An expose of the ecclesiastical situation of our time

Allow me to be a story-teller and share a couple of stories:

The first has to do with a prominent man who had fortuitously managed to get the right “breaks” in life, and rose to a position of power in the nation. Outwardly he appeared to be a brilliant success. But inwardly he had numerous areas of personal dysfunction. There was apparent sexual obsession, a propensity to violence, an abuse of power and control, etc. Suffice it so say he was a man who indulged his desires. He had an abundance of material wealth and opportunities unlimited. But he was full of personal aspiration – “the lust of the eyes” – the selfish desire to possess for himself; he was full of personal gratification – “the lust of the flesh” – the selfish desire to please himself; and he was full of personal reputation – “the boastful pride of life” – the selfish desire to promote himself (I John 2:16). His desire for physical gratification led him to have sexual relationships with women outside of the context of marriage. On one occasion this man had gotten away with murder ­ it was termed “justifiable homicide” by one with “diplomatic immunity.”

This man had problems! Here was a man who was in “a state of denial.” He was not facing up to his problems; he was running away from his problems. He was reacting to his problems with anger and hostility (fight), with anxiety and fear (fright), and with escapism and withdrawal (flight). This man was conniving and manipulative. He would pull any strings necessary to resolve the present distress. He was a master in crisis management, both nationally and personally. The end justified the means, and he could justify everything he did. He was constantly covering-up, putting out fires, putting band-aids on cancer. Typically, he could see other’s faults but not his own, and was full of blame toward others for causing his problems.

Now this man was religious. He was a leader in the church. On an earlier occasion he had even been referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” But he was still full of behavioral dysfunction. The “flesh” was winning out in self-indulged desires. He was going to have to live with the consequences of his selfish and sinful choices.

This all became particularly evident during an “intervention” session that was engineered to force this man to see his problems. He was confronted; he was exposed; his problem was revealed ­ his self-indulgence, his sin. The intervention facilitator pointed at the man and said, “You are the source of the problem.” “What are you going to do about it?”

Have you caught on to what I am doing? I gave you some clues in the story. The biggest clue was that this man was “a man after God’s own heart.” (I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22) What character in the Bible is referred to in that way? Yes, David. I was just retelling in a contemporary form, the story of David and his encounter with Bathsheba as recorded in II Samuel, chapters 11 and 12.

Take the time to read the original version of that story in II Samuel 11, 12. The interaction that takes place in this narrative can serve as a viable pattern for dealing with behavioral problems. We see that addictive behavior is often “acted out” in times of boredom and loneliness; we see a man involved in cover-up and denial and self-justification; we see Nathan, the prophet, doing an “intervention” ­ a confrontational forced awareness of the problem ­ and he does so by using an allegorical story that reveals the selfish injustice of David’s actions; David was forced to address the need for repentance; but he still had to live with the consequences of his past choices.

Now, I am going to tell you another story that does not have the ingredients of a successful resolution of the problem. In this story the “denial” is not addressed, the “codependency” continues, there is no “intervention,” and no recorded recovery. This story is not original either! But I am going to tell you right up front that this story is based on a fairy-tale from the Danish story-teller, Hans Christian Anderson, entitled The Emperor’s New Clothes. Do you remember the story? For those of you deprived of a complete juvenile literary education, allow me to retell it to you. I will do so in an embellished adaptation, but you will get the story!

Once upon a time there was an emperor (a king) who was full of pride and self-centered concern. He was really enamored by royal vestments, royal robes. It was a real ego-trip for him to dress up and engage in the “pomp and circumstance” of royal eminence. One day he got “conned” by a couple of con-artists ­ two alleged “weavers” who were out to fleece the king of his wealth. They offered to weave and stitch for him some royal finery “fit for a king.” They began by weaving an intriguing tale in the mind of the king. They explained that their weaving was so extraordinary and supernatural that it was visible only to the elite and knowledgeable ­ and invisible to those who did not have “eyes to see”. “Take my order,” begged the king, “Money is no object!”

Now the king was not about to admit that he could not see the clothing that these alleged weavers were weaving and stitching, for to do so was to admit that he was unenlightened and undiscerning. Those around him joined him in the “denial”, operating as if everything was normal. It was a “cover-up” concerning the fact that there was no cover-up. To protect themselves they participated in the pretence and “played the game.” The king’s so-called friends and colleagues gushed with praise for the non-existent garments. “Oh, how beautiful; how majestic; how moving and inspiring!” They extolled the features of the fanciful and farcical finery.

In this case there was no “intervention”; only a humiliating exposure. The pompous pride of the emperor prompted him to organize a public parade to showcase his non-existent garments. The citizens of the kingdom, cowed by fear, said nothing about the absence of clothing. They only repeated pious platitudes of respect for royalty.

