I apologize for the dismal tone of the opening paragraphs of this article. This is a “Jeremiah” article. (Jeremiah was called “the weeping prophet” because of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and Israel that he predicted. Accurately, as it turned out.) I want to highlight a serious problem, and then talk about how to fix it – or whether it can be fixed, and if not, how do we respond to the systemic failure … of the church, local and world-wide.
Some of you here have had the good fortune to find churches that satisfy your needs as a Christian. Cherish them! If your pastor and church leaders wholeheartedly support the teaching of the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible as the inspired Word of God, attend and wholeheartedly support them in that enterprise. In my experience, such church leaders, pastors and churches are rare to the point of becoming extinct.
If you google the phrase “Orphans of the Wild”, you get results including wildlife and human rescue operations. These are of course located in third-world or war-torn countries, where family and community structure has been destroyed either by war or HIV (Tanzania) or animal rescue where encroaching civilization and / or poachers have killed off parent animals (Namibia). When the normal order of things breaks down, be it a human or animal structure, there are often people who step in and try to save lives and restore happiness and normal function. But they are few and far between, often way under-funded, and produce disappointingly small results. The tsunamis of historical change have overwhelmed them.
I have had the feeling for several decades that the whole church of Jesus Christ in America has devolved into such an emergency-level condition. I’m speaking of “The True Church”, that is, all true believers in Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, called in the New Testament “the Body of Christ”. From here forward in this article, I’ll use the words “the Body of Christ” (capital B) to differentiate it from local churches or denominations. We belong to different denominations and different local churches, but every genuine believer in Jesus is a member of the Body of Christ:
1st Corinthians 12:12-14: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”
From about the mid-seventies until about 2008, I went from one church to another, looking for a church where the leadership saw to it that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible was taught. In the end, I gave up. Every church I attended either added something to the Bible or discarded parts of it in favor of PC or pleasing doctrine. Or they were “lukewarm”, to use King Jesus’ word.
Granted, I’m cynical and critical. And this may be a uniquely North Carolina problem, which is where I’ve lived almost all of that time. But I’ve seen and heard consistent immoral conduct by even local church leaders, open denial of Scripture, and worldly authorities elevated to the level of Scriptural authority. I’ve sat in too many congregations which did not care about these severe, anti-Biblical problems. I’ve seen too many lukewarm congregations where sports was the topic of Sunday School instead of the Holy Word of God. I’ve listened to too many preachers who replaced Biblical teaching with comedy, feel-good psychobabble, or politics.
What is the Body of Christ according to God’s Word? What is it supposed to be? What is it supposed to do?
There was a movie about terrorists in which two captured Marines were being tortured. One of them apparently broke and promised cooperation with the enemy. The other Marine, a gunny sergeant I think, exhorted him, “No! Don’t do it! Remember who you are!“
The sergeant’s words were shorthand for something like, “You are a Marine and are expected to have higher standards of honor and loyalty. You do not have the right to betray. Remember your pride in being a Marine! Don’t do something you’ll be ashamed of the rest of your life!”
The first chapter of 1st Peter is the Christian’s equivalent of that. In 1st Peter chapter 1, Peter describes the nature of the Body of Christ. It’s worth reading to remind ourselves of who we are in Christ. I urge every Christian who has not read it recently to read it now. It will provoke you to remember who you are in Christ!
We have to understand that we are members of an elite corps with a duty unique in the history of the world. There are expectations we are supposed to meet. Duties we have no right to shirk. Responsibilities we are ordered to fulfill.
Being a Christian is not only about becoming saved and having our sins forgiven. It’s not only about feeling good about ourselves. It’s not even only about living to a higher moral standard.
Being a Christian involves a hierarchy of duties, and we will one day be rewarded – or not- by how consistently and thoroughly we performed these duties. True, Christians will not lose their salvation by failure to perform, but we can sink so low that King Jesus said He would be ashamed of us. Brothers and sisters, that shame would be eternal. There would be no way to change it, because the time of testing will be over.
Most Christians have forgotten these very uncomfortable truths. Many of us who have not forgotten them have let them slide, adopting various excuses. The result is that the Body of Christ has almost completely “lost its saltiness”. Become useless. These are King Jesus’ words – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
Part of the reason Christian faith has become so despised is because so many Christians, especially church leaders, have “lost their saltiness”.
What are those duties? In the light of widespread apostasy by church leaders, can we still perform those duties? Are we still expected to?
Duties to God:
Duties to family: 1st Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Duties to the Body of Christ:
1st Corinthians 12:21-26: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
“Indispensable”! Did you see that? Every single believer in Jesus has a place in the Body of Christ and is absolutely necessary for the maximum performance and health of the Body! This does not mean that every one of us will have a noticeable effect, but we are still indispensable. God’s Word says so! This means you! You are not unimportant! You are vital to the Body of Christ! If you suffer, whether you know it or not, every other member of the Body suffers.
Remember, believers, to let other believers know that you appreciate their service in the Body. If a believer is making an honest effort to serve the Body, encourage him or her! Their service is helping you, even if you don’t know it.
I remember Miss Janey Bilderback, who taught young kids “Sword Drills” – a game designed to acquaint children with the location of books of the Bible and make them familiar with a verse here and there. That was all Miss Janey Bilderback did. She was a physically unattractive spinster. She was in her 80s when she taught my class, and as far as I know, she had never done anything else her whole Christian life but teach children Sword drills. But I thank God for her! She locked into our subconscious minds the basic order of the books of the Bible, and that was an important first step in building our acquaintance with the Bible, Christian faith, and the God of the Bible. She was probably the least known and least appreciated member of that local church, but she was vital to it.
There is so much more that needs to be discovered by each of us. We are severely handicapped when we can’t find a church whose leadership is devoted to the service of God and the Body of Christ. But we can try. We don’t have to change the world. We jsut have to be faithful to the Lord in those ways we can. But we need to be aware of what our duties are and fulfill them to the best of our ability.
This past week I met a Christian who invited me to his church. He told me how his former church had lost its pastor and the new pastor was not a man of God. This believer finally told his wife, “I’m not getting fed [spiritually] like I think I should be. Let’s start a house church!” So they and several other couples started a house church. Later, he found a church he is satisfied with, and he’s supporting it and inviting other believers. This man’s Biblically controlled impatience with unacceptable doctrine led him to a church he can support and serve wholeheartedly. He didn’t start a division in his former church, he just looked for another open door, and apparently the Lord led him to it. And so for the first time in years, I’ll be going to church today.
Don’t be satisfied with being lukewarm, brothers and sisters. We aren’t called to change the world, but we are called to be witnesses where we can, to honor God, to support our families, and to serve the Body of Christ. Even if that means starting a house church or leaving a lukewarm church and trying to survive spiritually with what fellowship you can find with other believers.