Recently I celebrated the seventy-second anniversary of my “second birthday”~ the date I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. Since that long-ago day, there have been many ups and downs of faith as I have wrestled with God over who was to be in charge.
I haven’t struggled much with the basics of faith: my need for a Savior and God’s provision in His Son.
My doubts and confusion over the years have usually been rooted in the dissonance I have seen between what is taught about the life of faith and the reality in the lives of many professing Christians, including myself. How can we say “this”, I wonder, and then do “that”?
All of us fail at times, but I see a difference between trying and failing and repentantly trying again to do His will, and the behavior of those who, having made a confession of faith, apparently believe it is all right just to let their old nature continue to be in charge.
It makes me wonder about the validity of their confession. Is it possible in a genuine conversion to accept Him as Savior, but not also want to make Him Lord? That is where the real work begins in becoming God’s person: the submission of the self to the will of God. It is as an observer that I speak her ~ not a judge. I am all too aware of my own failures, and as I try to correct these I can’t help but be aware that these problems exist throughout the Church.
When I was a young Christian things seemed less complicated, and had more focus. Our mutual love and gratitude for Him was the reason for us to gather together. It was enough. Individual churches were not huge business ventures. We didn’t need more than the simplest organization because the church kept it simple: the worship of God, and learning how to be better servants of His. I am often not sure what the Church’s function is today. Sometimes it seems more like a social center, or a place to go for entertainment, or a social services agency. I am not saying these are bad things. They are mostly good, helpful ways of loving our neighbor. What I fear is that in the process of developing all these programs we may have minimized or trivialized the essential work of the Church: the literal worship of God, the development of a stronger personal relationship between God and ourselves, and the furtherance of the Gospel.
Many people assume that the most important thing we do as Christians is to be faithful in good works. They believe these activities will make us stronger Christians and closer to the Lord. I understand that line of reasoning, but I would like to add something. While we are definitely to serve others and reflect His love in that service, that is not our primary function. “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” was the first thing I memorized from my catechism in Sunday School as a child. How do we do that? Our real focus should be the development of a stronger and deeper relationship with the Father along with the good works. We glorify Him with the good works, but it is in knowing Him better that we enjoy Him. The relationship is the root; the good works are the fruit.
God could have taken us all home as soon as we became believers. Instead, He left us here. The obvious question is “why?” What is the purpose of the Church? Is it to have the largest church campus possible? T o provide an opportunity for church musicians to become famous and rival the entertainers of the world? Is it to make millionaires of the pastors? Is it primarily to be our center for entertainment and provide social services for the congregants? Is it to be a major business empire? Is it to provide a kind of cocoon for its members and keep us set apart from the rest of the world? I don’t think so.
I think that we may have over-complicated God’s design. In my opinion, the Church as a Body is here simply to be a witness to the grace and love of God and to preach the Gospel. The church building is to provide a convenient center for us, as a Body, to meet together for the worship and remembrance of God; a place where we learn how to become more like Christ, and a place to preach the Gospel. We are to be prepared to give a Word at any time and in any appropriate situation. Christ told us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Why isn’t the Church more effective in taking the Gospel forward in today’s times? Perhaps it is because we have lost the concept of genuine worship, with God as the center of our focus. We seem to have sidelined God and replaced Him with the Praise Team, the pastor’s political views, or even preaching against other people who are different from us. In my humble opinion, we need to get back to basics.
Contrary to what most of us have been taught, I have also come to believe that in order to serve as salt and light we must be in the world to some degree. Our model is Christ, and we should remember that Jesus was criticized by the law keepers because He “ate and drank with sinners”. This is not to say we accept the beliefs and principles of the world, but we should be able to relate to our neighbors simply because we are all sinners who need God’s grace. The idea of a less insular life scares some because they are not sure they can manage to be in the world, but not of it. They hide within the safety of the Church. They interpret the instruction to “Come out from among them and be ye separate” as a literal withdrawal ~ but I have come to believe that the intent of that passage was not a literal, but a spiritual withdrawal from the values of the world. If we are being effective witnesses to the love of God, we cannot be so separate from the rest of the world that our message is inaudible except to ourselves. We cannot live in a closed society, drawing up our skirts at the approach of non-believers. In our clannishness and judgmental attitudes, while claiming to represent love, we have lost credibility. What does the world think about evangelicals? Our present image is that of stuffy, hate-mongering, self-righteous, and out-of-touch prigs. This may be because we have forgotten that our message is to be one of hope and love, and not that of the judgment of our neighbors. The global face of the Church has changed. We have gone from being an institution that the world generally respected (even if they didn’t accept it) ~ to being perceived as a people who epitomize the exact opposite of the love of God.
I feel puzzled and terribly saddened by all these things. I cannot help but wonder if God, perhaps, simply intended us to be loving, caring people who live peacefully among our neighbors with open hearts to serve. Friendships with neighbors wouldn’t be organized, manipulative attempts at evangelizing, but just ordinary friendships with nice people. In this relationship I would simply be who I am ~ a believer and follower of Christ. Our testimony and the presentation of the Gospel would come naturally out of everyday conversations. We would openly (but not manipulatively) share with our neighbors how God was involved in our lives and our decisions. We would share the idea of sin by confessing that we are sinners ~ but that, out of love, Christ has purchased our salvation with His sacrifice. There would be no need for hate-filled preaching at people; hypocritically condemning them for their sins and ignoring the fact that we (I) still sin every day because we will never reach perfection this side of heaven. The God we presented would be far more approachable than the rather unloving mixed message we currently present.
The Lord specifically told us not to judge others (Matt. 7:1-7, ) lest we also be judged. Although church leadership is directed to judge the overt sin of believers in a congregation, and discipline appropriately for the health of the Body, it is not our role to condemn our non-believing neighbors. Paul specifically says that it is not his business to judge those outside the church: that God will judge them. Judgment is God’s prerogative. (I Corinthians 5:12 -13) This changes the present dynamic between the world and the Church dramatically. Does this mean we are not called to be the conscience of our non-believing neighbors and that their relationship to God is between them and God? That it is not my role to condemn others for their sins, but to attend to my own? That I am only to tell my story and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to open the spiritual ears of others? That would change a lot of things. I am not sure where it would take us, but I know I need to think hard about it.
I am not expressing myself well. I can’t quite find the words to express this sense of something so much more profound and yet so much more simple than the complicated confusion we have made of the Church. We have bound ourselves up in so many rules and regulations and traditions and cliches that we have lost the freedom in Christ that He promised. His yoke is meant to be easy; His burden light. We have forged a new set of chains to burden us and keep us from the beautiful, clear vision of a loving God and His grace toward us. We have turned our worship away from Him and put it on ourselves and OUR needs, OUR feelings, OUR entertainment, and our complicity with the world.
I have not meant to be judgmental here. I am just expressing my sense of sadness and frustration with a Church that has been compromised by materialism and worldliness, and whose true center is too often the needs of self and not the worship of the Almighty God and His Christ. Selah.