HI all, here are my notes in response to Mark Galli’s Christianity Today article (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/aprilweb-only/sullivan-forget-church.html) reviewing Andrew Sullivan’s Newsweek article (reprinted in http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/04/01/andrew-sullivan-christianity-in-crisis.html). Bold are quotes, and non-bold is my response:
I have also come to appreciate, begrudgingly, the institutional church. But like most people, most weeks, the church remains a source of frustration and confusion for me. I do wish Jesus had thought of a better way to organize his followers.
Is this Yah’s will – 2nd best? Begrudging appreciating? Frustration? Confusion? Also: it was NOT Jesus’ idea; just ours!
In particular, Sullivan pines for a Christianity that would shake off the shackles of partisan politics and abstract theology, and most of all, one that would shed all vestiges of the institutional church and instead give itself to living the “simple ethics of Jesus.”
The problem is, Yeshua’s religion is NOT Christianity. It’s a fake, man-made religion started since the 2nd century AD. The institution, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or sect are the OPPOSITE of what Yeshua had in mind.
Simple? Of course! If you read examples from the OT/NT, it cites examples where people always complicated the basic ideals given by Yahweh.
Sullivan believes, along with Jefferson, that Christians should pay less attention “theological doctrines” and more to “the very words of Jesus.” As Sullivan put it, “Jesus’ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did.”
I believe much of the theological hair-splitting is from the Westerner’s attempt to codify, categorise and define everything to its minutest detail. Greek and Latin philosophy, then the Renaissance view that mental gymnastics are humanity’s raison d’etre (“I think therefore I am” – Rene Decartes). E.g., Calvin’s systematic theology is a result of post-Catholic detailism meets Renaissance scientism.
If Yah had wanted to create a hierarchy of Ph.Ds to lead His Son’s Body, He would have kept Yeshua around a few more decades to set up seminaries all over the globe. But alas, it is exactly Phariseeism that He was trying to snuff out.
But the love of neighbor—that I can get a handle on, especially when you give me a story to picture it, like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Couldn’t we avoid so much division and wrangling—and get a lot more good done in the world—if we just concentrated on the simple ethics of Jesus?
The rub is: Christians have spent so much time defining and refining, then killing and abusing others over it, that they have spent little time focusing on how to love their neighbours more. The result: the very opposite of Neighbour-Love.
And when it comes to his so called simple ethics—well, if we dig just beneath the surface, we soon discover they are not so simple. And worse: They also lead to arguments and wars, as much as does theology!
The writer mentioned ethical issues such as Southern Christians wanting to keep slaves, German Christians wondering about obeying Hitler, modern people assessing whether a fetus is human or not, and whether or not the Church should stick their noses into people’s bedrooms. Honestly, is it all really that complicated? Or are these Evangelicals just trying to justify their own institutions and clergy who run them.
For years now, it is “common knowledge” that many in the younger generation have given up on the church. This is a bit of an exaggeration, because some of the most dynamic and church-centered movements—like the neo-Reformed movement and the Passion conferences, to name two—are youth movements. But it is clearly true that many 20- and 30-somethings have tried church and found it wanting, and they are just not going to take it anymore. They are either meeting in small groups in homes and apartments for prayer and Bible study, sometimes calling themselves “house churches,” or they are going it alone to pursue spirituality and Jesus without religion.
Amen to young people starting new movements and house groups. But if they are still within the churches and denominations of Christendom, they are bound to get sucked right back into the vortex, or become the very institution they hate. Why? Because they have not separated themselves absolutely from the centuries-old movement of oppressors people call “Church”.
But here’s the deal. Whenever you bring people together, religious or not, to get something done together, history demonstrates what you are going to get. First you’ll get something done: you’ll start a tutoring program or build a community center or form a soccer league or whatever. But this is what you’ll also get: politics, bureaucracy, legalism, pettiness, backstabbing, greed, dishonesty, conformism, self-interest—and that’s on the good days! Now add religion to the mix, so that the people involved do politics, bureaucracy, legalism, backstabbing, and so forth with a pious smile on their faces. That’s the church many days.
I am fully expecting this for the Messianic movement(s) to follow. Great! Bring it on! No challenges, no fun! On the other hand, we have to stay focused like a laser beam. Then many of these things can be avoided.
You see this in the fourth century church—where nominalism first became a problem, because when the emperor became a Christian, anyone who wanted to be on his good side thought it might be a good idea to join the church. You see this in the Middle Ages, when Christians thought killing one another in chivalrous duels over honor was as much fun as we have playing Angry Birds. You see this in the medieval papacy, which couldn’t find an immoral practice it didn’t like. You see it in 19th century American Protestantism, half of which justified slavery. You see it in the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church and the televangelist scandals of the Pentecostal church. And you see it in the church down the street—like the one Presbyterian church I attended when I was in college, where an elder told me after one Easter service that he just wasn’t convinced about this whole Resurrection thing!
All signs of a failing and dying institution, no? But here’s the thing. This supposedly failed institution has yet to fail. This organized religion on the verge of collapse still stands. This faith that is in crisis, well, it’s still in crisis—and still upheld and loved and used by a gracious God. . .
. . . Then we have Jesus’ method of brand management: He creates the church and puts his brand on it, and calls it “the church of Jesus Christ.”
The institution was dead from Day 1. Only a remnant within it throughout the centuries have been able to survive and please Yahweh. Also, if it is still alive, well, it’s not a proof of anything, except that Babylon will exist in the last of the last days. And Babylon it is. Never once “upheld and loved and used by a gracious God”, unless you’re talking about Baal or Mammon or Ishtar or Molech.
Amidst the confusion and complexity of modern faith, it’s tempting to long for a simple faith, one with a simple theology and simple ethics. What we are going to discover sooner or later, though, is something better: the faith Jesus offers us, one immensely rich and varied, as complex as a bottle of fine wine, as colorful as an impressionist landscape, as exasperating and wonderful as a family. It’s a faith where forgiveness finally wins—Jesus’ forgiveness of the church, Jesus’ forgiveness of us, and our forgiveness of one another.
A very sentimental ending, as befits evangelical articles on the whole, and especially ones that are gently trying to defend their faith. Of course there is diversity with Yeshua and His people. No doubt. But White European Christianity, rehashed into a few thousand other cultures, is not what I’d call diverse. The Vietnamese churches I fellowshipped with in the early 90s were retro 1920s American missionary outposts. As are the Chinese churches. Both here and in Vietnam and China. Same goes for the Pentecostal native churches. And the Cell Church Movement of Texas’ Ralph Neighbour and friends. And the house church movement of Oregon’s Nate Krupp and friends. And the Kenneth Copeland Word of Faith movement. And the Vineyards. And the 40 Day Fasting fad, and the Toronto and Pensacola “Revivals”. The list goes on. I have seen a lot of movements in my short life.
Will a new series of movements avoid this pooh-pooh? Am I too idealistic to believe that the some groups of people could actually major on the Majors and minor on the Minors. George Patterson, whose books I admired (http://www.vergenetwork.org/verge-2012/speakers/george-patterson/), wrote about how to focus on the Biblical things without passing on Western culture to other people. Another of his sites: http://www.trainandmultiply.info/
As one of my friends said once: why should First Nations have to revisit the theological arguments hashed out in Europe? Let them have their own issues! And the Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.
OK, thanks for letting me respond.
Yours for the Revolution,