I've spent the day in Ithaca, New York with the folks from the church I helped pastor for three years while I attended law school. The church sits in the shadow of Cornell University (known since the 19th century as "godless Cornell") in a town which boasts that it is the "pagan capital" of the east. Talk about missional!
A few conversations I had last week along with the time I spent with my former comrades today has sparked a lot of thought about the state of Jesus' church in the world. It seems to me that the religious landscape among "God's people" has not really changed all that much since our King ascended back to His throne.
In the first century there were essentially four groups within Judaism--the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. One may argue that the Zealots were more politically centered than theologically so but, in James Carville's words, "let's not complicate the simple."
First, there are the Pharisees who, while knowing in some sense that grace precedes and accompanies election, still easily lapsed into harsh legalism in the hopes of earning God's favor once again. The Pharisees were not unlike many within evangelicalism today who think of the faith in terms of exchange, whether its the Joel Osteens & purple haired freaks on Trinity who preach that if you show up in church and get the right attitude then God owes you a paycheck or the meanspirited King James only folks who believe that if we just all stop cussing, drinking beer and watching "Superbad" then God will reward our country with full employment, G-rated movies and women folk who know how to cook, clean and keep their gob shut.
Second, there were the sadducees who in their desire to "get along" with the powers that be decided to cut the Bible up in order to get rid of all that king and resurrection talk. The sadducees tended to be wealthy and hang out with government officials at cocktail parties talking about politics and the art. Sound familiar? Like liberal mainliners and certain emergent streams who decry the "religious culture" while being fully enveloped in another religious culture that is equally unbiblical i.e., like quietly lusting to be accepted by the elite.
Third, there are the Essenes who are the sectarin nut jobbers who have written the world off and care only about their own spirituality. Go ahead and lump both certain fundamentalists who have bomb shelters, automatic weapons & every Tim LaHaye book next to chicks with napkins on their heads and, again, certain emergents who have given up on evangelism and are "just trying to be faithful" by withdrawing to coffee shops and pubs where they read Volf, Brueggemann, etc. without actually speaking to anyone about issues related to salvation.
Finally, there are the zealots. These encompass both the Jeremiah Wright liberation theology types and the angry, pudgy, buzzcut, middle aged dudes who voted for Tancredo and volunteer to patrol the borders to keep out hungry foreigners in the name of Jesus!!!
King Jesus please come soon or, at the very least, Lord, please save us from your followers!