This Present Bondage-The ‘god’ of Church ‘Form’

 

One of the more confronting stories in the bible, it could even be described as a horror story, is the vision God gave to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10). The picture is one of the utter horror (to Jewish eyes) of the Glory of God leaving the Jerusalem temple, the place where God symbolically dwelt with His chosen people. The horror of this was that it showed God not just leaving the Temple but leaving His people. For centuries God had been warning Israel through the prophets to repent of their syncretism (mixing the worship of Yahweh with the ‘gods’ of the surrounding culture) and wholly turn back to Him. Now He had run out of patience.

However, the people of Israel had persisted in worshipping other ‘gods’ (contra the 1st commandment), or to put it in the vernacular ‘getting into bed with other religions’, effectively engaging in an exercise of national spiritual adultery. Further, despite the prophetic warnings they continued to listen to the false hope peddled by their corrupt priests who called out ‘she’ll be right’ “peace, peace” (Jeremiah 6:14) even when the barbarians (the Babylonian army) were at the gates of Jerusalem.

I was reminded of this recently when I was driving across the plain of the English midlands, an area I grew up in. Across the flat landscape I could see innumerable church spires, almost one to every village, built to point to the Glory of God. It appears to be a truly Christian land, but that is a tragic deception, for while England displays plenty of evidence of its Christian heritage, it is a heritage now shrivelled and dead, its spiritual vitality drained by the ‘gods’ of the age. For England’s enspired churches are largely empty or emptying, their gospel-witness barely a faint echo of their Christendom past. Now the spires point not so much as to the glory of God, but rather to the judgment of God on an apostate culture bound by the satanic cords of the many gods of postmodern, pluralistic paganism.

Could it be that what we see in the western (Australian) church today is a parallel the situation in Ezekiel’s time? With church members in bondage to the ‘gods’ of our culture-family, hedonism (good-time-ism), materialism, and pluralistic mix-and-match versions of Christianity syncretised with our cultural deities. Symbolic of this is the frequent lip service paid to Christ by church members accompanied by a lack of passion for the gospel, and the costly, narrow road of discipleship taught by Jesus.

In addition to the ‘gods’ above there is however another bondage, that is to the ‘god’ of church ‘form’. Large numbers of church members are in bondage to the way we have ‘always done’ church. At its simplest it is a bondage to pews, set liturgies (written or not), to fixed times and places and styles of meetings. But its deeper manifestation is a bondage that makes the ‘form’ of church more important than the gospel imperative. While many church members are happy for ‘outreach’ activities to be organised it is on the basis that they themselves are not required to change the way they ‘do church’. If changes are pursued to ‘unbind’ the church, then (literally) all hell will break loose.

It is this bondage that prevents the ability and or willingness to Re-imagine what the ‘church’ should look like in post-Christian Australia; that is in a sociological, cultural and spiritual universe where the non- Christians live, a universe actually parallel to, disconnected from and in fact alien to the one the ‘church’ is in. Could it be that the national church decline and our ‘babbarian conquest’ is actually God’s judgment, the ‘Glory of God leaving His people because of their bondage to their preferred but missionally ineffective ‘form’ of church and ministry.

This is a dire time, a time to heed the Prophetic voice and repent of our bondage to the god of ‘form’ as God says to us ‘if only my people will hear my voice’ and repent. It is from this ‘present bondage’ to all contemporary gods, but particularly to that of church ‘form’, that the church needs to be ‘unbound’; to be set free within the freedoms of the New Testament voiced principles for Christian community; to develop forms of ‘unbounded church’ (as described in my paper on that topic found elsewhere on this site).

For the Glory of God departs, the barbarians are indeed at the gates.

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