Opinions on faith and life

Brood of Vipers

2009-05-19

Mt. 23:33-34

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.
Romans 3:13-18
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Now go and read, if you dare, this article and comments.

This is beyond evil. No wonder the apostle John stares in horror at what he can scarcely believe was ever the ekklesia in Rev. 17:5-7. (There are only two entities in the Bible that were ever said to be “married” to God: Israel and the ekklesia, and I think we can rule out Israel in that passage. The reason this matters is because she is called a prostitute, and this is God’s way of referring to His wayward “wife”.) How can any group of believers harbor such evil, enabling it by silence while the perpetrators roam freely among the sheep?

But while many good points are made at that link, here’s what I think is the foundational “enabler”: The Institution, the “church”, the System. It fosters hierarchy and divides the Body. It puts up barriers between the people and their Savior and God. Of course even a “house church” can be just as bad, but when you have multi-national conglomerates that call themselves “Christian”, you multiply both the severity of the crimes and the number of victims

Think about it. If you have been taught all your life that you have direct access to God, that you have the Holy Spirit to guide you and the Bible to keep you in the truth, then it will be much harder for anyone to use position or fear of hell to victimize you. But if, as in any cult, you have been told that you must blindly obey your rulers, who will not hesitate to hunt you down if you run or smear your name if you talk, you run a much greater risk of falling victim to the aggressive, to people who are known for their ability to put on a pious face while savagely tearing apart the sheep.

Can “the system” be fixed? Can it function as a NT community of believers? No, and here’s why: the Body is exactly that. It is an organism, a living being, a family. Unless you think families can function best as orphanages are run, you can see the inherent deficiency in a religion modeled after business and industry.

Of course this is not to say there are no true believers in “churches”, but only that they would do much better in the model Christ designed. Is it really so hard to think of Christianity as a life instead of a career? Is it worth perpetuating a system that is much more efficient at covering wolves with wool and churning out victims by the hundreds?

Let’s not give Satan any more “footholds” than he already has. He knows that the best way to control a large group is through a few at the top. But if there’s no “top” except Jesus...

Psalm 140 1 Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent,

2 who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.

3 They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s; the poison of vipers is on their lips. [b]

4 Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet.

5 The arrogant have hidden a snare for me; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for me along my path.

6 I say to the LORD, “You are my God.” Hear, LORD, my cry for mercy.

7 Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle.

8 Do not grant the wicked their desires, LORD; do not let their plans succeed.

9 Those who surround me proudly rear their heads; may the mischief of their lips engulf them.

10 May burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.

11 May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent.

12 I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

13 Surely the righteous will praise your name

13 Comments

Lin

"This is beyond evil. No wonder the apostle John stares in horror at what he can scarcely believe was ever the ekklesia in Rev. 17:5-7. (There are only two entities in the Bible that were ever said to be “married” to God: Israel and the ekklesia, and I think we can rule out Israel in that passage. The reason this matters is because she is called a prostitute, and this is God’s way of referring to His wayward “wife”.)"

Yes, my beloved SBC. Well, I was interested to see you refer to this verse as referring to the visible church. Most baptists think it refers to Rome.

Paula Fether

I believe there is obvious symbolism that combines to identify Rome, but as I’ve said before, I don’t think the Reformation ever broke completely from it. Rome is very busy trying to re-assimilate Protestants, but also to once again unite all religions under her control, just as it was with Constantine.

There has always been a remnant of true believers, but as we’re seeing with all these scandals in Protestant churches, it’s really never been much different in the most important aspects: control, clergy/laity, rituals of one kind or another, etc.

And now with "emergent" supplying the universal glue to hold all those world religions together (it is found in all of them), Rome will be back on top of the "mystery Babylon" world.

Alison

I read the story linked here and my jaw hit the desk. What’s at issue here is a monstrous abuse of authority, one that has harmed precioius souls.

This is NOT about megachurch vs. small(er) church or anything like that. As far as I can see it, this is an issue of pastors taking their powers way too far, and leading vulnerable people astray. Why kick the megachurch around, when it doesn’t seem on its face that megachurches have anything to do with this?

It’s really easy, that’s why. It’s easy to point to a 20,000+ member church and say "That’s what’s wrong with Christianity in America". But I’d say that just as there are problems in megachurches (often more obvious since they’re bigger targets), there are also problems in the neighborhood church that’s been there for 100 years, or in the house church that meets in someone’s basement, or in whatever expression of "church" you happen to be part of. I am completely sick of folks blaming megachurches, since some of them, like Saddleback, and like Willow Creek (fair disclosure: I’m part of Willow Creek) are doing tremendous good, despite their size and despite the problems we see with them.

Sorry, I had to get that off my chest!

Janice

Rev 11:8 "their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified."

