X0616..........The Invisible Christians
I have lived near a very l;large church building all my life. It is a very impressive structure. A very large steeple, presumably a bell in the tower, although i have never heard it ring.
I've driven and walked by the church building countless times. The vast majority of the time it is empty, and so is it's very large parking lot. Only on sunday morning does it look different. At this one time of the week, the entire area is filled with cars. A policeman with white gloves directs the mass of traffic and stops traffic so the flow of people can cross the busy street. the parking lot is so full that cars must park in the commuter lot across the street, which fortunately os empty of the weekend.
For many years, growing up in this place, of course I never questioned things. the empty building and the once-a-week crowds of people were just the status quo. I would imagine most of us could relate to this experience. It is a kind of an unquestionable fact of life--empty church buildings--and then the sudden, once-a-week crowds.
The church is an "evangelical" church. At least that is the title on he door. when I was young I never understood what that meant. We went to a different church, a catholic church. It was really a very similar structure and routine. Our church building had more stone than the evangelical church building which seemed to be made mostly of wood. But basically the two buildings seemed very similar.
I never thought about it when I was young, but we did the same stuff in our catholic church. I mean, if I lived near our church building, I would have seen an empty building most of the time. A nice clean empty parking lot, and then, once a week, the throngs of people and cars. We had a traffic cop too.
when you see something and experience something all your life, it is something you accept. It becomes even more rooted in your acceptance when it seems that everyone else around you accept it. It becomes even more grounded into your experience when your family has accepted and participated in it for generations.
the big empty church building and the crowds of people once-a-week were very strongly in my experience. I would guess these are a very common experience to most of us in our culture.
When I was in my 20's I got saved. I asked jesus to save me and he did. It didn't happen in a church building. it happened in a car. Most of the folks in the evangelical church were probably not saved in the church building, unless they were raised by parents who already belonged to the church.
Well after I got saved I read the Bible and I went to church a little. I didn't go "regularly" to one particular church, because try as I might, I could not find the idea in he Bible (at least notion the new testament).
It seemed to me that the Bible said that the "church" was something all us believers "are"--not a place you go to. I could not seem to find the rules for Sunday church in the Bible (although I eventually did--in the old testament).
Now I had been an only child growing up. shortly after I was saved, the Lord blessed me by putting this truth in my heart. He told me that now, since I am His, I have many many brothers and sisters. I was very excited and had the feeling that a new life was mine. But I found something different.
having been raised in the catholic church, I had a pretty good idea of what "going to church" was. To me, to us in our family, it was an "obligation". they used to call some days "holy days of obligation". Certainly Sunday was the biggest day of obligation. Everybody went in--file in--stand up--sit down--kneel together. Form a line when told. the toughest parts were to keep quiet and not fall asleep.
after I accepted Christ I wanted to go to a non-catholic church. But, strangely enough, before I ever set foot in a Sunday church service, the Lord lead my wife and I to meet with christians in their home. A small "Bible study/fellowship meeting, on a Thursday night in a home of a friend of ours.
It was here I first met my brothers and sisters. They were wonderful gifted, talented, intelligent people. filled with god's love. they prayed and I learned how by watching them. We studied the Bible together. Being a new believer I asked a lot of questions and they knew the answers. I learned a lot by seeing the example they set in their homes and families and lives. They shared their testimony and I shared mine. We laughed to gether and cried together. they brought in unsaved people and we talked to them about Jesus, they called it witnessing. They prayed for sick folks they knew and met.
We used to meet over one couple's house, until they had to stop having meetings. Why? Because the pastor of their church told them they should be in church on Thursday night for prayer meeting. I heard that something was said like this: "If God is at the church on Thursday night for prayer meeting, he can't be at your house too."
WE continued meeting at another couple's house. At the same time, I felt the Lord telling me that we should invite them to our house. But I didn't say anything. Why? I don't know, other than to say I made a mistake and I am sorry to this day that I didn't listen to God.
A few weeks after we started meeting at the new house, the pastor of their church started sitting in on the meetings. when he did, the meetings changed entirely. Everyone seemed to treat him like a catholic priest. All those talkative, friendly people were suddenly very silent. The pastor lead everything and everyone else barely spoke. It got very boring. My wife and I quit and a few weeks later the meetings broke up.
A few years later, my wife and I became "regular church goers" for a period of time. We went every week and volunteered to help where needed. The Lord told us to do this so we would learn some things--many things!
