Don’t give up on Church
I was recently arrested by a statement by an earnest Christian: “I have become so disillusioned with the mainstream church”, given it is something I have heard several times over the years, not just coming from the lips of lukewarm or backslidden Christians or those who have given up on Christianity but also from sincere believers.
There is a lot that is profound and wonderful concerning the Church with a capital “C”, which is not an organisation people happen to belong to and nor is it a building where “churchy” activities take place, but rather a company of Jesus lovers, drawn from “every tribe, tongue, and people” and who often offer a range of theological views. I gave my thoughts on what is important concerning church in my book “Prophets of the Bible” and for economies sake I provide the pertinent extract below. I wrote in my last blog: “I have long come to the view that church going may be seen by some (rightly) as problematic. For example: the need to feel as belonging (fellowship), what constitutes sound and apt teaching, personality differences and, most recently, the intrusion of divide and rule when it comes to responding to the Corona pan (scam) demic”, begging the question how does one begin to respond.
I count myself fortunate in that I have belonged to just one church congregation and that it was in the main faithful to biblical truth, for most of my 55 years as a Christian, and have fully engaged in its different activities. While in that time I have gone to a number of different churches at the low end of the Evangelical market, there have only been two other churches where I have attended regularly over a longish period of time, including being a member, and one of them is where I am now. But when out of church, because of moving around etc., I can identify with the dilemma of those trying to find a church to cast their lot with, finding out how difficult this was.
I was mindful that one of my hobby horses is church is the sum total of Christian believers and while we may only have the capacity of being fully involved in one manifestation of it, all we do should account for the big picture and our raison d’être should be to bless all God’s people. I was also conscious of my own strong reaction to teaching dodgy doctrine and leaders who I saw as being too full of themselves. It was telling when some years back the church where I was a member longest decided to close and we had to find a new church. Hardly any of the 100 odd churches in my area fitted the bill for various reasons and even the one we joined and I am mainly happy with I could have left because of my frustration that it had foolishly succumbed to the Hegelian Dialectic, Divide and Rule trap laid by the globalists in its response to the Corona Plandemic.
Going back to my disillusioned with the mainstream church friends, without offering pious platitudes, I can only counsel Don’t give up on Church. The good news is it need not be organisation, building or denomination related etc. You don’t need to agree on everything, have to put on a show, like each other etc., as long as it is with those who truly follow Jesus. There are no simplistic solutions. But you are like the piece of coal that can only burn bright if in the fire with other pieces of coal and moreover your piece of coal adds to the heat etc. the fire generates. We need each other. Church is God’s idea and it is a glorious one. How it works in the present “church in ruins” paradigm (to quote Darby) and “if you find a perfect church, leave it as you will ruin it” paradigm (to quote Spurgeon) is another matter.
God is shaking the world and any judgement “begins in the House of God” (to quote Peter), just He did with His special people, Israel in OT times. But opportunities do arise, however, often surprisingly, for Christians to have fellowship in our baffling and changing times, helped by advances in global communications, and to fully play our part in what is portrayed in the Bible as Body, Bride and Building.
When I refer to the Church (as opposed to churches), I usually do not have in mind buildings or clubs, but rather those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ with sincere hearts. Sadly, many “churchy” people are not real Christians and do not belong to the Church. The prayer Jesus prayed just before He was arrested and put to death: “I pray for them … That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:9, 21) – has yet to be fully realised. My hope is to see entirely different people become as one. I have seen glimpses, but the actuality is – now it is not so, but will be awesome with breakthroughs that will follow when it is.