Rev 18:18 "the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth."

Rev 17:9 "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits."

Web page from Israir, Throughout the history of Jerusalem, the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths have treasured the sacredness of the Holy Land and its Holy City Jerusalem. From the uniqueness of this City built on Seven Hills, each faith has flourished.

The woman wears purple and scarlet. The tabernacle curtains were of purple, scarlet and blue. Blue was the colour of the cloth that covered the veil that covered the ark of the Testimony. It was the colour of the cloth that covered the table of showbread before the bread etc. was placed on it and all was covered with a red cloth. It was also the colour of the cloth that covered the lampstand and the altar. It was the colour of cloth in which all the untensils of service were wrapped. (Numbers 4:6-12)

I’m no expert on the tabernacle but altar, lampstand and bread strike me as being capable of christological implications. So I’m thinking that the woman represents false religion, i.e., religion without Christ.

I’ve been reading on the relationship of the prophets and kings for an essay I have to write, and have learned all sorts of things I never knew before. For instance, in Jeremiah’s time a lot of people thought that the simple presence of the temple in Jerusalem would be enough to guarantee that they would be just fine. They’d remembered what Isaiah had said about Jerusalem not falling but had forgotten the part about having to be faithful. That is, they relied on a building, and the activities they carried on within the building, rather than on God.

These sexual abusers rely on different structures to keep them safe (and earning an income). They rely on insitutional structures and the activities they carry on within those structures. That includes schmoozing with their peers.

I don’t think that the problem is that there is structure per se. The problem arises when the structure and the activities going on within it are not properly oriented to Christ. If they were properly oriented then the first thing that should be understood, by all, is that all human beings, including church leaders, are sinners. It should be taken for granted that a complaint against a church leader could very well be true, and should be taken seriously and investigated to determine the truth of the matter one way or the other.

But the structures we have are too often tainted by considerations that have nothing to do with faithfulness to God, and by relationships that we put before our relationship with God. So priests and pastors fall into refusing to think ill of people they know or with whom they identify, i.e., fellow priests and pastors. So they protect each other, unless they have nothing at all to lose by not doing so.

Even if there were no institutional churches I don’t think the problem would go away, simply because we are all sinners. The elders of individual, non-aligned, churches would all be capable of schmoozing among themselves and looking after each other to the detriment of the rest of the flock. This problem will not be completely solved until Christ returns. In the meantime we can set up other structures (if we don’t have them in place already) to separate, as best we can, the wheat from the tares.

Paula Fether

I agree that people are sinners and will find ways to abuse. But it still remains that a hierarchy is not the model Jesus set up, and it is hierarchy that enables much more abuse than might otherwise happen. If people are taught to keep questioning the leaders (who lead by example and not decree), and if there is no over-arching organization (which families don’t have), then evil practices have a much more difficult time of controlling large numbers of people.

If you read at the link here for A Wilderness Voice, there is a lot of good background info on how the ekklesia moved so quickly from the family/organism model to the club/organization model. Very interesting stuff.

Lin

Janice, Good points but I want to add something to that because I have really studied this from another view. My background is in organizational development and I can tell you that in the ’world’, systems of organizations are very powerful. They are needed but the ’system’ must be maintained at all times and all costs or chaos reigns and failure is guaranteed.

Not so with the Body of Christ. We are to be different. BECAUSE we are the Body, an organism, we are to NOT be like the worldly systems. But we are. And now we see that the focus is on maintaining and growing the system. A system that benefits a few. It is the corporate mandate that must be served. Not the people.

The Body is Spirit and people. I do not buy the fact that because we are all sinners this cannot happen. But it is hard to do, I will admit that. God showed us how serious He is about the Body when He struck Ananias and Sapphira down for lying.

One thing I have noticed that has changed over my own lifetime in the SBC is that years ago, questioning pastors, teachers, etc was an everyday occurence. Now, it is considered a sin. The pastor, deacons, etc., were not considered the authority of the Body. They were simply part of the Holy Priesthood Body that had certain responsibilities. That has all changed with the focus on growing the system.

I was raised to respect ALL people but to test everything. I can look back and see the wisdom of this. But now, this view is considered rebellion.

I can almost pinpoint this change in the SBC to the late 70’s/early 80’s when the focus became church growth. There are many factors that play into this such as the church responding to changes in the culture and the advent of Christian marketing. It became a business and pastors started seeing themselves as CEO’s and leaders instead of servants to the Body. (There is no such thing as servant leader)

Other denominations had stringent hierarchies but we never did until those days. The SBC had always stood for priesthood of believer and soul competency.

