Anyone close to me would NEVER hear me refer to myself as an Evangelical. Even though I am well aware of this word’s origin (one who brings the Good News) and am actually quite proud of what that Good News is and am quick to tell people about this Good News… 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 Christianity to tell me what comes to mind when I say the word “evangelical.” Keep in my that this is THEIR perception. 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, un-persuadable Patriots, and preacher sex scandals.
If that isn’t a punch to the gut…I don’t know what is.
Those are things that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Jesus. And to be honest, those characteristics seem to describe the religious leaders at the time of Jesus, rather than the characteristics of his followers.
So how in the world did we get to this place anyway? How could something so beautiful, so free, and so transcendent turn into something so hideous and ugly and repulsive? And how can this monstrosity be put to death so that a new Body may resurrect to new Life?
The truth is that while there is an entire generation keeping the organized, institutional church at arm’s length, there is now also a movement of those who have actually been in the organized, institutional church… who are now leaving to save their faith.
This movement is a growing undercurrent of people in the United States who want nothing to do with organized, institutional Church, because they believe it has moved so far away from the life-giving, vibrant, spiritual, faith community that models the way, life, and teachings of Jesus and the early church. And many of these people used be regulars in the organized church. But they now believe the organized Church in it’s current configuration has become something it was never intended to be, and has also been instrumental in pushing people away who were drawn to Jesus but repelled by the misplaced priorities, misguided belief systems, tribal thinking, us-vs-them mentalities, and man-made religious structures.
The sad truth is that those things uniquely and supremely of Christ and of the utmost importance for his followers (love, joy, peace, servanthood, and non-retaliation) are the very things that have been hidden and buried under all of the church’s competing interests and misplaced priorities.
I believe with everything in me that the reason the organized, institutional Church…in all it’s religiosity, arrogant triumphalism, political-mindedness, organizational and hierarchical 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 their 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 of people are repelled by the organized, institutional 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 they are STILL surprisingly drawn to Jesus. And it is to Jesus and his Kingdom-way that 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 religious talking heads 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. This period of consumer Christianity must come to an end. Church pews lined with habitual hypocrites, judgmental legalists, and blind and hateful zealots must be confronted with the Cross of Christ to begin following in his way. And organized, institutional Churchianity must begin to decentralize and awaken to the depths of spiritual hunger in our country and the desperate need for real, honest, and raw dialogue in loving, non-judgmental community.
There is a kingdom movement outside of the church walls being embodied and coming to life in a hungry and desperate people who have crucified the old conception of life and who long to be God’s new creation people. And this Kingdom undercurrent is ALIVE, SPREADING, AND GROWING. It is through this Body of Christ that every man, woman, and child in the world will once and for all decisively know the Lordship of Jesus Christ through a people who are dying to demonstrate and extend the self-sacrificial love and salvation of God no matter the cost.
In the most prophetic sermon I have ever listened to, Art Katz described the pattern and shape 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 every kind of cheap evangelism, none of which have 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.”
The time is upon us when the world will finally and decisively know the true Christ. 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 and will swallow whole the hatred, vitriol, accusations, divisiveness, antipathy, racism, and every other form of slavery and oppression that exists in this world. People may be leaving the organized, institutional church… but the CHURCH… is coming to life!