L. We must restore life-style faith as opposed to assembly-oriented identity.
In the midst of the present decline of assemblies in Western societies there has often been futile efforts on the part of religionists to revive the assemblies of endangered churches. The focus on changing assembly identify has revealed a serious problem. The problem is that religion digresses to a “worship hour” assembly that is commenced with an “opening prayer.” The adherents are ushered through a series of ceremonies that are signed off after completion with a “closing prayer.” Religion is thus defined by the performance of both personalities and ceremonies that are boxed into an official assembly of the membership during the “hour of worship.” Contrary to life-style faith, the assemblies of the saints have become the highlight of the “Christian life.” The primary problem with this system of religion is that in the New Testament our faith is not defined by how we perform in an assembly. It is identified by how we focus our behavior on things that are above this world (See Cl 3).
Because the institutional religion of the day has identified itself by the rites and ceremonies of a performance-oriented assembly, there is a decline in “religion” (assemblies) in the American church. There is a decline because people have enough sense to understand that a faith that does not take them throughout seven days of victorious living during the week is not worth having. People thirst for a faith that is with them 24-7 throughout the week, not a faith that is active only during the “hour of worship” on Sunday morning.
Because of the assembly identity of religion today, there have been some frantic pseudo remedies introduced into the assemblies of many churches in order to stem the tide of the decline in the attendance at the religious theater. For example, some sort of entertainment has been brought in to excite the audience in order that everyone go away with some sense of emotional relief, or exhortation. Speakers have become “feel good” psychologists who can present messages that any good professional psychologist can present on a couch in an office.
One of the interesting complaints that we have witnessed is that in order for an assembly of religionists to be contemporary, women must have some public part in the theatrical performance. Regardless of what we might feel is the role of women in the large religious assemblies of the modern church, the placement of women in some role of notice in such assemblies seems to betray the fact that we have digressed into a norm of assembly behavior that was foreign to the New Testament disciples. For this reason, we are using a functional system of assembly today in order to read into the historical context of the early church some participation of women.
But we forget that in the first century, except on rare occasions, all the regular assemblies of the saints were conducted in the homes of the members. During these house assemblies nothing changed in the relationship between the husband and wife that was normal in the common day to day household behavior of both parties. The relationship between husbands and wives did not change whether there were visitors in one’s home on Sunday morning or evening. The husband remained the head, and the wife retained her submissive relationship with her husband (See Ep 5:22-33). This did not mean that the wife had to assume silence when a neighbor came over Sunday morning for worship.
Regardless of whether the neighbors came over to one’s home for praise and worship together as a household, the host husband and wife of the home carried on as usual. The role of the wife in her relationship with her husband remained the same in the home assembly on Sunday. But in the modern large assembly environment it seems that people are resorting to politics in religious institutional assemblies that were foreign to that which existed in the early church. It is necessary, therefore, that we take another look at those passages that deal with women in general in reference to the fellowship of the saints. It may be that we are missing something, or at least, using some passages out of their historical context.
M. We must restore the present gospel reign of King Jesus over all things.
When people feel that they are outside the realm of the reign of King Jesus when the assembly is terminated with a “closing prayer,” then there is little emphasis on maintaining a submissive spirit in every aspect of one’s efforts to live the gospel throughout the week. Add to this the present theological obsession that everyone is waiting for the rapture in order that King Jesus come and reign on this earth for one thousand years. During this supposed period of reign it is assumed that believers will have some carnal authority by which they can reign over others in the carnal kingdom reign on earth. If the supposed earthly kingdom is yet to come, then there is a twisted understanding of the present gospel reign of Jesus.
If we do not instill in others the present gospel reign of King Jesus over all that now exists, then there is little impetus to be submissive to a reigning King who has limited authority and power. We cannot put off the kingdom reign of Jesus to some time in the future. Though we do not see everything to be in subjection to Him at this time, we must not be fooled. He is still reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tm 6:15). If we think we can put off our submission until the one thousand years, then there is little urgency to live the submitted life today.
