Allow me to begin by making a confession. It is not an easy confession to make, yet the Spirit compels me to make such a statement before proceeding any deeper into the subject at hand. In truth, this may not seem like anything of an earth shaking nature and I suspect that in the overall scheme of things, it is not. As far as the Christian faith goes, right now there are far more important issues at play. Be all that as it may, still, here goes:
Although I was a practicing Christian, for many, many years – far too many – I didn’t understand what a truly great, magnificent being Jesus Christ was and still is.
I begin with this confession because in what follows, I am going to be making the point that there are countless Christians sailing along in their journey of faith with no inkling they are in the exact same boat that I was. Further, I intend to call the church to task for failing the faithful in educating them about Christ’s true nature and splendor. Focused on the substitutionary atonement and “the blood,” to the point of unhealthy obsession, the church inadvertently wound up majoring in the minors and, in a sense all too real, decapitated itself.
As a result, many sincere Christians are walking around in circles today without a a clue about what Christ expects of them and further, devoid of any inkling as to what his mission on this planet was to begin with. These folks claim him as their savior but are really foggy when it comes to telling you what it means, other than being forgiven of their sins and having their ticket to heaven purchased, punched, and pocketed. If you ask one of these followers of Jesus what else there is to the gospel besides the forgiveness of sin, they look at you with a blank, lifeless stare – as if someone had just smacked them in the back of the head with a shovel.
I saddens me to see such a situation as it stands in the church today. As more and more people leave the old Mainline denominations in droves, leaving behind only a small cadre of committed but disillusioned Christ-followers, it may well be that this branch of the Christian family may never recover. Equally alarming is the fact that this exodus has now expanded to include many of the traditionally Evangelical wings of the faith as well. Organized religion in general has a bad name it seems and organized Christianity’s image may be the worst of all. My point in mentioning all of this is that I firmly believe that one of the reasons for this stampede out of our sanctuaries is the beheading of the faith mentioned above. Without Christ, there is no Christianity.
It is imperative that the contemporary church get back on mission – the mission of introducing Jesus Christ and the gospel to the masses. And these days, an adjunct to that mission is to reeducate Christians as to the true glory of this being we call Lord. And that task is much-needed and at a critical level. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their book Jesus Manifesto, point out:
…….we feel a massive disconnect in the church today, and we believe that the major disease of today’s church is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus has become increasingly politically incorrect and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “morality,” “values,” and “leadership principles.” The world likes Jesus; they just don’t like the church. But increasingly, the church likes the church, yet it doesn’t like Jesus.
In far too many churches these days there is a Jesus being worshipped, but that Jesus is an imposter, far removed from the radical, revolutionary mystic who burst upon the scene and turned the existing religious establishment on its head. No, these days we have settled for something far less dangerous and far more tamed. Marcus Borg, in his excellent book The Heart of Christianity, relates an experience from author Barbara Ehrenreich. She had gone to a tent revival meeting in Portland, Maine. She was working on her landmark book about the working poor in America and the audience was largely made up of those very workers. According to Ehrenreich, the preacher’s theme was “Jesus on the cross” and the importance of believing in him in order to get to heaven. The author described her thoughts as she listened to him and looked about the audience:
It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth…………I get up to leave, timing my exit for when the preacher’s metronomic head movements have him looking the other way, and walk out to search for my car, half expecting to find Jesus out there in the dark, gagged and tethered to a tent pole.
Harsh words, but all too accurate in terms of the truth they impart. The church in general, and those Christians who have selected to walk in lockstep with the Religious Right and the Republican Party in particular, have muzzled the Lord Jesus Christ, refusing to allow him to speak through either scripture, young evangelicals who have rightly called into question the social and economic injustice that exists in America today, or a chorus of new prophets who are challenging them in bold language and calling them to task for goose stepping their way into the political arena with an ideology in stark contrast to the teachings of the Master they claim to follow.
This illegitimate wedding of the Christian faith with political extremists, along with the loss of focus on Christ mentioned above, has resulted in a version of Christianity that is far removed from what Christ had in mind. Further, it has alienated many long-time believers and created a virtual stampede at the exits of once-packed sanctuaries. The term “Christian” no longer has a positive connotation in our culture, but instead, has come to stand for a group of narrow-minded, bigoted people who major in strife and vitriol and minor in agape and selfless service. If you have any doubt about this public relations crisis, brush up on recent research by Christian sociological researcher George Barna and also take the time to read UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.
What is especially amazing is the fact that after removing the blinders from their eyes and finally acknowledging the state of crisis in the modern church, far too many Christian leaders lay the blame of “postmodern culture” or that all-pervasive nemesis of conservatives and Evangelicals everywhere, “the liberals.” I have yet to fully discern the identity of this cadre of brimstone-belching brethren of Beelzebub, but to hear the “in-the-know” crowd tell it, they are the source of many of the church’s current woes.
Granted, postmodern culture and the shadowy “liberals” have worked in opposition to the church’s agenda at times, but the fact remains: the blame for many of the contemporary church’s problems rest solely on the shoulders of the church itself.” Until those in leadership and other positions of influence within the modern church understand this fact, accept it, and most of all, act on it – there is little hope for the institution’s survival.
Unlike many these days, I believe the church is worth saving. In spite of its myriad problems and its historical blemishes, organized religion has enormous potential for positive, social good. When the church is working properly, efficiently, and in keeping with its calling, few social institutions, public or private, can equal the a local congregation in terms of its potential to effective positive solutions to pressing issues.
Unfortunately, the church’s ability to function as an agent for positive social change has been overshadowed by its multiple internal problems, scandals, incessant bickering, and overall lack of unity. These issues, along with the advancement of postmodern culture, have conspired to put the church into survival mode. In addition, church leaders have seemingly lost sight of the institution’s calling and this, coupled with ill-advised political liaisons, has further exacerbated the crisis. Until the church addresses these internal issues and prayerfully finds ways to work together in a unified “kingdom calling,” much-needed healing and fence-mending will be impossible.
To be continued…….
L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved
- Remedies for What Ails the Church: Christ’s Proactive Love (Part One) (lifebrook.wordpress.com)
- GODSTUFF: The problem with Christian labels (cathleenfalsani.com)
- Serving in Jesus’ Name (missionmusings.wordpress.com)