[I don’t always have enough time to write and edit. The thoughts expressed here are best seen as thought-works in progress. If you have a thought to add, please make it constructive and to be understood in the light of the development of thought rather than a refined final product. Grace!]
It seems that everyone nowadays is concerned with what is in the food they eat. The words ‘all-natural’ and ‘organic’ function as green lights for those who are watching what they put into their body. ‘Artificial preservatives’, though, serve as a red light and are to be avoided.
That makes a lot of sense. After all, artificial preservatives don’t necessarily preserve your body.
Jacob was also interested in preserving his body (and his family). The account is found in Genesis 32:
6The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed; and he divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and the herds and the camels, into two companies; 8for he said, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the company which is left will escape.” (NASB)
Jacob had stolen his brother’s birthright by deception. His brother Esau, 20 years prior, wanted to murder Jacob:
41So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27, NASB)
Usually, when a person is angry enough to want to murder someone, they grow in their need for revenge. Jacob knows this, so when he encounters Esau after 20 years of working for Laban, he is ‘greatly afraid and distressed’.
Jacob then acts to preserve himself (his heritage) by dividing his family.
Jacob proves himself to be like Adam in the garden after he ate the forbidden fruit. Adam, in an act of self-preservation hides from God:
8They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid [emphasis mine] because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Genesis 3, NASB)
We can look back through the complete records of these events and say to ourselves, “that was silly”, because we weren’t there at the time. It’s easy to say to Jacob from the sideline, “You should have had more faith!”, or to Adam, “You should have come clean before God”. Instead, they act to self-preserve.
Most of us are unaware of our own efforts to self-preserve. It takes an outside and honest evaluator to reveal the edifices which a person builds to hide behind.
In current American Christian culture, I have seen the rise of writers and pundits who are Christians, but have decided to release themselves from the mooring of the church. They see doctrine as confining and limiting. They are elevated as authorities although they are under no authority themselves. In fact, they have made great effort to release themselves and their audiences from the perceived millstone that is the church. Their gospel is freedom from the church with all of its faults and dogmatism.
I can understand that. Many churches go beyond the proclamation of the gospel and attempt to bind honest Christians with Law. Grace is choked out by commands, demands and expectations of right behavior. ‘Churchy people’ want more ‘Churchy people’ in church. And, as a pastor, I am well-aware of the masks that people put on instead of being genuine. Truth be told, I am not immune to wearing masks myself. Yet, that is exactly why I go to church.
Before I expand on that notion, there is one question that needs to be answered; What are we acting to preserve ourselves from? Better yet, what are we hiding from?
The simple answer is the cross. We are afraid of the death of self it will bring. We are afraid of giving up our opinions, positions and convictions. In short, we want a Christianity of our own, without the Church’s authority. We want Jesus without the church.
That sounds pretty good. I can be set free to live as I want to without judgment or guilt. Who doesn’t want that!
And, if I can justify the words of God in Scripture and say, “He never meant to say that”, then I can live as I please without ever coming to terms with my own sin.
But, sin is so insidious that it quietly replaces the Word with pseudo-common sense. It replaces church with loose connections to thought leaders. It replaces the cross with justifying God.
For all of its faults, for all of its sins (and there are many!), the church is not merely a ‘man-made institution’. Instead, it is the God-man made institution. Christ is not the cornerstone of alternative thought. Christ is the cornerstone of the church.
Again, I grant that churches all over have done some very regrettable things. Some have over-emphasized the law to the drowning out of the good news (Christ crucified for you). That is unfortunate (it should be the opposite!). Others are unwilling to receive people for external or internal differences.
To repeat myself, that is exactly why I go to church. I find that in the hearing of God’s word (four readings from both Old an New Testaments), the hearing of the proclamation of Law and Gospel, the hearing of God justifying me on the cross, and receiving Jesus’ body and blood at the altar, my own efforts of self-preservation are crucified, and I am renewed as a new creation. It is there that I hear more than information about Christ. It is there that I am buried with Christ as sinner and raised by His justifying work alone. The church is God’s chosen place to continue the work of saving people. It is where He placed His Rock, Jesus, who is the cornerstone.
I hope that as you read this blog, you will receive it as the pastoral care it was meant to bring. The thought-leaders won’t save you from God. Only Christ can do that. And Jesus does that work through His church, which is the true life-preserver on this earth.
Soli Deo Gloria