People outside the church very quickly identify the things churches do wrong, but I have some unique experience as a church insider both growing up in the church and then working in them for the last 25 years, that reveal some things we do wrong in church.
To identify what churches do wrong, all we have to do is look at what causes churches to split. Did you know that there are currently over 38,000 different Christian denominations! History reveals to us that new denominations are formed as a result of conflict and confrontation which leads to division and separation.
Central points of doctrine that have united believers for centuries are not usually the problem. Most divisions take place over differences of opinion by godly, albeit flawed, people seeking to honor God. In other words, their intentions are usually good, not evil. But, you know what road is paved with good intentions.... Most quarrels in churches are about the little things done in the church that people don't like. This happens frequently when a new person introduces an idea that upsets "the way it is supposed to be, or has always been". Our consciences and our interpretation of the Bible often support the way we have come to see it, even if it doesn't. In other words we use verses in support of our idea, rather than allowing the verses to speak freshly to the situation.
As a result, people disagree about how to do things in church that have no doctrinal significance at all, and assign them great importance. All churches struggle with these issues and are at the center of a lot of their conflicts. What kind of things am I talking about? The sacred pulpit, stained glass windows, the display of the cross, the moving of the communion table, type of baptism, style of music, how we observe holidays, the use of drama, projecting the scriptures, the use of certain instruments, Bible translation preference, the display of memorials…etc. The list goes on and on. Do’s and don’ts are also extended to proper behavior inside and outside of the church, like clothing style, dancing or kinds of entertainment. Over time we make some of these practices and items sacred.
In our minds we make sacred, things that we like, rather than being led by God's word on the matter. We are very quick to identify errors that "other" churches make, while falling into a very similar, but unidentified trap of our own. We think our style of worship, our liturgy, our moral choices are “the right way.” Have you ever noticed the lack of emphasis given in God’s word to the church about: furniture (pulpit, Communion Table), modes of communion, order of worship, approved instruments, length or number of services, the repetition of creeds (that were yet to be written), which translation is superior, musical styles, who is approved to serve communion, proper clothing for worship, kinds of prayer, the correct number and kind of songs, approved liturgy…etc?
I have been told that my sermons are better when I dress “like a preacher” (meaning suit and tie). I have been told that a “Man of God” should be clean shaven”! I look at the wall of past preachers on our church wall and find that many of them wore beards. Were they all bad preachers? If they were clean shaven, would more people have been saved? Imagine how much more powerful Jesus' teaching would have been if he only shaved!
We often do not realize how selective we are in the scriptures we emphasize. As a theologically conservative church, we have a tendency to have many dialogues about certain sins. Sins that are visible and public are fair game, because they are “out there”. Part of this is due to the fear of the spread of liberalism and the moral decline of our nation, but we often fail to apply the scriptures to the issues that often divide us within the church. With our devotion to the inspiration of the word, you would think that we would be just as quick to dispel the errors that are so prevalent within the church. It is not the case. What scriptures do people use to defend their prefered music style, placement of church furniture, the proper way to serve communion?
Answer...None. Because the scriptures only give us general principles to follow, not rules. More specifically, people don't go to the scriptures on these issues, because the scriptures do not side with them! Hymns vs. praise music. Robes vs. Robless. Contemporary vs. Traditional. King James vs. NIV. Dressed up vs. Casual. If we boil it down to the most simplistic answer possible, we are often self centered instead of Christ Centered when it comes to worship and how we do things in the church. We can get very upset about things we have assigned great importance that God hasn’t. We don’t realize that when we focus on these things instead of Christ, we have the potential to offend God and divide the church. To further this point, I am going to apply scripture to a few of the prominent conflicts occurring in our churches today.
When we apply scripture to our preferences, we will learn something about God and ourselves. For example- Something I hear often is the familiar criticism of contemporary Praise and Worship for it's repitition, and shalownes: “Praise hymns are 7/11 songs, seven verses, eleven times”. The implication is that they are too repetitive and lack spiritual depth. However, Psalm 136 repeats itself 26 times! So is that Psalm inferior to Psalm 118 that has more subject matter and only repeats the chorus 4 times? Isaiah 6:3 and Revelatoin 4:8 give accounts of the singing in the throne room in heaven. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, is repeated day and night without ceasing. So apparently God doesn’t mind repetition. Is it possible that repetition of Gods word might be beneficial to us as well?
