Preface: What I am sharing in this series of posts on the church are observations I have made about the church. Some observations are firsthand experiences. Others are vicarious through my relationships with other senior pastors. My intent is not to tear any person down which is why I don’t mention any names or even specific stories. I’m speaking in generalities as best I can. At the same time, this is a real crisis in the church today, one I have spoken about to our congregation over the years in person but have yet to share with you. So, it is in the hopes of helping shed light on the problem and to start to redirect us towards a more Christian approach to church that I share this with you.
Last week, I wrote an article talking about “7 Things the church Isn’t” but I didn’t get much into what the church is. Truth be told, there’s a much larger list of things we’ve made church into that aren’t the church.
What is the church?
Well, I don’t know if we really want the answer to that question. It’s a bit like Morpheus with the red and blue pill. The version of church we’ve been lured into is like the dream world of the matrix. As Morpheus said: “You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.“
This “believe whatever you want to believe” mindset hasn’t just infiltrated the church, it’s dominated our individualistic approach to church so much so that many have adopted an approach to church that is actually contrary to the gospel.
Remember that verse I shared last time?
23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?Luke 9:23-25 (NIV)
Remember what we said last week about about baptism?
When you’re baptized into Christ, your individual identity is buried with Him through baptism and as you emerge from the water you receive a new identity in the family of God.http://davidlindner.net/2020/09/seven-things-the-church-isnt-and-what-the-church-is
Church has become so much about stylistic preferences, program choice and the pursuit of comfort and convenience that the idea of denying ourselves actually offends us. We want church the way we want church, and we will go to as many churches as is takes to find the version of church that works the way we think church should be.
I think this ultimately stems from our ingrained rebellion against authority. Of course this has been in us since Adam & Eve rebelled against God in the garden. But it’s also the foundation of American civilization and baked into the very make up of our way of thinking. America was founded on rejecting the authority of England. We have a problem with authority. No one tells me what to do.
Our problem with authority has led us to make many mini modifications to church over the centuries that have resulted in a church that looks nothing like God’s design. Instead of being a covenantal community of believers, we have twisted and altered the definition of church to be all about us, our personal beliefs and hyper-inflated preferences.
You have a problem with authority, Mr. Anderson. You believe you are special, that somehow the rules do not apply to you. Obviously, you are mistaken.RHINEHEART
(If anyone is still reading, I imagine 90% of people will stop reading after this next statement.) If we are going to experience church as God designed it, it begins with submission to authority.
Submission to Authority
Now, I know where your mind probably went. “You’re a pastor, you just wants to have power and authority over ‘your’ people.” And I know why you would go there, because my mind goes there too. The truth is they aren’t “my” people, they are God’s. I’m just the steward and shepherd. Nearly all the pastors I personally know think and feel the same way. Yes there are some who get on power trips and like to exert their dominance over their “flocks”. But these aren’t pastors. They are aberrations.
Jude talks about the false teachers that Jesus and the apostles warned about who “reject authority”, “Follow their own ungodly desires”, “divide you”, “follow mere natural instincts” and “do not have the Spirit.” (Here’s a hypothesis I have: A test for evidence of the true Spirit of Christ is whether or not someone seeks to unite or divide the church.)
John puts all false teachers into the category of being anti-Christ. False teaching is teaching that elevates our personal, ungodly desires. False teaching (in part) tells us to follow our natural instincts. False teaching celebrates dividing the church over differences of opinion. False teaching rejects authority.
From my observations, the primary reason there is so much division in the church today is because we have rejected God’s authority and the authority system that God established in the church.
Discipleship is nearly impossible in the modern church because we reject authority. We won’t allow anyone to become a spiritual authority in our lives, so we have no one to speak truth into the weakest areas of our hearts. I have seen it (and many pastors have echoed it) so many times, people are happy to be in a church until the pastor says something that confronts an issue in their life. So the person leaves the church. As a result, we never get to deal with the issues that are keeping us from a deeper relationship with God, things that dare I say have become idols.
So, before I get myself into trouble here, because there’s a lot more I want to say and I feel myself getting bolder as I write, let’s get to what Church is.
