Warning! The Foundation of Modern Western Christianity is Weak (part 3)
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49
I have been working on a series of posts that deal with the exposure of a weak foundation in the western Christian churches and the causes of this weakness. This post is a continuation of this discussion.
In summary of past messages, we looked at the symptoms of this weakness or the “bad fruit” in many churches including sexual issues such as pornography and adultery, immaturity such as dissension and strife within congregations caused by carnal issues like envy and jealousy. We also pointed out issues like depressed and despondent Christians on anti-depression medication, and erroneous teachings such as materialism or “prosperity” teachings, “Kingdom Now” teachings, and candy-coated, positive thinking teachings, all linked to the symptoms that point to a weakness in the foundation. We also discussed the need for Christians to determine the truth and separate out the lies, looking also at some of the deceptive ways that lies are promoted. Similarly, shifting the Christian’s focus to the wrong things can be difficult to detect, but will cause serious problems.
Let’s look closer now at the problem of having the wrong focus and the specifics of this problem in today’s western churches.
I first must ask the question, what should be the focus of the Christian ministry? What is the main goal? As I look at western churches (looking at their actions, not so much their statements), it appears that the overwhelming answer for them is what they would call evangelism or winning souls, but it really equates to increasing the number of people associated with their organization. The success of the Christian ministry is measured in the size of the congregation, or the number of converts that have been gained through their outreach. For most churches the main thrust of the ministry is to get more people to come to the church services and get them more involved in church activities. Individuals are encouraged to “share their faith” with others and then encourage them to come to church.
Evangelism is important, but it should not be the main goal or main focus of the Christian ministry. And it certainly should not be the measure of success for a Christian ministry. Yet it would appear that many churches are making their important decisions about how the church functions based on their desire to attain this goal.
A good example would be the worship time of many churches. The music is geared towards attracting more new people to the church. Worship services have become more like viewing a musical performance than a time for the congregation to focus their hearts on praise and worship of the Lord. Even the musical “key” (how high or low of a pitch the music is played in) chosen for the songs to be sung is for the benefit of the “performers” in the musical band up front on the stage, rather than for the congregation to join in the singing.
I would not say that having a mini Christian rock concert every Sunday is necessarily evil per se, but it is my judgment that it is wrong if the motive for doing so is to attract new people who want to be entertained, and if it replaces the important time of worship, praise and interaction that follows the admonition of the Scripture regarding the use of music:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Col: 3:16
“…but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” Eph. 5:18-21
My experience in the past was that this time of worship was a valuable time of learning, singing hymns and songs from the Scriptures that either taught or reinforced some truth to the congregation. Also, it was during this time that the entire congregation was focusing their hearts on the Lord and offering up sincere praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, that the Holy Spirit moved; prophecies came, people were touched and moved to tears and repentance, people came to the altar for prayer. I don’t see the current atmosphere of extremely loud music and songs intended to entertain being conducive to the moving of the Holy Spirit. We have put aside this valuable time of unified praise and openness to the Holy Spirit in order to have instead a “concert” for the purpose of attracting more people.
Another example of churches that are basing their success on the increase of people in their services are churches that go deep into debt to greatly increase their building size to assure that they can accommodate many more newcomers. They also go into debt to make sure that their church is modern looking and comfortable, and to have the latest sound and video equipment. They may even add additional “attractions” like a lobby with a coffee shop or a fun room. In some parts of the world, Christians have no meeting house at all and meet under a large tree, but this does not hinder their spiritual growth. My point is that too much time, money and effort are being directed towards the wrong things.
None of these above mentioned things are evil in themselves. Their presence does support my claim that the focus of the churches is to attract people and keep them involved in the church organization. There is one thing that I do consider to be evil: when the Gospel message is compromised to reach this goal of greater numbers, and I will be looking deeper at this serious problem later.
Some Christian leaders might say that the Scriptural support for this goal of increasing numbers is found in the portion of Scripture known as “the great commission” found in Matthew. Here is the quote:
“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” Matt. 28:18-20
You will notice that this directive from the Lord Jesus is to “make disciples” and to “baptize them” and “teach them to observe” His commandments. I would consider directive to fall more into the category of discipleship than evangelism. Evangelism is about preaching the message to those that have not heard it. Discipleship is about turning those who have accepted the message into mature Christian disciples.
Notice too that it is assumed that if you are going to baptize a person, that you will be explaining the significance of the act to them, and not just going through some form of initiation ritual. The outward action of immersion represents an inward, spiritual change that the Christians who are baptizing are responsible to make sure that the person being baptized understands.
The modern western Christian churches have used the directive of “the great commission” to justify their emphasis on getting more people into their churches and involved in their organizations. This has caused problems.
