The church has fallen on hard times. Mention the word “church” to an average crowd and you are sure to get two responses. First, people will look at you like you belong in a past century and, second, most will firmly but politely let you know they are not interested in the subject.
In fact, in western religious thought those who search for spirituality are prone to do it apart from the church. They want to be spiritual, but only on their own terms.
The problem is not new. As far back as 430 B.C. the prophet Malachi writes about the Jewish assembly of his day. Frankly, as I read his words, it sounds like much of what goes on in the church today.
Things had gotten so far out of hand that God, the One the people were purporting to worship says, “Why doesn’t one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. The GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies is not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship…
“Instead of honoring me, you profane me. You profane me when you say, ‘Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,’ and when you say, ‘I’m bored — this doesn’t do anything for me.’ You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air — act superior to me, GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies!
“And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is GOD speaking to you! ‘A curse on the person who makes a big show of doing something great for me — an expensive sacrifice, say — and then at the last minute brings in something puny and worthless! I’m a great king, GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies, honored far and wide, and I’ll not put up with it!’” (Malachi 1: 10; 12–14, The Message).
Those are tough words. Some of you reading them even now feel the sting. I even bet some of you are reaching for your “trustworthy” translations just to check up on me. You will find that the message is the same. I encourage all of you to check out the whole message of Malachi recorded in chapter 1 of his book; it may challenge you.
Somewhere in our hallowed past, the great movement that Christ began became a monument, and most of what passes as “the church” today resembles the monument rather than the movement.
Andy Stanley, in his book “Deep and Wide” describes the process that took place in detail in chapter three of that book. He writes, “What began as a movement, dedicated to carrying the truth of Jesus Christ to every corner of the world, had become an insider-focused, hierarchical, ritualized institution that bore little resemblance to its origins.
“This shift led to an era of church history that can only be described as horrific. The atrocities carried out in the name of the church would be considered terrorism by modern standards. Cruelty wore a cross around its neck. Hypocrisy draped itself in priestly robes…
“While it is amazing that the church survived the persecution of the first century, it may be more amazing that it survived the institutionalization and corruption of the centuries that followed.”
I have to wonder if the Lord of the church wasn’t crying, “Someone please shut the doors! You are not helping!”
Some who read these words will disagree — that’s your prerogative. But please, whether you agree with me or not, at least consider what I am writing. As Walt Kelly penned in his “Pogo” comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
I fear that sometimes the worst enemies of the church of Jesus Christ are her own members. That is sad, but unfortunately all too true. Many so-called Christ followers make it a habit to make sure the very people Jesus came to reach are kept at arms-length.
If they clean up first and meet our stringent standards, then, we might let them in (but be sure if we do, we are going to test them and make sure they prove themselves to us first). I am absolutely convinced that some in our midst are more concerned about telling people they are going to hell than they are trying to help them avoid the hell they so glibly talk about.
We have got to change this if we are going to have any real influence in our modern world. I long for the day when the church once again is known for her lavish love expressed in grace and truth rather than being known for all the things we are against.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.