Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Church at the Center

It can be said, “As the Church goes, so goes society.” I think there is reason for alarm as we look at the Church today. The first bit of evidence is what we mean by “Church.” While the "Church" technically means the “body of believers’, it has come to mean a religious institution or denominational hierarchy. Thus, when we say the Church teaches, we now mean that the hierarchy teaches, rather than a teaching of the body of believers. This transposition takes emphasis away from the people (believers) and puts it into the church organization’s hierarchy. The Church needs a hierarchy but it doesn’t need to usurp what defines the “Church”. Consistent with the way the Bible refers to it, the Church needs to remain the body of believers while the hierarchy needs to be an appendage of the Church, not the Church itself. It’s an important point because the Church as an institution has taken on an identity it is not intended to have.
In having this identity, the denominational hierarchy has become the center and power of Christianity. As a result, many people who serve the Church are serving a revered institution, rather than merely serving the body of believers. The institutional Church was never meant to be the center of the faith. Only God is to be the center. This same transposition of Church identity was seen in the times of Jesus, when the Church was such an institution of itself that it didn’t even recognize Christ: The one it sought to usher in. Today, the Church is such an institution that I sometimes wonder if it too would recognize Christ. So many people have such strong reverence and affinity for the Church while their personal faith life wanes terribly. Their love for the institutional Church is impassioned while their devotion and obedience to the ways of God are warped or neglected. The love and feelings which should be reserved and nourished in a relationship with God are transposed onto the institutional Church. The Church becomes the center while God becomes an auxiliary member.
We see the results of this in practice every day. As an overly simplistic example, as we drove 1400 miles over the Thanksgiving weekend, we were often in quite heavy traffic. A cooperative and patient spirit is necessary in such times. Yet, over and over again rudeness and self-importance was seemingly the dominant spirit. I wonder how many of these drivers are devoted Church goers. It was especially embarrassing to see the drivers with church related stickers on their cars behave as they did. We see the paradox in everyday life too. We see it in the words we use, our actions, and our inactions. Once again, devoted Church people who would do anything for the Church, routinely act in ways contrary to the teachings of Christ. We should consider that if the amount of love and devotion we expend toward the Church is not superseded by the love and devotion we expend in prayer and living God’s word, then we have wrongly transposed our love for God onto the Church. Indeed we are repeating history: The history of the Jews at the time of Christ. Going to Church does not make one a Christian; only following and obeying Christ does.
Our relationship with the Church is supposed to be the natural by-product of our relationship with God. God is not the by-product of the Church. The Church is the by-product of God. Thus, our energies need to be first and foremost on God, not the Church. Too many in the Church hierarchy have this backwards. They promote the Church with the intent of promoting God along side, but keep the Church at the center of the people’s time, talent, and treasure. Loving God and loving the Church is not the same thing. Serving the Church is not necessarily serving God either. Our relationship with God is to take stark precedence over our relationship with the hierarchical church, or we end up with a Church-centered faith, rather than a truly Christ-centered faith.
We are just coming off another set of elections. Once again, the pulpits were devoid of preaching and proclamations regarding the views of candidates. Why are the pulpits silent when it comes to political positions and the faith? Well, the Church does not want to risk losing its tax exempt status. Despite knowing that we “cannot serve both God and mammon (money)”, the Church still chooses to serve its financial status rather than God and His people. The pulpits should boldly pronounce and denounce political positions which are consistent, inconsistent, in aberration with, or are an abomination to the Word of God. With the Church at the center, its interests (financial) are served first. With God at the center, His interests would be served first.
Speaking of elections, we’ve heard a lot about hope, change, and faith as it relates to our government. After all, where else is the widow, orphan, unemployed, or disadvantaged supposed to place their hope? At one time, it was in the church- - - the body of believers. However, the Church has defaulted on this primary and stated mission so as to have the government take it over. The government has now assumed the role of the church as the primary source for hope of the needy. This has then also taken away one of the church’s primary roles for charity. The needy are cared for by monies taxed from people, not monies given as tithes and offerings: Charity. The government takes money from people and redistributes to others without the charity or accountability intended for the church. Do you see where this is going? The Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, for more and more people, sit with the government rather than with the church. While the Church is busy doing its own thing, the thing it’s charged with has been given to the government. So, what is the Church doing that is so important that it can’t take care of the mission it was charged with in the Bible? Well, it has wonderful programs of every sort which serves the Church very well, but not God’s charge and people so well. The government too has wonderful programs which serve the government very well, but not its constitutional role or people so well.
As we watch the continued transformation of a Church-centered faith, we can ask, “Are we in the last days of the Church?” Truly, God only knows. I read in the news yesterday that a Florida school has banned everything to do with Christmas, so as to not offend anyone. Meanwhile, the Church is preaching tolerance for everything from homosexuality to Islam to divorce. The Church is tolerating and making allowances to serve its own purposes, but which contradicts God’s Word. Indeed, the Church has become the center of the faith. However, we should be aware that “As the Church goes, so goes society.” Not only that, but now we are seeing that as society goes, so goes the Church.

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