It is clear throughout the New Testament that the focus of the Christian ministry is to produce holy, sanctified, spiritually mature, strong Christian disciples. Even a casual reading through its books will support this claim. Of course, evangelism is an important prerequisite for discipleship, but it is not the focus or end goal. In other words, we should never sacrifice quality for quantity. Anyone who takes an honest look at modern western Christianity will see that this sacrifice is being made.
Here is a clear, direct, portion of Scripture to support this view (I like the way that J.B. Phillips translated it):
“The ultimate aim of the Christian ministry, after all, is to produce the love which springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and genuine faith.” 1 Tim. 1:5
Here is the same verse from the Amplified Bible version:
“Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good (clear) conscience and sincere (unfeigned) faith.”
The context of this verse is that Paul is directing Timothy about people who had lost the main focus of their Christianity and had drifted into other teachings or distractions. Here are the verses immediately before it:
“that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrines, not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith” 1 Tim. 1:3-4
We see from these verses that the true goal is to develop in the nature of each Christian a true, spiritual, godly love, and that the root source of this love is a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith. Christian ministries should be making sure that their efforts are focused on attaining this goal of having Christians who can truly love, and that the root sources that produce this love are being supported and built up in their congregations. Sadly, I don’t see this happening; the fruit of this labor is not present.
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13
At the core of the Christian ministry is a unique responsibility that no other organization in the world can accomplish. It is to prepare the bride of Christ. It is to foster and foment a transformation in a person that will result in a deep, sincere, and abiding faith, a living faith, that will produce holy and blameless saints, with pure hearts that are focused totally on obeying their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, and whose consciences are clear and spotless, who have the mind of Christ and are patiently waiting for His return. The church is responsible to work with the Holy Spirit to develop spiritual people who can truly love one another, in fact, they should be known for their love for one another. This is the core of the Christian ministry and no other goal, no matter how beneficial or benevolent, should supersede it.
When Christians are truly changed and are walking in the spirit and walking in love, they will produce the good works like feeding the hungry, or helping the widows and orphans, visiting the sick or imprisoned, and it will happen naturally because it will be a part of their nature. Each individual will respond to these needs as they encounter them. They won’t need to be organized and managed, and they won’t need fundraising or advertising to make it happen.
When Christians attempt to do the good works without being transformed, but being still in their flesh, immature and not in tune with the Holy Spirit, functioning in their own carnal minds, the results are worthless. The apostle Paul warned about functioning without this core character of true, deep, spiritual love. He warns that any work you do will profit you nothing!
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3
Another way of looking at this erroneous shift of focus onto the wrong things is to compare it to putting the “cart before the horse”, as the old saying goes. Obviously, this is a foolish approach, so either Christian leaders don’t understand the importance of focusing on love, or they mistakenly think that love is already in place. Some churches are possibly assuming that their congregation is spiritual and mature, but they aren’t examining the fruit. Or perhaps they have changed the meaning of spiritual to something that’s not scriptural, like someone who uses a lot of “Christian speak” words and claims to be hearing from the spirit. I would like to spend more time later looking more closely at what it means to be spiritual, but for now realize that the proof of spiritual maturity is in the fruit. There must be the fruit of godly love in a person’s actions.
I have heard some Christian leaders and pastors indicate that the Bible sets a “high bar” of love that is essentially unattainable for us, but only Jesus could walk in this type of love. We are told that we are “only human” and “not perfect, but forgiven”. This is not true! We are expected to walk in the type of love that is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. And this is the fruit that should be tested to determine if a person is spiritual or in the faith. If the test fails, there needs to be serious actions taken to correct the situation, not just an “oh well, I’m not perfect” attitude.
This “cart before the horse” focus error can also be applied to those who focus their ministries on manifestations of the spirit. What does it matter if there are great moves of the Spirit if the mature, spiritual, character of love is missing? We can’t just assume that if the Spirit is moving, then everything else must be in order. This is not the case; if it was we wouldn’t have a need for this warning from Jesus, that comes right after His instructions to examine a person’s fruit to expose false prophets and teachers:
“Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me you who practice lawlessness!’” Matt. 7:20-23
This verse is also followed by the parable of the house built on the rock that stands against the flood waters (I quoted a parallel verse from Luke at the start of this message).
Paul also gives a similar warning in his letter when discussing the need to focus on love as a goal, or to properly place “the horse before the cart”:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. “ 1 Cor. 13:1-2
I will be continuing this discussion in the future, Lord willing, by looking deeper at other problems that are hindering maturity and attaining true love in Christians. I will leave you now with Paul’s definition of true love as found in his letter to the Corinthians (and inspired by the Holy Spirit):
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when that which is perfect (or complete) has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13: 4-13