Church is a covenantal community of believers led by qualified elders who share in communion, worship, teaching, prayer and edification and who maintain corporate holiness through biblical discipleship.
Today, I just want to deal with the first qualifying term: Covenantal Community of believers. But, what covenant exactly?
The Covenant of love.
John 13:34-35 – “‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’”
In the upper room, the night before His crucifixion, Jesus made a new covenant – a covenant of love. It was a covenant that would be secured by his substitutionary death on the cross with his own flesh and blood. He would take our sins on himself, and He who knew no sin would become sin so that we could become the righteousness of God.
In that one act, Jesus exemplified for us the new Covenant of the Kingdom of God. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Very similar to Jesus’s other statement: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” That is the kind of love Jesus had in mind when He made this covenant. The kind of love Paul described in 1 Cor 13 (Which I wrote about here). Love that loves one another with patience & kindness. A love that doesn’t envy, boast, isn’t proud, doesn’t dishonor others, isn’t self-seeking, isn’t easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, doesn’t delight in evil, rejoices with the truth. Always protects, trusts, hopes & perseveres, a love that never fails.
This is the Covenant of the community of Christ. This is what you and I were baptized into. This is the fundamental foundation for any church. Without this, it’s hard to argue that you have a church.
A covenant is more than a contract. Covenants aren’t broken. At least they’re not supposed to be. Contracts are broken when one party fails to uphold their end of the agreement. But covenants, especially those established and secured by God are eternal.
Deny Your Desires
Sadly, however, for so many Christians, this is the last thing on their minds. Instead of denying ourselves, we fight for ourselves and our “rights”. And when that fight results in not getting our desires met, we break the covenant. Instead of a love that is patient with one another, we are incredibly short tempered. Instead of protecting, we throw others to the wolves. Instead of trusting, we assume ill intent. Instead of hoping, we pronounce condemnations. Instead of persevering, we jump ship.
True discipleship requires covenant. As a pastor, I sit in position that offers me a unique perspective. While I haven’t “seen it all” I’ve seen a lot. Often I see things that need to be addressed in a person’s life. (And I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I have things that need to be addressed in my life.) But, this requires covenant. It’s hard for me to open up my whole life to someone who has 4 fingers on the handle to the emergency exit. And though I may see things that I think Scripture could really help someone address, I’m not going to say anything either. Because when I do, the inevitable happens. That thumb wraps around the handle and they’re out.
That thing, whatever it may be, has a stranglehold on someone’s heart and I can see it. And I want to help with it. But, when I try to help they bail out. (Which by the way only indicates how great an idol or stronghold this thing has become.) In part, I think we all fall for the misconception that we have things figured out. We don’t need our pastor or spiritual leader’s help. In fact, they need ours. They have quite a bit to learn. We sadly use our idols as justifications for elevating ourselves.
Because of the lack of covenant, people by the thousands hop around from church to church, embracing the church up until the point that God through a leader confronts an idol. And it’s usually the point that God needs and wants to address the most.
Do you want my advice? (Probably not) If you’re thinking about leaving your church, wherever that may be: don’t. Are there valid reasons for leaving a church? Some. But 99.9/100 times we don’t use valid reasons, we use selfish reasons often coming back to our inability to submit to authority and following our selfish desires.
It’s not about size, a building, a service…It’s not about my individual pursuits or dreams…It’s not about relevant preaching and worship styles…it’s all about God. It’s about worshipping God, being His people. This is His story and we are His church. That’s what He wants. God never breaks his promise with us. He wants us in the same relationship with Him that He has towards us. We, through the church, submit to His authority. (More on that later.) And the only way we come together is by denying ourselves and our desires.
Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.Morpheus, The Matrix
If we’re going let God use us to change the world with the gospel, we’re going to have to understand this difference between knowing the path and walking it. Why would a non-believing world want to have anything to do with a divisive, cannibalistic church?
If we want to truly make a difference in the world around us, we have got to stop treating church like a commodity and start treating it like a covenantal community. “American Dream” thinking has crept into the church over the past 60+ years, spreading like a virus and has reached deadly levels. The local church is the hope of the world, but not the American church as we know it today. A covenantal community that comes under God’s system of authority and denies their own desires is the hope of the world.
Anything else is the world.