The church has a long history and as with any organization there tend to be skeletons in the closet. Over the millennia we have moved so far away from the original teachings of Christ that if he was to come back today he would not recognize us. Today the church is a business and one that is about making money and having control rather than the charge we have to spread Christ’s words. And the business we are in? It’s the salvation business.
It’s easy to point the finger at the Catholic church with its vast wealth and seeming ability to sway the politics of nations, but all churches are guilty by their very makeup of the same basic scheme. “We will sell you a product that you have no guarantee even exists in return for your time, money, and continued support and if you challenge us we will say you have no faith and exclude you.” As a business model it’s superb because there is no expenditure for product and you guilt trip everyone so that they have to buy your product. Once you get yourself onto the management levels you have access to money and power without any form of control over your actions. I’m not being cynical it’s just when you take “faith” out of the equation and look at how the church is set up it becomes very ugly.
The church relies on two main control mechanisms to survive. The first we’ve already mentioned and it’s “faith”. This word has come to embody how a person is able to accept something which has no substance as fact and become a major weapon in the arsenal of the radical. If you challenge them they claim you don’t have faith, if you criticize then again you lack the faith to understand, if you dare to oppose the decisions they make then its your faith that is weak. And its a brilliant method of control. All of us are indoctrinated with the idea that we should belong first to our family and then our country. As children, if we grow up in a religious household, we are shown that religion is the model that our lives should be built on. If we step out from those bounds then we lack faith and are not good Christians. Sadly the world is such that we can’t all be happy little automatons and keep to what we are taught because our life experience doesn’t allow us to.
Its all a device to control us and the church has propagated it for centuries. How many atheists have gone through a christening because of pressure from the family or a niggling voice in the back of their head? We are conditioned to see the church as a club and no matter how hard we fight against it the desire for membership runs so deep that we can never truly give it up. If we only have enough faith, can change ourselves enough to fit in then we can belong.
So we tithe knowing that the money will probably go to paying for a pastor, or to put in a new and exciting piece of art, or Armani so the preacher looks fly, rather than to the poor, the homeless, and the disposable members of our society. I would suggest that the idea of tithes is a very medieval one and that if you want a crystal lectern to hear the word of god then pay for it out of your own money. You don’t need it and the preacher sure as hell doesn’t need Armani or a Cadillac. tithes should be so the church can fulfill its duties to society not for making things look pretty.
The second means of control is also the product. Its that promise that the next world will be better than this world. Somehow we have forgotten the words of Christ that “none shall come to the father except by me” and given the right to decide to a lot of other people. Preachers, congregations, people we have never even met now feel that they have the right to decree we are going to hell if we don’t agree with them. Its ridiculous and completely unscriptural. No one has a say over your salvation except you and your god. When we realize that this is a personal walk with God not one where we have to conform to the social mores of a group then we can breath easily and get on with the real business at hand being faithful in this life not worrying about the next one. Do you really think that all God wants you to think about is how your going to get into heaven? This world is a beautiful gift and he wants you to enjoy it.
Once we realize that these control mechanisms have no power of us we are usually cast into the hinterland as having rejected Christ. I’m not aware that he ever commanded us to build churches and form powerful organizations that use that power to control and destroy lives. What we should feel is a sense of relief that we no longer have to live by man’s law because we can now live as Christ truly intended.
This is where the Catholic church becomes a great model for what is a church wide issue. Look at how in the last American temporal election the church came out against Barack Obama. not because he was a man who wanted power so he could abuse it but because he wanted to give the LGBTQ community the same rights as heterosexuals. Its a well documented fact that priests and bishops across the country were telling their congregations “I’m not telling you how to vote but……” If that is not an abuse of power then I have no words for it. To dictate how a country views its citizens when you are an unelected spokesman who doesn’t even mirror the views of the majority is a travesty. Property is another bone of contention. No where does Christ teach that the clergy should be supported in a lifestyle that the average American has no hope of achieving. Money pours into their coffers and yet not one painting has been sold to relieve the suffering of the poor and sick. The Vatican rates as one of the most prestigious art collections and libraries in the world and yet you still have to pay to get in to catch a glimpse. It has become a business where the profit margin is all that is important. And that’s so much easier when you’re not paying taxes but can still lobby a government.
In the end as a solitary member of the congregation it can feel like a lonely place to be. You see abuse of power or misrepresentation of scripture and yet the need to belong and the threat to your salvation is so strong. I would remind you of a man of simple faith who believed he could make a difference and did. Oliver Cromwell ordered the altar rail removed in churches because it represented the separation of man from God by the clergy. He said that “We are all one in the eyes of the Lord.” The same is true for you. There is no one between you and God and no one has the right to question your walk with him. Its why we have personal faith and not just a collective cult. You have the right to challenge your priests about what they say. Not in private or behind closed doors but as the words roll out of their mouths from the pulpit. You are a child of God and when you hear your father’s words perverted it is your duty to challenge the person doing it publicly. We are commanded to love the world, to be fishers of men, to lead people to God by example, not to hold large sections of the world as damned and maintain that unless they change they will never attain the kingdom of heaven.
Remember that the word pastor comes from the Latin word for shepherd. We talk of congregations as being a flock. But we are never told to act like sheep and follow the shepherd blindly. We have a choice to follow hateful and destructive sermons or to spread God’s love as he commands us. Whether we are led to the slaughter or to green pastures is ultimately our choice. We get the pastors we deserve and if we believe the tainted word of men we are not being Christ-like.