What is really happening in Christianity with several decades of church decline in North America, which includes, by the way, “Bible believing” churches?
How are those churches remaining so non-influential and powerless in the ability to spark or revitalize a Christian movement anywhere?
There are really only two primary trajectories unleashed, modeled and perpetauted by churches.
So don’t be deceived into thinking that just because you experience a certain vibe at church through sermons, crowds singing songs, a well-funded organization with nice facilities, state of the art equipment, and “comfy” climate control in full force, or maybe even more cozy if you are in one where you can sip on your coffee with a mug, that you are getting even a remote depiction of Jesus and a fair definition of what it means to be “blessed” by him, assuming, that there can be no greater blessing found in life apart from following the crucified and resurrected Christ.
How often do you see pictures spread around by Christians with people gathered in a dimly light conference room, facing the same direction, lifting their hands in the air with their eyes closed and their mouths open as if that caption is the very thing your soul is craving?
Early on in his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, would embark upon a life trajectory that was counter opposed to the established religions of his day.
It would become his defining way of life and ministry. It would become the sole path that he made available to his disciples – to all of those who would follow him.
To begin, his sermon at his hometown of Nazareth, on the southwestern edge of Galilee, would be, initially, well received. Yet, it quickly turned lethal (Luke 4:30) as his words evoked such an anger that the crowd in the synagogue would want to kill him.
Jesus escaped that day, but what on earth did he say that made members of his hometown synagogue want to kill him?
There would be many more times that people sought to take his life because of his words.
While Jesus did model a ministry of prayer, hanging out with traitors, prostitutes, drunks, adulterers, while healing many with his words and hands he was also modeling what this sole path of “following” him would mean that few would comprehend: to suffer at the cruel hands of humanity.
Think about this and how it could bring to light the truth and utter scam most churches today offer people – particularly if you live in America or the West.
To put it like this: what church is actually modeling and training it’s members to faithfully follow Jesus in the midst of and through suffering inflicted by other humans, persecution or death?
Churches mostly provide venues for sermons to evoke degrees of sanity and harmonious thoughts – such as things moral therapeutic deists and Christians love, Bible studies, Vacation Bible School, skits, choirs, worship bands, a city or overseas mission project or weekly programs that are normally “fun” and “games” for a brief season, even if it is building small homes, church facilities or doling out vaccines, that sequester (not heal), of some form. They pour a ton of money into all of this to make it all happen too (spending is always telling of value).
Hardly any church, or leader, is actually modeling or presenting the sole path of following Jesus – and there is no substitute – regardless of how delusional about truth and reality we have may have become.
Many Pastors, not all, are on a career trajectory for themselves, gaining as much as possible for themselves to obtain the evidence of the normal accomplishments of career “success”(house, car, nice family vacations, pensions, investments and so on) – all the perks that you could expect to find when someone gains “success” and reward by dedicating yourself to a corporate entity, making it, the governing board and management happy.
Is this widespread spiritual leadership approach going to reproduce followers of Jesus in an order that we are reading about here in this post? What actually is certain to be at stake when following Jesus?
We are discovering that seeking and speaking truth in our day is becoming a high risk activity. Gathering in a dimly lit room with a bunch of people raising their hands in the air while singing is not even the adequate phenomenon to reflect the type of worship that Jesus said God desired. While that activity may include aspects of worship, nowhere in the New Testament is it given equal footing as truth consuming and telling.
In the Apostle John’s Gospel, he quotes Jesus totally re-orienting what “worship” of God means and how God wants to be worshipped by those who seek him, and I paraphrase:
“We no longer worship in a single or special place. We worship in spirit and truth. God is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth. The Father seeks true worshippers, those who worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24)
What is to gain?
Keep reading, but compare Jesus with actual religious leaders you know today? How closely do they actually appear to be like him? What about the early followers of Jesus, how closely did they follow his example and words? We will find that out too soon.
Jesus would clarify,
“‘The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of elders, and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.’
And he said to them all, ‘if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his [Roman crucifix] daily, and follow me.
Whoever will save his life will lose it; but whoever shall lose it for my sake will save it.'” (Luke 9:22-24)
These are not just words of a remote, non-material esoteric philosophy or spooky spirituality. These are words that would describe a real world physical and spiritual ministry experience that brushed up against the religio-geo-political-economic order of the day.
Notice the odd absence of this aspect of discipleship through what is intended to be the medium of Jesus in our day, The Church (the corporate or collective body comprised of individual Christians, the “members of the body of Christ”).
Roman crucifixion, “the cross,” was and still is one of the most cruel forms of human capital punishment known. It is one where the recipient of the cross is powerless, publicly shamed, humiliated, mocked, violently tormented and assaulted, and enduring anguishing pain all alone. It is only in this awareness that we can begin to see and follow Jesus in an intimate, ever deepening companionship and fellowship of which the Bible speaks of and esteems.