If unbelieving people are not willing to submit to the present reign of King Jesus, then there is no hope to bring them into the realm of His present gospel reign. Guaranteeing the submission of present unbelievers in a supposed kingdom to come is useless in giving hope to people who are now seeking in this life a hope that will take them beyond this world. If a church of religionists believe that they are preaching the gospel by approaching the unbeliever with a message that they do not have to submit to King Jesus in this present life, then they have lost the motivation to humble themselves in the sight of God. If people are taught that King Jesus only has limited power over all things at this time, then power has been extracted from His gospel reign. It is this power that motivates peace of mind in a trouble world. The present gospel reign of Jesus as head over all things, King of kings and Lord of lords brings peace of mind to those who live in a world of social turmoil. Therefore, the doors of those churches that are not preaching the present gospel reign of King Jesus need to close. These churches do not represent the King of kings. They do not have a message that brings peace of mind.
[End of series.]
I. We must restore our gospel identity with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the past, we have often identified ourselves, and our common fellowship, with a specific name. Some were very inventive with their names, glorifying either specific doctrines, special men in the history of their particular religious group, or a specific day of the week, or even a Jewish feast day. People today, however, turn away from unique names of identity.
As in the New Testament, there were no specific names given to the disciples of Christ, especially names in reference to assemblies. The early disciples identified with the risen Christ. As in the first century, many folks today simply want to be identified with Christ, and thus not form a lump of disciples in the worldwide leaven of the Bread of Life. They seek to be Christians only in a world of believers, without having been labelled with a particular name in order to be in membership with a unique religious group.
We must remember that unique names cause flight, whereas gospel draws people unto Christ alone. Christians must be Christ drawn, not name drawn. If the first Christians could be Christians only outside the identity of a unique group that meets at a specific location, then it is assumed that the same can exist today. Being tied to a particular institution of authority with a membership card is not in the thinking of those who simply want to be Christians only. Christians seek to be identified, through their obedience to the gospel, with Christ alone.
J. We must restore a positive mental attitude about preaching the gospel to the world.
In order to do this, we must not allow the knockers, knit pickers and no-no birds to run the organic function of the body. Among our leaders, it can never be “my way, or the highway.” When critics want to shoot the body full of negativity holes, we must ignore them and move on. Gospel is positive. And it is the nature of the good news to be told to others in a positive manner.
If we are not compelled to preach the gospel to the world, then we have not fully understood the nature of the gospel. If one is willing to let his “behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” then he must repent and seek to preach the gospel to the world (Ph 1:27). We must be gospel motivated to the extent that each one of us will, as Paul, do the following: “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15). Inherent in the gospel is a positive mental attitude, for it is good news. Those who are negative in their faith do not have the spirit of the gospel within them.
K. We must restore self-initiative among those who seek to live the gospel.
If one has to ask for permission to do that which he or she must do in daily gospel living—that is, serving others and preaching the gospel—then he or she is stuck in an institution that is run by those who seek to lord over the flock of God.
Jesus said that lords of authority would not exist among His gospel-driven people (See Mk 10:35-45). So if one finds himself asking for permission to serve others, then he can conclude that he is not among the gospel-driven people of God. He is stuck in a religious institution that is under the control of lords. Some of these are those religious institutions that are closing their doors because people no longer seek to be confined to the service of lords, but to their only Lord Jesus Christ. Just remember that if you must ask for permission from some religious head, then your only head in reference to faith is not the Lord Jesus. If you have to ask permission to preach the Lord Jesus, then you have one too many lords in your life (See Ep 4:4-6).
[Next in series: Jan. 23]
G. We must restore incarnational living as a witness of the gospel to the world.
When Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in our that was also in Christ Jesus,” he was not promoting a narcissistic system of religion (Ph 2:5). He was reminding the Philippians that the One whom they claimed to follow “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation” (Ph 2:6,7). Incarnational living after the mind of Christ is about giving up, not getting something for our own pleasure.
A narcissist thinks everything is about him. When narcissism is brought into the family of God, the assembly often becomes an opportunity to show one’s self to the public. The preacher seeks to perform, and subsequently, receive all the compliments in the foyer at the end of the assembly. Those who have sought to draw people to a band, seek to perform in the band in order to make a theatrical performance before an audience. The instrumentalists in the band are often so narcissistic that they will turn up the speakers of their instruments in order to drown out those who are singing. They seek to be seen for their much playing on their instruments, regardless of the performance of the singers. A narcissistic audience goes to the assembly to get something out of the assembly. Many assemblies today have turned into an opportunity for performers to make their performances, not an occasion for worship together. Unfortunately, in too many cases worship has turned into entertainment session for performers and the opportunity for the audience to be mesmerized by cheerleading speakers.
