Let There Be Light.
Readers of this blog will know that since returning to a regular relationship with God, I have found myself somewhat disillusioned with the state of the modern church. I see no real mileage in criticising individual ekklesias (churches) for what is wrong – for the problems are myriad. I have, however, previously called for a moratorium in order to stop and take stock of all we do in the name of Jesus.
The vast majority of the issues are simply overlooked, nor even considered to be problems. Much of what we do in or around church buildings simply has no biblical basis whatsoever. But we don’t stop doing them because, ultimately, most churches are ultra conservative (small c) and do not embrace change. Part of the problem of not embracing change is that we tend to measure success in terms of numbers. We count how many people attend a service on a Sunday and, providing there is an overall upward trend in the numbers, we sit back, satisfied that we are doing God’s work. Only when a church sees a decline in its numbers will it ask the question of what the problem is. But, sadly, even then it will blame other more successful churches than consider that the problem might be of their own making.
Now, if a church measures success in terms of bums on seats, then the real issue runs deep. Many churches these days are run on a business model. Consistency in numbers means that budgets can be planned. Money can be saved away. Bigger buildings can be bought. And church moves from being about the worship of the Living God towards an entertainment facility designed to draw in the dissatisfied from older, not so ‘with it’ churches, and those seeking a spiritual answer to the problems of life. Consequently, because it is then about numbers to sustain the mortgage or wage bill, then the ministry side of things start to slide and every effort is put into getting people into the building. Evangelism is then a responsibility given to the pastor or visiting pastors. The congregation becomes larger and less connected to each other. The inner circle of the leadership team doesn’t trust anyone outside of the leadership. Heads swell. Pride grows. And suddenly you have a money-making machine that the Holy Spirit simply has no place in because everything works to the clock. Show me where in the Bible it says that’s what church is. I’ve checked. It doesn’t.
When we read the Book of Acts (which really should have been called ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’), we fail to see even the seedlings of such a model of mega-church. What we see is a church that reacted to what was going on. They never asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It just happened because they had willing hearts to do God’s will. Because their hearts were willing, that gave the Holy Spirit permission to work through them. Take a look at Acts 4:23-31. They only asked God for the boldness to speak His word. Check out what happened.
Everything that followed wasn’t planned evangelism, with a budget and a Mission Statement. They were the Mission Statement! As more and more people were added, they reacted to it. They didn’t sit down and plan a mega-church building. The people were a mega-church! Only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their sin and their need for the redemptive blood of Jesus of Nazareth. Only the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter what you preach, or how big the screen is in the auditorium. All that matters is the presence of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Without Him you are lost. You might fill your building on a Sunday and have a queue of preachers desperate to shoot some fish in a barrel, but all that is lost if the Holy Spirit isn’t there. A complete and utter waste of everyone’s time.
I went to a service recently and just by looking around at the way people worshiped and their expressions during the rest of the service, I would guess (and this is just a guess) that around half of them were just paying lip service – keeping up appearances. It was as if they didn’t really want to be there. And if they did want to be there, why hide that desire? Surely we should wear of our love of Jesus on our sleeves?
Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps attending on a Sunday is really all it takes. Perhaps that is why the Christ gave Himself up – so we could stand in some school hall or church building and tamely worship Him with whispered song. I don’t think so.
In a way, it is not the fault of the congregation. For too long churches have been set up so that it is all about the person at the front. We go to be entertained or educated about key verses of the Bible. The trouble I have with that particular model is that there is no basis for it anywhere in the New Testament. Nothing to support it whatsoever. And I don’t believe that it is of God either. I don’t believe that God wants it like this. Our conservatism keeps it like this. Nothing else.
Jesus told us to go out into the world to make disciples. We now try to bring people in – to evangelise them on safe ground. The purpose of the followers of God coming together in one building wasn’t to bring a friend to be evangelised. It was to build each other up and to encourage one another, to share burdens and needs amongst the group. The early disciples had to react to the increase in numbers, so they simply broke the people down into smaller groups that met in people’s homes. The gospel wasn’t preached there – that was preached in the synagogues and the market places and the drinking houses and the prisons. Then they would all meet and break bread. They would be re-charged, ready to go out again. What was taught in those small groups was the meat, not the milk. But, today, in any church up and down the country, all we serve on a Sunday is milk…just in case there is a single unbeliever in the audience (yep, I said audience). The net result is a body of believers bored out of their minds, of whom few have experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit or how to disciple people.
Go into the world and make disciples. Not, sit around and wait for people to come to you. Go.
That was His message to all of us…not just the guys at the front, getting paid to do it.
