Just some thoughts on church that I’ve had recently…
In the past few weeks on Wednesday nights we’ve been talking about some principles for why we should think more simply about church. As I’ve said during our gatherings, if I have a theme for 2009 for UBC it would be “simplify church.” These thoughts are not provoked because UBC is just a frantically busy church. It has more to do with the way we are in general as Western, evangelical, baptist Christians.
It seems to me that while many of our church buildings are being built like “malls” and shopping centers, most of our churches at least construct their schedules and programs like malls, offering one-stop shopping for any and everything. The impetus to reach others behind this approach is not bad at all, but my concern is that we are exacerbating the problem of consumerism in the American church. We have taken the concept of meeting people’s needs to the level of actually believing that the church exists to meet their perceived needs, instead of putting on display the glory of God in the gospel of Christ!
Here’s a video that illustrates that humorously. This was one of the first videos posted on this blog a year and a half ago…
While so much of our language may give homage to church being about God, so many of our programs (and having so many programs) often screams that it’s about catering to our various appetites, even if the content is really good. My greater, and more specific, concern for UBC is that I want to make sure that our fellowship is not just presumably, but actually and clearly focusing on the biblical essentials for the New Testament church, allowing room (or margin) for us to see actual fruit.
To clarify, let me give the example of evangelism. I have served in church as the pastor of missions and evangelism, and was guilty of much of this, so I’m not immune to this problem. If we do not see evangelistic results in our churches we often look for a change in our evangelistic training program. Even the better “programs” if used as the solution for a lack of evangelism in the church is problematic. The core of the problem with our lack of evangelism (as stated in my message 2 weeks ago in Jeremiah 2) is simply that we do not treasure Christ enough. You will naturally share that which you love and enjoy the most. Certainly we need equipping, but we tend to focus so much on results that if they are not there, we look for some other external answer to an external problem. Instead we should look to the revealed answer in Scripture to our internal problem of disobedience.
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:3-11
Do you see the key in verse 9? The way to be more evangelistic is to gaze upon the gospel, revisiting its supernatural work in and on you. Go figure…we’ll be more productive for Christ if we remember the gospel!
Later in that same chapter, Peter goes on to tell of his own testimony with Christ…
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:16-21
Of all the parts of Peter’s testimony he could give (you know, walking on water, yada, yada, yada) he testifies to the identity of Christ. Now, that’s a powerful witness! However, verse 19 says “we have something more sure”! What could be more sure than an eyewitness account like that? Well, according to Peter it is prophetic word, the Scriptures, and their subsequent fulfillment in Christ.
See that’s the other part of our lack of evangelism. First of all, we don’t treasure Christ enough so we need to go back and gaze upon the cross and revisit the gospel often. Second, we just don’t believe scripture is sufficient. Some of us think that our testimony is so blah. Others just don’t feel as if they’ve been trained. Well, that’s okay if sharing the gospel is about us, but it’s not! This is Christ’s story for God’s glory (didn’t mean to rhyme that).
If we believed scripture to be sufficient and all we need, we would trust that the Words are sufficient to save and stop depending on the newest technique or a witty way to make ourselves appear really, really, really lost when Christ found us. What difference does it make how bad a corpse smells? We were all dead in our sins, but made (external) alive in Christ! Glory in Christ.
Let me wrap this up by saying clearly, I struggle with my evangelism as well. But wait, didn’t this whole thing start with the idea of simplifying church? Yes. My (very) roundabout point is this. Church is designed to be very simple and we need to make sure we allow room (or margin as I call it) to see natural fruit develop from the lives of obedient followers of Christ. The more we depend on programs the more we’ll take the credit, no matter what lip-service we give. The Word of God is sufficient to save and give all that we need for life and godliness. And if we hold to that very precious Word, we will see the fruit that God desires.
I know, sounds naive and overly-simplistic. But have we ever really given it a shot and faithfully gone after the all-sufficient Word of God with undaunted passion and obedience over a long enough period of time to see God-honoring, lasting fruit? I’m not sure too many of us can say that from either our current or past church experiences.
I say let’s go for it!