As I continue in my study of Early Church history this week, I find myself balking at the sheer size of the task…. Roughly 2000 years of church history. Am I really up to this?
Then I’m reminded of how little I knew, how little I was taught, on the history of my religion during my childhood faith formation. The death toll in Western Europe during the Inquisition, the brutality of the Crusades, the 3m-11.5m deaths that resulted from 30 year’s war in 17th century Europe– these things I learned in college courses. At a Secular university. All this carnage related to the Christian Church, and I only learned about it through non-Christian sources. Why?
I feel like American Christianity has been mass-marketed; and Christian churches have been quick to sweep our violent past under the rug, in the name of good PR.
This tendency towards sweeping egregious transgressions under the proverbial rug continues today, with Clergy sex scandals, the soliciting of prostitutes (male AND female) by big name leaders in Evangelical Christianity, the inexcusable pattern of sexual exploitation of girls and young women in the Christian Patriarchy movement. And it’s not that this kind of stuff doesn’t go on outside of the church, it’s that it continues within at a frightening rate. In a church culture so obsessed with living our lives as a testimony to the value of relationship with Christ, when do we admit to missing the mark? When do we stop sweeping transgressions out of view, and start being honest with ourselves and with God?
If we truly believe in a God that offers forgiveness in return for our heartfelt repentence, why do we systemically hide those transgressions from view?
The church of today is still hiding themselves in the brush, ashamed of their naked vulnerability, just like Adam and Eve.
Very few people outside of the church care that much about appearing to be perfected. Why do we? Why do we care so much about our image, when we’ve committed our lives to a God that went on record as abhorring the worship of mere images?
We can’t be accused of being hypocritical when we are being honest about our own shortcomings, right? Yet ‘judgment and hypocrisy’ are the main complaints against American Christians.
I think our service to a church system, in lieu of service to the Cornerstone rejected by the builders, creates a frightfully egocentric dynamic. The church system cares about the continuance of itself, and does so with blatant disregard for the individuals that make up that system. Unless those individuals have a lot of cash or political power to contribute, they are too often seen as a hindrance to the church, instead of its God-ordained mission.
Jesus sums this up quite well:
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)
Who, then, do we serve? Do we serve the graven image of our institutions? Do we serve its continued economic stability? Its growth through superficial popularity?
Or, do we collectively serve God in Christ? And do so as He set forth:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
James 1:27 (NRSV)
Corporate church hierarchies, millionaire ‘Christian’ authors and evangelists– if the stain of the world is greed, then American Christianity is thoroughly stained by the world. Consequently, it becomes a religion that ceases to be pure and undefiled before God.
I’m up to the challenge of practicing a religion that honors God and His will for humanity. Because, I know I will not have to rise to that challenge on my own. The church has Christ. And if Christ can raise Himself from the dead, I’m pretty sure He can sanctify American Christianity. That is, if we want Him to…