His Hebrew name was Saul, and his Greek name was Paul. I’ve been reading his letters in the scripture for as long as I can remember. My relationship with him is complicated. I can’t really blame him. Part of the frustration I have with Saul/Paul is that every letter of his is partial, and fragmented. We have his answers to questions we don’t have a record of. He also didn’t write his letters with the intent of writing scripture. He spoke to specific people at specific times and places, and although the principles behind and through everything he wrote can have application to us…the times are different and so are the problems. In the end, though, people haven’t changed all that much.
The other day I was reading about the beginning of Paul’s life and his miraculous encounter with Jesus and subsequent change of heart. I saw something I hadn’t paid attention to before. His work; seeking out the “People of the Way” within the synagogues, and brutally overseeing their banishment, torture, and even deaths, was all because of his radical beliefs. He was doing it in the name of God and the Church.
On this day, as I read the story of Paul (at this point called, “Saul”) on the road to Damascus, doing the work of the Church (the heads of the Church commissioned him specifically) when he is blinded by a light, falls to the ground and hears the voice of Jesus,
“Saul, why are you persecuting ME?”
For all the times I have read this story it really never sunk in that Saul/Paul was persecuting those called Christians, according to HIS (Saul’s) reading of the scripture, the belief of HIS (Saul’s) heart AND with the full teaching and authority of the Church, which was persecuting their very reason for existence: JESUS.
So, even today, can the Church and Jesus be at odds?
Many people in this place and time have left the organized Church. Ask them why. The polls clearly show that many leave because they are tired of the dogma, the judgmental attitudes, the outdated liturgy, the over-produced “Broadway-style” presentation called “worship”, OR overly symbolic, outdated, tradition that has no relevance to them.
However, many of those who have left the Church still feel as though they have become hyper-spiritually sensitive. It’s not God they’ve left, it’s the Church, because the Church doesn’t seem to represent the God they understand speaking to them. There is the other camp, those who say they grow weary of “Church-bashing” because after all the Church is the “Body of Christ” and you can’t have Jesus without the Church (the Groom without the Bride).
Personally, and those of you who worship with me know this, I am somewhere in the middle. My “passion” (to use an over-used term) is for the restoration of the Church. I grieve for the “lost” also but, as Paul himself states, there is NO EXCUSE for not recognizing God where He is. Most of the “lost” are looking for a Home, a place where they find people who love them, and accept them and their belief. Home should be the Community of Faith, where Jesus sits in the big chair. There, people who are seeking a home find unconditional love from the community. When they question why people love them, they are introduced to the Head of the community. But if the Church doesn’t have it together to begin with, then “the lost” are up a creek called “you-know-what”, without a paddle.
So, once again, can the Church and Jesus be at odds?
Of course it can! I picture tonsils (yes, tonsils). Tonsils are placed by God at the gateway to our physical bodies to protect against the onset of viruses and germs. Sometimes they get so overrun with poison that they not only can’t protect the body, and they turn against, and poison, the body – and then have to be removed. So it is with any group of people who organize themselves according to their like beliefs and preferences and call themselves a “church”. They, and we, run the risk of turning from the very thing that should guard and protect the way to Restoration, and become “poison” itself.
Yes, the Church has always been built of human stones, humanity is imperfect, and the scriptures continue to tell us that the Church won’t be perfect until the Day of the Lord and the Age-to-Come. But is THAT an excuse to just let it go? Far from it! The world is filled with Believers & Followers doing the wrong thing because they are listening to themselves rather than to Jesus. They follow their own logic based on a limited idea of God’s plan and behave according to what they believe the right thing is, thus creating God in their image: the big mistake of the Church leaders during the time Jesus walked in our flesh.
As soon as we individually (or the Church, corporately) rely on our own self-will, stubborn reliance on dogma, or reluctance to open our minds to the “living and active” scripture-beyond-the-page, we will fail as the Body of Jesus the King. It is faithful, sincere, humbling, and desperate, adherence to the heartbeat, voice, and hand of Jesus that brings us to the purity that is His own community of faith.
The Church’s own Road to Damascus will happen when a congregation treats the scripture like a book of charms, treats tradition like Truth, and behaves as if Jesus was their own “metaphysical Santa Claus”.
It will happen when a congregation seeks out the “thing” THEY label as “sin” while overlooking their own transgression against God and miss the very Light of God in EVERY breathing soul.
It will happen when a community of faith believes they are the ONLY community of faith and behave accordingly.
There will be a day, and already has been for many a congregation, when the Light will blind, and the voice will say, “Church, Church, why do you persecute Me?”
Can the Church and Jesus be at odds? Yes.
Can the Church be restored? Yes, and the Church will be restored, either by the choice of true Believers & Followers, or by a crisis. When the Church blindly puts Jesus behind the human construct of religion a crisis is sure to come.
The Good News is, we have the power to make the choice, with the Spirit (who leads us into ALL TRUTH)…and so, we can avoid being blinded…
…ironically, by simply opening our eyes to The Light.