November 9, 2014.
I seem to be on this kick lately of wanting a paradigm shift for the church as a whole as I see it in today’s society because our focus is simply not where the focus was in the new testament. We have become so focused on trying to keep the church alive, keep the brethren happy and continue in the traditions that we have followed for years that we have lost sight of what is really important and what the essence of the early church was. Sure there were problems in the early church, many of which are similar to the problems that exist today, but the difference was, I suppose, that there were apostolic writers alive during the time of the early church to write and correct those problems.
I often wonder what Paul would write to one of our churches today. I don’t think it would consist of “Wow, you guys have got the right idea and are adhering perfectly to what Christianity should look like.” One of the reasons I don’t think he would say this is because he didn’t really say that to many of the churches that were established in his day, and those churches were much closer to the truth, in terms of time and location, than any of us are today. The only advantage we have is the written word, but they had apostolic teachers and letters. Similarly, when John is told to write to the seven churches in Asia, the message he has for the majority of the churches is not “You’re doing great, just keep up the good work.” He does tell some of them good things about what they are doing, but for most of the churches he is given a divine criticism straight from the Lord about something they need to change. If they needed to change, who are we to assert that we have gotten everything right?
So what’s the problem with the current paradigm we have? I think a most of it is based on the assumption that the founders of our heritage and the teachers we have today are correct in every aspect. We believe that we hold the truth about every discussion and often are unwilling to consider other points of view, even when they are presented with a biblical bases. I know that we say that we are open to anything that is bible, but I don’t know if this is the case in person. What plays into this mindset, and what is perhaps the reason we are stuck here, is the fact that we have gotten comfortable. Content where we are. I wrote a post earlier about being content in the Lord in whatever situation we are. That is absolutely true. We should be content. But not in the sense that I am addressing it today. We have gotten too comfortable where we are at, and it is time we shift back to the mindset of Christ and the early church.
There is an example of a church in the New Testament that I think had a very similar problem as I believe we do today, and that was the Laodicean church. John is given a message to send to this church, and it is not a pleasant one.
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
The Laodiceans, at leas as it seems to me, had gotten comfortable. They had reached a point where they thought “We’re good where we are at. We have plenty of supplies, money and brethren. We don’t really need anything.” Sound familiar? The problem that arises form such a mindset is not the fact that the church was blessed financially, perhaps little persecution or even with people. The problem arose when they got comfortable because of all these blessings. Once they got comfortable, they slipped away from their true calling. They though they were rich, when in actuality, they were poor and pitiful spiritually. They had no motivation, they were neither cold or hot. They were comfortable where they were and didn’t feel the need to change a thing. I would imagine this led to a sever drop in evangelism. They had people, what need was there to be more?
I am afraid we too have gotten comfortable. The more Christian’s I meet, the more I see people who have grown up in the church. Second or third generation Christians. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s great! It shows that we are training our children well and there indeed is retention of our young people. But it is very unsettling to me that it seems this is the only type of Christians I seem to meet anymore. Perhaps I am a little biased coming from a place where the situation was very different and there were a relatively high number of converts (I was at a campus ministry at a public state school, after all), but I don’t think that is the full story. Why are our churches composed mainly of Christians who have been raised in the church? Why are they mainly composed of large families of faithful members? Where are the, for lack of a better term, first generation Christians?
Again, I am not trying to downplay growing up in the Church. I myself did that very thing, and I am very thankful of my upbringing and training in scripture. But the point I’m addressing here is I think we have missed the point of our call. When we become more focused on those on the inside and how to keep us happy, we loose sight of the great commission. You know those precious words:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That is our call. But are we living up to it? I must say I find it hard to believe when our churches are filled with second and third generation Christians (or first generation Christians who have been there for a long enough time to produce the second or third generation). Before you get too defensive, I must say that I am talking directly to myself with this as well. I know that I don’t talk about Jesus as much as I should with my friends and colleges. I know that I too should be working to fix this problem of complacency in my own heart. That’s one of the reasons I have been on this kick. This is not a post to condemn, but rather a post to encourage. We have the power to go out an change the lives of so many lost souls. It’s time for us to rise to the challenge!
So, Is it that the word of God has failed? May it never be. But I have heard this excuse so many times in my life. “It’s just that no one wants to hear the truth any more.” No. False. Wrong. That is simply untrue. The power of the gospel is just as alive and active as it was 2,000 years ago, able to cut to the heart of man. It is the same wonderful news, the same wonderful message, that converted thousands of people on it’s onset. If you say that the gospel isn’t spreading simply because no one wants to hear the truth any more, then you are making a reflection on the message itself. The truth will still convert many souls. If the church dies in America, we will have no one to blame but ourselves for not keeping in step with the Spirit and proclaiming the good news everywhere we go.
What is the hold up then? I honestly believe some of it stems from a lack of faith. Not a lack of faith that Jesus is the Son of God, but more so a lack of trust in the message. Why? Because we don’t really need to trust in it. We live fairly comfortable lives, make a decent income (even most the poor in America are rich compared to other countries in the world) and many of us have back up plans for when things go wrong. Most of us have support from friends and family that we could call on, so what need is there for God? I am convinced that one of the reasons that an oppressive government tends to spread Christianity like wildfire is because it forces the need to rely of God for just about everything, if not everything indeed. When you put that much faith and trust in the message, then there’s no way you can keep it from your fellow man who you see suffering. There’s good news, but to understand the good news, we must first understand the bad news. The bad news is that we are a fallen race destined for a sinner’s hell. The bad news is that we are going to be separated form the Almighty who created us. Or at least we were, until Jesus changed all of it, once and for all. That’s the gospel.
When we put our trust in other things beside God, it is hard for other’s to see God in our lives. It is hard to say, “You know, there’s something different about him. I want what he has.” Or even if they do see that, it is hard for us to answer just what “it” is that we have. I remember once when I went on a retreat being put in a situation where I was supposed to tell someone what all God had been doing in my life over the past few weeks/months. I was dumbfounded. I simply didn’t know, because I didn’t think about it. That really put things into perspective for me. Why do I not know what God has been doing in my life? And how am I supposed to tell someone who is not a Christian the joys that come from being a Christian if I can’t say that God is really doing things in my life? My witness is ruined, lost. All because I have been focused on the wrong things.
I think we as a whole have been focused on the wrong things. We spend so much time making sure that what goes on three hours of the week on Sundays and Wednesdays that we forget about the rest of week. Why do we focus so heavily on the (only) three hours we assemble together and not on the other 165 hours that remain? Was that the mindset of Christ? Was that the mindset of the early church? No. When they started fighting amongst themselves and creating divisions, Paul scolds them. When the churches lost their focus, the Lord wrote to them through John. Would we get the same message today?
It is time for a revolution. It is time for us to stop being satisfied with where we are and to start pushing on in the work of the Lord. It is time for another great awakening in American Christianity. I honestly believe we can do it. It will be hard to change some people’s minds and it will be hard to draw people from man made traditions that we seem to hold so tightly to, but I think we can do it through the power of God. It is time to stop being complacent and go out to the harvest. We should be content in the Lord as to our situation in life, but not content with complacency towards the harvest that is set before us.
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Suggested Daily Reading: Luke 10, John 4, Revelation 2-3.
May the Lord of the harvest send laborers into the field.