During Sunday school this past weekend, we were asked to discuss what we think the Kingdom of God is as well as what the world would say about the Church. A number of good words were thrown around, but over the course of the lesson (revolving around the Gospel of Luke, with the woes to the Pharisees and scribes), we began to see that the way the world would describe the Church is often how we describe the Pharisees and scribes during Jesus’ time. We want to see ourselves in the story as the disciples cheering from the sidelines as Christ rebukes the keepers and teachers of the law… but… isn’t that now what the Church functions as? And are we not falling into the same traps that the Pharisees occupied two millennium ago?
These men had hedged the law. They had taken Truth, and then enclosed it in tradition and fake words of God. They, in attempting to protect the law and prevent the breaking of said law, had completed lost the law and replaced it with duty and motions. Let’s look at that passage:
Woes to the Pharisees and Lawyers
37 While Jesus[e] was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
How often does this describe the Church – in America, at least? Do we “load many burdens” but lift not a finger to help bear the load? Do we make our outsides all pretty and clean, while inside we harbor a terrible pride… putrid sin… boiling anger…? Think of the surge of “non-denomination” churches. What is their main word to the culture? “Come in, and we wont judge how you look!” Who has read the story of the pastor Jeremiah Steepek, who came to his new church as a homeless man to drive home the point of not judging the outside (outed through The Blaze)? Denominations are stodgy and dated. They harbor fat-cats, and the rich 1%. They speak words of grace, but do nothing to give grace back to their community. This is the way the world sees the Church. This is the way we look at the Pharisees.
So, what are we going to do about it?
As the Sunday school lesson went on, I thought about my desire to bring a new hymn to the front every day through Facebook. Then I thought of a song sang at my wedding – “Set Me As A Seal” – and it clicked in my head.
“Set me as a seal” comes from the book Song of Solomon, which (in my opinion, backed by people smarter than me; IE an R.C. Sproul blog) is more about an example of a faith based marriage and less about Christ and the Church. However, it does provide some good analogies to how the Church needs to connect to Christ and vice versa. Main thing being this: we need to set Christ as a seal upon our hearts, we need to write His law on our hearts… Christ’s commands, His Words, need to be in the deepest parts of our beings. They need to be reflected in our daily words and actions because they influence every aspect of who we are. When we sing the song “Set me as a seal” it needs to be a prayer – a cry out to the Lord of all creation to write His Truth anew in our innermost place.
Christ’s Words need to be set as a seal upon our hearts, and find realization in our day-to-day lives. The opposite would be to simply place Him as a yard sign.
When we dress up our yard, but turn off our hearts to God’s Word we literally do the exact opposite of what God desires in our lives. What good does it do to put good things out there, when the things in here are dirty and old? The answer is: it’s easy.
It’s easy to put up a facade. To post something uplifting. To say the words, and make the motions. What isn’t easy is to pick up the needy. To stop and pray for the hurting. To wipe aside your pride and admit wrong-doing. What isn’t easy is to admit to the One who knows everything, “I messed up. I sinned against you.” It isn’t easy to ask forgiveness – and it is far easier to hold a grudge. We can point out the splinter in our neighbor’s eye, and completely miss the spike running through our skull…
Let’s go back to how this relates to the Church. Over the past couple hundred years, the church (notice lower case “c”) has lost focus on it’s mission of bringing the Gospel to all. Of caring for the less fortunate, and lifting up those who need help. We focused on theology. We focused on politics. We let the government take away pieces of our duty, to where community outreach done by churches is almost uncommon. Of course there are still millions of church members doing these things – and there are many many churches sponsoring such activities locally – but it isn’t nearly as common as it should be (or has been in our rich history).
SO – what do we do? The Body of Christ is ever adapting to new stimuli – to new cultural surroundings. Do we do as the most popular churches do? Do we cater to a culture of acceptance and tolerance, by tossing biblical doctrine aside? Watering it down to remove any offensive rhetoric? Do we erect tall, thick walls to keep those who are covered in sin out? Do we offend the homosexual? Do we send away drug addicts… the compulsive liars the homeless…? I would answer with Christ’s Words:
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17
For I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing. – Jeremiah 31:25
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. – Matthew 25:35-36
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. – Luke 5:12-13
Christ had a passion of reaching those who the established religious authorities had neglected. They were so focused on keeping the outside clean, to be set apart by external accouterments that they missed the internal component of being truly clean. Though when He found Himself in contact with those degenerates, He did not shy away from pointing out their sin. Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the rich young man, the man with the withered hand, and others. Jesus showed the Church that associating, acknowledging, living alongside those in sin (as we were once in sin, and still battle it daily) is not a determining factor in salvation. In fact, to neglect those in such a state would be to neglect the purpose of the Church, and the Spirit empowering the Church.
I write this as a way to wrestle with my own shortcomings in this area. I also write this to give light to a topic that the Church does wrestle with, and many outside the Church assume we don’t I want to air out a common thread that could connect the Body with the world in a way to better shine Christ’s light out into the darkness. I hope I made enough sense, and didn’t ramble too much.
Just remember: Christ came and set the prisoner free. Christ died and took away our death. Christ rose and beckons His children to follow.