Thursday, May 26, 2005

Do Not Be Deceived

I read an interesting letter to the editor in World magazine the other day. While the topic of the letter isn't relevent to this article, the writer made a statement qualifying believers (those who claim to be 'born again') as "only those who are active in church and living out their faith." (italics mine)

Interesting distinction, I thought, and one of the greatest sources of confusion and deception in the body of Christ today. Now I'm not a biblical expert, but I can't find anything in Scripture that declares that one must be "active in church", to be a born-again follower of Christ. But being active in church seems like such a good thing that it surely can't be bad to use church participation as an indicator of a soul's spiritual state, you say. This logical error compounds one of the greatest deceptions that we struggle with as believers today. The deception is this - that being part of an organized church is what being a believer is about.

Now don't get me wrong - in itself the organization and structure we call the church is not a bad thing. But it has grown in complexity through services, programs, and ministries, until it consumes the lives of the church attenders. It is a tar baby that pulls you in, and sticks to you, each touch compounding the problem, until at last you and the tar baby are indistinguishable. At some point in this consumption, the average church attender comes to believe that these services, programs, and ministries are what being a believer is about.

Now I don't know how the average church attender would respond to my challenge that they see the organizational functions of the church as their calling as believers, because I haven't asked, for the most part. I suspect they would say that being caught up in the organization we call the church is not the main purpose of a believer. But their actions reveal and betray them. If you watch where and how their time is spent, it would appear that the chief end of an average believer was, in fact, the services, programs, and ministries of the church.

Here I must take a stand, here I must disagree. When I read the Scripture, I read that being a believer is about living the will of God, glorifying Him, and enjoying His presence. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself sums up the Law, as Christ said, not being active in church.

So, it comes down to this. Activity in church is no indication of being a follower of Christ. Can you be active in church and be a believer? Absolutely. But you can also be deceived. You can spend your life caught up in services, programs, and ministries, and somehow think that that is what being a believer is about, while your neighbor is consigned to hell because you failed to see the meaning in the declaration of God that you are to love your neighbor as yourself.

For those that are deceived by their involvement in the organization of the church, there will be no greater tragedy than standing before our Lord, protesting your service, your programs, and your ministries, as He says "depart from me, you who are cursed... for I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Be cautious, fellow believer, and do not let your involvement in the organization we call the church mask your call to be the salt of the earth, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as your self.

Do not be deceived.


Kent C. Williamson said...

Very good points... and perfect timing as my next post deals specifically with the phenomenon I've coined called Trickle-Charged Christians... stay tuned...

Kent C. Williamson said...
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Ron Goetz said...

Once upon a time there was a tiny hermit crab who found a tiny shell for a home. When she grew, she would seek out a slightly larger shell to live in. This happened over and over, until she had the largest and most beautiful shell of all the hermit crabs.

All the hermit crabs admired her big shell and complimented her continually. When it was safe she would clean the algae and barnacles off her shell. She was so proud of her large and beautiful shell.

As she aged, her energies ebbed. She began to shrink. At first the shell seemed only a little too big, but eventually it was an enormous burden to drag around the sea floor. It was so heavy that she didn't have the strength to find food. It was never safe enough to even eat the algae that covered her massive edifice.

Another hermit crab said to her, "Why don't you find a shell that fits you?" She answered, "But it does fit me! It's a beautiful shell!"

Eventually she could no longer drag the large and beautiful shell. She hid under it, waiting for little morsels of food to crawl near or to come floating by.

It lived for many, many years. Occasionally a larger bit of food would drift by, and she would feel energized. She would peek out from under her massive shell, and always decide it was too dangerous too look for a better house to live in.

Then her energies would subside again, and she would shrink, shrink, shrink.

Finally, she died. As her body decayed, little bits of her flesh floated away and were eaten by little fish and other hermit crabs.

Ron Goetz said...

We need to look at the (probable) motive behind the inclusion of active church membership as a definition or condition of salvation. It's inclusion is a way of smuggling hierarchy, conformity, and formal organizational membership (i.e. numerical success) into every individual's behavior.

Including "active church membership" into the definition is quite self-serving for the hirelings who run the organizations.

What is indeed accurate to say, on the other hand, is that people should be involved with a group of people who share more or less the same vision of their spiritual aspirations, a group which helps every individual to develop their giftedness.

Many people talk about the "work of the Kingdom" or some other phrase regarding the Kingdom. This is a recognition that the work of the "church" is not the same as God's Kingdom Work. My fear is that the word will eventually become equivalent to "church."

I'd just like to repeat something I've written elsewhere. A key problem in discussions like this is in the many usages of the word "church."

In Catholic circles it the word often refers to the official hierarchy, as in "what is the Church's teaching on . . ."

Other times it refers to all of Christendom, as in "down through the ages, the church has taken many forms . . ."

Sometimes it refers to a building, as in, "What a run-down looking church!"

Other times it refers to the congregation: "Let's put it to a church vote."

Sometimes it refers to the preaching service: "That behavior is not appropriate during church."

Or, worse, it refers to the sanctuary as a "holy place." "That behavior is not appropriate in church."

In daily usage, the most common is probably, "I'm going to church Sunday." This refers to a combination of the building, the meeting, the people, and the sanctuary.

Other times it refers to any level of the organization itself. "What does your church believe about . . ."

When we talk about the Biblical concept, I think we need to use the words "ekklesia" and "koinonia."

When we're talking about our own small groups, a number of phrases are good. "Home fellowship," "house church," etc. I like "Christian community," but it's a little vague because "community" can be small (good) or as large as Christendom (bad).