By: Stuart Kellogg
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wished to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Hmmm. James is pretty straightforward there. Kind of like Paul.
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving the please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
Or, like Jesus.
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” John 15:06
Unfortunately, far too many Christians in America choose to leave out the “hard stuff” and mold their beliefs to fit the cultural definition of the good life. Now, don’t get me wrong, that IS human nature. There are, however, a couple of problems with this approach.
First, our decision to follow Christ means we are giving UP our “human nature”, in the sense that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (12 Corinthians 5:17). That means the fruit of our faith is to be so different from the world’s fruit that those lost without Christ will naturally wonder, “What is it that person has? I WANT that too!”
Second, far too many church leaders are only too happy to play along and not rock the boat. The result is the slow drift from the biblical foundational faith that is happening throughout the church.
Almost half of those attending evangelical churches believe salvation is earned.
Here’s one example: A recent survey from Arizona Christian University’s George Barna, the nation’s preeminent researcher on the Christian faith, showed that almost half of those attending evangelical churches believe that salvation is earned by being good enough, or doing good works. Almost as many believe Jesus sinned while on earth.
The American church, yes the evangelical American church, has become far, far too much like the culture around it. Just look at the approach to church growth. Too much emphasis on numbers in the seats, little or no emphasis on Jesus’ call to make disciples.
The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.
There is no better illustration than Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Since it’s founding in 1975 this mega church didn’t just grow exponentially—hitting a peak of 25-thousand attendees each weekend in 2015—it sponsored workshops on how you too could lead a mega church. Then, leaders 15 years ago did a gutsy thing that few “successful” church pastors (or corporate CEOs) would do: Look under the hood, while the numbers are good, to see if something is wrong.
Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and executive pastor Greg Hawkins, concluded that the “seeker sensitive” model wasn’t biblical. Not talking about sin, because it might turn folks away, and instead focusing on “needs programming” and slick marketing filled the seats and the bank accounts. The congregation, however, was a mile wide an inch thick. As columnist Bob Barney noted, “Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t ‘cutting edge’ and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity.”
Founding pastor Bill Hybel’s conclusion, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
Now, about a year after the report Hybels resigned in disgrace as did others who covered up his sexual misconduct. It’s clear that the foundation of that organization was badly cracked.
If the church is to live up to its calling, it must look backwards.
The Christian church was founded in the Roman Empire, a culture that worshipped power and cared little for children, women or the poor. Imagine the impact when these followers of Christ rescued and adopted unwanted babies thrown on the garbage dump to die. Or helped heal the plague sufferers rather than escape the pestilence for the safety of the country.
Another illustration of the church losing its way is for the Body to be so focused on helping those in need that they leave out the essential element of faith. Yes, yes, yes, Jesus called on us to help the hurting. BUT, He never meant to do it without calling the lost to faith. Look at the life of 18th century pastor and the father of Methodism, John Wesley. He travelled a quarter million miles on horseback preaching the Gospel while also serving the poor and ministering in the prisons. He never separated the work for the least of these from sharing the Good News.
The promise of the faith is exactly the opposite of comfort, prosperity or security. The promise is that following Christ will, by definition, be countercultural. Now, that doesn’t mean followers necessarily will be jailed and humiliated. It just means our focus must be on living a life following Christ, knowing that it MAY mean those things.
The church isn’t a bazaar or buffet, set up to feed the followers’ emotional and practical needs. Nor is it set up to simply offer a ticket to heaven. Now, the wonderful promise of eternal life is real. The call is, however, much, much bigger. The call is for us to give ourselves to Christ, become new creations and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us constantly so that, as Peter wrote, quoting God through Moses, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” The Lord calls us to be set apart, with a love that is complete. Jesus also quotes the Old Testament, telling us “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” We are called to love fellow men and women with the same other-serving love God showed us by allowing His Son to take our sins to the cross. In short, we’re called to live a life of love that looks like God’s: Choosing to do what is best for another, without regard to whether they deserve it, nor what it costs us.
Wow. Not easy for me. Not easy for you. If we’re to be followers of Christ, however, there isn’t a choice and there is no place for a “soft sell” from a church looking to be a comfortable place to hang out. The “Good News”; living a life as Christ demands will result in the best reward, a well-lived life.
Stuart Kellogg, author of The Post Covid Church, is host of The Post Covid Church: What Now? Podcast, available wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.