Every once in a while, I see this commercial for a club store called “Direct Buy”. It boasts that you save money because there are no ‘middle men’ making profits off of your purchase. For this priviledge, you will pay thousands of dollars for a membership.
In reality, they are the middle men. You aren’t buying products from the producer, but from another who has bought it first (at a much lower price).
We like the idea of not having a lot of people between the producer and the consumer. The less mediators, the better. If we’re honest, a life without mediators is exactly what we want.
Many religions of the world operate on this principle. Instead of animal sacrifice (mediation), they require the personal sacrifice of an ascetic life. The hallmarks of these religions are retreat from the world, comtemplation, meditation, and extreme self-restraint. The more purely you live your life, the closer you are to “the source” (God, nature, oneness, etc.). This lifestyle appears to remove the obstacle of mediation. The truth is, you become the mediator.
Adherents of these methods seem more at peace than other people. They seem more spiritual. We admire them. Their life is simple, uncomplicated and respectable.
To live this way, they have had to remove all mediators. Books are fine, but they can cloud the mind. Sacrifices seem barbaric and contrary to living peacefully with sentient beings. Confessions, dogma and theologies just seem to cause conflict and disturbance. They also get in the way of direct access to God (or whatever). It is an attractive lifestyle because all it requires is simple piety.
If this sounds familiar, it is. This type of thinking has come into Christ’s church as well. It asks us to “cut the ties that bind” because they’re to constricting. If God is Spirit, than certainly He’s not confined or restricted. I mean, after all, Jesus didn’t go to church!
The only problem is that this thinking is false. The Old Testament is filled of various forms of mediation which foreshadowed the mediation of the new. External sacrifice was necessary even in the Garden! Moses, who foreshadowed Christ, was an intermediary for Israel. The priesthood was an institution God put in place to mediate. The institution of the Law mediated the people’s behavior as a people of God. Prophets and priests took their place as mediators for the nation of Israel. God set these norms into place so that people would not be left to their own devices, like; ecstatic experiences, self-mutilation, child sacrifices or any of the other behaviors found in the nations around them.
The New Testament does teach us about a new replacement for the old sacrificial system, but it is replaced with Jesus, the new sacrifice. The priesthood is replaced by the new Melchizedek, Jesus. So, God has confined Himself to the fulfillment of types and shadows of the Old Testament.
Consider this; The Son of God chose to bind Himself up in human form (not just for earthly life, but eternally). He was bound to fulfill the Law. He bound Himself to an enslaved and oppressed people. He bound Himself to be an eternal sacrifice for your sin and mine. He didn’t walk to Africa, or take a boat ride to Spain. He lived His life in a relatively confined part of the world.
He has continued His “confinement” by establishing His church as the place to find Him. But, these ancient and Biblical ideas are an affront to our aspirations for freedom and unbridled fellowship with our Creator. We bristle at the idea that God has instituted places to find Him in the church. But, in truth, even our prayers are mediated by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:26) and Christ (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25, 1 John 2:1, where Jesus is praying for us in heaven).
We would rather believe that we have unobstructed ‘naked’ fellowship with God when we pray or worship Jesus in song (God inhabits the praises of his people, and their prayers are a sweet-smelling sacrifice). We ‘glory’ in these moments, and even wish they could continue into eternity.
It is easier to swallow that we are closest to God in these experiences than in Jesus’ institutions. But, Jesus is God, and He has instituted means by which we are to receive Grace. The Reformers called these “means of Grace”. They include the Word of the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. He established these as the place to find Him. Some of you may be offended at these comments.
But, did Jesus come as the son of a great king, or a son of a poor carpenter’s child? Did Jesus live in the luxury of a Roman villa, or the humble house of an anonymous Jewish family? Did He ride into Jerusalem on a majestic white horse, or the foal of a donkey? If we have a problem with the establishment of the church and the institutions as the place to find Jesus, than we have a problem with Jesus.
These institutions do not appear ‘spiritual’. Instead of glory, we see ordinary things. Instead of ecstasy, we see sacrifice. Instead of joy, we see the cross and death. Instead of peace, we see division.
But, the eyes of faith see forgiveness of sin and resurrection through baptism. The eyes of faith see cleansing from sin and the building of faith at the communion table. The eyes of faith see that the Scripture is “God-breathed” and the Holy Spirit dwells in its pages. The eyes of faith see these because we have seen that after death is resurrection. And this is only possible through Jesus Christ, our mediator.