It is an argument I have heard many times – you can only change something if you’re on the inside. And, it’s true…to a certain extent…and in certain circumstances. Perhaps you could change and turn around the fortunes of, say, a cricket club or a pub, only from the inside. Obviously, you would have to be involved if you wanted to change something like that. But what about something like the church? How would you change that? From within? From without?
Ever since we left two separate churches within a twelve month period, people have challenged me by trying to persuade me that the only way to change what is wrong with the church is to be inside the church. They tell me that we should have stayed and found a way to change it from within. But is this point of view true? Or is it even in line with the way God works?
Of course, if I were wanting to change the church under my own steam, I would still on the inside. However, I am not. I firmly believe that God called us out of the church. And with a definite purpose in mind too.
The thing is, two of the people whom would like to persuade me that staying within the church is the only way to change it, I respect a great deal. I truly value their opinions. However, I have no desire to try to turn their heads to my point of view. And, I no longer see any mileage in lengthy debates or intellectual arguments with other believers. With both sides trying to persuade the other to see their point of view, it rarely resolves anything. But, I’ve been thinking about this subject for the past few years, and I think that there is a consistency with God that actually promotes the idea of being outside of the thing that needs changing. I will come onto that shortly. First, I want to outline (hopefully without offending anyone) why I think the approach of needing to be on the inside of something to change is not only very worldly, but also not of the mind of Christ, which Paul says we should all aspire to.
If I were a part of a church (I am part of the church – all genuine believers are) and I had come to the conclusion that there was something fundamentally wrong with it, what is the accepted protocol for addressing such an issue? Well, generally speaking, I would approach someone who was a part of the recognised leadership – an elder, or perhaps even the pastor himself if I had a strong relationship with him. I would outline what I saw were the issues and use examples from the New Testament to explain what I was talking about. Of course, there would be little point in doing such an action unless it was done in a non-judgemental and loving fashion. Let’s say that the pastor happened to agree with me. Perhaps then he would take it to the rest of the leadership (maybe he would even pray about it first). If it was a minor issue – some matter of doctrine or practice, then perhaps the rest of the leadership would be in consensus and some changes would be made. All good.
But, suppose that the pastor didn’t agree with me, or that the matter I was bringing to his attention was contrary to that particular church’s Articles or Statement of Faith. What then? Well, that’s another matter.
Over the last thirty years I have observed that the leaderships of churches, which are challenged by one of their number, all tend to respond in the same fashion. Firstly, the person who has brought the concern is to be placated. The leadership will say things like ‘we hear what you are saying, and we agree with you…however…‘ or perhaps they will say ‘work with us on that‘ and give the person who has raised the issue some made up role or area of responsibility. The outcome to both scenarios is always the same – the person who raised the issue is ultimately sidelined or ostracised (usually in a passive-aggressive fashion) until they feel so uncomfortable or disillusioned that they leave the church. Perhaps to another church. Perhaps altogether.
Now, you know this to be the truth because you will have seen it happen. Or, at least, you will suspect that you have seen it happen. It is always done very discreetly. Criticism of the management is rarely tolerated, and anyone who raises an issue that forces the leadership to admit that they have it wrong will effectively become persona non grata. You will notice that, one day, they are no longer there. Often there are no explanations. When there are, it is usually a generic term that is so ambiguous so that no lie could be said to have been told. Nor will any statement released contain the whole truth.
Please don’t get me wrong – this isn’t some cynical rant. Nor am I venting my own frustrations at what we experienced. In fact, I can honestly say that I am at total peace about both coming out of the church and the reasons why we did. I have no ill feeling towards anyone regarding our departure. This is a genuine attempt to find a balanced approach to the problems of the church. To do so, it requires a certain amount of candour. I’m not criticising churches for the way they handle ‘troublemakers’ such as me. I am just being honest about how they do. The big question is, however, why they do?
Now, if you thought I was on a sticky wicket in even suggesting that there are things wrong with the church, you’ve not seen anything yet!
I have no doubt that for the vast majority of today’s churches, I can easily and honestly say, that they represent very little of what you will find in the New Testament, with the exception of what is written regarding five of the seven churches of the Revelation. They have become so far removed from what God intended that it is almost impossible to see what they should be when you stop and consider their rituals and practices and doctrine and traditions. So, if they are not what God intended them to be, then they can only be what man intended them to be. And, here’s where the wicket get a whole lot worse than sticky.
If what we have today is man-made (that is to say not what God intended), then it all lacks the kind of humility which was characteristic of the early church. The leaderships of today’s churches, particularly those from the non-traditional denominations, are forces of great influence within their walls. There is usually a pastor and his wife at the centre of a group of people who could be best described as the inner circle. This inner circle trust one another and usually develop a kind of spiritual arrogance that makes challenging them very difficult. Let us be clear about this – if you read the pages of the New Testament, there is no justification for ever having an inner circle, or even a leadership. This is all a hangover from the organised religions of the past when the entire church was run not by Christ, but by a professional clergy.