This depth of knowing Christ cannot be achieved through watching emotionally evoking films, singing really cool songs, attending musical or theatrical performances, reading thought provoking books, endulging in fabulous vacations, remodeling out of date homes, memorizing Bible verses, and attending church 2 or 3 times a month (or year for that matter).
Knowing Christ deeply and well and, therefore, powerfully reflecting him cannot be found simply by doing good things to as many people possible while being praised by them all the time (dare I say most of the time). There must be words and actions of righteousness that “offend.”
This aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is omitted, inherently, from proponents of the “Prosperity Gospel,” which have been rampantly exported all over the world from cities such as Dallas and Houston, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; a few places in Florida and California. But this rejection is not only limited to the prosperity movement.
This Biblical Jesus rarely draws “in” the huge crowd and when it does, it is often unfavorable for the preacher of the Kingdom of God, like we say with Jesus and his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4 earlier. Jesus is the ultimate preacher and those who follow him would be like him. The message of Jesus causes offense, particularly towards the religious, their religious leaders and ruling authorities.
The New Testament writers would develop this suffering aspect for readers who actually follow Jesus to erase any doubt of what following Jesus means and the implications. Nearly all of the New Testament writers would likewise endure cruel fates for the ministry of their words too. Read what they esteem:
“But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way.
For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward…
We are not among those who shrink back and this perish, but among those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:32-35, 39)
The author of Hebrews would write these for the call of suffering at the cruel hands of humanity for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Then, if you keep reading in chapter 11, he gives example after example of Old Testament “heroes” of the faith whose stories are defined by cruel suffering at the hands of other humans – humans who would not only refuse to celebrate the work of God in the lives of the faithful but respond to the faithful with injustice and violence.
Chapter 12 would go on to charge us to receive and endure suffering as God’s discipline upon us as a legitimate son of an earthly father would be disciplined (verses 7-9); that discipline from suffering is an intrinsic link to our experience in holiness (verse 10); while suffering is painful and not so joyful at the time, produces the fruit of peace, righteousness strength and healing (verses 11-13).
Most of us have at some point heard of the Apostle Paul. A former Jewish religious leader who helped to imprison Christians and advocated for their deaths, who, then, became a Christian.
The book of Acts sheds light on some of the human inflicted suffering and persecution he would endure as a Christian.
In his letter (epistle) to the Philippian Church, here’s what Paul says about his heritage, religion, career and suffering at the cruel hands of humanity for Jesus:
“But whatever the gains to me (in the past) I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from (adherence to) the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and, so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
And as if to eliminate any alternative path to knowing knowing Jesus deeply or well, Paul would say just a few verses later:
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” (Verse 15)
There are numerous other examples of the Bible’s commendation of human inflicted suffering upon those who actually follow Jesus. There is no equivalent or similar praise found in the Bible who don’t suffer at the cruel hands of humanity for Jesus.
Later, in the Apostle John’s Apocolypse (which means, “unveiling,” hence, “Revelation”), John would identify with all other sufferers for Christ in his words, which were written after surviving being boiled in hot oil for his words and then banished to isolation on the isle of Patmos:
“I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom and endurance that are in Jesus was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and testimony about Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)
John’s isolation was no self scheduled trip to experience a brief moment in solitude for serenity. It was government inflicted isolation to silence his threatening words.
And, finally, the word “witness,” which Jesus himself used in a defining way (Acts 1:8) concerning those who would testify of him to the ends of the earth actually is “martus,” (μάρτυρες; the root being “μάρτυς”).
While it does mean “witness” as in a legal sense, “one who is able to give a legal testimony,” It always carries the meaning of enduring and suffering a violent death.
See item ‘C’ here for more background on that actual Greek word. The fuller definition is clarified:
“in an ethical sense those are called μάρτυρες Ἰησοῦ, who after his example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death (cf B. D. American edition and Dict. of Chris. Antiq. under the word ): Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 17:6.”
The entire book of Acts is a compilation of Christian “acts” where, time and again, Christians are treated cruelly for their faith and proclamation of this Jesus.
For more than a thousand years, Christianity in the West was primarily explained only in Latin. The Greek word “μάρτυρες”(mártus) would form the Latin basis for “martyr,” one who would be killed or whose life would be sacrificed for Christ. “Witness” was synonymous with “martyr.”
Think about the inability of typical North American Church programs to be almost utterly incapable of preparing a disciple of Jesus for this way of life.
Do skits produce this? Do singing songs to God a few times a month (or year) produce this? Will singing in a choir evoke this? Will meeting in a “comfy” and “cozy” building from time to time to pray and read the Bible? Will a church picnic feeding hundreds or thousands fried chicken result in this sort of human sufferer for Christ?
Of course not. Why waste your time or money (if you support it)?