The church must get real and stop seeing a reflection created from what it wants to see instead of what the world sees (and what God sees).
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most spiritual of them all?"
"Oh, you already know the answer, church -- it's you, just like always. Just gaze upon thyself ... property owners, big buildings, multi-campuses, good credit ratings, big debt, no debt; brand names of posted propriety, publicized positions of pompousity, postulated propensity for prosperity, published pundits of grandiosity; the bigot never be, nor the hypocrite in thee; for thou shalt rise to e-e-ter-nit-e-e, in the lofty spires of thy humble abode."
Hmmm. That's a bit over the top, isn't it? Maybe, maybe not. How could we know? What is the image of Jesus Christ that the church thinks it is proclaiming to the world? What is the image the church has of itself? Consider that the church expresses its own self-image in sermons that are preached, in what is written, by what is proclaimed in the media (that Christians control) ... essentially, this painted image represents the confession of the Lord Jesus Christ -- this is what Jesus looks like to the church. And when the church peers into the looking glass to see the reflection of itself, this image is what is "seen" (or, perceived). That's another way of saying when the church sees itself, it sees an illusion that has been self-created.
How would one describe the reflected image? Is it an image of a set of moral standards? What does the church hold as the high standard for Christians to meet? Is it complete? Can't require too much -- if the standard is too high, some cafeteria-style Christians may go to a more seeker-friendly establishment to choose their dietary milky doctrine.
There's the old joke -- He said, "The church is full of hypocrites." She said, "Yeah, that's right. So, why don't you join us - you'd fit right in." While that little cutie comeback may be true, it doesn't address the observation. Could the church be operating below the glory of God, so that it is falling short of God's purpose, while believing the lie of self-congratulatory denial that comes from the flesh and not the Spirit? It would seem from the "joke" that the church admits to a certain level of mediocrity. The church is supposed to be full of people being transformed into the likeness of God and putting hypocrisy and other forms of fleshly conduct behind them. The church wouldn't have to be concerned with answering name-callers if the church were being renewed and transformed to the max. Names wouldn't stick because those former ways have been left behind -- out of date, no longer relevant. (1 Pet. 3:16)
Does the church have a transparent ceiling of expectation for itself that limits goals to only those that are incomplete, lacking and just plain wimpy? What is the picture of Jesus (and of the church's concept of itself) that is painted in Bible study materials? (This is used just as a source of a description of how the church sees itself, not as a format to criticize Bible materials.) What is the image of Jesus that the church holds up for itself? It is the same image that the church sees when it looks into the mirror using rose-colored glasses. This is the Jesus that the body of Christ so graciously allows to be called its "head." (You heard that right).
The image portrayed is one of a theoretical Jesus, a theological concept of Jesus, an intellectual concept about Jesus, a historical Jesus.
As mentioned above, the church provides its own evidence that it fulfills its missional goals by holding up an intellectual description of a perfect, powerful, historical Jesus -- born into the world, sacrificed for us while perfect and holy, resurrected in power, ascended to God having all authority. Yes! -- preach it, brother, proclaim it, celebrate it! That's easy to say. Now what? Now, let us stand and be dismissed and go home.
An example (and, again, for illustrative purposes only):
Sending Bible materials home for family study is a good thing, but does the message conveyed by the materials rise up out of the confines of a box of self-created images of Jesus and the self-view of the church?
The following paragraphs contain actual quotes extracted from one week of a daily study devotional guide published as part of an integrated curriculum. The source isn't given, because this is not intended as a criticism of this publication or of the writer. That is not the point -- this material is only used as a representation of current, good conservative Christian thinking.
"The devotions for this week point us to the truth about Jesus, the Light of the World."What's wrong with what is said above? Basically, nothing. The message is based on scripture; it is sound teaching; it teaches about Jesus, the Light, the Resurrection, and the Truth. It is good, conservative, Biblical teaching that is representative of Christians who hold the Bible as the inspired word of God and Jesus as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior. It is mainstream Christianity; it is core teaching; it is conventionally accepted. And that is regrettable, because that infinitely amplifies the problem.
Monday. "People have often tried to demand a sign from God." "God is real and He is all-powerful, but He doesn't usually respond to the demand for a sign." "God has already given us a sign of absolute proof. Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real and that He is all-powerful (Matt. 12:40). How does the resurrection of Jesus give you certainty about who God is and why you should serve him?"
