The Christian movement has always been subversive. As you may know, it began in an obscure place—a little dot amid the Roman Empire known as Palestine. A seemingly harmless, itinerant preacher traveling and teaching within a radius of only a few miles from his home in Nazareth spurred this movement. There were many of these types of teachers, so it was safe to assume this one would be as innocuous as the rest. Nevertheless, he and his credo changed everything.
“His ministry may have faded into the lost pages of history…”
This teacher, whom we call Jesus, was radical. His thoughts and actions were revolutionary. His strategies were unorthodox. His followers were, shall we say, a tad less than sophisticated.
His ministry may have faded into the lost pages of history had he not proclaimed the ushering in of a “Kingdom.” This was not a word the Roman Empire looked upon kindly. It was a revolt, albeit a peaceful one. They attempted to snuff out his life and his legacy along with it. Big mistake on their part… By doing so, they became an unwitting pawn in one of his unorthodox strategies—salvation through sacrifice.
His other strategies were unconventional as well—eating with sinners, touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, making peace and loving his enemies. No one did these things. They were extreme and nonconforming. To top it all off, he was a threat to the cadre of gods worshiped by the surrounding pagan culture. As far as the empire was concerned, this was downright treasonous as his followers soon discovered.
It can be argued that his practice (often referred to in the early days a “The Way”) eventually overtook the empire and replaced it (or at least fundamentally changed it). The Way was not an empire, but it was a Kingdom within. The Way then became known as “the church,” and a lot of history (both good and bad) has flowed under the bridge. Today, we of The Way seem a little less subversive. I fear the empire is overtaking us, once again.
“We are becoming more like the surrounding pagan culture…”
Little by little, we are becoming more like the surrounding pagan culture instead of continuing in the unorthodoxy of Jesus’ strategies. We are adopting their ways instead of promulgating those of the Master.
Recently, one of the presidential candidates proclaimed in a major address that our “religious beliefs…have to be changed”. (Let’s take a short pause here to ponder that one.) Really? I wonder how many Christians heard that and didn’t think anything of it—just the meaningless words of a politician.
The empire is striking back, folks. This time, it’s not the Romans. It’s the government of the United States (and probably a lot of other governments as well). Next, they’ll want to bring back crucifixion, the Coliseum, and a few lions.
The good news in all of this (if I may bring a more positive note to the table), they are, once again, setting themselves up to be pawns in another of Jesus’ unorthodox strategies. One can only hope, anyway.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]