Almost anything, even profitable things, maybe twisted by men for improper use.
The Old Testament Law and Covenant were good, as the Scriptures testify. Yet, many a person in the Old Testament abused the good revelation of God to Moses on Sinai for their own means and ends. Numerous books of the Prophets clearly address this issue.
Sometimes the trappings of the Kingdom of Heaven are misused to construct an empire dedicated to oneself (or a group).
One of the reasons the Pharisees rejected their Messiah, Jesus, was precisely due to this. Using the trappings of the Law, they built for themselves a place of power and control over others. They built for themselves a place of influence and prestige. They had constructed their own little empire. For them, the Law was not so much a life-giving revelation as it was a tool by which they could lord it over others and bring them into submission. Their empire was of greater value to them than the Kingdom of Heaven.
Throughout history, to our day, even the good trappings of Christianity have been abused by us men in our passions to create for ourselves places wherein we may be the “greatest.”
The Pharisees sought not to be servants of the Law, the path to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the people but rather lords. “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and great ones make their authority felt. But it shall not be so among you! Instead, whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27).
They set themselves up as gatekeepers and in abuse of their position, they set forth their own regulations and standards as means of entry. “You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in the face of people and you yourselves do not enter! And those who would enter you prevent from doing so” (Matt. 23:14). By setting up their own standards as means of entry, rather than the Revelation of God, they, in reality, were leading people not into the Kingdom of Heaven but into their own limited empire. They built this empire with the trappings of God’s Kingdom. They then rejected the very fullness of God’s Revelation, the Messiah, so to preserve their own empire and place. They feared that people would actually enter the Kingdom of Heaven, for therein is true freedom. But if people are free then they are no longer one’s slaves, and there will be no people to “lord it over.” What good is an empire then? By entering the Kingdom people would be exiting their empire. And this they could not abide. People must be dependent on them.
This reality is not restricted to religious leaders, it may manifest itself in the laity as much as the clergy. A church council (or a portion of it) may become of this spirit, a group of people, a whole local church, a regulatory committee, and so forth.
Allegiance is demanded by such, but not allegiance to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but rather allegiance to their chosen ways and means; even at times to their own person or group of persons.
If you, willingly or unwillingly, become a perceived threat to their status, they will implement methods of lordship to either bring you into submission or strive to break you altogether.
Even if there was some relationship, even a supposed friendship, all will count for nothing. Their empire has been threatened. Their place must be preserved. You are now a threat.
There is no greater sin than to threaten their place. A thousand former good actions and intents will be of no avail for the one who transgresses the self-appointed gatekeepers.
They will act as accusers, lawyers, judges, and the jury. They will deliberate behind closed doors. The verdict will be presented to you as a fiat accompli, and only a confession of guilt will suffice. Sign the confession, adhere to the verdict, accept it or suffer further repercussions. Punishment will be swift. The trappings of Christianity will be used.
All pleas will be rejected and forgiveness is not an option. The gatekeepers will search for dirt to be dug up on you. Any former words or actions that may be twisted to their agenda will be utilized. Everything will be filtered through their lens. Former conversations, even those that were thought to be confidential, will be dredged up; anything that may support their cause. Anything that may paint you as problematic, rebellious, unstable, mental, and so forth. You are the sole problem.
No discussions may be had, no attempt to understand, only, “have you signed your confession of guilt? If not then back to the cell with you!”
If even weakly, in a Christian manner, you seek out a path of forgiveness, extending a trembling hand of peace, they will meet you on the road of your return with a ledger detailing to the last penny the debt they claim that you owe; their wealth that they say you betrayed. They will strangle you on the way, demanding that you pay what you owe them in full. And then they will turn you over to the jailer to exact what he may from you.
If they find you beaten by thieves along the way, they will not pass by the other side. They will come and whisper in your ear that such is what you deserve. They will quite possibly inflict a few more blows for good measure, just so you do not forget that you are the worst of all. No oil or wine will be offered, no beast of burden to help bear you. No inn will be provided, no means to help you heal. You will be left in the wilderness with your wounds, and if you die it is only what you deserve. In fact, they hope you will because it may be used by them to prove how right they were about you. And they will be rid of your nuisance. Such is the lot of those who even if unconsciously contradict the empire of the gatekeepers.
You will be cast out in front of their gates, and not even dogs will be provided to lick your wounds. And if by grace you do begin to heal, if they see it they will eagerly pick up their clubs to beat you again. If you attempt to come and say, “my brother, my wounds are healing, may we amend?” They will pounce on you and say, “this time we will beat wounds into you that you will never forget!”
Weaknesses and shortcomings, if known, will be leveraged against you. (Sins and weaknesses are wonderful devices of control for them.) They will be heaped upon your shoulders in an attempt to bring you to your knees before them. Records will be kept. Surveillance will be maintained. Tallies will be added. The debt will be demanded. You will become guilty of all their problems, they will be neatly packaged and hung around your neck with the inscription, “guilty as charged.”
