Thoughts to Ponder

Church - What happened?

When I refer to church in this article I am referring to the local assembly of believers, not any certain denomination or even the body of Christ as a whole. Although some denominations may be more prone to some of the things I want to discuss, I believe that the problems cross all denominational lines.

I believe that the church today is quickly becoming an apostate church. I believe we have lost our first love and have even lost sight of our purpose in many cases.

All too often you will see things like the following happening in local churches. People will be judged on their appearance or social standing. People who are business men or women or who are owners of businesses or professionals, will be courted. They will be asked to serve on the board of Elders, or become a Deacon, or a Trustee. They will be asked to teach classes, or be involved in some other way. Yet those who are not professionals, or executives are treated differently. Their views are not given the same weight as the upper class. Their expertise is not sought after, but rather the expertise of those who have proven themselves in this world.

The "Big Givers" are courted also. They are given positions of prominence in the church and their opinions are listened to with rapped attention. I can't help but wonder if this were the first century, would Jesus Christ have any say in the church? After all he was a common laborer before His ministry started, He was a carpenter. All the Apostles with the exception of Paul were common laborers too. Not men of higher learning, or executives, or big givers.

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV) [26] Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. [28] He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, [29] so that no one may boast before him. [30] It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. [31] Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

When we exalt the wise of this world, just because they are wise by the world's standards, we are ignoring God and how He works. I am not saying that those who are business men or professionals should have no say in the church, but I am saying that who has a say should be judged spiritually not worldly. James addresses this too:

(James 2:1-4 NIV) [1] My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. [2] Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. [3] If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," [4] have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

This is a all too common occurrence. It is human nature to want to be friends with those who are better off socially then we are. It is human nature to want to sit by those who are better dressed, whether in church or anywhere else. The problem is that human nature is something that we are to battle against.

(Romans 12:2 NIV) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God´s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan, He was making this very point. He told of a priest and a Levite who both passed the badly hurt man. These were the upper crust of society in Jesus' day. The Samaritans on the other hand were considered half breeds, and looked down on. We see that when Jesus rested in a Samaritan town and asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She was shocked that a Jew would even talk to her. Getting back to the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus used this Samaritan to shame the Jews for the way they viewed other people. He used someone they despised as the hero of the story.

Yet we often do the same things the Jews back then did. We 'step' around those who are hurting in our churches. We don't want to get bloody or dirty by trying to attend to their wounds. What we are really doing is showing that our evil human nature is still in control of our actions.

I have seen and I am sure you have too, the people who don't have much financial means manning the guest information counters in many churches. They are there every Sunday, faithfully. They always represent the church with a smile and a kind word to those who are visiting or needing assistance. Yet these very people who give so unselfishly of themselves are not even noticed by the movers and shakers of most churches. They are only noticed if they don't show up for a week or two. Not because the first thought of the congregation is that they must be sick or they would be manning their post, no, the first thought is, now who's going to stand here?

The same is often true in children's class rooms. It is often those who don't have degrees or letters following their names, who teach the children, while those who do have letters after their names are teaching the adults. There might not be much glory in teaching 3, 4 or 5 year olds, but there sure are a lot of spiritual rewards for doing so.

Many churches have become 'seeker sensitive' meaning that they are trying hard to get the lost to come to church. That sounds great on the surface but at what price? We wow the lost with our technology and our 'we're just like you' music and dress. The problem is that we are not just like them, if we are then there is no reason to get them to come to church in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those who believes any music with a beat is from the devil. I am not one of those who thinks that church as to be solemn and boring, but I do think that when we try so hard to please those who would not usually come to our churches, we are missing the point. We bring them in by how cool our churches are and then we try to keep them coming back because our churches are fun and entertaining, but in the process we forget our first love. We forget why it is so important to get them inside the church in the first place. It is only important if we are going to give them the abrasive message of Jesus Christ. You know what? Many of the people who first hear the 'good news' will hate it and think it is nothing but foolishness and that anybody who believes it must be sick. They won't want to come back and be around those kinds of people, yet that is who Christ has called us to be!!

(1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message is foolishness to them. That is not our problem or our concern, we are to speak the truth in love and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of those who hear.

(2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV) [15] For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. [16] To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?

