So, there are some things that the Lord laid upon my heart that I feel compelled to give voice to; an indictment against the church culture of our generation. See, I’ve been praying through Scripture a lot and I’ve come to realize that we, our generation as a whole, is the most sinful period in all of the history of the Church. And by this statement, this is not an indictment against the world, for the world has always been and will always be the world, but rather it is an indictment against the Church itself. The Church today is more sinful than the Church during the Crusades, during the Inquisition, during the Renaissance and Reformation; more sinful than the Church during any period of our entire history post resurrection of our Lord.
How can I proclaim this statement, you might ask. There are two main things that stand out to me more than anything else.
To begin; in the Gospel of Luke, we learn of two sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus is in their home sharing their company and Mary is sitting at the feet of our beloved Lord, meanwhile, Martha is distracted, running about, serving food, cleaning, cooking, etc. At one point, she turns and complains to Jesus, saying “Do you not care that my sister has left me alone to serve?” And Jesus answered, “Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen the good part.” (Luke 10:38-42). And, so often, that is us. We busy ourselves so much with things that we often miss what is important. We fill our schedules with Bible studies, youth groups, memorization drills, theology books, etc so completely that we forget to just enjoy being in His presence.
Alistair Begg is quoted as saying that “A good church is Bible-centered. Nothing is as important as this, not a large congregation, a witty pastor, or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.” While I agree about the witty pastor and the large congregation, how is being Bible-centered more important than experiencing the Holy Spirit? That sums up the problem with the Church in our generation perfectly. We have mistaken knowledge for spiritual maturity and spent so much time learning about the Lord that we have forsaken the Lord Himself. We’ve replaced a relationship with Him with knowledge about Him, and that strongly to our detriment. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon warns us that “I gave my heart to know wisdom and knowledge, to learn proverbs and understanding. And this, too, was waywardness of spirit. For in abundance of wisdom there is abundance of knowledge, and he who increases knowledge will increase suffering.” (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18). He closes the book with the statement, “guard yourself, for there is no end to the making of many books, and much study is weariness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). He begins and ends the book with the warnings that seeking only knowledge is harmful at best and dangerous at worst. Paul echoes this warning when he admonishes us that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1). I think of our generation with it’s endless study Bibles and Bible studies; it’s hours long process of memorizing every single verse of Scripture; it’s years devoted to perfecting a scientific method of studying the Holy Scriptures and “properly interpreting the word of God,” and then I think about a great quote from one of the fathers of the Church, “No matter how much we study, it is impossible to come to know God unless we live by His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit.” (St Silouan the Athonite). See, I’ve read stories of monks who dedicate hours daily to prayer, to being in silence, to merely enjoying being in the presence of God. As the Scriptures teach, “be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). James teaches us to “draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Paul Washer, at a pastor’s conference, admonished everyone to get away, to leave behind cell phones, to leave behind “those books,” and just be in God’s presence. He warned, his words, not mine, “so often, Jesus can become a good hermeneutic, a cross-reference, a story to be learned instead of a person to love.” (Paraphrased). He recognized that Alistair Begg’s statement removes the person, the human essence of Jesus, and reduces Him to a topic of study. Where would the book of Acts have been without a tangible encounter of the Holy Spirit? What would have become of the Saul of Tarsus if he’d stuck only with reading the Scriptures that he had? The very Scripture that he’d known from his youth, that had led him to be a murderer and executor of the “Sect of Christ followers.”
See, when I hear quotes like that from Alistair and look at our current culture of the Church, I can’t help but feel that what Paul Washer warns about is exactly what happened. We’ve removed the Holy Spirit, reduced the Father to an adult with a lego set, and Jesus has become the axis around which we spin theological threads, weaving intricate and moral stories to convince Johnny not to watch pornography and Dave to quit cheating on his wife. We’ve become the church in Ephesus about which Jesus states, “repent…or else I will come and remove the lampstand from it’s place.” (Revelation 2:5). See, we’ve committed the grievous sin of Ephesus. We’ve become very doctrinally sound, so much so, however, that we love our doctrine more than we love our Christ. Though we would never admit that statement aloud, our deeds show the truth within our heart.
