Saturday, February 14, 2009

Watching the Church

These days, no one is safe. Everyone from the basest to the most prestigious are in danger of losing their means. We are all holding our breath while those in power in our Federal government try to wiggle and shake us free from the current economic upheaval.

But there is one entity I am not hearing too much about, nor am I hearing too much from. That is the Church.

By "Church", I mean the living body of believers in Jesus Christ as the messiah and as the means of securing salvation.

I am very interested in watching the church's reaction to these times. Partially, because it is a necessary prerequisite to the so-called "revival" the church has pretentiously been asking for the last fifteen years. And also because the church is partly responsible for the situation.

Let me explain both points.

I will begin with revival. Ever since I have been calling myself a Christian in earnest, I have heard the word "revival" thrown around in the church as a byword. I imagine if any pastor was asked what was meant by "revival", they would say, "A turning of the hearts of the people back to God." Personally, I am convinced what is really meant by this isn't a real turning of our hearts back to God, but simply raising up yet another generation of churchy-wurchies, whose religious convictions are, as I once heard it so amply put, a mile-wide and a inch deep.

Why wouldn't churches want revival? It guarantees their success. Salaried pastors are guaranteed job security when churches are full. Indeed, I think what is meant by revival today is a return, not to God, but to a special form of prosperity. It is a return to a lifestyle where certain moral standards, even Christian morals, are implemented. Where college-educated suburban families buy their Bibles, and tote them back and forth to church in their four-door sedans, listen to a sermon, give intellectual assent to what has been said, and go back to "business as normal" on Monday morning.

I think revival is something much different. And it needs to occur within the church as much, if not more, than outside it. When real revival happens, churches will not fill up. Indeed they will empty. When Christ brings about a revival, it starts by pruning the already existing tree of resource draining, but non-bearing, limbs. This current economic crisis could be a precursor to such an event. Revival erupts, not from prosperity, but from persecution. And right now, the conservative principles upheld by evangelicals and Catholics alike are under scrutiny.

If the church reacts the proper way, then it will tell its people they aren't above suffering. It will tell its people that things may not be okay, and that there may be casualties. An honest and sincere pastor will tell his congregation that there are hard times coming, and that it is a terrific opportunity to seek God, not in the lackadaisical manner we've all grown so accustomed to, but to become proactive in seeking Him. Like an old maxim I heard once, faith isn't faith until it is all you have.

But I imagine that the Church won't react properly. It will claim that they don't have to suffer with the rest of the world. Twisting Scriptures, pastors will say that this affliction has come upon unbelievers, and that Christians are exempt from this type of suffering. Churches will continue to build larger sanctuaries, design elaborate stages, and offer even sillier amenities, to go along with their aerobics classes and social dinners, to draw people in, while the nation around them crumbles and looks in vain for the church to help them in some objective way. They will preach nice principles, like unity and love, but dilute any real theology to the point that simply taking your seat on Sunday morning constitutes real Christianity. So while the rest of the United States faces home foreclosures and standing in soup lines, I imagine the middle class, suburbanite Christians will keep buying bigger and better televisions and computers, have the best cell phones, keep driving their "mobile living room" SUV's, making sure their wardrobes are up to date, and keep on ordering the filet Mignon at their local steakhouses. Business as usual.

In China, the church, the real church, meets secretly at night. They hold their baptismal services in cover of darkness so its oppressive government doesn't find them. Yet, their church is experiencing sincere revival. They are growing to know Jesus in a way that American Christians cannot even imagine. They are paying the price, and they are experiencing revival. They aren't thinking about love and unity. They aren't thinking about themselves at all. They have their minds on Jesus Christ.

So, in short, a full church is not indicative of revival. A church with members who have completely forgotten about themselves and with a mind only for Jesus Christ, is.

Now, regarding why the Church is partly responsible for the economic mess we are in. In the past, the welfare of the people was overseen by the Church. It was a potent ministry that seen to the hungry and needy around them. Today, the Church has foolishly allowed the government to usurp that and take over that commission. As of today, the government is pouring over a supposed "stimulus" package, which will, if passed, slip in all kinds of legislation that will pave the way for Socialism. Once again, the Church sits idly by while they allow a central government rob them of their opportunities to serve God. If someone needs an operation, it isn't for the government to play Robin Hood, and rob, via taxation, from those who have money, and give it to those who have not so they can get their operation. It is for the church to ensure that people receive proper medical care. Caring for the sick and afflicted is supposed to be a church function, not a government function.

Healthcare is only one facet. There are many more. The Church is clamping off a conduit of blessing by delegating these opportunities to the government. I have heard the argument that when the problem got too big for the Church is when the government took it over. But does that sound right? A divine institution, who claims to draw its power from the Almighty God Himself, had to delegate its responsibilities to a man made government, when they became too burdensome?

I am watching the church's reaction. Will it continue to teach what superficial Christians demand it teach, a God who doesn't demand anything, but who is expected to meet their needs in spite of their neighbor's destitution? Will it continue to sit back and allow the government to rob it of all its means of winning the heart of Jesus? Or will it continue as the Ichabod Church, with its daily sacrifice, the priests in their garb, going through all the motions, but no ark... and no shekinah.

The Church is, truly, an Ichabod church. All the functions continue normally, but there's no ark in the Holy Place.

Worship, but no glory.

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