Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Jesus and Community

Jesus could have saved the world alone.  The moment He stepped out of the water of the Jordan, He could have walked off, and just started His ministry.

It wasn't a lack of ability, power, or mental resources.  He was given everything He needed by the Father:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20)

So, the Son, under the marching orders of His Father and the power He held as the Son of God, could have simply partnered with His Father and that would have been that. 

But Jesus came from a community:  The courts of Heaven were resplendent with angels, creatures and His Father.  Jesus would not have stepped onto the earth to go solo.  He received the Holy Spirit at His baptism (showing us what would happen to the newly birthed church at Pentecost) and went out with the Trinity animating everything He did.
He sought a public inauguration of His ministry by being baptized by John, and after He endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune launched by Satan in the desert, He started to preach.
He also starting choosing disciples. 
Huh?  Was He just operating in the rabbinical tradition of talmidim?  These talmidim were more than disciples; they lived, ate and breathed every moment they could in the presence of the Rabbi.  They desperately wanted to not only learn His wisdom but emulate His very behavior.
So, yes He was acting in the tradition, but Jesus went deeper:  He was showing us the power of community. 

Community would sustain the disciples throughout His ministry and when they needed each other the most--when Jesus was being crucified--they scattered.  But when the resurrected Christ appeared, His presence galvanized them into an unstoppable force that spread the message of the Savior to the far ends of the earth.
We, who believe in Christ, are here today because of those talmidim.  
I find it sad, however, that today the church is made up of many 'brides."  The church in the Bible is referred to as the "Bride of Christ"--a kind of e pluribus unum of all of us throughout the ages.  I know that division was rampant in the history of Christianity.  
But in my lifetime (I was born in 1960) I have seen a decisive and divisive swing to the church being centered on the individual.  When I first started to go to church as a new believer, as a teenage in the early seventies, the message was clear:  You learn the Word and go out with the message of the hope in Jesus.  I was part of the "I Found It!" campaign, and the Evangelism Explosion campaign.  Both those programs embodied the idea of learn the Word so you can lead others to the Word--Jesus Himself.

I continued to see that in the churches I attended, but by the 80's, I started seeing a shift.  It was the time of the Recovery Movement--the church was a place where broken people came and lay leaders, pastors and worship leaders emphasized healing and how trauma affects everything we do--including in our walk with Christ.

Sometimes the psychological terms and the emphasis on the broken self (as opposed to the sinful self) gained the ascendancy; but overall, it was a positive effort.  Someone who has suffered trauma will need more than an altar call; the Gospel reaches (or should reach) the whole self.

By the 2000's, I started seeing an emphasis on the self.  Period.  Churches began to eschew the little church with a pastor sitting in an oak-lined study, ready to talk with you, to a kind of corporate model.  The very first cell phone I ever saw was in the hands of a pastor, who drove a Mercedes and pastored a mega church in California.  The church he was in split over him leaving; half the congregation came with him to found this new church.  It was big in every way.

Later I found out this pastor left the church over an affair.  

Then I noticed the march towards a kind of McChurch--Jesus as a kind of spiritual Big Mac.  What makes the Big Mac so universally loved is it has just enough punch in the secret sauce to have some flavor; otherwise, it's a pretty insipid burger.  Jesus was presented as having just enough punch (He loves you; He is your Friend, your Life Coach, Your Healer, Your Provider) to draw people in and yet otherwise, Jesus was preached in a way that portrayed Him as rather insipid.  In fact, as a kind of repose to this weak Jesus were books trying to insist that manly men could love Jesus, who Himself had manly characteristics. (What is taught from the pulpit often doesn't match what is written in books and vice versa).

Now, in the last 15 years, I have watched churches brand themselves, market themselves, and act like profit-driven organizations, with the "product" being the Christian lifestyle:  God wants you to live your best life.  

Sin?  Some churches still preach it, praise God.  It is at the core of the Christian message:  Jesus didn't die on the cross so you could be healthy, wealthy and blessed.  He died because sin divides us away from God; God's wrath was satisfied in the death of His Son.
The early church preached the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus because THAT WAS NEWS WORTH DYING FOR!  They would give up everything they had to spread this news; have we lost the kind of zeal they had we preach another Gospel--one of health, wealth and prosperity?  Has our message of Jesus as Cosmic Coach, kind and loving, who really won't call anyone out (and thus, nor should we) taken over the complacency-shattering news that we were crucified with Him and now the life we live is because of Him in us?  (Galatians 2:20 is the essence of the Gospel applied to a life!)

After so many years of filtering the Gospel through a prosperity/consumerist lens, the church in America is facing a time where community is essential:  banding together to help in this pandemic, by comforting each other, praying for each other, and doing whatever we can to maintain that community.

Sadly, I see quite the opposite happening.

The "brides" of Christ are at war right now.


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