While we alluded to this briefly in a previous post, I believe it is beneficial to give further consideration to an epidemic of massive proportions that is prevalent within evangelical churches throughout the west. The epidemic has caused much heartache but few seem to see it for what it actually is. The reason for this is at least two-fold. First, the epidemic is not considered a danger because living with it has become normal within many circles. Second, some would stand forth and while they would proclaim the dangers, many ignore them or consider them to be religious fanatics.
Psalm 133:1 reminds us that it is good for brothers to dwell together in unity. Yet, this is rare. Dwelling together in unity seems to be either a bygone relic or conjures up the idea of living in a commune with other Christians.
Let’s consider a far too common scenario in the average evangelical church that goes something like this. People get up on Sunday morning, rush around, and show up late for one service. Many mouth the songs projected on the wall while their minds wander to the events that will need to transpire during the coming week. The pastor/teacher stands with a prepared word of exhortation and edification while a few more either doze off to sleep or make further plans for the next week. Finally the service is over and many bolt for the back door before somebody catches them, especially the pastor!
Jumping in their vehicles, the majority leave almost before the strains of the benediction have died away. The rest of the day there is no further thought of those with whom they were just “worshiping.” The entire week is filled with various activities that are designed and orchestrated by the world to keep us from interacting with one another. So, the week rolls quickly by and we fall exhausted into bed late on Saturday evening only to get up and run through the same routine again on another Sunday morning. Patting themselves on the back, they justify what they have just done because everybody else does it.
For those who fail to submit to the normal protocol, we might even loudly proclaim in a self-righteous tone and/or demeanor, “Well, Hebrews 10:25 says, ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.'” (ESV)
However, is one rushed service on a Sunday really assembling ourselves together? Is such behavior among the people of God truly permit us to proclaim to the world that we are not neglecting one another? To ask further, how is little to no interaction throughout the week and certainly none on Sunday actually “encouraging” one another?
Surely, this cannot be all that the writer of Hebrews was exhorting and encouraging the believers to do was a small one hour window on a Sunday morning. Is this all that is required? At what point did we fellowship.
The teaching elder may have even stood and reminded us that worship is not just something we do on a Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11:30. Our corporate interaction is to be a direct reflection of our own personal, private, and family worship throughout the week being manifested before the world and our brethren of the wonders of the triune God.
But, was our corporate worship truly a reflection of the worship in which we were engaged throughout the week? Or, is our Sunday one hour offering all that we can manage to give because it conflicts with our overwhelming pursuit of the Great American Dream?
This is compounded by the fact that in our coming together, we give little time for prayer which should be another uniting factor. The requests normally mean nothing to everybody but the person giving it because we actually know little of those with whom we are worshiping. Prayer time can often be lifeless or another ritual that we go through because the Bible commands we pray without ceasing.
Yes, there is the rare church fellowship where most seem to sit in preassigned seating and everybody walks out full but with no greater knowledge of their brothers and sisters than when they came that morning.
Oh yes, we also have the time of a bereavement when everybody shows up with the never-ending green bean casseroles. We sit around awkwardly wondering what to say either to the family that is suffering and then with a quick whispered, “We’ll be praying for you,” we fade back into the twilight until the next event that “pulls” us all together again.
While their doctrine is wrong and damning, we could learn much from groups like the Mormons, the Muslims, the Amish and others. They spend a great deal of time together. They laugh together. They mourn together. They build their homes together and they see each other throughout the week. Weddings, funerals, or normal every day activities are not the cause for their fellowship. These are simply products of who and what they are. Their connections are strong.
But along comes the evangelical seeking to share the gospel with a person from one of these groups. The invitation is extended to pay the local church a visit and every now and then, the invitation may be accepted. Walking out of a cult that shows preferential treatment to every person within their midst, the cult or religious person walks in and observes – well, nothing extraordinary. People sitting off to themselves and most do not seem to know one another.
The prayer time is a perfunctory measure that sounds lifeless, there is no fellowship, and there seems to be no encouragement to interact with others throughout the week. But wait, yes, there is a house group that meets during the week. Maybe that will be different from what was seen on Sunday.
Accepting the extended invitation, the person shows up and listens to talk about everything from the weather to the latest job news. The conversation covers the scores from the professional ball games since last Sunday, and again, sadly, all of the communication seems so lifeless. There are little to no connections between those who have gathered together. A quick prayer and short Bible study later, everybody departs still not really having a clue as to who the brother or sister sitting next to them may be struggling with or whether they might have something in which they may rejoice together.
