Here are some thoughts from Randy Oftedahl over at QuakerQuaker:
Now I believe there are many paths, and God in His love for human variety has given us an infinate number of ways to follow the Spirit, depending on what best speaks to our condition. But sometimes I think Quakers, perhaps because we have a particular history as a “peculiar people” or more distinctive worship and organizational forms, of for whatever reason, may be prone to a kind of spiritual pride or elitism we would reject if we found it in a fundamentalist or charismatic sect. Have other Friends ever wondered this?….. Can Quakerism become an idol? I suppose as a created thing, it could become an idol as much as any other created thing if we let it. Can we focus too much attention on the path and lose focus of the destination? (I may know this experientially). Since the Spirit of Christ can be just as truly heard in all churches/sects/creeds – or in none – might it be more in keeping with that Spirit to speak of small ‘q’ quakerism and not let our path get out ahead of our Guide?
It seems a given in our current spiritual world for each group to lord it over all the others. Each group/sect/denomination (however you want to split it up) thinks they are superior to all the others. They all have some reason or proof of their claim of superiority. Many use the circular logic of saying their religious documents prove that they are the really spiritualists of the world. Quakers, who I have a personal affinity toward are no exception.
The quote above brings up a serious question within the church of Christ. Can your religious institution become an idol that actually gets in the way of your understanding God and his nature? When we lord it over others because we think we have it right and they are wrong we are indeed doing harm to the body of Christ. When we split over our superior attitudes we do harm. I see that the Indiana Meeting of Quakers are about to split over differences mostly involving pelvic issues. It saddens me to see even Quakers driving “superior” stakes in the sand. I was hoping that they were somehow above thinking they have religious superiority.
Randy asked the question “can Quakerism become an idol?” I think he really answered his own question and in my mind all religious institutions to one degree or another exhibit this trait. The secret to escaping this superiority condition is to admit that each of us are likely wrong about many things dealing with the nature of God. That is one of the characteristics that has drawn me to the emergent movement.
The emergent movement is not a new denomination threatening to take over but instead a new way to thinking. Here is how Wikipedia describes that concept:
Emergents can be described as Protestant, post-Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post conservative, anabaptist, adventist, reformed, charismatic, neocharismatic, and post-charismatic…. Some attend local independent churches or house churches while others worship in traditional Christian denominations. Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature…
When all of us finally admit that we are just as likely to be wrong about some of the things we believe about the “truths of God” as anyone else, that is a first step to bringing the church back together as Jesus intends.
I am going into the attack mode this morning. I don’t do this often but sometimes one of those 39,000 versions of Jesus Christ around today severely strike my ire. That is the case with the “Prosperity Gospel”. When I came across these calendars in a stand recently their position next to each other got my immediate attention. Here are some words from Christianity Today that speak to the issue of the prosperity gospel:
Source: Joel Osteen vs. Rick Warren on Prosperity Gospel | Christianity Today.
17 percent of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61 percent believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31 percent—a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America—agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. … Of the four biggest megachurches in the country, three—Joel Osteen’s Lakewood in Houston; T.D. Jakes’ Potter’s House in south Dallas; and Creflo Dollar’s World Changers near Atlanta—are Prosperity or Prosperity Lite pulpits.
Lets make no mistake about this, the primary purpose of the “prosperity gospel” is for the prosperity of their leaders. They say that the more money you give to them the more money God will give to you. Plain and simple that is a greed motivated theology and has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ! To put money and God on the same level is to make money the ultimate idol! In a country where 7 out of every 10 jobs will soon be at minimum wage levels it is not surprising that the dream of wealth is so subversive. Shame on these supposedly “Christian leaders” for taking advantage of this condition in the name of God! To pervert the Bible is such a way is vulgar to me! (a lot of exclamation points here and all are necessary)
Here is what Rick Warren said about “theology prosperity” in the same reference article:
“This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?”, [Rick] Warren snorts. “There is a word for that baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?”
