One of the more sobering passages for me in the New Testament is the story of John the baptizer’s painful deconstruction.
Please apply some grace to my interpretation of the story, but John had been thrown in prison because of his fiery rhetoric regarding the religious hypocrisy of Herod Antipas. John was the prophesied forerunner of the coming messiah. He is recorded as witnessing Jesus’ affirmation from God as the “beloved son.” But after his imprisonment, he apparently was having questions. For this fiery apocalyptic preacher with a unique calling and sizeable following (according to the Jewish historian Josephus), the loneliness and isolation of imprisonment must have been soul-crushing. So if he had proclaimed and “anointed” the messiah, why wasn’t something happening? Why was the Roman government still empowered? How could the corrupt political machinery have the upper hand? Was he wrong about everything? And so his followers bring a message to Jesus: “John the Baptist sent us to ask, ‘Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?’” (Luke 7:20 (NLT) Dang. That’s in your face. In other words: “We don’t have time to mess around here.” Perhaps John was doing more than doubting; he may have been deconstructing. When expectations fail, when people aren’t who we thought they were, when religious people in power create false realities, we might wrestle with cognitive dissonance. And that often leads to levels of deconstruction. In our polarized, politicized, and fractioned Church—and where weekly it seems prominent leaders aren’t who we thought they were—many believers are questioning their belief systems. As leaders, we have a calling to leave the ninety-nine and go after the one. And in some cases, the root is not so much theological, but rather three notable intrusions into the church: 1. Us-versus-Them Cultural Ideologies. The move of seeing the Church as a culture warrior rather than a healing salve is frustrating to many. This approach is divisive and often devoid of nuance in cultural conversations and differences. 2. Political Alignments and Polarization. Our society has seemingly lost any sense of shared truths and facts; the demonization of the “other” has been fed by volumes of misinformation. The rise of populist Christian nationalism has displaced a theology of the Kingdom and created a false narrative of exceptionalism and, dare I say it, pride—and pride in the most destructive sense. 3. Behavioral Hypocrisy. This certainly isn’t new, and the parable of the wheat and tares seems to indicate a prime tactic of Satan. But bottom line, we have no one blame but ourselves—we have become our own worst enemy in our witness to the world. In his classic book The Christ of the Indian Road (1925), the remarkable missionary E. Stanley Jones recounted a meeting he had with the Indian philosopher Bara Dada. After hours of good conversation, Bara Dada remarked, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians—you are not like him.” Jones found the Sermon of the Mount revered by many of the philosophers and religious leaders of India, but not evidenced in the Christians they had met. In helping a deconstructing believer reconstruct their faith, empathy and honesty is paramount. Of course the issues can be more complex and let’s be honest: we carbon-based bipeds are full of contradictions and blind spots, but identifying these three drivers is helpful in separating a true credal faith from these artifacts. Keep the focus on Jesus and the Kingdom. To return to John’s deconstruction, Jesus’ response focused on the healing nature of the true work of the Kingdom: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Luke 7:22 NIV) If we’re not actively equipping and engaging the church in those behaviors and “heart motivators”, we have to own some of the blame for this season of deconstruction. Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES
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