In what is the church failing?

How then is it that we see such devastation in our land? It is because the Christian church, which is the body of Christ, his representatives here on earth, have failed to understand his teaching. We have not discerned the shape of the spiritual battle nor have we recognized the enemy. Indeed a partial blindness has fallen upon the church in America, so that we have not understood the situation that has been staring us in the face.

– from Secular Pharisees, available here

It is painful to say this, but we have shunned portions of Christ’s teaching. We have decided that some of his teachings are are unpleasant and unhelpful. Which ones? His teaching on the moral condition of mankind, the impending doom of sinners, the reasons that men accept or reject him, that persecution is to be expected, and the role of the church in the world. Today it is common to call these teachings non-essential. It is not unusual to view them as having little useful application in modern life. In our worst moments, we call them misleading. (Of course we don’t dare call Jesus himself misleading, instead we call him confusing and hard to understand. Then when someone explains his teaching to us, we call them misguided.)

Rejection of the word of God is a well-worn path, traveled by many men, both better and worse than we ourselves. You may recall that Jesus’ closest followers refused to believe his teaching that he must suffer and die. Although he taught it repeatedly, it bounced off of their hard hearts and closed ears. Only later, when combined with the exhortation of the holy spirit and the hindsight experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection, did his teaching finally produce its natural fruit. Eventually it provided the apostles with tremendous comfort, encouragement and motivation as they delivered the gospel to a waiting world.

“This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” was the response when Jesus taught that men must “eat my flesh, and drink my blood.” Many disciples gave up on Jesus that day. They quit following him because his words were too hard. I daresay they were not harder than the truth. His teaching that day, while not literal, makes a perfect parallel with the literal truth. While we do not literally eat his flesh, his broken body is our true nourishment. His death secures and sustains our life, very much as when we kill and eat an animal. The saying was hard because the truth is hard, although we love it. Only an abject sinner, one who sees his own desperate and guilty condition, will accept the sacrifice of Christ on his behalf. Instead of seeing their need for Christ, many turned away.

When Jesus asked if the twelve would also leave him, Peter replied “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” We should understand that all of Christ’s teaching is life-giving, spiritual truth. Whatever harm or error we think should be avoided in theology or witnessing, we know that there is no error in Christ or his teaching. His words are pure. If we hear them with defiled ears, he is not to blame.

I believe so strongly in the efficacy of Christ’s teaching that I expect there is a problem in my heart whenever I bristle at his words. It’s not guaranteed, but I expect it and look for it in myself. It’s possible that there is an intellectual problem, that his words are not communicating to me, either because of misunderstanding the language or the culture. But, for myself at least, I think that most times when I resist the words of Christ, it is not a communication problem, but a submission problem. I must let the light of Christ’s teaching do its work my heart.

I expect that this was also the case for those who turned away from him when he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. They had followed him for some time already, they had seen miracles and heard him teach. How many really never thought “maybe there’s a figurative meaning to this statement?” It wasn’t that the figure was lost on them, rather it was that it communicated too clearly. It was given in explanation of Jesus’ claim to be the “bread of life.” It was in explaining to the doubters that he lost them.

Take this warning to heart, it is very easy to reject the word of God and yet claim not to. Often we claim to reject the delivery, while pretending we would or do accept the message. This is often self-deception, but God is not fooled. Again the words of Christ go straight to the heart of the matter:

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”

Luke 7:31-35 (ESV)

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