In response to an atheist's charge of hypocrisy in the Church, someone once replied, “A Church that admitted only Saints would be like a hospital that admitted only healthy people. It would be a lot easier to run but I’m not sure that it would be serving the purpose for which it was built.”
Even if it’s unrealistic to expect a Church with only Saints, what IS the purpose of the Church? In my mind the job of the Church is to take the spiritually lost, whom God has called, and lead them from salvation to spiritual transformation, i.e., we’re to teach people how to become disciples of Jesus. Sadly, even with that awesome goal in mind, we are doomed to fail - to varying degrees. And why will we fail? Well, we’re fallen creatures, and that fallen nature causes us to mistake the less important issues for the most important.
Leith Anderson -
“While the new Testament speaks often about Churches, it is surprisingly silent about many matters that we associate with Church structure and life. There is no mention of architecture, pulpits, lengths of typical sermons - or sermons at all for that matter. There are no rules for having a Sunday school. Little is said about the style of music, order of worship, or times of Church gatherings. There were no Bibles as we know them, nor denominations, no Church camps, Pastor’s conferences, or board meeting minutes. Those who strive to be New Testament Churches must seek to live its principles and absolutes, not reproduce the details. Those details are simply not given.” (Emphasis mine)
And why aren’t those details given? Obviously because they are not the most important things to know about the life and functioning of the Church as it “makes disciples of all nations.” In fact, when those things become the most important things in the minds of congregants we begin to turn on each other. And we begin to turn on each other because the most important aspect of why the Church exists is being left out of our own lives. When what we wear and how we sing take centre stage in importance, we and those around us are not and indeed cannot be transformed into the kind of people who are able to recognise and focus on being conformed into the likeness of Christ as the only reason that God called us to salvation in the first place (see Romans 8:28,29).
When spiritual transformation (growing into Christlikeness) is left on the shelf, we fall into the trap of thinking - no - we fall into the trap of BELIEVING that what we wear (Pastor included), or what type of songs we sing, or how we pray are the important things, when in fact they are secondary at best. I assure you, if I can’t worship because the style of music is not my favourite, the problem is not on the platform; the problem is in my poorly adjusted soul.
Jesus told Mary that “Only one thing is important” and that is getting to know (become like) Him.
Of course when we’ve come to treat external appearance as more important than internal transformation, we succumb to the temptation to crush those who worship in what we think is the wrong “fashion.” Believing secondary issues to be essential issues is what creates mean and angry Christians and it’s what causes us to fail in our primary mission - that of spiritual transformation.
Fundamentalist Churches try to overcome this problem by focussing on getting people out of hell and into heaven. The more the merrier. The problem is, when failing to make people disciples of Jesus, we act as though people can get into heaven without the character of Jesus even being part of who they are. This is no small error.
Jesus will say, “Get away from Me. I never knew you.”
“We have our standards!” That was said to me a few short weeks ago as I worked with a member of our Church. This fellow was incensed regarding a young man in the worship team who wore sandals with no socks, a shirt with no collar and he played the guitar “like something you’d find in a club downtown.” This fine upstanding Christian (that’s sarcasm) is always dressed right and sings only the right kind of songs. His kids are afraid of him and his wife wants to leave him. While making sure that he gets it right on the non essentials, he fails completely on exhibiting Christlikeness. He might believe he’s ready to go to heaven when he dies, but he has no clue about how Jesus wants him to live while he’s here on earth.
“I don’t want your offerings. I want mercy.”
Any congregation where spiritual transformation has become a secondary issue will find a love grown cold among its members. There will be generations of family bitterness and jealousy. Resentment over something the Pastor said or did years ago will infect the whole nature of the person. And this misalignment of the soul will spill over to the whole congregation as satan gains a giant foothold from unacknowledged anger. These Christians, dressed so they’re ready to meet their King and who sing beautiful harmony (actually these people usually don’t sing; they stand with their hands stuffed into their pockets or with arms crossed their chest, fuming about those who might not be “worshipping” correctly), have no idea how to "love others as I have loved you.”
Yes, Churches ARE spiritual hospitals for the spiritually sick (that means all of us). But how in the world can people decide to follow Christ if they’ve never seen Him in the lives of those who claim to follow Him?