Lest it seem that the series of article I am currently posting are to be of a negative nature, let me preface this article with a disclaimer of that intent. Indeed, I find much that is positive – much that is encouraging – in what I see and hear these days.
Many look at the current happenings in the Christian world these days and only see things through the colored lenses of the past or their sectarian bias. By this I mean that people have become so accustomed to thinking in the modes and habits of historical Protestantism, or in the case of the Churches of Christ of my heritage, in the Restoration tradition that they can only see what they are conditioned to see.
In either case, the presumption is that we have achieved the best expression of Christianity that can be realized and because of that thinking we simply perpetuate the things we have learned. Ours has been a replication of the forms and features perceived as essential to expressing Christianity by the leaders and founders of the various churches (denominations) in the earlier days of their group’s existence. Different people perceived things differently which resulted in the diverse expressions of form and function of the respective groups they founded. As those perceptions change – if they change – the expressions of that change takes the form of changes in the institution.
Many of the distinctive doctrines and marks of the different groups were forged in the heat of controversy or emerged out of the fires of persecution. Some of these distinctive differences came about through the pragmatism of the leaders of this or that group. They simply went with what seemed to work. Some come about as a result of a changing society and the different values it brings. Sometimes they are expressions of narrow parochialism or prejudicial partisanship.
Not all that is seen today in the widely diverse religious spectrum is the best expression of Christianity nor is it what God desires for His people. All such things are manifestations of the human desire to know God and to do His will. Being human, they sometimes hinder the Lord’s work rather than further it.
But that is not to say that God through His Holy Spirit does not work in and through these various groups. He worked His purposes through the Jewish nation in spite of their frequent and persistent departures from His way, their misunderstandings of His purposes and rejection of His efforts among them. For instance, even though God warned the Israelites of the consequences of having a king instead of Himself, He allowed them to have kings like the nations around them. Jesus, the Messiah, the true King came, the gospel was proclaimed and the church established as a result of God’s work among these descendants of Abraham and that in spite of the teachings and actions of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.
The expression of this new nation of God’s people, the church, has often been woefully lacking throughout its history, going astray and falling short of God’s purpose for it. Yet, despite having missed the ideal so often and in so many ways, God has worked through it to bring the world closer to Himself. Millions of people have been led to a simple faith in Jesus as the Son of God and have made Him the ruler of their lives. Untold good has been done in His name from the transformation of the lives of desperate sinners to the alleviation of the suffering of the sick to the feeding of multiplied multitudes of hungry men, women and children.
None of this should lead us to be content with what we have today. As we outlined in the first article in this series, much of the effort expended by individuals and churches in teaching and learning never finds expression in concrete, practical ways in the lives of people who profess to be followers of the Son of God’s love and imitators of the Lamb.
It is my conviction that when we see people who “attend church” week after week, year after year, generation after generation and remain relatively unchanged or practically inactive in terms of any involvement in the kinds of works Christians are supposed to be committed to, there is something fundamentally wrong somewhere. When you see this as being characteristic of entire groups of people, there is something wrong with the system of which they are a part.
One of the major problems I see currently in the churches of my heritage is that the leaders have long since adopted a confrontational stance. They have protectively “circled the wagons” in view of their perceived embattled position and are intent on maintaining the status quo. They do not perceive the Christian life nor the existence of the church as an on-going journey from a place of inferior understanding (and thus of substandard performance) to higher and more perfect expressions of the life of God’s people. Thus, the teaching that is done is for the purpose of “holding the line” instead of leading boldly and confidently toward higher and greater achievements.
Thus, people in these churches are, like the women of whom Paul writes to Timothy, “ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Learning is needed, but that which is needed is to allow Christ to set the standard rather than attempt to conform to the imagined goals of people who have reacted out of a desire to defend against some perceived “error” or to conform to some humanly determined standard. By their refusal to consider anything other than their version of “orthodoxy,” the teaching that is done merely confirms people in their ignorance.
What is needed is the same thing that was needed by the people to whom the Hebrew letter was addressed. We need to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” ̶ if the things that are being dwelt upon are indeed the “doctrine of Christ.” If they are not, then by all means they should be left behind for they are not productive of anything good.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.