“Gentrification of Christianity”~Featuring Sho Baraka

 

“Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that ‘the heart of the gospel is that you don’t know Jesus without the witness of the Church.’ As church membership declines, will this witness be dampened? Writer and hip-hop artist, Sho Baraka, explores the history of the Christian faith, why its growth has slowed in western societies, and how the Church can reclaim our role as witnesses of Christ”.

Perspective: “We Can Admire And Worship Jesus Without Doing What He Did”

Introduction

Personally, I take great delight in gleaning new knowledge, insights and lessons from God’s Word and through various Biblically-sound teachers. I am thankful that God has created human beings with a rich intellectual capacity to think, reason,  problem-solve and rationalize on the varying complexities of life. Specificially, Christian Scholarship has presented us with an unprecedented level of access to innumerable academic Christian-based resources. While I do believe that God has worked powerfully through Christian Scholarship over the decades, I cannot help but recognize a subtle but very real danger that it sometimes poses to the Church today, namely incentivizing passivity. 

Do We Know How To Live Like Jesus?

It is no secret that much of those within the Church within the prosperous West has become spiritually-apathetic and lukewarm with our faith. One only needs to compare and contrast the state of the Church today to that of the Early Church in the Books of Acts to easily see the major differences between the two. Why is this? I cannot recall a point in time historically when Christians have been so well-educated and well-resourced, yet if we are honest with ourselves, it feels like we are missing the mark when it comes to our approach with Christianity. Despite our best intentions with all our scholarly teachings, our professional conferences, our debating with world renown thinkers, our academic book-writing, and our other academic pursuits, we have forgotten about what it means to truly live like Jesus. Shane Clairborne in his book, “The Irresistible Revolution”(Clairborne, 2006) puts it like this:

We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what He did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

Even though this book was released back in 2006, Clairborne’s observation is still very pertinent to the way in which much of those within the Church still behave today. Paradoxically, I believe that our intellectualization and our scholarly approach towards Christianity has the potential to legitimize our passivity towards living authentically living like Jesus. 

Living Like Jesus through Knowing the Poor

Like it is possible to know about Jesus without truly knowing Jesus, it is also possible to know about the poor without actually knowing the poor. One of the central reasons for why Christians do not care for the poor like we have been called to is simply because we have not spent enough time with them to really know them. Instead, we foolishly rely on generalizations and stereotypes to inform our opinions of what the poor are like, when the truth is that they are more similar than different to us contrary to popular opinion. You can only fully see this when you decide to invest time interacting directly with the poor. No amounts of literature can serve as a replacement with actually spending time face-to-face with the poor.

After all, how can you love someone if you have not spent time with them to even know them in the first place? It would be like an absentee father returning after his children have grown up claiming to love them, despite the fact that he neglected to spend any time with them to know them, let alone genuinely love them.

The parable of the sheep and the goats describes what will happen on Judgement Day with believers and unbelievers. Within this parable, Jesus likens our service to the “…least of these brothers and sisters…” (Matthew 25:40) as our service towards Him!

Beware of “Intellectualizing” Christianity

It does not matter how much you know about God or even about the poor for that matter, if you fail to act on this knowledge. Frighteningly, it is possible to live your entire life as a “Christian” who is a perpetual student of the Bible with vast intellectual head knowledge while completely failing to live as Jesus commands. There are plenty of people like this today as there were back in Jesus’ Day(Pharisees, Sadducees, other experts in the law). It is not wrong to desire to grow in the knowledge of God and of the Christian Faith, in fact the Bible contains exhortations(see 2 Peter 1:5-6) to do this very thing. What truly matters is what will you do with this acquired knowledge? Will you let it remain stagnate in your mind while it amasses proverbial cobwebs? Or, will you let it re-shape the affections of your heart as you imperfectly but intentionally live like Jesus commands us?

Prayer

King and Lord Jesus,

Forgive us for failing to love others like you so clearly have commanded; please help us as a Church Body to live like You called us to live. Rather than staying within the comfort of our Christian Ivory Towers of Academia, I pray that Your Holy Spirit empowers and emboldens us to reach out towards those living within those hard-to-reach areas among our communities. I pray that You lead us towards action as You enable us to overcome the spirit of lukewarmness and apathy plaguing much of the Church in the West. Let your Kingdom be on earth as it is in heaven where the first are last and the last are first! In Jesus’ Powerful Name, I pray, Amen!

 

Perspective: “Wake Up Church!”

Christian, have you fallen into such a religious stupor where you are no longer awake but you have instead become like the “walking dead”? Have you backslid in your faith where you have provided backdoor access for the enemy to gleefully regain power in areas of your life you thought you already gained victory over? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Have you recognized that your strivings and well-intentioned efforts are inadequate to successfully fight this battle of faith? Have you reached the end of yourself?! If this sounds like you, you are right where God needs you–emptied of yourself so that He can indwell and mightily work though you with His Holy Spirit. You don’t need more lukewarm, entertainment-driven, half-committed Christianity, what you need is the infilling of the Holy Spirit Himself Who will be given only as we die to our fleshly-selves! Stop playing games with God by trivializing sin and start providing your faith with the weight of seriousness that it requires!

