The best and the worst of the church. I suppose this could be a book title, or perhaps the title of a graduate thesis, but let’s get to the point much more quickly. Jesus came (comes) to set the captives free, which they desperately want(ed), and as He did (does) so they began (begin) to revert to “going back to Egypt.” Only the names have changed …
The whole concept of Freedom in Christ is so fantastic that we cannot fully comprehend it with our world-infected minds, but we yearn, none-the-less, for this freedom. The Good News of Jesus Christ is, in fact, this freedom He has won for us and offers us today, every day. From the atonement to reconciliation, from forgiveness to redemption, all of our Doctrine about Jesus Christ leads us to learning more about our freedom in Him, because of Him, through following Him, believing in Him, etc. This is the Christian faith- that Jesus Christ saves us, and sets us free from sin and death as He leads us to eternity with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The “followers of the way” were how the believers in Christ were first identified, and then they got called Christians, in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It’s interesting to me that what they meant by “followers of the way” included all of what we call the Good News, resulting in our understanding of salvation. In other words, Jesus was the way to salvation. As this began to sink in, as further teaching by the Apostles spread, they came to understand that this wasn’t about “head knowledge,” but about a living, dynamic relationship! Christ IN you, the hope of Glory (Col 1:27). Thus the word Christian, which was a compound word for Christ-one, or, better yet, one in whom Christ lives.
So the Church of Jesus Christ grew rapidly and spread over the entire world! The entire world was and is hungry for this Freedom He brings, even if they don’t have a vocabulary to express it the way we do.
Enter now the contrast- the leaven. Leaven is “an element that produces an altering or transforming influence. ”( Webster) The leaven of the Pharisees was their attempt to regain control of the people they had lost to the new faith in Christ. This is what religion is, an attempt to be in control. Andrew Farley, in his book “God Without Religion” defines religion as “a return to bondage,” from the compound Latin re ligare. It is easy, here, to see the similarity between the Israelites of old in captivity to the Egyptians to what is going on today in much of what we call Christendom. In the “days of old” it was a problem for the Jews. Today it is a problem in the organized church.
As soon as we organize, for all kinds of good purposes, we begin to control one another. We can’t help it. I suppose it is part of the brokenness we have in our DNA from “the fall.” We want to do good things, so we organize into churches and begin to facilitate good works, building both subtle and not-so-subtle control mechanisms into our assembly. After all, we don’t want error to slip in, and we’ll be sure we structure things so it can’t. Riiiight.
The best of the church is Christ at work in us, with us, through us, for others. The worst of the church is our attempt to control the very Freedom Christ brings to us by His Holy Spirit. We pray for Revival, and then tell God how to do it! We pray for gifts, and then determine how we will recognize them, train them, categorize them and use them. We pray to be followers, and then tell Jesus where we are willing to go. I think you get the idea.
The answer is not that we get rid of the church. We can’t do that. Jesus Christ is building His Church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it! The answer is not that we dis-organize the church, or attempt to live independent from the church, out of fellowship.
The answer is that we pray for and allow Jesus Christ to have His way with us; to read His Word every day so we get the food we need for spiritual sustenance, and to remain in fellowship with one another so that the gifts Jesus distributes among us can be fully utilized.
Perhaps we cannot do this without some form of human control, but we CAN do this with a minimum of control of others. Self control seems to be what is most needed, which seems to be brought about by what we call “death to self.” The old saying “let go and let God” seems appropriate, especially today.
God Bless you as go deeper into the fantastic voyage of Following Christ.