Playing with the Wrapping

“Truth is stranger than fiction, it is said.  G.K. Chesterton, with his ever-ready wit, told us why that is so:  ‘It is because we have made fiction to suit ourselves.’  Modern-day techniques have only enhanced the capacity to mass-produce lies.  With that combination of propensity and facility, we live with the reality that sometimes the truth seems impossible to believe … It is possible to hold a treasure in your hand but be ignorant of it and go for the wrapping instead” (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods 75).  Oddly enough, Zacharias wrote that in the year 2000, long before our present dystopia of internet distortions, corporate sleight-of-hand, deceptive market strategies and other blatant fabrications which have benumbed and bewildered observant people.

But we see this phenomena in a spiritual context as well.  People have made up their own spiritual fictions that sound better to them than what the Bible actually says. 

False religions.  I’ll simply refer to one – Hinduism.  I’ve recently done some background research on Hinduism in preparation for a lesson to be delivered in London.  This system, in broad terms the national religion of India, is a confusing array of religious texts, fictional stories, complex rites and a pantheon of gods.  India’s own Supreme Court issued this assessment in 1994:  “Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed.  It is a way of life and nothing more.” 

One of the most well-known features of Hinduism is the combination of karma and reincarnation (aka, “samsara”):  “Those performers of yagna and ritualistic activities who have not realized the brahman go to Svargaloka the heavenly planets to enjoy for millenniums the rewards of their ritualistic activities; but when these rewards have been used up such performers of yagna are immediately recycled back into samsara and reborn again in this world of mortals to work out and finish their karma” (Bhagavad Gita, Sridhara Swami Commentary).

Depending on one’s activities in the past life, one may return to this world as a human, an animal, a plant or an inanimate object.  It all depends on karma which is, simply stated, the philosophy of “what goes around comes around.”  Conceptions of mercy, grace and forgiveness of a loving heavenly Father are completely absent in Hinduism, yet many Westerners searching for “enlightenment” are drawn to Hinduism or a Westernized version of it – or perhaps its first cousin, Buddhism.  There’s a lot more to be said about Hinduism, but the bottom line is that it is a completely fabricated, culture-centric, self-contradictory system that has little resemblance to the truth God has revealed to mankind in His inspired word.

False doctrines.  Christianity itself doesn’t escape this preoccupation with the wrapping.  Perhaps the most obvious form of this is known as Pentecostalism or the charismatic movement.  In the initial stages of kingdom development, God temporarily put in place miraculous gifts to support the teaching of the gospel until the written revelation was completed.  For reasons He didn’t reveal to us God determined to make known new covenant documents in a gradual format.  As the kingdom passed through various phases in the first century, the gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles and the other letters were penned as the occasion dictated.  Gradually, as this process reached maturity and the apostles began to depart the scene, the spiritual gifts they endowed upon others also waned.  They were a stopgap measure, and as revelation gradually became static by way of writing and copying, the miraculous gifts were no longer needed.

This point, however, seems to be completely missed by a large segment of Christian scholars and denominations.  There is a disconnect between Peter’s citation of Joel’s prophecy (cf. Ac 2:17-21) and the method of transmission of these gifts in Ac 8:14-19.  In Luke’s characteristic style, he introduces someone or some event in Acts only to circle back around later with fuller explanation.  In this case, the critical issue of how one receives spiritual gifts is tied to apostolic bestowal.  When people are challenged today on how they supposedly received certain gifts they claim to have, they will ignore Ac 8 and make up their own mode:  “I prayed for it”; “Our church elders laid hands on me”; “It just happened out of the blue”; etc. 

Without arguing the issue completely here, this is another example of missing the main point and being fascinated by either that which isn’t intended for us or is “lesser” in the whole scheme of things.  This amounts to “playing religion” instead of conforming to the truth that God has revealed in His word.

False standards.  While I would not hold that Christianity is unduly complex like Hinduism, it is stringent because of what God is asking of us.  He is asking for total devotion, first place in our hearts, priorities and purpose in life.  He is intent on transforming our character “by the renewing of your mind … that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 5:15).   The church of the Lord is not a club where we can fulfill minimum requirements to keep our membership active.  (Someone recently told of an acquaintance who maintains membership in a large denomination so she can “get in and out” without speaking to others or committing herself to deeper involvement.  Is that the essence of the Christian life?!)

So, instead of embracing wholeheartedly the transformation God intends us to undergo, some tend to create shortcuts or set up easier standards to meet so that they can still “check the box” of religion.  This might be paying “tithes,” showing up occasionally for worship, becoming a staunch defender of a few pet issues – anything which showcases our “orthodoxy” to others.  This is the most subtle deceit of all, for we can cover ourselves veneer of faith as a substitute for a genuine relationship with God.

Zacharias continues:  “The proximity to truth and distance from its worth is repeated innumerable times in our lives.  In Chesterton’s words, we hold the dust and let the gold go free” (ibid).  How well do you discriminate between the true and false, the minors and majors?  Let us examine ourselves to see if we are merely holding handfuls of dust.