As new believers, no one needed to tell us how to have what Christians call a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. When we came to Jesus for the first time, we were usually looking for something to fill a need and it wasn’t necessary to school us in the ways of being a Christian. In those early “flush” days as new believers, we are as close to Jesus as we will ever be in our entire lives, even if we don’t know how we’ve accomplished it. We believe we experience a fresh flow of the Holy Spirit. We start reading the bible daily because we are told that we will find Jesus there. We attend bible studies at church. We go to church events 2 or 3 times a week. We can’t help but tell others of our salvation from whatever background we had come from because we have been saved from ourselves. Yes, the new Christian’s honeymoon with Jesus seems never ending and always fresh and exciting. But, sadly, it usually comes to a screeching halt, some earlier than others. Enthusiasm wanes. Our spirits no longer tingle with excitement over what we’ve read that day in the bible. We cannot hear God any longer either in church or in our bible reading and we begin to wonder if we ever did.
It’s not until many years later that we see hundreds of books written by other Christians, that are marketed specifically to fill the faith void that strikes most Christians at most times in their lives. We read them voraciously and try to discover how to rekindle that lost love we felt we had as new believers. It’s a lot like a marriage, really, and most language used in describing the Christian life are peculiarly similar to language used to counsel long married couples. One of the words used to describe what our ideal relationship to Christ is, is the word intimacy. Consider the many definitions of “intimacy:”
1. the state of being intimate.
2. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
3. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.: an intimacy with Japan.
4. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names.
5. an amorously familiar act; liberty.
6. sexual intercourse.
7. the quality of being comfortable, warm, or familiar: the intimacy of the room.
8. privacy, esp. as suitable to the telling of a secret: in the intimacy of his studio.
I’m sure we can eliminate #6 right off the bat, unless you were a 13th or 14th century nun or priest and has such repressive tendencies. The only definition that I think even comes close to describing what Christian teachers may mean when they say that we are to “develop intimacy with Christ” is #3, yet that definition seems purely academic. We can become entirely familiar with a subject, but that does not mean we are close to it in any real personal sense. What I think Christian teachers are aiming for is #2, but I have never been able to understand how you can develop a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with someone who has no physical form or with someone who we are never sure is responding to our advances. According to these Christian teachers, the Holy Spirit serves as a kind of go-between, a mediator, between us and Jesus. However, when it comes to how exactly we are supposed to accomplish this or how we are to establish contact with this Holy Spirit, the best they can offer is to tell us to read the bible and pray more; a purely subjective way of “communicating” with the Holy Spirit.
Despite their objections to the contrary, for every Christian, prayer, or communication with God, is purely a subjective experience. One can never be sure that when one prays, God or Jesus hears us or, that God or Jesus answers us. The same holds with bible reading. One person could read a verse and interpret it to mean something completely inappropriate, for example those who murder abortion clinic doctors in God’s name or those who wish that all unbelievers will die horrible deaths in hell because they don’t believe. Who is the judge of such things one learns in their prayer time? Is the bible the judge? In the Old Testament, God surely encouraged the Israelites to go in and slay those who resisted them. Take what happened to Joshua after he had a particular prayer time with God:
Jos 6:17-27 GNB
(17)The city and everything in it must be totally destroyed as an offering to the LORD. Only the prostitute Rahab and her household will be spared, because she hid our spies.
(18) But you are not to take anything that is to be destroyed; if you do, you will bring trouble and destruction on the Israelite camp.
(19)Everything made of silver, gold, bronze, or iron is set apart for the LORD. It is to be put in the LORD’s treasury.”
(20) So the priests blew the trumpets. As soon as the people heard it, they gave a loud shout, and the walls collapsed. Then all the army went straight up the hill into the city and captured it.
(21) With their swords they killed everyone in the city, men and women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep, and donkeys.
(22) Joshua then told the two men who had served as spies, “Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring her and her family out, as you promised her.”
(23)So they went and brought Rahab out, along with her father and mother, her brothers, and the rest of her family. They took them all, family and slaves, to safety near the Israelite camp.
(24)Then they set fire to the city and burned it to the ground, along with everything in it, except the things made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, which they took and put in the LORD’s treasury.
(25)But Joshua spared the lives of the prostitute Rahab and all her relatives, because she had hidden the two spies that he had sent to Jericho. (Her descendants have lived in Israel to this day.)
(26)At this time Joshua issued a solemn warning: “Anyone who tries to rebuild the city of Jericho will be under the LORD’s curse. Whoever lays the foundation will lose his oldest son; Whoever builds the gates will lose his youngest.”
