Why is today’s church so far from what God expects of it?
Let me say straight up that there are plenty of great churches around, plenty of great pastors and ministers, and plenty of great Christians. But our job as believers is to keep striving to become even more like Christ, more biblical, more holy, and more obedient. As such, we must keep encouraging each other and keep spurring each other on.
And let me also say at the outset that being a pastor or a youth leader or involved in any number of other ministries in the church is among the hardest, most difficult, and often most thankless jobs you can be involved in. All the more reason to pray even more for our church leaders.
So to write articles about how the church is not always all that it should be is NOT just being negative or being an armchair critic. This is about being a Barnabas to one another. We ALL need to be encouraged, pushed and prodded along to become all that God wants us to be.
After all, when Jesus said that we are to be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), that means we all have a long way to go and none of us have fully attained what God wants from us. So to set the bar high and to help each other to seek to be all that God expects of us is not amiss, but the duty of each believer.
So here I am doing my part in this. Yes I know, in many ways I may be the last person to write about such things. I know I fail so often and I let down my Lord so often. Yet God is gracious, and when I feel something has been laid on my heart to share, then I best do that.
And my morning Bible reading has resulted in that very thing. I just finished the book of Exodus. The closing chapters are all about the building of the tabernacle for the Israelites who were recently delivered from Egypt, but who would spend some 40 years wandering in the wilderness before finally making it to the promised land, where a more permanent temple would eventually be constructed.
The last third of the book’s 40 chapters is all about the construction of the tabernacle and instructions on worship (with the story of the golden calf appearing in the middle of these chapters). There is plenty of fine detail about how worship in general and the building of the tabernacle in particular should be carried out.
So many chapters devoted to these matters tells us how important God thinks such things are. Let me mention just one point about these chapters before looking at some verses that really stood out to me. When we read these chapters we see how concerned God was about good craftsmanship and artistic endeavours. Some believers might think these matters are unimportant, but God did not feel this way. Consider just two passages on this:
Exodus 31:1-11 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”
Exodus 35:30-35 Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.
When God seeks only those who are filled with the Spirit of God to do such work, then you know this is no small activity. God considers it to be very important indeed. See a bit more on the place of art for the Christian here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/art-and-the-christian/
But the verses that really stood out for me just moments ago were these. In Exodus 40:16 we find these words: “Moses did everything just as the Lord commanded him.” And in Exodus 40:33-35 we read: “So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
Doing exactly what God had commanded Moses to do concerning the building of the tabernacle was paramount. And the result was plain for all to see: the glory of the Lord filled the place – so much so that even Moses could not enter into it.
When I read those words my mind immediately sprang to the church today (thus the words of my title). Is there really any comparison here? We tend to be so blasé and so casual and so carnal when it comes to church and worship that we seem to be light-years away from what Moses and the Israelites experienced.
We waltz into church, usually with no heart preparation, keep a close eye on our smartphones, and think about lunch and the sporting matches to be held later in the day. There is little holiness, consecration and seriousness about being in the Lord’s presence. It is a one hour ritual that we go through each week, little different than going to a movie or taking the car through a car-wash.
There is nothing different about church. There is nothing special about church. There is nothing holy about church. And I too am guilty of having such a cavalier attitude and superficial response when going to church to worship the living God.
But I can point you to others who were in a good position to chastise us along these lines. One great saint of recent times, A. W. Tozer instantly comes to mind. He wrote about the sad state of the evangelical church and our low view of God and worship constantly.
So let me conclude with just a few choice quotes from this great American pastor and writer. He said this:
“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.”
“The only power God recognizes in His church is the power of His Spirit; whereas the only power actually recognized today by the majority of evangelicals is the power of man. God does His work by the operation of the Spirit, while Christian leaders attempt to do theirs by the power of trained and devoted intellect. Bright personality has taken the place of the divine afflatus.”
“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
“It is now common practice in most evangelical churches to offer the people, especially the young people, a maximum of entertainment and a minimum of serious instruction. It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. One can only conclude that God’s professed children are bored with Him, for they must be wooed to attend a meeting with a stick of striped candy in the form of religious movies, games and refreshments.”
The church “appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theatres where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against.”
“Almost everything the Church is doing these days has been suggested to her by the world.”
”It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”
If Tozer is correct – and I certainly believe that he is – then no wonder so much of the church today bears no resemblance whatsoever to what was found in the early church, or what was found when God appeared to ancient Israel in a cloud of glory.
As I have said so often, the world is in a mess because the church is in a mess. We need to pray that God will convict us deeply, and once again allow the church to be a place that the whole world knows is different, is holy, and is filled with God and his glory.