So I eventually finished the book on church history and my conclusion is pretty much summed up in these words by Robert Farrar Capon.
It’s long but it says it.
‘In spite of the fact that Jesus insisted that the Comforter would not speak of himself but would simply take what was Christ’s and show it to us, Christian’s have all too often decided that there was indeed one thing of Christ’s that the Spirit would not bother to show us – one whole set of things, in fact, that Jesus stressed but that the Comforter would not bring to our remembrance – namely, Christ’s insistence on using left-handed power.
The idea quickly got around in the early church – and has stayed with us to this day – that when the Spirit came to act, he would do so in plausible, right-handed way. Whether those acts were conceived of as involving a program of miraculous, healing interventions in the world, or as displaying various straight-line ‘spiritual’ phenomena such as speaking in tongues or guaranteeing the Papacy’s infallibility in matters of faith and morals, the church all too often gave the impression that the Spirit could be counted on to deliver in a way that Jesus never did. And thus the mischief was done.’
Robert Farrar Capon -Kingdom, Grace, Judgement
It’s those last lines in particular, those about the church trying to deliver in a way that Jesus never did that strikes me.
Much of the church history as told seems to recount the church mixed up with trying to rule in an earthly sort of way.
Maybe it strikes home particularly at Lent and reading how Jesus refuses the ways of the devil while being tempted in the wilderness. The devil tries to tempt Jesus into carrying out his mission in worldly, some would say very sensible ways and Jesus refuses.
Or in passages such as when Jesus washes the disciples feet or mentions that if you want to be great you must be a servant.
And of course the way that Jesus ultimately demonstrated his power and the way to do things was in dying alone on the cross as a criminal.
Christians simply aren’t supposed to demonstrate The Way by worldly shows of power or ruling like the kings of the world would and have. It’s about laying down our lives and turning the other cheek.
Watching the TV pictures of protesters at Occupy London being evicted from St Paul’s cathedral seems like another example of the church going about things in an unchristian manner.
Here you have people being forced of church property by bailiffs and riot police in a display of earthly power and force.
Meanwhile the occupiers are displaying power in a more much more Christlike manner. I was thinking particularly of the way that some people are puzzled by their lack of demands or clear vision about what they are up to, or how people can’t really figure them out easily.
That is a worldly way of power, having a sound-byte or two and a mission statement, clearly defined goals or targets to hit. Or the way people say that they’re just layabouts or hypocrites. In that you almost hear echos of the pharisees calling Jesus a glutton and drunkard.
I’m not sure God being on the side of the Occupy movement, but there are images and hints from it that seem much more in keeping with the spirit of Jesus than much of what goes on in our church life I reckon. Which seems more in keeping with the life of Christ? The description of Christians on their knees in prayer on the steps of St Paul’s being dragged away by police or the Archbishop of Canterbury vs Richard Dawkins in argument at Oxford University?