Monday, August 25, 2008

God is Hard to Love

So I'm reading about church history and various Hellenistic philosophies and have reached the sobering conclusion that everything in church, aside from prayer and Scripture, deviates from the genuine orthopraxy as demonstrated by the apostles and described in the New Testament. It's quite a mindfuck, but if you want to read about the origins of mainline Christian liturgies, you will be thrust with two revelations:

1) So much of what we do week after week is not only based on pagan sources, it effectively inhibits the natural expression of the church, which, done properly, serves as a body under the headship of Christ. In other words, Christianity is not about "playing church" or orders of worship (liturgy) or sermons; it's about every time God presses upon your heart to bring food to a needy family or hold the shop door open for an elder or when He encourages you to strengthen your brothers and sisters with supportive words or gestures. Restated, Christianity is supposed to be a way of life, but it has been subverted by human tradition and complacency into a habit.

Don't be surprised at how inane and un-kingdom-building church distractions can be. The great controversies that I've observed since becoming a member at my church have included such saucy demons as "the drums were too loud" or "why do we perform so many modern songs and not enough hymns?" Strangely, none ever laments that "church" has ceased to signify or express itself as the unified Body of Christ and has metamorphosized into an austere club for those who believe in New Testament theology but don't think Christ would be so bold as to ask them to drift from their comfort zones so treasures may be amassed in heaven.

But here is the falacy!! Church has become a brand, a feather in the cap of Jesus's influence. It ought to be an imageless and transparent lifestyle, the individual members having so yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit that Christ just beams through their complexion. But we are sinners, and so we fight this invisible war with an enemy that transcends our strength, and then we succumb to his bait, ultimately contributing to the cause opposite the one we adhese to our car bumpers.

The book I'm reading that's changing my way of thinking is entitled Pagan Christianity, written by Frank Viola and George Barna. Please note that I am not content to trust it inherently, though it's annotated sources are abundant and impressive. It has coerced me into ordering a 7000-page collection on the history of the church. I am also studying the Hellenistic belief systems, as I noted above, specifically between 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. In other words, I want to understand the philosophical and cultural landscape of the time of Jesus and the apostles. If my research takes me where the signs suggest, I will have to abandon the liturgical church, with all its Roman ceremonies and idols. Although Pagan Christianity does a great job illustrating the historicity of our practices and symbols, it seems quite clear to me that no matter the aesthetics, we should have great cause to judge everything we see in a church building. Paul and his followers met in private homes and occasionally assembled at bigger venues, but it was never under any particular guise. Why is it that we have been rendered so ignorant as to think engraven images of animals and crosses any different? God never showed us His face. He concealed Himself in a cloud when speaking to Moses and most of those to whom He appeared. We have no genuine idea of what Christ looked like, yet we fill churches with His "visage." We wear crucifixes, a clear blasphemy in Mosaic law, which Christ did not come to abolish, but appease our conscience with the tender delusion that a supposed image of anything, when worshipped, is not something a consistent God once condemned. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I rather think that if God didn't want to show us His face, He neither wanted us to fixate on what it might look like. And certainly, if we were to transgress to that extent, He would NEVER have wanted us to carve images and worship them in His place. But we use them for ambience and bombast that the apostles had no time for; they were, as it were, too busy investing in people who might invest in more people.

But I digress. I still have much to learn, including this matter of how come this was allowed to happen in the first place, seeing as it stifles Christ's headship of His members.

2) Because of all the above, it is perfectly natural to feel spiritually unsettled if sitting in a pew like a spectator doesn't bring you closer to God or into a right relationship with Him. The "goal" of the Christian is to achieve the kind of submission to Christ that would transform the believer into one of His earnest servants, able to call down the powers of heaven in the name of Jesus Christ himself. If church, in its militaristic assembly, has failed to accomplish the above in your life, then you should take solace in the knowledge that it can't, and there is no certain deficiency on your part to make yourself receptive to God. In fact, there are very sound arguments that suggest it prevents you from being the kind of person that successfully and faithfully serves for God's glory and kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 12, it speaks of the church as being the unified Body of Christ, but what kind of connection is achieved among members if all face the pulpit and never interact with or encourage or edify one another like genuine brothers and sisters? I am not here suggesting that it is a bad thing to worship God in assembly, but I am saying that God, as He tells us in the epistles, intended for church to be much, much more than we practice. With a grain of salt, we have become wholly ignorant to God's instruction through Paul, even though it is likely with good intentions that most have been involved in this.

So if you find yourself uninspired by the church, don't write off God. But there is a catch here. Where traditional, ritualistic church doesn't build up the Body, organic church requires an extreme, essentially lethal commitment to God. One must surrender oneself entirely to be part of the functioning Body of Christ. I think that there are some very earnest people who respond to God often, but I have met few who even make it a priority. This is largely due to false teaching and our sinful nature, which has blocked off the internal hints that suggest we aren't as in tune with the Spirit as we could be. I am deathly frightened by the idea that entire generations have died, confident in a salvation that might not be granted them. Brass tacks: When Christ divides the sheep from the goats, it won't matter how well you sang God's praises on Sunday morning or studied your Bible; it will come down to whether or not you fed Him when He was hungry or went to visit Him in prison or made the Bible the guide to your every decision.

I don't know what to do next, but I guess I won't be going to Bible college next year. There are some pastors who I tremendously respect, but I just can't reconcile any career that might pattern myself after a church that is more organized than organic. By the way, if we wonder why we never see miracles in church, and yet people in extreme poverty allegedly do, it should arouse the following suspicion in you: do miracles happen at all, or do they only happen to certain people? My theology forces me to answer thusly: In affluent cultures, materialism is the underlying religion; in poor regions, the culture is so bleak and merciless that it doesn't have the sheer power to influence people enough as to distort God's message. People in other areas have only God to lean on, whereas we inhabit areas that are so richly blessed that our eyes can't help but see the blessings and their abundance and forget the Blesser. We have so much that we shouldn't logically question or doubt whether we should ever run out of blessings. And yet, we are still human and still pine for comfort and belonging and a relationship with our Creator, but so compelling are the distractions and adverts and legalisms and postmodernisms and trends that we have become so twisted as to not make spiritual health the top of our agenda. Why should we see miracles? And why should I continue to adhere to a system that fails to stimulate, but succeeds at simulating something we've become too ignorant to identify or want: a permanent residence with God.

But I'm discouraged. I haven't allowed God to seep into the deeper parts of myself, and it's why I'm finding out the hard way that all the theology in the world won't fill the void in my heart. No idea what to do next. None.

3 Comments:

Blogger Slave Morality said...

Quite a post. Good points, scary points but good none the less.

26/8/08 08:57  
Anonymous Josh Steele said...

I didn't get through all of your post, but I do have to say that the thoughts of how many Pagan traditions were transformed into Christian teachings was something that always bothered me growing up as a Baptist.

Then, quite to my surprise, one of Jehovah's Witnesses blatantly AGREED with me. Come to find out, they don't practice these pagan ideas, they base their teachings upon the Bible. It was refreshing, and I have truly come to know Jehovah God since then.

Next time one comes knocking on your door, express some of these ideas to them. See what they say. You'll be quite surprised.

26/8/08 10:41  
Blogger Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com. Also, have you seen the spoof video for "Pagan"? Very funny. Check it out at http://youtube.com/watch?v=hslswIal9u4.

27/8/08 14:33  

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