We must not forget that narcissism in a society moves one into focusing on his or her feelings. As the far left liberalism of a society extracts any restrictions of law, feelings become the norm by which something is judged appealing, or right. Those churches that focus on the feelings of the people are growing. But those churches that focus on the “law” of the traditions of their religious heritage are dying away. Likewise, those churches that consider the word of God to be the final norm by which any faith should be judged are also giving way to those who want their feelings and less Bible. The result is that churches become social clubs where people go to feel good about the bad situation in which they live. The assembly becomes a momentary opportunity to forget one’s woes in the midst of a theatrical concert.
We must remember that whenever a group of people focus on themselves, they are not focusing on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit said this in the following words: “If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Cl 3:1). This is the only cure for a narcissistic emotional disorder in church assemblies. The preacher who can lift the hearts of the people with the gospel into the throne room of King Jesus is right on track.
The problem with any traits of narcissism are against the mental attitude about which Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ” (Ph 2:5). When one’s mind is filled with self, then gospel cannot penetrate one’s heart. The mind of Christ is about humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God as the Son of God humbled Himself to come in our flesh in order to go to the cross (1 Pt 5:6). If our narcissistic religiosity is all that takes us to an assembly of saints, then we will be enabled to continue after the “closing prayer” with the same dysfunctional mind we had before the “opening prayer.” It is only the gospel mind of Christ that will deliver us from this fretful world in which we live. It is only the gospel that will give us the opportunity to count it with all joy when we must endure great trials (Js 1:2). Therefore, when the gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of attraction around the Lord’s Supper in our assembly, it is then that we walk away with a deeper sense of gratitude. It is then that we have discovered the cause and reason for our worship.
H. We must restore gospel definitions to our dictionary of biblical references.
For example, the word “preach” is used in the New Testament to refer to those who announce the good news to unbelievers. We preach the gospel to the lost, but we teach one another as the body of Christ. Believers have teachers before them, whereas unbelievers need preachers of the gospel to stand before them. “Discipleship” often infers that it is all about us, whereas being a disciple of Jesus means it is all about Him and others. A narcissistic generation likes the word “discipleship” because the word can be twisted to refer to our own needs. We seek classes on discipleship in order to better relate with one another. But this is not the focus in reference to being a disciple of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we must let the mind of Christ be in us. And the mind of Christ can be summed up in one statement that was made by Jesus: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10). Seeking the lost as a disciple (follower) of Christ means that we must be focused on others, especially the lost.
We too often use the word “fellowship” in reference to a food party. But New Testament fellowship is a reference to the common organic function of a body of believers who have all obeyed the gospel. We seek “relationships,” but this word that is not used in the New Testament should be defined with a gospel definition. Too often “relationships” are inwardly focused, but those living the gospel are outwardly focused on the lost. It is easy for social-club Christians to turn inward, forgetting that their responsibility as disciples of Jesus is to continue the commission of Jesus to go into all the world with the gospel (Mk 16:15,16).
[Next in series: Jan. 21]
E. We must restore the stable foundation of the gospel in our lives.
We must remember that when the Holy Spirit spoke in reference to the gospel, it was a message “in which you stand” (1 Co 15:1). “Stand” is a metaphor in this statement for something that brings emotional stability to one’s life. As one stands on a firm foundation, so the gospel is a mentally firm foundation upon which we emotionally stand.
Now we must not be confused in reference to the stabilizing psychology of the gospel. This is not a foundation of supposedly pure doctrinal correctness. It is a foundation of pure gospel. It is a foundation of faith in the gospel reign of the incarnate Son of God. It is a committed faith in King Jesus that He at this time has all things under control. It is a “mind of Christ” that we have brought into our psyche in order to stabilize all our emotional responses to the trials of life. It is an inner peace that allows us to do what James stated: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (Js 1:2; see Ph 2:5-7). It is thus a spirit of mind and heart that is totally focused on King Jesus, His gospel reign, and the good news that He is coming again to deliver us from this world. This is gospel psychology, not doctrinal purity. If one would seek to this grow in gospel psychology, then the gospel according to Hebrews is a good textbook to absorb.
We live in a world today that is filled with social instability. When we turn on our international news media of events around the world, there are people marching everywhere for some particular change that will bring social stability. As the far left political wave that engulfs society becomes more dominant, societies will become more unstable. It is the central identity of political liberalism to extract laws that have built stable societies. But when law is extracted, then instability in society results.
