It seems that the twenty first century American culture we are living in is similar to the first century. In Palestine, the Jewish religious culture was very comfortable and settled in their ways, much like the church in America. The Romans let them run their religious system, and for the most part they didn't make waves. While looking for the Messiah to come and rid their world of all the evildoers, they were content practicing their version of what had been passed down from Moses. The people at the top of the spiritual pecking order controlled who worshipped, how they worshipped, and where they worshipped. The Roman culture of the day was very religious. So religious in fact, that they were very accepting of the various gods being worshipped, as long as those who worshipped also accepted the idea that Caesar was lord. Pleasure and comfort was the ultimate, for those who could afford it.
Into this world stepped Jesus. During his time here on earth he proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here, and that he was the King everyone had been waiting for. He was not recognized by the religious elite because he didn't fit the mold of what they thought the Messiah would be. They were scandalized that he invited the poor, the downcast, the "sinners" to join the Kingdom. They thought they were the gatekeepers. When the religious leaders took Jesus to Pilate, the only charge they could bring that affected Pilate at all was the charge that Jesus was claiming to be a king other than Caesar. What may have been the tipping point for Pilate was when they told him that he was not loyal to Caesar if he let Jesus go. Their statement, "We have no king but Caesar," indicates that they were willing to remain in bondage rather than accept God's rule.
As the church began to spread and carry out the command to make disciples, they ran into a culture that quickly became hostile when it was evident that these disciples of Jesus didn't fit into the mold. They didn't just go along to get along. When asked, or told, to sacrifice to the gods or to Caesar, they refused. Their response was that Jesus is Lord, and Jesus only. There was no sense of taking the message of Jesus and the Kingdom and simply adding it to the "Roman Dream." The message of the
early Christians was that the Kingdom of God had come and all the other kingdoms of this world were nothing. This message caused them to be ostracized, to be shut out from participating in the economic and political life of many towns. Eventually this message caused many of them to lose their lives. This message also turned the world upside down.
I look around at the cultural landscape in America and see many of the same things. I see a church that, in many ways, has become quite comfortable here. So much of what is proclaimed in churches across America is nothing more than a self-help gospel. Many, if not most of the titles in Christian bookstores deal with how to get what you want, how to be a better __________, how to have your best life now, or how to be a better you (what happened to being like Christ?). Much of the church has been co-opted by political parties on both sides, and we have come to equate Christianity with America. We have lost our ability to speak truth to power because we have lusted after power.
At the same time, those who follow Jesus face a wider culture that is increasingly hostile to the idea
that there is only one King, and one Kingdom over all. I have read commentators who write about the way America is becoming like Europe. I think that is true, but I also think that a culture where a clear line is drawn between those who are disciples of Jesus and those who aren't is preferable to one where the message of the Gospel is hidden in all the layers of institutionalization that have been added over the centuries.
Maybe we can, once again, turn the world upside down.
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