WHAT WOULD JESUS THINK?
by David Sisler
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When I was a boy my Dad subscribed to Popular Science. The magazine regularly offered predictions about the future. A frequent prognostication detailed a car that would fly, priced to be affordable for much of the population. As the second millennium begins its last year, U.S. News and World Report invites us to "drive the friendly skies" with a California firm who expects to have a flying car ready in about ten years. For $100,000 it will take off and land like a helicopter and cruise at 350 mph like an airplane. But then, as the 19th century was closing, the Washington Post predicted trains that would travel at 600 miles per hour.
U.S. News also says that human blood will be artificially reproduced by genetically altering corn and tobacco; the back of your hand, as unique as your fingerprints, will become your personal identification in the world of security and commerce; and a high-tech toilet will transmit your blood sugar level to your doctor.
While many in the media were looking forward, World was looking back to significant achievements and happenings in religion during the past century and the last one thousand years. Based on a survey of the members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the editors ranked October 31, 1517, as the most significant day of the last millennium. That was the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church, effectively setting in motion the Protestant Reformation, and the resulting Catholic Counter-Reformation.
Jonathan Gutenberg's invention of moveable type and the printing press in 1450, making the Bible available to an increasing number of people, ranks second according to those surveyed. The 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, which gave birth to the modern Pentecostal movement, the "fastest-growing segment of Christianity" at the end of the millennium, interestingly made World's top ten.
Millennium speculation has looked to the future and to the past, but rarely has it looked inward, to the hidden places inside each of us, where we really live. Martin Marty, noted church historian, wonders if Jesus returned today, what would he think about the things which have been perpetrated in his name. Certain events, like the Spanish Inquisition, and much that is associated with the Crusades, are disgraceful episodes. The Nazi Holocaust and the wholesale suppression of religion following the 1917 Russian Revolution should draw universal condemnation.
Marty, interviewed by Religion Today, applauds the Catholic idea of human dignity and Protestant impulse for freedom of conscience. He also notes, "The church has played a large role in compassionate medical healing... and has contributed greatly to the life of the mind... Another way to measure Christianity is its impact on individuals. There are many examples of ‘lives lived well,' from St. Francis of Assisi to Mother Teresa."
But if Jesus were to appear at a press conference today and a reporter were to ask him what he thinks of the church which carries his name, what would he say? Would he say anything new, or would he repeat something he has already said?
The manuscript in Greek is called Apocalypse. After the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days" and Trinity Broadcasting's "Omega Code," we may imagine that "apocalypse" is a only synonym for the worst imaginable disasters (not necessarily cinematic). In actual fact it means "unveiling," or "revelation," and in that form, gives its name to the last book in the Bible. Disasters and judgement abound in the Revelation, but before it is anything else, and after it is everything else, it is an unveiling of what Jesus thinks about his church and the steps to which he will go to protect, preserve and purify it.
Early in the book Jesus dictates seven brief letters to the pastors of seven churches which represent, in many ways, all of Christianity – every branch, every breakaway. In 1,400 penetrating words, Jesus takes a naked look at his churches. Four of them receive some praise, but fall short in areas which will be spiritually fatal if not corrected. In one congregation he finds nothing to praise. In only two congregations – barely 25 percent – he finds nothing to condemn.
What would Jesus think as we approach a new millennium? I think we have a pretty good idea. And if he next turns his spotlight from the entire congregation to every individual member, one by one, what then? "When the Son of Man comes," Jesus asked, "will he find faith on the earth?" With only one-fourth passing inspection, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith in his church?
Published in The Augusta Chronicle 1/8/2000
Copyright 2000 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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