May 23, 2009

The High-jacking of Christianity

Mention the topic of the Christian Church among a random group today, and you will likely get a cluster of comments that portray the Church as a conservative institution, a virtual anachronism in a modern, 'progressive' world. In fact, it is surprising to see the contempt many 'outsiders' express when talking about the Christian Church. Indeed, there are many good reasons for those impressions to prevail, since they were developed over the past several decades, even centuries. Spokesmen (and they're mostly males) for Christianity in the USA have aligned themselves firmly on the far right of the political spectrum, and have even made forays into the worldly realm of politics. (While the religious scene in Canada is quite different from that in the US, Canadians are subject to heavy influence via the TV broadcasts and media stories coming from the south. By such cultural osmosis, the popular impression of 'Christianity' is much the same there as in the USA.)

And so, it has come about that in America, Christianity is virtually synonymous with the 'religious right.' Most observers probably assume that this is quite natural, that it has always been thus, that all Christians are rampant red-necks. But, is that correct?
Have Christians always been conservatives? And is that how it's supposed to be? Not at all, is my response! Quite the contrary, in fact. The primordial Christian Church, as it arose in Jerusalem from the first Pentecost after Jesus' death, was far from conservative. It was a very outward-looking, radical organization, attracting those who were not satisfied with the ages-old traditions of a dead expression of religion. Only people of courage dared to join this new sect, and they endured much hardship for the right to be followers of Christ.

Yes, they were radicals when seen in the light of their Jewish background. In proclaiming the gospel of Christ, they were overturning all the sacred cows of the traditional, Old Testament or Mosaic faith. If you doubt this, just read Acts, especially chapter 15, where the disciples decide what to require of gentile converts. Rather than dump the whole Law of Moses on these new believers, they simply required abstinence from food offered to idols, and from sexual immorality. That's it; period! Even today, most pastors of any given denomination would cringe to deliver that message to their flocks. They'd be appalled with any suggestion against the thought that there's got to be a whole bunch of rules added to the membership certificate to keep these innocent believers from going 'hog wild' in their freedom in Christ. When you contrast the early church with the hide-bound society from which it emerged, you start to get a feeling for how radical it was.

Somewhere along its track of history, though, the mainstream Christian Church (make that 'Churches,' following the Reformation) lost the radical flavor that characterized the beginning. They got high-jacked by conservative thinking men whose primary interest was in preserving the status quo. It's too hazy and protracted a process to try to pin an exact moment on when the Church swung 'right,' but it probably started after the time of persecution by the Romans. After Constantine made Christianity the national religion, the Church could relax. Without the threat of external persecution, membership became a lot more attractive to a much wider population. With the blessing of the emperor, it was a smart political move to adopt this new religion... even if one wasn't fully 'heart-converted.' Under these two factors, the inevitable happened. The Church came to adopt the hierarchical, paternalistic, bureaucratic structure characteristic of the Roman government and most human, secular organizations. Once that happened, it was not long before the bureaucrats behaved as all such officials behave. They adopted the mindset that the prime objective was to preserve the existing organization at all costs. In other words, the Church fell into the hands of conservatives. In the main thrust of its history, it has never recovered from this phase.

So today, we have arrived at the point where some Christians think that going radical means accepting the profligate ways of secular society, embracing all manner of 'progressive' ideas, until the essence of their faith is dispersed into a faint hint of vague theism. Meanwhile, the mainstream, monolithic Churches are largely populated by adherents with little Biblical knowledge, led by company men, working towards retirement on company pensions. Not much room there for radical Christianity of the first Century type. In the USA, canny 'evangelists' with a flair for theatrics have found their niche. In a country hungry for some true substance, for spiritual nourishment, these men know how to use the media, especially TV, to advance their right-wing, fear-based agenda. In a country of unparalleled wealth, there's much to conserve, and these leaders know their audience and its insecurities. Not content with getting rich, they want to gain control of the levers of power, occupy political offices in order to extend their legalistic mania over the whole population of the US.

The Christian churches themselves have long forgotten what the radical, early church looked like... and worse, they don't want to remember. They've set up a pseudo-church system that seems to work well for their purposes. Many dubious practices have been embedded as part of the machine; for eg. "we need more money to '----------' (you fill in the blanks, and oh yes, send them a cheque.) The idea that the church itself needs to be 'born again' (to use the now-tired and tarnished phrase) doesn't seem to be part of any prominent leader's agenda. But that's what's necessary. If the Christian church is to have any relevance in the modern world, any appeal to a desperate world, any credibility, it must be wrested from the sleazy hands of the conservatives who now control it, and reclaimed by souls who are radical for Christ!

As Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their dead!" The prescription above may sound altogether too drastic, but if you read the gospels with a 'free mind' rather than one conditioned by years of the traditional blandishments, you will see just how radical Jesus was, and why he was so hated by the establishment. He associated with all the 'wrong' people-- tax collectors (considered traitors by Jews), uneducated workers, foreigners, and women including prostitutes. He exposed the hypocrisy of the ultra-legalistic Pharisees, and even had the gall to attack the abomination that they had made of the Temple of God. He broke their laws, and talked about setting people free... yet he made no effort whatever to speak against the Roman occupiers. Instead of preaching 'fire and brimstone' sermons about God's wrath and severe judgement, Jesus assured people of God's love and His mercy. So you should understand, that Jesus was no conservative, fearful defender of 'traditional values.' Far from it! He was a force for change, a force majeur sweeping through the stale, decrepit, rigid structure that was contemporary Israel. His message was radical. It's no wonder that he had to be eliminated by the conservative forces of the status quo. What is a wonder is how the movement he founded has fallen in the hands of opportunists and aparachiks who want nothing to do with institutional repentance and rebirth.

For those with the spiritual eyes to see behind the human dynamics, one can see how Satan infiltrated the organized church and immediately began leading it astray. God countered with successive reformations to ensure the survival of the essential message ensconced in the scriptures so that any sincere seeker can find the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in spite of the fog of confusion and error dispersed by most churches thru their spokesmen and literature. But it takes a bit of effort, not just occupying a pew on a periodic basis. Jesus said "Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened; ask, and it shall be given." So, dear reader, don't be satisfied to listen to sermons, but open your Bible, ask for guidance, and seek the truth.

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