven’t had a snark at all.

I post one of these a week, and then once a month, I choose one to post on the blog itself for all readers.   Or rather, I have the Platinum members themselves vote on which one they think should go public  This is our first one.  It comes to us from Douglas Wadeson, a long time member of the blog and recently retired (lucky fellow) physician.  The post came in two parts: here I will be giving only the first (I won’t be posting the second: the Platinums will be voting on a different set of posts next time.)

Feel free to comment as you would with any of my posts, and Doug will be able to respond.

If you very much like participating yourself at this level, check out the other perqs available to Platinum members, and give it think!  Here now is Doug:


In Dr. Ehrman’s Christmas blog post he ponders: “So this is what I don’t understand:  why so many of the alleged followers of the Prince of Peace not only refuse to accept his teaching but by and large preach *against* it, standing precisely for what he stood against.  It’s as if they haven’t read their Bibles.  It’s all there – in Jesus’ teachings, in the Old Testament prophets, he based his message on, in the gospel proclaimed by his earliest followers. God is not on the side of the rich and powerful and eager to make it so all his people will be rich and powerful.  God is on the side of the poor and powerless and anyone who wants to follow God needs to be on their side as well.”

I suspect most of us know what he means.  We see “gospel” preachers living in wealth and encouraging their followers that God wants them to have similar prosperity.  Lavish church buildings while down the street there are homeless people.  Church-goers, many of them descended from poor immigrants, who now endorse building a border wall to keep poor immigrants out.  Tax relief for the rich is praised while pay increases and other help for the working poor are derided as “socialism.”  Here in the Bible Belt of the USA where Dr. Ehrman and I live, many states refuse to expand Medicaid to give the working poor better access to health care.  (I have volunteered in a medical clinic for indigent patients and it is a myth that all poor and working people can get insurance, Medicaid or other government assistance.)  These states also lead the nation in incarceration and death row executions despite the proclamation that their God is one of mercy and forgiveness.  Many people here support more money for military actions overseas while criticizing money spent to help impoverished nations in other ways.  You can probably cite additional examples from your own experiences.

It might seem confusing to those who read the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels and/or the books of the prophets in the Old Testament (the Bible that Jesus knew), and see passage after passage about the importance of caring for the poor and the disadvantaged, and condemning the heartlessness of those with wealth and power who either turn a blind eye to the needy or actually take advantage of them or sustain the system that keeps them disadvantaged.  A few examples.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”  Matthew 25:34-36

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Matthew 19:23-24

“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33

And here is a passage from outside the Gospels in the epistle of James, but echoes the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, that I’ve never heard quoted at a political convention:

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you.  Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.  Your gold and your silver have rusted, and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!  Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”  (James 5:1-6)

I think part of the problem is that there is a difference between being a “Christian” and being a “disciple” of Jesus.  I believe you can be one and not the other.

By definition, a “Christian” is one who believes in the “Christ.”  Christ (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for Messiah, meaning the Anointed One.  That is, the one chosen by God for a special purpose.  Specifically, in the Christian religion, the Christ was the one anointed by God to die for the sins of the world and then be raised from the dead and exalted back to Heaven.[1]  All who believe in this Christ and His redemptive act will be saved, i.e., have eternal life after death.  The Gospel of John certainly says this in places, the most famous being John 3:16.  The apostle Paul makes this the central point of the gospel he preached, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-19.

Some churches (denominations) take this to the point that belief alone is all that is necessary to be saved, and in fact, your life actions are irrelevant.  Years ago I attended the funeral service of a friend who had long ago left the church and came to a lonely end by suicide, but the preacher said to the family in the eulogy that if he had ‘ever’ named Jesus as his savior they could be assured that he would be in heaven.  In other words, anything else in his life including his abandonment of Christianity did not matter if at some point he had believed.  Perhaps he was just trying to comfort the family, but I believe this is the doctrine of a number of churches: once you publicly avow Jesus as your savior nothing can ever change that.  In this extreme view of salvation completely separate from your life actions, one can see how easily the actual teachings of Jesus can get lost.  Once you are “saved” the teachings become secondary, almost unnecessary.  The point is, you are saved!  You are children of the King!  You are God’s royal family!

So if you want to enjoy God’s favor and blessings you just need to believe, too.  There is even the “Prosperity Gospel” as it is called. “Name it, Claim it!”  God is not waiting until Heaven to bless you; He wants to give you health and wealth now!  Your poverty, or your illness, or your homelessness does not require anything of the Christians; you just need to believe and God’s blessings will follow. I wonder if part of the thinking is that if you are poor, or sick or otherwise distressed, it is because you are not a true believer, not a member of God’s royal family.  Classic blaming the victim.  And it certainly does not require anything of the church and its members; you just need to have faith.  No need to question society’s structures or its laws or its governmental priorities; the only issue is believing and getting saved.  Jesus died for you and your sins; the things He said during His ministry do not really matter today as long as you are saved and belong to that sacred society.[2] But then why did Jesus teach those things about the poor and the needy?  Because he was preaching to Jews living under the Law of Moses; things changed after His death and resurrection and the church age began.  The rules are different for Christians now.  Or so the thinking goes.

In my next post, I will discuss the flip side: is it possible to be a “disciple” but not a Christian?

[1] In the Hebrew scriptures, the Messiah was not portrayed as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, but the sacrificed savior concept was molded by the early Christians as they came to believe Jesus had been raised from the dead by God and therefore must be the Messiah.  Dr. Ehrman has discussed this if you search his posts about the Messiah.

[2] My personal response to such thinking would be Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who SAYS to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”  The Epistle of James also argues that true faith is always reflected in the way you live your life, not just in your words.