Anyone close to me would NEVER hear me refer to myself as an Evangelical. Even though I am well aware of the word origin (one who brings the Good News) and am actually proud of what that Good News is and am proud to tell people about it… it is one of those words that has been wrestled in the mud one too many times and is so dirty with meaning that it is no longer recognizable in its essential form. In fact (and to prove my point)…I asked a handful of my friends outside of mainstream Christianity to tell me what comes to mind when I say the word “evangelical.” Here is what they came up with:
An evangelical represents religious talking heads, slick televangelists, the religious right, the moral majority, picket signs, the health and wealth gospel, plastic and phony hypocrites, judgmental, blind and hateful zealots, brainwashed and close-minded non-Christians, showy mega-churches, unreasonable and illogical Conservatives, unpersuadable Patriots, and preacher sex scandals.
If that isn’t a punch to the gut…I don’t know what is.
Those things are man-made constructs to further other agendas, causes, or personal positions and have NOTHING to do with Jesus. And they have compromised the simple, loving, peaceful, non-judgmental way of the Servant of all mankind.
How did we get to this place anyway? How could something so beautiful, free, and transcendent turn into something so hideous and ugly? How could the heart and soul of a Jesus movement become so compromised, misaligned, and off track? And maybe the most important question of all is- How can this monstrosity be put to death on the Cross so that a new Body may resurrect to new Life?
Increasingly more…people (rightly or wrongly) want nothing to do with systems, organizations, and institutions that they have a healthy disdain and skepticism of because of entrenched entitlement and privilege. They believe that religion has outlived it’s age because it has created parts and systems that have little to do with life and they find the Church right in the middle of this entrenched entitlement and privilege…and they rightly see Jesus outside of the systems, organizations, and institutions. The sad truth is that those things uniquely and supremely of Christ and of the utmost importance for bearers of his name (love, joy, peace, service, non-retaliation, etc.) are the very things we have hidden and buried under the competing interests and ideologies we entertain and become obsessed with. And this is our tragic reality because we are a stiff-necked, obstinate, and recalcitrant people quick to embrace an antiseptic Cross that is only good for our mental atonement but not for the shape, position, or priority of our lives and our churches.
I believe with everything in me that the reason the Church…in all it’s dead religiosity, arrogant triumphalism, political-mindedness, systematic and organizational dependence, dogmatic obsessiveness that divides, and slick production and gimmickry…has become so egregiously detestable is so that the entire world will be finally and completely overwhelmed and captivated when it comes face to face with Jesus and his Kingdom embodied through a people who has taken up its Cross, died to every principality and foolish wisdom of this world, and are once and for all a visible demonstration of Jesus Christ in everything we do.
I have come to the conclusion after meeting with hundreds of people outside of the Church over the years that the majority are repelled by the Church but are overwhelmingly drawn to Jesus. What an indictment. Even further…the MAJORITY of agnostics and atheists I have met with over the years are agnostics and atheists BECAUSE of their background or history with the Church but are STILL surprisingly drawn to Jesus. And it is to this Jesus and his Kingdom way we must return.
I used to think that the answer to the problem of the Church in its current configuration was to help rehabilitate it…but that was wrong and foolish thinking and I no longer believe that. The truth is that the Church must face the Cross of Christ and die…period! It is ONLY THEN that we will be worthy of being called his Church, a people worthy of being a Royal Priesthood in the world, and a people worthy of bearing the name of Jesus Christ.
Ancient religion and dead denominationalism must be crucified and breathe their final breaths. The age of the religious talking head must end. The era of the slick televangelist is over. Christians married to political, national, and ideological persuasions over and above their allegiance to Christ must divorce everything but Christ. The days of the misguided and ill-informed health and wealth gospel are over. Church pews lined with plastic and phony hypocrites, judgmental legalists, and blind and hateful zealots must be confronted with the Cross of Christ and asked to carry it. And if you and/or your church are resistant to the Cross of Christ for the sake of your own self-preservation or the maintaining your own diminishing kingdom, you will be spit out of His mouth in sickening repulse. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
The Kingdom of God is being embodied and coming to life in a hungry and desperate people who have crucified the old conception of life and long to be the righteousness and holiness of God. And this Kingdom is ALIVE, SPREADING, AND GROWING out of control despite the efforts of dead-end religion and denominationalism to suppress or control it. It is through this Body of Christ that every man, woman, and child will once and for all decisively know the Lordship of Jesus Christ through a people dying to demonstrate and extend self-sacrificial love, salvation, healing, and hope no matter the cost.
In the most prophetic sermon I have ever listened to, Art Katz described the shape and pattern the Church will take before the End of the Age:
I have a feeling that the final revelation of the mystery of God in flesh which Jesus demonstrated in his own body is to be reserved for us (the Church) at the End of the Age. And despite the tens of thousands of bumper stickers, rallies, campaigns, and other no fuss, no stoop, no bother kinds of evangelism which have not saved the world, the final witness for which God is reserving and is indeed preparing us is another Body impaled on a Cross in ultimate suffering for the ultimate revelation of the Truth of God in flesh [so that the world] will cry out, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Hear this truth and believe: God is beginning to remove created things which can be shaken until the only thing which cannot be shaken remains. Therefore, since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and worship God with reverence and awe.
The time is upon us when the world will finally and decisively know the true Evangelical. Our great love in the midst of great evil will not retreat or hide. We will fearlessly and tirelessly rise above and offer love, salvation, and hope to the world. And it is this LOVE that will rise victoriously over and will swallow whole the hatred, vitriol, accusations, division, antipathy, racism, and every other form of slavery and oppression that exists in this world.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.