Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thoughts on Jesus and the Church

So, my last post about Mr. MacArthur generated some great offline chats with friends about the situation. It was cool. One of the conversations that stuck out actually happened at the Pan this morning with a couple of bros from the Vineyard. After looking at Jeremiah this morning we were talking about what’s going on in life. One of the guys proposed a question that is getting a little more tread these days (and maybe has for a long time): Would Jesus be welcome in the Church, you know, His Church, today?

I first encountered that question through the writing of one FyodorDostoevsky. If you have read many of my posts, then you may know of my love for all things Dostoevsky. Greatest. Writer. Ever. I’m a total fan boy. If he was alive and the lead singer of a rock band, I would totally be a roadie. Fo rizzles.

Although a lot of people swear by Crimeand Punishment or The Idiot, my book of choice is The Brothers Karamazov. Coincidentally, that was also the book that introduced me to the above question. Without this becoming a book review, let me just say there is a section called, “The Grand Inquisitor.” In it, one of the brothers (Ivan) presents a parable of Jesus coming back during the time of the Grand Inquisition. An interview takes place between the Grand Inquisitor (a priest) and Jesus. It doesn’t go so well for Jesus…at all. The point of Ivan’s tell is that the Church has become so systematic that it no longer has room for that pesky Jesus fellow interrupting things. Fascinating premise.

The thing was, as a 20ish year old I absolutely hated the chapter. I thought it was a blight in an otherwise perfect book. Upon re-reading it some 10-15 years later, I’ve come to realize something—what I “hated” about the passage, wasn’t hate at all; it was actually fear. What I was doing was misappropriating my emotions and preventing myself from seeing that I was afraid that I too had no room for Jesus, that I had built such amazing structures I had no choice, but to quietly discard the experience of Jesus for me today. Now…that may be a bit too confessional for some of you, and I understand that. But I also realize we all have these thoughts. We all have these experiences. That isn’t a problem. The problem is when these thoughts remain trapped in the playground of our mind and are never expressed in the light of community. That is when we get in trouble. That is when we keep those masks firmly in place for fear that if our true doubts were unearthed those we love the most would leave us faster that a buzzard over road kill when it hears a Mac truck.

But…that isn’t really the direction this started. I just thought it gives background to this: Would Jesus be welcome in the American Church in October/November 2013? And the short answer is no…ish. So, though many people have written on this, here is my take on why Jesus wouldn’t be welcome today, for some quite blunt reasons, and some more subtle reasons.

Jesus would probably look more like these two than Brad Pitt.
First, Jesus would probably look like a member of Al Qaeda. Most Americans wouldn’t even want to get on a plane with Jesus, let alone see him in the pews. I know this is a bit forward, some may say archaic and others argue justified, but there are stigmas around “Arab” people. Why do I put that in quotation marks? Because most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Palestinian, an Iraqi, a Pakistani or a Libyan. And whether the man in question is Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or Christian there are certain predetermined thoughts that most Americans have toward him. If you get the chance watch the movie Amreeka. It deals with some Christian Palestinian refugees trying to make it in America. Beautifully done. Kind of informs this part of my argument. Jesus’ appearance is reason #1 we wouldn’t accept him.

Second argument, Jesus was homeless. Obviously those sayings of his are the sayings of mental illness because he has no roof over his head. We would be more apt to put Jesus in a hospital or homeless shelter than in the pulpit.

Third, Jesus is single…and single men are dangerous and a detriment to society.

Fourth, Jesus had extreme views, and we want placidity in the Church. And attached to this, the mental illness thing would probably come into play, or he would at the least be labeled pretty temperamental. If that was the view he would be allowed to come, but only tolerated as that guy who is a little too fervent.

Fifth, he would probably be judged as either gay or a hypocrite because of who he hung out with. I mean, what kind of guy goes traipsing cross country with 12 other dudes…and the only ladies he hangs out with are family or prostitutes? I mean, it’s one way or the other here. Did you know he even hung with a dude that committed treason? His company indicates a flaw in his character. And rather than getting to know him, we’d never approach him.

Maybe Jesus should borrow Brad's look?
I could go on and on here, but the truth of the matter here is that our pre-determined views inside the Church would most likely prevent us from seeing Jesus. If Jesus came, depending on your religious slant, you would expect it to be in the form of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, N.T. Wright, Walter Bruggeman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tony Evans, Joyce Mayer or Benny Hinn. In other words, we would want him to be successful and that is how he’d influence us. He would obviously either sell a lot of books or have a TV program.

So, I just don’t think we’re ready for a vagrant wanderer to come speak the truth to us in no uncertain terms, calling us on the ways we fake it. Where do I think people would recognize Jesus? Probably, the places like I mention yesterday, shanty villages, red light districts, those types of places. And why? Because they realize their need. Men, women and children there haven’t barricaded themselves from feeling their need. Some of them need literal bread or they will die. Some of them need penicillin or they will die. Some of them need a liberator, or they will die in bondage to sex trafficking. They know their need. So, if Jesus came up to them, I assume, knowing that is dangerous, that they would be able to receive whatever it is he gave. I think this is akin to true poverty…the kind that doesn’t care where it comes from, as long as the help does come.

And the truth is we as the Church have that kind of poverty. Sure, it may not be financial. It may be emotional. It may be intellectual. It may be health. It may be broken relationships, but poverty exists in our lives. And even if there isn’t poverty in your life, there is in the lives of those around you, your community and ultimately your church—the body of Christ.

1 comment: