CHALLENGES FOR THE CHURCH

 

Adapted from the Soul Searching radio series
By Keith Newman

When you mention church today so many people groan as if the very mention of the world conjures up images they would rather forget.

Perhaps being forced to go to church as a youngster, or bad encounters with churchgoers, has left the impression that God is boring. I don't know how God can be made to sound boring - but some churches have it down to a fine art.

How can the Creator of the Universes, the master of time and space, the very being whose power and light keep the world together be considered boring. Scarey yes, awesome certainly, magnificent and mysterious without doubt - but boring - no way!

Just what is going on in churches today that makes people want to stay away in droves? Why is going to church is on so many people's hate lists?

They'd rather go to the movies, watch a video, read a book, listen to music, visit a nightclub, talk with friends, go for a long walk, hide under the sheets - anything but go to church.

The church is supposed to be conveying wonderful truths about God but has become involved in so much tradition and ritual that it's missing the point - young people in particular, just don't relate anymore.

The idea that the church is a building or a specific place where God hangs out is an illusion. God is God. Any building, no matter how big, could not contain even his big toe - supposing of course he has one.

Most outsiders still identify church as an occasion where you dress fit to attend a funeral and are bound by a rigid set of thou-shalt-not's. To many, the church is seen as irrelevant to today's culture.

However, God does ask us to gather together but that doesn't mean the buildings where we hang out become holy or qualify the pastor infallible.

The world has found many unkind ways to describe the church-goer. Those who wear the tag Christian are often imagined as dogmatic, legalistic, moralists, fanatics, Jesus nuts (actually the name of the nut that holds the rotor blade on a helicopter) and the worst of all hypocrites;
those who's lives do not measure up to what they profess.

It is a rare occasion when you hear of the person with genuine faith who shines as a light in the community showing godly love and wisdom, unselfishness and insight. Yet many people do express those exact qualities. Unfortunately it is often the bad example of the days events that claims most attention, like front page news.

This past 2000 years, people have built great temples, denominations and systems. They've formed committees and written songs, sermons and services; made millions of books, records and films because they thought they had a better way of presenting God to the people.

Many of the great cathedrals and church buildings were monuments of achievement, landmarks in history, are now gravestones to the past. More often than not they host housie evenings and yoga classes than gifted preachers unravelling the mystery and power of Jesus Christ.

Today's church buildings with their gold adornments, carefully carved pulpit, silver collection plates and lavish stained glass windows (dedicated to the memory of Mrs Dour and Mr Moneybags, who passed away after 50 years of faithful pew sitting) are the last places the average earthbound human
would look for heavenly alternatives.

To God, the church is a body of people throughout the world who have put him first in their lives. It does not have a name like Anglican, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal or Charismatic. Its leader is not the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope.

Itís leader is Jesus Christ and love is the glue that binds believers together. You will know these people by their actions and by the words they speak. If they don't act like Christians then they probably aren't.

The church may one day be an irrelevant - if not irreverent oddity - but God will never become old fashioned. He's the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and he won't change or go away no matter how you try and gift wrap him or tell people he's dead or has retired on the royalties of his book.

To survive into the next century the church must be relevant to the age in which it shares God's eternal truths. There are two extremes today, the dry bones Sunday only meetings where people go out of a sense of loyalty, and the glamorous TV style evangelists who have developed the art of preaching the contents out of your pocket rather than the sin out of your soul.

Anyway not all churches are like that - some are much more joyful, spontaneous and useful places and I'm sure God appreciates it that way. Somewhere there are churches where real people gather together, out of a real sense of purpose and direction, and get to hear what is going on in the real world and how it effects them on a day to day basis. They leave church feeling like they are worthwhile individuals with something valid to put back into the community.

Perhaps we have been spoiled when it comes to church. Perhaps it has only become a dull place because we have allowed ourselves to ignore challenges and issues and have become dull ourselves.

Around the world about 1600 churches are established each week and 63,000 people are born-again into Christ's spiritual family each day. That's a lot of people experiencing some kind of inner revelation but it is mostly happening in non-Western nations such as China, Africa and Russia.

Look for example at Russia - after 50-years of godless communism the Iron Curtain finally began to part, Easter services were televised and a cross carried through Red Square on May Day. When Ceausescu fell, the Romanians flocked to their cathedral to give thanks.

In the West though we are far more complacent and the church is looked upon as museum-like, a relic of the past. In New Zealand only about 12%-15% of us are regular church goers according to the statistics but there are an awful lot of people who admit to having some degree of Christian faith who do not attend church.

