“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock.”― Christopher Hitchens
When Christianity came to be it was at the death of its founder. The people who were left were a little over 100 shut up in a room praying for, well, something. In a moment those people were transformed, including those closest to the one murdered by the Romans under the directions of the very people that man came to be a witness to.
A following day, while before a crowd of thousands, one of those followers stood up and publicly condemned those who facilitated the murder. In a public morning rebuke the over 100 became over 3000. That group continued to grow while suffering persecution from the Jewish worshipers and Greek culture.
Contemporaries of the time offer little insight into what was going on, other than a “new Jewish sect” was growing. We know it was gaining momentum with the Jews themselves before being opened to the Gentiles of the time. Many affluent women joined from the Hellenistic culture and opened their homes to teachers of The Way. The term “Christian” was actually a badge of shame early on in the New Testament church; and when you said you were part of the “church” you weren’t speaking about a building or denomination you were discussing the idea of being a part of something: a called out group of people illuminated by a truth that you accepted and followed, loving a God revealed to you through his begotten Son and loving your neighbor as your own life. It was a religion born from a death, grown in persecution and had a reputation of how the followers loved one another.
People sold land, inheritance that had been in the family for generations, so that those who had nothing would have their needs met. Leaders were setup to be servants, given an example from a life who served others. The one they called Lord never demanded worship, he sought people so he could know them and be known of them. At one point he called his disciples friends. If there was a kingdom where the top of the pyramid was flipped with the Royalty on the bottom this appeared to be it.
“We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justified crazies.” - Bill Maher
Centuries rolled on, a book was assembled from different authors, a hierarchy installed, denominations set, mission focused and a desire to convert the world became a goal. The Renaissance led with Humanistic thinking brought about the Reformation. The men of the time questioned the deviation from the original intent of the church and its active members to worship man and a religious institution in contrast to the Author and Creator who made it all.
Soon no matter what part of theology you claimed be it Eastern Orthodox, Western denominational-ism, Catholic or Protestant the “church” ceased being about the people and passed into the execution of the process and tradition. If you went to “church” on Sunday it was a place, not a people. Supported by tithes and offerings, still mission minded the leaders built larger churches to house more individuals who over time became more disconnected with one another. The vulnerability of need and weakness became a facade to right living and that facade became the belief. People en masse no longer sold what they had to fill the need of another, at least not publicly or corporately. A pastor today who teaches the doctrine of the original founder to a mega church of a thousand or more would be hard pressed to look at his batch of disciples and call them “friends”.
“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”― Christopher Hitchens
People outside these teachings can easily spot the hypocrisy of its followers. This isn’t new, but the reaction to dealing with the hypocrisy has changed. Early on the Apostle John, who survived many trials and wrote a few books of the bible, dealt with a leader of a group of believers who had a less than loving approach to people:
3Jn 1:9-11 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (10) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (11) Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
The early church had no problem calling harmful and unloving behavior of other leaders out into the light. Unkind words and actions were rebuked, not hidden. Not only was it called out, but people were told unkind acts that hurt others showed the person committing those acts has never seen the God that sacrificed his life for them. Believers were not told to extend grace to those in leadership who were not in unity. These people were facing persecution and death, they didn’t suffer hostile attitudes. To do so was to allow that behavior to continue. Paul wrote the same to his disciple Timothy:
1Ti 5:19-20 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (20) As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
If the called out assembly today dealt with the internal issues it has with its own leadership of this kind, would accusations and a brand of “unloving people” cease from the outside world? Would a directional change to following the master and his example be enough to adjust the outward testimony churches have?
“One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously; but to take it seriously one must be already mad.”― Aleister Crowley
The men quoted aren’t describing the 1st century church in scripture; they are describing the church they saw in their time. If the fruit of the church today is a reputation hypocrisy, a lack of gratitude and a desire to keep failing leaders in place instead of rebuking them and removing them if need be then it’s not a church.
It’s a building full of people who have never seen God.