Fact: Jesus is the ultimate sign from God.
Tuesday. "Christianity unashamedly claims that forgiveness of sin and eternal life are found in Jesus alone; all other religions are imposters, little more than distortions of God's truth." "Jesus was clear that faith in Him makes all the difference. What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24). How would you respond to someone who says that all religions are equally true?"
Fact: Jesus alone gives eternal life.
Wednesday. "Was Jesus just a good man? No. Jesus was not just a good man and He didn't leave that as an option for us." "The only other option is that what He said was true, and everything in His life backs up His claim. As you pray today, praise Jesus for His greatness."
Fact: Jesus is Lord!
Thursday. "How can two people read the same article and come to such different conclusions? It's because they have radically different worldviews." "How could you help someone understand why you see the world the way you do?"
Fact: The Bible is the lens through which we see the world.
Friday. "When Jesus warned about false teachers, He called them wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15). "Part of their ruse is trying to sound like believers." "This means that just because someone says he or she is preaching Jesus doesn't mean that person is actually preaching the truth about Jesus. What truths about the biblical Jesus are found in Col. 1:15-20?" "What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus? Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?"
Fact: True teachers teach the true Jesus
The problem is so subtle that it is easy to miss. It is easy to miss what is not said. It's easier to analyze something that is "there" than detect what is "not there."
The church today, and Christians within the church, particularly in the Western cultures, maintain an intellectual concept of Jesus instead of an experiential one. However, if it is not the real and complete Jesus, then it is a partial and incomplete substitute for the real Jesus. That is an idol.
When the church describes a vision, such as in the above-referenced published devotional, it is all "about" Jesus -- it is a conceptual framework of a historical Jesus. "About who God is" and "about Jesus." J.I. Packer made this point decades ago in the book, "Knowing God." "Knowing God" is not the same as just "knowing about God." Just going through all the Sunday school materials and memorizing the scriptures and knowing all the facts and being the master of the "Bible Bowl" is still an intellectual "knowing about Jesus" unless a life proclaims that truth. The world isn't seeking the intellect of the Christian; most non-believers don't hold that in high regard, anyway. The world needs to experience Jesus.
"Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real ...." Ultimate sign to whom? To a small closed community of people who are for the most part selected because they believe the resurrection in the first place? Or, is it a sign to the world who the people of this community are supposed to convert to Christ? Try to convert an unbeliever or atheist about the human recorded evidence of Jesus' resurrection. Go ahead and wear your pages out turning to all the passages in the Bible about the resurrection. Remind them that the Bible is inspired -- like they care about that? This is having a debate about an intellectual concept. The church is the translator of God's revelation. The church's job is to live the revelation; it doesn't just preach it from a pulpit or in front of a TV camera. The non-believer says, "What has Jesus' resurrection done for you? I don't see any difference, so why should I listen to your intellectual argument about a historical person?"
The "ultimate sign" for the Christian is not the resurrection -- it is what happened because of the resurrection. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have received the Holy Spirit, the down-payment of our eternal salvation and the final delivery of the promise of God (Eph. 1:13-14). Faith in the resurrection gives life in the Spirit. (Romans 8 links the resurrection of Jesus with the Holy Spirit's work in us). The work of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate sign both to the Christian and to the world -- and that includes the resurrection both of Jesus as well as our own (Eph. 1:19-20).
"What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24)." If we don't show Jesus to the world by the way we live, we then have to resort to preaching condemnation without Jesus - in order to set up Jesus as Redeemer. If Christians really believed that Jesus was the Redeemer, there wouldn't be any need to preach about condemnation -- there would only be glorification to be seen in the life of the church -- and an welcoming invitation to come be a part of this.
"Praise Jesus for His goodness." Okay, and then what? Go home and watch football? If we really praised Jesus for His goodness, the world wouldn't have to wonder about what the value is of the church.
"The Bible is the lens through which we see the world." That's rather "us-centered." How about, "The church is the lens through which the world sees Jesus." Sees Jesus, not just hears about Jesus. How's that one been working for us? Because of poor exegesis of the epistle to the Romans, the church too often looks at the world through a lens of condemnation, and that is not the job of the church. There's the church's self-image of a historical Jesus showing again.