What is now being witnessed in the American political scene is an example of how political liberalism seeks to destroy the social norms of the past. Inherent in liberal political socialism is the destruction of that which brought a particular society to its present social stability. In order for liberal socialism to be implemented, however, the social structures that brought a particular society to its present stability must be destroyed. Unfortunately, the socialist has nothing to offer to sustain the moral stability of either the financial structures of a society, or the moral norms upon which people can stand with reassurance. We have found that socialists who march in the streets rarely think beyond the demands that are written on their placards.
When a society is in social chaos, it is the gospel of the unchanging King Jesus that brings stability to our lives. Though individual citizens may not be able to control the social and financial chaos around them, they can stand within the power of the gospel that brings peace within. Though the world may seem like it is coming apart, we must never forget that it is our King who upholds all things by the word of His power (Hb 1:3). Unless church leaders understand this inherent nature of the gospel reign of King Jesus, people will not be drawn to the cross that we preach. Preaching religion will never bring an inner peace of God that goes beyond human understanding (See Ph 4:7). But gospel will. Religion, especially culturally linked religion, usually adds to the problem of instability, rather than offering a safe haven for those who are in the midst of social chaos.
F. We must restore the gospel as the motivation for abundant living.
Gospel-driven people must offer hope to those who are struggling in the midst of social and political chaos. Gospel-driven people do not allow the environment in which they live to influence the emotional state of their lives. They realize that He who lives in them is far more powerful than he who is in this world (1 Jn 4:4).
If a church of members has moved away from understanding how the members must live according to the gospel, then it has no gospel power to offer to those who are living in social and political chaos. If the preachers do not know how to preach gospel living to the people, then they will often preach religion, which theme perpetuates division and instability. Some will even make an effort to preach “sound doctrine” in hopes of comforting the people with the hope that if they believe what is right doctrinally, they will be right emotionally. But at the time same, the hearts of the people are in turmoil because of the chaotic circumstances in which they find themselves. Their “abundant living” is based only in what they consider to be “sound doctrine.” Unfortunately, legalists rarely have the peace of mind that surpasses all understanding.
“Sound doctrine” will not calm an emotionally disturbed heart. One can be totally disturbed in heart while his head is filled with correct doctrine. But gospel is not according to doctrinal purity, though it is based on the truth of the incarnate Son of God and truth of His present gospel reign. A correct system of religiosity may supposedly be intellectually pure, but it is a particular problem in reference to religion in general, and legalistic religion in particular. One may be faithful to the faith of the fathers, but still this does not bring the peace that passes all understanding.
Religion is that form of faith that people are fleeing because it brings no inner peace of mind. Religionists do not understand that the gospel makes the body of believers a rescue center for the downheartened in the community. It does so because gospel deals with the heart, whereas religion and doctrine deal with the head. The “church of your choice” no longer appeals to those who feel that they are without any choices in a chaotic world of religion and politics. Therefore, it is only the gospel that will bring the abundant life to those who seek comfort and stability in a world that seems to have gone wrong, which it has because of sin.
[Next in series: Jan. 19]
C. Restore the universal appeal of the gospel of God’s grace.
The worldwide power that is inherent in the gospel is that it is universally applicable to all cultures of people. One of the identities of religion is that many religions are culturally linked in some way. Even within a particular culture, the religion of the existing body of believers is often linked to the traditions of a particular generation of people within the society. Inherent in the gospel, on the other hand, is that it is never culturally linked. If we link the gospel to a particular generation of people, then it is no longer gospel. It has been turned into a religion, or as Paul described such, “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9). When some Jews demanded obedience to the tradition of circumcision as a basis for salvation, they were preaching another gospel (At 15:1,2). If a religion is culturally linked, then it often fades away as the ways of the fathers passes away.
One of the characteristics of the Millennial Generation in the American religious scene is that this generation seeks to be unhinged from the traditions of the past. We would not say that this is something that is unique with the American culture in these times. In fact, in the general African tribal church, culture has historically identified each particular tribal group. To a great extent, this tribal identity has infiltrated many churches throughout the continent with local cultural norms. But a new and educated generation seeks to throw off the culture of the fathers, and in doing so, throw away the “cultural church.” The social media of today has accelerated this movement away from the ways of the past. Unfortunately, the past generation has linked their faith so tightly to the culture of the past, that the younger generation simply moves on from the existing identity of the local church. Any church that is culturally linked to the traditions of the fathers will not stand against those who can distinguish between traditions and Bible.
