If the church has lost her sense of who she is in the world, it's not really an accident. It's a symptom of a larger problem, which is that we (Christians) have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten who we are because we have forgotten who He is, and all of that boils down to the way that we approach the Bible.
Ask Christians today who the main character of the Bible is, and they'll probably say "Jesus," which is true - to an extent. (I've written before about how it's actually more broadly "God" - in three persons - but here, "Jesus" will do.) But get inside their heads and discover how they're actually reading their Bibles, and you'll find that for most Christians, the main character of the Bible is..."me."
It's a book about us. It's a book about being God's people. It's a book about our history, our story, our promise. Most Christians today are reading the Bible to discover who they are, not who God is, so it's no wonder that when the world looks at us, it no longer sees Him.
And there's a vast market of Christian goods that feed right into this. Just look at the way that Christian writing and preaching has changed just in the past century, even in the past few decades. Compare the writings of C.S. Lewis to the vast majority of Christian authors writing today; there's a distinct difference in the type of Christianity contained in those pages.
There's a vast difference in the way that the Word is used.
Today, we'll turn the Word of God to say whatever it is that we want it to say, or need it to say in order to make our point. I'm running across case after case of this in my own Bible studies right now, in material put out by well-known names in Christian circles and by well-respected publishing companies.
For example, I recently read an article by a biblical scholar talking about the history of persons meeting God at threshing floors. The primary example he used? Gideon. But anyone who reads Gideon's story will see that Gideon was threshing grain, but he was not at a threshing floor; he was hiding in a winepress. So this scholar's entire article glaringly ignores a full sentence in the biblical text that he dives so deeply into. Why? Because he wanted to write about threshing floors, and Gideon's story was too good to pass up.
Except, of course, that he didn't tell Gideon's story at all, but some contorted version of it. Which means it wasn't God's story, either.
Or just yesterday, my morning devotional had a paragraph about the anniversary of the atomic bombing in Japan. It linked the event to the Transfiguration of Jesus and suggested that we spend the day in prayer for those who were "transfigured" by the bombings. The word that the authors actually needed to use was "disfigured," which is a very different thing, but hey, they're trying to make a point here. Who cares about semantics?
I'm also reading a popular translation of the Bible in my morning studies for the first time this year. I'm reading this alongside a more literal English translation, and it's amazing to me how many of the most beautiful details of God's word the popular translation doesn't worry about getting right - and doesn't apologize for getting wrong - things that are the turning points of God's message, at least to me. I read this and I cringe...because it's clear that this particular translation was written for men, so it doesn't worry too much about getting God right.
As long as it is, you know, reasonably close.
Again and again, this generation is twisting God's Word to say something that it doesn't say because we've gotten this idea that this is a story less about God and more about us. We're slowly being told, taught, and trained that when we read the Bible, the character we're really looking for...is ourselves. (And I'm willing to bet that more than a few of you are reading this right now and saying to yourselves, "Well, yeah. If you don't understand that, you're an idiot.")
There are a million little problems with that, but a couple of very big ones. First, of course, it's led us to become the church that we are today, the church that is mocked by the world not for believing in Jesus, but for not believing in Him. Do you understand that the world's #1 problem with the church today is that there's not enough Jesus in it?
Second, and this is scary - we are just one small step away from reading the Bible and believing that Jesus is nothing more than a manifestation of us, that He is prophetically us. No longer will we read our Bibles and say that we should be more like Him because He, in our eyes, is already so much like us. No longer will we concern ourselves with developing His character in our hearts because He is nothing more than our character in God's story.
We will look into His eyes and see ourselves, and we will look into the mirror and see gods.
And, scarily, some of us are already there.