Friday, March 21, 2014

Countering the Fred Phelps Legacy

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:11-15 NIV)

For over 20 years, I lived just down the Kansas Turnpike from Fred Phelps, the infamous “pastor” of the Westboro “Baptist” “Church.”  Mr. Phelps died yesterday to the great relief of so many who had been the targets of the hate-filled protests he led.  I had a front-row seat to several of those—at the church I attended, at a Girl Scout convention, and on the campus of the University of Kansas.  

From the get-go of the protests, there was no doubt Mr. Phelps was not a pastor nor a Baptist, and the group of 20-30 family members he assembled certainly was not a church, at least to anyone with some knowledge of the Scriptures.  Yet, because of the outrageous slogans and signs (e.g., “God Hates Fags!”), along with the audacity of holding their protests at funerals, Mr. Phelps and his family became symbols for the world of the intolerance and hatred it believed were at the heart of the teachings of the Church.  Yet, as so often happens in the media and the world at large, they failed to understand how Mr. Phelps had grossly misinterpreted the Old Testament, as well as his total ignorance of the New Testament.  Taken together, they formed an impression of Christianity totally divorced from biblical reality.  

As Paul writes in Galatians 3, the intent of Old Covenant (the Jewish Law) was to lead us to Jesus because He is the only One who can save us from condemnation.  With only the Law existing, we are condemned because no one can perfectly keep it.  One screw-up and you’re toast! This is why the Hebrew writer spends much of his letter writing about the superiority of the New Covenant, which took effect upon Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Law was replaced by Grace.  No longer are we who follow Jesus judged by the many tenets of the Law, but rather we are the recipients of His grace if we submit our lives to His Lordship.  “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)  Sadly, Mr. Phelps was unfamiliar with Hebrews or Romans, and his false teachings have led many others to believe Christians are more about condemnation than grace.  

Today, if you have been embarrassed, or even ashamed, by the legacy of Fred Phelps, don’t be.  He represented only his warped views and, basically, only his family ever believed what he was saying.  Only in the minds of those ignorant of biblical teaching did he represent God or the Church.  The best way to counter the Phelps legacy is to proclaim what the Scriptures actually say and live accordingly.  

© Jim Musser 2014

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