Please heed this message closely.

We are living in spiritually-perilous times today. It grieves me greatly to concede that much of the glory of God has departed the vast majority of churches today. In fact, very few Biblically-rooted and Spirit-Filled churches exist today. The Church has largely become insitutionalized and commercialized; God’s house has gradually become a den of thieves rather than a house of prayer(Mat 21:13)! I am sure that Jesus would not hesitate in overturning the tables of the money-changers within most churches today like when he cleansed the temple during his earthly ministry (see: Mat 21:12-13; Jn 2:14-17).

Church, why are there more Christian denominations today than ever before, yet instead of experiencing anything even close to a revival, we have difficulty moving past our nominal-christianity(not real Christianity)? Andrew Bonar, the great hymn writer in Scotland once said, “I looked for the Church and I found it in the world. I looked for the world and I found it in the Church.”

Shockingly, the greatest hinderance to revival today is evangelism because evangelism needs to be organized whereas revival cannot be organized! Most of today’s modern church system is organized, regimented and structured in such a way where true revival is simply not possible. The way this man-made religious system is designed would make it impossible for any such revival to become ignited, let alone flourish. Sadly, it would be over before it even started; the strict institutionalized controls in place intentionally stifle such spiritual awakenings.

The harsh truth, however, is that we don’t want God to disrupt our status quo. We are quite comfortable with the way things are so why would we expect for God to change the state of the church? One of the major reasons we do not see revival emerge today is because it is too costly to die to self and we are content to live without it!

True Church revival starts on an individual level. God only needs a few true, dedicated, all-in believers to accomplish His Kingdom-Furthering Purposes. He cannot and will not work through lukewarm, part-time Christians regardless of how big in number they may be. Today’s modern church is more than ample evidence of this! God is after quality and not quantity. As believers who are desperate for God to move among the nations, may we all repent from our sinful ways. Otherwise, we will run out of time and on judgment day Jesus will plainly tell us, “…I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ (Lk 13:27).

Insight: What is Dividing the Church More Than Anything

Unity among those who belong to the body of believers(the Church) is radically important. When the Church is divided among itself, how can it possibly stand in the face of opposition? Jesus said it best when He tells us that “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand”(Mark 3:25). In order to be fruitful for Kingdom-furthering purposes and effective for defending ourselves against spiritual warfare, we need to come together as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, precisely the opposite is happening today within the Church. There is such a high degree of envy, jealousy, bitterness, backbiting, slander, and gossip among those claiming to be apart of the same Church Body. The world already has enough of this! The last thing that it needs is a Church comprised up of professing believers who cannot even co-operate among themselves. Therefore, the Church will not be able to render sustainable change within the world until those within it begin to work together instead of against one another.

Paul warns us in his letter to the Galatians of the following, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”(Galatians 5:15). Being destroyed by one another is exactly what the enemy wants to happen within the Church. He couldn’t be happier when he sees church members in disagreement with trivialities over non-essential doctines and when pastors are under constant scrutiny over every move they make. Church divisiveness is a breeding ground for all kinds of evil and it is where demonic activity can thrive. Being distracted from the things that truly matter is what the enemy wants. When he succeeds, the work that God commissions His Bride(the Church) to take part in is greatly encumbered.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t see persecution as strongly within the West is because the enemy does not view the Church here as much of a threat. We are too busy arguing and debating among one another about whose doctrinal views are right that we completely miss the whole point of Christianity! What an absolute tragedy! There are lost souls who are seeking for people to point them to the Truth of the Gospel but we are too busy fault-finding and gossiping about other Christians to even notice. Until the time that we swallow our pride and humble ourselves before God and among one another, true life-impacting change will not happen. How can it possibly?! The enemy and his demons are far too strong in comparison to a divided Church body. As Christians we all have our unique roles to play within the Church Body. God purposed it this way for the intention of drawing us together as perfectly demonstrated within the eternal fellowship in the Trinity. He created us as relational beings who are in need of being united within the Church. A Church Body that is united while upholding and guarding the Truth of Christ is unstoppable and it is capable of accomplishing the unimaginable!

Father God,

Please strengthen Your Church through unifying it and re-shaping it into all that You have purposed it to become as Your Son’s Bride. I pray that you humble all of us by helping us to plainly see the sin in our own hearts as opposed to pointing out the sin in other people’s lives. Lead us into repentance from all the gossip and slander we have taken part in through cleansing our prideful hearts. Most importantly, help us to show the world what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus, as we undertake Your Kingdom-Furthering work on earth with the strength from Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ Name, I pray. Amen.

Let Christ’s Love Cast Out Fear!(Part 1 of 3)

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Fear is an extremely power thing. If fear is not handled properly, it is capable of destroying a person simply because of its crippling effects. There are those within this world today who live in maximal fear–sometimes for understandable reasons, other times because they have allowed fear to control their lives entirely.

