“You’re so vain, you probably think this [post] is about you.”
Well… it is.
The stark truth of the matter is that you don’t even WANT to follow Jesus. Not even a little.
Yeah. It’s a heart condition. Condition-critical. You have a very hard heart. You have it both-ways just as much as you can, AND you have a whole culture that helps you take the Lord’s name in vain (or doesn’t care), thus you are not held to account by anyone you respect.
Let’s get into it.
No doubt my words above seem harsh, very harsh. Caustic, abrasive, mean-spirited even. I am sure they SEEM it. But I will ask you to look again carefully. There is no insult, no name-calling, no put downs here. There is a diagnosis. And telling a patient they have cancer isn’t nice either; it is in fact harsh. But if accurate, it is important news.
Here’s the thing:
I was raised in church. I was raised in a church that particularly adhered to Scripture, honored Scripture, revered and feared Scripture. We didn’t actually get it right (though for a long time most of us claimed we did), but the part where we honored the Word of God was not a mistake. The effort to do that was good and right, but we brought hermeneutics to the process that were deeply flawed without realizing it.
We should have demonstrated better humility in it. For getting some things wrong and mishandling Scripture with humility means we are open to growth, to changes when we find them necessary. God has a LOT of grace for that, I think. But when you honor Scripture, revere it and all the rest, but then turn to the world and claim the rest have got it all wrong, damnably wrong, and that we have it all figured out, then you have crossed over into a very dark place in your own heart.
The church I was raised in did the latter far more than the former. Did we get some parts right? Yes. And the honor we gave Scripture was no accident, no mistake.
The church I was raised in has all but split over the course of my life. There are still old hardliners around in numerous enclaves, but a strong backlash against the old mentality took root and a large portion of this sect lost its sense of identity. Seeing the old ways as too rigid and self-damaging, most of this more “liberal” portion of the church gave up most of its old ways – including, it would seem, the stern attempt to honor Scripture.
Basically, we threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Now, I’m just guessing how/why this happened, but it is an educated guess from an old man who grew up in this stuff. But as I reflect on the way the larger culture has affected my life, it is clear to me that the demons there are powerful, and since pride was always part of our communal problem, I feel certain that American culture and consumerism is at work on our church too. Basically, we were giving our souls to Jesus every weekend and our asses to Uncle Sam, the bank, the shopping mall, professional sports, and eventually pornography and booze, divorce court, and the Republican Party at just about the same rate(s) as all the others. We learned about Evolution in grade school and Creation in Sunday school, and eventually learned, though we dared not say it aloud, that knowing, teaching, and respecting one of these competing worldviews pays bills and buys toys, and the other does not.
So we sat looser and looser with Scripture all the time. And in so doing, we thought we were becoming more humble, but we were not.
When I attend a worship service in the church in which I was raised, I find that MOST (not all, to be sure) of the earmarks of our heritage are still visible or palpable. We still have prayer, song, and sermon every Sunday. We still baptize new converts (though there are very few compared to the old days). We still “observe” communion every Sunday, and the majority of our congregations still hold our song service a capella – though this is changing in a number of places.
I have no Scriptural basis to condemn musical instrumentation. My heritage once did that (and still does in some quarters). There is a right observation that the New Testament does not endorse it, but there is an arrogance that then claims it is thus prohibited. The Bible does not endorse prohibiting it either, but we certainly were not, historically speaking, bashful about engaging in prohibiting what the Bible did not endorse us to prohibit.
Hmmm… Follow that logic if you can. But rest assured that we found the chance to be proud rather than humble with it. Not that the humble can’t condemn a practice, but that we took it upon ourselves to condemn what the Bible does not condemn while claiming to be biblical about it.
Let that bake your noodle.
