How should someone who takes the Bible seriously view modern American 'Churchianity'?
The Church is an organism, not an organization.
I take Jesus Christ and His word very seriously, and certainly don’t think that sin is a trivial thing. Having said that, I think the visible, institutional church has by-and-large abandoned the faith in favor of cheap grace and demonstrably false representations of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In short, what we now have is a broad offering of 501(c)3 religious franchises, NOT the church of the New Testament.
I am not alone in reaching this conclusion. George Barna and his Barna Research Group continue to examine trends in the Christian culture and have discovered a huge exodus of committed Christians from the organized churches. Then aren’t talking about uncommitted people with problems who “try” church or “try” Christianity to see what they can get out of it. Rather, they are seeing people who are deeply committed to the Lord and to the true Church -- former pastors, ministers, Sunday School teachers, etc. -- who conclude the organized and visible churches are significantly less than what they claim to be. When they see church programs and church leadership that frustrates their desire to grow, they leave.
Now, I fully understand that your roots in the Church of Christ run deep and I don’t discount or disparage that at all. I assume your church affiliation and regular participation are helping you to become the woman God wants you to become. That is as it should be. My own personal conclusion is that there is no visible church that has a preeminent claim on Christianity. Every church I’ve seen, and I have seen a lot of them, is essentially a product of the culture. Christians who want something that transcends the culture are leaving the organizational church. This is also as it should be.
You are free to believe that your local church is an exception. It may be, and I sincerely hope that it is. Even if it isn’t, if it helps you to develop spiritual strength and Christlikeness in spite of its cultural compromises, then let Christ be glorified. But facts are facts and truth is truth, and the fact is that the overwhelming number of organizations that call themselves “churches” are far more focussed on the horizontal relationships between members than they are with the vertical relationship between men and God.
God gave us a moral law. As you may know, that law is codified in the ten commandments, with which all the Jews in Jesus’ day were very familiar. In Psalm 1, we see that the way to blessing is through meditating on God’s law day and night. The blessed and godly man (or woman) delights in the law of the Lord. I would challenge you to sit down with a pen and paper and write out the ten commandments. You don’t have to have them word for word, and you don’t have to have them in order. Charles Wysong has given this challenge in hundreds of churches, and he says he rarely finds people who can do it. So if you can’t, you’re not alone. Take this challenge to church and see what you find.
The purpose of this exercise is to point out the disconnect with what God clearly desires – that we meditate on His law – and what is happening in our churches and our lives. This is going somewhere, so stay with me.
You tried to make the case that Christians are required to go to church on Sunday, as many believe Hebrews 10:25 commands. As I explained, I think that interpretation is problematic, for a number of reasons.
The first is that the tradition of having church meetings on Sunday as a fulfillment of religious obligation did not start until at least the 3rd century. The Jews and the true Christians followed God’s moral law, and the observance of the seventh day as a Sabbath, or day of rest, is explicitly commanded, along with “thou shalt not commit adultery,” “thou shalt not steal” etc. Jesus declared Himself to be “Lord of the Sabbath” (see Matt. 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). Jesus never commanded or suggested that His disciples abandon the Sabbath observance, or any of the other precepts of the moral law. And He never authorized the substitution of the first day of the week for the seventh, or commanded the observance of the first day. That was a pagan practice that was brought into the church when Constantine decided to make Christianity the “official religion” of the Roman empire.
As far as we can tell from the New Testament, Christian fellowship was an ongoing, daily lifestyle, and meetings and fellowship were carried on in the same fashion regardless of the day. No church buildings, no Sunday School ….
…. and no 501(c)3 corporate structures, either. The true Church exists by reason of the shed blood and resurrected body of Christ. A religious corporation exists by reason of an action by the State. The creature being subject to its creator, a corporation is subject to the State. If your church is incorporated, you should find out why. They may think they are legally required to be incorporated, but they are not.
Until the Lord destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Christians, -- the “followers of the Way” -– were regarded and may have considered themselves as a sect of Judaism. In the Biblical record we see no persecution from the Romans, but only from the Jews. Paul attended the synagogue first when visiting an area, appealing to his “brethren according to the flesh” to complete their faith by acknowledging and submitting to the Man through whom God would judge the world. When on trial, Paul affirmed (most probably under oath) that he was a Pharisee. He never said, “now that I am a Christian, I have repudiated the law.” He certainly never even suggested that God’s moral law had been superceded. What he said was that the ceremonial laws that pointed to Christ had been fulfilled, and that the sting of the law; that is, death, need no longer be feared because the death due us for our sin had already been suffered by Christ.
