I felt compelled to write this the other day after a conversation I had with a fellow minister as recounted to me a T.V program about religion in South Africa, and the face of the Church in the country. I am certain that the trends experienced here by the so called ‘main line’ churches are not that much different in places like America and certainly Europe- the show spoke of how people are disillusioned with so-called mainline churches and traditional denominations, how people are opting out of organized religion thus making ‘unaffiliated faith’ the fastest growing religion in the country.
A large part of this I understand- What people in South Africa call Christianity is, ironically, largely disconnected from Jesus as he appears in the four Gospels. Many godly pastors have been saying for years now that Christianity has evolved into a movement that Jesus would not recognize if he were to show up next Sunday. And it’s not just the rituals and assumptions and values that are off-base. The spirituality itself that comes out of contemporary Christianity is largely unrelated to Jesus. Thousands, and possibly millions, of people are walking away from any association with the religion known as traditional Christianity.
Apparently Christians of every stripe are becoming disillusioned with the model they have been given. But does this really mean that the model itself is deficient? Is Christianity as we have come to understand it, really a deviation from the biblical definition, such that Jesus Himself would fail to recognize it? In truth, I believe the answer is much simpler and has more to do with who we are and what we believe as ‘post-modern people’ (there is a loaded phrase), than it does with any perceived deficiency in the church or with organized Christianity.
Now, before I continue, let me reiterate, that many churches do not reflect a biblical Christianity, they do not present a Christian Jesus, they do not even use the Bible half the time, preferring social work, the Shack and Bono to Christ-centered, Bible-driven, gospel-saturated, evangelical, evangelistic Christianity (that’s a lot of adjectives)!
But, before everyone jumps on the non-conformist band-wagon, thought needs to be given to the whole issue. In my relatively short life-time I have seen the home church movement balloon out of a supposed desire to ‘get back to the bible’ (interestingly none of those groups I was exposed to ever got the 1 Timothy and Titus memo about elders, deacons, and those who especially labour in doctrine), whilst all the while branching off from some kind of highly opinionated mixture of total independence, laziness and hypocrisy. This causes me to be very weary that because some organized Christianity is far off, that doesn’t mean necessarily that all of it is, or that all who leave, leave for the right reasons (as much as they might say they do).
The fact of the matter is that people leave for all sorts of reasons. There are even some- like the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22)- who go away grieving because they are unwilling to forsake all for Christ. But one thing is certain; those who are forsaking being Christians or being members of Christ’s Church are doing so because they believe that something else holds greater authority. And without fail, that “something else” is where that individual’s true religious convictions reside.
If you are every in a conversation with someone ‘leaving the church’ or who refuses to go to a church, because they are too ‘Christian’, listen to how many “I’s” are in their story. One of the most crippling heresies among modern Christians is that Christianity is a “personal” faith. Now, there is a sense which this is true, but it has been so inflated by evangelistic programs and techniques, that it has become the driving force of modern religion. What do you feel? What do you want out of Church? What Church government makes sense to you? On and on the consumerist mentality goes. In the end, the person who is supposed to be the subject exercising faith, becomes, at least in their own mind, the object dictating the content of that faith.
We have become comfortable enough with separating Jesus from His Church to the extent that we can no longer recognize that His Kingdom is over all. We are more than happy to have the nice loving Jesus, the one that meets all of our expectations of social equality, yet we get a bit squeamish over the commanding and law-abiding Jesus, the one who demands that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). So if a church is a bit too involved in our lives, if pastors dare try shepherd the sheep, if my total independence, and foolish distaste for rebuke is ever slightly squelched, I can just go off and find another church, or maybe make my own, after all, ‘I am the master of my own destiny’. This is the problem; people don’t have the right Sovereign ruling in the first place. Their gospel is me-centered, instead of Him-centered… Its Man-centered, instead of God-centered.