The beautiful nature of the gospel is that it is not culturally linked. Gospel links us to a “heavenly culture” where the Head is seated at the right hand of God. Unfortunately, those who are traditionally linked in their faith with the ways of the culture around them have not discovered this truth about the nature of the gospel. They may have discovered it, but when change is imminent, the reply is always, “that is not our culture.”
Those who struggle against the “change agents” have not discovered that the cultural traditions of the fathers should play a minor part in the implementation of the power of the gospel in the lives of every cultural group around the world. Therefore, if we would stem the tide of decline, then we must disengage the gospel from the traditions of the past in order to identify the purity of the simple gospel. We must be able to unlink gospel from culture. We have found that many who are against the “change agents,” have a difficult time in separating religious heritage and traditions from the pure gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
D. We must be willing to follow the incarnational gospel of the Son of God.
An illustration is in order here in reference to living the incarnational example of the Son of God. When Paul admonished, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus,” he was asking the Philippians to pause for a moment in order to consider the paradigm shift the Son of God made on our behalf. Formerly, and before the incarnation, the man Jesus was in the form of God. This meant that He was spirit (Jn 4:24). He was with God in spirit (Jn 1:1,2). But He gave up that form and environment and transitioned into the form of the flesh of man (Jn 1:14; Ph 2:6,7).
This was an incarnational transition out of the “culture” of heaven and into the culture of the Jews when He was born into the flesh in Bethlehem. When we speak of making all necessary cultural changes in order to accommodate our Savior who did the same for us, then we are living the incarnational mind of Christ. Those who are not willing to do this do not have the mind of Christ. They are not living the gospel incarnationally.
We must go further into this incarnational journey of the Son of God. We believe in the incarnation of God the Son into the flesh of man. There is no problem with this belief until we start allowing “this mind” to be in us in order that we live the example that He left us for us to follow. So Peter cautioned us with these words: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps” (1 Pt 2:21). We have found that Christians feel comfortable about applying the “suffering” of this statement only to the cross. The cross is indeed in the picture, but the suffering began long before the cross. It was the Son of God in spirit who was incarnate in the flesh of a person who could suffer from disease. He could suffer from a broken arm. He could suffer from cuts and bruises. As soon as Mary lifted the incarnate babe from the manger, that babe began living a life of suffering, which suffering was for us.
So we go into the suffering after the birth and before the cross. We would therefore ask, Into what skin did Jesus incarnate? Was the skin white, black, yellow, red, tan, or whatever we might witness in this present world? It was into this skin that the Son of God in spirit placed Himself. When the prophet said, “A body You have prepared for Me,” (Hb 10:5), then we wonder that the skin color of this incarnate body might be?
If one has been following the thoughts of this incarnational journey, then he or she should have by now concluded that there is no cause for racism based on skin color when living the incarnational example of Jesus. In fact, if there is any racism in the mind of a Christian, that “Christian” is not living the incarnational example of Jesus. Jesus was born a Jew, and certainly He suffered a great deal of racist remarks from the Gentile Romans. But He incarnationally lived without reacting to racist remarks or prejudice. He marched to the suffering of the cross for those who smeared Him with all sorts of racist remarks.
If we would live the incarnational gospel of the Son of God, therefore, we will love the skin we are in. We will be thankful for the hair under which we walk. We will neither portray racism nor prejudice toward others, neither will we allow the racism and prejudice of others to affect our gospel behavior. We live in a world of racism. If we react to any racism, then we will simply bounce from one racist comment to another. Ever hear of the statement, “The water simply runs off the back of a duck”?
Jesus was burn as a Jew into a Jewish culture. He was not a Gentile. Therefore, all His life He knew all the prejudice that the Gentile Romans had against Him as a Jew. But He still went to the cross for the Gentile Romans. The next time we belittle the culture of another people, or person, then we know that we still have problems in living the incarnational example of Jesus who suffered all things for all the cultures of the world. Any church, therefore, that is not willing to include all cultural groups, and any skin color that may come by, is not a church of the Christ who came into the skin and culture of men.
