Quill and writing

The Contemporary Church is C – Church Centred

Of all the errors modern evangelicals indulge this is the subtlest.  Word associations often expose the contours of our thinking.  For example: ‘fish’… think chips; ‘salt’… think pepper; ‘bread’… think butter, etc.  For most Christians ‘Christianity’ evokes the concept of ‘Church’.  I’ve noticed that conversations between newly acquainted Christians quickly focuses on their respective Churches and their roles in those Churches, etc.  I’d venture to suggest that most Christians tend to equate their own (and generally others too) love for Jesus with their attendance/involvement in a particular local assembly.

This contemporary error is subtle.  And Satan has used it most effectively to keep our focus away from where it ought to be. This indictment is therefore that evangelicals are guilty of ‘ecclesiolatry’ – i.e. a misplaced exaltation of the local Church.  What should be foremost in our thinking and strategic deliberations is the extension of God’s kingdom on Earth (Matt 6:10) and the augmentation of ‘the crown rights of Christ’ (Matt 6:33) throughout the culture (Matt 28:18).  But the average church attending Christian has lost sight of what Scripture plainly teaches on this front.  Why?  Because the incumbent ‘minister’ is busy thoughtlessly following the masses. 

Consider with me carefully:

  1. Is Scripture mostly about Church meetings?
  2. What is the central narrative in Scripture?
  3. Does Scripture warn about the ‘established (Christian) religious leadership’ becoming corrupt?
  4. Are there passages that caution us against allying ourselves with the ‘mainstream’ Church(es)? Are there passages urging us to adopt a healthy degree of cynicism towards them?
  5. What’s the cure?

One, no it isn’t!  This much should be obvious.  As obvious, however, is the observation that generally, prevailing Christianity finds expression on Sunday mornings between around 10.30am and 12.00 mid-day followed by informal refreshments, etc.  The outworking of it tends to result in ‘nice social activities’ among (generally) ‘very nice people’ with (if you’re lucky) an opening/ closing token prayer.  As a corollary: Biblical literacy is almost non-existent.  Why? Because so much of it seems irrelevant to how regular ‘Church’ services are conducted, etc. 

Two, the central narrative in Scripture is ‘The Empire (God’s kingdom) Strikes Back.’ It begins with the Fall of Man & the Earth in Genesis, climaxes with the advent of Christ – the Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) – and culminates in the reversal of Eden’s curse, the resurrection of the dead and the total physical renewal of the Earth (1Cor 15).  Redemption occurs in history gradually & progressively like the deepening of Ezekiel’s stream/river (Ch 47) sending forth healing fruits for the nations (Ez 47:7-12; Rev 22:2).  Christ achieves this via (i) the establishment of a people (Abraham à Moses) (ii) furnishing them with moral precepts all with a view of building a godly commonwealth/nation to serve as an example all civilisations under heaven (Deut 4:5-8) (iii) the rehearsal of ceremonial Law to portray via shadows/types the actual redemptive work of Christ via His death/resurrection, etc (Heb 9) (iv) example after example after example of how God’s management of history (i.e. providence) works via covenant – i.e. faithfulness leading to future blessings and disobedience leading to future curses (Deut 28) and this applicable to the three spheres of God’s kingdom jurisdiction: Family, Church and State.  Think of how much time & space is given over to the history of Israel, the rise of faithful kings & dynasties and the corresponding demise of faithless/rebellious individuals, families, kingdoms, etc.

Three, yes it does!  Most notably, God often raised up a solitary individual (e.g. Gideon, Daniel, Josiah, etc) to muster a small remnant of faithful saints by whom the compromised, rebellious masses might be reproved.  So dead/formal was the ‘Church’ in the fulness of time that God bypassed it, sending news of Messiah’s incarnation primarily to shepherds on the hillsides (Lk 2:8-12) and Gentile magi from foreign lands (Matt 2:1-2)!  Was the Jewish religious establishment welcoming to Jesus? Not at all.  The temple priests, Scribes & Pharisees opposed Him vehemently (see Jn 1:11; Jn 10:31-33) provoking Jesus’ most vitriolic indictment of them in Matt 23.  The Bible’s narrative depicts the OT Church ‘divorced’ for its persistent covenant faithlessness (portrayed as adultery) culminating in its destruction in AD70 and its replacement by the NT Church (Ep 2:11ff).  Alas, for the greater part of the past 2000 years, the formal leadership of the Christian Church has suffered from profound internal corruption – even outlawing the possession of Scripture by the ‘laity’ as recently as 1229AD!

Four, several! The argument throughout Hebrews 2-4 expounding Ps 95 is perhaps central. But notice (i) also that Jesus anticipates thieves, robbers, strangers, hirelings and wolves (in sheep’s clothing) assaulting his sheep over the course of time (Jn 10:1-13); (ii) that Jesus’ true followers identify strongly with the disgrace Jesus bore suffering publicly outside the camp (Heb 13:12-14); that false religion would prevail throughout history potentially deceiving the Elect (Matt 24 & Rev 18&19)

Five, this is the cure! Beware making your formal attachment to any visible Church more important than your spiritual connection to Christ (2Cor 6:17).  Few have the courage of John Tyndale or George Wishart.  Fewer still can stand alone, like Luther or Athanasius, against the Behemoth of falsehood.  Some are inclined to search out sanctuary in less hostile climes like John Wycliffe or Desiderius Erasmus.  But all of us must endeavour to make Scripture alone the bulwark of our worldview and, in doing so, to align ourselves exclusively with others who plainly do likewise.

Unhappily, as an addendum, I’ve noticed that local tyrannies tend to manifest themselves as ‘mini-empires’ run by those (often just one person) in formal leadership. Over the course of time, internal political wranglings become apparent and genuine servant-hearted shepherding is replaced by heavy-handed control undertaken by individuals who prove to be wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Jn 10:1-13; Acts 20:29-31).  Hence, today we are confronted with much the same false magisterium as our Reformation forbears came up against.  Back then, the divide was more plainly human autonomy versus sola Scriptura.  Alas, today the protestant popes are more persuasively disguised and have learned to usurp Christ’s rule in His Church by a sophistry too subtle for most.