“If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.” – Galatians 1:9
So, yeah – I’m a “guy” (apologies to the sensitive crowd who might consider that term unseemly in this age of identification correctness).
Let me explain.
- I love football (the American kind – especially the Dallas Cowboys; don’t hate).
- I consider well-made (vs. well-done, aka “burnt” in Texas vernacular) burgers a “Capital F” Food Group.
- For me, a meaningful conversation with another “guy” can go like this: “Hey dude – what’s up?” “Not much, bro, you doin’ ok?” “Yeah, man, I’m great – wanna beer?”
- It’s not a crime to wear the same gym clothes twice (ok, maybe more) without washing them.
- And I have a genetic predisposition against asking directions.
See, it also turns out I have a love of all things technology. With fingertip access to what was once military-grade GPS systems on that little black appendage semi-permanently attached to the end of my arm, I feel no need to get help from passing pedestrians or especially my ever-faithful-passenger-seat companion (aka my wife) on where I took that last wrong turn. But then, I seem to take wrong turns … a lot. Another story for another post.
It is, however, a great segue to this post. Because it seems to me most of us make wrongs turns … a lot. And this is nowhere truer than in that messy family we call the Church.
It might be easy to support this statement by citing works from writers like Palmer Theological Seminary Professor Ron Sider in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience where he details how evangelical Christians are just sort of like the rest of society: same divorce rate, same indifference to the poor, nearly the same rate of unmarried cohabitation, etc.
If Christians are just as flawed as everyone else, what makes the Church so special?
So if Christians are just as flawed as everyone else, what makes the Church so special? This seems to be a favorite theme these days of en vogue “New Christian” bloggers, pointing to the flawed nature of humanity as Exhibit 1 in their argument that sin is our common bond and thus should be our commonly accepted bondage, freeing us from judgment of any kind.
Yet such easy arguments miss a vastly larger issue: over the last several decades the Church itself has lost its way. Consider what many churches look like today: vast amphitheaters catering to a “here I am, entertain me” mindset craving worship services more akin to rock concerts; in-house coffee shops with central casting baristas complete with just the right combination of tats and piercings; senior pastors delivering sermons tailor made for TED Talk cult status; painless sermons about the great things God has in store for us; empty rhetoric more concerned with talking about change than actually being change.
In many ways, the modern church has fallen victim to “cult-of-movement” worship. Where in the past the Church adapted to a culture and then worked to change it for the better, it seems that today’s church too often adapts to culture in order to be accepted by it as-is. Individualism and consumerism have replaced community and Kingdom. More “me” and less “He.”
This kind of worship promises fulfillment and purpose found in devout spiritual practice without awkward things like doctrine, teaching, commandments, sacrifice, obedience, or discipline. Jesus is preached more like a hip celeb with 2.2 billion Twitter followers than the Word in the Beginning. Personal relationships are promised with God, comforting and loving, just not sacrificial ones.
Today’s church too often adapts to culture in order to be accepted by it as-is
For many, this type of “worship experience” fulfills their needs. Show up on Sunday (or Saturday night for the contemporary types), get a familiarly caffeinated dose of community, sing a few anthem songs, hear a killer sermon (a poll released by Gallup from April of this year indicated that 75% of worshippers say the sermon is their primary reason for attending church). All done till next week.
Don’t think I’m ridiculing these church-goers – this is where they are and God meets them right there, and their needs. It’s just that elevating the individual experience comes at the expense of God’s desire for real community (Ephesians 4:16). And opens the door for an errant Gospel.
For millions more, these attempts by the church to be more culturally relevant – through activities and missions nearly indistinguishable from secular social activism, to outspoken celebrity pastors taking positions more appropriate in a political campaign rally, to scripture-light series resembling Tony Robbins seminars – ring empty and hollow.
Which may help explain why less than 36% of the U.S. population now attends church yet when asked nearly 60% claim to be spiritual and to even pray regularly. Something seems missing from much of organized Christianity today for a vast number of believers.
There are, perhaps, a number of reasons for this drifting away from an Acts 2 or Galatians 1 vision of how Church and Community were designed to heed the Gospel. The need for cultural relevance might be a major contributor. As social activists grow louder in their demands for sloganeered “Social Justice,” accepting any and all points of view as equal, the appeal of a church doctrine which appears judgmental gets lost in the noise, relegated to the trash heap of “yesterday’s” religion. “All good paths lead to God and the Church just needs to get over itself,” claim the prophets of New Faith.
And as churches attempt to self-correct, adopting missions and messages deemed more “tolerant” irrespective of true Biblical inspiration, traditional conservative worshipers who feel these churches are straying from the Word may leave in search of something else – or even abandon church altogether; often transforming their faith from a light for the whole world into a lamp hidden under their nightstands (Matthew 5:14-15).
No easy answers exist for those who, to paraphrase Indian philosopher Bara Dada, “like Christ but reject Christians” (as represented by the Church). Perhaps the perceived hypocrisy of some modern Christians is too strong to overcome. Or perhaps folks have simply become inoculated from the real message of the Gospel, as Pastor Doug Ponder recently suggested in this post.
Regardless, if the Church is to emulate Jesus’ example of ministering to the lost, it must first find its way back. That means returning to the real meaning of Salvation, to the Truth that modern cries for Social Justice based on good intentions and actions often ignore the fundamental role of Faith in Christ alone.
Salvation, freely offered, comes at a cost
We can’t simply “feel” our way to God, nor purchase our way into Grace through good deeds or euphemisms. Nor do we earn Salvation by accepting God’s will; rather, we accept Salvation by following the commands and direction given to us by God.
Salvation, freely offered, does come at a cost, requiring that we turn away from actions and behaviors that may seem acceptable to the world but from which God hides face (Isaiah 59:2). This was the heart of Paul’s message to the Galatians in verse 1:10 “Am I trying to win the approval of human beings or of God?”
Scripture and Biblical instruction are not tired relics from an irrelevant past. They are, as Jesus tells us in John 15, what we must do to receive the gift God offers through the price of the Cross. And when we follow God’s will rather than what the world expects, we may be hated and rejected, criticized and ridiculed and accused, for we offer no safe harbor for sin.
Yes, to some this path seems rigid, even scary. No wonder there’s such temptation to dilute the Gospel message, to soften scripture’s message into one more palatable to modern tastes where no one is told what is right or wrong.
And it’s no mystery churches have lost their way trying to respond. Fortunately there’s a GPS (and even a few Apps) for that. It’s called the Bible. And within its pages are all the directions we will ever need to follow God’s call home.