Indeed who is up to such a task? Apparently not those who's main concern is numbers. Apparently not those who watch the bottom line instead of the alter. Oh for a man or woman who is willing to pray that God would make them a fool for Christ and use them as the smell of death to reach the lost! Sometimes it is the smell of death that reaches people, not entertainment.

Many churches are also discouraging discernment. I can only hope they are doing so out of ignorance. Let me explain what I mean. Many churches are members of other larger churches organizations or associations. They use these mega churches materials and training aids.

One of these association's courses have a covenant in the back of the book for each participant to sign at the beginning of the course. This covenant says something to the effect that the person pledges to do the work and finish the course. That might sound good when you first hear it. After all we all know people who start courses and then don't read the Bible references or just don't bother to finish the course. This would hopefully make them feel obligated to finish what they start and that sounds good.

Well it doesn't sound good to me. Here is my problem with this idea. You are asking people to commit to finishing the course before they start. What if that person after the first week feels in their spirit that there is something wrong with this course? What are they to do? They have committed to finishing the course. So either they finish something they feel the Holy Spirit is telling them is wrong, or they break their covenant. Neither is a satisfactory answer.

Another idea formed in one of these mega churches is the covenant for members of the church. Again this might sound good on the surface. It covers things like the members commit to attending regularly, they commit to giving financially, they commit to inviting others to the church, praying for the churches growth (it does not say whether this is spiritual growth or numerical growth), committing not to gossip, committing to follow leaders, commit to discovering their gifts and talents, commit to welcoming newcomers with a smile, commit to having a servants heart and living a godly life.

As I said this might sound good on the surface, but I think it is a problem. In fact I have several problems with it. First let me address it as if I did not have a problem with the idea of a covenant of this sort. Okay, I still have a problem when the church covenant makes a person commit to following their leaders (pastors) and not Christ. Oh it mentions living a godly life, but that won't get you into heaven. It also covers the commitment to giving regularly, and I have no problem with that or the idea of tithes, but it seems to miss the point Paul was making in this passage:

(2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV) Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Not under compulsion, yet that is exactly what the idea of this covenant is all about. In fact many times churches do sermon series on tithing and to be honest they are little more then fund raisers for the church. I agree that if you are going to be a member of a church you should commit to supporting it, but not like this.

Now back to my basic problem with a covenant like this. I have no problem with a church explaining to potential members what the church's expectations are for members. For example it is not wrong, in my opinion, for a church to say to potential members that they are expected to attend regularly, or to support the church financially, or live godly lives. My problem comes when the church makes those potential members sign a covenant committing to those things.

Why would you have a person sign something like this? If a member of a church is living a life style which is inconsistent with Christianity, then there are biblical ways to handle that, without the use of a signed covenant. Church discipline should step in and either the member repent and start living a godly life or they should be removed from the membership rolls and even asked to leave the fellowship.

(1 Corinthians 5:13 NIV) God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

That is what is to be done, without a covenant, so what is the covenant for? It is not legally binding, so I don't see that it serves any purpose at all. Well let me restate that, I don't see that it serves any legitimate purpose at all. I think this is much like the covenant that people are to sign before starting a Bible course. I think it is a form of intimidation used to get people to do something you don't think they would do otherwise. Why would you want a person to be a member of your church if you didn't trust them in the first place?

But it goes deeper than that. It goes to who we are to be as Christians. We are to be honest and to be followers of Christ. We should not have to be forced into living a life we normally wouldn't. We also should not have to swear or commit on paper to something that we can just say yes to.

(Matthew 5:37 NIV) Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Anything beyond this comes from the evil one. So if during an interview of potential members the question is asked, do you understand the churches expectations and do you agree to follow them? If the person says yes that should be enough for anyone. If they say no, then they should not become a member. What possible purpose could a signed covenant be?

As I said earlier, I think many if not most churches today have lost sight of their first love. I think they are more concerned with meeting budgets and filling seats then serving God and putting Christ first. They are willing to make members sign covenants to intimidate them into supporting the church, instead of trusting God. They are more concerned about being thought well of by the people who fill their seats than preaching the abrasive message that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an angry God, or that we are all lost and under a death sentence and our only hope is in Jesus Christ.

E-Mail Ralph

These devotionals are written by Ralph Dettwiler, and reflect his views.

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May 2003