John Paul Jackson is one of the few people I follow on Twitter. He does not tweet often but when he does, there is always a deep truth revealed and a statement which is well worth pondering on, unlike some of the stuff that many Christian leaders put out there, and the other day one of his tweets challenged me to the core. It read: “You are the only Bible most people will ever read”. It hit me hard, because I knew right there and then how true this really is. Even Christians themselves struggle to develop a discipline of regular bible reading and study, and so it is no surprise that if those who claim to base their life and who define themselves according to the principles of the Bible cannot be devoted and passionate enough about what they say they believe in, why would anyone else take the time to look into Christians’ claims and their primary source? And so, for each and every Christian there will be a certain number of people whose spiritual direction rests solely upon observing a life which should be lived consistently with the claims we are making and the faith we brag about. Yes, indeed, we carry a huge responsibility to our loved ones first and foremost, but also to any people who cross our path, who may be easily tossed and turned by trends, peer pressures, social tendencies, statistics and surveys.
It is this very thought, the simple but deep realisation hidden in this statement that keeps drawing me further and further from the deception and inconsistency that is at the very core of the institutional church. What do I hope people see when they look at my life lived as a Christian? What biblical principles would I wish my life to mirror? What core biblical message would I hope my life sums up as a vessel of God’s love in this world? What, if any, are the things non-believers can conclude from my actions, behaviour, words and attitudes, that give them evidence of the spirit of Jesus Christ living in me? It is difficult to give the answer to such questions without being biassed or lacking objectivity? And in the end, God will be the judge of all this, so it is only His standards that I need to meet, but what I can say with absolute certainty, objectivity and personal experience is what are the things in the life of a “so-called Christian person” which are far, far removed from anything we learn about God, Jesus Christ and His disciples in the Bible.
Yes it is true that the God of the Bible presents itself as a God full of grace and mercy, who will provide multiple opportunities for repentance before He passes judgement, but when Christians become judgemental against others within their own ranks because others do not put as many hours in helping organise and run the Sunday morning service, because others do not appear as spiritual as they feel they are or even far too spiritual at times, because others do not attend church as faithfully as they do, because others do not give as much money to the church as they do, because others do not support the pastor’s vision as much as they do, because others do not read the bible and pray as much as they do, because others do not prey over newcomers as much as they do, because others are not as hospitable as they are, because others are not prepared to compromise their principles and the pillars of their faith as much as they are in order to be all things to all people and in that way gain a few. When Christians who claim to rely for their existence solely on the grace of God, move so easily from a place of humility and gratitude to a place of pride and judgement, the picture others outside the faith get of us does not mirror or even resemble in the least our Lord Jesus Christ, or the tenets of the New Covenant. God is Holy, we are not, and so how can we possibly set ourselves ever as the standard which others should meet when they decide to begin to follow Christ? Can you see the irony of a sinner sitting in judgement of another sinner? Yes, it is kind of obvious, isn’t it? and yet we do it all the time. No wonder we have to tempt onlookers to come into our churches with worldly bait such as fun family days out, leisure activities, Drink and Food events, fancy conferences, trendy venues, contemporary music, etc. Some will go as far as offering World Cup Football matches coverage and litres of alcohol in church premises to reel in the “punters” who would otherwise never set foot anywhere remotely related or connected to a church. Mark 11, 15-17 springs to mind. football and alcohol, two of the biggest idols amongst the male population gathered together in the name of outreach and evangelism. I can’t quite see it myself, but hey who am I to comment? I have not been given authority from above, or have been chosen to lead others to Christ, have I? Hang on a minute! Isn’t that the call of every single one of Christ followers? With all this hype about Christian leadership, it is easy to have one’s judgement clouded and forget that you are not a Christian leader because men have identified you or labelled you as one. You are a Christian Leader only when God himself makes it absolutely clear that He is calling you for such a task. You would think that Christian leaders and elders are smart enough to know that just because some bite the bait of clever marketing, it does not mean they have actually caught any “fish”, and that those caught will soon flee as they realise it is not for their own benefit, for their own gain that they have been reeled in, but to become part of the machinery which seeks to catch yet more fish. Have you been caught up in that bubble? I have but thank God, mine has finally burst and I find myself once again outside of the church life cocoon which is so out of touch with the needs of others, because it is so driven by self-preservation. How ridiculous is that! Does God really need men to strive in one single pursuit to the point of overlooking the needs of men in order to keep The Church going? The question we really need to be asking ourselves is not is the Church dying?, which we already have the answer to in the Bible. What we really need to be questioning in this hour is: Are our churches the places where God dwells or have they become Ichabods (Ichabod which in the biblical sense means: the glory has departed and God no longer dwells in that place - 1 Samuel 4, 21)?
