Clearly, there is something wrong with modernized Christianity. As I’ve stated in the past, the Church has, like every other aspect of our culture, become “industrialized” over the past 150 years, or so. Modern churches and ministries are operated like efficient businesses. Carefully crafted phrases and techniques are employed by different ministries to bring about conversions. National-size ministries build themselves by employing scientifically-proven mail order methods and phone solicitation marketing. Mega churches are lauded as examples of great success. The word “revival” is regularly attached to ministry meetings that have no resemblance to true revival. Televangelistic crusades of the Billy Graham sorts, which impress our senses, bring so many public confessions for Christ, but they are modern contrivances, and statistics show that a remarkably small percent of conversions from such mass market events are sincere and lasting. Something very, very important is being missed in all of these modernistic methodologies.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not disparaging all forms of modern-day church worship or evangelism. After all, I came to know Jesus Christ after watching and hearing a Billy Graham crusade on television when I was in Jr. High School. When God’s word is read and presented, it is powerful and compelling. God will work through his word to reach those whom he desires to reach. I believe He can and does do this through any Christian ministry, even through the overly-theatrical, theologically shallow, and contrived ranting of some preachers I’ve heard. So God still uses imperfect vessels (His people) and imperfect church organizations (i.e., so many unbalanced ministries) to advance His kingdom.
At one time I believed that finding the “right” church meant finding the church with the right doctrine. The older I get the less important various doctrinal issues become. Again, don’t misunderstand me. Fundamental Christian doctrine is important to me and should be universally embraced by any church that calls itself Christian...
God is holy. Men are not. God is all-powerful. Men are not. God is all-knowing. Men are not. In other words, He is totally sovereign over all of His creation. Men are not. Because of Adam’s disobedience, are all born with a sin nature. Because of that sin, we can never know God. Because of that sin, we are destined to eternal separation from Him. But... God manifest His love towards us by coming to earth in the form of the sinless God-man, Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly allowed himself to be killed by lowly men. Why? Because He loved us. Why? I don't know. Through His death, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins (have any of the false gods of paganistic cultures ever done such a thing?). It is only through the shed blood of Christ that any man can have proper relationship with God. We can know the joy and peace and contentment that come only when we are in proper relationship with Him. The Father God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ are three in one. God's word is inerrant. There is no other way to know God here on earth, or His salvation in eternity, apart from Jesus Christ. Those are what I consider the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
Frankly, I don’t fully understand some of those things. For example, I don’t know too many human minds that can fully comprehend the Trinity. I freely admit that there are plenty of things about Christianity and God that I don’t understand. But it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t affect my fundamental faith.
Such reasoning is totally contrary to the modern way of thinking. The modern “scientific” mind must have all the questions fully answered, and answered to its satisfaction. But God doesn’t give all the answers. He is under no obligation to prove himself or explain what He does. If we understood all things of God, we would be God. And therein is the great desire of Modern mankind.
For me, all I really need to know is those fundamentals. Fully embraced, by faith, it is those fundamentals that bring understanding and a peace that passes all understanding. That has been my experience. The masses of men (and women) look directly at Christianity and never experience the peace because they can not or will not exercise the faith. It starts with simple, childlike faith.
Beyond those rock solid beliefs, I’m open to different interpretations of what scripture teaches. What of baptism? What of the Tribulation? What of Israel in the “end times?” What of tongues? Oh, and then there’s the little matter of predestination. What about that? Pick your pet doctrinal issue. There are plenty of them. I’m not saying such things are trivial matters. They are worth studying and discussing and coming to conclusions about. But they are not worth arguing endlessly about and, even worse, getting angry about. But I am digressing from my main point...
That point is that I can’t help thinking the church of Jesus Christ has drifted far from what it can be and should be. I’m not exactly sure how to get to where we should be. But I can see that the community of believers is integral to getting there. Can you have this community of believers in an urban mega church? Perhaps, but I don’t really think so. Can you have community of believers in a parachurch ministry? No. You can have something akin to community but it is a counterfeit of the real thing. The same goes for television and radio ministries. The same goes for internet “community.” And, sadly, the same thing goes for many smaller “community” churches all across the land. There is a crisis of genuine, effective, God-honoring Christian community in our day and age.
I think the closest I have come to true Christian community in my life is after high school, when I was involved with a small group of fellow believers, first while in school in Vermont, then while at college in New York. These were times of significant spiritual growth for me and, I’m sure, the others in our group.
What made these forms of community so special? That’s what I ask myself now. Here are the answers that come to me: We lived in very close proximity. We shared common daily experiences. We often ate meals together. Beyond that, even though we came from diverse denominational understandings and experiences, we shared in our firm belief in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity (as I explained above) and we were not dogmatic about other doctrinal beliefs. We discussed doctrine but did not let it be a stumbling block to fellowship. The focus of our fellowship was our shared desire to know Jesus Christ better, to be more like Him. We were welcoming to our fellow students who did not share our convictions, but had an interest in the things of Christ. We were a countercultural witness for Jesus Christ within a very non-Christian society.
Our little community of believers was not loud and pushy about our beliefs. We were a quiet example. I believe God used us through our personal testimony and one-on-one relationships with unbelieving fellow students. We weren’t looking to build a big ministry—only to please the Lord by being salt and light to the world within our little sphere. And I believe God used us to influence the people around us. The best way to influence others is to love and care for them on a personal level.
One example of this (that just now came to the forefront of my memory) involves a school classmate in Vermont. I can’t remember her name. But I remember her face, and I’ll never forget this event. One evening I and a small group of other Christians (our community—maybe five of us at that time) were gathered for fellowship in a dormitory room. The door was closed. We enjoyed being together, singing, praying, reading, and talking about things of real importance.
On the night I am remembering, there was a knock at the door. We said “Come in.” The door opened and the girl whose name I can not remember was standing there. She had never been a part of our group. She looked distressed. One girl in our small group (her name was Robin) got up to go see her. Robin asked the girl what was wrong. She managed to tell us that she had just gotten off the phone with her mother. Her mother told her that their family's home had burned to the ground. They lost everything. Then she burst into tears. Robin hugged her and led her over to a seat on her bed. We all shared in her sorrow. We talked with her for some time and then we took the time to all pray for her. I did not know that girl to be a Christian. But when she was hurting, she came looking for Robin, a Christian girl who loved people around her with such conviction. And when she found Robin, we were all there for her. Our little community went into action. I guarantee you, that girl has never forgotten the compassion showed to her that night. God orchestrated that little event, for His glory.
I’ve told you all of this as an introduction to something I read this morning. It is about Christian community. It is a glimpse into something different from modern, highly-organized, institutionalized Christianity as we Moderns have known it. I invite you to read this short message given in May of 2007 by Frank Viola. It is titled, Bethany: The Lord’s Desire For his Church. I suggest you print it off (it’s 25 pages long), find a quiet place, and read it. I am not endorsing all that this article says. But I have learned from it, and I have been blessed by it. If you are looking for a clearer understanding of what authentic Christian community looks like, I think there are valid clues in this article.
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