© 2011 John Casimir O'Keefe

Was Jesus A Reformer?

  • Sumo

Within the church [denominational churches mostly, but there are a few non-denominational churches] there are two general camps. The first camp are those who believe change can only happen from the inside with church leaders taking the charge of the evolution. The second camp are those, like me, who believe that change can only take place from a committed group of outsiders who love the church, and see the need for change. Those outsiders can be brought into the church, but they still have an outsider’s heart. While there is some gray area within the two camps, generally speaking that is where the lines fall. I keep hearing churches claim they desire to change, to transform, to becoming more than what they are at this point – but I see very little, if any, movement towards that end; there seems to be a great deal of talk, but very little action. When insiders desire change, they follow the procedures of the church they serve, which can lead to years of debate and compromise. The end result is usually not even close to the change desired at first.

Sure, we can pick-out a handful of churches that have made some substantial changes, but they are few and far between; and when they make those changes they have either left, or have been asked to leave, their respective denominations or associations. When I ask why change is so slow, or impossible, they tell me, “Because we have to do it within the rules we currently have within our respective churches.” Which is strange for me because at some level true change comes only when we say “damn the rules, let’s do what we have to do to make the change.” Think about it, did Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox or any of the other reformers worry about the rules that governed the church they served in? What I find so interesting is that churches started by reformers are so against reform. They have become what they were against in the first place. These are the same churches who insist I am wrong when I say the church is an industrial machine, and that change is almost, if not always, impossible. What amazes me is that many of the leaders in these churches proclaim that Jesus never intended to form a new religion, but he desired to reform Judaism, while at the same time squashing any reform movement.

I am not sure I buy the idea that Jesus wanted to create a reform movement within Judaism and did not intend to create a religious movement. I just don’t see it that way. His words, actions and what he saw happening within the leadership just does not speak to a reform movement within Judaism. Let’s think about this in connection to what people are saying about any change within the current church.

Your do not start a reforming movement by…

Insulting the current religious leaders: It may seem silly to say, but calling religious leaders names is not going to get them to listen to you. When Jesus called religious leaders “snakes and vipers” would me like us calling religious leaders “jerks and assholes” today. You’re not going to get much mileage out of a reform movement by insulting leaders.

Claiming to have authority over the religious leaders: When you tell a religious leader that they have no understanding of the call God places upon us, you are not making friends and influencing people. To claim your view is the right view, and their view is the wrong view, you are not going to get far in reforming anything.

Proclaiming things the religious leadership views as blasphemous: To create a reforming of a particular religious group it is not wise to do things those religious leaders in the religion see as blasphemous. Even if you are right, they would not see it as a welcoming ovation towards change.

Creating a small group of religious rebels: Being a voice for change is of no concern to a religious body, if you are the lone voice, but the moment you get followers the religious guards come out to discredit your voice.

Jesus did each and every one of those, and more. His actions were not of a reformer, but of a separatist. He was not calling for the institution to change, because he know change was impossible. He called for the people to change. Jesus knew that if the people changed, the institution could change, not would change.

3 Comments

  1. Brian
    Posted 2011/07/06 at 4:09 pm | #

    You know, my understanding of Jesus’ comments (what are his and what are the later church’s assignment) was that he aimed those comments at the minority of Jewish leaders in allegiance with Roman rule. I don’t think Jesus was really concerned that those particular leaders would reform, but rather, the majority would see them as they truly were.

    But then I didn’t run this opinion by my church’s structure for approval….

  2. Posted 2011/07/06 at 4:13 pm | #

    You make some very insightful observations here. I don’t think Jesus intended to start another religion apart from Judaism; but he definitely was an outsider, whether he meant to establish a reformed path of Judaism, or to branch off 2nd Temple Judaism in ways he figured would bring about something very different.
    In Luther’s case, he did his best to bring reform from within the church; he didn’t aspire to leave, the church kicked him out. That being said, had he given too much of his loyalty and obedience to the established church order–the hierarchy and it’s accompanying rules and guidelines–he’d have never gotten as far as he did.
    And yes, the great irony of our time is that today’s representations of the Reformation churches have become so intolerant and fearful of changing their behaviors. How very sad and inexcusable.

  3. leanne mcginney
    Posted 2011/07/06 at 7:22 pm | #

    I think that Jesus was expecting the end of the age and the kingdom of heaven to reign in HIS near future. (And I think there a well enough Bible passages to support that pov.)

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