One of the distinguishing traits of emperors, autocrats, dictators and presidents who maintain long reigns and a stranglehold on their offices of power is their innate ability to morph or adapt to their environment. While many also make strategic use of brute force and violence, the most creative have a keen sense to detect developing trends and then adopt them as their own. Those unfortunate enough not to be paying attention or willingly refusing to accept what they are seeing are taken in by this apparent progressive “leadership” and continue to follow along, subjecting their will to the populist ruler who maintains their support.
Unfortunately, Christianity is not immune to this type of leadership, notwithstanding the fact that its apparent founder, Jesus of Nazareth, never exhibited this leadership style and in fact called it out repeatedly. From its earliest days, the community of Jesus followers was faced with these Chameleons of Christendom beginning with the Judaizers in the first century, through Constantine during the founding of institutional Christianity right up to the APE’s (Apostolic Prophetic Executives) of the 21st Century (more about the APE’s can be found in a previous post Planet of the Apes).
During Jesus’ day in the first century, the dominant institutional religion in Palestine was Judaism, which centred around the temple in Jerusalem, had very strict laws and customs and was dominated by a religious hierarchy led by the High Priest and Sanhedrin. Many of you are likely aware that this group, along with the Pharisees, Saduccees and Teachers of the Law, were the constant target of Jesus for their lifeless religion and complete disconnect from the heart of God and His purposes for humankind. What may not be as well understood is that as the infant church began to take its first steps many of these chameleons tried to infiltrate its ranks by apparently adopting some the new Way while attempting to hang onto many of the tenets of Judaism. These were the constant opponents of Paul the Apostle as he declared the gospel of grace based on salvation by faith alone. The IRS (Institutional Religious System) of his day was hostile to this message of freedom and consistently acted to infiltrate and co-opt it. The council at Jerusalem, where Paul presented his case in front of the leaders of the “Jewish Church”, was the high noon of this battle of opposing forces. Paul ultimately won his case and the church expanded into the Gentile world and all over the earth. Unfortunately, in over 2000 years, nothing has changed and the core issue remains.
Fast forward to Constantine, the Roman Emperor who, after an apparent encounter with God, completely changed the multi-century opposition of Rome to Christianity to adopting it as the official religion of the Roman Empire. After generations of torture, suffering and execution of Jesus followers as disloyal to Caesar as Lord, everything changed and it became fashionable to be a Christian. A movement started by Jesus that was never intended to become an institutional religion (hence the earlier reference to Jesus as the apparent “founder” of Christianity) had been co-opted by empire. The implications of this have impacted the world ever since and many have paid a massive price for Coming Out of the IRS ever since.
Our generation (1980’s to present) has encountered our own Chameleons of Christendom in several ways. Recall the small group or home group movement that was popular, primarily in the 80’s and 90’s but also somewhat prevalent today. What began as a sincere desire by many to meet in smaller and more intimate environments rather than the larger institutional setting was linked into institutional programs and hierarchical systems that connected back to the IRS. Teaching programs were even built based on the head pastor’s Sunday sermon to ensure the small groups did not wander away into error or to ensure they stayed “under covering”.
In recent years there has been a mass exodus from the IRS of many Jesus followers, fed up with hierarchical controlling organizations, concert-like group experiences and funding the careers and lifestyles of professional ministers. The Nones and Dones (people who identify as having no organized religion or those done with organized religion), connecting through various Internet-enabled creative means (e.g. chat, Facebook, Twitter, email, Instagram) and also face-to-face, are a new societal paradigm as they revolutionize social structures and flatten hierarchy. This trend is a serious threat to the IRS and its associated financial model. Enter the modern day Chameleons of Christendom. Recognizing their inability to stop this wave, their preferred strategy is to infiltrate it.
In recent days, many of those who are at the top of the current IRS hierarchy, especially those of the Prophetic/Charismatic persuasion have been increasingly referring to the Nones and Dones trend, often referencing it as “micro-church”. Some (e.g. Lance Wallnau, Peter Wagner, Chuck Pierce are but a few) have even referenced it as a positive trend and the new prophetic edge of the church. This is nothing but a chameleon in the process of changing its colour. At all costs, as many Jesus followers as possible must remain connected to the hierarchy of the IRS so that the honour, resources and of course money can continue to flow up the ladder. Watch for more of this trend from the “big names” of the IRS (aka APEs).
At this point, many of you will be thinking this is a harsh treatment of fellow believers or dishonouring to leaders in the Body of Christ. Our response would be to point you to both Jesus and Paul the Apostle for their relentless calling out of the chameleons of their day. Remember that Paul was once an integral part of the IRS of his day and following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and subsequent conversion faced a monumental task of convincing fellow Jesus followers of his sincerity, trustworthiness and repentance from his life in service to religious empire. This trust was earned through suffering, over a significant amount of time (years not weeks or months).
I leave you with Paul’s own words and state that when the APE’s of our day fully repent as he did for their part in creating an institution that has abused people so much that those people became part of the Nones and Dones then perhaps they can be considered trustworthy.
“Are they ministers of Christ? – I speak as a fool – I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” 2 Cor 11:23-29
This is but a small sample of how Paul regularly defended himself from those who challenged his authority and his trustworthiness. In short – I suffer, I refuse to take money for the preaching of the gospel and I am just a fellow worker for Christ. His letters to the Galatians, Philippians and both letters to the Corinthians are full of this type of defense. Take to time to familiarize yourself with this and compare it to the modern day APE’s who remain at the top of the hierarchical pyramid of Christendom while continuing to profit from it.
Until a change of heart costs the APE’s something, they suffer like Paul did and they stop feeding off empire then they are not to be trusted. Until then and only then, beware the Chameleons of Christendom…