God’s Rules: For everybody but me.

Okay, now that I have your attention…let’s talk about a pervasive attitude found throughout Christendom in the 21st century, and it’s this:  As Christians, we know (we have learned and are learning) what God wants and expects from those who call themselves “Christians,” but when we run into an admonition (a teaching in the Bible) we don’t like, we consider ourselves “the exception to the rule.”  It’s a worldly attitude that shuns submission to God’s Word in favor of a kind of “situational obedience,” where we feel free to disobey God’s Word when it suits us. This is not only a worldly attitude, but a very dangerous one to entertain, for reasons that will become obvious.

We’ll start with things we all understand.  First, submission to God’s Word is supposed to be the norm for all Christians.  This is something all believers should believe.  Of course, we understand that there may be some teachings in the Bible that were for certain people, for a certain time in their history that no longer apply to us or anybody today.  Dietary laws of Judaism, for example, were never given to anybody other than Jews to obey and even at that those laws are no longer in effect, having been done away with by Jesus Christ.  But, while we are not obligated to obey those kinds of laws or rules, there may be things we can learn from them.  Similarly, just because a certain man was told by Jesus to go and bathe in a certain pool in order to be healed, that does not mean we are supposed to do the same thing when seeking divine healing.  Careful and prayerful reading of Scripture and common sense will help you in this area, but let’s say that generally speaking, unless it is obvious to the contrary, Christians should do their best to be obedient to what the Bible teaches.

Second, the Bible’s teachings are for all Christians, not just for some.  Now, you may say that’s an obvious statement, but is it?  How many of you think, for example, that ministers and preachers are held to a higher standard in terms of their behavior and, for example, personal devotions?  I’d wager most of you reading this assume that to be true, but you’d be dead wrong.  It is true that while ministers and preachers are held to a higher standard in terms of their preaching and teaching and other duties related to their calling, the fact is, “men of the cloth” are no “holier” or “saintly” than the average Christian ought to be.   What about giving generously as the Bible teaches Christians ought to do?  A lot of us think that “rule” is for wealthy Christians or Christians with no mortgages or bills to pay or children to raise.  If you think that, once again you are wrong.   Believe it not, I’ve even  heard some Christians explain that the Biblical admonition against adultery didn’t apply to them because they no longer loved their spouse or their spouse no longer loved them or some other inane justification.   It really is amazing the excuses for sin and disobedience we hear from otherwise “good Christians!”

Thirdly, the Bible is a book for all generations, for all people.  The Bible is admittedly a very old book, but its teachings are timeless.  Still, some Christians will assume that some of its teachings are old fashioned or “out of date.”  The Bible, they say, is so old that it must be re-interpreted in light of current societal and cultural mores.  The problem with that way of thinking is that if you have to “re-interpret” something, how authoritative can it be?  Imagine playing, say, poker with somebody who wants to reinterpret the rules of the game every five minutes!   How trustworthy can the Bible be if it changes every 30 or 40 years?  For that matter, who is it that determines what teaching is out of date or no longer applicable to modern man?   That’s not to say that every single teaching in the Bible needs to be obeyed, as noted above, context needs to be observed and respected; we don’t  need to be silly about this!  The simple fact is, it is man who changes, not the Word of God!  In fact, man should change; he should change his thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors to fit what the Bible says, not vice versa.

Now, if we take these three “givens” as our starting point, let’s apply them to this e-mail I received the other day.  It’s from a regular visitor to Mike’s Place, and clearly this individual is true believer in every sense of the word.  I should also add that I was given their permission to respond to this e-mail in this forum.

Thanks for this post. Regrettably, most of the protestant churches today do not display reverence, awe and wonder for the presence of God. They seem to be in the business of providing “experiences”  for worshippers whether it is stripping down the building from anything that may indicate that you are in a church from providing hip entertainers to “lead” worship, hyper casual dress so that “seekers” will feel  comfortable. Pastors who dread looking like any kind of authority. That why I took the extreme step of going to a house church. Sorry for the cynicism but I have yet to find a church in my community that has not sold out to the zeitgeist of the age.

Now, I consider this to be an excellent, well thought-out e-mail, written in response to the post, “Hunger For the House of God.”  The author is spot-on when he observes the state of protestant churches. There is a decided lack of reverence in our churches today.  There was a time, for example, not so long ago when people wore their “Sunday best” to church.  Today you’d be hard pressed to find a man wearing a shirt and tie to church.  We all know church is not supposed to be fashion show, but it seems like a lot Christians are far too casual both in appearance and attitude and don’t really care about at least appearing reverent and respectful in the house of God.  Of course, clothes don’t make you holy, but how would you dress if the President or Prime Minister was coming to visit you?

A lot of churches engage in all manner of histrionics, ginning up “the Holy Ghost,” trying to manufacture a certain feeling or experience.  From energetic “performances” by so-called worship leaders to waving flags and dancing in the aisles, these worshippers all want an experience they interpret as coming from God.

Other churches rarely preach against sin for fear of offending a board member or a visitor.  Usually “church discipline” is a foreign concept in such churches.  In an effort to attract new members and keep old ones, pastors do all kinds of strange things, what we call “bait and switch” in the business world.  Tricking people into coming into your church, luring them in with meals and movies and worldly entertainment.

No wonder this e-mailer is cynical.  Standing back and looking at these churches is downright embarrassing.  But, is going to a so-called “house church” the answer?  Let me begin by giving my opinion:  a house-church is not a church.  What I mean by that is this:  a church is body of believers with a distinct leadership structure in place.  Elders, deacons, deaconesses, pastors are all offices that should be present before any group of believers can be considered a “church.”  I know “house-churchers” cringe at that statement, but if you want to be Biblical about it, in the book of Acts, one of the first things the infant church did was get organized so that the needs of the widows could be met, church discipline meted out, and the first church council held for the purpose of establishing some basic traditions.  All this is found in the first few chapter of Acts.

It should also be noted that the only time the church met in people’s homes was when it was being established (like in the book of Acts) at the very beginning and during times of persecution.  At the close of the Apostolic age (after the last Apostle died, probably John), and when Christianity became an “accepted” religion, the first thing Christians did was get out people’s basements and into their own centrally located church buildings.  There were all kinds of good reasons for this, not the least of which was a “community witness.”  Do you realize what a powerful witness the act just going (that is, walking or driving) to church is?  Your neighbors, your friends, and others see going on your way to Sunday worship and that image speaks volumes.

Now I know that finding a good church isn’t always easy.  If you manage to find “the perfect church,” don’t join it!  If you do, it won’t be perfect any more…But, you know, we spend a lot of time and expend a lot of energy planning our vacations, looking for a doctor, looking for a certain new car to buy, and so  on.  Rarely do we spend that kind of time and energy looking for a church to call home.  Which is strange, to me.  We are, after all, not just talking about the health of your soul but obedience to God.  There is no other way to interpret Hebrews 10:24,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24—25)

The question should never be, “Can you be a Christian and not go to church?”  Going to church in no way makes anybody a Christian! The question, rather, should be, “How long can you remain a Christian without going to church?”  Because, let’s face  it, not going to church puts you in the very precarious position of being a rebel; a rebel against the revealed will of God.

Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.  Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. (2 John, verses 8-10)

So, if you believe in what the Bible says, if you consider yourself a Christian, then regular church attendance is not an option.  I would suggest you earnestly seek the Lord’s guidance in finding a church to attend.  I promise you, the Lord will show you the church that is right for you.  It may not be in your town; it may be in the next town.  But this I know:  if it is your desire, God will come through for you; He will get you into the right church.  He has to!  There is no way He won’t.  Put Him to the test in this.

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