I have recently seen the movie “Spotlight”. It’s a movie about systemic pedophile sex abuses in Roman Catholic churches. In every major city the the US and abroad, there are hundreds to thousands people who have been preyed upon and sexually abused by clergy. The sexual predators get shuffled around from parish to parish, having a ready access to fresh supply of young flesh. They are almost never prosecuted by our criminal justice system. They are rarely even defrocked by the RC church.
That is a tremendous travesty of justice, and a very personal betrayal of the trust of Jesus Christ.
The problem with this issue is two-fold.
The first factor is this. The theological aspect to all of those abuses can be singularly traced to a grossly out of context interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. It doesn’t talk at all about forced celibacy. It’s talking about postponing marriage due to the then-current economic crisis in Corinth (most likely, a famine). Additionally, the passage clarifies that there are those who willingly forsook marriage, since they were too busy spreading the Gospel. The key concept is “willingly”.
Today, we may also have people who are too busy for marriage, for a variety of reasons: business, career, etc. That’s the same idea here. But we are talking about Steve Jobs kind of busy, not a fast food restaurant manager kind of busy. About people who are really about God’s business out of the depth of their being. God’s kingdom to them is something that they live and breathe.
Being unmarried was shameful in the ancient Mediterranean societies. Paul’s argument completely refutes that idea. And that’s all there is to it.
It’s popular to draw parallels between ancient Israel and modern Western religious organizations. In many sermons that seem to capture popular thinking of the Sunday-morning masses, Israel is likened to church, priests to pastors, Levites to worship teams, pulpits to altars, Sabbaths to Sundays, and tithes to money collections. Certainly, we can draw some parallels, but as with any comparisons, we need to see where the comparison holds, and where it does not.
Here’s how Israel is (superficially) similar to Western religious organizations:
- Both Israel and church worship the same God
- Both priests and modern religious leaders, such as pastors, have leadership roles
- Levites and worship teams sing religious-themed songs
- Both Israel and church had buildings used for various religious purposes
- Pulpits and altars are central points of religious gatherings
- Both Sabbaths and Sundays can be thought of as days of rest
- Both tithes and money collections are used to sponsored various activities
Well, at this point I should say that I would like to switch our focus from Western religious organizations to the one invisible universal New Covenant church that Jesus Christ has created and that he personally heads. The church of Jesus Christ can be locally expressed through a religious organization, but the two aren’t really the same thing.
And so, the church of Jesus Christ is quite different from Israel, even if you take into account modern Western religious particulars.
Here’s how Israel is fundamentally different from the church:
Scripturally, only the membership in Christ is of eternal value, and that’s the only kind that you will find it mentioned explicitly throughout the New Testament (particularly in Paul’s writings) many times.
Membership in a religious organization can have potential value, as far as its realm of influence is concerned, and as long as membership requirements coincide with (and not supplant) the New Testament theology, comply with the New Testament model of servant leadership, and don’t overreach into a person’s freedom in Christ in a cult-like fashion.
Socially belonging to a religious non-profit organization is not the same as being included in God’s ekklesia (literally, “out-called”, translated as “church” in our Bibles). All too often, there are different membership requirements, different leadership structures, and different foundational principles between the two. There are many benefits to having an registered non-profit organization, to be sure. However, be always mindful of the fact that Jesus is building HIS church, which is a living organism and a visible expression of his active love and compassion to this world, and that’s the one that really matters.