I think it is time to re-think it all. We need to stop letting ourselves be divided by what we do and don’t believe. We all believe in the same – that Christ died for our sins. It is only men who make it complicated by choosing not to see their brothers in Christ as brothers. We must look like fools to other faith movements. It is time to unite, not divide. The dividing will happen at the harvest – goats and sheep; wheat and tares.
In the book of Nehemiah, we see Nehemiah assessing the walls of Jerusalem. He was called by God to rebuild the walls of the city. He spent some time checking the state that the broken walls were in before organising the workforce. I believe that is what we need to do as the body of Christ. We need to pull together and assess the real problems. We need to rebuild the walls and strengthen our position. Every year, in this country alone, there are more and more Christian denominations being registered. We are fragmenting. Devolving. Following the pattern that the world is taking. Really we should be building up…not with stones for large buildings, but with living stones – people of God. The story of Nehemiah is vitally important for today’s church. God doesn’t need another mega-church to be built. He just needs willing hearts ready to listen to His will.
This world is dying. It is passing away. When the time comes, only those who rely upon the name of Jesus will be saved. The work of the cross reconciles all men (that is everyone) to God. We will not be judged on what we do but on whether we accepted the message of God’s redemption. Those who already believe are charged with the task of telling others the good news. But if all we are doing about that is to hope and pray that someone will wander into our church buildings on a Sunday and hear a watered-down message of grace, then we have a problem.
“You are the salt of the earth…” [Matthew 5:13 NKJV]
Have you ever stopped to consider why He said that? Salt is a preservative. We are to be the ones that preserve this dying earth. That is our role. To make it better. To stop it from rotting away. We have fridges these days and our food is treated with chemicals to preserve its life. Back then, salt was used to preserve and cure meat. We need to be out there doing that. We certainly can’t do that inside a church building. We have to go out.
Then Jesus said:
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” [Matthew 5:14 NKJV]
The light of the world. In darkness, we are the light. His light, shining through us. And the metaphor of the city cannot be misunderstood. A city on a hill. The word city means citadel – a fortified town. A place where people come to for safety and protection. They were frequently built upon hills so that they could be defended. And seen. You can see a city on a hill from miles away.
In the days of Joshua they set up cities of refuge where someone could flee to for safety if they had accidentally killed someone. These cities of refuge are types of Christ. Look up the names of the six cities. They all mean things that display one aspect or another of Jesus. He tells us that we are the light of the world. Not that we will be or could be, but that we already are. He wants us to shine in our cities that others will flee to us for safety. If we are doing it right, in the city, we cannot be hidden.
But then He says:
“Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” [Matthew 5:15 NKJV]
The King James version uses the word bushel for basket. A bushel was a container for measuring grain. It was solid and would extinguish any lamp if placed over it. Jesus was telling us not to hide the light. He is the light. Read John chapter 1 to confirm that. We need to let Him shine from us and not hide that light under anything. Jesus could have easily said ‘do not hide your light under a church building’. That was what He was talking about. He gives us light. We are to share it with the world.
Clearly, we can’t do that successfully inside a church building. He went on to say:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16 NKJV]
How can men see what we do inside church buildings if they are outside? We need to go out to do good works. Go out and walk around your community. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you can do to make a difference to where you live. I promise you, He will show you something. Then do it. Whatever it is. That is what Jesus said we are to do. Nowhere did He ever say ‘sit down in a church building on a Sunday and pay your tithe and men will see that and praise God’. It was never meant to be this way.
The purpose of all mankind is to glorify God. That is what we were made for. That is our fulfilment. Jesus tells us that men will glorify God when they see our good works. If you are just hanging out around a church building doing good inside it, then how can men ever see that? Go out.
It is not too late for us. We can stop the rot now, for we are the salt of the earth. We can change our ways. We can repent and humble ourselves before God. There is still time. But we must act now. We cannot delay any longer. We have to stop assuming that because our congregations are increasing that we are doing God’s will. It doesn’t follow that way. We have to get out there and actually do good; be the salt and light in the world, not in the church building. Even the Pharisees could manage that. Just take a good look at the way Jesus dealt with them.
If we stop what we are doing, stop the planning meetings, budget meetings and just ask for the boldness to speak His word; to do His will then we will have a happy problem…lots and lots of people. And if we disciple them just like Jesus said, then their salt and light will start to make a real difference to a dying world.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35 NKJV]
Notice two things. Firstly, that this is a command, not an option. We have no choice. Whatever grievance you have with another Christian, sort it today. There might not be reconciliation but let there be forgiveness on your part.
Secondly, this is all Jesus ever said on evangelism. Our love for one another will be the thing that does it for men. In order for men to see that we love each other, we need to get out from under our church buildings and start being the church; the salt and light to this dying world.