In the same way that the system of Judaism failed its followers when “the Word became flesh,” the current undercurrent of an “all-that-is-seen-is-all-that-is” culture cloaked in a “show-me-the-signs-Christian-system” is failing its followers once again.
The “Christianity” of the masses today (whether Evangelicalism or Romanism it matters not), much like Judaism two thousand years ago, is little more than the naturalistic means to a naturalistic end. Either that, or it is the guise of “spiritual” means to a naturalistic end. Either way, “Christianity” today is chiefly about what is physical, what is moral, the self, and in scriptural terms, “the things of the earth.” To many, both on the inside and outside, it is merely superstition or myth.
For example, the term “Conservative-Christian” carries with it an overtone that applies to the politic as a “Right Wing Republican,” and thus a politician might be called a “Conservative-Christian” using “Christianity” as a means to a certain political end. Similarly, athletes or entertainers often use “Christianity” as a sort of non-genuine and de facto “humility” when they are recognized for an award – ie. “I would like to thank God…” as if God were the means to their end of success or being recognized (I’m not saying all of this sort of thing is always wrong or not genuine, but as a general example you can be the judge). Most modern churches are no different than politicians or entertainers, catering its programs and “ministries” to the material needs of its patrons promising some physical end, whether better relationships, more success, more money, or whatever the people might need.
Just like Oprah, Dr. Phil, any organized religion or decent self-help book from Barnes and Noble, “Christianity” today focuses on an earthly system consumed with physical needs. For this essay, I’m calling it the “System of a Down” if you will (“down” corresponding to having its origins from "below" rather than “above” as will be mentioned shortly, and nothing to do with the Armenian-American rock band--I'm just borrowing their clever name). As such a system, it can only and will only perpetually fail its followers until eventually it is unnecessary altogether.
Why does “Christianity” fail as a system? -- Because Christianity is not a naturalistic system (I’ll spare the tag “true” here since that would only be redundant and let quotation marks suffice).
The end of Christianity is not “being a good person” through the means of “doing good.” Neither is the end of Christianity having “a good job or a good family or a nice house or car or whatever else points to success in America” through the means of appeasing the conscience by attending church or mass on Sunday, tithing and being a good, upstanding citizen. Nor is the end of Christianity a politic that is run by the Church through either direct means as in Roman Catholicism or indirectly as in those who continually try “Christianizing” America through the way of “the right.” Finally, and perhaps more pertinent to this audience and myself, the end of Christianity is not the accumulation of extraordinary ideas and knowledge while our lives that people see look only ordinary. In other words, being right is never more important that being righteous.
For these reasons and others, many disdain the hypocrisy bred from this naturalistic system called “Christianity” today. I do as well.
In its hypocrisy it claims a better end through greater means than the masses can find through their own systems, but in reality, it always “under-delivers” since its followers never live up to their bold claims of “self-development, self-improvement, self-restraint, submission to a grand idea or higher law, refined moral egotism, or aesthetic, even moral altruism” (help here from Alfred Edersheim, Life & Times, 266). And besides, if the end is chiefly natural (or physical or material), then why do the means really matter all that much in an ultimate sense? (ie. Why serve our fellow man through a church in the name of God when any non-profit can do the same in the name of philanthropy? If the ultimate focus is on “becoming good” then what’s the difference?) Thus, the hypocrisy of this naturalistic system known as “Christianity” today only continues to build with greater empty promises for a better life. Slowly and gradually, as if down a slightly graded slope, it declines and becomes less and less interesting as its followers, observers and critics begin to see it for what it is—just another “System of a Down.”
But Christianity as portrayed by Jesus is not about a naturalistic system at all; in fact, Christianity as portrayed by Jesus is about Jesus Himself - the supernatural Savior.
Recall with me a certain story from scripture where the “system” met the “Savior” face-to-face. From John’s Gospel enter the “Sanhedrist” Nicodemus on a “wild, gusty spring night” to the chamber on the roof (possibly even at John's house in Jerusalem) where his “Heavenly Guest” awaited. Intrigued enough by the signs that He performed throughout the week, yet confused as to how He fit into the Jewish system and unsure about how His mission related to the “Kingdom of God,” this “ruler of the Jews” humbles himself to confront the lowly and mysterious Nazarene.
The system represented by Nicodemus had this mindset towards the Kingdom of God:
- “There was only one gate by which a man could pass into that Kingdom of God—for that which was of the flesh could ever be only fleshly. Here a man might strive, as did the Jews, by outward conformity to become, but he would never attain to being” (Edersheim 267).
- “He (Nicodemus) wanted to know the how of these things before he believed them. He believed them not, though they passed on earth, because he knew not their how” (267).
- “According to the Jewish view, this second birth was the consequence of having taken upon oneself ‘the Kingdom;' not as Jesus put it, the cause and condition of it. The proselyte had taken upon himself ‘the Kingdom,’ and therefore he was ‘born’ anew” (266).
- “Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
- “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
- “The wind blows where is wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
- “Judaism could understand a new relationship towards God and man, and even the forgiveness of sins. But it had no conception of a moral renovation, a spiritual birth, as the initial condition for reformation, far less as that for seeing the Kingdom of God. And it was because it had no idea of such a ‘birth from above,’ of its reality or even possibility that Judaism could not be the Kingdom of God” (266).
As for the Jew, where the “door of entrance” into the Kingdom “could ever be only fleshly,” the “System of a Down” today likewise has little “conception of a moral renovation, a spiritual birth, as the initial condition for reformation.” Rather, the best this “fleshly” system can offer for “reformation” comes from “taking upon oneself the Kingdom” through striving after good works. For what it fails to understand (ie. how true spiritual birth occurs) easily, it will not pursue; instead, a similar fleshly, Jewish system is implemented and pursued replacing that which is spiritually mysterious with a systematic method.
Systematic Theology, Apologetics and other like theological pursuits have their place to be sure, but only after one is made to experience the “great mystery of godliness.”
Again Edersheim writes profoundly:
- “To see the Kingdom of God: to understand what means the absolute rule of God, the one high calling of our humanity, by which a man becomes a child of God—to perceive this, not as an improvement upon our present state, but as the submission of heart, mind, and life to Him as our Divine King, an existence which is, and which means, proclaiming unto the world the Kingship of God: this can only be learned from Christ, and needs even for its perception a kinship of spirit—for that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (266).
But where is the miracle of being “born from above” in today’s “Christianity”?
The mystery of “that which is spirit is spirit” confounds the contemporary “Christian” who needs a system, a program, a method to explain away life. For those who are truly spiritual, being brings about the becoming rather than the opposite, and if truly considered, this is miraculous as well. Unlike any system, Christianity is often if not mostly the pursuit of spiritual things not easily reasoned, mysterious, miraculous and at times impossible to comprehend. Yet, through these means and to this end, the “System of a Down” will have none; eventually, like all other things of the earth, it too will crash and burn (2 Pet 3:10). That is, if it doesn’t simply become altogether unnecessary before then.