Steve’s comment to my last blog incited some further thoughts this weekend. He wrote:
I think you strike to the root of why we find comfort in religious systems. They allow us the illusion of control, just as the tree in the Garden of Eden did. They also allow us to fashion God in our own image and make us comfortable in how we live it. The only problem is they don’t work. People that are honest about that get ostracized and many more go along pretending, thinking they must be the problem, not the system. Either way people end up frustrated.
Religious systems also are great for controlling others, if you’re at the top. We have inherited an unspoken ethos from institutional religion that if we are not protected by tradition, obligation, ritual or leaders we will fall into error. But what happens when our traditions, obligations, rituals and/or leaders fall into error? It only took the Galatians a decade to fall away from the simplicity and power of God leading them to embrace all four of those things. And they left the Galatians dead spiritually, because none of those things can create the life that really is life.
But perhaps the major surface reason we have an expanding array of models to implement is that this is the best way to sell your ideas in the world, and to the body of Christ. Quick-fix, how-to books are the bane of our culture. It doesn’t matter if they don’t work. It only matters that people think they will long enough to buy the book or enroll in the course. And when they don’t work they can be blamed for not implementing it exactly right.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me over the years that I need to fashion a replicatable model for church life, create a new term for it, and write the book. That’s the way to make a living from writing and be significant in whatever movement I choose to land. What’s more, I know they’re right. But I’ve implemented all of my models and found out that while they could create an illusion of life over which I had a measure of control, they were useless in bearing the fruit of the kingdom. While it would sell well, it wouldn’t serve Jesus’ work in the world.
I used to get angry at those who marketed their latest religious systems. I thought it was righteous indignation, until Jesus made it clear I was only jealous that others got to do what I couldn’t. I don’t any more. What Sara and I have come to live in the last five years is better than any financial security I’d achieve by selling a boatload of books. I’d rather walk around with keys that set people free to live in God’s reality than lock them into prison cells of obligation and ritual. I’d rather live out where the waters flow deep, where God makes himself known in a variety of ways as suits his purpose among a group of people, than shape them with a cookie-cutter that divides and wounds the body of Christ. And I’d rather be an unknown whisper in someone’s ear to follow to the fullest what God has put in their heart than to speak at the largest convention of so-called church experts.
This is life, not a job! This is reality, not an excuse for books sales! This is his kingdom, not a tool to build my own.