Friday, February 15, 2013

Truth should never be trendy

This is something I have been thinking a lot about recently. We are living in interesting times as far as the Church is concerned, particularly in America. There is no shortage of ideas of how Church should be conducted. Some people want a sermon and a latte. Some people want to be seen as relevant. Some want another welfare agency where they can collect food, have their children looked after, and get recommendations for lawyers. Some think Church ought to be a social club. And some want to be edgy to the point where they question everything the Church has traditionally upheld.

What I have to wonder though is if any of this reflects God's opinion on what the Church needs to be?

I can't speak for every church that is out there, I can't speak for every movement that is out there or has ever existed, and I certainly can't speak for Christians everywhere, but I can speak for the tradition I am part of. I am not however meaning the Free Methodist Church necessarily.

As far back as I can remember I have been a Wesleyan Holiness Christian, born into the Wesleyan Church, then becoming a Nazarene and remaining one until circumstances led me to become a minister in the Free Methodist Church. Each one of these denominations comes from a movement that called its adherents to focus on the timeless truth that we are Christians for the sole purpose of becoming like Christ, taking on the character of Christ, so that we become a true reflection of Christ. This has been worked out in doctrines such as holiness, entire sanctification, and perfection.

Great preachers such as John and Charles Wesley, William Wilberforce, Adam Clark, Frances Asbury, Phoebe Palmer, Benjamin Titus Roberts, Phineas Bresee, and many others connected the timeless truth of scripture, that the Gospel message is for everyone, everywhere, and that it brings with it a change of heart and removal of sin, not just the removal of the wages of sin, and they stood in stark contrast to the culture that surrounded them. They were focused on one thing, and one thing only, though the expression of that single mindedness might have taken on different forms.

Looking back through history, the Church has always been at its best when it remembers why it exists in the first place. The Church, when it was founded, took on the culture of Rome. It did not do as the Romans did, it did as the Holy Spirit directed, and the people saw that there was a real difference. Where Rome promised and failed to deliver, the Church delivered. People were healed, and wholeness was restored.

Despite great persecution of the Church and its leaders and its adherents, the Church grew, and it continued to grow. The Church was relevant not because they tried to emulate the culture, but because they proclaimed the Truth that stood in contrast to it.

Constantine, when he became emperor of Rome, decided that the Church should no longer be illegal, and compromise was begun. People saw the Church not as the bride of Christ, and they weren't interested in living or being like Christ. Instead the Church was seen as a vehicle to political power and prestige. People did not join the Church because they were convicted of the sin that separated them from God, and they were no longer interested in being like Christ. Temporal matters were far more important. Conversions came not from the preaching of the Word, but at the end of swords.

Yet the Church had not completely abandoned Christ. Small movements that called the Church back to holiness sprang up at various times and had some measure of success. Yet more often than not the Church looked like the world it was supposed to stand in contrast to.

Eventually Martin Luther, a German monk, discovered that works righteousness doesn't work, and that salvation comes through having faith. His eyes were opened to the Truth of scripture, and he saw the worldliness in the Church, and reacted against it. And there we had the Protestant Reformation.

More people, particularly John Calvin, managed to make this Reformation more than just a passing phase, and the beliefs were systematized. Yet in their reaction against the big Church of the day, the Roman Catholic Church, they too took on worldliness, they took up arms, and all too often instead of acting like Christ they acted like the Catholic Church they were fighting against, if not in form certainly in mentality.

Eventually, whether you were Catholic or Protestant, the Church still looked like the world. And the groups of Christians that stood in opposition to the world, that refused to fight, were hunted down by Catholics and Protestants. Sure, the Anabaptists might have had bad theology in some cases, but at least they were trying to get back to a more Christ-like Christianity.

And then came a group called the Moravians, who would go on to influence the Wesleys, and they in turn would influence numerous others. What made them stand out was that they connected holiness, or the character of Christ, to the preaching of the gospel message and social action. Through their influence the prison system in the British empire was overhauled and humanized. The slave trade was brought to an end. People who were turned out of churches were finding that through the power of the Holy Spirit they could be freed from sin and empowered to live a life pleasing to God. They hit upon a relevant message that stood in contrast to the world that surrounded them.

It seems to me, if history teaches us anything, that God's opinion is that the Church be the Bride of Christ. But now we have movements within the Church, seemingly within every denomination of the Church, that once again call us to compromise.

In seeking to be relevant because the culture began to push back (the enemy doesn't like to go down without a fight), the Church softened its stance. It stopped calling sin what it is. God, instead of calling us to be holy as He is holy, calls us simply to do nice things to each other. Oh, and that whole sin thing, well God loves you and He isn't really calling you to be free from sin. Instead, it's okay to embrace it. In fact, because we sin in word, thought, and deed every single day, might as well just live and let live.

Jesus, He's just another voice, such as Buddha, or Confucius, or Gandhi, or Aesop, or Albert Schweitzer. God can't get enough of sending us morality teachers.

But what about that whole atonement for sin thing? And dying on the cross for our sins? If God loves us all and doesn't want anyone to suffer, why go through that...if it really happened?

You see, when you begin to compromise anything is up for debate. Who cares that Christians have, for centuries, died for their belief that Jesus died for them and set them free from sin? It's a bit big to fit on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker, so let's just say that God loves you as you are, and doesn't want you to be made into His image...still have to make that a bit more concise. But we can work on that later.

And why should anyone have to die for what they believe in? Religion is just something that is made up, right? All religions flow into the same cesspool, we just need to find a way to get along with each other until we all end up there.

I know this a lengthy post, and God bless you if you have read it up to this point. Here is what I am getting at. In seeking to be relevant, in seeking to be cool, to be contemporary, to get with the times, to be a trending topic on Twitter and to be worthy of a 15 second sound bite using words devoid of real meaning that can be imposed with whatever truth you want to put into them, the Church has once again become like the world.

In caring more about not being offensive to the world, the Church has in fact offended the gospel message. Regurgitating the world's message is not being relevant. Why should people come to Church if it looks like everything else?

Christianity, particularly the Holiness tradition that I fully believe in, states that God's desire is for us to be free from sin, to be Christ like, and holy, and righteous. We can't do that if we are embracing sin in our lives. We can't do that if we believe we'll never be truly free from the curse of sin. It may not be a trendy message, but it's the one the world needs to hear. Sin is not a comfortable topic, but if I as a minister of the gospel am going to be faithful to the gospel I need to preach against it. 

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