- by Russell Croft
Jesus has Left the Building
The battle between conservative and progressive Christians is heating up. Both sides claim Jesus in justifying their theology and their politics. Hypocrisy runs rife amongst believers who claim to uphold Christian values such as loving your enemy, but can’t demonstrate an attitude and embodiment of love or grace even to their Christian brothers and sisters, let alone a neighbour outside of the faith.
We seem intent on creating walls of division, even amongst our brethren. The walls of our church buildings now serve to keep undesirable people out, rather than providing shelter and sanctuary to all. Too often these days, members are pushed out, excommunicated or asked to leave the fellowship for all manner of differences, not so much of belief in Christ, but of opinion on which Bible translations to trust when it comes to our pet doctrines of lesser significance. Our church buildings now serve the Faithful as monuments to their unwavering belief in the very narrow views propagated by their leaders; views that do not hold up with any degree of infallibility under scholastic scrutiny.
Church buildings are now seen by many as places of judgment, exclusion, abuse and self-righteous piety. And we still have the hubris to claim that God is with us in those places more than with others outside of our faith communities, despite acknowledging God’s omnipresence - that Christ really is “all in all”.
What we choose not to recognise is that Jesus really has “left the building”. He was never bound by the Church to begin with. Christ is everywhere, in everyone and everything – even our hell. He is present in the people that the Church despises the most: the refugee, the LGBTQI+ community, the apostate worship leaders and lifelong believers who can no longer stomach such disparity between Jesus and his followers; doing the work through and with them that his modern disciples refuse to humble themselves for.
Modern evangelicalism and much of mainstream Christianity is as shocked as Joshua was to hear that God is for them AND for their enemies. But when all is said and done, just like Joshua and the authors of the book bearing his name, we still claim that God’s favour is greater with us, the Chosen Ones than with those we seek to politically and spiritually control. We would do well to be more honest with ourselves, with God and with the text, approaching it all with more humility and grace.
Fighting against God
In Acts 5, renowned teacher and Pharisee in the council, Gamaliel, recognised that God can and did move and work through people outside of their religious structures. He cautioned against fighting against something that may very well have been a work of God, reasoning that if the Jesus movement was of human origin it would fail, but if it was of God, it would not be defeated and they would find themselves embarrassed and humiliated by their own pretentiousness.
It seems that this is the way that Christ works in our world: embracing, comforting and loving all those outside of our walls and buildings, encouraging them to find peace and hope in the truth of unconditional grace, in spite of the devastation that those in political and spiritual power would inflict on them in order to maintain their worldly systems of control. And people are finding Christ within – the Kingdom of God, as Jesus puts it – outside of the Church and learning to trust in the deliverance and contentment that it was always purposed to reveal.
This is not to say that God has forsaken the Church. She hasn’t. But God refuses to be present in any idolatrous ideology that lays claim to the sole ownership of her presence and blessing by any faith community. God has very much “left the building” of exclusionary and self-righteous beliefs and practices; especially the “no other religion is humble and repentant like ours, nor are they worthy of God’s love” form of spiritual piety.
Walls or open doors?
What the early church was known for was an acceptance of all people while speaking out against political, economic, spiritual and sexual supremacy over others. There were no walls to keep people out, only open doors and hearts to embrace the Christ in all of us, who are all someone else’s “least of these”.
Church, we have lost sight of Jesus. We have let Christ walk out the door after those we have shunned, and we have refused to follow God’s lead in embracing their humanity, and inseparable union of love with their creator, the Divine All In All. May we repent of our obtuse, reactionary and selfish attitudes that elevate platitudes and interpretations above living out the simple gospel truth: to love as Christ loved us.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft