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Three Requirements of Preachers

24 Sep

Preachers of the Word labor under three distinct requirements. First, they are to be faithful (pistoi). They are called to believe, and they are called only to believe. They are not called to know, or to be clever, or to be proficient, or to be energetic, or to be talented, or to be well-adjusted…

Second, the clergy are to be wise (phrenimoi). They are not to be fools, rich or poor, who think that salvation can come to anyone as a result of living. The world is already drowning in its efforts at life; it does not need lifeguards who swim to it carrying the barbells of their own moral and spiritual efforts. Preachers are to come honestly empty-handed to the world… 

But it is the third of these clerical requirements that strikes me as the most telling: preachers are stewards whom the Lord has ‘set over his household servants to provide them with food at the proper time.’ After all the years the church has suffered under forceful preachers and winning orators, under compelling pulpiteers and clerical bigmouths with egos to match, how nice to hear that Jesus expects preachers in their congregations to be nothing more than faithful household cooks.

Robert Farrar Capon

The Parables of Grace, Eerdmans, 1988, 91-2.

The Called-Off Game

22 Aug

The general thrust of my treatment of the coin in the fish’s mouth-and especially of Jesus’ words, “then the children are free” – is to interpret the whole passage as a proclamation of the end of religion…

The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements-or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior-we are all, at some deep level, committed to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both…

The point is, we haven’t got a card in our hand that can take even a single trick against God. Religion, therefore-despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to be done about our relationship with God-remains unqualified bad news: it traps us in a game we will always and everywhere lose. But the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game.

Robert Farrar Capon

The Parables of Grace, Eerdmans, 1988, 28-29.

The End of Religion

19 Jun

Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even the best of all possible religions. And therefore if the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing.

Robert Farrar Capon

The Mystery of Christ, Eerdmans, 1993, 62.

Bad News for Bookkeepers

18 May

Jesus has already been critical of the following items taken from everybody’s list of Favorite Things To Be: Being First, Being Found, Being Big, Being Important, and Being Alive. Now however, he castigates the one item that holds all these futilities together and gives them power over us, namely, Being a Bookkeeper. The human race is positively addicted to keeping records and remembering scores. What we call our “life” is, for the most part, simply the juggling of accounts in our heads. And yet, if God has announced anything in Jesus, it is that He, for one, has pensioned off the bookkeeping department permanently…

It may be our sacred conviction that the only way to keep God happy, the stars in their courses, our children safe, our psyches adjusted, and our neighbors reasonable is to be ready, at every moment, to have the books we have kept on ourselves and others audited. But that is not God’s conviction because he has taken away the handwriting that was against us (Col. 2:14).

Robert Farrar Capon

The Parables of Grace, Eerdmans, 1988, 126.

The Religion Shop is Closed

30 Apr

Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews) and no effort of ours to keep the law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection.

For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business. It never has been and it never will be, in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through two thousand years who have acted as if religion was their stock in trade. The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we have gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets; it is here to bring the world the Good News that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” It is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace.

Robert Farrar Capon

The Parables of Grace, Eerdmans, 1988, 99-100.

The End of Religion

15 Mar

But what of the unfaithful servant, the bad church?… The wickedness of the church can be one thing and one only: turning the Good News of Jesus into the bad news of religion. Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, of the end of religion-of the end of any and all requirements for the salvation of the world. And therefore, when the church preaches anything but faith alone in Jesus, it is an unfaithful church and deserves only to be put with the rest of the world’s hypocrites who think they can be saved by passing tests. It is a church that has stopped being funny and happy in the freedom of faith, and has gone dead in its own earnestness.

Robert Farrar Capon

The Parables of Judgment (1989), Eerdmans, 153

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