The trouble we have with churches that are run in such a fashion is that only those who are on the inside of the inner circle actually have a voice that will be heard. Anyone else who raises a concern will simply not be heard because they are not trusted. This means that the only option, if you wish to raise a concern, is not only to be on the inside of the church, but also inside its inner circle.
It’s hard to identify when this practice of running churches in such a fashion took hold but, once it did, it spread like wildfire. Today almost the entire Charismatic and Pentecostal movements are dominated by churches which are organised with an inner circle. It amounts to little more than a group of people who are full of their own self-importance. And that is definitely not of God.
Although I am not certain, I suspect that much of what we see today has its roots in the Church Growth Movement, which is basically encourages churches to adopt a pragmatic and business-like approach to running churches – if what you are doing doesn’t bring in more people, keep tweaking the model until you find something that works. And when you do, stop tweaking and start growing.
What has happened, ever since the second or third century, is that the church has moved closer and closer to the world, instead of keeping herself further and further away. The church isn’t run by God, but by men. And by men in a very worldly, business-like fashion.
I have already covered in depth the subjects of what church should look like and how we have it wrong with the leadership model elsewhere on this blog, so I’m not going to go into it any further here. I do hope that, if you take your time to consider the way your church is run, that you will see my point.
The problem is with people saying that you can only change things if you are on the inside is that what they really mean is that unless you are on the inside of the inside, you can change nothing. If you were a pastor and had been given revelation by the Holy Spirit about how church should be, you could easily change it. If you were an elder who had the ear of the pastor, then maybe you could change it. If you were anyone else, then forget it. It’s all sown up in a typical man-like fashion.
So, that’s the man perspective – more dystopia than utopia, I know, but candid all the same. Let’s take a look at the God perspective. One of the great things about God is He looks at things through His perspective and His wisdom, and never through the eyes of what the world considers wisdom.
Throughout the pages of both the Old and New Testaments you will find accounts of God calling people to do His will and to fulfil His purposes. Without exception, He calls them out of the situation they were in. There isn’t a single example of God calling anyone to change something from within, unless the person He calls is already the king. Whether you look at Abraham or Moses or Gideon or Nehemiah or Ezra or Noah or Peter or Paul or James or any of them, the one thing which they all have in common is that God first called them out. And there is a good reason for Him doing so.
The word from which we get holy is, in Hebrew, the word kodesh. It means to be set apart; separate. So, when God calls someone, He does so to bring them out of the situation they are in, in order to set them apart for His purposes. Even the Greek word from which we get church confirms this – ekklesia literally means called out and set apart. And that is exactly what God does when it gets to the point that the situation His people find themselves in is no longer beneficial for them. Whether it is Egypt or Babylon or from under the oppression of the Philistines, His people cry out to Him and He calls them out. He doesn’t say ‘stay there and change it from within’. He says to them, ‘come out and be separate’ because the situation that they are in is corrupt.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther being called out by God and set apart. God didn’t charge Luther with remaining on the inside of the Catholic Church so that he could change it. He called him out. The sad thing is that what Luther started half a millennia ago is now the thing which God is once more calling people out from.
The church cannot be changed from within unless the pastor of each individual churches wills it so. God is calling people out of today’s church and showing them, once again, what He intended the church to be. There are thousands all across the globe, all called out by God to come under the rule of Christ, to whom He entrusted the church. I am happy to be counted amongst their number.
God doesn’t change what is broken unless He has a man at the top – a Hezekiah. He calls people out and shows them what should be. His ways have never changed – He simply shows those who are willing to listen what worship of Him should look like. It looks like what it has always looked like – humility and gratitude before a frightening but merciful God.
God doesn’t want to change the church. He wants to change individuals to be more like His Son. Only a worldly perspective thinks that you need to be on the inside to change something. God doesn’t think like that. Today’s church has become like the Tower of Babel – made by men. The true church is currently invisible, but will one day be revealed and glorify Him. It is made up of living stones – people obedient to His call and His instructions, all built upon the foundations of the apostles who stand upon the Rock of Ages.
You have to be prepared to change yourself first, if you want anything around you to change. Don’t think like the world does. Church shouldn’t be a business with board members and directors. That isn’t what God ordained. The book of Acts contains everything we need to know about what church should look like – believers who lived together and everything they had was for the common use. No inner circle. No main leaders full of their own self-importance. Just humble men and women whom knew that to serve God meant to serve one another.
If God is calling you out of the established church you will know because He will make you uncomfortable with what is practiced and preached inside the church. If He calls you, the correct response is ‘Here I am, Lord.’ He will lead you out from there and show you what He wants you to do.