One of the things I hear about on occasion is how some people think I am critical of the Church. I try to be careful about this, why may you ask? Simple, where I come from, you talk about a man’s wife or girlfriend, you are libel to get your nose busted. The Church, according to the Bible, is called the Bride of Jesus. When talking about the bride of the son of God I think you have to be careful.
It is annoying at times; people confuse the church, those who love and follow after Jesus, with an organization, denomination, or building we call church. The truth is, like it or not, what we call church is nothing like the church we see in the New Testament. Unfortunately many Christians have become so involved with politics they end up spinning everything to support their positions, even when those positions are wrong.
It is sad when a ministry like The Virtual Pew tries to hold the church accountable to be the church we see in Acts and ends up getting criticized by some who call themselves Christians, and even beyond that, some which call themselves, The Church. It is sad for a variety of reasons, let me touch on a few of those.
One of the concerns I have is that those who call themselves Christians find excuses to not do what the Bible tells them, and even finds excuses to keep on having what they call church, not resemble, follow, or be anything like the church in the New Testament. Some will say the culture is much different, or the early church did things because of persecution, or any number of issues. While there are certainly cultural issues we should take into account, we have to be careful when picking and choosing.
In the book of Acts we see the church described in specific ways. We see those ways being supported from a historical position. They pretty much existed this way until Constantine, around 270 AD provided a mixed political, and religious culture that changed the way the world viewed Christianity. I challenge, Constantine, his decisions, and the marriage of the geopolitical religious system, may have done more harm to the church as Christ desired, than many give credit to.
There are many passages we can look at in the Bible regarding the early church, I like looking specifically at Acts 2:43-47:
(43) Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. (44) All the Lord's followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. (45) They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. (46) Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, (47) while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.
I could go into a great deal of detail here. Many make the association that the early followers of Jesus, the Church, were communal. While there is some truth to this, notice in verse 44, there was certainly a level of individualism, and certainly a concept that some did not live together in the sense we may think. We also see this in other passages. There are other things to notice though. Notice their unconditional love for each other, their view and concept of ownership, possessions and so forth. There was a genuine concern and measure of love to the point they went out of their way to help and show love to each other. In fact, they wanted to be together, each day, unlike our desire in churches to see each other once a week, if that.
It is sad, my experience, even recent experience, continues to show me, that most of the time, many in the church have forgotten about this concept of sharing in each others lives. For example, my family is in the process of again looking for a church. Several people are encouraging me to start a new church and we are contemplating that option. Recently, we decided the church we were attending was not meeting our needs. There was a need for more relationship building and it just wasn’t happening. We also felt strongly about finding something for my wife and son to become involved in. To be honest, I could care less about going to church; I want my family to be a part of a church that encourages us to be the church, at the same time, showing that love, that passion, that vision as explained in Acts and other places.
Now I have to be careful, I am not intending to slam a church, either the one we attended or the ones we are looking at. Yet the facts are the facts, we have not heard a single word from the churches we have attended and are searching out, or the one we just left. Sharing in each others life is still lacking in my opinion with what I call “the modern” church. I could go into detail here, but that is not the intent of this piece. Let me ask, if we who read our bibles daily, pray daily, spend time in service, and make the commitment to try and be as much like Jesus as possible experience this, have difficulty with this, how much more difficulty does one face who is weak in these areas? Let me make it clear, the early church was about relationship, and love towards one another, why do churches today talk about this, but not do it? I am even disheartened, that those churches who are trying to be different, have become the very things they hated. I challenge that most churches have failed. Attendance don’t increase, and there are far more churches dying than there are being born, and far more followers of Jesus, otherwise known as Christians, who are not attending church than there are who are. Studies show that within 10 years, as many as 75% of those who read their bibles, see it as Gods’ word, believe in and have made Jesus their Lord and Savior or as I like to call it their Forgiver and Leader, who believe they should live their faith out on a daily bases, pray on a regular basis and so forth, will not be attending a church service on a regular basis, and will in fact, not be involved with what we call an organized church. Today it is estimated that 55% of all Christians fall into this category.
Many times, when I say what I say above, there are those (facts supported by the Barna Research Group, and by Gallup) who are inclined to put those Christians not in church down, stating that they are immature, can’t be Christians or followers of Jesus, or they aren’t Christians. The sad thing is studies also show, these individuals are practicing their faith, doing more, than many who are in church. Often time, Christians who are critical, do nothing about trying to reach these people.
