My family and I are often approached by serious Christians who have tired of ‘church politics’ in their local church and have become disenchanted with church in general. A recent radio broadcast indicated that one of the largest mainline denominations in SA lost + 29,000 members in 2012. Somewhere we seem to have lost the plot…
In his fabulous little book, First Century Faith, F.F. Bruce defines the ‘gospel,’ often so misinterpreted by the Church, so cheapened and even lost at times (no, I am not exaggerating: I move among many churches). Bruce then expounds ‘the gospel according to Jesus,’ which his followers were to gossip to the nations. This gospel would confront the religiosity of the Jews and the paganism of the Gentiles. To the end of time, Jesus’ followers would be the servants and friends of a King who established his kingdom by his death on the cross, transforming the defeat and the disgrace of which the cross was once a symbol into victory and glory! (see 1 Cor. 15:1-28 for a good summary of this gospel)
Having largely lost the gospel, many denominations (+ 35,000 in the world?) and local churches have substituted it with consumerism, crass materialism, pop psychology, their own ‘vision’ and ‘kingdom,’ ‘churchism’ (where Christ is hardly seen or encountered), etc.
One ‘church’ in our city asks customers to call early in order to reserve the ‘best seats’ in the house.
Many ‘go to church’ (a physical and spiritual impossibility), yet show little if any sign of Christ’s transforming truth in their corporate and personal life. (again, if you think I am exaggerating, check George Barna’s stat’s on the Church in N. America, perhaps typifying the Church in the West)
There was another generation that demonstrated this sick ‘churchianity.’ The prophet Jeremiah, in about 609/8 BC, preached a sermon that shook the Jerusalem Temple and its superstitious and hypocritical leaders and worshippers: ‘”Clean up your act – the way you live, the things you do – so I can make my home in this place. Don’t for a minute believe the lies being spoken here – ‘This is GOD’S Temple, GOD’S Temple, GOD’S Temple!’ Total nonsense! Only when you clean up your act… only if you do a total spring cleaning on the way you live and treat your neighbours, only if you quit exploiting the street people and orphans and widows, no longer taking advantage of innocent people on this very site and no longer destroying your souls by using this Temple as a front for other gods – only THEN will I move into your neighbourhood. Only THEN will this country I gave your ancestors be my permanent home, my Temple” (Jer. 7:3-7, MSG). Jeremiah challenges the clergy and laity of his day to stop treating the Temple as a kind of talisman or lucky charm, in which they put their trust instead of the living God! (yes, you’ve guessed it – for his trouble he was excommunicated: of course it still happens today!)
Along came Stephen. After his arrest by the Jewish Religious Council because he was “always speaking against the Temple and against the law of Moses” (Acts 6:13), Stephen declares before the Sanhedrin (clergy) (Acts 7:48-49, NLT), “the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you ever build me a temple as good as that?’”
Jesus used the temple motif in pointing to himself as ‘Temple’ – note Jn. 1 & 2, the new Genesis (compare Jn. 1 & 2 with Gen. 1 & 2). John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and lived (lit. ‘tabernacled’‘) for a while among us. We have seen his glory…” (1:14)
Paul, challenging immorality in the Corinthian Church, reminded the believers that they, corporately and individually, constituted ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19)
So what’s the solution for today’s ‘churchianity’? Where do we begin??
- By grasping the realities facing us and repenting before the Lord.
- By diligently pursuing and rediscovering the biblical Jesus and the message of his Kingdom. Here I heartily recommend Anglican theologian N.T. Wright’s The Challenge ofJesus, published by IVP Academic.
- By (perhaps) pioneering, humbly and prayerfully, something new in your neighbourhood or workplace (as my family and I have done over the past 6 years, with great joy). Any such group should entail minimal structure and maximum LIFE (JESUS). To guide you, get a copy of Frank Viola’s So You Want to Start a House Church? published by Present Testimony Ministry (www.ptmin.org). You may also be helped by my previous blog, Where is your heart?