As the parade proceeded down the avenue, one child had not been “cued” for the pretense. As the king passed by, the child exclaimed, “The King doesn’t have any clothes on!” They attempted to “shush” him, but the unspeakable had been spoken.

The king was publicly humiliated for the fool that he was. But despite the exposure of his exposure, he continued to “play the game”, and exclaimed “The procession must go on!” The denial was continued. What a fool!

Have you recognized what I have just done to you, or for you? In the first story, I told you what I was going to do. In the second story I did it. And now I am going to tell you what I did.

In the first story I told you the story of David, Bathsheba and Nathan. In the second story I played the role of Nathan the prophet, and told you a story, in like manner as Nathan told David a story, and with a similar purpose to reveal a problem that is being covered up. In playing the role of Nathan the prophet, I also played the role of the child on the parade route who exposed the naked king.

Now you might say, “that was a silly story. Who would be so foolish?” And if I were to be as blatantly blunt as Nathan was, I would have to say to you, “You are the ones!” “You are the emperor and his subjects!” Actually, the institutional church is the emperor over the realm of Ecclesiastica, and religious church members are the citizens of the kingdom of Ecclesiastica.

The emperor, organized religion, is filled with self-centered concern, “pomp and circumstance”, vested interests. But it got “conned” by a couple of weavers who could weave a good tale, and thereby fleeced the flock. We could identify them as Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, but there are many such “weavers” posing as ministers, preachers and evangelists. What has happened is that it seems that everyone in the kingdom of Ecclesiastica has joined in the “denial.”

Like David, the institutional church is engaged in crisis management, the end justifies the means as it manipulates people in the “programs.” It is engaged in a gigantic “cover-up” of the severity of the sin-problem. Like the citizens in the kingdom of the emperor, the members of organized churches are participating in the co-dependent denial which perpetuates dysfunctional socialization. “I’m OK; you’re OK; we’re OK; everything is OK in the institutional church.” “It’s beautiful; it’s inspiring; it’s awesome!” “We’re comfortable with what’s going on. “Hear no evil; see no evil; speak no evil ­ monkey see, monkey do! “Don’t rock the boat; don’t be critical; don’t touch the Lord’s anointed (I Chron. 16:22). “If you think there are problems, then just overlook them. “Be quiet and “play the game.” “We want the appearance of peace and unity at any cost. “Don’t make waves. We want to maintain the status-quo.”

Is this not the self-delusion of lying to themselves and others? ­ playing the fool like the emperor and his subjects?

The institutional church is being humiliated before the world today for the “fool” that it is. It is deluded into thinking that it has something that is spiritual and invisible, and everyone pretends they are enlightened ­ when in reality it is unclothed, and everyone is “playing the fool.” Rather than being “clothed in righteousness”, the institutional church of Christian religion is naked in its hypocrisy. But it continues to “play the game” of “churchianity” and to engage in “denial.” “The procession must go on!” “Crank up the organ; bring on the robes!”

The risen and living Lord Jesus spoke to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22: Vs. 17 ­ “you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Vs. 19 – the need is to “repent.” Vs. 22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

No one today seems to be willing to hear what the Spirit of God is saying. No one seems to be willing to “speak out” and “intervene.” It takes the intrepidity of a prophet or the innocence of a child to reveal the pretense! I guess that is what I am trying to do ­ to do an “ecclesiastical intervention” ­ to confront and reveal and make people aware of the problem, the blatant foolishness of the present situation in organized religion. I am playing the role of Nathan the prophet ­ as well as the role of the child on the parade route. The child merely exposed the situation. The prophet purposefully intervened to seek God’s intended end ­ individual repentance and the restoration of functional humanity.

Some religious people will be as angry at me as David was when he heard Nathan’s story ­ and then he got “pinned” with the personal application. Some religious people would want to silence one who is speaking as I am speaking, just as they tried to silence the child who exposed the king’s exposure. It is painful to have to admit “denial” and “co-dependency” and even the addiction to religion, much less spiritual nakedness. In fact, the Lord Jesus was “crucified” at the instigation of the religious authorities, for exposing the nakedness, the pretense, the hypocrisy of their religious system, and their unwillingness to accept Him for who He was and is.

We must understand the reality of the Christian gospel ­ the vital indwelling dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus Christ and His Life lived out through us to the glory of God. I am unwilling to continue to play the “naked church” game, parading around clothed only in “pomp and circumstance”, nor am I willing to see others deceived into playing that game either. That is why I am willing to be used as a facilitator for “ecclesiastical intervention.” Do not settle for addiction to religion; settle only for the Life of Jesus Christ lived out in you!

©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.  Used by permission of the author.




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