Before church buildings.
Before ordained pastors.
Before scheduled, practiced sermons.
Before concert-quality music.
Before tax laws, tax exemptions, and speech censorship.
Before the prosperity gospel.
Before Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and Beth Moore.
Before Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley and Alistair Begg and Rick Warren.
Before Martin Luther.
Before the pope.
Before the crusades.
Before the New Testament was even finished and canonized.
What was Christianity…before all of those people and things? Did it even exist?
Is it challenging to imagine “faith” or “religion” without these pieces?
Have we come to associate faith with prosperity, religion with attending a church service and chanting phrases, and spirituality with a devotion to one or more Christian leaders or “visionaries”?
Is it weird to imagine what Christianity would be without all of these components?
Would it have anything…or anyone…to stand on?
Or is Christianity so tightly knitted into famous prosperity figures, conventional ceremony, and devout, religious appearance, that if these elements were stripped away, the Christian faith itself would be found bare?
Have we made the mistake of weaving the thoughts of temporal and temporary human figures into transcendent, timeless truth? Have we granted mortal men and women the privilege and title of “God’s mouthpiece”, or of God himself?
Men have been elevated to god-level, with the power to redefine faith, love, and truth.
Faith…as the assurance that our flesh will be satisfied and our desires fulfilled.
Love…as the acceptance of all ideologies as truth, rather than the acceptance of all humans as sacred and worthy of compassion.
Truth…as something malleable and anything that is convenient, rather than something immutable and anything that is correct.
Rites and formalities – pharisaical burdens – have once again been laid upon the shoulders of the people, and amounted to holiness. Heartfelt worship is suppressed.
“Perfect” appearance has been equated with virtue, and has replaced the desire for inner sanctification.
Christianity has been made into a religion.
For some, a religion of sacrament, and for others, a religion of self-gratification.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James
Ew…that sounds so hoity-toity, doesn’t it? “To keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” *turns up nose, simpering*
The problem is, we’ve come to equate this “anti-pollution” thing with avoiding the company of non-Christians altogether, wearing jean jumpers, proudly toting our Bibles with us everywhere we go, glowering at anyone who dyes their hair or has a tattoo, readily pointing out the sins and flaws in other people whenever we spot them, and choosing to never make close acquaintance or create friendship with those outside the faith.
But what was the original intent of these words?
Well, if you want to understand the meaning of something, look at the context.
What words came right before the phrase “to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”?
A command to love.
A command to give.
A command to be selfless.
A command to care about others.
A command to extend our hands and pocketbooks to those in need.
Does “the world” do this?
Do Christians do this?
When you look around, do you see more love, or hate?
Do you see more selflessness, or greed?
Do you see more caring, or abuse?
Sadly, even when I look in the church, I sometimes see as much – or more – hatred, greed, and abuse than I do in the rest of the world.
This is what it is to be polluted.
To allow the hatred, greed, and abuse so prevalent in our world to weave itself into the threads of our church body is to be “polluted by the world”.
To quench the heart and spirit of Christ is to be polluted.
You see, the heart of Christ was NOT prosperity-oriented, prideful, or hateful. Jesus had the harshest words for those who were these very things.
The heart of Christ WAS one of self-sacrifice, humility, and love. Christ embodied love.
It is a popular but mistaken notion that to love someone is to agree with them or to not challenge them. That to love someone is to accept what they do as OK.
By this logic, if my friend is routinely getting herself wasted, the loving thing for me to do is just smile and say, “whatever floats your boat”.
That’s not love. You know that. I know that.
No, you do everything you can to rescue them from their own death wish.
Being “agreeable” for the sake of being agreeable is not love.
Did Christ agree with everyone and concede on every point when challenged? No, certainly he didn’t.
Christ challenged actions and arguments. But he also loved people. He was after their hearts, rather than the externals.
Jesus knew that if he captured people’s hearts, the externals would gradually change, because the inner person – the inside of the cup – would be transformed.
And the people he found the most disgusting – and seemed to challenge the most – were those who were all action (externals) and no heart. The Pharisees and hypocrites of the day.
Yet externals seem to chiefly describe modern-day religion. Rites and rituals, established processes and procedures, and boxes to check off a list. Attending services, dressing the “right” way, saying the “holy” thing you’re supposed to say in a given moment. Reciting phrases. Taking a certain political stance. Belonging to the “right” denomination. Adhering to the “correct” views on secondary theology. Having the “Biblical” (or just popular/traditional, and therefore correct) church leadership setup (elder/pastor/deacon/priest/bishop mix and whatnot). Reading the Bible simply because you think you’re damned if you don’t. Trying to earn your salvation. Doing “good” works out of obligation or fear or pride.
And no heart. No relationship with Jesus. No passion. No fire burning within your soul, constantly being kindled.
Fire cannot be contained.
And many Christians I know are very contained.
I’m no exception.
But I’m just calling it like it is.