What I want to progress towards discussing within this series are the terrifying ramifications of when believers succumb to fear-based religion. As an introduction, today’s focuses will be on (1) providing historical background of religion within Christendom and on (2) highlighting one of the threats some “christian” churches pose towards spiritual seekers and professing believers alike. 

Strikingly, religion has almost always been wielded in such a way to instill fear into the masses through both oppressive and manipulative means so that the people can be controlled. Yes, even “Christian” religious denominations have largely been premised in fear, which can be quite certainly be linked to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church(RCC). In fact, prominent author and apologist, Ravi Zachaaris postulates that, “Christianity is not the same as who Christ is“.

I will now digress a little here so that I can provide some reasoning for why I believe this is happening within Christianity. Increasingly what we have today even among several Protestant denominations is the integration of some practices and traditions from Catholic teaching. Notably, within Protestantism there is an expanding-divide between the laity and the clergy in which there is a greater perceived value towards the ministry work among the clergy(church leaders) within the church compared to that which God accomplishes through the laity(church members). The fact is that we are all a royal priesthood of believers under the New Covenant(1 Peter 2:9) in Christ. Therefore, no believer is seen as more or less significant before God simply because they serve in a leadership capacity at a church as opposed to being used in some other capacity in another profession. The hierarchy within the RCC has certainly been influencing and has even started to pervade some Protestant denominations. The consequence beginning to arise from this is the proliferation of Bible illiteracy because church-goers place too much weight on the pastor at the pulpit. Therefore, the spin-off from this is that there is the presumption that this pastor has authority over God’s Word. Sadly, many church adherents then follow whatever is said trusting that the pastor is always 100% accurate, frequently without taking part in their own Bible Study to test what is said against God’s Word. For those of you who know your history of the RCC, I’m sure that this sounds very familiar. In spite of this example, as well as several others unmentioned, one can quite accurately speculate that the trajectory to which we are going within Protestantism is frighteningly similar to the way things were before the Protestant Reformation.  

Returning to Dr. Zachaaris’ point from earlier, I believe that his point soundly exemplifies what is transpiring today within Christianity. As human beings we have put an inordinate level of img_6168emphasis on doctrinal differences and biblical interpretations to the degree whereby they are exalted above what God Himself has told us within His Word. We have forgotten that Christianity is about modeling and living the way Christ lived where we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves through grace, mercy, kindness, compassion, patience, and understanding. We need to walk out our theology rather than simply intellectualizing it in order that God’s Word has it full intended impact within our hearts(breathing in through studying it and breathing out through living it). It is as though we have tried to put God into a proverbial box made out of our human preconceptions and categorical assumptions of Who we think He is. However, as you and I both hopefully know: God simply does not, and, moreover, He cannot fit into our human-made doctrinal boxes. Like apostle, Stephen quotes in Acts 7:48-50 from Mat 5:34,35 and Isa 66:1,2:

However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. What kind of house will you build for Me? says the Lord. Or where will My resting place be? Has not My hand made all these things?

Disclaimer: Please do not misunderstand or misinterpret me at all, I do recognize that pure religion (see James 1:27) has a place and it is essential for the Christian walk of faith. However, without having a personal and dynamic relationship with God, religion is merely a set of rules, rituals and traditions which is dead in and of itself(look at the Pharisees). We need pure religion to keep us grounded while the relationship we have with God enables us to live in the liberties Christ purchased for us on Calvary. Pure religion and relationship are not opposing forces but rather they should work in harmony in a sort of symbiotic relationship.

The central result of religion without relationship is known as legalism where we frustratingly strive and strive to earn our salvation, while repeatedly falling short and being devastated at the end of our lives when we face God for judgement. What I fervently and earnestly want Christians to know about is the damning power of false (christian) religion which permeates the world today, particularly within the West. It is common knowledge that being a church-goer does not mean that you are saved because church membership cannot purchase salvation; salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. However, the church is always one of the most dangerous places you can be if you ignorantly fool yourself into thinking that you are saved when you are really not. Essentially, you have not only become a hypocrite without even realizing(or through suppressing it) but once you are within the clutches of religion, it is exceedingly difficult to escape it because the enemy has cunningly fooled you through using religion as his choice of weapon.

I cannot even begin to fathom the immeasurably high numbers of souls who have fallen victim to the clutches of false religion. I have personally experienced what this is like coming from a Roman Catholic Background myself for over 2o years of my life. I am normally not a stubborn person but God had to radically shake up my life before He captured my attention to see the destructive path which I was on. It is my prayer and hope that the true life-giving Gospel Message of unfathomable love and grace will liberate any readers who find themselves entrapped in fear-based religion.

I encourage anyone who desires to briefly share their experience of being set free from the bondage of religion to comment below.

I plan on continuing this series with a blog post entitled, “Paralyzing Power of Fear”. In this post, I intend on exploring some of the devastating ramifications of living in fear within the framework of religion.

May God Bless everyone in the weeks ahead!