(In this story i want to stick to one area, which comes from my own experience, so I will not go into all the reasons and details of our "church-going')
So, after being a Christians for about 10 years, I finally stared going to church on Sunday. What I found, much to my amazement, was that the protestant church service was basically the same as the catholic service I had been so familiar with as a youngster. The rules were basically the same. File in--stand up--sit down (we didn't kneel-!). Form a line when told. Be quiet, listen o the priest--er--pastor. Put the money in the basket--head home.
after the period of time the Lord directed us to attend church, we moved back to the house that I had grown up in, the house right near the big evangelical church building.
When we moved to our new neighborhood we went out and spoke to many of our neighbors. when my wife and I "speak" to people we almost always witness the Gospel to them. As we usually find, some people had really not heard the Gospel before (at least not simply and directly). Some had arguments. Some refused to listen at all. But some listened and accepted the Gospel. We were able to pray with some people in our neighborhood to ask Jesus to save them. We also met some people, who were Christians, were saved--were born-again--and really didn't know it. Some of them attended church regularly and some were not church-goers. but simply talking about the Gospel brings out these answers.
I'm sure that many of you who witness the Gospel to others have found these general responses. Did you know they are very Biblical?
Take a look at the parable of the sower
3 Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:
4 And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.
5 And some fell on stony g round, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:
6 But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.
8 And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred.
9 And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.
11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
14 The sower soweth the word.
15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. (mark 4:3-20)
I believe we ought to call the "the parable of the sloppy sower". This fellow is sowing the Word of God to others, and he does it in a very sloppy way! Notice that he sows his seed everywhere--in among weeds--on rocks--even on he road (the wayside). I don't think that anyone ever planted a garden like this! But there is a big point Jesus wants us to know. Sow the Gospel everywhere, even in places you know will not produce a harvest. the seed of the Word of god is "incorruptible seed" and it always accomplishes Gods' purposes. When we witness we should expect resistance, but we should also realize that all witnessing does good--even if to set an example to other believers.
At some point, shortly after I moved back to my old house, I started to think about the great big evangelical church building nearby. I thought about all of those Christians (if you drove by on sunday,you had to wait, seemingly forever for them to file out of the building. there had to be a thousand of them--my brothers and sisters--talented intelligent--gifted loving people.
In 45 years of living right next to that church building, I had never met one of them.
I knew they were there, but they were seemingly invisible. They all marched in--well dressed--orderly--on Sunday morning. Clogged up the road with their cars. Apparently there were lots of Christians in town, they just didn't seem to have made much impact in town. they knew how to build a pretty building. they knew how to meet every Sunday, and they knew how to be quiet.
I thought about it. In all the years I had live, practically in the shadow of that big church building all those Christians had had zero impact on our neighborhood. I was never aware of anyone from the church, coming to our house, or talking to people in the neighborhood about the Gospel. There was one thing they did. Once a year at christmas a small group walked down the neighborhood streets and sang christmas songs. It was nice,and gave a glimmer of the love and talent and gifts of just some of those believers. but it wasn't the Gospel. It was the usual cold, distant "We'll play the music and you shut up" that defines the Christian church.
When I though about it, my wife and I just going around talking to people (we always liked to share stuff from our garden--lettuce, tomatoes--with the neighbors--my wife baked bread and cakes for some of the older folks) had made a greater impact for the Gospel than that huge church with all its people and resources.
I've had an imaginary conversation with someone from that church for years. (It's imaginary because I have yet to meet anyone from this church-!)
this is what I would like to share with you...
--"You are a Christian?"
--"Oh yes, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior in my twenties."
--"What church do you go to?"
--I don't go to church. the Bible says we believers ARE the church. We witness the gospel and help people as the Lord leads us. We consider our home the house of God. We work with lots of other believers, mostly through the internet. We've given away millions of free tracts and Bible studies though our websites and we do all we can to help other believers to do their ministry with us. We try our best to be new covenant Christians--sinners saved by grace and we do the best we can to NOT exercise authority over other believers."
--"Oh, that's unusual."
--"Well it's not so unusual. there are a lot of Christians that don't go to church on sunday. Did you know the basis for most of the rules about ministry, authority and function, that Christians call the 'church service" actually come from the old covenant?"
--"No, I didn't' know that."
--"Well most people don't realize where the common rules of "Sunday church" come from. Let me ask you a question--what do you do when you meet on Sundays?"
--"Well, everyone knows that--we assemble together, we have praise and worship and then he pastor teaches."
--"Sing some songs of praise to God and then the pastor feeds the Word. that's how a friends of mine once put it. He was a 7th-day Adventist."
