Continued from Part 1
Today is my birthday and I woke up to find a nasty surprise on my blog, as someone who identifies themselves with an image of the devil left a comment on my previous post. I guess I must have hit a raw nerve, or hit the nail on the head to attract that kind of response, which can’t be a bad thing, if I am to truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
I just cannot put down Michael Spencer’s book “Mere Churchianity”. There is so much truth in it about the state of The Church today that it is impossible to dismiss it as the rantings of someone who speaks as a result of rejection or a rebellious spirit. That kind of justification for rejecting his message does not wash on this occasion, I am afraid. With every new paragraph he has written comes a new slap on the face about how far removed today’s Church is from the Jesus-centered faith that Christianity should be. And the thing is that no matter how much one may try to deny these things, they are out there. The Christian is meant to not judge and to forgive, yes, but we can’t hide behind that to avoid facing up to the music, or the racket, I should say, that The Church is producing today.
Let me share with you some of Michael’s statements which strike a chord with me and what my experience has been of The Church in the last 10 years or so.
“Christians say they are followers of Jesus, but are they more accurately occasional fans of Jesus? Maybe once a week? If someone wanted to know the way of Jesus and the practices of Jesus, would observing the life of an American Christian give them accurate information?” I would like to add to that, the life of an American or any other Christian, particularly in the Western world. Church-centered faith Christians would reply to this that we are not here to judge and that Christians are humans like everyone else and therefore make mistakes, both these things being true of course. But can the church continue to use those arguments as an excuse to carry on down the wrong path, fooling itself that it is representing Christ in the world and being the light in the dark? When is enough, enough? This is not about a bunch of individuals who are disillusioned with the flaws of human nature or man’s tendency to look after number one. This is about something much deeper than that. It is about raising up our voice about something that needs to be stopped before it is too late. It is not aimed to elevate the critic above that which is being criticised, but all about removing a cancer which if left, will surely destroy the whole.
“Religion is very different from spirituality, falling into a different category entirely. It claims to have something astonishing: God on call and spirituality in the warehouse. Religion claims to have plenty of spirituality available for anyone who comes in and plays by the rules. God, according to official church spokespersons, will shape your life if you will just join up and join in.”
This is so true and scary at the same time. I have heard pastors say from the pulpit: If you are here but are not serious about the vision of this church you might as well leave. We need every chair we have for those who mean business. It was said not in those words, but certainly with that intent. What in that sounds like Christ-likeness or His heart which would welcome all not to be used for man’s purposes, but all to do with serving those who come in their pain, in their sorrow, in their needs? When did Christians become so arrogant, so driven and so worldly that church is all about recruiting new servants to men’s purposes instead of finding a place where one can witness the spirit of God in action through the loving actions and servant heart of those who claim to be His?
“I’m going to suggest that many, perhaps most, of those who are leaving the church or are about to leave are doing so because walking away seems to be the only path to authentic spirituality. In other words, if the leavers still hold out any hope of really connecting with Jesus, they know it will have to happen somewhere other than at church.” I have been a Christian, or I should say I have attempted to be a Christian for years now. I became member of a church, attended all the right things, said all the right things, prayed all the right prayers, supported the vision, trusted the leaders, you name it, I did it, until one day it dawned on me: What am I doing? What is the purpose of me becoming part of this church? What do I add to the kingdom by being there? Am I here to serve in the name of Jesus or am I here as a Recruitment Consultant whose only aim in life is to put The Church above Christ himself by blindly obsessing with doing all we do with the aim to get more people on board, even when we know that the monster we are creating looks nothing like the exceptional, extraordinary Jesus we find in the Bible? Yes, the Church does very good things and the majority of people who are part of one are wonderful people who mean no harm, but just want to love, but the reality continues to be a bunch of people who claim to want to be like Jesus, but the Jesus they perceive, and not so much the Jesus of the Bible who spoke to prostitutes, lepers and tax collectors. Jesus said it clearly: It is easy to love our friends or those like us, but how about our enemies? And yet this is how Michael describes the spirituality we find in churches today:
“What kind of spirituality are many Christians finding on their plates when they go through the spiritual buffet line in the contemporary church? Evangelical Christians have church-growth spirituality.” Please do not tell me that the end justifies the means. When Jesus said we had to go and make disciples of all nations, he never spoke of local kingdoms which compete with each other to see which one has the larger membership or the state of the art premises and worship equipment? My goodness, if Jesus walked into some of these churches today, and I found myself in one of them, I think I would literally throw up with conviction and regret for not having spoken up sooner.
“We have a culture-war spirituality that produces Christians who might never share their faith, but are ready at a moment’s notice to debate politics, abortion, and civil unions for gay couples.” All of a sudden, their usual line of “Do not judge” goes out of the window and the lofty words “we are all sinners and so we must dispense grace as we have been given grace” are swallowed up by some mysterious phenomenom. “It is a spirituality that calls down fire on its enemies and shapes its followers into intolerant soldiers waging a morality crusade.” When did we become so righteous, so able to remain pure that we are no longer in need of grace ourselves? “Its kingdom is the eventual triumph of moral conservatism, and its spirituality is conflict and argument.”
“We have a spirituality of emphasizing the Christian family as the central community in the Christian life. But what did Jesus say about the priority of the family? What did he say would often be necessary to be his follower? ” Suddenly, the word of God is Holy, but some bits are holier and truer than others. Do you see the hypocrisy and manipulation that we Christians have made of the One we claim we worship and adore?
“We have a spirituality of worship experiences. We have a spirituality of prophecy and seeking revival. We have a spirituality that endorses the obsessive pursuit of doctrinal and theological precision. We have a spirituality of health, wealth and prosperity.” I know Christians who dedicate their whole existence to proving to others through logic and historical evidence that Jesus existed and that God is real. But what about the God, the Jesus that lives today? These people are so obsessed with proving these things, that little in their own personal lives gives evidence to the rest of the world of the Jesus who is alive today and whose love is manifest through the acts of kindness and self-sacrifice which were so true when he walked this earth and can still be found today, but sadly one normally encounters those outside the church walls, and not so much within.
“Do any of these approaches to spirituality match Jesus-shaped spirituality? Is the transforming, revolutionary spirituality of Jesus residing in a quest for a bigger church building, a more moral society, a greater emphasis on traditional families, or a more detailed doctrinal statement?”
He concludes this chapter by saying: “I am looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, loves like, and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple.”
To be continued in Part 3