"What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus? Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?" Believe "about Jesus?" Doesn't that give it away? We need to adjust the communication channels between our intellect (about Jesus) and our heart (becoming Jesus). How many times can Christians can go through the liturgy and a feel-good message and sing and lift hands to Jesus and leave and go about their real business. "From the heart" means more than sincerely thinking about it really intently for at least 2 minutes. (Go ahead, check your watch).
The church is too much about a casual representation of an intellectual, historical Jesus that can be kept at arm's length for an hour each week. Let's talk about resurrection; talk about light; talk about what Jesus did -- that's nice, but the world doesn't speak that language. The world understands Jesus when lives are being transformed because of Him. "Seeing is believing?" Let's practice that.
This involves much, much more than a responsibility of each Christian on an individual basis. That is the usual application, when there is any application made. Showing transformation is the responsibility of the church, the sum of the individuals, or, more accurately, the "product" of the individuals, because the Holy Spirit power is multiplied with unity.
Why do we go the "intellectual route" about Jesus when we know full well that God did not create humans to learn in that manner? Even human knowledge could tell us that -- be it from human psychology, evolutionary science, human sociology, the neuroscience of brain function -- whatever. We like to think we are such objective and reasoning and conceptualizing people, but we are primarily driven by emotion and experience. In making a decision or exercising an opinion or judgment about something or someone, about 90% of the judgment occurs in a split-second based on past experience. That's the way the brain is designed. What about the other 10%? The "intellect part" of the brain is busy figuring out all the reasons why the judgment of the "emotional brain" is correct. And, at least "in the natural," the intellectual part will go to ridiculous ends to justify the judgment that has already been made (from Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind.")
We say that we have our minds under the control of the Spirit. If that's really the case, then why can't the church see itself in a more discerning manner? We are transformed into a living Jesus -- alive through the continuous power of His resurrection -- not into a doctrinal description of a historical image formed though the eyes of traditional thinking.
Knowing the way the brain works, why do we think presenting an intellectual concept of a historical Jesus convinces anyone of anything? What are we, ourselves, doing with the historical Jesus? The world can say, "If this doesn't do anything more for you than what I can see, I don't find much value in your historical Jesus."
The world cannot be convinced that Jesus is the answer unless the world can see Jesus in the church. Arguments about Jesus and sermons preached to the choir about needing Jesus can be easily ignored by the world, because the world can see how irrevelant all this is in lives of Christians.
Let's get even more pointed. Why should the world listen to arguments about a historical resurrection from a church in which division and competition is clearly of greater value? How can there be one resurrection, yet many bodies? How could anyone claim that Jesus is Lord unless there is unity in the body of Christ? Don't give the "it's all their fault" routine. That immature dribble isn't going to stand up to the discipline of God in the present age or the wrath of God in the age to come. Just don't even go there. God has no partiality or discrimination between people on human standards, and if anyone does, then they are not being like God. If the church is in division through discrimination and elevation of doctrine above Christ, then the church is not being like God. Anyone who thinks differently can go to John 17:20 and argue with the intellectual, historical recording of the prayer of the same Jesus who lives today, and the same Jesus who will come again to claim His own and to whom we will give an answer about why His body has been fragmented.
A historical conceptual Jesus is easier to divide over than a living Jesus standing beside you looking you in the eye. If the church really "lived Jesus Christ," the church couldn't bring itself to divide. The chaos and factions within the body of Christ are enough evidence that Jesus is not Lord of the church.
Talking about Jesus instead of becoming like Jesus only creates problems, because that is coming out of the flesh more than the Spirit. It's not Jesus who creates disagreement and division, it is the opinions about Jesus -- it is the human interpretations from their hemeneutic that separates. That is like the human interpretation being the emotional experience part of the church and the hermeneutic being the logical, rational part. The theological hermeneutic is used as a way to justify those human traditional interpretations that need to be protected like copyrighted brand names. Hermeneutic is like the 10% to justify the 90% interpretation. Don't be fooled.