--"oh, that's a cult--isn't it-?"
--"Yes, even they do the same stuff-! Well let me ask you another question if I can--Do you do this same format--worship and teaching--over and over andover and over again?"
--"And how long has your church been doing this format?"
--"Well, for along time, I guess."
--"So your church spends a good deal of its' time, effort and money (after all you build a fairly extravagant building which is used mostly for this format) on worship and teaching--right? Now don't get me wrong, those are Christian things to do--but-- the Bible does tell us to witness the Gospel."
--"Our church sponsors missionaries to Africa, India and South America."
--"That's great, but do you witness in any organize way to the neighborhoods around your church building? And what about prayer for the sick, and feeding the poor--"
--"Well, once a year we have a food drive."
--" Good, but why only occasionally? Have you asked God lately when He wants you to feed the poor? Have you asked God lately if He wants you to all meet every Sunday and emphasize worship and teaching to such an extent? ("ministries'" which are done by the same select few people, over and over and over)"
--"Well, it's just what our church has always done."
--"Who decided that this is what your church would do?"
--"Well, probably the founders."
--"Wow. So, somebody called a "founder" made a decision about what your church would do when it meets, and you have stuck to it for, how many years?"
--"Our c hurch was founded in England, in 1840."
--"So, those folks--160 years ago, made a decision--and your denomination has stuck with their decision for all these years-? that's an awful lot of authority! Did you know that Jesus said we are not to exercise authority one over another among ourselves......
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them,
Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles
exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
If you look at these Bible verses, Jesus defines "ministry" as "not authority over others". It seems to me that those founders invented a format that gives tremendous authority to one person--the "pastor" you call him?"
--"Yes, the "servant of the church."
--"Well, he doesn't sound like a servant when he is the only one how can talk week after week after week-! And he also makes most of the other decisions too--right? And, have you ever thought of the effects of this repetitive format?? the people who go to your church are awful quiet folks!"
--"They all know the Gospel."
--"Oh I'm sure they do, they probably hear it week after week after week,and I'm sure the pastor encourages them to witness--but how much time, effort and money is spent organizing their witnessing?"
--"Like I said, we send missionaries to South America and so on..."
--"1840? England? that is when your church was founded?"
--"Let me ask you a question. What percentage of people, in England in 1840, were Christian?"
--"I don't know."
--"About 95% of the people in England in 1840 were "Christians". Your church was founded in a Christian nation. And maybe it sort of made sense, in 1840, that Christians didn't need to witness the Gospel. Sure, send missionaries to South America, India, Africa--but england was a nation of Christians--had been that way for over 1,000 years! All the other churches that had come before your church (including, ultimately the catholic church) were founded under this concept. The catholic church came about after some crazy Roman emperor had forced everyone in Roman to be "Christians". It all really makes sense (in a backward, dark-ages sort of way!) If everyone is a Christian--have a party once-a-week! Build a nice big comfortable expensive building to worship god in. give some popular self-help teaching. Play nice music. We can couch it in new testament terms by calling it the "Christian assembly" but it is not at all like the Biblical new testament Christian meeting. In the new testament, christians met in small groups on a daily basis, prayed and asked God to lead them--not in a preordained manner--so Christ could really truly be the Head (The new testament says many times that Christ is the Head of the church--He is supposed to be the only One who has authority over believers) they went out and witnessed the Gospel out tot he world around them. the Gospel was their first purpose and all their time and effort and resources went toward that purpose. "Ministry" was a functional plan for this assembly. different gifts in different people, working together to build the Body. So, your church does what it does, and doesn't do what the church in the Bible did, because someone in 1840, who lived in a different age--decided it would be this way. Did you know this?"
--"No, I had no idea."
--"I guess you don't study church history either--in your church-?"
--"Do you also realize the fruit of this--the results this format and system produces? Lot's of "invisible Christians". People who have been raised in this system. A system that only asks some small things from them--show up every week--dress nice--stand up and sit down when everyone else does--put some money in the basket (but most importantly-- BE QUIET!) The system tells all these gifted, talented, loving people that this is all hat God really expects of them--all they can ever really do for God. They are part of something that seems very big and impressive, but they are un-empowered themselves, in the Gospel. they have n experience in it, no organization. In the area of worship and teaching they are highly organized--but, the Gospel function-? Stay with tradition--sponsor a missionary to some far-away non-Christian nation.
Do we realize we don't live in a Christian nation any more?
You go to this church, can you change anything?"