[Next in series: Jan. 17]
A. We must restore the power of the gospel.
The following studies in the gospel will turn the tidal wave of decline of faith in the society of America, as well as in all those societies throughout the world where we would seek to build the body of Christ. We say this because much of the religion that has led to the decline of the American church, has through missions, been propagated throughout the world. For this reason, some “mission churches” that adopted the religion that was propagated out of America in the last two centuries are now in the same decline, if not already dead. Therefore, the following emphasis is gospel oriented. The gospel must be restored if we are going to preserve faith in this present world:
If the confidence of our faith is in our religious heritage, then it is based on man, and not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those churches that are fading away in the society of America are those groups who have often placed more faith in the traditional heritage of their religion than in the gospel of Christ. We appreciate the faithfulness of those who have kept showing up on Sunday for the past decades. But there is a real need for a paradigm shift from the same-old-same-old to something that touches the hearts of the people in a modern world. Keep in mind that heritage focuses on the head, but gospel focuses on the heart. If our struggles to maintain the “church” are focused on persevering our religious heritage, then we have almost guaranteed the demise of our heritage as upcoming generations change. It is only the gospel that permeates time.
Today among people of faith, there is a desire to restore faith in Christ alone, apart from any baggage of the traditional religion of the fathers. We see this as a positive move. However, we must understand that in this rebellion of the past, the future must be guided by the word of God, wherein we discover the gospel of God’s grace. If our faith is not so directed, then in a few generations from now we will end up where we are now, that is, in a religion that bases its authority and the heritage of the fathers, we being the fathers who passed down to our grand children another heritage, not the gospel.
B. We must restore in our behavior the inherent nature of the gospel of grace and peace.
The gospel is good news for the souls of despondent people. Since it is good news, then it is something that must be broadcast throughout villages, towns, cities, of every nation of the world. If we believe that people will on their own come to us in the buildings wherein we have housed our religion, then we have deceived ourselves. Satan works in every way possible to keep people “out of the church house.” He uses every tool to dissuade people from considering faith in God as an answer to the problems of life.
There is too much beer and liquor sold in the world in which people can drown their problems. And now, there is too much opioid remedies prescribed to give some relief to life. We might add that there is also too much money to provide a pseudo-happiness to those who are afraid to be idle. There are too many people who live after the ways of the world and can offer a party of like-minded despondent people in the same situation. In other words, Satan has every distraction possible to dissuade people from showing up at some assembly of religious people.
Gospel is not religion. The gospel of the incarnation, sacrificial love offering (the cross), hope in giving a final resurrection, empowering ascension, and coronation of King Jesus is a way of life for those who have believed and obeyed the gospel. Once we take the message of the gospel to the discouraged, then the tidal wave of people moving away from faith will change. When we stop “going to church” as a symbol of their faithfulness and start being church in our communities, then the community will have a daily opportunity to come into contact with the power of the gospel. It is the gospel behavior of Christians to “love their neighbors as themselves.” Communities need the example of the gospel light (Mt 5:16). People need the preserving leaven of our gospel-driven leaven (Mt 13:33).
[Next in series: Jan. 15]
Unity that is based on a gospel moral:
The American society is probably more politically divided today than it has been at any time in history. We must remember, however, that it is politically divided because it is morally divided. Those who seek to retain some sort of faith in a morally and politically society expect a faith that produces unity among all believers and the establishment of moral norms that will produce such unity. For this reason, therefore, the old style of religious institutionalism that was inherently divisive no longer appeals to a generation of people who seek to enjoin on themselves some sense of unity in such a morally divided landscape. If the religious institutions to which one has contracted himself through membership does not sense this urge, or struggle on the part of the average citizen to find some moral stability, then we will eventually hear the door slam shut on religious groups in the years to come. But herein is the opportunity of those who preach the gospel that brings unity and a moral foundation for those of faith who cry for some sort of togetherness within a society that is being attacked by a new-liberalism that seeks to extract moral norms from society.
The present culture of America is focused on relationships. If religion cannot so focus individuals, then the people will move away from that which continues to keep them denominated from one another. This is not something in reference to the doctrines of each particular religious institution. When we speak of the Christian faith, the world is crying out for something that will bring a divided humanity together, not keep them separated from one another into fellowships of favorite doctrines. In this religious scenario, therefore, religious doctrines are often forsaken for the sake of unity. Nevertheless, we still see this as a tremendous opportunity to preach the gospel that brings people closer together. When gospel is preached, all those dividing religious rites and rituals that have a tendency to keep us apart from one another, are marginalized in our efforts to be drawn together on the foundation of a common moral foundation. In this case, rites, rituals and ceremonies that sustain religion are viewed as obstacles in our efforts to develop relationships that are based on common morals and goals.