The beloved apostle recorded the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He writes again in the epistles of 1 & 2 John that it is not a new commandment, but an old one that we are to love one another.
How can we say we have love for one another when we cannot stand to be with one another for more than one hour per week? How can we say we love our brethren when we very little about them? How can we attest of our love for each other to the world when visiting with each other throughout the week only works if we live within a 10 minute drive from each other, and everybody outside the 10 minute drive is too much of a chore to visit because anything more is an inconvenience?
Whatever happened to the older men and women teaching the younger? I venture to say that so many churches are either catering to the young people or a small group of old people sit week after week wishing and hoping that some young families will come and visit. When the young families visit though, all they receive is a quick handshake and a “Hope to see you again” and we are all off on our merry way again. The young families never come back again and we proclaim that they obviously wanted the latest and greatest programs for their children.
Is it possible that what the young family really wanted was an opportunity to be connected with somebody who would love them, welcome them, and make them feel like they were truly part of a family? Maybe they want a church where the older gray-haired couples will assume the role of surrogate grandparents and help encourage their children in the ways of the Lord. I guess we can never know when we never extend the offer of help, love, friendship and fellowship that extends beyond a one hour window on a Sunday.
I welcome your thoughts and comments. How can we (or even how do you) bridge the widening gulf of no fellowship that is so prevalent in evangelical churches? Instead of placing the blame on the pastor, elders, deacons, or anybody else, what should each of us be doing to exhibit the love of Christ that has been shed abroad in our own hearts to a world that is lost and dying with the Savior?
Good exhortation….this very thing has been on my heart for awhile, and I know that I fall short myself in so many ways. My older son calls it the “happy/clappy church”. He has been let down so many times by just what you describe. Tough stuff to hear, but listen we must.
While I think we’ll all get the drift of this post I’d suggest it falls down because it’s very over-stated. I’ve been involved in a few churches and yes, there exists many folk who act as described but they are the minority. Never have I found a mid-week meeting the follows the line described.
However, there is equally no doubt that by far the greater majority of Christiians in the church today do not display the unity and love towards each other that Christ asked for in His upper room discouse. On that point you are so right.
Marcy, thank you for your encouragement. Truly it is hard for us to endure when we see what is happening in our churches. It is even more difficult when we realize our children see what is unfolding and we sometimes struggle for answers as to why.
Another pilgrim, sadly, I have seen several churches that fit this line of description. In fact, I would dare to suggest that if what my post describes is the minority in churches that we would see a much different side of evangelical Christianity than is currently being presented to the world at large. I think we are blinding ourselves if we think this is not an epidemic. Many of our churches grow more and more lifeless instead of growing in fervor for the things of the Lord. Again, this is not to bring all into condemnation but a desire to see a clarion call go forth to awaken many out of their stupor.
How do we come together? The coming together of the Church must be modeled by leadership. Yes, leadership. What do I mean? Church leadership is in a way “spiritual parenting”. In other words, “children” retain more what their parents do, as opposed to what they say.
Here a question church leadership should ask themselves: How vulnerable are to you to your congregation? Does your congregation view you as “Super Pastor”? Since you are the one “annoited” by God, do you have an “off” day? Who do you allow to see it?
To the degree that the church leadership is honest with the congregation, will be the same degree the congregation will be honest with each other.
You have rightly diagnosed many of the churches, my brother. You described many of the reasons we left our previous church and are joyful we gather where and with whom we currently do.
In this article, evangelicalism is being discussed in it’s predominant and most popular form. I cannot help but notice that the vast majority of evangelical churches these days preach purpose, fulfillment and a man-centered message rather than repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. With the true biblical gospel missing, I have come to think of most modern churches as being filled to the brim with the “religious lost” – people who claim christianity but are in truth unregenerate.
Since the love of brothers and sisters in Christ seems (in my understanding of Scripture) to be a sign of true salvation, is it any wonder that churches full of lost folks don’t exhibit signs of salvation? I think in this article we are reading about symptoms, not root causes.
But I suppose we can’t blame preachers for abandoning the true gospel message. After all, it isn’t very popular…
I have heard it commonly argued that I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. This could not be further from the truth. If people don’t like spending time with other believers then what will they do for all eternity?
I have seen that which you talk of (write of) a lot. It is a sad statement of the condition of the church today.