No more. It is very sad for me to see how bad it has become. This is why I tell my daughter that she must know scripture so she cannot be led astray. We do not memorize verses at home, we read the entire book and study it. I would rather her understand the big picture of scripture than memorize proof texts that can be twisted. Once we understand the context, then we can memorize. (Which she has to do at school anyway)

Lin

One more thing, I want to make a prediction sort of like Carmac. :o) I believe the church as a growing institution is in trouble. I see many hints of this and quite frankly, the visible church has no one to blame but itself.

For one thing, the mega church system is in trouble. They have gone from growing huge campuses that house many thousands to the satellite model of many churches. These are NOT church plants. They are simply the same mega church in a different location. Most have downlinks of the celebrity pastor preaching in all locations. This is simply a response to dwindling numbers. And these dwindling numbers started to become a serious problem a few years back. The mega was able to thrive for a 20 years as a ’spectator’ sport for those in the pews. That is wearing down.

The second problem is the economy. As it tightens, folks are asking why they are paying these large salaries and light bills for these monstrosities we call churches. They are questioning how their money is spent which is why we are seeing more and more sermons that sound like Pharisetical diatribes on tithing.

The third problem is the advent of the internet, blogging communities, etc, and some are becoming more aware of the false teaching they have received on such things as tithing, hierarchies, etc. They are also being informed of serious problems in the church that have been well hidden from them.

The fourth problem is that churches have attracted the attention of the governing authorities with some of the ridiculous lifestyles of celebrity preachers. There is a move afoot to do away with church tax exemptions and tax exemptions for tithing. They are also seeing the abuses that come from churches, seminaries, parachurch organizations, not having to abide by any labor laws. The abuses on both ends are piling up and becoming more and more evident there is a huge problem and many have taken advantage of these freedoms.

I think we are going to see some big changes over time. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out. However, we do know that those who are leaving the institutional church are not necessarily those who are not ’of us’. It is becoming more obvious that those who are leaving are those in the Body of Christ and cannot support the worldly institution anymore. They want the real thing.

Paula Fether

I’ve been hearing "Come out of her, my people" for at least several years now. I agree that "churchianity" is in for a shakedown. But I also believe that this is the coming world religion, per prophecy, so I don’t think it will die, but only that true believers will be chased underground. We will, like Jesus, be "taken outside of the camp".

Greg Anderson

Lin,

Well examined state of affairs in American mega-churches. I can vouch for the things you’ve pointed out because I became aware of them around the same time frame you’ve delineated. That’s why I left the mega-biggie church thing.

And yes, Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) has tried to bring accountability to the widespread abuses of 501-C3 (tax exemptions) protection enjoyed by so many religious organizations, but to no avail---they continue to fleece their flocks (those who still have good paying jobs anyway) with impunity.

And Paula, I may have a slightly divergent view of prophecy. I believe that it is dynamic and not necessarily confined to one single blue-print event.

Make no mistake, on the one hand, I completely believe that everything spoken of by John the Revelator will most certainly happen in one cosmic grand finale at some point in the future.

But on the other hand, I think that human history will continue as it always has with type and shadow events that are leading up to the main event (2 Peter 3:8-10).

I believe that it depends largely upon how long Jesus wants to tarry before he decides to close up shop.

Paula Fether

Greg, I agree that there can be multiple types and shadows for remaining prophecy, with the literal final fulfillment. But the return of Israel is an unmistakable miracle that should leave us without excuse for knowing that the shadows we see now are not going to fade. When I consider Israel, the world political alignments, the resurgence of mysticism (which "science" boasted it would conquer), and the apostate church all in place at once, I am convinced that we are indeed on the cusp of eternity as never before.

Lin

"And yes, Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) has tried to bring accountability to the widespread abuses of 501-C3 (tax exemptions) protection enjoyed by so many religious organizations, but to no avail—they continue to fleece their flocks (those who still have good paying jobs anyway) with impunity."

With a liberal gov trolling around for more money and the increase in lawsuits against churches giving the gov ammunition, I bet we will see some incremental changing the tax exemptions. Over time.

Paula Fether

Right, I’m not saying it’s only a mega thing either. But I am saying it’s a sin thing fostered by "church", period. The System, large or small, is hierarchical by definition, and without hierarchy there is no power to abuse. Even in a house church, if someone is elevated above the others (the literal meaning of conceit), they have power to abuse. Instead, if we all remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ, the lure of control will be much less likely.

Greg Anderson

Alison & any others visiting Paula’s blog,

Please accept my apology if I’ve offended anyone who might be a mega-church attendee and who is satisfied in attending one.

I can assure everyone here that it was not my intent to offend, but only to point out that the likelihood of hierarchical abuse increases when rank and file numbers get larger. But it in nowise means that the pattern applies to all mega-churches, and I issue that caveat here and now.

If it helps at all, my own denomination (ELCA Lutheran), has in recent years tended more and more toward the old Roman Catholic model of hierarchy, and it is losing members.