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Be Perfect in the Eyes of the Lord, Not in the Opinion of the World
Christianity as a whole is full of rituals: how to act, how to look, what to say, insistence on certain ways of behaving, singing hymns, communal prayers and rigid worship. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, confessions, and communions, designed as symbols of faith, have successfully bound congregations in close bonds of duty and obligation. They are also massive money spinners. In first-century Palestine, religion was about ritual and appearance; it mattered a lot what you did and when you did it, what you said and how you said it. So when Jesus broke with tradition, like when he performed his magic on the Sabbath, she raised eyebrows.
Hebrews 7:11 says,
“If perfection could have been achieved through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why would there still be a need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”
What exactly is the order of Melchizedek and how does it change the landscape of worship? This is a massive question for all Christians that is not always fully understood.
To begin our understanding of this verse, a little history is necessary. Before Jesus, only those who descended from Aaron, the tribe of Levi, had the right to become High Priest; Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and therefore was not eligible; but Jesus’ authority came from order of Melchizedek. We hear of Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham, long before we hear of Aaron, at the beginning of Exodus. What is interesting about the Melchizedek priesthood is that it owes its authority directly to God, bypassing Israelite tradition. We don’t know much about Melchizedek, but we do know from the New Testament that Jesus’ right to the priesthood came from him, not the Levites. This explains the anger created among the high priests of his time. Bypassing the authority of the Pharisees presented Jesus as a threat to the establishment.
So the vitriol aimed at Jesus was not caused by the fact that his teachings were unbiblical or irreligious, but that he was relying on a tradition that overtaken Judaism (see Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4). With this simple shift of biblical focus, believers were freed from the legalism of the past, the endless list of dos and don’ts of Leviticus, to which they had been subjected since the time of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Through Jesus they were connected to an even older order that predated the Commandments by some 300 years and gave them a direct line to God. This was such a massive step forward religiously that it is almost impossible to imagine today. The closest modern comparison would be a young man who attacks the Vatican in the name of God and tells the Pope that God says: “Thank you for your time, but he no longer requires your services.”
After that, God’s grace was available to everyone, not just Jews, and anyone could be a priest, not just a Levite. While the Old Testament rules were an important part of improving Israel’s faith in a time of dire hardship and uncertainty, they were never intended to be in effect forever. Paul in Romans 3:20-24 he says: “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” In other words, a new time has come – it’s not what you do, but what you believe that counts.
Every thing good. However, within 300 years of Jesus’ death, the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome and established a common faith agreed upon at a council of bishops held in Nicaea. This, with minor adjustments, would be preached in churches across Europe for centuries to come and would once again make the church the authority in people’s lives, the only way to salvation. Ritual returned to the idea of worship. This was not necessarily a bad thing, except that over time it opened the door to corruption. By the end of the first millennium, the sacraments had become bargains and were traded for money. Congregations kept in ignorance of the true meaning of their faith had to hand over money to secure their salvation. The wealth of the church multiplied. Greedy priests and popes in alliance with the state continued to make the word of Christ a tool for political domination and intolerance. Martyrs abound in early church history, burned at the stake for heresy, which often amounted to nothing more than a dispute over the meaning of a verse or two in the Bible. The Inquisition, designed to test heretical beliefs, soon acquired a reputation for cruelty. The Reformation, both Catholic and Protestant, helped change some of these bad habits, but in general the pattern of the church established by Constantine and his bishops remains to this day.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The church and priests are exposed as untrustworthy and out of step with the new enlightenment. Numerous scandals have tarnished the character of the priesthood. A brief examination of history reveals that religion was behind most of the conflicts of the past, from the massacres carried out by the Crusades to the troubles in Northern Ireland and strife in the Middle East. A new “woke” generation wants nothing to do with this kind of sectarianism. A faith which tells them that in order to attain perfection in their faith they must forsake their rights as individuals or take up arms against one another, is not a faith to which a peace-loving generation can relate. Yet Christ, the symbol of that faith, if he were to walk the earth today, would undoubtedly support their cause. He preached the exact opposite of sectarianism. He explained that perfection is in God’s eyes, not ours, and that, incrediblyGod manages to find perfection in us weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9) not our supposed strengths. The problems created throughout church history were not because of the word of Christ, but because of how that word was misused and misused by greedy and powerful men.
Dissatisfaction with the church has led to a diminishing of the value of Christ in our lives. As the church’s influence in society has declined, so many greedy and powerful men have had to find refuge in other activities. The new liberal capitalism of the 80s provided the perfect vehicle. Today, instead of being ritualized in the church, we are being ritualized in a secular society that still needs to control its population. The rules for correct behavior – what to say and how to say it, what to do and how to do it – are increasing. There is a sense that our personal liberties are being eroded and sacrificed again on the altar of greed and corruption.
We need Christ-like teachings in faith and tolerance more than ever. Greed and corruption remain and grow every day. Intolerance towards those who do not “fit in” have become normalized. Success is increasingly based on self-interest, on our appearance and behavior, on sound bites and buzz, media-driven, rituals imposed by an all-encompassing global marketplace. We have come full circle. But instead of the church trying to steal our identity and take our money, now it’s the global market.
Only by returning to the order of Melchizedek, the authority that comes directly from God, the faith written on our hearts, can we escape the pressures that big corporations put on us.
Trust returns our values to factory settings. Right and wrong become clear when Jesus’ model is followed, returning power to the common people. Religious ritual, done right, can play an essential role in the well-being of our communities by providing justice and social protection (both inside and outside the church); despite the mistakes of the past, it must remain in our lives. Common worship, social support, prayers, hymn-singing, large gatherings in the name of Jesus, all these are positive religious means, which, when the ulterior motives are removed, are of great benefit to the vulnerable; a good Christian sermon can give hope to those who have given up everything. I’ve often thought that rock concerts are just pandering to a spiritual longing we have in our hearts; that drugs fill the gaps left by the missing love of God; that sex has taken the place of our desire to be inside God’s church; sex, drugs and rock n rollmantra of my youth, are all but faint reflections of the bliss of knowing Christ which is the real thing and far better because it is freely offered without condition, without humiliation.
But like a good rock concert, crowds should flock to church because they want the thrill, not because someone tells them they should.
All of us, of any faith or none, have within us this need for spiritual upliftment, but we must find it in the right places and not where society directs us. Society today functions by denigrating us and convincing us of the need to constantly improve, just as the old church did. This is what sells the product. However, divine perfection does not come from looking or behaving perfectly, but from believing in love for all and an unshakable faith in God’s plan for each of us, which is perfect without us having to do anything but to believe.
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