December 7, 2019

Dishonoring Critique; Or Is It?

 
 

It was a feisty Jesus talking to the religious leaders that day.

“Woe to you Pharisees!” Jesus said in a Bible passage chronicled in Luke 11. Jesus, the representation of God in the flesh, shared these not-so-nice words with a group of religious leaders – the “good,” “church-goin’” people of the culture.

“You love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces…,” Jesus opined. “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy — full of greed and wickedness!”

“Why do you criticize the evangelical Church? Why not concentrate on the good things we do?”

As you might imagine, these pillars of the community didn’t enjoy being publicly called greedy, power-hungry hypocrites. Where was the honor and proper decorum? Where was Jesus’ acknowledgement of the good they do in the community? Where was his recognition and deference to their positions of authority?

“Rabbi,” said another group of leaders who specialized in teaching the biblical rules, known as ‘the law,’ “in saying these things you insult us also.” Jesus’ response to them was anything but apologetic or deferential.

“Woe to you lawyers, also… For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. The blood of all the prophets will be held against this generation.”

Jesus’ assessment of these leaders was harsh, public, broad-sweeping and held no redemptive tone. He was telling a generation of religious people that they were going to pay a price for wrong beliefs.

Keep in mind, these were not the culturally “evil” people of first century Jerusalem. Jesus was talking to the “good” people of his day. People akin to our modern day Sunday School teachers, Little League coaches, and Cub Scout masters. These were the people you’d prefer to have as neighbors, rather than those “horrible sinners” – the tax collectors, Samaritans and… liberals, socialists and lovers of illegal immigration. Yet, here was Jesus saying things so difficult, to hear it caused these righteous, “good” men to begin to plot of ways to have Jesus killed.

“Why do you criticize the evangelical Church?” I hear often, “Why not concentrate on the good things we do?”

Another way to say this might be “Paul, in saying these things, you insult us too.”

Why do it? Why do I critique the Evangelical Church for its staunch efforts to legislatively force people to obey biblical commands? Why am I cynical about the Church’s pursuit of theological purity even as it ostracizes more and more people from communities of faith? Why do I encourage people to come out of a blind loyalty to a political ideology that absolutely presses against the biblical command to love our enemies?

Why? Because that’s what I see Jesus doing in the Bible.

Jesus never praised the religious leaders for their amazing Bible knowledge. He never said “well they’ve missed this, but here’s what they do that’s right.” Jesus was so offended by their staunch efforts to legislatively force people to obey biblical commands and their ostracizing pursuit of theological purity and their blind loyalty to an enemy-hating, nationalistic ideology that it precluded him from ever praising their efforts. In fact, Jesus likely would have avoided those religious leaders altogether if they hadn’t often sought him out in their efforts to discredit his message. That message undermined their beliefs and practices. Simply put, Jesus made them look bad and they hated him for it.

I criticize the Evangelical Church because I believe Jesus would criticize it were he on earth in the flesh today. And, like those religious leaders of the past, we would hate him for it. My novel gives a picture of what this might look like. You can check that book out here. Ultimately, I believe the model Jesus laid out for us is to challenge the mindset/spirit of the Church and its individual people. Let’s call it “the spirit of this age” from which Romans 12:2 encourages us to be transformed so we can truly know God’s will for our time in history.

Does our current mindset include some of the religious, self-righteousness of those first century religious leaders? A self-satisfaction that drew Jesus’ ire all those years ago? Is there any chance we more resemble them, than him? We’ve been wrong many times in the past, are we willing to consider we might have missed God’s true heart, again?

“Where’s your honor?” They ask me. “Where’s your decorum and deference to leaders?”

It’s something with which I wrestle from time to time. Ultimately, however, my heart feels more of the hurt of those being ostracized by today’s Evangelical Church than it feels my need to be liked by my friends. As a close friend of mine often says “I will lose my reputation to sit with those who have lost theirs.” To this end, I am committed. To use Christian biblical jargon – I have set my face like flint to this cause.

I’ve learned about honor in my life; I’ve taught on it – I have a high value for honoring others as God sees them. So, I have to ask myself, when is it dishonoring to critique practices that I see are opposed to what Jesus modeled for us in scripture? Was Luke watching Jesus speak dishonor as Jesus criticized those leaders for a love-inhibiting generational mindset? Am I dishonorable if I do the same? Jesus called out those who found other things more important than God’s never-changing command to love the poor, the meek, the marginalized. So did Jeremiah. So did Amos. So did Paul and Peter and James (James did so “big time!”)

Jesus stood over Jerusalem and wailed because he saw the outcome that would result from their belief system. I feel his pain. This is the message that drives me to no longer remain silent.

In October of 2018, I came across a headline – “20 killed in Party Limo Accident.” I began to feel something was spiritually significant about this crash.

The story told of a limousine accident on New York State Route 30. It read “Twenty people died in a tragic accident, eighteen of which were headed to a birthday celebration.” I was drawn to those two numbers – 20 and 18. My spiritual sense was those  numbers represented the year 2018 and that 2018 had been designated by God as a significant year of decision.

I was also drawn to the fact that two pedestrians, who had nothing to do with the party goers, met their fate in that day’s tragedy. I felt those in the limo, and the pedestrians outside of it, represented separate generations. The limo-riding, party goers were the Baby Boomer generation. The pedestrians, the Millennial and Gen-Z’s.

The Boomers are a generation of many great qualities, but also one of self-significance and considerable disdain for the generations following it. This mindset is similar to that portrayed in the biblical story of King Hezekiah – a man who held a party to celebrate God’s promise that Hezekiah’s sins would be visited upon his children, rather than on himself. The Boomers have enjoyed a comfortable economic life buoyed by a $23 Trillion American deficit, a deficit that will hamper the economic life of these future generations. The Boomers have celebrated this good fortune, even as they’ve staunchly held to their evangelical traditions that have almost guaranteed Millennials and Generation Z-ers will never accept ‘church’ as their grandparents did.

That October day in New York, a group of partying, limo-riders impacted the lives of two others that had nothing to do with the choices that went into that crash. Likewise, a generation celebrates while impacting two future generations that had nothing to do with those previous generational sins. My sense was that these generational decisions displeased God but the decisions of this generation were finalized and secured in 2018.

Why do I speak out as I do? Because it’s important to tell the future generations it’s OK that they believe differently than their parents and grandparents. Not only is it OK, I believe God celebrates that they do. I believe the Baby Boomer generation can finish well by turning away (repenting) of their mindset and of their disparagement of Millennials and Gen Z-ers for not being like them. Out of this repentance, the Boomers will be able to pour blessing into the future and change history’s view of today.

Yes, these future leaders will be impacted by the decisions of this previous generation. However, if we bless our children and grandchildren to be free of the legalistic ties that have bound those ahead of them, perhaps they’ll more effectively advance the culture God envisions on earth, rather than the one we invented through 50 years of partisan, religious teaching. When they do so, followers of God will once again focus more on preaching the gospel to the poor, setting the captives free and declaring the year of the Lord’s favor than on passing laws to try and forcibly create some form of a “Christian nation.” I believe the humility of these future generations will catch God’s eye and our land will be healed.

2 comments

  1. Paul, you refresh and fill my cup!

    1. Paul Swearengin says:

      Thanks Jim, appreciate you guys!!! Let’s connect again sometime this week. Seems you guys are having some rough days?

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