Just like doing your hair: The church is a work in progress

The church is a work in progress

Where did the church go wrong?

Unfortunately, churches today look much different from the ideas we’ve been discussing in this blog.

We’ve reduced church from a way of life to a weekly routine. The liturgy is a program that follows the same format, week after week. The focus of church is not on the assembly and community, but on the pastor and program. A service offers, at most, 5 minutes for a quick “hello” or a hug -- not proper fellowship that any assembly of like minded people would have.

Churches are no longer bodies made up of believers, but earthly organizations with buildings, legal status, and human hierarchies lead by bureaucracy rather than the Holy Spirit.

We do not see much discipleship in the church, substituting sermons, which are usually just motivational speeches delivered to make us feel good for the week. We’re expected to hear a sermon and know how to live, but we’re not given the chance to put it into practice and learn by doing. Except for getting to sing a few songs, the program is completely passive. We are encouraged to participate in the church, but that usually means providing free labor in the form of helping to park cars, collect the offering, or sing songs and play instruments.

Many churches do not exist to serve believers, but consider themselves “seeker friendly” churches, welcoming unbelievers and are careful not to promote ideas that are too challenging for fear of scaring people away. Instead of helping believers to grow so that they can be effective at sharing the gospel themselves, churchgoers are expected to invite people to church which provides an excuse for believers not to share the gospel.

The miracles that were common in Jesus’ ministry such as healing and deliverance from demons are rarely seen in churches even though Jesus commanded his disciples to do them.

Most churches claim to be Bible-believing churches, but society has a far greater influence on what they are. Worship resembles a pop concert, meetings are once a week, they get your money through tithing, preach sermons, and practice rituals with pagan roots. These are not Bible-based churches! They are much more concerned with carrying on human tradition and imitating popular culture than they are practicing what’s written in the Bible.

It’s easy to wonder what went wrong. Many people think the early church had it right early on, but somewhere along the line, things went off in the wrong direction. Some say it’s when the church organized its hierarchy in the second and third centuries, some say it was Constantine and his pagan influence in the fourth century, some say it’s the crusades that started in the eleventh century, some say it’s the protestant reformation in the sixteenth century, or some might say it was the Pentecostal movement in the twentieth century. They think that if we can just get back to how things used to be, the church will be restored to holiness. It’s almost as if some evil entered the church at some point, and it has to be corrected.

But when Jesus was discussing his assembly with his disciples, look at what he said next:
"The gates of Hades will not overpower it."
Hades is the place of punishment after death. Gates are the means of entering through walls, and walls define the boundaries of kingdoms. Kingdoms prevail against something through warfare. Jesus is saying that the kingdom of death and punishment will war against his assembly, but it will not win. Remember that Jesus said he was building his assembly on solid rock, therefore nothing can shake it. Jesus said it’s not people, but He who’s building it, and Jesus cannot make mistakes. He knows what he is doing. The evil fighting against his assembly cannot win. The church is right where it should be, just as it always has been.

That’s not to say that the church is perfect. But we’re a lot better off now than we were. The book of Acts paints a far from ideal picture of the beginnings of Jesus’ assembly. After Jesus left earth, his disciples immediately assembled and were hanging out waiting for whatever came next. And what came next was big: the Holy Spirit came upon them in such a powerful way, they grew from an assembly of about 120 to over 3,000 people in one day! This movement was not yet considered its own religion; it was a sect of Judaism. These early disciples continued with Jewish customs of daily temple worship, sacrifice, and circumcision. But it didn’t take long for non-Jews to be added to this sect, and there was a lot of controversy about whether they should be made to follow Jewish customs. This was not the only disagreement in the early assembly. The Bible says there was lying, theft, lawsuits, vastly different theology, false teaching, disorder, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, adultery, paganism, satanism, blasphemy, lukewarmness, even incest, and many people thought these things were acceptable!

Things changed in a big way in the year 70 AD. Jerusalem and the Jewish temple was destroyed, and sacrifice ended with it. But as Jesus’ disciples continued to gather in assembly, the new movement began to evolve into its own religion with an identity distinct from Judaism. Today, we can still see Judaism's influence in Christianity from traditions that continue on such as weekly meetings, liturgies, and singing songs in worship.

Persecution broke out against the assembly and its members fled, spreading the new religion around the world. The disciples in Athens were first called "Christians". In the year 312 AD, Christianity was legalized in the Roman empire, allowing believers to put down roots, build churches, and establish more organization and continuity in teaching and beliefs. However, Christianity gaining cultural acceptance may have also opened the door to the culture influencing Christianity in the form of pagan practices. As Christianity became more orderly, a hierarchy was established, and most church leaders organized themselves under the authority of the Bishop of Rome who became known as the Pope. This established great unity among the previously disparate local assemblies in the form of the Roman Catholic church. But along with centralized power came opportunity for people to abuse this authority. 

Abuses of power lead to the Eastern Orthodox church splitting off from the authority of the Roman Pope in 1054. In 1517, the protestant reformation began in further disagreement with the Pope. The reformation lead to the first and second great awakenings that gave birth to the many protestant denominations and movements such as Lutheran, Calvinist, Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches. Each of these groups has progressively advanced Christian theology by emphasizing certain teachings of Jesus and making them commonplace in the assembly.

Many, if not all of these movements have something in common: they each strive to get the church back to the early assembly we read about in Acts. But I say we should not return -- we should continue advancing! Things don't need to be undone to get us back on track, because we never got off track. Even the early assembly had problems just like we do today, but new movements of God's Spirit have challenged the old ways of thinking, corrected more of these problems, and progressively brought each generation of disciples closer to the vision that Jesus has always had for his assembly. It’s time we abandon our old traditions and continue growing. We must not let centuries of human influence in the church hinder us. 

It's time we move Beyond A Church. We must grow up into the Assembly Jesus called us to.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus, Paul, and John use imagery of Jesus as a bridegroom and the assembly as his bride. In Revelation, we read about the wedding of Jesus who is pictured as a Lamb:
“‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” 
You see, the bride wasn’t ready the moment she was born. She had to make herself ready, and as anyone who’s spent any time around women knows, that takes time!! She’s making herself ready with righteous acts and growing in those righteous acts is a process that the assembly has been in since it started. We are still so far away from what Jesus envisions for us. We can do better. We must do better. It is now time for the next movement in church history!

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