While there is a future role for Israel, the Church is God’s chosen instrument to bless the world, despite Hebrew prophets seeing such as but a shadow. Sometime in the future (Revelation 19 relates) there will be the marriage between Christ and the Church, followed by the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God. To serve humanity is ever important, as is to do so with likeminded people. My hope that the Church take a lead in this as well as going about its business of mission and discipling, has at best been part realised. My heart is for the Church to fulfil her God-given potential and role to live as salt and light in the world. This should be intrinsically linked with spreading the Christian message throughout the whole world and making disciples who wholeheartedly follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout my Christian life, I have heard well-meaning Christians exhort other Christians to join a local church. Usually, they had in mind one or other Christian fellowship, without which one becomes like a coal removed from a blazing fire. Having reflected on which church is best, I know none are perfect and, if I found one that is, I should leave it. It is a place for sinners to be saved and grow in grace, not put on “holy” airs. I see good and bad in most fellowships; and, sadly, signs of apostacy becoming all too evident. The notion of a remnant meeting in people’s homes is a real one. I have seen many Christians give up on “church”, sometimes because of backsliding but also because they are disappointed at the corruption and lukewarm attitudes they see in church.
My advice is, go or rather associate with those where God is honoured and where there is life, where you are welcome and can contribute (including encouraging others), but don’t expect too much (no-one is perfect), although you will want to find a spiritual home. Let your approach to others be a winsome one, with denominational labels being of secondary importance. For many, the church they end up in is as a result of accident or circumstance, or where they can best contribute or feel comfortable or are drawn closer to God. Sadly, there are those who were once active in “church” but are no longer. Reasons may be many, including backsliding, but also disillusionment and discouragement.
While I have a sense of trepidation as to what might happen in the near future, given some of the unsavoury happenings going on in all sorts of situations, and in the light of pressure on and persecution of Christian people the world over, I am confident too that it will turn out glorious in the end, and that God’s perfect plan will be enacted, even if it means going through torrid times. Right now, I sense opposition toward Christians, especially the more earnest types, and that should cause us to turn even more so to God in trust and dependence. For those in the UK, while we might not be physically attacked, there can be insidious pressure to conform to anti-Christian ideology and pay the price if we don’t.
Two aspects about the church that need to be emphasised are first the Great Commission: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20.) The second is the universality of the church that is above denomination, ethnic, national etc. considerations. Given the persecution that is taking place in many countries of the world, this fact alone should be a spur to solidarity and action.
While I can look at the church in my own country with a tinge of sadness, e.g. dwindling congregations, compromise and lack of spiritual life and effectiveness in mission (although I see change afoot), we see the reverse in some countries, especially the less well off, where churches are experiencing real growth. My sadness is that my own country has rejected God and is paying the price in terms of calamities that have befallen us, including natural disasters, inept leaders, lack of cohesion and direction. When trying to apply the message of the Hebrew prophets, it should be with the thought “judgment begins in the house of God”. In the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn: “Oh, that in me the sacred fire might now begin to glow, burn up the dross of base desire … and sanctify the whole!”
To individual Christians, I would say, you are a member of the Church if you are a follower of Christ. This includes being a unique and essential part of His Body, which is joined to other body parts. You are part of the Bride of Christ which has been betrothed to the Bridegroom, who is Christ. You are also part of a great Building that is inhabited by the Spirit of God and founded on Christ the cornerstone. I would add that in order to follow these ideas through, you need to try and relate to other Christians, typically through one or other local church, but not to exclude the other groupings. There is always room for individuals with a good heart, who don’t just adopt the status quo; but we are most effectively employed when we relate to other Christians. I would urge church leaders to encourage such folk (including weak and wavering); accept your congregation is not the local church, but rather part of it, and the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I am reminded of the old adage: “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things”. Jesus’ word to His followers is to “love one another” (John 13:24). For me, the necessary things start with recognizing the person of Christ (perfect humanity and divinity combined), the need to preach faith and repentance and the historical truth that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”,(1Corinthians 15:3,4). We who follow Jesus should be loving God and our neighbour, and also “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude v3). Much can be said about Church – just don’t give up on it! Like Israel of old, the Church (not the organisation) is God’s chosen instrument to bring about His grand purposes in the world. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).