But let me ask you something… If I went to the church of def con (as if) I think I would be in a fellowship of believers that love God and love His word etc.
but, since I am of a different theological bent (I am not Calvinistic), would I feel the love,
or would I feel a cold shoulder. I love to talk about the things of God, and like the discussions that come from theological differences, because I learn a lot from them.
but would you treat me like an outsider, (not saved) just because I did not tow the Calvinism line? or would you treat me like a brother in the Lord who also loves God and His word?
I think sometimes this may be the case for lacking fellowship in some churches. People get into a cliche, and this ought not to be in the body of Christ. 1Cor 3, and the leadership is lacking where this is the case.
Keith, first, thank you for stopping by here at DefCon. I do not recognize you as having been here before, so welcome.
There are actually several churches represented amongst the contributors of DefCon, so I cannot speak for all of them. However, being a pastor and having served as a missionary, I will share my own responses to your queries.
A. I am a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ first and foremost. Everything else falls somewhere below that line.
B. At no time that I can remember in my ministry would you have ever felt the cold shoulder for not toeing the line just like I did as the pastor or elder of a church.
C. For many years, I have worked hard to show love towards others even if they are in disagreement with you in some area of doctrine. I have not always been successful, but it is something I still strive towards.
D. I have welcomed, and still welcome, theological discussions amongst both those in full fellowship and those who may just be visiting.
E. From my perspective, as long as a person has placed their faith in Christ and is not coming to our assembly with the purpose of causing strife or division, then I believe that they would be welcome.
F. I would just add one last caveat though. As one of those responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the flock in my particular assembly, I would differentiate between you being welcome in attendance and theological discussions that may take place at different times versus you being welcome to stand and teach something contrary to the doctrine that we hold forth at our church.
G. Personally, I do not refuse to fellowship with others who may disagree with me. I recognize from history that men like Wesley and Edwards did so, as did Spurgeon with others who did not believe just like he did on the doctrines of grace.
I hope this helps to answer your question. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask.
Mark, great answer, I feel the love, seriously, and point F, totally makes sense.
Keith, it is my view that a church should have three documents. 1) A doctrinal statement to which all members must agree. 2) A church covenant outlining that which all members commit to do. 3) A teaching position which details what will be taught in the church.
Things such as what are alternatively known as the Doctrines of Grace or the Five Points of Calvinism would, at least for the most part, find their home in the teaching position document rather than the doctrinal statement.
In American Christianity, where there may be another church just down the road, it is easy to say, “If you don’t agree with us, go to another church where you will agree.” If you live in a place where there might not be any other church anywhere nearby that takes Scripture seriously at all, it’s pretty hard to send someone out into the cold because he is confused about the ordinances or eschatology or something.
Jon, those are three excellent points to which I would be in agreement to a church having, not just in its files, but in regular practice. As for the church covenant, we chose to call it “A Covenant of Fellowship” and with substantial modifications from what you normally see in a covenant hanging on the wall of many churches here in the USA.
Again, I personally would not send somebody down the road unless again they were seeking to be divisive or seeking to undermine the teaching of the church in anyway.
“…the prophets prophesy falsely, the priests…rule by their own power…(not God’s)…& MY PEOPLE….love to have it so!…..Want to make a difference?….It’s only….as we ask God…to CHANGE our own heart first!
“Again, I personally would not send somebody down the road unless again they were seeking to be divisive or seeking to undermine the teaching of the church in anyway.”
So this begs the question; at what point does it become divisive? If I challenge what is being taught, lets say by talking to the teacher over coffee, (not standing up in the middle of service, that is not proper) or in a Bible study context, by asking questions and comparing scripture, much like a discussion in this forum,
What is one to do? leave for another church, or can we learn to love each other as brothers in the Lord in spite of our differences in theology,
There are issues to divide over to be sure, but in order for Jesus prayer to be answered-,Jn 17:21, I think it will require us to step out of our little comfort zones and
not shout heritic just because someone disagrees.
I guess my point is that while I totally agree with what Mark posits in this post, that most churches are shallow at best, or just carnal, or even at worst lost,- the blind leading the blind-, that there is on the other end of that spectrum the church that is so exclusive that they are just one big clique, If you don’t believe exactly like us, you can’t belong.
We need to be a people of God that is ever seeking the Kingdom first, and able to discern between when one is rebellious, or is truly seeking to see if these things be true or no.
