“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:13-15, Good News Bible).
Jesus is teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. By doing so he challenges the authority of the religious authorities. They want to get rid of him. Soon they will succeed. For now, though, he speaks unpleasant truths to them in the hearing of the people.
His problem with these religious authorities? They are supposed to be witnesses to the one true god of freedom, truth, love, and vitality but aren't. Thinking they are serving God, they instead are serving the six false Olympian gods: the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. That’s why Jesus calls them hypocrites and blind guides: they are Olympian without knowing it. Unknowingly Olympian, they keep people from becoming faithful witnesses to God. Worse, they convert people to an even more rigorous Olympianity.
In his book, The Subversion of Christianity (1984), Jacques Ellul explores how and why the Church today is likewise so thoroughly Olympian in its theology and so disastrously Olympian in its practice. That’s the nightmarish reality we face today: virtually every church of every denomination, in North America and Europe, is dominantly Olympian. These communities should be glowing with the light, love, and life of Jesus. Instead they likewise keep people from becoming faithful witnesses to Jesus. Worse, they convert people to an even more rigorous Olympianity.
In a different book, Hope in Time of Abandonment (1972), Jacques Ellul had this to say about the Church: “At the opening of Church meetings, of ministerial, regional or national councils, at the opening of the working sessions, one always begins with ‘prayer.’ Very often the Holy Spirit is invoked. I believed in it for a number of years and prayed fervently—then finally one has to succumb to experience. Our passive deliberations, our mediocre decisions, our petty psychologies, our meetings which are a deadly bore, our false problems, our serious concern for questions which do not exist, our inability to go ahead joyously and out in the open, our secret churlishness and our feigned composure, our justifications and our paralysis—it all bears irrefutable witness that the Holy Spirit is not there” (135). The faithful witness of Christians and churches has only continued to decline since then.
My purpose here is not to be accusatory but descriptive. Right now I seek only to accurately describe the strategic situation we face as prophetic witnesses to Jesus. And right now we face a situation in which virtually all churches, church organizations, seminaries, etc., are unknowingly, but thoroughly and enthusiastically, Olympian.
Let’s be clear about what this means. It means that churches will not welcome us as prophetic witnesses to Jesus. Most churches are desperate for new members. They will initially and often even aggressively welcome us. As soon as we begin our prophetic witness to Jesus, however, they will begin to resent us. They will understand that we worship a different god even if we use the same name for that god. They will then get rid of us. Just as the Olympian synagogues visited by the apostle Paul were hostile to him, so the Olympian churches visited by us will be hostile to us.
Why bother then? This is the work to which Jesus calls us today as his prophetic witnesses.
Why? One, Christ’s own honor. Christian Olympians still use his name. Christian Olympians and non-Christian Olympians still mistakenly identify the god worshiped in churches as Jesus. Jesus wants us to witness to the difference between him and the conventional Olympian gods of power. He wants us to call his people back to their senses. He wants Olympian churches to repent or he will continue to close them.
Two, while virtually every church is Olympian, and therefore dedicated to gods hostile to Jesus, nonetheless virtually every church also has a handful of prophetic witnesses. Jesus wants us to encourage them. He wants us to reassure them that they have been right all along in thinking that there was more to him than what they were hearing and seeing at church. He wants us to strengthen their prophetic witness in their church. And he wants us to provide them with the mutual support and accountability of a prophetic mission group so that they can do that.
Another task which Jesus calls us to do is to find lost Christians. Over the decades, as churches intensified their devotion to the Olympian gods, they also drove out an increasing number of members faithful to Jesus. Now these Christians are scattered and isolated. Jesus wants us to find them and invite them to join him in prophetic mission groups.
We can do none of this daily without the will of Abba, words from Jesus, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Secondarily, we can do none of this with the needed joy and endurance without joining with at least one other Christian in a prophetic mission group. Jesus remains fond of sending us out in pairs.