I spoke to a lady this week who had been very influential in the business community for a good number of years. She had, within this circle, many whom she counted as friends. Even after giving up her position a few kept in touch. She then related how one person she considered a close friend in the business community, after she was unable to help her in a new business venture, suddenly turned her back on her and has not contacted her since.
I have discovered, to my disappointment, that the same experience runs true within the “Christian” community. When you have a position or influence it is amazing how many want to count you among their “friends” and keep regularly in touch. However, it is also amazing to discover how many disappear when you no longer hold such a position.
Since finding myself in such a place I have seriously questioned what “church”, in the common understanding of the term, is all about. If we use and abuse one another as in any corporate or business environment can we really call that “church” in the biblical sense of the word?
I read recently of a well known evangelist who formed, what many now consider to be a very successful “Mega Church”, in the USA. As part of his initial “growth strategy” he obtained the church directories of nearby churches and targeted thousands of their members with his marketing material. And his manoeuvre was extremely successful. He obtained many many new members as a result. But again I have serious reservations as to whether this translates to biblical “church” let alone being true to biblical principles of honesty and integrity. To me it smacks much more of empire building – and we know what empires do!
Speaking of “members” – a term used in most “churches” for those committed to their cause, I ask again, is this what was envisaged as the core of church in the New Testament? “Ah”, I hear some say – “we must have members to serve in the work of the church”. But again I ask – “Is service the main purpose of being “in church” in the first place? Is that the ultimate aim – to transform attendees from simple “pew warmers” into a life of service to the church?” Service is good, admirable and to be commended – but it is not, I believe, the foundational function of being part of the church [in the biblical sense]. True service must have a much deeper motivation.
I apologise if I sound arrogant – but I believe the truth is that the church, in general terms, lost its initial vision and purpose a very long time ago. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule and yes throughout history many and varied groups have returned to its original intention and purpose. But sadly these are indeed exceptions rather than the rule. If we live only with the aim of obtaining ”members” for our church or “servants” for the life and maintenance of our group or denomination – then we have truly missed the mark.
As I considered my conversation with the lady I mentioned earlier, and the issues we find in the church today, these word of Jesus came to my mind –
“I shall not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not share his master’s confidence. No, I call you friends, now, because I have told you everything that I have heard from the Father.”
We might see ourselves as serving Jesus – but before we do we better make sure we are friends with Jesus – because Jesus is looking primarily, not for members or servants but friends! And friendship with Jesus is rooted in his relational love for us. The Apostle John caught this well, and was able to say to the church of his generation –
“To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God’s son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love.”
1 John 4:7-8
Sadly, I believe today we are left, to a large extent, with the relics of dying empires who have traditionally called themselvs “churches” and new empires attempting to replace the old. What we desperately require are Kingdom builders – not empire builders.
Phil Mason, author of the book “Quantum Glory” said recently – “The Kingdom is meant to look like family. To the extent that we look like family we look like Kingdom to the extent we don’t look like family it’s not Kingdom. If we want to see Kingdom – its got to look like family”. I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, some speak of the “church family”, meaning in reality the members of their group – when the ruth is the true church family is so much bigger!
So what is the litmus test for true church? It’s really very simple – but sadly very rare – familial love, familial friendship and familial devotion. These are marks of the true church! And these relationships are not restricted by denominational of group borders.
I find more and more I don’t really care about the labels people hang, either on me, themselves or the labels used by others, when it comes to church – in fact I am very tired of them. All I am looking for is a brother or sister who belongs to the Kingdom family and will relate to me in the same way. I truly believe that only such a people can win the world once again for the Kingdom of God.