I saw a post on Facebook that was emotional, moving, and very inspirational. It included a video of a condor that was being released into the wild. The video in the post had over 3.8 million views and said the bird had lived for years in a zoo. It was unclear as to why it was in the zoo, but the release back into the environment in which it had been created to live was awe-inspiring.
The video ran for about six minutes. For almost four and a half of those, the condor stood at the edge of a canyon, turning alternatively from the freedom before it and the group of people who had released it and were recording this moving scene. The bird stretched and flapped its wings as though it were unsure as to whether or not it was truly capable of flight. As the bird neared its takeoff, inspirational music began which set the mood for the moment that the bird finally leapt into the air and soared into freedom. The crowd burst into cheers as the freed condor took its first flight, the orchestra climaxed to a powerful crescendo of victorious strains, and the condor cautiously celebrated its first moments of freedom by circling over the canyon for thirty five seconds before coming to land on a rock on an opposing hillside. The cameras then alternated from a panoramic shot of other condors soaring over the canyon and a zoomed in shot of the newly released captive stretching its wings on the rock on which it had landed. My emotions were stirred as I watched.
However, it also left me wondering how long the bird would actually survive in the wild. The caption merely stated that the bird had “stayed years in a cage in a zoo.” It didn’t say how long the bird had lived without having to provide or care for itself. It didn’t mention that, in the wild, condors are observed competing with one another for access to the carrion that they feed on, with the stronger birds driving away the weaker. No mention at all was made of how condors locate that carrion to begin with. I hope that the freed bird has the residual instinct in itself to overcome those obstacles and that it enjoys its new found freedom.
But it also stirred some deeper questions in me. It caused me to realize that to survive in a free environment requires some personal responsibility and survival skills that were inherent in the people of our society when it was founded. I wonder if some of those may have been lost as we’ve become more prosperous. I’ve wondered how many have been “hand fed” since they came into the world and have never developed the skills to fend for themselves in “the wild.” I wonder if turning to government to provide everything we need might actually be allowing the “zookeepers” to keep us in our cages. And it might even be more comfortable for us to remain there.
I also fear for the Church for the same reasons. Over the 30 years I’ve been in full time ministry, I’ve noticed – and fought against – the soul-destroying notion that the institutional Church was God’s design to take care of His people. While we are certainly called to care for and love one other, we are not called to rely on the Church to feed and take care of us. Yet time and time again, we encounter believers reliant on their local church leadership to study and interpret the Scriptures for them, reveal God’s will to them, pray on their behalf, solve their spiritual problems for them, encourage them when they are disillusioned, and lift them out of the consequences of their own choices. We have also discovered that there are many leaders who are more than willing to provide what the people clamor for; serving as a substitute for God, deriving their own sense of self-importance from their positions, influence, and status in the Church.
True freedom in any society necessitates that each individual assumes responsibility for his or her own life and choices. The problems we face today may simply be the fruit of a society that believes it is someone else’s responsibility to care for them.
This is nothing new. It has been characteristic of human nature since the fall of mankind. The people complained to Moses when he led them out of the captivity of Egypt, and were not fed in the manner to which they had become accustomed during their slavery to Pharaoh. Aaron was willing to create a golden calf to speak to the people while Moses climbed the mountain to hear God for himself. Only Joshua and Caleb exhibited the willingness to fight for the Promised Land. In the days of Samuel, the people demanded a king that would take care of them. When Jesus walked the earth, He encountered an entrenched institution of religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees – who enjoyed the institutional control they exerted over the people. It wasn’t the sinners who crucified the Christ. It was His own people – the Church of His day.
Let us not forget that God used Pharaoh to accomplish His will. He used the Philistines to remove His presence from His people, which resulted in David preparing a place for His presence that moved beyond the liturgical order of Moses’ tabernacle. He used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to take His people captive again, to accomplish His will. He used the serpent to separate mankind from Himself, which resulted in the freedom to offer love back to Him by free choice. And He used satan again to tempt and ultimately crucify His Son. What the enemy means for evil, God turns to good. He uses His enemies to ultimately accomplish His purposes. And He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
Just as that condor was released into the world for which it was created but may have never known, I wonder how many will be able to feed themselves when – not if – the cages of institutional Christianity are finally destroyed by the Holy Spirit. The Lord may be using the political agendas of this ungodly world to accomplish His work, and it may not be long before the “zookeepers” in the Church are no longer allowed the freedom to hand-feed God’s “condors.” How many of us will know how to survive when we are launched into the wild?