But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

As I read these words on Monday, I couldn’t help but take note they were written fifty-five years ago. And throughout those years the church of Jesus Christ has, by and large, ignored their prophetic plea. Through the rise of the consumerist mega-church, a decades long focus on “worship wars,” a not infrequent progressive embarrassment over claims of Christ’s uniqueness, and the retreat of conservatives into personal piety the church has wasted much of its time devouring one another. Yes there are notable exceptions to this general statement, but these forward outposts of the Kingdom of God have not captured the imagination of our culture. They do good and noble work, but the majority of churches have failed them. Most of us have been too concerned with either building our own small empires, or have been bedazzled by those empires into a state of bitterness and jealously. Far too often we have craved power, from all points of the theological and political spectrum, and allowed ourselves to succumb to anger when we didn’t get it 1.

This last election cycle saddest’s revelation showed this culture how those who claim to be disciples of Christ are willing to be in collusion with the power of empire. And not just a certain segment of followers, this willingness crosses theological and political lines 2. As I said, there are exceptions to this rule 3, but their presence has been swallowed up by the shouts of the mob. I’ve watched as Christians from all over the Church’s grand tapestry have abandoned the way of Christ and made excuses for being right to do so 4.

Is it any wonder people look at the church as an inauthentic waste of time? We collude with power, abandon our own teachings, and shout out how wrong everyone else is. But maybe we should instead be looking in the mirror and telling ourselves how wrong we are. Maybe it’s time for Churches to stand up in public and repent, and then not be surprised when we are not congratulated for owning up to the things we have both done and not done. People should not get pats on the back, after all, for daring to take an honest look in the mirror.

  1. Even if we want it “for the right reasons,” a thirst for power is a sign of a serious spiritual disease. I often think if we had our way Gandalf would have taken the Ring from Frodo. 
  2. Though conservative Evangelicals seem to have given up even the pretense of being anything but the cult of America, sacrificing to the genius of the President. 
  3. And, no. I don’t happen to think I’m one of them. I can only speak in terms of “we.” 
  4. If I see one more Christian pat themselves on the back for saying it’s ok to punch Nazi’s I may break down and weep for a month. The way of Christ is not easy, and we can’t make exceptions for easy targets. Once we take up the metaphorical sword for easy exceptions, more difficult exceptions will also be made. After all, it’s for the right cause. And, to consider the more conservative wing of things, does anyone else see the irony of Christians who are all about not questioning the law? It boggles my mind.