Thoughts to Ponder

Church - What is the purpose?

I want to deal with just one of the purposes of the church. When I say church, I mean the local assembly of believers. The purpose I want to deal with here is reaching the lost for Jesus Christ.

I believe this is our reason for being in this world. If we are not reaching out to the lost then we are wasting our time. Why doesn't God just rapture a person out of this world the moment they are saved? If He did then who would spread the word about His love for mankind? Who would witness to the lost? I believe this is our greatest purpose in this world. Christians are not here to earn money for God, He does not need our money. We are not here to live complete and fulfilling lives, that is just a side benefit of being a Christian. We are here as light in the middle of darkness, to show the world the love of God.

So how are we doing? Are we being a witness to those around us who are lost and on their way to an eternity in hell? Are we giving a clear concise picture of what it means to follow Christ and have eternal life? Are we living such good lives among the pagans that even though they accuse us of doing wrong, they still see our good deeds and glorify God? (I Peter 12:2)

Many churches have become what they call "seeker sensitive" and are trying to focus on the lost. They do many things in the name of being seeker sensitive. I think some of the things are benign and some aren't so benign. Many churches have accepted and even promoted the casual, 'come as you are' form of church.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think you can only worship God in a three piece suit, but I think you can take casual too far to. I was attended a church service in which the pastor read a letter from a person who had attended one service and then wrote the pastor a note. In the note the person said several things about how he felt at the church. He felt like an outsider and felt that there was a problem. In his attempt to express what he felt was wrong he mentioned the dress of the congregation. He made the statement that the people looked more like they should be out raking leaves then worshiping God. As the pastor read this, the congregation started to clap.

Why were they clapping? They were clapping because they were proud of not looking like "every other church" because they didn't believe that was what church was all about. The pastor paused until the congregation was done clapping and then continued reading the man's letter. There was no reason to continue, from that point on, the letter and the man were dismissed by everyone listening as just some nut. Was he? Or was he someone who was searching for a church home and found a bunch of snobs hiding behind their "we're just like you" facade?

Was the man wrong, or did he have a point? I think both positions are true. He was wrong that you have to look a certain way to worship God or be in church, but yet he was right that most people who claim Christ as their savior will dress up to go to dinner and a movie but not to go to church. My big problem was the fact that the church was proud to think that they came to church looking like they should be gardening instead. They were proud that they had been in this man's face and insulted him.

(1 Corinthians 8:13 NIV) Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

How different Paul's attitude is. Knowing that what he is doing is not wrong, he would still never do it again rather then be a stumbling block to another believer. Where is the church's love for their brothers and sisters? I think it is too often in second place behind the idea that "you can't judge me or what I do, I am free and it is none of your business." Too bad that idea does not conform to the love of Christ.

(Romans 14:19-21 NIV) [19] Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. [20] Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. [21] It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Paul used food as his example because that was the hot issue in his day, but this passage and ones like it can mean anything that would cause a believer to fall. Whether that is music, dress, drinking wine or whatever.

Many churches have set up youth centers of one kind or another. They usually have a couple of things in common. They are set up like clubs, with a bar of some sort. No not an alcoholic bar, but one that imitates one well enough. The usual fair is coffee and soda, but the resemblance to a worldly bar is unmistakable. Some even have the flavored syrup bottles lined up just like booze bottles on the back of the bar. What kind of witness is the church trying to be?

Most of these youth centers have a stage where the 'worship band' plays and where other bands can play and give concerts. The floors are usually bare and when there is a service in the room the kids sit on the floor or maybe bean bag chairs. I am sorry, but when you walk in you don't get the feeling that you are entering a holy place to worship a holy God. Of course those thoughts are so outdated, and people can't be expected to be old fashioned.

Many of the youth pastors sport the latest craze in clothing, so that they can better identify with the kids. You can disagree with me about whether this is all appropriate or not but it is hard to disagree that the perception is there that we (the church) are just like the rest of the world. There is no distinctions or coming out and being different.

