Jesus was often confronted with trap questions from the Pharisees, what might that look like today?
I begin this blog today like those old jokes that said “I have good news and I have bad news.” I’ll give you the bad, first: partisan conservative evangelicalism – white evangelicalism, if you will – is sick, and I now believe irreparably so. It appears headed for a calamitous end. The good news? The Bible shows us that these calamitous end times always allow something new to emerge.
“Look, I’m doing a new thing – don’t you see it?” The Bible says in Isaiah 43. I believe that’s where we stand in history today.
Hear me clearly. I’m not saying all individual evangelical churches are bad, or their individual people or leaders. It’s simply clear that the fifty year intertwining of our white evangelicalism with our white, conservative politics, has become metastasized to our mindset – our spirit – and cannot be tweaked or rooted out. It’s time to call it like it is: “American Evangelical Christianity” has become more defined by the first word than the latter two, and that’s when Jesus starts turning over tables and pronouncing woes on judgment day. Jesus warned us to beware the leaven of the politically-blinded, religious church of the Pharisees and Jeremiah warned us of becoming fat and sleek and uncaring of justice as our prophets prophesy falsely.
Welcome to 2020 and the blind, deaf, falsely-prophesying Church. My evidence of this?
- A belief that our religious system must gain political power in order to impose biblical rules as secular law – even if our morality must become somewhat fluid to make that happen (John 11:48)
- Our heart’s desire for a “strongman” to appear and install our religion in a dominant place of governmental power (Acts 1:6, Matt. 20:21)
- A belief that we’re the lone, good voice in culture and all others are “evil.” (Mark 9:38-41, Luke 9:54-55)
- An unwillingness to allow differing thought or discussion to take place in our theological arena or to make room for people who don’t fit our view of “Christian” or “godly” (Mark 2:27, Luke 7:34)
- A belief that power, wealth and comfort are signs of God’s pleasure with us (Mark 10:17-27, Matthew 8:22)
- The lack of worry that our political mindset bears little of the fruit of the spirit and is causing many to turn from the church and even from faith as we adhere to our staunch beliefs (Matthew 7:19)
- Our prophets are leading evangelical people to choose conspiracy theories over reason and sound mind, and to seek out only media that will reinforce our beliefs, resisting any attempt to renew our minds (2 Timothy 4:3, Romans 12:2, Matthew 13:15, Jeremiah 5:25-31)
The Church’s fight for its rights in these historic days of Covid-19 and choice to denigrate Black Lives Matter and scream “law and order” instead of embracing the opportunity to love justice for communities of color and repent of our long term belief of our own supremacy, is the final indicator to me that we’re no longer open to aligning with God’s heart. I had a sense from heaven in 2018 that the evangelical choice to continue on our path, rather than a 2 Chronicles 7:14 humbling of ourselves, had been made and had sealed our fate. We are the hard-hearted Israelites in the desert on whom God will have mercy but cannot take us into the fulfillment of his promises.
NOW THE ‘GOOD’ NEWS
After 38 years of desert marching and a generational transition, the Israelites finally moved into the promised land. For Jeremiah’s people, a 70 year transition brought forth Nehemiah to bring them home to a rebuilt city and, in Jesus’ time, the complete destruction of their temple – their religious and political system left with not one stone on another – allowed God to display the truth of his promise: “The plans I have for you are not to harm you but to prosper you. To give you a future and a hope.”
I believe the ailing evangelical Church is about to undergo the similar transition of generational shift. This shift will bring a Millennial focus of a corporate heart for justice in a city, region and state that usurps the need to call out sin in others. The overarching desire to sit in comfortable chairs, watch a well-honed worship band and hear a pastor teach a sermon that agrees with our affirmed beliefs will be replaced by authentic community where all can share their journey together and then leave that space and, instead of doing ‘Christian activities,’ we will just live like Christ. A legalistic code of rules for behavior will be replaced with the pursuit of the biblical command to “love God and love our neighbor as ourselves” and then to understand that he commands us to call our enemies our “neighbor.”
What if we explored what these statements truly mean? What could change if Christians laid down our weapons of division and partisanship and risked loving our cultural enemies? Not loving them in a patronizing “love the sinner hate the sin” way we do now, but in a way that recognizes Jesus’ purpose to not condemn the world but to ‘sozo’ it? What if our hands were open, inviting people to spiritual restoration rather than demanding they change to fit our mold? How would that impact our cities, our states and our countries?
I believe Christians willing to be open to the new thing “springing up” in the desert of the conservative partisan church will experience the next great awakening of spiritual belief – the “Post-Evangelical America.” We will be new “Nehemiahs,” rebuilding our culture like the biblical Nehemiah rebuilt his beloved city of Jerusalem. We can rebuild the evangelical culture into one where God’s laws are “written on our hearts and minds” rather than being imposed by our power as a religious, political action committee.
Jesus saw the pain of the dominant, oppressive religion of the day and was sharing a message that there was a new way to live
This new Church will have the joy and community of the first Church in Acts 2 and will add people daily who are attracted by Christian love and not repelled by Christian politics. We’ll meet online and in homes (as safety allows) not in majestic theaters looking at the backs of the heads of others as the show takes place on the stage. We’ll share our lives together and no longer serve God as blind people but will understand Jesus’ mission statement for us to set free those that have been held captive by our religious system. Isn’t that truly the “Good News” of the Bible?
Yes, I’m sad that the Church I grew up in and love has reached the end of its time and place on earth, but like the caterpillar in the cocoon, that liminal transition is where the new, beautiful thing is formed. And that, my friends, is truly good news.
It’s happening right now, in front of our eyes – do you not perceive it?