[Originally published back in 2008, the themes of this article are as important now as they were then, perhaps more so as the church faces a major turning point in its history]
Although there are many factors that seem to contribute to the general impotency of many Christians in terms of manifesting a deeper walk with Christ in daily life, it has dawned on me that one of the central problems is a lack of understanding of just what Christ has accomplished through the cross and resurrection. Further, we fail to truly understand and appropriate who and what we are in Christ. This lack of understanding leads to a lack of power, power that God intended for us, his earthly ambassadors, to have.
And that is just what we are called to – Emissaries of Christ.
Over the years, I have studied just about every religion you could imagine and probably a few you couldn’t. With some spiritual paths, I have waded only in the shallow end and that was more than enough to discover there was truly no depth at the other end. In others, I have plunged deeply and found some things of value that have served me quite well in navigating this often tiring conundrum we call life. In still yet other spiritual paths, I have skirted the periphery but, like a moth hovering about a source of light, never landed. I don’t think this was so much out of fear of being turned into tinder, but instead, I found nothing to really land on. I think you may understand what I mean.
I guess these experiences with other faith systems have taught me two significant lessons. First, religions or systems of faith, whatever term you want to use, will not get us to God. And, at this risk of alienating many readers at this point, I include Christianity in the above statement. Institutional Christianity has accomplished many things and has more positive qualities than I can count. Yet helping a person truly find God is not one of them. In fact, I have discovered that Christianity, as it is commonly understood, often poses a great obstacle to advancement in spiritual matters.
Why is this?
I think this is true for many reasons, perhaps too many to detail in the context of this article. Still, I feel compelled to offer a few of the factors that I believe have caused traditional Christianity, in its liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, and charismatic traditions, to fail in its mandate to make disciples. I have come to believe that the institutional church has many times become more of an obstacle to genuine spiritual formation than its advocate and facilitator. I know this is a heavy charge to levy against the church and I do not make this charge lightly. Still, if one takes even a cursory look around at the goings on at most congregations, you will find little more than lip service paid to the importance of growing deeper in the faith. Granted, we can begin to witness a certain amount of change in select churches, but my impression is that this is the exception and not the rule. Further, research, especially many of the fine studies carried out by George Barna, validate what I am saying.
First of all, Christianity as a formal religion was not what Christ called us to. He did not call us to a religion; he called us to a Kingdom. Myles Munroe speaks clearly to this issue when he says:
Misunderstanding Jesus has caused Muslims to reject Him, Hindus to suspect Him, Buddhists to ignore Him, atheists to hate Him, and agnostics to deny Him. But it just may be those who claim to represent Him the most – Christians – who have in fact misunderstood and, therefore, misrepresented Him the most…..Christians have misunderstood Him as the founder of a religion and have transformed His teachings and His methods into customs and His activities into rituals. Many even have reduced His message to nothing more than an escapist plan for getting to heaven and His promises as a mere fire insurance policy for escaping the pains of a tormenting hell…..And yet a simple study and review of His message and priority reveals that Jesus had only one message, one mandate, and one mission – the return of the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
Don’t get me wrong. I value the church. I sincerely feel the organized Body of Christ has contributed greatly to the advancement of the cause of Christ around the world and it is my fervent hope that it can and will continue to do so. However, my fear is that it will not. Does that mean the church is dead? No, I don’t think so. Does that mean that the Christian religion, institutionally practiced as we have known it in the last couple of centuries is dead? You betcha! You can get on board with that or you can get left out in the cold. The fact is my friend, the train is leaving the station and more than a few say it has already left.
Lest you think what you are reading is the raving of some lunatic on the fringe of the Emergent Church movement, you need to understand that Christian teachers and leaders from every denomination and every stripe and sounding the same clarion call. And believe me folks, these are not religious basket cases wandering around dressed in loin cloths and eating bugs. These are sincere, educated, and insightful Christians who have had their ear to the ground for many years and have heard the train coming. As an example, let’s listen to the noted and respected Charismatic pastor Rick Joyner:
Radical change is coming, and those who are not discerning enough to see it, and become part of it, will not survive much longer. This is not a slam against the church as it is, which has been effective in its time and a powerful salt and light in the earth in its generations. The church is also the mother of the great, last-day ministry which is soon to emerge. However, just as Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin (see Genesis 35:16-19), the last son born to Israel, the same will happen to the church when the last-day ministry is born.