As a parent I went through a time with my children that most parents can identify with. I remember my (at the time) 17 year old son wanting to wear baggy pants and no belt and how mad he was when I said no. I then asked him why he wanted to look like that. I told him if he could give me a good reason I might reconsider. He told me that he wanted to look different. I asked him who he wanted to look different from. He could not answer or would not answer. So I told him that I agreed that looking different and being an individual were good things and I would help him. I would buy him a pair of pink tights and a paisley shirt and wingtip shoes. I told him that I guaranteed he would be different. Can you guess what his reaction was? He didn't want to be different, he wanted to be the same, while calling himself an individual and different. That is the problem with churches that look like the world. They want to believe they are different but they don't want to take the stand and truly be different. They want to be just like the world which they condemn, that is if they ever find the strength to actually condemn anything.

I will probably sound like I am picking on young believers on the next couple of points and to be honest I am. Not because they are worse then older believers, but because church culture has changed and older believers for the most part would not want to do some of the things I am going to mention.

First is music. There are a lot of things now days labeled Christian music which, to be frank, aren't. I have no problem with upbeat music. I love many different styles of Christian music, including my favorite; Reggae. So I am not looking at this as a prude who does not believe that popular music can be Christian. My problem with some of this music is that it is just like the world. Oh the words might not be as vulgar as some of the secular music, but then again it is hard to tell until you read the insert and figure out what the words are. Second, it is packaged just like the secular music is. The bands pose like the world, dress like the world, charge the same prices the world does for their music and their concerts. Ever watch a "Christian" video? You might not be sure unless you happened to check which channel you were on, because it is often hard to tell. Both secular and Christian videos seem to like the disconnected, spinning, out of control video genre. To be honest it often seems that the person filming the video was either on drugs or intoxicated. Sorry, but that is what it looks like.

The bands themselves and their appearance don't give much indication that they are separate from the world either. This is not only true of the bands but they are the most visible and they have the most influence because of that visibility so they are the ones I will speak about. They wear clothes like the secular bands, they wear earrings and other piercings just like the world. They often have more tattoos then many secular bands. Many even cringe at the label "Christian band" because they don't want to be limited. Or at least, that is the reason they give for their dislike of being called a Christian band. Yet they will claim that their music is their mission field and their ministry.

Now let me address something right now. I have a tattoo, so all of you who know me, don't bother writing and calling me a hypocrite quite yet. I got my tattoo while I was not walking with the Lord, but even that is not my point. My point is that these young people who claim to be witnesses to the world about the life changing affects of following Christ are trying to look just like the world they are claiming to call people out of. They do not appear to have come out and decided to be separate so why would someone who follows them want to leave the world behind?

I hear many excuses for this type of behavior, but that is what it is, excuses. When a popular Christian singer got a divorce and then married another "Christian" who also just got a divorce (coincidence?) the Christian community just turned a blind eye to it. She even stated in an interview that her pastor told her that he felt that God wanted her to be happy and since this made her happy, God was happy. Hello!! Does anyone read God's word anymore?

Again before anyone yells HYPOCRITE, let me say I am divorced. I got the divorce while not following Christ also. I have confessed my sins and repented of them. I am not saying that you should destroy the CD's you have from this artist, or that she should never call herself a Christian again, but how can a person claim to be a witness for Christ while going against His written word? Then to justify your sin in front of the world just makes it that much more of a mockery.

We have all made mistakes. I will be the first to admit that my tattoo and my divorce don't even scratch the surface of the sins I have committed. I am not trying to cast the first stone as a sinless person. I am merely saying that when you claim to represent Christ you better walk the walk or you are doing more harm then good. It is one thing to backslide and fall into sin, knowing you are out of God's will and making no pretenses. It is another thing when you are claiming to be a committed believer while living like the world.

We are not judges of the world, but we are to judge those who claim to be believers and are living sinful lives:

(1 Corinthians 5:12-13 NIV) [12] What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? [13] God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."

Many people will take the following statement, made by Jesus, and make it say that we can't judge anything about anyone:

(Matthew 7:1-5 NIV) [1] "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. [2] For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
[3] "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? [4] How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? [5] You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

What Jesus is speaking about is hypocritical judging of others. God's word does not contradict itself. Jesus is not saying not to judge your brothers and Paul saying to judge your brothers. Jesus is saying that when you judge you better be sure you are not being a hypocrite. If I were still adding to my collection of tattoos or secretly speaking to a lawyer about a divorce, then I would be judging hypocritically. If I were trying to look like the world and yet speaking out against these same things, then I would be judging hypocritically. Look at verse two above. Jesus says that whatever measure you use to judge others will be the measure you will be judged against.