The great mistake many make when they hear me comment on this, or read my words is they assume I am tearing down the church. It is not my intent to tear down the church, but to challenge her to be the bride that Jesus desires. The unfortunate truth is, often times the church resembles the whore of Hosea in the Old Testament, as opposed to the Bride of Christ in the New Testament. While God is calling out people to confront the church with truth, many times, just as in the Old Testament and New Testament, the religious leaders, and religious practitioners are so caught up in their individual beliefs and pride they don’t see the reality of what they are being confronted with. The end result is the church is dying and followers of Jesus are leaving what could be a wonderful and good thing, not the building, but the fellowship that could exist if what we call the church chooses to practice church as we are given directions to in the Bible. While there are numerous passages, I strongly encourage a study of the book of Acts, and Ephesians to start off with.
It is the hope, and the desire of The Virtual Pew, that we help those who can, to plug into a local body of believers, but we want to make sure those churches are being Christ to their communities, but even more importantly, to the individuals who are needing the love. We want to see a passion, love, concern, and objective to share the love of Jesus with those needing it, at all costs, becoming all things to all people, in order that they may win some. We want to see people also become disciples, dedicated followers of Jesus, not just “Christians.”
Here are a few tips to help churches that I have learned and am convinced of.
Love each other first. I don’t want to imply that you pretend to love each other, but really love each other. It becomes obvious to outsiders when you do. But this means doing what it says in Acts 2. If you can’t do that, don’t expect to be effective. Loving and caring for each other in fact should be the first responsibility to each other. I will share a brief story of a lady I was speaking to who lived in the projects who did not attend church. She indicated to me that she had gone to a popular church in Wichita and when it was her husbands’ birthday, who had not been in church, the church said it would take too much time to recognize his birthday in any way. How does this show love? At United at the Cross, we always sang happy birthday or happy anniversary to everyone who was celebrating one of these two days. I can honestly say, it never took that much time, and was always worth it. Loving in each others life, means sharing in each others life, the good, the bad, the sad, and the happy, without excuse.
Churches should see the souls you are trying to reach as people loved deeply by Christ, don’t view them as projects. I know of no one who likes being a project. I have made this mistake and am doing my best to not replicate it. The last time I did this was in the year 2000. I still regret it and wonder if me doing that has anything to do with that person still not accepting Christ. Luke 15 is clear, when that which was lost is found, all of the angels in Heaven above rejoice. We should join in the celebration not because we want to party, or pat ourselves on the back, but because we love the people we know and come into contact with. Relationships are always more important than projects. Churches talk about how important people are, but have so many projects the people, their needs, their hurts, wants and desires are never addressed.
Understand the value of reaching out to the non churched. I love Spurgeons’ quote, “God forbid that one would die within the shadow of the steeple of the church not knowing the love of Christ.” On this I love the Catholic Parish concept. Start in your neighborhood. I really think we have made a terrible mistake in developing commuter churches where we never get to know our neighbors and never serve our communities. Thankfully we now have the means to communicate better; things like blogs, email, and so forth have helped. As much as they have helped though, there is still no replacement for a hug, a real conversation, and a face to go with the person you are sharing in life with.
Don’t compromise the integrity of the Gospel, or the salvation provided through Jesus Christ. In this process neither should we ignore the sin nature, and the need for forgiveness. While I believe it in the concept of grace, I receive grace, even though it is my sin which separates me from God. The mistake some make is they assume that just because one may focus on grace, they forget about sin. This is a serious mistake, just as serious as a constant focus on sin without ever explaining the grace provided by Christ.
On the above point I realize many read this not knowing the “Christian” lingo. Essentially what I am speaking of is we all do wrong, have done wrong, and will do wrong, that is the sin nature. God is so perfect, loving, holy, and good, that he can’t stand to be in the presence of sin. Grace is simply getting something good that we don’t deserve. None of us deserve the salvation offered by Jesus, yet God, when we were still doing wrong, loved us so much that he made this gift available to each us. Don’t let the religious zealots convince you that you have to be perfect and holy to come to God. We come as we are, and Christ provides salvation when we believe and follow him.