However, we do not forget that the same scenario existed in Israel. As the populous forsook the one true and living God, the people did not become irreligious. On the contrary, they simply became religiously misguided in following after their many Baal (gods) that they had created after their own imagination. The word “Baal” in Hebrew is plural, not singular. The people simply became religious under whatever god (religion) they so chose. This is universalism in reference to faith. It was a universal Baal faith that was void of the word of God (See Hs 4:6). We see the same happening today as religious groups are more focused on relational unity that is based on any belief than the one gospel that must always be the foundation for unity.
This seems to be the reason behind the Holy Spirit inspiring the apostle Paul to inscribe the document of Romans. Paul was held up from traveling immediately to Rome. Therefore, he penned the letter of Romans to explain what he wanted to say personally to the disciples in Rome. He was aware that they were moving toward meritorious religion as the Galatians were turning from the gospel to another gospel (See Gl 1:6-9). In his first words of the letter, therefore, he explained his intentions for going to Rome, as well as what he would preach upon his arrival.
Paul said, “I often planned to come to you” (Rm 1:13). He then explained why he wanted to go to the disciples in Rome. He explained, “That I might have some fruit among you also” (Rm 1:13). This is fruit that would be produced by his preaching the gospel to the Christians in Rome. So he wrote, “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you [Christians] also who are at Rome” (Rm 1:15).
The gospel produces fruit in the lives of believers as it does in the lives of unbelievers. If we are to detour the apostasy of the church into being just another religion, then the church must be restored continually to the foundation of the gospel. This is not a reference to reminding ourselves about correct doctrinal points on a legal outline. It is about learning and living the gospel of the incarnational Son of God, His offering for our sins, His resurrection, ascension, coronation and present priesthood and reign as King of kings. These are motivational principles that keep us in the word of Christ. Studies in this gospel will produce fruit in our daily lives, as well as turn us from digressing back into religion.
[Next in series: Jan. 13]
Going the way of Israel
We must look beyond the present situation of Christian faith in the American West and took into the future. If a great number of the present fathers and mothers are not showing up at the doors of any religious group across America, then their children will take America into a secular society that is almost void of faith. This is presently happening in our country of residence in South Africa. Shopping malls that were shut down on Sunday morning in the country over thirty years ago, are now crowded with parents shopping with their children and enjoying all the entertainment that is provided to distract people from any faith. Fathers and mothers, with children, are taking the societies in which they live into a faithless future.
Nevertheless, some faith will survive. But the faith that will survive this great demise will be a religiosity that is carved out of a self-oriented society whose constituents seek their own strictures in reference to religion, and not the Scriptures. Therefore, it is time to study diligently our Old Testaments in reference to where Israel went, and the reason for which the Israelites were removed as God’s people from the promised land. The principle that they would be blessed if they stayed close to God in the land, but cursed if they left God, should be of concern to everyone as we move into the future.
In view of the loss of religiosity in the American culture, some traditional churches have sought to meet the challenge with what we might consider spiritually sterile placebos. Some have simply changed their names to a “no name” brand of religion, thus seeking to disguise old traditional churches with new branding. Therefore, gone are those traditional names that have denominated and identified different faiths according to the heritage of the forefathers. But we see the “no name” branding of religious groups to simply be a rehash of religion in different clothing.
The name change has not stopped the accelerating decline of churches in America. The central fact is that religion has failed the American culture, as it did in Israel of old. Church (religion) as we knew it failed to meet the needs of an emerging culture of people who were not tied to the traditions of the fathers, and thus the traditions of any specific religion. But aside from traditional religion, we still affirm that the gospel does not fail to meet the inner most needs of the human being in any society. Gospel will always be relevant in every culture of the world at any time in history.
“No name” branding can never cloak the power of the gospel. If churches are really interested in stopping the disappearance of “church” in the American culture, then there are some things that must change. The American culture is moving the average American citizen away from faith, and specifically, any religion that is ushered in to preserve faith. But this is never the case in reference to the gospel. In the past history of America, religious institutionalism always moved people away from one another. This is in contrast to the gospel that always moves people closer together. And in a culture of young people, gospel fits right in the midst of a culture that craves relationships. However, in order for the gospel to produce its unifying effect, the people must sluff off religion that divides us.
In this new generation, people have finally decided that religious division is completely out of step with the nature of the God of love, which love was often hypocritically preached by the proponents of denominated religions. Denominationalism in religion is entirely contrary to the relational encounters that people seek to have with one another in a new society of relationships.
[Next in series: Jan. 11]