From The Rambles of a Wandering Priest
There is a question that is never far from my mind and usually running in the background somewhere. How do we fix the Church of Jesus Christ?
This assumes that somehow it’s broken, or somehow disordered. Whether or not you agree with that it is, we can argue rings around each other why it is or isn’t, and get nowhere.
But I see symptoms of a much greater problem. I have previously written about the “judgmentalism” of various professing Christians, when Jesus Christ taught non-judgment. I have previously written about these lost sheep who have run from the church, and whose faith exists in various states of ruin. Often, the members of the visible church, because of their hypocrisy, are the cause of those outside of the church not wanting to become members. Why would anyone want to follow Jesus Christ when we don’t follow him ourselves? Why would anyone profess faith when professing Christians often betray their lack of faith by their actions? The One, Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ is fractured into a thousand and tens of thousands of bickering parties, each professing that they alone have the real “Truth.” And this “Truth” which they profess is a theological doctrine or dogma which takes all precedence in terms of importance over what Jesus Christ actually taught. In some cases it takes precedence even over Jesus Christ himself. In the more extreme versions, murder is even committed in his name.
The Tao Te Ching, in the first “chapter,” says this:
When the Way is lost, afterward comes integrity.
When integrity is lost, afterward comes humaneness.
When humaneness is lost, afterward comes righteousness.
When righteousness is lost, afterward comes etiquette.
In short, what it means is that when “the Way” is lost, one’s religious practice and belief devolves into nothing more than a façade of empty, polite niceties and etiquette. Here “righteousness” refers to the belief in the righteousness of one’s actions or beliefs.
The Buddhist would likely agree that when “the Truth” is lost, there is only ignorance and self. We act on only what we can see, feel, smell, taste, and hear. These things are constantly changing around us. We become locked into our own desires and attachments, and we become lost in the sea of transient and impermanent experiences.
I would argue that when “the Life” is lost, there remains only the onset of decay to the body. At first it appears as attractive and healthy as it was when the Life was within it, but as each second passes by with no blood flow, it begins to rot and stink and decay as it breaks down. Then it is evident to all that what is present is a dead corpse and not a living body.
The Way, the Truth, and the Life is Jesus Christ. He told us what would happen if we don’t remain in him as a branch remains in the vine. We could do nothing. Much worse, the branch would wither and die and be thrown into a fire where it would be consumed, (John 15:4-6).
What then is the answer to this problem? I thought at one time possibly starting another congregation or another church. But the truth is that would only add to the problem, not correct it. Others saw the same problem in the church’s history and responded with new denominations and sects and reform movements. They responded with new theologies, believing that the old theologies were the problem to be corrected. If new teachings or new churches were the answer, then the problem would have been corrected a long time ago, a thousand times over.
It is like the illustration of Plato’s cave (The Republic, Book VII). This is an illustration that the Greek philosopher, Plato, used around twenty-five hundred years ago. In it, a group of people are chained in a cave in such a way so as all they can see are the shadows of things on a wall, not even being able to turn and look at one another. As a result, they believe that the shadows are the reality. When a man is freed from his chains, and escapes the cave, he sees the sun, real grass, and real objects for the first time. In the illustration, he then goes back and tries to explain his discovery to those still chained, who then think he is insane. A more modern retelling of this illustration would be the movie Matrix, where people believe that the reality they are experiencing is the real world when, in fact, it is a computer generated simulation run and administered by machine overlords. Those from the real world plug back in, attempting to free those people still trapped in the virtual world.
The difference from Plato’s illustration is that those who may have been freed from the cave to experience the sunlight have instead chosen to be shackled again to the cave. They choose to lock themselves into seeing only the shadows, all the while proclaiming that they are free when any fool who can see the shadows can tell that they are not. Or it is like someone being freed from the Matrix voluntarily choosing to plug himself back into the pod he escaped from and submit to his machine overlords, all the while declaring himself to be free of both.
We have, collectively if not individually, lost far more than the Truth which Jesus Christ taught. We have lost Jesus Christ himself, and have willingly chosen to be blinded again by the god of this world. We need to recover the Way, the Truth, and the Life who is Jesus Christ. This can’t be done through more theology, more division, more Bible studies, church meetings, sermons, rallies, tent revivals, books that don’t get read except by pastors, or any other tactic which has been tried. We all can see the need unless we’re totally blinded. We know something is malfunctioning or disordered somewhere. We can see the evidence for it ourselves, but we can’t put our finger on it. It’s just out of the range of our perception. So, we shrug our shoulders and go back to doing what we were doing.
We need Jesus Christ. We, the church, need Jesus Christ. We need him. We need to be wrapped in him. We need to live and breathe him. We need to eat, drink, dream, and live Jesus Christ. Saint Paul wrote, “Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) And also, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4)
We don’t need any or more theologies or books about him. We don’t need to discuss him. We don’t need to do things in his name. We don’t need to act for him in his absence. All these things are good, and at times necessary, but all are worthless without him. Fundamentally, we need him. We need him flowing through us. We need him flowing through veins, filling our lungs, running up and down our nerves. We need him within us and pouring out through us. When he is not present, then we decay and become blinded. The Buddha said, “There is Self and there is Truth. Where Self is, Truth is not. Where Truth is, Self is not.” Jesus Christ is Truth, and where he is, there is no “self” to turn inward to. At the same time, where “self” is present, Jesus Christ is not, and we must understand this simple fact.
The church collectively, especially in the Western world, is a decaying corpse. One of the things God is really good at is resurrection, but resurrection only comes through Jesus Christ. Resurrection only comes when one dies to self and is integrally joined to Jesus Christ in his death. Unless self dies, Jesus Christ will not come in resurrection.
We have, collectively, lost what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. Very few, it seems, have individually found it. This is an unacceptable situation.