If possible, they will strive to turn even family and friends on you. They do not stop, or even fear, at trying to use husband or wife as tools to bring you under submission. Rumors will be spread, and your name will be defamed by them. The only reality for them is their narrative about you, it is the only “truth” and no other will be admitted.
Your conscience and conviction are of no value to them, you must slay them if they tell you to. And if you will not, you are a traitor. If they desire, they would have you remove your heart at their command. They will even provide the knife. Such is the submission that is required. Such is the price of their admission.
Your value to them was only in so much as you supported their empire. So long as you are in their crowd, they will afford you every benefit. As long as your labors added to their prestige, you were counted a brother. Stray but a little and you will be a marked man. As long as your efforts or words may be of profit for their empire, you will be in good grace. But threaten their place in some way that they perceive, and you will be cast out as a violator of the brethren. Systematic isolation will be applied, in as much as they are able. They will utilize whatever positions of authority to aid them in their cause.
You may have thought that you were working for the Kingdom of Heaven together; you were not. You were only of use as long as you were actually building their empire, while thinking that you were working for the Kingdom of Heaven. Once that changes and you are perceived as a threat to their empire, the Kingdom of Heaven or not, you will have to pay. Yet, God is merciful beyond measure and will accept all labors with good intentions for His Kingdom.
There was no bond of brotherhood, although you may have thought it to exist; no friendship deeper than mercantile value. For gatekeepers, your only place is a cog in their empire. Do your part unquestioningly and they will hold you in some value, deviate but a fraction and you will be forever cast out.
And yet, none of this should surprise us, for such are the tactics of self-appointed gatekeepers from times of old. When they shut the door on your face, though you may wander alone for a little, God in His mercy will provide for you in the desert they intended for your demise.
They cast you out from a band of ten; the Lord provides one hundred! They deny you the food of fellowship, the Lord provides a feast in the wilderness. So it will be if you strive, even weakly to set the Lord’s commandments as first in your life.
Let not our hearts be troubled when we find that the above things happen even in Orthodoxy (indeed such methods are typical in many places, for we men are everywhere). All of it is an opportunity for us to enter deeper into Christ Jesus. In such situations, we may turn our hearts to the Lord, and if we have sinned, God will not cast us out. If we seek Him in repentance, He will run to meet us on the road. If we fall down before Him and say, Lord please forgive! He forgives us in total. If we wander just a little, He comes with a heart full of love seeking us out, speaking, “are you well, my child? I have had a heart full of worry for you.” Then He takes us on His shoulders and carries us to His safe fold. If He finds us beaten, not only by thieves but by those who we thought to be comrades, He will tend to our wounds and bear our infirmities. He will take us to His inn and pay for our restoration. He will never turn us away from the gates of His Kingdom if we do not turn ourselves away.
The gatekeepers of this world have no power to deny us entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. We may be temporarily cast out of their empires, but in the long run who needs such supposed friends? Who needs fellowship that is based only on exploitative worth? It is indeed better to be an outcast from such places.
We must also always forgive. We must not let the actions of others turn our hearts cold and hard. It is a great struggle. But, we are responsible before the Lord to forgive, for the same measure we use shall be measured out to us. That is, we set the limits to the mercy that we will receive. And most of all, when a person is cast out by those whom he thought were his friends, in that moment there is such an incalculable opportunity to forgive. It may take seventy times seven, but we must never cease to pursue mercy and forgiveness. We must guard ourselves against the methods of the gatekeepers
Let us leave the gatekeepers who are guarding their empires to God, let us faithfully seek after the Kingdom of Heaven which is eternal and from which no man may cast us out.
“Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness toward God … All who obey His commandments remain in Him, and He remains in them” (1 John 3:21,24).
5 thoughts on “The Gatekeepers and the Kingdom of Heaven”
Your blessing, Fr +
A painfully truthful (and experiential) read. Thank you.
“The gatekeepers of this world have no power to deny us entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. We may be temporarily cast out of their empires, but in the long run who needs such supposed friends? Who needs fellowship that is based only on exploitative worth? It is indeed better to be an outcast from such places.”
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility* with God? Whoever wants to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!” James 4:4
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Just on the receiving end of a little silly gatekeeping as I am an aspirant/pre-catechumen. Then I come across this! Thanks be to God for giving you this insight.
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There will be no dissenting Bishops, for all who dissent will be Bishops no longer. There can be no Law without veneration for Truth. The action of Law is a balancing and bringing to peace of many contending perspectives, but the totalitarian power must not only deny the current relevance of other perspectives, it must deny that they ever existed. In “A Man For All Seasons”, Thomas More says, “This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”. Without Law, righteousness is powerless in the face of iniquity.
Dear Father, I wept as I read this one- also a recipient of such treatment within a church setting, your words are so painfully accurate. Thank you for speaking up. The family and friends turned against us by the narrative of the gatekeepers sometimes perhaps do see what is going on but lack courage or conviction to stand up and speak up, for fear of losing their “privileged” status. We must guard our hearts against turning cold. God grant you strength and endurance! Our prayers are with you, always.