(27) So the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread through the whole country.
“Oh, that’s different!” our Christian teachers tell us. It was necessary to establish Israel in their land. Oh, really? Doesn’t God work the same way today? No? Yes? If God doesn’t work the same way, then why not? Who decides whether our actions, gleaned from prayer and bible reading, are the “correct” ones? More “mature” Christians you say. Oh? Who decides that their interpretations are also correct? Where does the individual Christian draw the line when deciding what Christian preachers and teachers tell us is true?
Modern Christian teachers are the worst kind of teachers when it comes to advising us on how to maintain a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ or how to inquire of God and receive answers. For them, the evidence of intimacy with Christ may be material prosperity. According to these teachers you must be doing something right if you are becoming more prosperous. Another may preach about positive thinking and about having a purpose statement that will lead us in the right direction for church growth, because after all personal growth leads to larger churches, and isn’t that what Christianity is all about? Yet, Christian teachers can even take their reliance on the inspiration of the bible to extremes and condemn all those to hell for not believing exactly as they do.
Others teach that in order to be “close to God” we must “tithe” like an Israelite. We will receive God’s blessings we are told. If we don’t tithe and offer, then God will not hear us. I heard this on Christian radio just yesterday. Tithing, tithing, tithing, the man screamed. God will not honor us if we don’t give back to him a portion of what he has given to us! Now what does this mean really? It’s not a biblical doctrine in the New Testament. What teachers like this man on the radio means is that the only way he and other Christian teachers and preachers can make money and keep their jobs is if they teach others to give until it hurts. They convince people that God wants us to give tithes and offerings or we aren’t truly Christians. Think about what this means for a minute. How does one give money to God? Does God care about your money? Why not, when you go to church this Sunday, write a check to God and put it in the offering plate? You say that we are required to support the ministers and keep the church buildings going? Why? How do you know that’s what God wants? There were no churches in the New Testament. Ministers had their own jobs and did not make a living off of their preaching. No, tithing is not biblical. But we would never know that unless we looked for ourselves and trusted OUR OWN interpretation of the bible. Again, it’s subjective. All of this confusing and diverse array of Christian teaching serves only to muddy the waters of the Christian life and cause many of us to stumble, fall, and even to lose our faith completely. They are all merely “formulas” to try because some persona tried them and thinks they work for everybody else. And hey, why not make a few bucks telling people that?
The only person who knows about what an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ means is you. The only person who can tell you how to further this relationship to Jesus Christ is you. How do you achieve “intimacy” with Christ? Only YOU can say. Who is to say that we even NEED to have such a relationship with Jesus? Jesus never said, “Have an intimate relationship with me.” He didn’t have to. All the “communication” comes from his direction, “I will send another comforter,” he said (John 15:26). Even, if you never pick up another bible again, you would be able to maintain your relationship to Jesus Christ if that’s what you choose and believe. Who puts limits on the Holy Spirit and tells it where it can go and who it can inspire or how it can inspire us? Who decides which teacher has a valid way to experience God?
My method for deciding who to listen to, if I listen to Christian teachers at all, is to ask one question about their teaching, “Who benefits?” What are they selling? Books? DVDs? Audio sermons? Can a Christian find this out on their own? Do we really NEED that new version of the bible? Have we “bought” into the idea that we can get closer to Jesus if we just have this or that item, if we support this or that ministry? Are we trying to buy faith? Do we feel guilty and judged continually by this or that teacher? (Yes, yes, I know, some will call that being “convicted by the Spirit” but who died and made that teacher a “tool” of conviction?) I know I fall into to this trap fo trying to “feed” my faith with buying crap all the time. I have numerous bibles on my shelf because when my faith wanes or when I feel far from God, I believe that buying another bible (which we’ve been told has ALL the answers) will fill that void. And christian marketers are right there with just the right packaged product that wil lfill the bill.
We are taught NOT to trust our own experience. We are taught to fill ourselves up with that preacher’s ideas. We are taught to give all our money to the church because God will give it all back and then some (but not right away and we must give with the proper attitude and don’t expect it to work like it does for me right now, etc. etc.). We are taught to literally starve ourselves, physically and psychologically, to fast and to tithe, to give, give, give, to feed the Christian machine when really, like Dorothy and all her friends in the Wizard of Oz, we had what we needed for our journey all along; a brain and a heart and a home. Reason, faith, and those we love AND in that order. We can’t have any one of them exclusively without the others to temper us. Don’t even try.
Shepherd Book: “I am a Shepherd. Folks like a man of God.”
Mal: “No, they don’t. Men of God make everyone feel guilty and judged.”