Summary: What is a true Christ follower?
A few years ago I was driving to the Adirondack Mountains where I would spend a week in the Whitney Wilderness area. My canoe was on top of the car, my backpack and other equipment was in the back and I was set for the long trip to upper state New York. Driving that far is a little boring so I turned on the radio. It was Sunday, so there was a lot of religious programming which always turns out to be interesting. One program came on which was a preacher answering questions that had been sent in by listeners. The first question had to do with some Old Testament passage where he had been making the point: “Unless the text says otherwise, we should always take the Bible literally.” Fine and well, but the next question was from someone who asked: “What do you think of Jesus’ statement about turning the other cheek and going the second mile?” My jaw dropped as the preacher said, “Well, I hardly think that Jesus meant for us to literally turn the other cheek after someone strikes us. That would be totally impractical.” Then he told a story about an Irishman who was hit by someone, turned the other cheek and was hit again, and then got up and whaled the tar out of the person who had hit him. But my eyes nearly popped out of my head as the preacher went on to say, “Well, you see, that was from the Sermon on the Mount, and the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount are not to be taken literally. They do not work in a fallen world. The principles Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount were meant for when he comes and sets up the millennial kingdom. They are certainly not for today.”
I laughed as the thoughts went racing through my head: “Who is it in the millennial kingdom who is going to strike us so that we have to turn the other cheek? Isn’t that the time and place what Isaiah spoke of when he said: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)? If the millennial kingdom is anything it is a kingdom of peace. If the Sermon on the Mount was only for the millennial kingdom, why would Jesus say something like, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21). I thought the millennial kingdom was a place of prosperity. You mean there will be people who are poor, hungry and weeping in Christ’s future kingdom? This is obviously just a way of explaining away something you don’t like in the Bible, and many of us do this one way or another. We often talk about liberals compromising the Bible, but fundamentalists are very good at it as well.
I wanted to play a game and create a list that said: You might be a fundamentalist if... And I could come up with some good ones since I am a recovering fundamentalist myself. You might be a fundamentalist if your religion is a religion of rules and laws, not one of relationships — If it is more important for you to be right than to have right relationships. You might be a fundamentalist if you have a rigid set of beliefs, and you think anyone who disagrees with you cannot possibly be a Christian. A fundamentalist is someone who believes that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into Welch’s Grape Juice — not wine. I explained in a sermon one Sunday how the pasteurization process which keeps grape juice from fermenting was not invented until very recent history, and Jesus really did turn the water into wine — more wine than the people could possibly drink. After the service a man came up to me who was so angry his face was red and I though he might try to hit me. It did not matter what the Bible clearly said, he had his mind made up that Jesus would never do something like that and nothing was going to change him — not even the Bible.
I had another situation in the same church where there was a man who loved Ken Hamm and his videos and books on creationism. He even took his family to visit the Creation Museum in Kentucky. He firmly believed that the earth was created in six literal 24 hour days — which is fine, except that he thought everyone else should believe it as well if they were true Christians. Never mind that in the creation story the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. (How are you going to have solar days without the sun?) But the point is that during a Sunday School class one day he boldly stated that Jesus’ teaching of turning the other cheek made absolutely no sense. And I wondered to myself if he was a Christian in the truest sense of the word, that is, a Christ follower. He was an Old Testament follower, but not a Jesus follower, at least in some aspects. We have a lot of people who love the militaristic parts of the Old Testament and despise the teachings of Jesus about loving our enemies and doing good to them. Old Testament followers, but not Jesus followers.