I could go on and say there are other critical things to understand but these are the places for the church to start if it wants to break the cycle. Unfortunately, I don’t see much hope for the “church”. Many in the church have forgotten the church is not, never was, and never will be a building, it is a people. Most all followers of Jesus say so; they just don’t act like it. Then again, they keep loosing people and don’t understand why. There is a wonderful line spoken by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie The Fighting Temptations. His character is changing the choir of the local church, people are coming to church for the first time, the church is growing, but one of the older choir members challenges that things are changing in the church. The character played by Gooding Jr. responds essentially, “yes the church will change when there is change.” If the church wants to see change, it has to change. Let me challenge you, if you church is dying what do you have to loose. It is for this reason that I do consultation to churches on growth and evangelism. I have learned from experience. Between providing consultations to programs in the real world that resembled churches, and then doing that with churches for over 20 years now, I am confident that I know what works; it is why I challenge people to compare fruit with me when they doubt the reality of this. Now on this point, also realize, Mega Churches are another breed. While some of those churches are growing, there is no doubt; most of them (not all) are doing so at the expense and deaths of smaller churches where those churches are “stealing the sheep of smaller churches.” The research is conclusive, while mega churches may be growing, there is less Christians involved in church, and more Christians or followers of Jesus leaving the church. This can not, nor should it ever be acceptable. Any church, who is satisfied with growing their congregations on the backs of small churches, will have to answer to God for that. I know hard words, but I believe totally true. It is time to be a part of the solution, as opposed to a part of the problem.
In closing, I always get tons of email on articles like this. It usually comes from two groups, those in churches, denominations, buildings and so forth, who blast away and try to argue every point. They are critical, and in return don’t do much to go out of their way to change the status quo. To those, keep on killing the bride of Christ, because the truth is, either you are the church Christ desires, or you are not! Continue being effective at doing nothing, and reaching no one, you will die, if you aren’t already, and you will keep on getting what you are likely getting now, nothing. Then there are those who understand exactly what I am saying because they have been hurt, abandoned, left out, not understood and so much more. It is to those people that I say, you are the reason The Virtual Pew exists. Anything I can do to help out, let me know. Thankfully I have some friends who agree with the process, and between them and me, we will do what we can to be different. Heck, if living in the Wichita area, we are even open to exploring the possibility of starting a group that will do and become exactly what I am talking about. We are real and I promise, thankfully at this point, haven’t become the very thing that kept us out of church. I promise, we will eat with you, share in your difficulties, share in all things, and you will never have to ask first because I realize our responsibility to be there for you. I think we all want that, I just pray we all get there. If in another part of the country, we will do what we can on line, and if possible, at least recommend you to other churches we know about. While I can’t guarantee any church, I can guarantee that we will try to show love, not just talk about it, even if that means putting you in touch with people who will love, care, and be as much like the church in Acts as possible.
I would like to say one last thing, to those like myself, who either have, or still do fall into the category of what I call, The Last, The Lost and The Least. I know what it is like to be an outcast, to feel that no one understands or cares. This can be because of being homeless, having family issues, drugs, broken homes, abuse and so much more. I am tired of people talking about showing us love, and in reality backhanding us on their way to their social clubs they often call church. There is no excuse for people to say they follow Jesus and act like this. The truth is, some of us know that many do act like this, and in fact, our experience tells us that most act like this. To you I say come on along with The Virtual Pew and be an instrument of change, an instrument of change to do things the way we are called to, but more importantly, be ultimately, when we can, an instrument of change to those organizations who call themselves church but in reality look nothing like the Bride of Christ. We have access to a world wide web now where you don’t have to be alone. Whether in Australia or the backwoods of Kentucky, we can come together, help each other, love each other. I say this, not because you need it, although you may, but because I know I need it and we can share in life together.
I am convinced there are many great churches, that are doing all they can to follow the process and be a loving bride, we just don’t hear about them. They exist within many denominations and many non denominational churches. They realize it is Christ who is a loving husband, a loving forgiver of sins and a loving leader who is there for us, to love us, hold us, and comfort us. We are always looking for those types of churches as well to refer people to. To those of you who are trying to be the church we read about in Acts and other parts of the New Testament, I say congratulations and may God’s Spirit bless you. If there is anything we can do to help, let me know as well. I would love to know enough about you to use you as a reference to the people who come to The Virtual Pew and are looking for a local body of believers to worship with. Whether a small home church or a large mega church who attempts to grow based on new followers of Jesus or reaching out to others I call The Lost, The Last, or The Least, we desire communication with you as well. Visit http://www.thevirtualpew.com/ to learn more about our ministry, or feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org I can think of nothing I would love doing more, than growing, and assisting the Church as Christ desired the church to be.
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