In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Bilbo accompanied a band of Dwarves on their quest to reclaim Lonely Mountain from the control of the dragon Smaug. To reach the dwarven home, Bilbo's party had to pass through Mirkwood - a dense, dangerous, and gloomy forest. There were only two paths through Mirkwood; Gandalf instructed the party to take the hidden Elf-Path because the main route (the Old Forest Road) was too far to the south, inconvenient in both time and resources.
Along the way, Bilbo and the Dwarves got distracted. One became enchanted. The rest wasted all of their arrows in failed attempts to hunt deer. Hungry, discouraged, and hallucinating, the group strayed from the path and got lost. Unable to find their way through Mirkwood, they were captured by giant spiders then imprisoned by wood elves. They had a plan but lost direction. Due to their own folly, they depleted their food supply, nearly lost their lives, and risked failing their quest.
As Christians, our mission is clear. At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples to make more disciples, to travel to all nations, baptizing them and teaching about Jesus. Paul instructed the Corinthian church to adhere to a ministry of reconciliation "not counting people's sins against them" so the world could be reconciled in Christ. That is our quest. Our Lonely Mountain is to deliver the gospel to the ends of the earth and restore the broken relationship between humanity and God.
However, I fear the modern church has (like the heroes in The Hobbit) strayed from the path. Our culture is Mirkwood and we have become enchanted by populist ideals of American exceptionalism. We have wasted our efforts and arrows hunting down the American dream of comfort and prosperity. We are now facing giant spiders of political idolatry. We may be captured by irrelevance. We risk failing our quest.
I have some ideas. Granted, I could be wrong but this is what I've observed.
We became too consumed with being theologically correct that we have forgotten how to be kind.
We are so busy defending our doctrine to consider if our doctrine is sound.
We worked so hard to make our worship services safe for us that we have made them unsafe for for the unchurched.
We tried to make a nation of disciples rather than making disciples of all nations.
We focused on the promise of eternal life after death and many of us forgot to live an abundant life before death.
We shouted down anyone who disagreed with us so frequently that our words and our actions rarely aligned.
We demonized those who didn't share our beliefs to the extent that we have alienated our mission field.
We were quick to share blatant falsehoods that supported our biases then forgot how the truth will set us free.
We embraced the double whammy of ignorance and arrogance as if intelligence and humility were a source of shame.
We spent so much time building churches that we failed to be the church.
Our witch hunts turned us into monsters.
Our moral authority left us morally bankrupt.
Our evangelism become an inquisition.
Our hopes were replaced by paranoia.
Our compassion soured into contempt.
Then we wonder why people are hostile to our message. We wonder why young people are abandoning the church. We wonder why "unaffiliated" is the fastest growing religious demographic in America.
Have we abandoned the greatest commandments? To love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; and to love others in the same way that we love ourselves? Have we given up on the instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who mistreat us? Did we quit caring for the poor, the hungry, the stranger, and the prisoner? Do we no longer see Jesus in the least of these?
Dear church, please stop.
It is time to revolt. I refuse to accept a culture where God's people no longer bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I will rebel against Christians who do not clothe themselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I will not forget that Jesus came to save the world and not condemn it. I believe the God who once said "come now, let us reason together" is the same God who called us to do good and seek justice.
So dear church, if you're not willing to welcome and care for the immigrant as the Bible commands, please stop. If you won't engage in the pure and undefiled religion of meeting the needs of orphans and widows, please stop. If you worry more about the welfare of the healthy than you do the sick, please stop. What you're doing is no longer working. We cannot continue being jerks for Jesus.
We need to do something new. Thankfully, our God is a creative God capable of things that have never been done before. Jesus told us "A new command I give you, love one another." Through the prophet Isaiah, God said "Behold I'm doing a new thing." The same old strategies we've been using aren't working, so let's embrace the new command. Let us love. As for the new thing God was doing in Isaiah? "I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."
Dear church, we do not need to be lost in the wilderness and wastelands. God has given us a path through our Mirkwood.