Cheap religion teaches us how to live successfully in a sick system. Sometimes therapy teaches us how to live successfully in a sick system. Sometimes therapy teaches us how to accommodate ourselves to a world based on power, prestige, and possessions. That’s why many people need more and more therapy or addictive religion as they “adjust” to a sicker and sicker environment. If we do not question the underlying lies, we can psychologize and theologize forever. As a general rule, we need more and more of what doesn’t work. If it worked, we wouldn’t need to keep increasing the fix. “The way things are” must somehow be interrupted. The system must somhow be deconstructed. That is the job of the prophet. The prophet leads us out of normalcy, dismisses it, debunks it.
Somehow we have gotten to a place where it is deemed inappropriate for honest people to ask honest questions about the state of the church in the United States. the contemporary notion of a “prophet” has been reduced to a non-sensical babbler who scares people with his end-times rants. while it is true, biblically, that prophets had the ability to foresee events hundreds of years in advance…they actually spent most of their time speaking for God…or on behalf of God. Prophets would challenge the status quo…and call people back to God and back to their divine responsibility.
if we rewind 3400 years ago to exodus 19, God tells Moses that if the Israelites will agree to a covenant with Him…they will be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, His special possession to be His representatives to the nations. what we see…as we read through the old testament…is that from generation to generation after that…the Israelites began defaming God through idolatry and by neglecting the poor…oppressed…and the weakest in the society through injustice and lack of mercy.
interestingly enough…peter uses the same language…1400 years after Moses…to the present and future church when he says that the church is a holy nation, a royal priesthood, God’s special possession (1 Peter 2:9). which ought to make one wonder…if the church is a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and God’s special possession…ought we be examining what exactly the Israelites did to lose their special distinction…so we don’t do the same? again…the Israelites forsook their first love (God) for idolatry…and began neglecting justice and mercy to the powerless, poor, and oppressed.
in a time when so many churches have forsaken their first love of God with the idolatry of money, power, politics, possessions, buildings and building plans…and neglected the least in our society, one may further wonder if we should be asking for prophets to come on the scene to call the church back to its’ holy designation?
the problem is that prophets are never welcomed. they are often eschewed… shunned…mis-labeled…misrepresented…hated…mocked…castigated…lied about…you get the picture…because they challenge the status quo. in the Bible…prophets were just killed. people do not like what a prophet has to say…even if it is spoken from God.
many times prophets are just labeled trouble-makers and divisive…which is very interesting. Jesus was a prophet (among other things) and the religious establishment called him a trouble-maker and divisive…and then mis-labeled, misrepresented, hated, mocked, castigated, lied about, and then killed him.
it is curious how “the way of Jesus” many times challenges the religious establishment.
let’s take a peak at some of the ways that Jesus challenged the religious establishment of his time:
-Jesus said that unless his followers obey God better than the religious establishment…they can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. this implies that the teachers of religious law were not practicing what they preach. (matthew 5:20)
-Jesus said that not all people who sound religious are really godly. he said, “they may refer to me as Lord, but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” he replied further, “I never knew you. go away; the things you did were unauthorized.” this implies that the religious establishment were acting in ways and doing things that were really not godly…and not authorized by God. (matthew 7:21)
-Jesus said that the religious establishment got so fixated on the law, doctrine, and tradition…that they missed the good they could do in situations. Jesus picked grain and ate on the Sabbath and then healed a man on the Sabbath (a day when no work was to be done)…to which the relgious establishment said violated religious law. (matthew 12:1-13)
-Jesus said that good fruit is produced from good trees…but the religious establishment was not producing good fruit because their evil words were from an evil heart. (matthew 12:33)
– Jesus said that you are not defiled by what you eat…but by what you say and do. his disciples told him that he offended the Pharisees by what he said. (matthew 15:1-12)
-Jesus called the religious establishment “false teachers” (matthew 16:12)
-Because the religious establishment “stumbles” over Jesus…the Kingdom of Heaven will be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce the proper fruit by following the way of Jesus. (matthew 21:33-45)
-Jesus said that while the religious establishment are the “official” interpreters of the Scriptures…the people should practice and obey what they say…but they should not follow their example….because they don’t practice what they teach. he said, “they crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden.” (matthew 23:1-4)
-Jesus said that everything the religious establishment did was for a show. (matthew 23:5)
-Jesus said that the religious establishment was careful to tithe even the tiniest part of their income…but they ignored the important things of the law…like justice, mercy, and faith. (matthew 23:23)
-Jesus said the religious establishment was guilty of whipping, chasing, and killing prophets that God sent. (matthew 23:29-33)
Jesus was not afraid to challenge hollow, legalistic religious leaders who were more interested in putting on a good show….than producing good deeds or standing up for justice, mercy, and faith.
the norm…for followers of Jesus…should be to always question how we are individually and collectively following the way of Jesus. unless we are always asking questions about what it looks like to embody the Kingdom of Heaven (which always looks like Jesus)…we may start looking and acting alot like the religious establishment of Jesus’ day…which we should absolutely guard against.
the question then becomes…with so many denominations and differing opinions on what exactly is the most important elements of the Christian faith and doctrine and then subsequently determining how those things are embodied and expressed in our culture (i.e. priority on sunday service and programs vs. integrating into the world)…how do people who are interested in breaking free from a hollow religious establishment and simply following the way of Jesus…collectively unite behind and reclaim our divine designation as a holy nation and a royal priesthood…and become Jesus to the world?
a beginning point is to realize that Christ is the head of the church…not churches. God does not want a million and one denominations who are in competition with each other for money and “members.” He does not want a church of just old people. He does not want a church of just young people. He does not want a church of just white people. He does not want a church of just black people. He does not want a church of just rich people. He does not want just a church of poor people. He does not want “liberal” churches…or “conservative” churches. God wants united followers…a group of broken and different-looking pieces which crafted together make a beautiful composite that is simply called…the church. He wants a holy nation…a royal priesthood…led by the Holy Spirit…embodying and manifesting the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
but how do we start that process and what does it look like?