Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Scandal Of Passive Christianity

"Spectator" is not a spiritual gift. It isn't a calling.

Yet, many church models breed scores of passive Christians. Instead of making disciples they are making spectators.

Dictionary.com defines scandal as follows:

Noun
  1. a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.
  2. an offense caused by a fault or misdeed.
  3. damage to reputation; public disgrace.
  4. defamatory talk; malicious gossip.
  5. a person whose conduct brings disgrace or offense.
When people think of a scandal they often think of sex, drugs, and money. Maybe some combination of these things. But not always.

Scandals bring shame. Scandals ruin reputations. Often scandals are accompanied by public outrage.

Unlike the scandals you hear or read about on the Internet this scandal doesn't center around sex, drugs, or money. It's the scandal of passive Christianity. It's operating right under our noses.

When you enter most church buildings you will find that they are setup like any other place of entertainment. There is a central focus on the stage area (although it may be called something different). People sit in the audience much like they would in any theater, stadium, or concert hall.

From start to finish the service is run by a small percentage of the people. There is little to no expectation of any form of participation from the vast majority beyond standing when the songs start, turning off cell phones when the talk begins, and putting money in the plate when it's passed.

I understand why we setup our services this way. It makes perfect sense. If we treat church-goers like consumers then we need to make an efficient way for them to consume our content.

But the church isn't supposed to be run like the entertainment industry. The church isn't a business.

It's the body of Christ.

Every member of your physical body is important. It serves a purpose.

Don't think so?

Which body parts are you willing to lose?

Somehow we've built a system of "church" that has scores of passive Christians floating from one congregation to the next. The biggest impact is on the budget of that local church.

Not the community. Not the edification of the believers. The budget.

It's scandalous.

This isn't a commentary on mega-churches. It's a commentary on passive churches. Passive churches exist in every form you can think of. It affects every denomination and every sized congregation. It can apply to both home churches and those that have a building.

It is a systemic problem. We've built a system that has drifted from encouraging active participation from every member.

The biblical system is much harder. Messier. More difficult to control. Impossible to guarantee identical 1-hour services.

But it's glorious. It's glorious because it's what God designed. Instead of praising the eloquence of our seminary trained pastors or the musical talent of our worship teams we can praise God for using the weak and the small to bring edification.

I'm not against leadership. Leadership is biblical. But if the leadership is failing to cultivate and promote a healthy congregation where every member knows their function and operates for the building up of the body then it is just that: failing.

It is failing despite the attendance numbers. Where does the Bible ever tell us to measure success by our attendance, budgets, and campus square footage? Where is the passage that tells us to make spectators?

The Apostle Paul wrote:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16, bold added)
Paul revealed God's purpose for the church. That purpose includes every member doing it's part. It won't happen unless we recognize and submit to God's design described in Ephesians 4:11-13.

Go ahead. Read the spiritual gifting lists in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Survey all the spiritual gift tests that you'd like. Can anyone find the spiritual gift of spectatorship?

I'll wait.

No?

Everyone who is in Christ has been gifted supernaturally by God for the edification of the church. If you aren't using your spiritual gift to edify the church then the body is lacking something important.

Not all gifts are prominent. Some are behind the scenes. But all are critical to the health of the whole. Passive Christianity suppresses spiritual gifts. The whole body suffers.

What's worse is that the passive model spills over into the world.

The passive system has created a culture of professional Christianity. The ones doing ministry are the ones on the stage. The most active thing that many Christians are encouraged to do is to invite people to participate in the pre-planned and meticulously managed services.

How many people do you have in your life that will never go with you to your church building?

How many coworkers do you spend 40+ hours a week with that have never attended one of the identical hour-long weekend service options?

How many neighbors do you have that you've lived next to for years that never came to any of your outreach events at your church building?

How many family members do you see on holidays who won't darken the door of your church building because they are hostile or perhaps because they simply live out of town?

The truth is that passive Christianity is shameful. Paul said so to the church in Corinth: "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame" (1 Corinthians 15:34, bold added).

There were an awful lot of scandalous issues going on in Corinth. Division, lawsuits, sexual immorality. But Paul said that they should be ashamed of themselves because their sin was keeping them for spreading the knowledge of God.

The church exists to spread the knowledge of God.

Notice I didn't say our church buildings, church programs, or church staff.

The church. All of us.

We exist to spread the knowledge of God. When anything keeps us from doing so it is sin. It's shameful. It's scandalous.

