the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own — who is our master?”
I will now rise up,” says the LORD;
“I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.
I suppose that is why the Church must be reborn from time to time. 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517, the date Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to door of the church in Wittenberg. That would lead to a long period of upheaval, conflict, and change that would help usher in the modern era.
I wonder if many churches in our day aren't just as detached from the teachings of Jesus as Luther thought the church of his day was. We have associated church with our political views, our nation, our agendas and issues, and those things guide us more than anything Jesus says or commands. In the past, Mainline denominations have gotten into bed with the powers that be. In the most recent election, many evangelicals cast their lot with Donald Trump in the hope he would further issues dear to them. In neither instance does Jesus seem to have been the primary driving factor.
Such problems are hardly unknown to the people of Old Testament times. Israel's history is filled with stories of their falling away from the way of God. Often they continued to maintain the religious rituals and offer their worship and prayers to Yahweh. But, as a cursory reading of the prophets will show, they did not live in ways that were pleasing to God.
Today's psalm seems to address such a time. Surely the psalmist would have no trouble writing some of those same words in our day. "They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak." Our "post-truth" world with its "alternative facts" is far removed from Jesus' command that our truthfulness be so sure that we need never swear an oath. (Matthew 5:33-37) And I'm not sure that is any less true inside the church than outside.
Is there a way to undo this, to do church in such a way that people don't see a disconnect between church and following Jesus? If so it will surely require the church to focus its life more on Jesus and the way that he teaches. For Mainline churches like my own, that may mean less talk of a generic God and more attention on the person of Jesus. For more conservative churches that already insist on the centrality of Christ, it may mean letting go of a Christ who functions as part of a salvation formula and recovering the Jesus of the gospels. But regardless of what sort of church, there is much work to be done.
Church will always have its failings. It is filled with humans after all. But if its central purpose is not to embody the way of Jesus, then that Newsweek title cease to be a provocative, eye-catching statement and become the conventional wisdom accepted by many.
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