THE STEPS OF JESUS ARE LEADING
AWAY FROM THE CHURCH
The religion people called Christianity has had a crisis of identity and even definition. Over the years and especially since the Industrial Revolution men began to further their education. And many more common people began to read and write. And little by little the emphasis on the acknowledgement of written doctrinal truths became not only a focus, but an obsession. Eventually a Christian was defined completely by what he said he believed about what the Bible taught doctrinally, and what he lived was defined by a few moral issues. Eventually a believer was assimilated into the culture and Christianity as a whole was accepted as a normal religious expression that was compatible with many others.
And somewhere along the line morality, or specific moral issues, hijacked the faith. And instead of a story of God’s redemptive love, Christianity became a system of rules and theology. And slowly but surely Christianity became a system, a religion, and a part of one’s cultural existence. But in so doing it was stripped of its life and sacrifice and its remarkable love for Jesus which could be seen clearly in and through the lives of His followers.
Yes, major truths of the Scriptures are being attacked, and yes we are called to defend them. However we have settled into a predictable and self serving way of life that champions moral and political causes and regurgitates orthodox doctrines, but refuses to see the high cost of following Jesus. In fact, we have cleverly found ways to force the teachings and life of Jesus into a culture shaped bushel and still claim we shine His light. And even though we live within a culture of darkness with such unremarkable difference and such little impact, we still cannot bring ourselves to lift the mirror of the Spirit and look into our own face.
The evangelical landscape is filled with false teachers and heretics. To be sure, even the nature of Christ and the exclusivity of His gospel are being openly and subtly questioned. But we cannot feel content with just being guardians of doctrines. We must be living, breathing followers of Jesus who embrace more than written truths. Those truths that we embrace must find their source in Jesus and must find their release in our lives. That is a great mystery which has been all but eradicated by pragmatism and fix-it Christianity as well as doctrinally etched Christianity.
And this crisis within the church has expanded and taken many different forms. But the false teachers like Rob Bell and Joel Osteen will not listen to the Spirit. But I am addressing people like you and me. We who hold the Scriptures as the inspired voice of God must reexamine how we live what we say we believe. In fact, we must fast and pray and take another inventory about the very nature of the faith. Let us be very clear, no one can inherit eternal life but through a personal faith in Jesus, the Person. But if we are required to embrace a perfect doctrine and a systematic theology that is flawless, then no one will be in heaven.
But what about the reverse? What if your doctrine is very sound and your systematic theology has been carefully organized into Biblical alignment, but your life seems no different than your good neighbor who is an atheist or a Muslim? What if your spiritual life is most prominent because of the local church you attend, but your out of church experience seems very benign and innocuous? Is that what Christianity is all about? Is that what following Jesus means? In fact, is that Jesus Himself?
It seems like such a fine line and even splitting hairs, but are we following doctrines or following Jesus? And in reality those whose doctrine is their supreme spiritual phalanx fall short of the One they profess. And instead of a life filled with Jesus, their “orthodoxy” is the tip of their spiritual spear. I submit that although their doctrine may be spiritually pristine, their practice in unchristian. Is Christianity a belief system or a way of life or is it both? Again, it is clear from the teachings of Jesus that the Christian faith is a way of life based upon certain eternal truths with the chief cornerstone being the saving sacrifice of Jesus Himself. Through faith in Jesus Christ we die and we rise from the dead and are now a new creation whose life is dramatically different than the one we had lived.
But somehow the western version of the faith required all the right doctrine but made the new life an elective. The sinner who professes to believe on Jesus was allowed to create his own way to follow Him. There were a few major items that the church deemed worthy of agreement like abortion or traditional marriage or drug use and alcohol abuse, but all in all issues like love and grace and humility and prayer were left up to the individual to work out if he so desired. And ministry to the poor was valid but surely not a passion of the church. And in these last days the evangelical church has become very politically active and has without apology joined hands with unbelievers in an earthly cause designed to adjust the culture and make people’s lives more comfortable. And make no mistake, at the core of this political involvement is financial prosperity.
And so the faith that once left everything to follow Jesus morphed into a nice religion which made people good citizens and even allowed its adherents to pledge their allegiance to earthly countries and causes. The only waves they made were political. They showed no more love than some unbelievers and they were far less humble than some other unbelievers. They shouted their demands like the world and they organized great political movements which welcomed those who denied Jesus. They embraced capitalism and enjoyed all the accoutrements of a hedonistic culture. They became nondescript, even while living in an environment of utter spiritual darkness. It is a sad tale of spiritual woe.
But even while the church sold her spiritual birthright she still enjoyed a level of earthly success, self affirmation, and a collective sense of spiritual fulfillment. The church believed it was fulfilling its spiritual duty and was verbally standing for a few important moral tenants as well as a few doctrinal orthodoxies. And eventually the moral tenants superseded the redemptive doctrines. It wasn’t that the church outwardly rejected Jesus, it was just that He became window dressing and not the passion that once elicited disdain, persecution, and even death from the kingdom of darkness. The light had gone out although the “open” sign still hung on the door.
But take a major step back and allow your mind to consume this startling and almost inconceivable thought. The faith that professes to believe in and follow Jesus is no longer practiced at the institutional level. What that means is that the true faith has been so compromised and so diluted and so conformed to the dictates of the culture that for all intensive purposes it no longer exists at the organized church level except for a few very obscure outposts. Think about that for a moment.
I realize many of you still attend an organized church, but just think about what I have suggested. In fact, ask yourself this question: Did God ever want the church to be organized through the state at all? John Bunyan goes to jail for refusing a license from the government and yet churches today happily pay to become lawfully and dutifully recognized by the state. And much of the evangelical community not only accepts a license from the state, they pledge their allegiance to it and consider themselves as patriots. We have been so indoctrinated by the culture that we no longer even question almost anything. And because we have embraced layer after layer after layer of cultural compromise, they all have been grandfathered in by each successive generation. Jesus once taught about eating His flesh and blood and that people would see Him come in the clouds. And because of those words and teachings the Scriptures tell us many turned away from following Him.
Jn.6: 63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.64 But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.
65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
They had been offended by His teachings and they could not follow Him any further. But today people have either changed His words, or ignored the enormity of His teachings and by doing so we have still made ample room for what we call “church”. But the issue comes down to this: What did Jesus actually say and teach, and are we willing to follow Him even unto death? After a large portion of His followers left, Jesus addresses His closest disciples.
Jn.6: 67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
And that is the issue for all who profess His name. After you have said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, then you must face the colossal implications and requirements of that profession. You must become diligent students of what He did and taught, and after you have thoroughly researched the teachings of the One you profess, you must forsake all and follow Him.
The only alternative is to repackage what He said and create a religious system that accommodates your own thoughts and desires while still using His name. And if that is your choice, that system is alive and well and will welcome you with open arms.