So, if Christians don't divide because of Jesus, what causes the divisions? It is the different approaches to Jesus. "You can only get to Jesus our way." "To get to Jesus, you have to believe this, say that, do this in the exactly right way, or else -- you miss Jesus." "We have the right aim to Jesus -- they don't." When the approach to Jesus of different groups is so important that the church divides, then human opinion is being elevated over Jesus. What is that other than idolatry? But that sequence is made easier with a historical Jesus. With a historical Jesus, one has to look through their telescope across two millennia to see Him; but with a Jesus living in a transforming life and church, one doesn't need a telescope. We are the telescope, and not our exclusionary doctrine.
More evidence of a historical Jesus
There is even more evidence that the church maintains a historical Jesus on the shelf. What is the significance that virtually all church groups place on the observance of the Lord's Supper? Does the Lord's Supper mean the same thing today as it did when Paul wrote to the Corinthians to stop mishandling it (1 Cor 11)? Are we supposed to recreate the Lord's Supper of the Corinthian church 2000 years later during which time the Spirit has guided into all truth? When we do so, we create a historical Jesus, and the Lord's Supper becomes a sanctimonious liturgical ceremony to remember certain things 2000 years ago. That's not bad in itself, but most the purpose of the Lord's Supper is thwarted unless Christians portray the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in their lives of transformation. The historical Jesus can be left at the church building along with the trays of unleavened bread and grape juice. How is that "discerning the body?"
How much easier it is to remember a historical Jesus who finished a work for us that we can read about and be thankful for and go about our lives than it is to submit to the Lordship of a living Jesus into Whom we are becoming -- actively and purposefully? Jesus said to "Do this in remembrance of me," but did Jesus ask that we remember Him as a historical figure hanging on the cross? Or, did He say, "I have washed your feet, now you go and do likewise"? Or, did He say, "And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you"? "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven."
A historical Jesus is also celebrated at Christmas, or what is left of it after being shredded by commercialism. What happened to celebrating the coming of Jesus anew in our hearts every day as we are being transformed by taking off the old nature and putting on the new?
A historical Jesus is celebrated at Easter. "Well at least it gets people to church one of the two times a year. That's better than nothing." That rhetoric may have some truth, but it also falls short of the glory of God. It is easier to detach a historical Jesus from the control of my behavior than it is a Jesus who is Lord of my life. A historical Jesus imposes control more by guilt. "Remember what Jesus did for you? You owe it back to do this...and this....and this...or else shame on you because you don't live Jesus." We condemn ourselves. How much better to identify with the Jesus who endured the cross "for the joy set before him"? Do we not have joy set before us when we can look forward to an eternal fellowship with God?
Who does the church see in the mirror?
So, what does the church see in the looking glass? If one peers into a glass darkly, they may not see much that deters them from making up their own reflective image. Like looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, "Well, I don't look too bad." Yeah, but then look at a picture of yourself - that will help you get real.
What does it take? 1 Cor 13:10-12 says that when perfection (maturity) comes, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." We have been declared righteous - the church has been declared righteous - because of the blood of Jesus, but that doesn't mean we actually are. That declaration is to free us to become like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24) and for the body to grow into the full knowledge of Christ (Eph.4:12-16). Does the church look into the mirror and see a reflection of a perfect historical Jesus -- a view that somehow authenticates whatever doctrine or behavior the church wants to adopt - including that of the world, including the right to divide itself into competing pieces? If so, then the church is kidding itself. That's not what the world sees -- the world sees the real thing in the now and not the historical real thing (i.e., the description of Jesus in the New Testament). The world sees a bunch of people in the unreality of denial about themselves.
Can we just describe a historical Jesus, thinking that is what has been assigned to the church by grace -- as if the church has already "arrived" at perfection because Jesus is perfect and the word (the canon) is the "perfect that has come" (1 Cor. 13:10)? Jesus came and did it for us and gave it to the church, so now what we have to do is to "defend the faith." Is that what the church is about? Once the body of Christ ascribes to itself this perfect righteousness, the church can do no wrong. The body can divide, compete, and war within itself and even embrace and welcome the world's influence. Just put God's representative in charge, like the Pope, or the President of the 12 Apostles, or the chief TV evangelist who hears from God for everybody else -- and the church places itself on the same pedestal beside the historical Jesus. Then the responsibility for transformation is just up to individuals -- that's certainly how the sermon applications are made -- "go ye out and do it." Just about every Christian group does this to some extent. This is a major self-deception of pride that institutionalized Christianity has bought into. This doesn't hold spiritual weight. The cracks in the foundation are becoming visible.