Or I could even say in the face of so much poverty why is there anyone in the church who are millionaires. Jesus had some words to a rich man about that. Fact or Crap, I know where I put Mr. Osteen and those like him in those categories…
Is it possible for the Christian Religion itself to be an idol? I believe it can be and here is why.
- Yes, if it’s point is to show our superiority over others. Many of us Christians sit in our churches and seem to snub our nose at those who are not like us. We are convinced that we have all the answers to life and everyone else just needs to come to us to get it right. When we have this kind of mindset we have turned our religion into an idol. We must realize that we are all in the same boat when it comes to our salvation and eternal life. None of us earned out way into the Kingdom of God so therefore none of us is any better off than those we sometimes snub our noses at.
- Yes, if used to pass judgment on others. The church in past history tortured and killed others who they call heretics. If this practice had continued into today there would be thousands of inquisitions going on right now! After all we currently have more than 35,000 versions of our Christian religion in the world today. Judging others is something that almost seems to be inherit in any religion and ours’ is not exempt. Although Jesus told us that that should not be the case.
Yes, when you pick out something in the Bible that contradicts everything else and then use that as our prime reason for being a church. The prime example of this seems to be the version of Christianity around today that says that Jesus expects all Christians to be millionaires! They use one or two verses in the Bible to validate their position and ignore the other 99% of the text. It takes a very narrow mindset to fall into this type of church but there are indeed thousands who have evidently done so.
- Yes, when churches are used at the defenders of tradition they are not following Christ’s lead. Many churches today say “we can’t possibly change our worship service; after all we have been doing it this way for years!” We, like the Pharisees in the past, confuse our traditions with our dogma and doctrine. Jesus chastised the Pharisees and I’m sure he will do the same thing to us if we fixate on our traditions over his demand for love and non-judgmental behavior.
Churches throughout history have done things that are directly against Kingdom issues. Jesus made it clear that one of the primary foundations of being Kingdom people was to love one another. As pointed out by Greg Boyd in his book The Myth of a Christian Religion
Church history is full of people being tortured and put to death for such heresies as not acknowledging the authority of the Church, baptizing wrongly, and denying the Trinity. Yet we don’t have any record of anyone so much as having their hand slapped for embracing the worst heresy imaginable—namely, failing to love and do good to one’s enemies, as Jesus commanded. That leaves me speechless! Defenders of the tradition sometimes argue that we can’t hold ancient Christians to modern humanitarian standards. Life in the ancient world was just more violent, they claim. This argument, however, is not very compelling. Jesus and the early church lived in eras that were at least as violent as any in Church history, yet they managed to love their enemies rather than engage in violence against them. The same could be said of a number of individuals and groups throughout Church history. For example, when Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anglicans tortured and killed Anabaptists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the victims followed the example of Jesus and refused to fight back. Their faithfulness to the Kingdom bears witness against the faithlessness of those professing Christians who persecuted them. This is not to suggest that we can pass judgment on Calvin or anyone else in Church history. We are ourselves sinners who have planks sticking out of our eyes, so we must leave all judgment up to the One who alone knows the innermost hearts of people. But this doesn’t mean we can’t discern what is and is not the Kingdom. We can’t place ourselves above others—not even those who murdered “in Jesus’ name.” But we can and must clearly separate torturing and killing in Jesus’ name (or for any other reason) from the beautiful, Christlike Kingdom. Insofar as the Church engaged in activities like this, it was involved in the most heinous form of heresy imaginable—its orthodox beliefs notwithstanding.
The established church is oftentimes a stumbling block to many in learning to love and follow Jesus. What many non-religious people see when they look at churches are expensive tax exempt buildings filled with hypocrites. They see people who show a marked sense of superiority over others. This behavior often masks out any Christ like love they may intend to be displaying. When churches fail to live in love for their fellow human beings they are indeed serving idols, not Jesus Christ.
Lets, each one of us, be constantly on the guard at our churches to make sure we follow Kingdom principles of unbiased love for one another. Yes, even for those sinners who are not yet members!