A year ago I wrote a series of articles discussing my explorations of the many churches of Christendom, (Church Assessment: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Here I would like to give an update on that journey by describing the character of some of the churches I have encountered.
I have found many churches which are seeking heavenly fulfillment in ways I never thought possible. I have also found churches which seem to be seeking earthly fulfillment. Each of these churches has laudable goals to heal, but have been perverted to the point that the wounds they try to heal never truly become whole.
Here are three experiences, told from the lives of three average church members, from three different churches.
Church of the Dead
As we listened to the sermon I sat there trying to recapture my youth. I know I am nothing now—just waiting for death—but I was really something once. And I can find contentment in a job well done. I shut my eyes feeling the warm reassurance of heaven. Any thought that I might have somehow failed in regards to my Christian duty to my neighbor or to my family is quietly reassured. I have done my fair share, more than my fair share, this is the time for me to reap the fruits of my hard labor.
My life is under control.
This church has a laudable goal of trying to give Peace to its members, but in reality it lays people to rest before their time; this is a funeral home church. Worshipers in Mary-Ann’s church spend their time looking for meaning in life, but see their lives as already over. It’s too late to change things. This church could be delivering sermons on how Moses was in the “twilight” of his life when he heard the voice of the LORD in the burning bush, or teaching about Paul who later in life chose to restart from scratch, trusting in the Almighty to provide. Instead its sermons and classes are self serving; giving eulogies to the parishioners who busy themselves writing their own obituaries.
Church of Broken Promises
God, I’m tired. I’ve spent all day with my nose against the grindstone trying to squeeze just a few drops of a living to provide for my family. I spent all night trying to relax and I’ll be honest, the only reason I’m here is because my wife forced me; I’ve just given so much and I’m just stretched so thin. I’m tired, please God, I’m tired. Every time I see my kids I can’t do anything but worry: how will I provide for their needs, their wants, their emotional needs, spiritual needs, their education?—And that’s just the easy questions, how am I supposed to lead them—to teach them—to be good adults when I don’t know what the hell I’m doing myself? I have to; that’s the only answer I have. I need to escape; LORD hide me.
I love my preacher, he gives me just what I need: “Jesus will shoulder your burden!” “Lay what’s weighing down your heart down before the Cross.” Our preacher promised. Free me from this oppression LORD, take my problems away, grant me freedom. “Christ has the answers, and they are right here!” he called out lifting his Bible to his flock. I’m so glad you’re there God, I’m resting on your promises. Take this sacrifice; I sacrifice all my concerns and anxieties on the alter of your cross. “Not my will but His be done!” Do what you want with my life, it’s yours, it’s no longer my concern. I feel better already.
My life is under control.
This church also has a laudable goal and is trying to meet a legitimate heavenly need; Freedom. However, this is not freedom, it’s escape. Joe believes he is being generous or sacrificial by surrendering his troubles over to the LORD; he thinks he is “trusting God”, but sacrificing the sickly ugly sheep that no one wants is not generosity or sacrifice at all. In reality Joe has not left his life in the LORD’s control, he has left it abandoned on the LORD’s doorstep. These Christians are being filled with a false sense of security. This church could be strengthening and training its members how to handle life’s difficulties in a godly fashion and shouldering each others burdens, instead of pawning everything on God.
Church of Easy Answers
I awoke to the stinging light of a rainbow shining into my very soul and the music of the LORD burned into my veins. “All things are possible with God!” I heard the preacher shout. Our Faith was indomitable and we could feel the very mountains quake with the power of our worship. Satan could not touch us here and soon we will march out, united as the LORD’s Army; the glow of our Faith will wash over all the Earth like a flood of redeeming fire. Nothing will stop the progress of the LORD’s faithful. I do not know how this will happen, but I know that if we believe it will happen, then it will happen.
My life is under control.
This church too has a laudable goal of inspiring its members to serve and adore their Master. If these young men and women want to see the fruit of all this passion become manifest in this World, then they need to be training themselves, preparing the fields, and developing the skills they will need in their labor. However, we see little if any of this in Lucas’ church; like him, it is immature and incomplete. The church leadership is issuing promises and vows that they don’t know they can fulfill and the only thing this nursery school church is preparing these lambs for is to be led to slaughter.
Each of these churches play to the temptations of the age. I would like to close with this paraphrased quote from “The Screwtape Letters” (chapter 15) written by C. S. Lewis; a story about a demon giving advice on how to tempt worshipers away from the divine:
“Our Enemy [the LORD] desires the humans to live in eternity and experience time as a whole: past, present, and future. Our business therefore is to get them away from the eternal and chiefly that point of time where the humans meet eternity: the present. Sometimes we can tempt someone like a widow or a scholar to live in the past and you can find some success there, however there is some degree of reality in the past and thus Truth with which they can connect with the Enemy.
“It is far easier to make them live in the future; it is completely unknown to them, so by making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. There is still danger here to that we may loose the target to the Enemy because in the Future there is still hope for redemption and a reminder the present. Our Goal is to get the human to chase the never ending rainbow, always promising satisfaction and never delivering so as to result in their neglect of their righteousness and responsibilities.
“The last thing you can try is to get your target to sin by ‘living in the present’ which is incredibly difficult as I said because the present is the time in which the humans touch eternity and it is when the rays of the Enemy are brightest. This is complicated because ‘living in the present’ has much more to do with living anywhere BUT the present; coping with regrets in the past by indulging in present pleasure, or anxiety/complacency about the future leading to abdicating present restraint.
“It is our aim to get the human’s focus away from the eternal. I suggest you break it of any connections it has with the Enemy. Strike it with misery and you yourself must provide the safe harbor for it to run to, and then trap the human there. But by no means give comfort, why should the creature be happy? Convince it that this is normal—that this misery IS Truth, that your snare IS the divine Church, and that there is no where better to run to.”
May the LORD bless you and have a good day.