Guess where this behavioral characteristic comes from -- this tendency to define one's group as perfect and to gather around and protect its belief system. Hint: it doesn't come from studying the Bible. It is a survival tactic traced back to early ancestors in human evolution (Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind") -- meaning we can be totally operating out of the flesh while exhibiting this "defense by offense" behavior against one another.
Does the church think that there isn't much difference between itself and the historical, perfect Jesus -- the Jesus whom the church preaches about? The church seems to define itself at = or >95% perfect and maintaining, so the image in the looking glass is pretty good. But it's like a 2-way glass, reflective only on one side and transparent on the other. The church sees a reflection of the perfect Jesus that it preaches, but does not live, whereas the world sees through the glass and see the church for real, and not what it claims to be. What is just a little 5% miss in the reflection of the church to itself is 100% of the picture the world sees. No wonder there is a communication problem.
Yes, the world also has a distorted and inaccurate view of the church. But, to a large extent, that view is a reaction to the church's prideful presentation of itself in the wonderfulness of its own perfection.
The goal of the church should be the same as stated by Paul, "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me." (Col. 1:28-29). The goal is transformation into the likeness of God, according to His plan made before the creation of the world. The church is to show this wisdom of God to the world and to the heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10). It is not God's energy that works powerfully in the church to create division. However, using the energy of the prideful flesh, different groups can divide over methods of archeologically excavating a historical image of Jesus, mummified by years of human universal thinking and galvanistic doctrine.
The evidence is plain - the church likes a historical, statuary Jesus. This attitude is displayed in the church's own sermons, literature, and traditions, but this display seems transparent to those within the church -- like reading your own paper and continuing to miss the typo's. Maybe no one wants to see it -- maybe they've invested too much to get where they are in the liturgical halls of theocracy, academia, comfortism, or commercialism. The world reads the church's papers and hears the messages and gives their editorial feedback, which the church doesn't appreciate. Therefore, those so-deemed "attacks of Satan" are placed in the condemnation basket when it is passed around.
So, which is it to be -- is it an all out pedal-to-the-metal drive on "the way" to the living Lord and Creator of this universe by the renewal and transformation of the Holy Spirit into the righteousness and holiness of God and the full knowledge of Christ? Or, is it a protection of a sedentary, stationary image of Jesus, carefully maintained in a case filled with argon, and described in writings explaining the ancient history of what this person once did? Pick up a booklet in the gift shop ... only $13.99 in paperback or save and buy the $15.99 Kindle version -- and find out what we are about. Collector's copy, $99.99. Plus tax.
Transformation requires eyes to be on Jesus, not a dust-him-off-when-you-need-him historical Jesus painted in theoretical conceptual terms, but a Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2). A get-real Jesus -- maybe like the Son of Man Stephen saw standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).
If the institutionalized church can become unified in Christ instead of divided in human doctrine, maybe we can see the glorified Jesus in our transformation process, rather than when we are being martyred.
So, what is being missed by the church? Oh, not much, just the unifying field theory, the reason the universe was created, that which is held together by Christ (Col. 3:17), that which the whole creation groans in anticipation to be revealed (Rom. 8:22-23). Just the ordained plan of God made before the creation of energy, matter, and time. Just the reason for our existence and the role of the church (Eph.3:10). Not much. Just the most important thing ever in the physical realm - the entire creation.
If the church understood the plan of God, there wouldn't be time for selfish competition or division -- there would only be transformation into the likeness of God with ever increasing glory, in preparation for eternal fellowship with God.
2 Cor. 5  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Let us no longer regard Jesus just historically -- that is a worldly perspective -- like a war hero with a list of sacrificial accomplishments that are celebrated on Memorial Day. We are grateful for the mercy of God extended through all that which Jesus did historically. But, Jesus did this so we could be free of sin that the presence, the very spiritual DNA of God, could abide in us, so that we can become like God in true righteousness and holiness. That is the foreordained plan of God for us.
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18).
The reflection in the looking glass? It is the glorified One whom we are becoming.