Friday, October 31, 2014

Five Timeless Heresies of the Church

For Reformation Day, when Martin Luther's 95 theses against the church mis-doctrine of indulgences are celebrated, I want to remind us of a few ways the church continues to misguide us all. 

1.       The church has the right to oppress heresies or immoralities
Heresies and immoralities come and go.  There will always be a sin that people call righteous and there will always be an evil doctrine that people call godly.  But the response of the true church to these is not to fight them or attack them.  The true church, in humility, realizes that neither our doctrine nor practice is perfect.  The true church will discuss, and point toward Jesus.  The true church realizes that Jesus alone is the true teacher and that Jesus is the only judge.  Thus, we do not judge for ourselves, nor teach our own doctrine or practice, but just point to Jesus.   And, like Jesus, we harm no one, nor let a hateful word pass our lips.

2.       The church is a place of safety from the world
We see our properties and buildings as holy places, a place of purity and quiet to worship the Lord.  To do that, we lock ourselves off from the chaos of the world, we separate ourselves from sinners and we create peace for those who live according to the tenants of our community.  But Jesus lived among the demon-possessed, the lepers and the chronically ill, in order to bring healing.  Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, making them family.  Jesus offered peace to those who have no peace in themselves.  The church is not to create safety for itself, but safety for those who truly need it—the vulnerable of the world.

3.       Church leadership is a means of gain
Many become pastors because it is a decent profession and they want to help people.  Many become pastors because they want to discuss theology and the Bible and make a living at it.  Some become church leaders because they see it as a means of avoiding poverty and even a means of power for them and their family.  But Jesus said that church leadership is not a means of power or gain, but rather a means of slavery.  True leadership in the church is lowliness, poverty and the acceptance of persecution.  Jesus’ true leaders are those who give and give and give until there is nothing left to give, who drain themselves in love.

4.       Money and influence is power for the church
Churches and church leaders often complain that there is not enough money to run their programs, that they need more volunteers, that they need to wield more influence on the world.  They want to change the world and build community and they see wealth and people and politics as the means to create true change.  But according to Jesus, true change happens through resurrection, and resurrection only happens through the cross.  True change occurs when we completely trust the Power that enacts change.  The greatest power in the world for change is trust in God, and we enact that trust by living according the merciful will of God.

5.       Oppression of the church is to be avoided

We pray for our persecuted brothers throughout the world, and we might seek political change to ease their suffering.  We are willing to fight and even bomb those who threaten the lives of our fellow Christians.  We will enact cultural war so we need not change our traditions and practices for any outside influence.  But Jesus said that we are not to fight persecution, but rejoice in it.  We are not to fear tribulation, but to recognize that it is the key to open the door to the kingdom of heaven.  It is a means of opening up the heavens so that blessings would come down upon us.  For when we have the comforts and support of this world, we will not obtain the greater blessings of God.  The oppressed church is the normative church.

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