PASTORS ACCORDING TO JESUS, CHURCHES ACCORDING TO GRACE
Over the past two thousand years of Christianity, we have seen all kinds of community experiments, but virtually none succeeded for a long time.
The church in Jerusalem became ethnocentric and legalistic. The gentiles’ churches may well be represented by the seven churches in Revelation. And what came next was always marked by schisms, factions, doctrine wars, prejudice, control mania, much gossip, conspiracy and Machiavellianism.
The Protestant Reformation was not free from the same things. Before long, schisms began, and battles for the truth about the Truth took place. On a community level, good testimony was set as a rule, and only those who did not break it would escape being persecuted or disciplined. Not to mention the neurotic witch (heretic) hunting that soon began.
The good moments in the Christianity history were always moments only. And in general, such good moments were accompanied with standardization. That is, if everyone were standardized behaviorally and doctrinally, there would be good fellowship. But if anyone thought or acted differently, then dissension would set in.
In Christianity there was never room for the individual but the standardized by the church—that is, those who agreed to not being themselves.
The revival movements were no exception to the rule. None of them managed to present a lasting revival whose results were lives lived in enduring love. Most revivals lasted while the audiences’ outbreaks of guilt and repentance happened, but such outbreaks did not turn out to be encounters with grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, goodness and meekness.
In these movements, the community spirituality was always watched over and legalistic. That is why they were just moments, outbreaks, episodes, but with no lastingness.
It is even easier to confirm what I am saying by bringing it to our present day. Over these 150 years of protestant and/or Pentecostal-evangelical faith in Brazil, we did not have a single consistent historical example of one church that has always walked in continuous love, grace and mercy. There have been outbreaks only.
You hear that a certain church is doing fine. Right after, you hear that the pastor has left because “he sinned”, or a leader has “split” the church, or a new movement has ruined the good fellowship, or the church’s punishment to someone gave rise to an upheaval or, more frequently, the church split over some punishment not applied to someone. Not to mention the commonest problem: believers wanting a revival according to a given model whereas pastors and denominations are against such movements.
From a minutely analytical viewpoint, what I am saying is simplistic and superficial. However, it is indisputable. That is, I acknowledge that some lines and a few examples cannot cover two thousand years. On the other hand, no matter how much such items are fragmented into subgroups and its historical derivatives, none of them will show us a long-term experience of a church that has conquered the classic Christian vices regarding community life—that is, fellowship at church.
Everything has been tried but one: What Jesus did to be the shepherd of His own flock.
And what did He do?
Well, just read the gospels and you will see how Jesus was the Good Shepherd.
And what was it like?
It was just like the way He treated people.
And how did He do that?
He did that just like the way He dealt with each issue in the path.
It is worth remembering that Jesus never meddled in other people’s affairs; never pried into His disciples’ privacy; always let each one be the way they were; and when He corrected them, He never meant to belittle or execrate anybody. Besides, although He knew the human heart thoroughly, He never stripped anyone but the Pharisees, whom He defoliated and exposed their bareness. But He only did so because their lives consisted of trying to exert control over other people’s lives and tell them how each one had to be.
What’s more, we never see Jesus wanting to retain anyone by His side. On the contrary: As for most people, He only taught the Word to or healed or blessed and let them live their lives.
The Gergesene man’s instance is the most shocking. After all, the man had just been delivered from a legion of demons and asked to go with Jesus. Contrary to all expectations, he heard Jesus tell him that he’d better come back home to his own.
As for the rest, it is all very simple: He preaches the Gospel of God’s kingdom, heals the sick, forgives the guilty, liberates the oppressed, includes the excluded, pacifies the troubled, and announces hope, resurrection and life. However, we never see Him give the disciples orders to control one another or anybody else.
Something else we do not see in Him is this shameful notion that the sinner maculates the group of saints. His treasurer was a thief. He knew it, and did not tell anyone about it. He waited until the man revealed himself, and He made no additional comments but “one of you is a devil”, without saying his name.
To Him, the “devil-like being” is he who divides. Devil means he who splits. So, if where the devil is present there is division, what to say about the divisions we have experienced over the past two thousand years?
We have tried everything, and each of these things ended up at the same place, in the same way. We lack one thing only: Act as Jesus did. But, of course, as for a church that is addicted to control and methods; addicted to watching over and interfering with private lives; addicted to only considering the job done if the Gergesene man becomes a pastor or a church leader—I know that is too much to wish for. Yes, to simply preach the Word, help those who ask, clothe the naked, and grant the individual the freedom to follow his path believing that the Word and the Spirit will take care of him because he has a Shepherd—that is too much to ask for.
Among the excuses the church would make up for itself, they would certainly say that treating people with the same kind of freedom Jesus treated them would be “too much”. But they avoid saying that it is only “too much” because it does not promote control or big shows for the crowds that are seen as cattle and mean power bills in their controllers’ hands.
The day Christians believe in the Word and the Spirit’s power, and believe, too, that God’s flock has an Owner and Lord, and stop prying into the affairs of others, and start to only carry each other’s burdens — if asked —, then we will see what we have never seen to this day.
The day all the energy now spent on watching over, controlling and all related forces stop focusing on “filling the house” only, and, instead, is focused on the Word and a reverent affection toward God’s work in each person’s life, without any watching over but with sympathetic willingness only, then we will see what we have never seen to this day.
What I mean is that none of the New Testament churches is a model of anything but themselves. They were just churches, with their own vices and varied idiosyncrasies.
To me, Jesus is the model of everything. Obviously, He is not the model of a community, but He is the model of the community spirit. What’s more, His way of dealing with people is the only pastoral way of dealing with our brothers and sisters.
Yes, the day many begin exercising the spirit of Jesus in their community life, and many pastors give up being disciples of those who brand their brothers and sisters’ bodies and souls as if they were cattle or personal belongings, and become only shepherds like the Good Shepherd, then we will see what we have never seen to this day.
On that day the church will not be perfect, but it will certainly stop being a den of poisonous snakes, sheriffs and watchers of other people’s souls.
The day we love one another and forgive one another unconditionally—yes, on that day the world will believe, and those who do not will be rejecting something that is imperfect although it is true. Unlike today, when what is rejected should really be rejected, because it is not even imperfect: it is destructive. That is why the rejection is not unfair, because the truth itself tells us to reject whatever tries to pass itself off as the church of God while treating the world and its own children more wickedly than does the mother ostrich described by God in the book of Job.
Only in grace the community gathering is not vicious, controlling, disease-provoking, wicked, individuality-fragmentizing and spirit-corrupting.
Outside grace, every community project sinks into moralism, legalism, mediocrity, controlling, megalomania, abuse, factions, competitions, wars and hatred.
Outside grace, there will always be the included and the excluded; the saints and the sinners; God’s representatives and the poor represented ones.
In fact, outside grace, it is no use trying to be a church: The group will have nothing but a Christian club of Pharisees.
Translation: F. R. Castelo Branco | October 2007
From the original “PASTORES SEGUNDO JESUS, IGREJAS SEGUNDO A GRAÇA”