Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Article of Faith: The Counterfeit Christian Church (1), By Femi Aribisala

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Femi Aribisala

The modern Christian church, with its mega-pastors and highfalutin cathedrals is nothing but a counterfeit of the true church of Christ.

One day, the Lord asked me one of those questions that turn my faith upside down.  “Femi,” he said, “does a mustard seed ever become a tree?”

The question was confusing.  Jesus himself says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32).  Nevertheless at your word Lord Jesus, I decided to investigate.  Does the mustard seed actually become a tree?

The answer was so unexpected, it made me angry.  The mustard seed never becomes a tree.  At best, it grows to become a shrub.  Mustard trees don’t exist; except of course in Christian circles where they are planted fictitiously by “Nicodemus” pastors and televangelists.

Double-edged parables

The disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the people in parables.  Why not just speak plainly to them?  Jesus replied that since they don’t want to understand what he was saying, he was also going to make sure they don’t understand. (Matthew 13:10-15).

Jesus’ parables are often designed to conceal and not to reveal.  In the portrait of the kingdom of God, his parables turn everything upside down.  The despised Samaritan, and not the “godly” priest or Levite, turns out to be the righteous hero of the story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus’ Good Shepherd is so reckless; he leaves ninety-nine sheep unattended while looking for just one lost sheep.  In another parable, the despised tax collector is justified, while the presumably “godly” Pharisee is condemned.  In the story of the Prodigal Son, a party is thrown for the sinful prodigal son, instead of for the older, more faithful son.  In yet another parable, a master commended an unrighteous servant for his unrighteousness, and proclaimed him to be wise.

That is kingdom dynamics.  The first become last and the last become first.  Jesus’ parables confound our preconceptions by telling us what we know the way we have never known it.  This is because the ways of the kingdom are not the ways of men.  Therefore, his parables expose many religious myths as false answers to life’s hard realities.  They shatter our comfortable social sensibilities by confounding accepted norms and values.  Unfortunately, we are no longer offended today because the myths have reclaimed the parables once again.

True to form, very few things about Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed conform to reality.  The mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.  That distinction actually belongs to the orchid seed.  The mustard is a herb, so it never grows into anything like a tree.  All the varieties of the mustard family have thin stems and branches.  At best, they grow to become shrubs.  Most birds would not be inclined to build their nest in a mustard plant because of the stinging aroma.

Of course, Jesus is aware of these anomalies.  But true to form, he is a rock of offence to the sensibilities of the Jewish farmer.  To expose the falsehood of a myth, a story must sometimes be outrageous and offensive.  The mustard is appropriately a biting, irritating and disturbing condiment.  It is therefore well-suited to the gospel, which irritates and disturbs those at ease in this world.

Cedars of Lebanon

The Jews believed the kingdom of God would bring about the restoration of Israel to its former power and glory.  The symbol of this expectation was the cedar of Lebanon.  With the advent of the kingdom, it was anticipated that Israel would be restored as a mighty cedar, head and shoulders above its neighbours. The cedar was magnificent by all accounts.  It grew straight up, sometimes for two to three hundred feet.

This expectation seemed to be confirmed by the vision given to Daniel: “I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.  The tree grew and became strong; its height reached to the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.  Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.” (Daniel 4:10-12).

However, no sooner had Daniel received this vision than the Lord asked that the tree be cut down. (Daniel 4:13-14).  Ezekiel notes that the counsel of the Lord is to bring down the high tree and exalt the low tree. (Ezekiel 17:24).  Isaiah also gives a similar message: “The day of the LORD of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up- and it shall be brought low.” (Isaiah 2:12-17).

So, when Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed, he actually wanted his listeners to know that the kingdom of God does not come as a tree, growing high up into the sky.  On the contrary, it grows like a weed.  It grows as under-bush.  It spreads out on the ground.  The kingdom of God is like a little mustard seed that is sown in us.  It is growing, but it is not going to turn us into cedars of Lebanon.  We would be doing excellently well if we were to become modest shrubs.

The modern Christian church, with its mega-pastors and highfalutin cathedrals is nothing but a counterfeit of the true church of Christ.

Invisible church

Jesus wants Christians to think small and not big.  The tasks before us are not accomplished by filling huge stadiums and mausoleums or by making intercontinental television broadcasts.  God’s great works are not done on such vainglorious levels.  Jesus says: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21).

It is Bethlehem Ephratah which, though little among the clans of Judah, is nevertheless singled out to bring forth great things. (Micah 5:2).  The kingdom is accomplished in us in the mundane details of everyday life, with its ups and downs.  It is fulfilled by small acts of love and kindness; encouraging the afflicted; supporting the weak.  Nothing about this will be carried in the news, proclaimed on billboards or extolled on television.

Those things that meet the approval of men are not God’s idea of success.  In his eyes, they constitute abject failures. (Luke 16:15).  The greatest works of the kingdom are accomplished in secret.  They are unseen and unsung.  They are reflected in our beatitudes.

Thus, God says to the counterfeit Christian church: “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings- meetings, meetings, meetings- I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that.  I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.” (Isaiah 1:13-14).

To be continued…

Femi Aribisala is the fellowship coordinator of Healing Wings. Healing Wings is a pentecostal Christian fellowship which meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He blogs at Femi Aribisala . E-mail: faribisala@yahoo.com

 

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