People who are perishing in their sins and hopeless in the world drive by our perfectly manicured church campuses without any genuine knowledge of God. They do so because the Christians in their life have withheld such knowledge. We've restricted the mission. We've handicapped the body.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can reclaim God's purpose. Doing so requires laying down the American dream. It requires picking up our cross. It requires devotion and accountability to each other.

Is your church making disciples or spectators?

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Christianity Isn't Moralism

    Do this. Don't do that.

    Shop here. Don't shop there.

    This is acceptable. That is an abomination.

    Don't get me wrong. Christianity does have a moral code. That's undeniable.

    And that moral code is not popular. Not by a long shot. The Bible is clear that the moral code is contrary to the flesh. By definition it goes against the grain of fallen human nature.

    But Christianity isn't moralism.

    The moral code is not the end. It's only a diagnostic. The Bible calls for rebels against the King of heaven and earth to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus the Christ. The Bible calls for people to turn from their rebellion and live for Him. This means that we stop pursuing the various lusts and impulses of our flesh. It means we start living in obedience to our King. We live for the glory of His name.

    The diagnostic helps us to see that we are off track. But living according to some external sort of rules is not the end goal. That was the mistake the Pharisees made. You don't have to read much of the New Testament to see that Jesus wasn't a fan of the Pharisees.

    They were religious hypocrites.

    Is anybody a fan of religious hypocrites?

    We must understand the drastic difference between moralism and the genuine call of biblical Christianity. It's important because the counterfeit of moralism is a disaster for at least two major reasons:

    1. Moralism is deadly to your soul.
    2. Moralism drags God's name through the mud.

    Here's an example that should help demonstrate the vast difference between genuine Christianity and deadly moralism. I have seven children. Imagine that before leaving the house one morning I say to my oldest son, "Son, before I return home I'd like for you to clean your room."

    Upon returning home I ask my son, "How was your day?"

    He responds with the following: "Dad, I had a great day! I cleaned the play room, my sisters' room, the baby's room, your room, and the basement. I swept the floors, did all the dishes, took out the garbage, and did two loads of laundry. I did all my homework, read my Bible for two hours, and even walked the neighbor's dog for them because they were away. All day I didn't argue with my siblings or complain even once to Mommy. I didn't hit anybody, spit on the floor, jump on the furniture, or run in the house. Like I said, today was a great day!"

    If we fall for the moralism trap then we must conclude that I have the best son in the world. If we view this through biblical Christianity then I have a follow-up question for my son that must be asked.

    "Did you clean your room?"

    Moralism can hide disobedience and rebellion against God with lists of "good deeds" performed and "bad deeds" avoided. However, the ideal of obedience to the Father shows that the disobedience to the one thing actually asked taints the rest of the activities. Moralism creates a system that allows (or even praises!) "acceptable disobedience" while vilifying "unacceptable disobedience."

    Moralism would teach that this boy was exemplary and praiseworthy. Biblical Christianity would teach that this boy walked in disobedience and rebellion against his father all day long.

    See the difference?

    Hopefully we all know the great truth that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our works.

    For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    Be careful that you don't think that you were saved to be "nice." Plenty of unsaved people are nice! You were saved for a reason. Being nice is only part of it.

    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, bold added)

    Are you walking in the works God prepared for you?

    So often people get caught up in what others are doing. You won't be judged for them. Humans are great at pointing out the mistakes of others. Focus on yourself. Are you walking in obedience to your God today?

    Walking in obedience certainly includes living in line with the moral code of Christianity. But never be deceived into covering your rebellion or the rebellion of others with the veil of being nice, civilized, and/or culturally acceptable.

    Do you know what God has called you to do?

    If you are born-again God has given you a job as an ambassador in His kingdom.

    Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20, bold added)

    Are you walking in the ministry of reconciliation? Are you going to the people God has put in your life? Are you delivering to them the message of Christ and Him crucified? Are you calling them out of death into life by pleading with them to repent and trust in Christ?

    We are not called to make people behave a certain way so that God will be pleased with them. We are called to urge people to be reconciled to God through Christ. Once reconciled, they can begin walking in newness of life. Not before. If we reverse the order we are making a mockery of the cross.

    One day we will stand before the Lord.

    For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men... (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a, bold added)

    Are you walking with the Spirit in obedience to God? Are you denying your flesh and picking up your cross as you follow Jesus? Or are you walking in the trap of moralism?

    Walk wisely.