William Shakespeare put these words in the mouth of his character Cassius (sowing seeds of discontent early on, Act I, Scene II) in the play Julius Caesar:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
It is quoted – sometimes out-of-context – to the point of tedium.
But the Bard is right, you know, whether speaking of ambition in the world or desire to please God through churches like the seven stars of the Revelation to John.
The one like unto a Son of Man does not take them to task for their inconsistent church structure or their incorporation of Gentile traditions as well as Jewish in their gatherings. Neither does the apostle to the Gentiles. We know from what Paul wrote that churches differed from one time and place to another in all these matters. And he has no more toleration for those who would dilute the gospel with Jewish law than he does for those who would water it down with Gentiles’ Gnostic-sounding fables and genealogies. He has no opposition to celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a Greco-Roman dinner party setting as long as it is done with Christian equity at heart.
No, the one whose eyes were like blazing fire warns the seven churches about their tolerance of man’s teachings, their loss of first love, their inactivity, their lukewarmness. Pretty much the same issues with which Paul, Peter, James and John concern themselves.
So when you read books about how Christians have forgotten the old ways or about how church has most or all its origins in evil Gentile tradition or about how Christian gatherings must be patterned by-the-book after those in century one and-here’s-how-the-author-interprets-each-of-those-patterns or about how everything must change … well, weigh them carefully.
Weigh them in light of what scripture says. Weigh them by what the inspired writers criticized and applauded and recommended.
See if the vast majority of the themes scripture deals with are not corporate aspects of structure or governance or worship style, but are in fact the individual issues of everyday greed, ambition, jealousy, dilution of the gospel – and everything else that stems from self.
In an e-mailed response to a private comment on my blog, I recently wrote:
I don’t want to get into a spitting match over a book that has a lot to say – and I agree with some of it and disagree with some of it.
The assumption of the book is that everything churches do that comes of tradition that is not Jewish in origin is wrong and must be dispensed with. Yet I do not see that defended as an axiom; it’s just assumed as a basic truth.
This assumes that God could not/did not foresee the effects of incorporating Gentile culture into His church, and that the basic principles of being Christ in the world are not strong enough of themselves to overcome Gentile influence.
I resist that, as I find it to be an unscriptural assumption. What corrupts the attempt to be Christ in the world is not racial heritage or even tradition, but self and Satan.
I continue to be unable to believe that the most important thing Christians should be worried about changing is the trappings of what happens for one hour on Sunday mornings, when people God loves are starving for good spiritual and physical food; subsumed in a culture of self-satisfaction; and drowning in a cesspool of sin and its consequences in this world as well as the next.
If we are underlings and underachievers in our efforts to address those needs, does the fault lie in the way the seven stars meet or worship or conduct business?
Or in ourselves?
The Restoration paradigm, for me, is best phrased in a re-telling of the old preacher’s story about the boy and the makeshift puzzle his grandfather cut from a magazine page that was a complicated, detailed picture of a church, then challenged him to re-assemble it. The boy amazed grandfather by doing so in seconds. “How did you do it so quickly?” Grandfather asked. The boy had turned it over and found a much simpler picture of Jesus there. “When I got Jesus right, the church was right.”