Sometimes I feel a little like the lesser known Judas in the Bible. Not the one everyone knows who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, but Jesus’s little brother who was also called Judas. Not surprisingly not long after Judas betrayed his brother with a kiss, little Judas just let people call him Jude, and he ended up writing the book of the Bible called “Jude”. Now in Jude, wee Jude wanted to write a great message about faith, but because the church was being invaded by false teachers who were ripping the Bible to pieces, and he could see it, he had to address that instead. Today, I had some thoughts on grace and favour I really wanted to share, but I have seen this issue infiltrate too many lives and hearts and need to sound the trumpet. So here it is…!
Let me start by saying I love Jesus. I don’t want to be accused of not loving Jesus, so I will start with that – I love Jesus, and I love what Jesus says. Here is a link to me preaching on John 14. Here is a link to me preaching on the Sermon on the Mount. So I am just hitting that face on because I want there to be no confusion at all. I am pro-red words. And by red words, I mean the words Jesus spoke on earth, a phrase that came about because in some Bibles the words of Jesus are in red ink. I reckon of all the Bibles I own, about 12 have the words of Jesus in red ink. The red-letters.
Now, at this stage, I’m sure you are all in agreement – yes, I love the words of Jesus. But a strange post on Facebook this week has reminded me that over the years I have dealt with a number of people over the years I have been a minister, that love the red-words of Jesus, but who cause a great deal of foolishness and strife in the church.
That may surprise some of you – how can someone who loves the words of Jesus disrupt and cause disruption in the church? How can someone like that be a source of false teaching that needs correcting? The reason is that some of these red-letter Christians are ignoring the rest of the Bible, some of them have an agenda, and some of them are leading the church back into a works-based Christianity that is some of the worst legalism I have seen.
At the extreme end of this there is actually a group called “Atheists for Jesus”. I know that sounds like it is some sort of spoof, but it is real. They are atheists that follow the red-letters of the Bible. They love things like “turn the other cheek” and “forgive those who persecute you” and think that is the teachings of a very wise man. The problem with that is that Jesus was not a very wise man – Jesus was God-incarnate, born of a virgin, creator of heaven and earth, firstborn from the dead, the Alpha and Omega. Things that you would never know if you only had the red-letters to read from! The fact is you cannot understand who Jesus is from the red-words alone – you need the black words in the Bible too to explain and elucidate these words.
I understand the simplistic appeal of red-letter Christianity – you know I love “wwjd” and I love being an imitator of Christ, but then I remember Jesus spoke about Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses – and I remember it was the risen Christ who called and appointed Paul as an apostle to the nations. So His words are not more important than the rest of Scripture.
The next problem I have with the red-letter Christians is that they are cutting up their Bibles because they have a very definite agenda. By focusing on the words in red, they can then stop talking about abortion and homosexuality, and rather talk about feeding the hungry. Now I feed the hungry, and that’s great – but let’s face it – you upset a lot less people feeding the hungry than teaching the truth on marriage for example.
Some people who call themselves red-letter Christians will even go so far as to say we should not teach the new birth and salvation, but instead just preach social justice. That’s crazy! You know one of the two founders of red-letter Christians is a Catholic priest called Father Richard Rohr, and he explicitly teaches that are not saved by grace, but by works. That we have to earn a place in heaven. That is heresy, but how can you refute that when you fail to put masterpieces like Romans and Galatians in their rightful place.
You see that’s the ultimate issue here – it’s not that by taking the words of Jesus and highlighting them that we have a problem, it’s the diminishing of the rest of the Bible. If you truly understood who Jesus is – the living incarnation of the Word of God, the exact image of the glory of God, the second person of the Trinity – and if you understood that the Scripture is God-breathed, you would understand that the truth that red-letter Christians have forgotten, and the reason they are out of balance – is that in reality, the whole Bible should be in red. Every word is the word of Jesus Christ.