Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Prodigal Church? Part 2

So today we are going to look at how the "Church" actually hinders people from coming to Christ through its "religiousness" and its hypermorality about people not living a "Christian" lifestyle.

Timothy Keller writes about the irony of how the first Christians were actually called 'atheists' by the Romans "...because what they Christians were saying about spiritual reality was unique and could not be classified with other religions of the world." (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God) In our modern culture today, most people see Christianity as what "is religion and moralism". (Pg. 14, The Prodigal God)

How did we get so far away from the point Jesus was making in the days he walked the earth? When Jesus was on the earth, he went out of his way to invite everyone to be near to him. Unfortunately, it was only those who were 'immoral' or 'unreligious' who usually chose to be near to him. He was incredibly attractive to those who were outcasts from the religious establishment of his day because he welcomed them as they were and showed them, gently, who they could be. Those who belonged to the religious establishment usually had too much pride in their own religious accomplishments to take Jesus up on his offer of grace and forgiveness. They didn't think that they needed it.

Jesus never told anyone to keep doing what they were doing. He challenged everyone to accept forgiveness, to not judge others, and to 'sin no more. For the 'elder' son's of Jesus' day, just as in ours, this is offensive, because all of us who fill the role of the elder son (and we know who we are) believe we have it all figured out and are justified in feeling that we are above others who don't follow the same strict moral code as we do.

The religious establishment of Jesus' day and of ours usually isn't gentle. It is more often cutting and judgemental, two of the main things Jesus told us NOT to be. We live in an era where church attendance is dropping steadily, the cultural norms are more often influencing Christian norms instead of the reverse (despite our judgemental attitudes, or maybe because of them), and yet we continue to dig in and do the same kinds of things that Jesus is telling us not to do in the parable we are studying.

Keller points out that despite the younger and elder sons very different paths (one of self-discovery and one of rigid moralism) the two are much closer than we would think. Both sons wanted what their father had and chose different paths to recieve it - the older by doing what he could to 'earn' it and the younger by disrespectfully asking for it. Keller states that the real goal behind each brother's desire is to have authority over the Father: to have what is the Father's and be able to tell the Father what to do. (Pg. 36, The Prodigal God) Keller goes on to say that neither son loved the Father for himself and that we can rebel against God by both 'breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently." (pg. 37, The Prodigal God)

If we are 'super Christians' and can find (incorrectly, of course) no sin in ourselves, then we believe we have the right to look down upon others. If we take the elder son's course, we may think we are a Christian, but we have not truly allowed Jesus to be our own savior - we are trying to save ourselves. (pg. 38, The Prodigal Son)

What would our modern Christian Church look like if we could all repent of our desire to control God? Would we be more loving, more graceful, if we could accept that we are failures ourselves? Maybe we should try it...


"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.....Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51: 1-3; 10