Friday, September 19, 2008

Is Christ Divided?

This is an edited repost of a blog I wrote a year ago. The inspiration came from someone asking me once again, "What church are you going to?" When I said, "How do I go to what we are?", there was a judgemental silence indicating his disfavor. Incredibly if I had said, "Oh, I go to the church of gobbledy gook over on Main Street", he would have said, "That's wonderful, isn't Jesus good all the time."

When I look over the vastness of the body of Christ within the world, my heart weeps over systems that demand adherents to hold onto a broken shard, thinking it is THEE church. Billions of dollars have been spent to build pedestals where these fragments can be codified and idolized. I understand that this is the normal way of doing business and I have repented for being part of this mass distortion. (Apologies of course to the ones who really are perfect.)

A friend that passed away last spring really set me on a journey to look beyond what the godless emperor Constantine established as the norm for church practices for the last 1700 years. (Constantine established the first church buildings which necessitated a paid clergy to support them.) My friend asked me two simple questions:

Why do we need a name?
Why do we need a building?

Most churches have never asked these questions. However they have asked, where and when should we build a building and what should we name ourselves? Unfathomable amounts of time, energy and resources have gone into these questions which were never asked nor answered by any New Testament writer.

When I thought about it I realized that the New Testament only refers to Christians by geography and attaching themselves to a particular name was unheard of. (Not quite true. Paul scolded the church in Corinth for aligning themselves with personalities.) Therefore, what is considered normal and necessary today can only be considered extra-biblical at best and scripturally unnecessary.

My friend's two questions are actually rooted in scripture and carry with them the inference that they are signs of rebellion and lack trust towards God. These questions began early on with the building of the tower of Babel (they feared being scattered), to the Jewish people's demand for a king (clearly not God's will), to Paul saying,

"What I mean is this:
One of you says, "I follow Paul";
another, "I follow Apollos";
another, "I follow Cephas";
still another, "I follow Christ."
Is Christ divided?
Was Paul crucified for you?
Were you baptized into the name of Paul?"
1Cor 1:12,13 (NIV)

It's incredible that men have managed to preach these very words of Paul to the same people for extended periods of time, (in some cases 30+ years), without ever considering that their longevity makes them guilty of the very thing Paul warned everyone about. People's fear of being scattered hasn't lessened since the tower of Babel.

I teach English as a Second Language. What kind of a teacher would I be if my students kept failing but I was clever enough to keep them happy in my beginners class for 30 years?

The longest Paul stayed in any one place was 3 years in the city of Ephesus. He seemed to think he could get the job done in 3 years or less. Or maybe he didn't have as much to give as modern day pastors do.

One of the greatest indictments against Christianity has been the sectarian and elitist separation that is the most easily recognized attribute for those who seriously look at the whole of Christianity. It seems that every local church creates its own subculture to define itself. For the seeker or new Christian the message is clearly that they should learn to conform to one of the models that is presented. At one group, subjective prophetic language must be accepted in order to fill fully accepted. At another group one must fully reject that approach in order to belong. Another group demands the acceptance and submission to hierarchal leadership. The list of 30,000+ denominations would be too burdensome to go on with.

Pastors and people give the impression that one must belong to one of these diverse groups, never realizing that they are forcing people to make choices that are sometimes polar opposites. Naturally, the group you choose will tell you that you have made the correct choice.

Thankfully a new Christian is mature enough to fully understand the limits of any one group and is able to make the correct choice of such diverse thought processes.

Why are we so smugly content that Christ has been divided up this way? (Some aren't. Their thinking is, "If only everyone else would realize that we are right, what a great witness that would be to the world.")

I know some pastors who are working very hard to bring unity within diverse church settings. I think they are unaware that it's their very own religious formula that is a contributor to the disunity. Why don't Christians realize that they are Christ's and Christ's alone?

Each system demands that the leadership protect it and cause people to conform to its image. The words, in Jesus name are used as a by line in every church group, making it appear that Jesus is quite schizophrenic. Within any particular group what they consider normal and vital is really just some guy’s interpretation that he has managed to enforce or convince a group to adhere to. This enforcement is said to be for the protection of the people but it is really for the protection of the system.