He also said that the law is good when it is used lawfully. And what is this lawful use? Paul tells us in Galatians 3:24 that the law is our “schoolmaster” (some versions read ‘tutor’) to BRING US TO CHRIST.
I emphasize this because most churches don’t. They give a “gospel invitation” that talks about how guilty we are and how horrible our sins are generally, but they never bring the law to bear. As a result, our churches are full of ‘believers’ who think Christianity is all about 1) having a better life down here, and 2) going to heaven when we die, because 3) we ‘accepted Christ’ or said a prayer or submitted to baptism or did some other THING in order to require God to save us.
Look at the following list:
Worship service or Sunday morning worship service
You will recognize them as the terminology of our Christian experience. This is what we do. You should also note that none of these terms appears in the New Testament.
We assume from just two Biblical references to the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2) that 1) the Sabbath observance was moved from Saturday to Sunday, and 2) Christians were required (Hebrews 10:25) to gather for a “worship service.” It’s commonly asserted that we are following the New Testament precept of meeting on the first day because Christ was raised on the first day of the week, and because the Apostles were meeting together on the first day of the week when Christ appeared to them. From a logical and apologetic standpoint, this argument simply doesn’t cohere.
The church is not an organization. It is an organism; a living body. Among its primary purposes is to edify itself in love (Ephesians 4:16). To the extent that any church activity, program or agenda supports this, it should be encouraged. But when a church program tries to replace it by substituting church programs and church activities for authentic Christianity, it becomes counter-productive and true Christians will abandon it.
Has this happened? Has the institutional church replaced authentic Christian body-life with programs and Christianized ‘busy work’? I contend that that’s exactly what is happening. My proof is simply this: the visible church is impotent and irrelevant. We are witnessing the skid of American culture into the sewers of judgment, and the visible church is unwilling and unable to do anything about it. We ‘major on the minors’ by making a big deal about something like a cappella singing, while ignoring birth control, family planning, and abortion (three forms of murder, each a violation of the 6th commandment).
This is based on my observations of the visible, organizational churches I have seen. Obviously, I can’t comment specifically on your church. You have to do that. If your church is facilitating your growth in holiness, or at least not obstructing it -– if you are becoming the man or woman God wants you to become -- I can’t disparage that. But in the New Testament, faith was home-centered and family-centered. For myself, I have found the organized church to be a hindrance to the growth of my own faith. Wonderful and well-intentioned people for the most part, but much of what goes on is distracting or even counter-productive.
One final thought: you have been conditioned for years to believe as dogma certain things about the “Church of Christ,” - that is, its authority, its uniqueness and its authenticity. There is the “Church of Christ” and then there is everybody else. These arguments are based on equivocation, and those defending the “Church of Christ” as the only “true” church commonly use this logical error. As you may know, a search of the phrase “church of” in the Bible brings up the following 21 occurrances:
"church of God" - 8 times ("churches of God" 3 times)
(“churches of the Gentiles,” “churches of the saints,” “churches of Judaea,” “churches of Macedonia,” one time each; “churches of Galatia” twice)
These structures have two easily recognizable meanings. All the saved were members of the church of God, but only the saved in Thessalonica could also be members of the Church of the Thessalonians. Paul makes a distinction through usage: geographical with regards to local, functioning churches, and the broader identification of all disciples as members of the church of God as it is variously described. To equivocate between “church of Christ” as a simple identifier of the body of Christians, and “Church of Christ” as a league of local churches sharing a common body of beliefs and practices is disingenuous and misleading.
I also find it interesting that the “Church of Christ” makes a pretty big deal out of the fact that there is only one church of Christ, and yet the term only appears in the plural. Obviously, Christ has only one body, one bride – but there are many local assemblies.
I won’t quibble. My interest is in substance, and the local Americanized “church” has drifted far from its Biblical moorings. We have become every bit as odious to God as the Pharisees in Jesus’ time – striving to maintain an appearance of conformity to God’s word, while neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. The “organized” church is unwilling or unable to do anything about it, so it’s up to us, the rank-and-file disciples. Coming under the authority of any 501(c)3 organization, or lending credibility to it by participating, is counter-productive. So, like millions of other disciples who grieve over what’s happening in this country, I have resigned from the religious establishment.
Site of interest: Family Room Media.