7 Thus he showed me: and behold, my lord was standing beside a wall [built with] a plumb line and in his hand was a plumb line.
8 Yahweh said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” I said, “A plumb line.” My lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. Never again will I pass over him.”
and the sanctuaries of Israel—they will be laid waste;
and I will rise up against the House of Jeroboam with the sword”
(Amos 7:7-9, my translation).
By all ordinary appearances, in 750 BC the northern Kingdom of Israel was doing well. Spontaneous worship of Olympian gods was going well on the high places, mandatory worship of Yahweh was proceeding methodically at the sanctuaries in Bethel and Dan, the economy was buzzing, and relations with political neighbors were peaceful.
For the people of Yahweh to know any better would take a revelation. It would take a new living word from Yahweh. Yahweh knew this and called Amos to speak it.
Yahweh took the measure of his people and found them crooked. They were so crooked, in fact, that Yahweh could not repair them. He could only condemn the building and knock it down. In 721 BC, he did just that. Yahweh had the Assyrians carry away his people of the Kingdom of Israel and they disappeared from history.
Jesus speaks these same words to us today. He is telling us that his Church in the West is crooked; so crooked, in fact, he can only condemn it and knock it down. Even now he is allowing hundreds of denominational institutions and thousands of congregations to disintegrate and disappear. More will follow. He himself is choosing to do this.
When Jesus was born in 1 AD, Olympianity was the religion of the Romans who dominated an emerging empire. God knew this. Being committed to tufluv—to truth, freedom, love, and vitality—Father decided to send his son Jesus at just this time to do two things. Negatively, Jesus would keep the Olympians from getting a complete lock on human and historical development. Positively, Jesus would allow Father to interject a little tufluv, a little meaning of life, into the emerging Roman system.
The false Olympian gods recognized Jesus for the threat he was. That’s why, through their minions like governor Pontius Pilate, high priest Caiaphas, and traitor Judas, they attempted to neutralize Jesus through humiliation, torture, and death. Unfortunately for the Olympians, Father proved stronger: first he raised Jesus from the dead and then, together with his son, they poured out the Holy Spirit. This resulted in a growing movement of witnesses to all the tufluv that God had always intended all people to enjoy through a relationship with him.
Though decisively and permanently defeated, the Olympians did not simply go away. They desperately fought back with all the bullying, bribing, and deceiving they could muster.
By 400 AD, a new era in the Roman Empire had begun; new, but ambiguous. This era is commonly referred to as the Middle Ages. It’s the era of Christendom or of a Christianity made the only legal religion by the Roman state. But this was not the tufluvian witness of small groups of disciples to Jesus. This was Christianity as a religion that had compromised with Olympianity and thereby had made itself conventional. The Olympian gods had proven their resilience.
The Protestant reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 arguments on the community bulletin board in Wittenberg (in today’s Germany). The issues raised by him and other reformers were genuine. Jesus spoke through them in ways he hoped would rid his Church of some of its more grievous compromises with Olympianity.
Disagreements arose within the Church concerning the nature, means, and pace of reform. A tufluvian response to these differences would have included a shared commitment to humility, patience, prayer, and a more careful and deliberate reading of the Bible. Instead the Church, the Body of Christ on Earth, absurdly chose to resolve these genuine issues raised by Jesus, its Head, by turning to the Olympians. For example, Christian rulers turned to Jupiter, god of politics, and began to persecute and execute Christian subjects who disagreed with them. They also abandoned Jesus for Mars, god of war, and began to loot, rape, and murder disagreeable Christians living in other jurisdictions. This mutual slaughter lasted until 1648 when all of Latin Christendom was simply too exhausted to continue it.
One unintended consequence of all this mayhem: by 1648 the religion of Christianity, with its conventional Christian worldview, was completely discredited throughout Latin Christendom. It was a religion that for 1250 years had been tried but at last had been found wanting. Intellectuals stopped referring to the West as Christendom and started referring to it using the Olympian term of Europe.
Worldviews, even discredited ones, do not disappear overnight. Before an old one can be abandoned completely, a new one must be developed. Its development must be a broad effort by the intellectuals of an entire civilization and at the same time it must attain a broad acceptance by the people of that civilization.
After the collapse of Christendom in 1648, our modern era began. It has been the era of exuberant Olympianity. Christendom eclipsed Olympianity in 400. Now Olympianity roared back more delirious than ever. Through it came the Global Technological System that Olympians and conventional Christians have come today to know and love.
In other words, with the discrediting of conventional Christianity by 1648, the Christians of Christendom faced a choice. They could rid themselves of Olympian compromises and again become more radiant witnesses to Christ. Or they could steadily rid themselves of their medieval Christian heritage and end up more unambiguous Olympians. They chose the latter.
From 1 AD to 400, we had the rise of Christianity. From 400 to 1648, we had the development, full flowering, and decay of conventional Christianity. Since about 1960, we have had the full flowering of Olympianity in the Global Technological System. At the same time, we have seen the increasing disintegration and disappearance of Christian institutions and congregations.
This withering will continue. Jesus wills it. He is no longer putting his energy into saving or reviving conventional Christianity. As Yahweh decided with the northern Kingdom of Israel, so Jesus has decided with the conventional Church and for the same reason: its fatal compromise with the gods of Olympus.
This withering of conventional Christianity is not God’s last word regarding the Church. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ remain history’s most momentous events. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all people and will remain so. But the old conventional Christian forms will continue to wither. We must keep minds and hearts open to the new forms Jesus now invites tufluvian witnesses to take, beginning with tufluvian mission groups.
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