Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rainbow Church

1 Corinthians 16:22: If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.

RBMan.jpgWhen the Apostle Paul declared: "without love...I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2), he clearly established that genuine love is absolutely central to the Christian life. By this simple and clear statement, Paul shows us that the true sine qua non of Christian life is in fact the love that is of God. This important instruction was given to a church that desperately lacked such love and thereby evidenced it through their licentiousness, internal divisions, abuse of spiritual gifts, rebellion and their proclivity for doctrinal error. So loveless was their "ministry" that Paul ended this epistle with two last charges concerning the centrality of love in all things:

1 Corinthians 16:14: 14 Let all that you do be done in love...

1 Corinthians 16:22: 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.

In this final chapter of 1 Corinthians the Apostle makes one last appeal for the centrality of godly love (agape & philos) in everything. Both of these statements closely resemble the first and second greatest commandments (Mark 12:28-31) where we are commanded to love God first and our neighbor second. Without such love, our efforts become like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). In the worst of all cases, those who have no love for God prove themselves to be the children of wrath no matter how zealous they are in their religious activities - if anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. In many ways the Corinthian church is here with us today, especially when the message of God's love is polluted with human wisdom, sin, and foolishness.

I often think that if the modern church had a mascot, it would be Mr. Rollen Stewart; A.K.A., Rainbow Man.

Perhaps you remember Mr. Stewart. He was the one who began getting national attention by wearing bad leisure suits, loin cloths or even a rainbow afro wig at various basketball and football games around the country. He realized that his fame was taking on a life of its own and so he spent his days in his car and studied TV Guides in order to attend as many nationally televised games as he could. At one point Stewart was driving over 50,000 miles a year, and traveling to over a hundred sporting events. In the late seventies Stewart claimed to have found God while watching a TV show called Today In Bible Prophecy on television. Once he was "born again" he began appearing at football games along with a bright sign that simply read "John 3:16." For Stewart, this was his "ministry." He used his obscure appearance in order to attract attention to his sign of love - his John 3:16 sign. In the public eye, Stewart became a public fixture that represented Christianity; but sadly, Stewart's life was quite tragic. In 1984 he married Margaret Hockridge - a marriage that lasted six short years when in 1990 she filed for divorce; but the travesty of his divorce did not slow him down. In fact, Stewart's desire for more media attention (for his "ministry") only increased. He sensed a need to do something much more fantastic - something that was more eye-catching to the world. Thus, two years later on Sept. 22 1992, Stewart devised a plan that would capture the media spotlight once again, though it clearly didn't work out the way that he had hoped. Entering into a Hyatt hotel (near the Los Angeles airport), Stewart found a cleaning lady and decided to hold her as his hostage. As soon as the news of this crime was made public, the LAPD ordered up the SWAT Team, bomb squad and several fire trucks in order to deal with the situation. While all this commotion was going on outside, Stewart was posting biblical placards in his hotel room window, so that they could be read from the ground below. Finally, at 5:45 PM--when Stewart threatened to harm his hostage and start taking pot shots at jetliners as they passed near the hotel--the police decided to act. Shortly afterwards, the SWAT team stormed the room where they successfully seized him and arrested him. At the scene police found Stewart's infamous blue, red, yellow, green, purple and pink Afro wig, along with a high caliber pistol, various incendiary devices, three days of food and Bibles, religious tracts and poetry. He was found guilty of kidnapping and remains in prison to this day. In February 2005, while in prison, he predicted that the rapture would occur on in October of that year. October came and went - with no rapture in sight.

To this day he remains in prison in even greater obscurity than ever before.

I say that Rollen Stewart is a kind of mascot for modern evangelicalism for this reason: Many times we see the modern church doing whatever it can in order to gain the world's attention for the sake of evangelistic outreach. Sadly, when the professing church adorns itself with foolish and worldly tricks in order to capture the attention of the world, it proves itself to be no better than Mr. Rollen in his rainbow-afro wig. In many ways, it all smacks of the Corinthian error - they too believed that there was nothing wrong with infusing worldly wisdom into the ministry of the church. Sadly, their error wasn't merely a procedural one. Their spiritual illness wasn't merely viral in nature - the church had a severe heart problem. They had become a loud, boisterous, and confused assembly of messengers whose message of love had become corrupted and confused; and this is why the Apostle Paul delivered such a serious and sobering warning to them (1 Corinthians 16:22). It is even similar to Paul's test of faith that he delivered in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 13:5: 5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test?

Paul's admonitions and warnings are strong and even severe - but we all need them. We need to understand that the message of God's love is crucial. We must comprehend that, as messengers, it is not just what we say that impacts our message, but it is how we proclaim that message that matters so much. No doubt, the Corinthians espoused a message of God's love; and yet, by their actions they were denying what they were trying to proclaim to the world - much like Rollen Stewart. In the worst of all cases, there were some in Corinth whose lives evidenced that they had no love for God at all. We need to remember that there is the true love of God, as opposed to the world's corrupted ideals of love. Worldly love seeks the satisfaction and glorification of self, but the love that is of God is that which is holy and pure. It is a love that does not seek its own (1 Corinthians 13:5), but instead it is a love that heralds the Lord above all, and pursues one's neighbor for their good and for God's greater glory as its chief end.

Such a love as this should never be veiled by worldly wisdom, human trickery or even our own foolishness - more on this later.