I used to work in a church that had a policy manual as thick as a Bible. It could be conveniently ignored or rigidly enforced in order to support whatever mood we leaders were in that day. Sometimes we mock the Pharisees of Jesus' day for their rigid enforcement of their policy manual, the Talmud. Are we any different?

When people begin to explore outside of their group’s boundaries (speaking in tongues, remarriage, women in leadership, prophetic leadings, raising of hands, styles of worship, doctrine, tithing, cultural dress, missions, care for the poor…) the only thing they can do with integrity is leave quietly. Way to often, friendships cannot survive even a quiet leaving. The travesty is that when Paul asks the question, “Is Christ divided?”, the answer is a resounding YES.

The best of those in leadership end up subjugating themselves to the system to which they are a part of and sometimes have created. I’m not saying this support is done grudgingly; in fact it is often done with na├»ve, idealistic passion. Nevertheless, their mission, backed by significant resources, is to support their flawed system. Eventually and inevitably idolatry is the result because no system is the whole of Christ. I don’t know any leader that thinks that what he is doing is a form of idolatry and yet if they look at other systems they can see the idols (hindrances and limits), quite easily.

With the free flow of information that we now have access to, these systems can be easily observed, but not so easily dismantled. Religion is incredibly resilient against real change. The common theme through these systems is for the seeker or new believer to change to be like them. For the religious elite of Jesus' day, the cross was the only answer for someone who did not conform.

Many leaders still tend to think in terms of how to build a better mouse trap (there is no end to conferences and books about closing the backdoor) in order to gather people around themselves. (They would say it's not about them, it's about Jesus. Let's give Jesus a clap offering. Ugh!) But the shackles are beginning to loosen. Thankfully, keeping people ignorant and isolated is no longer an easy weapon to wield.

Pastors can still build their fortresses but some people are realizing that their might be more to Christ beyond the walls and the moat. It is no longer necessary or beneficial to build beautiful sanctuaries for one man to stand on his pedestal dispensing his particular brand of Christianity to the adoring throng. The greatest lie is the one that never admits but seductively implies, "We have searched and uncovered the vastness of Christ and have everything you need." Even so, human nature being what it is will allow this to continue. “Give us a king”, is still a common cry.

When I was doing my toolmaker apprenticeship I wondered why the term journeyman was used to refer to the skilled trades. In an earlier time when a man finished his apprenticeship he was immediately fired from the company. He had to journey to find another job within his field in order to gain more experience. The point being that no singular place could ever give someone the full expression and experience that the specific trade demanded. The only way to do this in church systems is to break, vilify, cast out, leave quietly or dethrone in order for people to mature into the full expression of the body of Christ.

The one who leaves is seen as either rebellious, backslidden or deceived and the group condescendingly mouths the words, we'll pray for you. That's not really true: usually in an ironic twist, no one even notices when someone leaves. If you show up a year later they will tell you much they have missed you. How arrogant that people can talk of an infinite God that can be so easily packaged within the limits of a finite group?

The great commission is a command to GO, not stay and smugly or passively conform.

Leaders don’t tend to lead for a time and then get out of the way. But the model is there in scripture for those who care to look. The gilded cage of a paycheck makes it difficult for pastors to actually apply this principle.
John the Baptist said,
"He must increase, but I [must] decrease. John 3:30 (NKJV)
Jesus said,
"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away." John 16:7a (NIV)

Jesus did not say He would build a system and call it church. He did say, He (not a pastor) would build His church. Peter defines what Jesus meant by this, (notice we are the many stones but there is only one house)
1Pet 2:4 (NIV) As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

What am I trying to say? Pause for a while to learn from others but don’t become rooted in the limits of finite people. It really is OK to be a journeyman, learning from various and diverse members of the body of Christ, about the one pearl of great price. Jesus did promise a comforter (not a group) that will guide you into all truth.

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