The author of this post is Scott Gibson, Dawn’s husband, and is prompted by a recent post about today’s churches (or more importantly, tomorrow’s churches), which generated some interesting and necessary discussion.
Normally, I would not make a confession in such a public way, but today, I feel I must. Why?
Two primary reasons, divided between two categories of readers:
- To readers who have not trusted Jesus as their Savior, I want you to know first that I’m a sinner (we all are), and second, that God so loved the world (and that includes you and me) that He sent His only son, Jesus, to pay the price for our sin by dying on the cross (and yes, importantly, He rose again). Too many people today shun, even hate Christianity, because Christians often fail to communicate that they aren’t going to heaven because they’re good people! They’re sinners, but they’re going to heaven because Jesus died for them — and the greater news is He died for you and me, too, and He wants you to accept His gift of Salvation.
- To readers who have trusted Jesus and who go to church regularly, I want you to know that God is working in my heart, and I hope He is working in yours too! In fact, I challenge you to read carefully and think through these issues as I have, and see whether you are or have been guilty of similar sin.
I was raised in a Christian family, and I accepted God’s gift of Salvation at a young age. I have attended church literally all of my life.
Through my 50 years of life (so far), I’ve lived in 6 different locales and attended or joined 11 different churches (for some extended period of time).
As most Christians who have attended church for any length of time, early on, I formed ideas of what “church” should be like. These ideas were based largely on what I experienced.
Didn’t most of us “learn church” this way?
Obviously, there were many sermons and Bible lessons that taught about “church” from the scriptures, and I was content that the way we “practiced church” was close enough to what the Bible says, certainly didn’t violate scripture in any significant way. And, I wasn’t too troubled that those other denominations “practiced church” differently than we did — as long as we didn’t allow our practices to look too much like theirs.
Through the years of spending time in different churches (even of the same denomination), I found slightly different views on various topics, and found myself contriving arguments why my idea of church was right or had more merit than someone else’s. The more this happened, the more I stepped away from being so dogmatic on certain things, and started calling these “preferences” (though, in my heart, I knew they still had more merit, but I just couldn’t put my finger on why).
In the last several years, there have been specific points in time — specific discussions even — where I had to step back further and really question myself and these views that had become such an ingrained — even arrogant — part of my thinking.
As we see more and more churches in late stages of life-support, God has prompted me to ask myself the critical question:
Are my views on what should constitute church my views or are they God’s views?
I have come to the incontrovertible conclusion that my views don’t matter. Only God’s views matter. And, where can I find God’s views? One place: the Bible.
Plainly, if it’s not in the Bible, then I shouldn’t place such importance on it.
The Bible has a lot of things to say about what makes up a church, but they pretty much boil down to a short list, most of which are somewhat vague in their application. At the risk of having some real theologians point out things I’ve overlooked, I’ll make an abridged list (no particular order):
- A church is an organized group of “members” who are Christians (those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior).
- There are two specific offices for which scripture gives qualifications: Pastor (aka Elder, Bishop, Overseer, Shepherd) and Deacon (literally, servant).
- Pastor’s are to preach God’s Word.
- We are to carry out the two ordinances of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper (Communion).
- We are to worship God.
- We are to gather together regularly (not forsake gathering together).
- We are to give cheerfully.
- We are to study and teach God’s Word.
- We are to pray together and for one another.
- We are to fellowship together (probably didn’t exclusively mean eating, aka “fellowship dinners”).
- We are to pursue purity (as the bride of Christ).
- The primary purpose of the church is summed up in the Great Commission (both locally and through sending of missionaries):
Go, Disciple, and Teach
My purpose here is not to exhaustively list the functions and responsibilities of the church. It is to say that, while churches do indeed fulfill many of these things today, most of us who make up the church, both lay and leadership, have long since adopted our own views as “the standard” or “the definition” of church, and are often far too dogmatic on things that God never said.
And this is where I have found myself.
We have a word for these “views” or “standards” that we have developed over time: tradition.
We also have a word for adding rules on top of what God has told us: legalism. It’s sin.
Traditions themselves are not necessarily a problem. Making those traditions “the standard” is legalism and it’s wrong.
And, just exactly why does this matter so much?
The ramifications of making my views the standard rather than God’s are immense and frankly, this changes everything.
On a personal level, this is sin to put words in God’s mouth — to declare that God’s standards are different than God Himself has told us.
On a corporate level, the problem is that this legalistic adherence to tradition is impacting the church’s ability to effectively meet its fundamental charter. We actively or passively enforce a traditional style of worship so that, when people visit our church, they really don’t find it worshipful and don’t want to come back. We actively or passively judge people who don’t fit our traditional views, thereby deterring them from either salvation or joining our church.
The sin is legalism aka loving our traditions more than God and more than the people we claim we’re trying to reach for Christ.
What should we do? Evaluate each and every thing we think is a “sacred cow” and decide whether those things are indeed mandates from scripture or whether they are just one way of accomplishing the mandates scripture has given us.
If you think carefully about what scripture actually does say about the church, the focus is more about the responsibilities that individual Christians have and less about “club rules”.
If we’re not careful, our churches will die with us in our traditions.