Today, I don’t think this stuff really matters to most of us. We talk about it, but the reality is, like the thing about Evolution. We talk like Creation matters on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday, we live with all the benefits of, and defend the teaching of, Evolution and of Survival of the Fittest which is reflected in our politics, our purchases, our driving habits, and our lifestyles in general. When another congregation adopts the use of a rock band to lead our worship song service, it has very little to do with our views on what the Bible actually says or not, and far more to do with whether we are “comfortable” with it. Beyond that, it has something to do with how we might attract outsiders who do not share the old views. (Survival of the Fittest as a method for church growth???)
This one example serves, I think, as a template for much of our engagement with the Bible any more. If you attend one of our assemblies, you are likely to find Bible classes offered where a teacher actually opens a Bible alright, maybe even exegetes Scripture even analyzing Greek or Hebrew terms and so forth, but if you listen carefully, these studies tend to be put in service to submitting to the cultural values rather than honoring God or subverting the culture. Such teaching tends to blend rather nicely with conservative politics and fiscal conservatism – sometimes even supporting particular political views.
As I have said several times on this blog and elsewhere, I am no church historian, but I suspect a lot of this kind of thing dates back to the emperor Constantine, who nearly 400 years after the church began, suddenly baptized his troops (and thus the empire) which not only legalized Christianity, but made it the official religion of empire. Thus, in effect, Rome became the first “Christian nation”, and suddenly the ulterior motives for joining the church began to obscure the pure motives. In fact, suddenly there were ulterior motives!
Empire co-opts the church.
Suddenly the culture invaded the church, not with nails and wood, not with persecutions and death sentences, not with oppressive edicts and social scorn, but with promises of SAFETY and security, with status, admiration, and even political clout! Like the serpent tempting the bride of the gardener: Take a bite! You’ll see: It doesn’t hurt; it makes you stronger and more desirable.
Sure! Suddenly no one was signing up to follow Jesus to crucifixion anymore.
Now Caesar was God’s man in
Washington Rome. The whole emperor cult was revamped to honor Jesus as Lord in heaven with Caesar as his earthly representative – or soon enough it was the pope. And on the surface it looked like the church had won, but ever since that time we have had far more trouble being Biblical, more trouble with honoring Scripture in humility. And we have these Constantinian glasses (to borrow a concept from Lee Camp) that help us find in the Bible all the endorsements we might ever want for the bits of culture we church goers find ourselves embracing.
Take off your Constantinian glasses for a moment.
And go to your church and look around on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. I don’t care what brand, flavor, or heritage you come from, just look around at the place and the people there. Are you Catholic? Then look. Are you Pentecostal? Then look. Are you Baptist??? Then you… especially… LOOK! Are you Methodist, church of Christ, Presbyterian, Anglican, black church, brown church, rich church, poor church, cowboy church, trucker church, gay church, or anything in between??? Then look. Are you Evangelical? Look around at all the respectable people in their respectable digs.
Do you see ANY of them taking up a cross and following Jesus?
Do you see ANY homeless bums flocking to the door? Do you see any whores sobbing on his feet? Do you see any crippled, blind, or hungry people humbly coming to your assembly of believers who make up HIS body seeking a healing touch?
Or do you see a social club of insiders comforting the comforted and disturbing the disturbed, using Scripture (if it is used at all) to placate the culture and help you find your place in it?
This should be blindingly obvious, but it is not. If you actually open a Bible and begin to read, just read what is in it in the plain English translated dozens of ways, you will find the humility of God’s people vs. the arrogance of the world, of principalities and powers, of demons and the like. You will find little shepherd boy taking out a giant, slave people plundering empire, and a savior taking God’s crown turning a shameful execution into a coronation. It’s got depth you cannot plumb, yet it’s all over the surface. It’s the low hanging, easy pickings, yet your church is doing theological gymnastics to endorse your pride despite this. And you can’t see it wearing Constantinian glasses.
I grew up in church. I never saw it until I knocked at the door asking for this group to let Jesus in. When I realized he was not in there nor even allowed, I insisted that we open the door to him, and I was kicked out for it. And THEN I realized; I saw what I had not seen before.
We take the Lord’s name in vain. We meet him in the street every day and turn the other way, walking right past him. We don’t even WANT to follow him.
Open your eyes.