Thursday, 23 September 2010

Loving Jesus, Hating the Church

Following on from my little catalogue of reasons why people might hate Christians, here's an interesting thought from Jackson Browne.  "The Rebel Jesus" was recorded with The Chieftains for a Christmas album.  I don't know how much theology Browne knows, but he's managed, by accident or design, to write a fabulous liberation theology Christmas carol.  After describing a happy Northern Hemisphere Christmas, he moves on to the person it's all about.

Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
And they call him by 'the Savior'
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
While their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Having pilloried the worshippers he signs off with this.

So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

His problem, you see, isn't with Jesus.  He loves Jesus and his message.  His problem is that those who should be following Jesus have betrayed him.  Christians are identified with his persecutors, not with him.  True worshippers will be outside the church, "heathens and pagans on the side of the rebel Jesus".

When I went looking for the lyrics to this song, it was interesting to find quite a few Christian bloggers using its title and even its words as background for their own meditations - like this one, or this.  There are plenty of Christians who, like me, think Browne has a point.


Daria-in-Sydney said...

I have thought about this a lot in realtion to the self-righteousness that I am confronted by in some people. After iteractions with some incredibly certain and firm people I wonder how they have so little room for self reflect ion self improvement and acceptance... About what is at the core of their beliefs, can they use one word to describe their values?

Jon said...

I see that kind of self-rightousness as defensiveness. Some people feel their beliefs or their view of the world to be under threat (the main threat is within themselves but they project it outward) and so defend it stridently. The more confident you are in your own beliefs, the more relaxed you are about others differing from you - as a huge generalisation.

Harden said...

Whilst I can empathize certainly with what he says I wonder if this disdain for bigotry is bigotry in itself.

Also I think that inherent following Jesus is an acknowledgement that there is in fact no way we can live consistently with the way he requires. Yet it is this inherent inconsistency in human nature that was the very reason that Jesus came to die.

Jon said...

I'm not sure that he's talking about bigotry so much as about greed. But yes, it's easy to point the finger at someone else, much harder at ourselves. The first step to faith is admitting our weakness.

Andrew said...

What a great song! Gonna have to find it.

Jon said...

Many versions on You Tube, or else it's part of a Chieftains album called "Bells of Dublin" which also has some other lovely Christmas songs done Irish-style.

I'm wondering if maybe a "Christian" way of singing this song would be to substitute "we" for "they".

In a strange land said...

it's a funny thing - this Christian church. We try so hard to be's probably better we don't get a reward for being good this side of heaven, because we immediately become bigheaded, bigoted,holier-than-thou. Certainty seems to prevent us touching the divine.