Jesus Versus The System
Photography by Bill Dahl
By Glenn Hager
It is hard to imagine that someone could possibly repudiate anything as much Jesus did the Jewish religious system of the first century. He flat out hated that system, causing his ministry to be a huge confrontation between himself and the religious and the powerful. He condemned their brand of righteousness with the startling revelation that it wouldn’t allow them to be part of God’s kingdom. He reviled them for loving the limelight and he called them snakes and whitewashed tombs. He broke their rules… repeatedly. He hated the bondage of impossible regulations that they forced on people. He was more than annoyed at their scholarly arrogance that led them to analyze the minutiae, but miss the main point of scripture. He went out of his way to piss them off and outwitted them when they questioned him. He hung with everyone they said to avoid, including John, the biggest anti-establishment guy around. He harvested grain and healed people when he wasn’t supposed to. He went to parties with people he wasn’t supposed to and preferred the company of prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, and whoever was on the religious leaders’ no-no list. He condemned their interpretation of the Old Testament law and added a whole new level of meaning to what they thought they already knew so well.
It’s not that Jesus was the ultimate hippie, but that he came to save people. The multi-facetted Gospel that Jesus proclaimed, included setting people free from the bondage of a religious system that misrepresented him and oppressed, rather than blessed its adherents. Religious leaders had become wealthy men of esteem who were on friendly terms with an oppressive government. Jewish worship and its festivals became opportunities for vending religious goods at unfair prices. They had no compassion for the poor and disenfranchised, but instead dispensed impossible demands and guilt to their followers. They had become ridiculous in their detailed, analytical interpretations of scripture, defaulting to a message of supporting their system, rather that seeking the kingdom of God.
How far has the apple fallen from the tree, two thousand years later? There is a church/religious system today in which being a good church member became equated with following Christ. It all became about the church system… allegiance to the church, funding the church, attending the programs of the church, the political influence of the church, and putting its leaders on a pedestal. Recently, a thorough and well-publicized mega church study revealed that all of that church stuff really wasn’t helping to be like Jesus or serve Jesus like we thought. Another study that became a book revealed that perceptions of the church and Christians among the younger generations were shockingly negative. When prophetic voices spoke about these issues using words that were as kind and measured as possible, they were told they were just angry, negative people and they shouldn’t speak poorly of God’s church.
I have to wonder, how we would respond to this crisis, if we were taking our cues from Jesus. I believe we would do more than speak words of concern about the system; we will forge a new system (or maybe it is a non system) of action. Jesus and his followers didn’t need to wait for permission to begin speaking of a new way of life and living it out, nor do we. Theirs was the way of discipleship that was built around life, friendships, and personal activity in ministry. Their new way had a special place for those the old way excluded… the disenfranchised and the common working man and woman. The teaching of the new way was built around the teaching of its leader and his interpretation of scripture. As his followers clustered together, they enjoyed amazing closeness and exhibited sacrificial generosity in the midst of ethnic hostilities and persecution. These disciples had zero governmental and religious power or influence. There influence was gained by the way they loved.
So, with all of the relatively new talk and our new catch words… emerging, deconstruction, missional, rethinking, etc., I wonder if we are in a new place or an ancient place in history. Perhaps, it is both. Whatever this place in history is, it is shaking the foundations of the church system and it is giving birth to a variety of ways to be the church. So, it is at this transitional, unsettling, and experimental time in history that we get to think and act anew about what it means to join in the kingdom of God as a community here and now.
Glenn Hager lives in the Chicago area with his wife Patty. They have two adult children, Michelle and Nathan, and three grandchildren. Glenn has been a pastor for over twenty years, but now finds himself enjoying finding new ways to be the church and helping others who are going through the process of re-examining their relationship with the church. His hobbies include bicycling and blogging. You can visit Glenn's blog at: http://www.glennhager.wordpress.com or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org