Maybe It's OUR Fault.....
I got to reflecting on things the other day. Actually, about 5 minutes ago (as I start this), and I happened to have my laptop at hand, so here goes.
This was in connection with the upcoming Conference on Bridgebuilding that CB Scott and I are going to attend (along with a crowd of others, so I hear). I was pondering God's sovereignty, and why we have something like 60% leakage of people, names, etc in the SBC. Since I figure God's pretty good at what HE does, and we are less so, and since I also figure He didn't save folks so they could stay home on Sundays, then I also figure somebody else must be doing something wrong down here.
Does anyone beside me think there's something wrong when we look at the church in Acts Two, and then look at our churches here and see people joining by (presumably) getting saved and baptized, or maybe in a different way, and then turning their back on church, and any involvement therein? That doesn't seem to have happened in Acts Two, and I know God hasn't changed. People, and their Spiritual needs, haven't either, so I have to believe the difference is in what WE are DOING now, that's different from a couple millenniums ago.
Thinking of all this, I came to a conclusion: Church is not the business of the church.
Let me repeat that.Church is not the business of the church.
I don't see anywhere in the Bible that leads me to believe that lost folks are supposed to come to church. I heard "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together...." preached for 35 years as one reason folks ought to feel obligated to go. That instruction was written to the church, not to unbelievers, and that's not how I read that passage anyway.
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25, NAS)
As I read that, we're supposed to be about the business of encouraging one another to love and good works, and in the process of THAT, we're supposed to get together. I don't see that as an admonition for the preacher to goad or shame us into doing things, but I see that as instructions for each of us to use what we've been given, to accomplish that. We don't go to church to get, we go to GIVE. To stimulate. To sharpen. To contribute. Paul said it thusly:
"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:14-16, NAS)
This follows a dissertation on how God gives each of us differing gifts, so the body can all fit together and act like a body. This passage tells me that I'm there for what I supply as a "joint"; namely, mobility. I'm not the head (direction & leadership), or the muscle (the power). God provides those things, and I'm there to give them movement. And it's what we all bring to the table, that holds the body together (don't get proud there .. it's talking about gifts, remember, and we didn't give them to ourselves).
Can you imagine a body with a giant brain, huge muscles, and no joints? It'd be impressive, at least until you wanted it to actually DO something.
I suspect there are a some churches that are like that......
The church in Acts Chapter Two must have been a hoot to belong to. I used to look at that passage and think "I sure hope I don't have to sell everything and give it to those in need." That feeling has been transformed (by a renewing of my mind?) into a hunger for whatever they had that caused them to WANT to do that. That reminds me of the great line from the restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally" in which the lady at a restaurant, after seeing Meg Ryan do her incredible impression in front of Billy Crystal (if you don't know what that was, ask somebody), and the lady said to the waiter "Uhh ... I'll have what SHE'S having."
Well, when I see that passage in Acts Two, I want to say to God "I'll have what they were having."
It's interesting to me that the church then was probably comprised mostly of folks who surrendered to the Savior as a result of the first sermon ever preached under the current plan; a crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended Savior, a sent, received, and indwelling Holy Ghost, and salvation by faith alone. And what were the instructions to those who wanted to be saved?
Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.
How does that contrast with current practices of evangelism? Mostly, we seem to knock on doors, do a spiritual survey of some sort (which is deceptive and I never do that), and then explain to them about our faith. We tell people we've just met that we can't get to heaven in our sinful state, and the only remedy is repentance (meaning turning away) and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. That's true enough, probably, but I wonder how it compares to "repent and be baptized". Last time I checked, that word "repent" meant "metanoeo",to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction). That seems like a whole lot more than something we need to give a nod to so we can have the promised wonderful, and abundant, life.
Even inside the church, it's rare that I see any "heart evidence" of repentance when people walk the aisle. I don't see all cases, though, but is it possible we've nonetheless relegated repentance to a "step in the process" rather than the genesis of it?
Then there's this:
"When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. "But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your life. (Ezek 33:8-9 NAS)
Seems to me that the only way we can know God has spoken to the wicked man, is when they evidence conviction around us. That happens lots of ways, and when someone shows us their spiritual need, we're required to share Jesus with them, IMHO. Could it be that we lead too many people in the sinner's prayer without ever seeing evidence of conviction or repentance?
If that were the case, what would the effects be? High dropout rate? Lack of congregational participation in the work of service? Shortage of tithers in the local body? Lowest attendance of any services, in the prayer meeting? Attendance suffering when the pastor is out of town? Members uninterested in anything beyond the local services? Members thinking worship styles must suit their individual tastes?
Lay up treasures for yourself in heaven, where all that bad earthly stuff doesn't happen. We're supposed to do that, but you know, nobody ever told me how to DO that. The only times I ever heard that preached was in connection with giving money. Normally to the church. It took one of our youth saying we do that by investing something .. time, money, spiritual gifts, attention .. something, in something that would actually GO to heaven. And that is ONLY souls. People. I have to wonder, and ask pastors, what percentage of the local body is actually DOING that?
He that winneth souls is wise. Again, I've always heard that in the context that, if you're a "soul winner", you're wise. No argument there, but in my mind, no one can "win" a soul but Jesus. He told us that, if He was lifted up, HE would draw people TO HIMSELF. So I cannot BE a soul-winner, but we sure seem to have a lot of "soul winning programs" around.
Well, I got to poking around Strongs the other day. Here's what I found. Looking at the NAS, I found that Proverbs 11:30 says "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls."
Wise .. chakam: wise, (i.e. intelligent, skillful or artful): Guess we're supposed to use our brains, our abilities, our intelligence to do this stuff.
Wins .. laqach: to take (in the widest variety of applications): KJV-- accept, bring, buy, carry away, drawn, fetch, get ...
Souls .. nephesh: a breathing creature, i.e. animal of (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense (bodily or mental):
COULD IT BE ... that we can evidence wisdom if we use our intelligence and our ability to befriend .. to win .. accept, draw, fetch, people .. living creatures with vitality, to ourselves; to become friends and neighbors and helpers and the like .. that THEN they would be receptive to us when we see evidences of conviction in them .. and that they would want some of what it is that WE have?
Would that make sense of the biblical statements that the church as a body is to build us up for the work of service? Would that put some weight behind the thought that our work is not in the building, but rather in the world?
During some training in the late 60's, I heard today's church (well, the one 35+ years ago) likened to an army in which the troops assemble for training once a week and then go back to the barracks and leave the waging of war to the Generals. That wouldn't be much of an army; I wonder how today's spiritual equivalent looks to God. And, when I look at the New Testament, and at the church today, I wonder how that happened.
Could it be that the church has made church its business? Have we let the army go home for the week?
Could this be one reason for the illogical need to assure ourselves of a regenerate church membership?
Could this explain 8.5 million members MII (Missing In Inaction)?
Could it be OUR fault?