And were that all, we would be as sinful as poor Ephesus, however, there is more to it than that. See, for their fatal sin, Ephesus still had redeeming qualities. See, they were in love with their doctrine, but their’s was a love that still required deeds as evidence of that love. Our generation is even worse, because we’ve even forsaken those very deeds which stood to prove their love. Jesus states that they continued to work for His name’s sake. Because of their love of the doctrine of Christ, they still cared for the needy and the poor, they still refused to accept sin into the church, they still labored doing the work of the kingdom, but for the sake of their doctrine, not for their love of Christ.
We, on the other hand, have confused knowledge for maturity, as we’ve discussed; we’ve also confused busyness for productivity. We’ve created so many means of being “so busy working in the service of the Lord” that we’ve neglected to leave time to actually do service in the name of the Lord. We’ve replaced sins of commission with sins of omission. I’ve heard it put this way, “we’re not playing to win, we’re playing to not lose.” See, James tells us that “to him who knows what is good and does not do it, to him it is a sin.” (James 4:17). I’ve actually heard the statement, from a pastor, “it’s not the church’s responsibility to care for the poor; the church’s responsibility is to preach Christ crucified.” At the moment I heard that, I blindly accepted that false doctrine. And yet, James teaches us that if you see someone “naked and destitute of food and one of you says, ‘depart in peace, be warm and filled’ but do not give them the things that are needed for the body, what does it profit?” See, James is warning us against this idea that it’s not our responsibility to help a person’s physical bodily needs, contrary to the statement that I had heard. Are we to worry about their salvation? Of course we are, but we are likewise to care for the poor and needy. Jesus Himself warns us that when we forsake the hungry, the poor, the sick, the prisoner, that we, in fact, forsake Him. He says, “whatever you do for the least of these, you have done to Me.” (Matthew 25:40). When we know what good we are to do and don’t do it, then we have done wicked. St Basil warns us that “the bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your closet the garment of the naked; the shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity you do not perform are so many inustices that you commit” and John Chrysostom warns us that “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar outside the church, neither will you find Him within the chalice.”
See, our sins are greater than any other time because we have forsaken the Lord twice, once in His own triune essence, and once in the essence of all who were created in His image. Our sins are not so great because of our commission, but because of our omission. Not because we have committed grievous deeds, but because we’ve done little at all. No, our sins are grievous because we’ve been instructed what to do, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and yet care little for them compared to how great our love for ourselves has grown.
I’ll end this with a study I heard about recently. A group of potential seminary students was interviewed and asked why they wished to enter seminary. Hands down, the majority answer was “to help people.” They were then told that they had one hour to prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan and then had to travel elsewhere to give the sermon. The study was this, the people conducting the survey planted someone between the two buildings who appeared to have been mugged. After having answered that they wished to help others and then preparing a sermon on the Good Samaritan, less than half of those potential students actually stopped to try to help the man who was in need. Consider that for a moment.
Our generation has sinned grievously against the Lord, but, out of His goodness and grace, and for His name’s sake, He constantly offers us the chance to repent, to turn around and follow His words. I may be completely wrong on any part of this writing, but it is what I see in Scripture. I see Jesus constantly commanding us to help our fellow man, to aid the poor. “Pure religion before the Lord is this, to care for the orphans and widows, and to keep one’s self unstained from the world.” (James 1:27). Perhaps we don’t have to heed His warnings from Scripture, maybe the bare minimum to get into heaven is to proclaim His name and keep to ourselves, but, one day we must all stand before Him and give an account of every deed, every thought that we’ve ever had. I pray that each of us, myself included, would look beyond our own selfish ambitions and desires and instead be accused by Him of taking His word too literally, rather than looking down and proclaiming, “sorry Jesus, I thought you meant this instead…” Let us repent, let us look to the word, let us grow in our maturity and our relationship with Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, active in our lives, and let us display for the world the love and compassion, the mercy and grace, that the Lord has provided for us.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.