While its right to read those passages and ask if they apply to me individually, we must also read them and ask if they apply to our congregation or even to the worldwide body of Christ. There is a book that I own that I've never gotten very far in, but the major premise can be found in its title: The 2nd Incarnation (Rubel Shelly, Randall Harris). The basic thesis is that the Church is Christ's second incarnation on Earth. We are Immanuel (God With Us) to the world today.
This brings me to an uncomfortable dilemma. The greatest attraction to Christianity for many people is Jesus, his life, his teachings, and yes, his death and resurrection (even if the latter creates its own stumbling blocks). But the greatest turn off to Christianity is Christians. If we are the second incarnation, why is our impact so often diametrically opposed to the first incarnation?
In our lesson today, it came home to me. The body of Christ, the church is unhealthy. Its flabby, out of shape, and bedridden. Its in adult day care - not able to fully function in the real world. Here's a few metaphors that came to mind (after the jump):
- The church is in a coma, asleep most of the time.
- The church has multiple organ failure. Paul compares the church to a body with the whole dependent on many different parts. But it seems to me that the church is underdeveloped in many areas (e.g. simplicity, service, and standing up to the power structures, especially religious ones that oppress the weak) and lacking critical involvement in the pressing issues of today and tomorrow (e.g. Climate Change).
- The church has morphed into Frankenstein's Monster: its got a good heart, but its thinking is weak and its prone to react in fear.
- Its turned inward and shut out the outside world. It has a well developed inner life with imagination and beauty (e.g. praise services) but almost no connection with the outside world.
- Its done such a good job alienating the youth in some areas that it has entered a hospice program as its membership shrinks to only the older generations.
- Its become a zombie, the living dead. It keeps putting one foot in front of another out of a distantly remembered goal to move forward, but its forgotten its real purpose. The "abundant life" has been replaced with "slog through until the 2nd coming".
- Its a kindergartener, more obsessed with "Mine" than the old testament striving to care for the weak or the new testament patterns of sacrifice, sharing and above all love. This can be seen in Christians that find common cause with libertarians. My heart is a libertarian, but my teacher calls for me to a much higher life. The Bible looks far more socialist than libertarian.
- Its an ivory tower academic, distracted by the fascinating books on theology, Greek grammar, etc. from its real calling. Scot McKnight's wife has a wise question in The Blue Parakeet when he told her about his day at work translating the Great Commission as "Go make disciples...". She asked "So did you make any disciples today?" Ouch. I'm guilty of many of these, but this one can be a particular personal failing. Its much easier to talk (or blog) about Jesus than to live as him.
- Getting mad when people were being oppressed in the name of God.
- Forgiveness with a challenge to live better.
- A simple life centered on people, never things.
- Did I mention Love? Love for the oppressed, love for fellow religious companions, love for the outsider.
Or as Isaiah says:
"Why do you seek further beatings?
Why do you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint."
Caveats: Yes, I know there are breakouts of Christians and Christian groups that do better than what I've conveyed. I'm grossly generalizing, with a focus mostly on evangelicals (my background). Since the world generalizes Christianity based on similar observations, I believe this is a valid critique.