Ragamuffin Gospel: #1 – Something is Radically Wrong

Chapter 1

In this chapter Manning provides a strong argument that the institutional church in America is moving in the wrong direction, with the wrong message and misguided leadership. “The institutional church has become a wounder of the healers rather than a healer of the wounded.” Far too much emphasis is being placed on “what I do rather than on what God is doing.”

“At the heart we are practicing Pelagians.” (see definition)2 We’ve bought into the notion that we can do it ourselves! As a parent, I’ve heard this phrase so many times and yes, I’ve even encouraged our children to “do it themselves.” At its worst, this very typical behavior can lead to the unintended consequence of instilling a value system that suggests God is not required. Pelagius committed himself to this idea in the 5th Century and was ultimately excommunicated.

In our thirst to handle things ourselves we’re faced with the harsh reality that ultimately we are not in control.  Manning quotes Eugene O’Neill’s play, The Great God Brown, so I checked out a book of his plays get the full grasp of the example. What intrigues me most is the concept of fabricating masks to portray who we want people to think we are and how this warps our reality into the form we want rather than being the creation God desires. A rather depressing play, perhaps, because it paints an authentic picture for many.

What we need to wrestle with is the concept that “God made sinners righteous through the forgiveness of sins in justification.” When we dwell on this notion, we simply must tell the world! God “has a single relentless stance toward us: He love us.” We can’t fix ourselves, God doesn’t expect that at all. He does expect us to understand our sinful nature and come to him.

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.a’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

The words of Christ are more important than anything we can write. Of all the scripture Jesus could draw upon, He chooses to quote Hosea when confronting the Pharisees. Hosea? Really? The guy God told to marry a prostitute? Through it all, God shows his unquenched desire and love for His people. That’s the theme of this chapter.  Manning points out the Greek work kalein or kaleó in the text, to call, to summon, to invite. This word is found 148 times in the New Testament Greek. Maybe we should pay attention to the invitation??

It’s all a gift. Grace.

We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.

I really appreciate Manning’s description of how Luke paints a picture of children being worthy for the kingdom of God while the rich young ruler is found wanting and unable to comprehend the words of Christ (Luke 18:15-30). There is nothing we can do to inherit the kingdom. Children cannot because they are….children! Once we get this thought through our heads we must realize we can no longer “do it ourselves,” we must surrender, submit, confess and accept Christ. But there’s more, we need to share that with others.

After reading this chapter the most recent version of It Is Well began to play in my mind, especially the reprise:

through it all, through it all,
my eyes are on you
through it all, through it all
it is well.
through it all, through it all,
my eyes are on you
it is well with me.

Not by anything I have said or done, but by the almighty grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Notes:

1 Penitential Seasons include Advent, Lent, etc.

2 Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam’s sin, original sin, total depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

3 The Great God Brown, Eugene O’Neill. See link. Throughout the play, these characters wear masks that serve several purposes. They help the characters hide and thus protect their vulnerable inner selves while, at the same time, allowing them to project pleasing public images in an attempt to restore their confidence in themselves. Yet, ultimately, the tensions that result from not being able to reveal their true selves cause the characters to suffer and further isolate themselves from each other. The Great God Brown presents a penetrating study of the inner workings of the human psyche as it struggles to cope with betrayal, failure, and a search for identity.

4 joie de vivre: exuberant enjoyment of life

5 Laicization is a process which takes from a priest or other cleric the licit use of his powers, rights, and authority. Laicization occurs automatically when a priest, deacon, or monk marries or joins the military without permission. Major clerics (priests and deacons) are directly laicized through their superiors by the penalty of degradation.

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