Whoever welcomes you welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes God’s messenger because he is God’s messenger, will share in his reward. And whoever welcomes a good man because he is good, will share in his reward.
[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions. For background see Days 83-84.]
Jesus is winding up his instructions to his disciples about their upcoming mission trip to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God, heal and deliver people from demons, and raise the dead. This is a motivational statement to encourage them on their way. They are representatives of Jesus, delivering a message from God about how ordinary people have the power to heal people and forgive sins (See Day 75). He is sending them out to let people know that God wants to use each of them to do great and wonderful things (See Days 57-58). He is sending them out to perform miracles so that people will know that God’s Kingdom is breaking out here on earth. They are indeed on a mission from God!!
Jesus is sending his disciples out with the purpose of starting a grassroots movement. This methodology was pretty revolutionary in and of itself. Usually messages from God were delivered to the Kings or rulers of the earth because it was considered to be privileged information. Moses delivered his message from God to the Egyptian Pharoah; he didn’t go door to door to enlist the Hebrew slaves to join him. He forced Pharoah to liberate the slaves instead of inciting the Hebrews to liberate themselves. In this case Jesus switches it up by bypassing all of the authorities and taking it to the streets.
In this scripture Jesus once again underscores that the people his disciples will serve are free to welcome or reject his message. Earlier, the disciples are instructed to go only where they are welcomed and wanted (see Day 86). Jesus doesn’t want them to force their message or ministry on anyone who isn’t interested. Everyone who has the common sense and inherent goodness to recognize that the way of Jesus is a the true path will be rewarded.
Compare this to “Christendom.” According to Wikipedia, Christendom, or the Christian world, has several meanings. In a cultural sense, it refers to the worldwide community of Christians, adherents of Christianity. In its historical sense, the term usually refers to the medieval and early modern period, during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power.
In essence, the earliest vision of Christendom was a vision of a Christian theocracy, a government founded upon and upholding Christian values, whose institutions are spread through and over with Christian doctrine. In this period, members of the Christian clergy wield political authority. The specific relationship between the political leaders and the clergy varied but, in theory, the national and political divisions were at times subsumed under the leadership of the church as an institution. This model of church-state relations was accepted by various Church leaders and political leaders in European history.
One of the defining characteristics of Christendom was forced conversions. After a couple of hundred years of the free grassroots expansion that Jesus envisioned, Christianity spread throughout Europe largely as a result of conquest and domination. Examples are:
- Romans used forced conversion after Christianity became the sole legal religion in the Roman Empire in 392.
- Charlemagne forced the Germanic Saxons to become Roman Catholics in the late 700s.
- In the 1300s Lithuanians were targeted and converted by the Roman Catholics.
- Both Jews and Muslims were forced to become Roman Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition in the 1400s.
- The Portuguese tortured and oppressed the Hindus in Goa, India to convert to Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries, destroying their temples and sacred books. Resistance was punished with torture and imprisonment.
- In the 1900s US Christians separated Native American children from their parents and forced them to adopt European-American culture and religion.
Religious scholars say that the high point of Christendom was the Middle Ages when the Roman Catholic Church launched the Crusades, a 200 year period of military campaigns to conquer the Holy Land. In the 1600s the Reformation Movement ended the monopoly of Rome and a multiplicity of Protestant churches sprang up, although many countries created national churches that mimicked the Roman Catholic Church except that the head of the church was the national monarch. Examples are the Church of England and Church of Sweden.
One of the founding principles of the United States was freedom of religion. Although many think this the right to impose their beliefs on others, it was actually a ban on forced conversion to any specific religion. The idea caught on, and Christendom no longer has the authority to force anyone to convert. However there are still forced conversions at the family level. Babies are baptized as infants, and church membership is imposed long before individuals have matured into adulthood.
So in this scripture Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes God’s messenger because he is God’s messenger, will share in his reward.”
It’s hard to miss the word “welcome.” Christendom never gave the people of western Europe a chance to welcome Jesus. Christendom forced “Christ” down people’s throats and kicked Jesus to the curb. The result was that instead of the glorious Kingdom of God, we got stuck with the enslavement of Christendom. Christendom was not what Jesus had in mind. It’s a pretty pitiful alternative.
My learned husband tells me that I’m not the first person to come up with this notion. He just told me about Soren Kierkegaard, a famous Danish philosopher and theologian who lived in the early 1800s. One of his famous quotes is, “Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it.” It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who thinks these kinds of things. Apparently I’m not totally out in left field. If I am I’m out there in good company.
As for my own personal experience, the church I grew up in didn’t work for me. It just made me feel guilty and enslaved and I never fit in. The wilderness of secularism was worse, so I chose to come back when I was about 30 years old. I wandered into my future husband’s church and my life took a radical turn for the better.
I have dedicated myself to following Jesus because I think he reveals the heart of God, and my goal is to know God to the extent that it’s possible. I love God so very much. I loved God even when I was in the wilderness. He has always been my goal.
As I get older I’m learning to appreciate the church, too. I see its potential when I study that 300 year period after the death of Jesus when Christianity was spreading solely on the basis of its merits. I see the power of a loving community that isn’t based on self-interest. I see the beauty of a society where people take care of each other. I see the potential of people working together to unleash untapped spiritual energy that God wants humanity to release into the world.
I think we can still turn this around. I am so grateful that in the midst of Christendom there were people who dedicated themselves to recording the life and teachings of Jesus. They faithfully preserved the original texts. Like Biblical heroes Nehemiah and Ezra who rebuilt foundations of the Jewish faith after the exile, we can go back and rebuild this Christianity thing from the ground up.
But I still can’t help wondering what the church would look like today if it had been allowed to spread naturally like the grassroots movement Jesus initiated in this scripture. A movement that spread naturally to all who welcomed his message, to all people of good will. What would the church be like if it had grown from the bottom up instead of the top down? We’ll never know. But with God there’s always a second chance. We don’t have to settle for anything less than the Kingdom of God. It’s never too late to begin again.
What does this scripture say to you?