When We No Longer Have Power: Part II
I wrote Friday that in its first 280 years the early church, as I understand it, felt no compulsion to change the behavior of the world around it apart from discipling individuals to follow Jesus and living out that relationship themselves. Then in 313, Constantine thought it would be a good idea use the sword as incentive to convert to and serve the risen savior. 1700 years later, I believe the shift that Constantine created is coming to an end. I also believe that is a good thing. This is why. See, I have this crazy notion that Jesus brought a kingdom that is upside down. That all the things that Caesar calls weakness, compassion, service, self-sacrifice, death, Jesus spins on its head and makes the epitome of doing what God desires. The political revolutionary the Jews were looking for turned out to be a martyr, not by failure but by choice. His own words to the disciples were, "whoever wants to be my disciple must pick up his cross and follow me." If Jesus came today, we might nominate Him for president, only to see Him turn it down in order to walk on the green mile and sit in the electric chair.
And yet, according to specific research by Christian pollster George Barna, the perceived image of the church is that we want to make the surrounding culture like us via legislation,
"It started to become more clear to us that what they're experiencing related to Christianity is some of the very things that Jesus warned religious people about, which is, avoiding removing the log from your own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else's."
If my own upbringing in the church evangelical can be offered as evidence, I used to see my own mission as standing for truth, honoring God by defeating the liberal agenda, which was a process of spouting emphatic if-then statements backed by Bible verses. My job was to shut down the opposition, no holds barred.
But the prophet Isaiah, relayed God's description of the one who would come and save:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.
Jesus brought His kingdom, establishing justice, not by force, but by taking on the role of and relating to the lowest members of society, touching lepers and talking to women in public, acting as the lowest economic position of His time, wrapping a towel around his waist and washing the feet of people who would see him eviscerated and hung for 30 pieces of silver. Paul described Jesus actions to believers in ancient Phillipi as taking on the role of a slave voluntarily, motivated by love.
He did not use infinite power to force our hands to be holy; He gave up power and declared sacrificial love to be the most potent force in the universe, inspiring, calling, and empowering, millions to pick up their own cross. If the world in it's best moments speaks softly but carries a big stick, Jesus puts down the stick altogether.
Which is why I see the institutional church's potential fall from power to be a wonderful thing. When we pick up the stick in order enforce the kingdom, using anything other than the sort of service that Christ used, not only, as Lactainus noted in the 4th century, corrupting it, we are ignoring true power as defined by God Himself.
For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, tortures, and guilt, it will no longer be defended. Rather, it will be polluted and profaned.
If we won't learn voluntarily that kingdom-of-God strength comes through kingdom-of-the-world weakness, then the lesson will at least be forced upon us.