As mentioned before, HBO’s Bill Maher has laid down a challenge to all Christian Ministers. He states that our religion creates an urgent problem, namely sin, and then sells a solution, salvation and/or the regular support of the institutional church (see http://billkemp.info/content/bill-maher-and-nicodemus). He compares today’s ministers to an episode of The Three Stooges, where the guys have an extermination business. Moe, Larry, and Curly are seen planting mice and bugs in the homes that they hope to sell their services to. Maher implies that Christianity has planted the glitch of guilt into our nation’s collective conscience. Personally, I don’t think organized religion is that organized anymore.
Perhaps we are like The Three Stooges, but not in the way Maher says. I remember the guys getting themselves in trouble in each episode by selling themselves as experts in something they know nothing about. Whether it was pest control, painting, or laying brick, The Three Stooges were ignoramuses. There is similarly, a great danger when we pass ourselves off as religious leaders and understand little about human psychology or the mysterious ways of God. This is precisely the context of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John Chapter 3.
I am amazed by how few of my colleagues understand family systems theory or attempt to apply it to their church. How do you defuse congregational conflict if you don’t know the consensus building tools behind Getting to Yes? Do Jungian archetypes inform the narrative arc of your sermons? What about Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More? (Remember H.E. Fosdick’s belief that the pulpit should be used for personal counseling on a large scale?) As Jesus tells Nicodemus, the ugliness of the human psychic condition can be symbolized as a rattle snake on a pole. Those who look upon that snake will find healing for their inner traumas (John 3:14).
Nicodemus was running for Bishop in 32 AD, but he had little grasp of the grace of God. His theology lacked mystery. He focused on what could be said in legal phrases and declarative sentences. He would have no trouble with the Apostles’ Creed or the 39 Fundamentals. He had a problem with Jesus describing the Holy Spirit as being like the wind. He had a problem with the impossible; Christianity deals with the miraculous rebirth of individuals by the saving power of God. The gaps in his personal theological experience made Nicodemus as ineffective as Moe, Curly, or Larry in matters of religion. When will Jesus teach us how to pray?