See, when that fire is burning, you can’t help but do “good works”. Not out of obligation, or fear of what will happen if you don’t, but because you are loved, and Love dwells in you, and you can’t help but spill it and share it.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts
Genuine love. Selflessness. Authenticity. Dedication. Engagement.
We see all of these qualities represented in this record of the early, newborn church.
And each of these elements of Christianity is under serious attack today.
When you hear the words “Christian” or “Christianity”, what first comes to your mind?
Did words like “real”, “passionate”, “or other-minded” rise to the top?
Or did something more along the lines of “greedy”, “gluttonous”, “prosperity-minded”, “arrogant”, “self-righteous”, “abusive”, or even “cultic” first pop into your head?
The church – the bride of Christ – is filled today with worshipers of self.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. – 2 Timothy
Where was the first act of self-worship committed?
“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis
And where did that get us?
Yet we are again seeking to make ourselves like God. We seek it through money, status, power, the manipulation of others, making new rules or laws to control other people, and slapping a “God stamp” or “Bible stamp” on those rules and laws.
We lead others astray by promising physical healing or financial blessing if they will only “accept Jesus” or “have faith”. And we make lots of money and gain lots of popularity promoting this message.
Am I saying it’s wrong to be wealthy? No. You’ve worked hard and earned it, or by some other means been blessed with monetary fortune. This can very well be God’s blessing. It is not a sin simply to have money. It is what you choose to do with the gift of wealth that has the potential to become good or evil.
It is also those actions you take to acquire wealth that have the potential to be good or evil in nature. A love of wealth and addiction to money have led many to make choices that are less than honest, honorable, safe, or well-considered.
If you never become financially wealthy, is God still good?
Is it okay to be poor from an economic perspective?
Or does your level of income dictate the degree of your love for Jesus, and “faith” in Him?
If you believe God is a prosperity fairy, you (1) worship a false god, and (2) are living by a different “gospel”.
Am I saying it’s wrong to be confident? No, as long as you remember the One whom everything that you are and every gift you have comes from. Confidence and arrogance are two different things.
Am I saying it’s wrong for church leaders to exercise authority? Not necessarily. It depends on what kind of authority they have and how they use it. If it is used in a self-serving manner, or employed abusively, there is never an excuse for that. Most of the abuse we see in the church is instigated by those in positions of recognized, ordained, or declared authority, be that pastors, priests, elders, or “heads of households”. These titles have been extensively twisted and misused by many.
“They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
The men who use the “wives submit to your husbands” thing to promote their own selfish agendas and ideals. Always learning, always gaining new information (often Biblical information or head-knowledge) that they can use to their advantage, but never actually applying that knowledge in the light of truth, as it was meant to be applied.
None of us is perfect. We all stumble and smell stinky sometimes.
But when you witness the message of Jesus routinely being twisted and employed to the financial advantage or other personal advantage of powerful men or women, you must question the spirit behind it.
When you watch the heart of worship begin to disappear, slowly sinking into convention, routine, and obligation, you must ask if we – the church – are getting in the way of the Spirit’s work. Because the Spirit doesn’t stop moving. So if we stop moving, and get comfortable going through the motions and doing things the way we always have, there’s a problem.
If we are already bent on doing things our way (e.g. demanding a specific structure for the leadership body, mingling with the “right” denomination, having the “right” service structure or order, spending time with the “right” or “worthy” company), then we will lose our ability to detect the voice of Jesus, moving us to new places, actions, and ways to use our gifts and to love on those around us.
I say this to myself as well. It is much easier said than done, but we must try.
No. Trying will fail us. Our own works, efforts, and steam will never be enough.
We must ask Jesus to move us, and to help us to approach life through His eyes and with His heart. We must ask Him to help us tune-in to His voice, His Spirit.
Is there hope?
Is there any chance that we can get back that Acts 2 church?
The church that loves and nurtures those within it and outside of it?
The church that has no walls?
The church that functions and is alive every day? Not just Sunday?
The church that is so on fire and contagious, it’s constantly growing, because everyone who sees the church on its feet says “I want some of that. Something real and amazing and abnormal is happening here”?
Will we ever see the return of this spontaneous, Spirit-led church? The church that doesn’t confine the work and leading of God – and our service to Him – to the whims of the directorate of church officialdom?
The church that cannot be contained?
The church on fire?
I believe it’s possible.
Whether it’s probable that we’ll ever return to the glory of our newborn days…I don’t know.
What I believe we are witnessing today in the church is a cold, calm complacency.
The bride has been lulled to sleep, as the adulterer – the father of lies – does his dirty work in secret. Behind a shroud of rituals and convention and conformity and prosperity.
Within the walls of the church itself.
He sleeps with her, and she mistakenly believes he is the Messiah – the groom to come.
He infiltrates her core.
She does not realize she has fallen for a counterfeit.
This is happening now.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
– Jesus, Revelation
When Christ returns, will he find a dead bride?
– The Bleeding Blogger