A Church Shameful to Christ

A turning to the world that merely seeks an arbitrary accommodation that will make the Church respected and popular in the world of science is shameful to the Church and to Christ. (Thomas Merton)

Somehow I get the impression that if humankind has not committed mass suicide within the next 100 years, that the last half of the 20th century and the first half of the 21st century will be remembered as one of the most debauched and contemptible eras of the Christian Church. That, I admit, takes some doing given the reality of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the abject silence during the Nazi pogroms. At least following the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Nazis, the Church admitted her failures, and more critically, (at least hopefully) made the necessary confession and repentance to never again traffic in those barbaric atrocities.

I question whether the contemporary Church has the self-awareness to even begin to recognize her complicity in the post-modern world’s headlong rush into oblivion.

On the one side are the libertarians who rejoice in the toothless message of contemporary Christianity – the only problem with society today is the false guilt imposed by a repressive and domineering religious institution.

On the other side are the reactionists who blindly cling to the myth of a golden decade of Church perfection – the decade which, by the way, is responsible for sowing the seeds of dysfunction that we see so ripe for harvest today.

I have a friend who brilliantly assessed the source of today’s ineffective Church: the elders of the ’50s, 60’s and 70’s laid down the mantles of shepherds and dressed themselves in the suits of the corporate boardroom. They “ran” the church like a secular business.

Guess what? The Church is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Secularity.com.

It breaks my heart to hear of stories of congregations that have so completely sold their soul to the secular model of success that they do not even stop to question whether a particular practice or innovation might be or might not be compatible with Scripture. In fact, you might say that Scripture is meaningless to them outside of the emotional high they get from convincing themselves that because they see a text or two on a PowerPoint presentation, that they are a biblical church. They cannot confront a godless society because they have driven God from their own buildings. They are as useful in confronting evil as the German Christians were in confronting Hitler. Which is to say, not useful at all.

But my heart is equally broken by the obtuse refusal by others to even consider that their legalistic approach to conservatism has been a blight on the Bride of Christ for decades, if not centuries. I have been a personal witness to the vitriol expressed to a family who changed membership from one congregation to another. The crime committed by the congregation of choice? The presence of a “fellowship hall” that happened to provide a place for communal meals. Churches have divided over the color of the new carpet to be laid, and the purchase of a hymnal produced by the wrong publishing house. Read from the “wrong” translation in some congregations and you can be disfellowshipped.

You see, both thoughtless Liberals and rabid Fundamentalists have transformed the Church into something that it was never intended to be, and indeed, cannot be. They have both, in radically different ways, attempted to “make the Church respected and popular.” But they have fallen into opposite, yet equal, sides of secularity. Both view the interpretations and conclusions of man as their only solid foundation. The Liberals want to make the Church popular with the dominant, secular viewpoint of the world. The Fundamentalists want to make the Church popular with a minority, yet no less secular, viewpoint of the “righteous remnant.” Where these opposite, and seemingly irreconcilable, viewpoints collide is in the realm of human pride – the ego of a group of people who consider themselves smarter (and in many respects, holier!) than God.

I consider myself to be a staunch opponent of the moral and doctrinal laxity of those on the left. But I am no more of a fan of the hubris and Phariseeism on the right.

Jesus confronted the libertarian Sadducees with an ultimatum: If you love me you will keep my commandments. Discipleship under Christ requires that we accept, and promote, the non-negotiable truths of biblical doctrine, including moral behavior. We do not get to choose what is, or is not, acceptable to God. We follow him or we reject him, there is no middle ground.

On the other hand, Jesus confronted the ultra conservative Pharisees with an equal ultimatum: Go discover what this text means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Mindless subservience to legal codes does not draw a person closer to God – quite the opposite. Legalism kills, Phariseeism leads to despair.

The contemporary Church has lost her voice. We no longer speak of healing and renewal to a bent and broken world.

I think there is still hope, I think we can still leave the bondage of Egypt – but I have to wonder,

Where is our Moses?

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

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