Keith, I agree with your comments. As to the question of when does it become divisive, I personally would not find an issue with somebody who wanted to bring questions over coffee or even in asking questions during an open discussion time. Where the problem lies is when a person comes in with no desire to learn and think they have already arrived at the answers. This kind of person will not long remain in fellowship because they are unteachable. I will add though that even true ministers of the gospel should be ever growing even while they are teaching.
I believe we are to love one another, but the truth is that doctrine also divides. There are some posts here at DefCon that speak about unity in doctrine that I would recommend you reading which may be helpful.
Hey Mark, I enjoyed your above blog. You have echoed some of the thoughts I have written in a couple of my blogs last year. I am at a crossroads in my continuing to attend a local Church. I have personally been on the receiving end of three local Churches that fit your description you gave in your above blog well. I have literally no fellowship at my present Church, unless I really go out of my way to initiate it. When I do finally go out for coffee in fellowship with someone in my church, it doesn’t change anything. We are still strangers to one another, instead of genuinely fellowshipping with each other. Anyway, After 20+ years within the local church and never finding a marriage partner to start a family with and not being able to form any close friendships there, I am thinking about leaving the local church. They have given me nothing but bad memories and heartache. I still love my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ dearly, but I have no time for organized religion anymore. I say “organized religion” because the reality of Christ is definitely not present in there midst. Perhaps I am being a bit judgmental, but if you walked a few miles in my shoes you would understand where I am coming from. I had met with my pastor around a few months ago. I explained to him my situation. He said my situation was quite complex and said he would think and pray about my issue, and make it known to the leaders in our local Church. Nothing has ever come of it. I am a middle aged man who no longer fits in with the younger crowd, nor with the older crowd around my age and older people who already have their families. I am sure God knows what I am going through, because I certainly have mentioned it enough to Him over the years. But God has never intervened. So that really makes me question God’s love for me as well. Also, when i first posted on this blogsite, I never received a warm welcome at all. I am so tired of the so called fake hypocritical love being passed off as supposed fellowship within the Church. Why would anyone in the world want to be a part of a Church that doesn’t care a less about those within its group? Now having said all of this, yes, I am well aware of my own faults and failures, but at least I have tried over the years to fellowship with my fellow brethren within the local Church.
Jerry Sheppard, thanks again for stopping by and for your comments. I truly grieve for your situation and cannot imagine the frustration due to your particular circumstances. I understand that good, solidly biblical churches are becoming more and more difficult to find and there are times we have had to drive an hour plus each direction to find one ourselves.
Yes, organized religion has many downfalls, one of the greatest being the reasons you have shared. We are not here to condemn your situation, but wish to try and encourage you if at all possible. Knowing how time sneaks up on a person (although not an excuse), might be worth trying to speak with the leadership again and share your concerns forthrightly.
Again, while not knowing all your circumstances, we are confident that God does. For whatever reason, He has sovereignly allowed you to go through this in order to bring glory to Himself and to help mold you into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.
May I encourage you to consider being an encouragement to others even when they are not to you. In our own assembly, I am seeking to teach each person in fellowship that they have a vital part to play. They are all part of the vine and our job is to make disciples, NOT just the pastor, but every person is to use their gifts. I recommend seeking the Lord about what you might be able to do in order to facilitate the use of your gifts God has given to you.
As to your past participation, I apologize if you felt you did not receive a warm welcome. I know you have responded to a few of my posts and to Manfred’s, but I cannot find any earlier comments that might have given you that impression.
Feel free to stop by anytime and you are welcome to email us as well if you have any further questions or concerns – email@example.com
The reality of new testament Christianity can never work in the roman catholic patterned church system, it can only work in the new testament pattern. Here is something I recently read that I would humbly submit into the conversation. I would only add teaching to the list of an elders role…
in Christ -Jim
People of God, there is no pulpit, no pews, no steeples, no stained-glass windows, no senior pastors, no lead pastors, no assistant pastors, no youth pastors, no boards, no superintendents, no general conferences, no committees, no tithes, no church buildings, no building funds, no church choirs, no worship leaders, no worship teams, no professional staff, etc. etc. etc., in the pages of the New Testament. These are all THINGS created by man to satisfy their fleshly cravings to worship a god in their own image. For what was, will be again….see the Israelites in the wilderness, etc.
There is the priesthood of all believers who are to build up and edify one another by acts of love and service for one another. There is a plurality of experienced servants/disciples who lead by example and watch over the flock in love and concern. There is the one-anothering of Christ’s servants “ministering” meaning serving, the brethren with all that we have whether spiritual or natural, to include our very possessions if our brethren are in need, etc. There is a total freedom in Christ Jesus that just is not to be found in the modern traditional/institutional “church.” Break loose the shackles of your Babylonian captivity and return to God in spirit and in truth!