Part of the problem, in my experience, is that the church is building and promoting an alternative culture rather than encouraging its members to be more effective in the existing one. It has alienated its membership so its membership slowly walked out the door.

The church is generally about 10-years behind the world when it should be 10 years ahead.

If the it is to have the same impact in changing history that it did in Christ's time then it needs to encourage people in their occupations and their personal lives to break out of the mould that boredom has brought. To smash the walls of tradition and mediocrity and become revolutionaries, once again bringing vision and hope to people everywhere.

Christians must know their own hearts, speak and act with authority in their chosen fields and become involved - whether it is music, manufacturing, public service, politics, education or the pulpit the pulpit.

Recognition should not come because they're Christians, but because they're damn good at what they do. Rampant street preaching is nowhere near as effective as getting on with the job of being the best person you possible can be.

Bible-banging and shoving the gospel down people's throats under threat of fire and brimstone is just not on. It creates more cynics than converts.

There is room for social activism, for righteous anger, for causes and issues from visiting the sick and old to championing human rights, saving the dolphins and whales and protesting unfair laws, corruption and injustice.

The church must be a force to be reckoned with - its voice must be heard but not only as a right wing, fundamentalist organisation but as a body of people who have compassion for the poor and the hurting. Christ was not a politician - he was a social revolutionary - an agent of change sent on a mission to bring believers together on common ground to change the world.

The Holy Spirit is God's agent in this age and he is moving throughout all the world not just in churches but in pubs, whorehouses, hospitals and homes - wherever people are.

Today the church which meets every Sunday in purpose built buildings is faced with a challenge. God has placed a thirst for spiritual knowledge in the hearts of many people and they're coming along to see what his people are like.

What happens when youth with multi-coloured hair and razor cut jeans begin to show an interest in Christ's salvation? What happens when gang members, patches and all, decide its time to pay a call on the church, or rock musicians from a well known band, cynical journalists or a group of intellectuals from the local university turn up to park in the pews.

Can the church meet their needs or offer them anything inspiring? Can we communicate with these people? What do we know about the drug culture or street kids needs? Are we prepared to put aside our preconceptions and let God show us how to cope?

For many street-wise people, arriving at church has come at the end of a long spiritual and intellectual journey. Solid, relevant teaching is essential. Re-runs of The Cross and the Switchblade or sermons that evoke memories or Sunday School of old will not appeal.

Often such newcomers have to find their own spiritual food when the pulpit message falls short, or when the preaching platform becomes a podium for cheerleaders to steer the congregation through 90 minute sing-a-longs.

These people need a deep grasp of the faith - they need to get into the solid heart of the Bible. They haven't come to be talked down to or to be drilled in church doctrine. They have come because they want to know about Jesus Christ, about miracles and the new life promised to believers.

There seems to be a general philosophy of preaching basics over and over again until, after a year or two in the same church, everything begins to have a familiar ring. So where's the challenge, where's the state of the nation overview, the prophecy, the words of knowledge, the gifts of discernment and the overpowering love and healing?

Where is the deep truth which makes your spine tingle and the evidence of God's Holy Spirit moving among the aisles? That's what you need to look for in a church gathering and if you find it you've found hidden treasure and I advise you to stick with it and tell your friends.

Ultimately it is God's responsibility to guide and direct people into his Kingdom - believers also share that responsibility - the trouble is many of them are asleep in the pews.

Moses and Solomon both wanted to build a house for God. God honoured their motivation and worked great miracles, but in reality no-one can ever build a house for God. The truth is, he has built a house for us. We walk around in it. God wants to set up residence n our hearts. The Bible tells us we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that the Kingdom of God is within.

As we hand over the keys to our physical house, Christ gives us the keys to his kingdom - an understanding of the heavenly principals that can unlock hearts and bring healing and renewal to society.

If all the churches in all the towns were filled with people who cared for the towns and for each other then the community would thrive with a new spirit of love and churches would again be about people and not buildings.

No-one would need to remain lonely or needy because the needs would be met, the lonely and broken would be in contact with caring people and Christ would be active in their midst.

If the church came alive as God intends then evil would be defeated because God would be exalted and Jesus given his rightful place as King over all the earth.

If church services are just a theatre of robes and ritual recalling some ancient theatrics then God is not interested. If church services are so organised and structured with wall-to-wall preaching and songs then where is the room for God.

Once we realise God is bigger than our preconceptions and our doctrines perhaps church gatherings will become more invigorating occasions with a practical role to play in keeping society sane and healthy.

When the clamour gives way to silence, when repeat sermons give way to Spirit inspiration, when we love our neighbour as ourselves then Christ will cause new form to rise where there was once only dry bones.

ends


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