Let's look at the other side of the debate. There are those that don’t like old songs, because of pace or antiquated words. Their boring, and have no energy. Have you ever considered what the scriptures say about old and new songs? We are given a list of songs in the Bible: Psalms- songs for the people of God. Pretty old songs if you ask me. Yet, in the Psalms, themselves, we are instructed to sing new ones as well! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy Psalm 33:3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. Psalm 40:3 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth Psalm 96:1. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him Psalm 98:1 These are just a few examples of the many times we are told to sing new songs to God. Is it a surprise to us that God would be honored if we were to write and sing songs about him ourselves, rather than only repeating someone else’s? Apparently, God values old and new songs, and desires us to sing both kinds.
What Biblical instruction do we have on the architectural layout of a church or its furniture? NONE! We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are living stones that build up the church (1 Peter 2). We may defile the temple of God when we become gluttonous at church potlucks and never realize it, but move a piece of furniture like a pulpit, or communion table and people get all upset. Did Jesus teach from behind a pulpit? No. Yet some denominations will not let anyone step into one, without being an ordained minister. It is as if a lectern has become some kind of holy ground.
Are there instruments you prefer in worship services? Of course you do. All of us have our own taste when it comes to music. So what does the Bible say about instruments? “David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals (1 Chronicles 15:16)”. “The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud. Stringed- percussion, brass, wind... (2 Chronicles 5:13).” So what guidance do the scriptures give about instruments? As long as they are played for God and not for us, they are acceptable. Worship is not supposed to please us; it is supposed to please the Lord. Do you think that God favors European, African, or Asian instruments? Why would God favor one instrument over another, when he measures worship by a person’s heart according to John 4:23-24?
What about Drama? You might say “There is no drama in the Bible!” I grant you that there is no English word drama in the Bible. There is no English word Trinity either, yet the Bible tells us of a triune God that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So what is drama? In our modern church context, it is a play (a dramatization) of something in real life, to help us to recognize something in our own reality that we might otherwise overlook. Have you ever read Hosea or Ezekiel? Moses’ whole life was a drama, as was Joseph’s. Let us not forget Jonah and Noah. Their whole lives pointed to the reality that we must repent and need a Savior. Paul said “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” ( 1 Corinthians 9:22). If we can use an art form to help communicate the Gospel, why on earth wouldn’t we do it?
We all have different preferences and thoughts about how to do things within the body, because of our own uniqueness. But, when we share our concerns with humility and temperance, not anger, pride or divisiveness, we can have unity and harmony with diversity. The church is much more attractive to people who are checking it out, maybe for the first time, when the people who are in the church get along! What a novel idea..."They will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." JESUS
We often offend the church of Christ with petty, selfish things that hinder the work of making disciples and sharing the good news. It’s like throwing mud on a beautiful young woman’s bridal gown. The church, after all, is the bride of Christ. So who we really offend with this muck is Christ himself, the head of the church.
Just in case you are wondering...I am not targeting a specific church or denomination, because all church goers are guilty of this kind of thinking at one time or another. We all need to understand this, because we all tend to be selfish. When we apply the scriptures, we will be corrected and oriented back toward the Savior we love. We will gain an appreciation for others who have different preferences and love them too. It is unfortunate that many in the world have identified Christians; by their propensity to disagree with each other. It’s my prayer that they will know we are Christians by our love. I think Jesus would like that.
Wayne's Worldview is a place to share my unique perspective of the world as formed from my interpretation of the scriptures and my experience as a Christian. As a pastor, I am asked a lot of questions about current issues, life dilemmas, personal problems, politics, biblical interpretation...etc.I offer these "How I see it" thoughts in effort to challenge people to think about their worldview, and to stimulate good conversations that will help us become more whole.
Welcome to the conversation.
Welcome to the conversation.