Joyner goes on to say that the church, as we know it, has served a great and useful purpose. However, it has now outlived its mission and it is time for the next corporate manifestation of the Body of Christ to be birthed. Like anything else, however, when we try to hold on to something that has outlived its usefulness, that very thing we grasp so tightly becomes an enemy, not an asset.
Over the centuries the church has drifted far from the original moorings put in place during the Apostolic Age. This drifting was in many ways unavoidable and to be expected as believers became increasingly removed from Christ in terms of distance and time. As a result, the Body of Christ not only lost a great deal of its vitality and purpose, it gradually began to replace divine revelation with man-made truths. Space here does not permit a detailed analysis of all the ways in which this has occurred, but the following brief list is just some of the ways in which the institutional church has gradually drifted into stagnant waters that are bereft of wind – what is so appropriately called by sea-farers “the doldrums.”
Domestication of Jesus
Ignorance of the Holy Spirit
Reliance Upon Professional Clergy
Overly Focused On The Salvation Half of the Gospel, to the Exclusion of the Sanctification half.
Deification of Scripture
One other area of drifting needs to be mentioned and that is the tendency on the part of the church to offer a “comfortable, watered-down gospel.” Now please, don’t misunderstand me here. I am not talking about preachers who espouse positive thinking and positive living. I firmly believe in what these folks are saying. Without a positive focus, nothing can be accomplished. What I am talking about is the fact that few churches ever really get down to the nitty gritty of what a person has to do in order to become a productive disciple. In a word, they have to die!
Jesus told us this and we can take him at his word. Paul echoed these teachings, as did John and Peter, each in his own way. Friends, we are now moving into an age in which it will be increasingly difficult to be a Christian. In America, chances are we won’t have to die for our faith, but we can count on increasing isolation as the culture becomes more Post-Christian in orientation. Moreover, if we are going to become the kind of Christ-followers needed to meet the challenges of the coming years, we have to get down to it. We have to become gut-level honest with ourselves about the seriousness of our commitment to Christ.
J.I. Packer, the great theologian and Bible teacher, once wrote a great piece entitled “Hot Tub Religion.” In it he talked about religion that helped people to cope, to relax, unwind, and feel good. There is nothing wrong with this. We all need to do these things. But we need another aspect of spirituality as well. Whether you can see it or not, every day things point to increasing difficulties ahead, not just for Christians, but for everyone. The increasing tensions throughout the world and the economic woes we are experiencing are just the tip of the iceberg I am afraid.
I am not an alarmist nor am I a Doomsday prophet. But I am a realist and part of that realism sees the fact that we, as Christians, will have an important and unique role to play in the coming days. We have to be ready. By being ready I don’t mean politically discerning. What I mean is, we have to get back to brass tacks in terms of God’s call upon us. A major part of that call upon us is to be a “Holy People,” called to a special work. Each of us must ask in our heart of hearts, “Am I ready? Am I willing?”
No one can answer that question for you.
Just this morning I was over at the local high school talking to the football coach for an article I am writing for the paper. It is mid-July and this is the South. In a word, it is hot. The players were out running wind sprints, long races around the field, and drilling endlessly. These kids wanted to play and some of the marginal players just wanted to make the team. As I watched them, I was again reminded of the words of Rick Joyner:
To be called as an emissary of the King of kings is the highest calling that one can have on this earth. If we do not want our place in Christ more than an athlete wants his place on a team, then we certainly are not worthy of such a position…..One of the biggest thieves in the church today is called “the easy way.”
It’s time to take a stand, one way or the other.
© L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved
- Commitment to Christ: A Dangerous Proposition (lifebrook.wordpress.com)