In the words of Michael Tummillo: “
Today, in this Age of Grace, the glory of God is manifest through the lives of those truly serving Him. Notice: through the LIVES – NOT the buildings. Our lives are intended to form the visible manifestation of God’s splendor, magnificence and radiance. Until we renew our minds to this truth, it ain’t happening’. When it does, through the ministry of a relative few, we see them as being “more holy” or “more spiritual” than the rest of us, as if they set the standard to which the rest of us can aspire. That’s unfortunate for, if we are to compare ourselves with anyone, that person should be Jesus. He alone is our standard.
The Scripture refers to us, the followers of Jesus, as “living sacrifices.” This is commonly referred to as an oxymoron (a la “Jumbo Shrimp”, “Found Missing”, “Microsoft Works”) for a sacrifice is dead and, therefore, cannot possibly be living. Notice, however, that the phrase is not “tithing sacrifices”, “preaching sacrifices” or any other kind of sacrifices. No, the term is LIVING sacrifices, denoting life, day to day, moment to moment sacrificial living. In other words, doing everything as unto the Lord God (1 Cor 10:31).
Do you get it? We, the Church – NOT the edifices, but the PEOPLE – are supposed to be the containers of the glory of God. Better yet, the DISPENSERS of the glory of God. Jesus called us “the light of the world” – NOT our buildings and certainly Not our manmade denominations. Too often, even Protestants have the attitude that God is in the church house. Friends, God doesn’t show up anywhere, including church services, until you get there. You bring Him WITH you! Too often, the gatherings taking place within these structures are replete with unscriptural ritualism demonstrated nowhere in Scripture, or they’ve become mere social clubs that rarely reveal lives that have been radically changed. The bodies in there, going through endless motions, and droning worship songs, too often offer lip service with hearts far from God. The glory has gone. The individuals, and the organization which they comprise, have become Ichabod.
If I am going to be the only bible that someone will ever read, I certainly hope they will not think as a result of the way I live my life, and the preferences I establish in it, that God’s priority was for His children to gather in a building without fail every Sunday, to commit their life to their church at the expense of neglecting their children and/or spouses, to busy themselves in ministry to the point of forsaking a personal relationship with the very God who should be at the center of that ministry; to be so caught up in the nature of another person’s sin that I forget about my own sinful nature; to be so caught up in another person’s transgressions that I fail to show them grace, mercy, compassion and forgiveness; to be so in love with the idea of a religion but so out of touch with the people whom religion seeks to reach out to, redeem and restore. If my life is going to be a window into the miracle-working, spirit filling, life altering, freedom providing, redemptive power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I sure don’t want others to get caught up in the bondage and prejudice of organised religion, but to be drawn in by a life which apart from God can do nothing, but with God is set on fire to bring love, hope and freedom to those around me.
If I am going to be the only vessel through which God will reach into another person’s life to draw them to Himself, I sure hope I will not compromise on the core truths set out in the Bible so that I can have an easier way into their hearts, so that I can claim that I had a vital part in their conversion, so that I can find an easy way in to then abandon them as they struggle when they realise Christianity is not the easy, joyful ride they had been promised and persuaded upon. It is true that Christians are the only Bible most people will ever read and that truth humbles me deeply; it humbles me enough to realise that little of what I have been doing in years past as a member of my church had anything to do with biblical truth, and so I am in the process of changing that before it is too late. It will not be easy because the pull of the enemy upon the church is such that anyone trying to change the way things are will be regarded as a trouble-maker, an outcast, someone who does not submit to authority. However, it is true what they say that it is only dead fish that swim with the stream. Christ is well alive within me and so that is what I would hope others see when they observe my life, and not a person who just goes with the current because I value men’s opinions more than the will of God for my life.