Thanks to being introduced to the world of blogging, I have heard the voices of many professing believers who have chosen to disassociate themselves from worshipping within the walls of local churches. They claim to want the relationship with Jesus minus the traditions and cultural preferences that play so great a role in many congregations.
If we’re honest, those of us who choose the communal form of worship through a local assembly must admit that traditions, cultural preferences, and even personal opinions have a tendency of causing division. Can I be straight-forward without enticing your wrath before you hear me out? If so, then I will blatantly confess that these things mentioned above are bad. Not in and of themselves, but when we try to implement them as “Holy Writ.”
If we think traditions can’t be bad, we are possibly presenting ourselves as modern-day Pharisees… and we really should consider where that went with Jesus. We should consider how that played out in light of a Messiah known for His compassion… the Savior who loved, who never considered turning His nose up at the most deplorable of sinners. Jesus, Lord and King of all.
The same Jesus who got very angry.
Oh yes, He got, and gets angry. Let tradition stand in the way of His love, and He gets angry (Matthew 23). Let materialism get in the way of God-honoring worship and He rampages an auditorium with a bull-whip, slinging tables and chairs (Matthew 21:12). Try to stop the children and the less fortunate from coming to Him… Well, you know (verse after verse after verse).
And you know what; I’m guilty. Think you’re not guilty also? Think again. Go ahead, make your checklist of how you define Christianity (be honest, don’t try to fool yourself with sounds-right answers). You know, those things that make you sneer, like the shirt that lady is wearing, or the vocabulary that man uses. Now find biblical support for your list of standards. Know why you can’t find many of them? Because we compile our lists with cultural traditions bred into us from generations past or whatever may be the social pet-peeve of the day.
Put it in perspective.
The same professing believer who frowns with dismay at the man walking from a Sunday service with a cigarette glued to his lip, will gorge himself in a restaurant after church with enough food to feed two-dozen starving children and never think anything of it. To make matters worse, he’ll constantly complain about the waitress, and angrily leave her twenty cents for a tip (guess he fixed her).
And what about that disgustingly dressed, foul-smelling man at the minute market who simply asks for some change? This same man will think, “get a job,” and intentionally ignore the one in need’s approach (after all, he’s late for work), and then make a path to the coffee counter and doughnut stand.
But enough of my ranting, you get the point. We swallow camels and gag on gnats. Our own actions rarely seem sinful… it’s those others who have the problem.
So what are these disgruntled believers doing for fellowship (to remain obedient to that famous verse from Hebrews, 10:25)? You know, those who can’t stand the scrutiny of “attire,” or “who you fellowship with,” and are turned away by statements like, “that’s not acceptable in our congregation.” Truthfully, they are beginning to look a lot like believers in the first century. Some are meeting in their homes. Some are gathering in fellowships of online communities. Some have simply resigned themselves to a blog, hoping to find acceptance in their words of worship and praise to their Lord.
Let me be clear, I support the establishment of the local church, and all its biblically organized functions. I believe, in its purest state, it is God honoring and profitable for His kingdom. I believe I am a member of a very Gospel-oriented assembly, where the love of our Savior is demonstrated consistently. But obviously, everyone can’t travel to Lighthouse Baptist Church in Bryceville, Florida. And even more obvious is the fact that assemblies like Lighthouse are becoming more and more difficult to find.
What went wrong? How did the local church become the place that so many believers are antagonistic of?
I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you of my failure.
I am afraid I have failed the litmus test described at Two Minutes of Grace. There, Debbie asks the question, “Are people drawn to me when they’re bruised and weary or do they know better than to knock on my door? What do I offer: a sanctuary or a sermon?”
Take a brief moment and consider who Jesus was ever at odds with (yeah, the religious). Now think about who He was always ministering to with love, patience, and compassion (sinners, of whom I am chief). It is just as Carley writes in her post at Grace Partakers, His Heart Goes Out To Them.”
It should be repulsive to the body and bride of Christ that anyone feel more welcome at a bar or Wal-Mart than inside the walls of a building that labels itself Jesus’ Church. And it should cause us to examine ourselves when our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are choosing to find fellowship through a computer screen, because they feel unwanted by the local church.
We must somehow get beyond the barriers of traditionalism, materialism, racism, and any other ‘ism, and embrace the grace of the cross. The cross that provides a sanctuary for sinners. The cross where our Lord paid our debt in full.