Who Wants a Crisis? Jesus does!
Charles Moore FAITH Magazine January-February 2006
A few years ago I was speaking at a Christian music festival. Standing before an audience of about a hundred people, I put a large blanket on the ground. Before I knew it, it was being littered with every conceivable object—skateboards, wristwatches, wallets, walkmans, shoes, checkbooks, sunglasses, palm pilots, cell phones, candy, necklaces, and various other things. All I asked the group was that if they believed in the truth of Acts 2 and 4, they should place whatever they had that might be useful on the blanket. They eagerly responded.
When I suggested doing something similar on Sunday morning to a pastor friend of mine, he immediately balked. It was not only impractical for a congregation of 2,000, he told me, but it would lead to an uproar! It smacked too much of communism, of some kind of social, liberal gospel. Besides, taking Acts literally led to all kinds of problems. Would tongues of fire also be required? my friend asked.
Of course, I dropped the idea. But ever since, I have wondered about why we avoid issues that hit us where it counts. Today’s church is notorious for preaching on topics from A to Z, but rarely do they prick the conscience or disturb the peace.
The prophets of old warned against false teachers who proclaim, “Peace, peace.” And Jesus himself said that he didn’t come to bring “peace” but a “sword.” His message pitted people who preferred living according to the values of mammon against those of who were ready to lay down their lives for the kingdom of God and its justice.
When the Apostle Paul was in the city of Ephesus a riot almost broke out. A successful silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was upset that Paul had led astray so many people with his message that man-made gods were no gods at all. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together, and explained to them how their trade was in danger of being ruined. They became so furious that soon the whole city was in an uproar. In the end, Paul, with the help of the city clerk, narrowly escaped with his life (Acts 19:23-41).
Where does this kind of apostolic witness exist today? Haven’t we actually inverted the gospel by turning Jesus’ teaching into an inspirational message that makes us feel better about ourselves? The very notion of a seeker-friendly church, where everything and everyone is “nice,” smacks against Jesus’ warning: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world…That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). God forbid Jesus’ disciples provoke a crisis! Oscar Romero writes:
A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being it is being proclaimed, what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don’t bother anyone, that is the way many would like the preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in…The gospel is courageous; it’s the good news of him who came to take away the world’s sin.
The question is: Do we want the good news or not? Do we want to be free from all that oppresses and enslaves us? Or are we content with a gospel of uplift—a narcotic that eases our pain, rather than a cure that leads to health?
If we’re honest, most of us prefer to hear religious words and Bible passages that make us feel good. We run away or ignore the truth that convicts; we would rather have our consciences soothed than seared. We prefer a spirituality that is admired, rather than one that upsets and gets under the skin. We like the religion that eases us into heaven instead of one that turns everything upside down.
Confounding the wise.
After teaching at a seminary for several years I began to question what I was doing. How could I make a living off the Bible, especially when God’s grace was free? And why did I have to have a PhD before I could qualify as a full professor? Didn’t God give gifts to the church, not according to ability or talent, but according to his Spirit? And why did a Christian seminary have to be state accredited anyway? When has the power of the gospel ever needed academic credentials? Didn’t God choose the “foolish things of this world to confound the wise?”
When I brought my concerns to the administration they were flatly rejected. “Who will ever attend our institution if we don’t offer a recognizable degree?” My answer, “Probably those who wanted to serve God for nothing.” My response wasn’t appreciated in the least, and eventually I had to leave.
Not long ago a friend of mine began a divorce recovery group at his church. There was great enthusiasm, and the group grew rapidly. But something wasn’t quite right. Why were so many attending? Since the New Testament gave no support for divorce or remarriage, my friend made it clear that by “recovery” he meant learning how to live fruitfully for God as a single person. He had no intention of helping people to get over the pain in order to find a new mate. Consequently, my friend was raked over the coals, and the group soon collapsed. Who was he to judge divorced people? How could he or anyone else condemn others to a life of loneliness? It was clear that his people wanted to be fulfilled, not faithful. They wanted their suffering to go away, without having to get to the root cause ofit.
Recently my church confronted the problem of materialism. We finally had it out, speaking honestly (and bluntly) to each other about our addiction to material comfort. To show we meant business, one Saturday all of us went through our own houses and got rid of all the things we really didn’t need. Tricycles, bikes, books, games, furniture, toys, trinkets of every shape and size, extra clothes, fans and other electronic do-dads were all brought to one place to be given away or sold. As unsettling as this was to some of us, by doing it all together we dealt a blow to the spirit of mammon that wreaks so much havoc in our world and spiritual lives.
Sadly, much of today’s church accepts the fundamental “givens” of the status quo and adjusts its teaching to fit. It functions more like a custodian of the culture rather than its conscience. It tries to be relevant, but in the process loses its identity. It is afraid of confrontation because it has abdicated its responsibility to represent “new life” here on earth. It has become, as Francis Schaeffer warned thirty years ago, “a sleepy institution merely operating on the basis of memory and afraid of being free where it needs to be free.”
“What a nation needs more than anything else,” writes social critic Martyn Eden, “is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a prophetic church within earshot.” Though many Christians today engage a variety of social issues—some of which are quite divisive—the terms of the debate are by and large partisan and political. The idols of consumption and security continue to go unchallenged. Fine tuning the system is one thing, but bringing forth a whole new world—that’s quite different!
When Jesus entered the Temple, he upset everything and everyone. When he exorcised demons, people often got angry because the evil amongst them was exposed. Jesus told his disciples that the world would hate them because it hated him. He was put on the cross for a reason, and it certainly wasn’t because he was so friendly and warm, nor because he wielded political influence. Dorothy Sayers writes:
We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.
This should stop us in our tracks. What Jesus are we following and preaching? Followers of Christ should, at some level or another, provoke crises—at least amongst themselves and hopefully in society, because not all is right in our world. The sword of the Spirit cuts away all that opposes God. The church, though it may be a hospital for the sick and wounded, is ultimately where the Spirit makes all things new. We can opt for medication instead, to our loss, or we can open ourselves up to the Great Physician’s knife. The choice is ours.