The Church in America...A Vital Mission Field
Can I shoot straight with you guys??? There is a lot of crap (pardon my crassness) that passes itself off for or assimilates itself into and under the banner of Christianity these days. And a lot of it is being manufactured in and exported around the world from right here in the United States. False teaching has always been a concern among God's people, dating all the way back to the earliest days of Israel. There is a long history of people who have undertaken to boldly speak untruths about and in the name of God...often times motivated by the hope of selfish gain. Sometimes this manifests itself as outright and blatant lies that can be easily debunked by anyone with even a cursory knowledge of scripture. More often though, it manifests itself as some type of diluted or polluted version of the Christian faith that subtly, yet effectively, shifts the focus away from the glory of Christ and onto the glory of man...or more accurately, the man or woman who is peddling it.
Now right off the bat I know that what I just said there immediately puts a lot of people on guard. In our modern sensibilities, we know that it's uncouth to call someone or something wrong. After all, isn't truth in the eye of the beholder? Who am I to make such bold assessments about the beliefs and practices of others? There is some validity in that. I have no great pedigree. There's no credentials behind or in front of my name that would grant me credibility. And believe me when I tell you, I am far from perfect in my doctrine, theology, and understanding of scripture. I learn new things all of the time. But like it or not, there is such a thing in this world as absolute truth. There is right and there is wrong...and this doesn't just apply to morality, but to thoughts, ideas, practices, and beliefs as well. At the end of the day, when there exists a myriad of competing and contradicting ideologies, we must conclude that they aren't all created equal. Someone has to be right, and everyone else is by extension wrong. For my part in all of that, I do my very best to stand on the side of God's word, because it's the only thing in this world that is ultimately worthy to be trusted. So when I speak, or teach, or, (as is the case here) write blogs...I do my best to communicate what God says in his word. I'm not alone in this fight. There are many others like me. We aren't flashy or overly popular. Most of us have a relatively small circle of influence, but we continue to soldier on for the sake of the gospel and the hope of the lost.
For me personally, this resonates so deeply because God has particularly burdened me for the lost inside of the "churches." That's not to excuse me from Christ's commission to make disciples of all nations, however, my particular plot of land in the greater mission field, I believe, is those who have been bewitched by some perverted version of the faith. It is the goats of Matthew 7:21-23 who come to Jesus professing to be sheep and pointing towards their religious deeds as proof, only to hear the Good Shepherd say, "depart from me, I never knew you." That passage of scripture terrifies me. How can so many who exist inside of organizations that profess to be churches of Christ, be strangers to the Lord and Savior they profess to follow? It doesn't make sense.
The more I have dwelled upon that question, the more I have become convinced of the only possible answer. That is that many organizations that profess to be churches of Christ aren't. Moreover, those organizations are being led by people who are also not what they claim to be. Does that mean that a church like the Journey doesn't have some goats masquerading as sheep among our flock? Of course not. In fact, we spend a lot of time and energy pushing people towards the deep end of the pool in the hopes of revealing the poor souls who are just playing the part, so that they might finally see their desperate need for true and genuine salvation. That's why we do what we do. It's why Cody will take two years to walk us verse by verse through a book of the Bible...so we can't avoid having to look at the ugly parts of ourselves and our desperately sick hearts. Again, we are far from perfect, but we give it our best.
It's one thing to desire to be right for being right's sake or for some prideful desire to make much of yourself. It is an entirely different thing to desire to do and say and teach and live what is right because you know that people's eternities are at stake. So, when Cody preaches a message like he did this past Sunday or when I write a reflection like this, where we warn you about the many dangerous wolves prowling among us, it isn't because we think we are better than someone else...it's because we are afraid of seeing people killed as prey.
The hope is that you will take a moment to just pause and reflect on things. Am I believing, thinking, doing, and saying what is true about God? Moreover, how do I even know what is true about God? That's an easier question to answer, because God has given us his truth through the scriptures. So, do I know what the Bible actually says??? Have I studied it for myself? Or am I simply content to believe what someone else tells me about it? These are crucial questions that every person must wrestle with and answer for themselves.
If you attend a church, it is important that you ask yourself, does my church and it's leaders believe and teach what is true about God? Are they faithful to his commands and the Great Commission? Are they about Christ's glory or their brand? Am I settling on what is primary (the teaching of scripture, the proclamation of the gospel, and the expansion of Christ's kingdom) and prioritizing the secondary (styles of worship, aesthetics, buildings, events, ministries - kids, youth, men, women, singles, seniors, etc., the brand, popularity, etc.)?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not throwing stones here. And if I am, my intentions are pure. At the end of the day, my desire is to see more people passing through the narrow gate to new life with Christ and avoiding the wide path to destruction. I see a lot of "churches" growing massive crowds and with massive amounts of resources, and wasting that influence and platform by saying little to nothing of true consequence or value. No calls to personal holiness, no encouragement in suffering, no conviction of sin that leads to repentance, and on and on and on it goes. It's all about making people feel comfortable and entertained. It's all about boosting the ego or the bank account of the "pastor." It's all about something...anything...other than Jesus and his gospel. Yet it is all performed under the guise of worshipping him. And it breaks my heart...every time.
Speaking this way can be costly. None of us like to be come face to face with our blind spots. We bristle against such things. And yet here I am...opening up the flood gates. It isn't the first time, and surely wont be the last. If I can offer any encouragement here, it is simply to be discerning. Just because something feels good or sounds appealing doesn't make it true. In fact, the more I have learned of God, and the more I have studied his word, the more I realize that when I find myself getting comfortable, I am probably drifting outside of the center of God's will for my life. To follow Christ is a calling to give up what is easy and comfortable...and that's not a bad thing! God calls us to step out of our comfort zone, but in so doing, he promises us that our burden will be light and easy (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul tells us that everything we face in this life is but light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:12-18); that includes the "good" stuff that we devote so much of our time, energy, and resources towards...as well as the hard stuff, like pain and suffering. It is all fleeting he says. In fact, in his letter to the Philippians, he says that he counts everything else as rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ as his Lord and Savior (Philippians 3:8). That is strong language for sure. Paul never pulled punches because he knew the stakes were so high. That's why I love him so much and feel such a connection to him through his writing.
We are coming down the home stretch in our study over Hebrews. We've learned a lot of important and sometimes difficult truths throughout. As is customary in most letters, the authors is now, in closing, trying to cram in a few more helpful instructions and encouragements for his audience. We would be remiss to simply glance over these...none more so than those we studied this week. Being a Christian and the Christian faith is more than just a few buzz words. Just because someone speak about "Christian" things, it doesn't make them a true teacher or their message true. We must filter everything through God's word and test it up and against what he says and his standard of truth...even this blog post. I'd invite you to do so and if I am wrong...teach me so I can learn and grow and ultimately move closer to the Lord I love and desire to faithfully serve.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 38 - Diverse & Strange
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How can a teaching become diverse and strange?
2. How do you identify strange teaching?
3. How does the gospel teach us to live for eternity?
Next week's lesson: Hebrews 13:15-19