The stats come out every day, who goes to church, who believes in God, who believes they are saved... we have stats, loads of them. What I find amazing living here in New England, is that I don't hear anyone talk about God outside of church at all. I have had one conversation with American strangers about God in the past 6 months. Sure, maybe it is up to me to bring it up, but for a country where 70% of the people say they are Christian and believe in God, I don't hear to much about it. I have done much better with the Hispanic community, probably because I can speak a bit of Portuguese. Research by George Barna says Biblical views are waning. DETAILS Wow, what a surprise. NOT!
There are lots of reasons people don't know about the Bible. Partly because we now have the largest generation of Americans ever; one that was completely raised without prayer or Bible reading in school, amongst us. But I think the other part, which is worse, is that Christians don't even have time to read the Bible and pass it along to their kids; that is the few that still go to church. It isn't all their fault. Church attendance is declining because the church is not relevant for so many. The numbers prove that something is wrong, very wrong. If church was touching lives in the scale that Americans purport to be Christians, then we would be in revival!
So what is wrong with the church? I am glad that you asked. The church has always had its issues from the crusades, the selling of indulgences, the PTL club scandal of the 80's, the clergy sex-abuse scandal of the 90's to Ted Haggerty just few months ago. It seems that poor character and sin find there way into the very place that God has chosen to send the message of love and forgiveness. Why? Sin is always going to be sin and brokenness is always going to be brokenness and 2 + 2 will always be 4. When sinful people come to faith, the process of regeneration starts. Like the car being towed through the car wash, it takes some time. If the faith is just religion, the process won't happen at all. The people in the process, they are likely to make mistakes. Remember King David was not removed from his office, nor put in jail for murder and adultery.
The Christian population, in some cases, is dead in religious acts. They do their music, their teaching and people hit the door. I have been to them all, from Catholic and Anglican to Baptist and Charismatic and Pentecostal; each one has a place in the Kingdom and a place of religiousness that is dead. With people looking for life, how is it that we get caught up in acting? It is just easier, safer and more logical. The problem is a that a supernatural God does not function entirely in our wordily realm. Somehow, miraculously he connects heaven and earth through His word, worship, giving, praying and other acts of faith. The caveat is this, these acts must be done in faith, but more importantly as an instruction from Him. Obedience is better then sacrifice.
The inner workings of faith are to be done by the Spirit and in the Spirit. Not by man in his own wisdom. There is no one way, no one liturgy or denomination that has it all. I think teaching is awesome, but not if it insulates us from God and his people! I think prophecy is essential, but not in lieu of character. Yes, we need to evangelize, but not fill our church, but to extend the kingdom of God. Communion is a wonderful sacrament, but not if there are poor sitting on the sidewalk in front of our new building!
Acts 2:42 And they [the group of believers gathered together in communal living] continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
What is church supposed to look like? Read 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14. When you get to the "orderly" verse remember that it needs to read in the context of tongues and prophecy, not in in the measurement of centimeters between the pews!
Teaching or preaching is supposed to demonstrate the nature of Christ (His work on the cross and divinity) and the reality of the supernatural realm and the faith it takes to see it. The Word of God IS power when mingled with our faith and His will.
There is another dimension of church which I have never seen in its fullness.
Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers...
It is the interplay (body) of these offices and gifting that build and edify the church while equipping the saints (all believers) for the work that church is mandated by God to do. Is anyone listening?
OK, if I am so smart, then what is the answer to having a church that reaches the lost in every splinter-group, and loves those in the church in such a way that they understand it is different from what they'll get in the world? Well, I have a theory and here are the bullet points.
-1 We preach a pure Gospel, one of love, one of power, one of compassion, one of accountability and truth of Salvation through Jesus.
-2 We don't haggle over theology, God said we should speak in tongues and prophesy, that we should treat others with love, then we should do it. Period. It is our job, not someone else's!
-3 We share our faith by the way we live our life always looking for opportunities to expand His kingdom, not close a deal.
-4 We discover our spiritual calling and do it. Skip doing that which we are good at.
-5 We become doers of the Word. If we simply did what we already know and have been taught, the church would be in revival. I don't think we have a lack of teaching; or even good teaching, we have a lack of doing. We have a lack of Godly motivation.
-6 Be open to something new the revels the true nature of God. How about not having a new program. How about asking God where the apostles are that are mentioned above?
-7 Take care of the poor, the sick, the widows and those in prison. I don't think we need a theological interpretation here.
-8 Work hard at relationship, that is why we're here!
-9 Worship as much as we can, for in it is the power to become intimate with God and know Him.
-10 Keep trying, keep showing up, quit complaining and do something.... and yes, make a mistake trying to do something for God, you'll be in good company when you get to Heaven.