Hi, Jim. There is no pulpit in the Bible, but it gives a place to set a Bible and any notes a teacher needs to carefully teach truth while standing, which can aid effective teaching. Jesus once sat in a boat for convenience in teaching.
There are no pews, but sitting during teaching does seem permissible. We have chairs. I don’t see cushioned chairs in the NT, either.
There are no hymnbooks in the NT (you didn’t list them), but some can’t memorise all the hymns, so it seems they are probably acceptable, since we are all to sing..
Many of these are “incidentals” — areas of freedom in how we obey Biblically-commanded ministry. Many things are neither forbidden nor required, and may be appropriate implementations of Biblical principles.
A church is one body. If a church grows too large to meet as one in a home, it must meet somewhere. To purchase / rent a building is an incidental. It would be wrong to neglect meeting simply because the Bible doesn’t tell us to rent or buy a building. Acts 19:9 does not limit us to school buildings, either. 🙂 A church building is not necessarily a matter of the flesh, or worship of a god in our image.
A hymnbook helps us sing together. A place to meet helps us all to meet as one. A pulpit can aid effective and diligent teaching (and also teachers with physical weakness who might struggle to hold a Bible while teaching). A group (committee, board, whatever) can oversee a particular task (as per Acts 6).
Many things you listed are no reason to church-hop (as per Mark’s follow-up article) if they are servants (rather than masters) of Biblical worship, teaching, and fellowship. Sadly, some people abandon sound churches over incidentals..
God gave us a building. We used to have limited time in a rented room (admittedly, it was upstairs, “an upper room” :)). Now, we fellowship as long as people want to stay — generally at least an hour after the “worship service” ends, often longer. We couldn’t do that before. It is often the most valuable part of the day. We are now free, when we choose, to share a meal together as an entire body. It would be very sad if someone left our church over opposition to us having a “church building.”
Of course many of these things on the list are neutral in and of themselves, yet they are abused as a whole in christendom (much in the same way a tv is a neutral object yet is abused by professing believers to watch filth that God hates and so on). With that, I’d start with the topic of meeting houses / buildings. Nothing wrong with a group of believers having a building to meet in but consider these points and warnings about things you call “incidentals”. It’s pretty suspect when all of our “incidentals” incidentally look much like rome and little like the new testament.
To go on with the buildings, many people saved and lost refer to a meeting house as “the church”. They say “we are decorating the church” or “we have a giant rec room built on the back of our church”. There is even a popular childrens rhyme played out with the fingers that goes “this is the church, this is the steeple, open the door and see all the people”. What utter blasphemy and a disgrace to the body of Jesus Christ that He died for!
From these points alone we can see some wisdom in how the early church met, to divorce themselves from the shadow of a physical temple and wed themselves to the reality of a many membered body made up of living stones. How many people here (even those in reformed circles) call a building a church (I used too I admit). What a sad indictment about how far reformed christianity is from new testament reality.
How many are so close an intimate with the brethren (including elders) in their church that their daily lives are lived together regularly and not just special “religious times” that take place at a “religious building” that satan has convinces everyone is “a church”. How fake is that and foreign to the apostolic tradition, yet it is the normal churchianity of our day in reformed circles. How many change their conduct when they walk into the “sanctuary” and take their place in the “pew” then take “communion” as little individual wafers that represent how the professing body of Christ has been conquered and divided through nicolatian practices. Contrast that to love feasts, to meeting with the brethren throughout your real life (not fake religious life) and breaking bread together in real intimacy.
Anyway, I do enjoy honest conversation with people who love the Lord and surely admit there is nothing wrong in and of itself with meeting someplace other than our homes. But again, some things to consider.
In Christ -Jim
Hi, Jim. Good comment. My concern was that your previous comment suggested that some of these incidentals are fleshly idolatry. It is certainly correct to warn that they can be that — but they can also be useful aids to the church in doing what it is supposed to do.
It certainly is damaging to call a building a church. Many do not realise the error and mean no ill by it, and many do not fall into all the errors that it can generate. God loves and protects His people from many of those errors. But the words we habitually use can shape our attitudes and thoughts in ways we don’t really understand, and lead us into many types of error. It’s always good to use Biblical terms in a Biblical manner.