Guess what? If you use the Bible as your measure to judge others you are safe, because that is the measure we will all be judged by anyway. God says that divorce for any reason other than adultery is a sin (with the possible exception of an unbelieving spouse leaving 1 Corinthians 7:15). That ends the discussion, divorce for any other reason is wrong and if you are a professing Christian and divorcing (because you have a choice, not because your spouse is doing it) then you are wrong and the Christian community should step up and be counted.

Divorce is a pretty easy one to judge. But what about living like or being like the world?

(James 4:4 NIV) You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

(2 Corinthians 6:17a NIV) "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."

We are not to imitate the world, we are to be different. We should be showing the world an alternative to sinful behavior, not imitating them, while being careful to technically not sin.

In case you think I have gotten too far away from my main subject which was the witness of the church, let me remind you where these bands and artists play their concerts and sell their tickets, it is at local churches. Many churches have altars which are also stages and they lease the church to these groups to have their concerts. Again this is because these are ministries, not just bands. Yet the tickets for these concerts will cost you just as much as if you were going to a normal secular concert in many cases.

Many churches will claim they do this so that the young people in the community will get used to coming to their church and maybe show up on Sunday. For the most part it is a hollow argument. Rock bands are not the only thing used like this. On Saturday a financial conference will be held at a local church given by a Christian financial guru. The idea is that you are getting people from the community into the church who would normally not darken the door of your church. The problem is that all they get is financial advice. What good did it do to get them inside? It made the Christian financial guru richer, but not much else.

These seeker sensitive churches do all kinds of things to get people into the church and keep them coming back. Everything that is except teach them that they are sinners (too harsh and judgmental) who are under a death sentence by a holy God. After all who would want to hear stuff like that, it might ruin their whole day!

Seeker sensitive churches teach about God, but it is His love they focus on. God is love, but if you leave out the wrath of God towards rebellion then you have only preached half a sermon. If you tell people that they should accept Christ as if He were a commodity but never tell them why they need Him, you have done them no good. A person who never understands that they are a sinner will never give their lives to Christ. They may even believe in Him. They may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but if they don't know who they are in relationship to that, what good does it do? This is not a minor issue, Jesus told us this:

(Matthew 7:13 NIV) Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

Only a few find it. Have you ever wondered why? If it were as easy as believing that Jesus is God's Son and-bang you are on your way to heaven, then heaven would be a crowded place. Believing is all we are required to do, just have faith, but what people miss is that believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior implies that you understand why you need a Savior and you understand what He did to become your Savior and that you want Him as your Savior, meaning you confess and repent of your sins. Belief in and of itself is not enough. We do people no good when we candy coat the message of Jesus Christ.

(James 2:19 NIV) You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.

The wide road that leads to destruction says that Jesus is just a ticket to paradise with no strings attached. No need to change lifestyles, no need to even follow Christ as a disciple. No need to burden yourself with remorse over your past sins or even future sins, just relax and enjoy life and cash in your ticket when the time comes. Don't you wonder why none of the first century disciples took that wide road and just believed instead of following Christ to their deaths?

(John 15:18-21 NIV) [18] "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. [19] If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. [20] Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. [21] They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me."

You know sometimes you have to look at the opposite side of an issue. Jesus tells us that the world will hate us because they first hated Him. He tells us that if we were just like the world the world would love us. Now ask yourself, if the world does love you and no one ever has a bad thing to say about you, are you truly following Christ, or at least in a way that is obvious to the world? When a church goes out of its way to be seeker sensitive to the point where the world loves them, they have a problem. When a Christian artist or band is praised by the world, they must not be representing Christ in the eyes of the world. It is a hard, cold fact that people will hate you just because of your Christian witness and ethics. If they don't, maybe it is that they don't see Christ in you.

E-Mail Ralph

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

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May 2003