If Jesus came today, would he start a church? Or would he be involved in something else entirely?
The narrator of the Gospel of John says that Jesus came and camped among us
, became one of us, took on our sorrows and griefs and showed us the light. Not literally “us” in 2012, but the “us” of the narrator 2000 years ago.
When we examine the mission of Jesus in light of our understanding of his culture at the time he was preaching, we find that he was born into a very religious culture: the Jewish culture, in a period of history when the Jewish people were being brutally oppressed by the Roman empire. So Jesus was a religious Jew, oppressed by the Romans. He was born poor, and the narrator in the Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus came to take on the problems of the poor people. (The gospels of Jesus Christ are the first literature in the world where the tragic hero is poor. Comic heroes could be poor, but not tragic heroes.)
Interestingly enough, for those of us who have spent time in the hard line Churches of Christ, Jesus said almost nothing about the congregational worship service. Most of Jesus’ teachings assumed that almost everyone in his audience was engaged in some form of Judaism. But Jesus gave no instructions for congregational worship or the organization of the congregation, something that the Churches of Christ blithely ignore. The hard line Churches of Christ elevate the instructions for congregational worship and the organization of the local congregation to the level of doctrine and fellowship. If you worship with a piano, we cannot worship with you, and you may not be saved. Only those who take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday are the saved ones, etc.
But the message of the gospels is that Jesus came to earth and became one of us. Okay, if Jesus came in 2012 here in the United States, what would he say and do? First of all, would he be born into a religious family? Only one third of people belong to, or go to church, and that is mostly in the Bible belt. Outside the Bible belt it is more like 15% of people attend church. So Jesus would be born into a family that did not go to church if he was truly being born as one of us Americans. Or would he? God evidently chose a God-serving family for him to be raised in, so would he be raised in a God-serving family in 2012 if he was born now? Maybe. But that would set him apart from the people who needed the light. It was important for the people to identify with Jesus when he came. He was one of them.
Perhaps Jesus would come as a woman, perhaps as a black woman, as one Baptist minister wrote in The Shack. If he came as a white man, then he wouldn’t be truly identifying with the lowest of the low and the oppressed. Perhaps he would come as a Mexican immigrant worker.
Would he come to churches? Jesus was quickly kicked out of all the synagogues and had to speak outdoors. Jesus eschewed organization. The only organization we know of in Jesus’ coterie was choosing 12 and choosing 70, and some rich women who supported him financially. Beyond that Jesus did not have any organization or crusades. He also was not interested in numbers and did not ask for money. He would not have a 1-800 number running across the bottom of the screen.
Would Jesus be religious if he came in 2012? What is the open door in our society today that Jesus would knock on to address our society’s ills? What personal purity would Jesus call us to? What evils would he expose? Would Jesus be part of the Occupy Movement?
I ask these questions because most churches today are not in the mainstream of being influential in the community, affecting people’s behavior. Almost all churches are on the sidelines. Churches who have tried to become politically active have found they were duped and quickly retreated from political activity. Other churches have tried to serve the poor and oppressed, but have found that many other organizations were there before them. My theory is that almost all churches are not doing what Jesus would do if he were here now.
After Jesus left earth the church, within 100 years or so, codified a worship format and an organizational structure, that became the focus of the church. It is much easier to focus on rules and regulations than on one’s heart and the injustices of the world. The hard line Churches of Christ have fallen into that pit perhaps more than any other group.