by Mark Gungor
Why does the Church seem to be so impotent today?
As I look at what we Evangelical Christians have accomplished over that last decades, I cannot help but be stunned at how far we have “dumbed down” the Christian message. For the last fifty years, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on crusades, television and radio broadcasts, concerts and outreaches trying to get as many people as we possibly can to “believe” in Jesus. We have told millions of people that if they just “acknowledge Jesus as their savior, they will be saved!”
We have convinced millions of people that all they needed to do was “repeat this prayer after me…” and Christ would transform them from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of our glorious God. That “it doesn’t matter what you do – just believe”. That once they let those magic words ooze over their tongue, push past their teeth and bubble over their lips, they would now would become real Christians.
How did we ever let this empty blather of hollow religion become the centerpiece of the Christian message? It is inconsistent with the teachings of the New Testament. Even a casual reading of the gospels gives us a radically different picture of the true message of Christ. Let’s look the Gospel of Matthew and read just some of what Jesus actually said. Let’s start at chapter 4:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“Come, follow me,” At once they left [everything] and followed him.
“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
“If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“You cannot serve both God and money.”
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
And that was just lightly skimming through 3 chapters. Keep reading – it gets worse.
One cannot honestly read the words of Jesus and help but come away with this one overwhelming message: unless you are willing to give up every thing, every sin and everybody in your life, you cannot be his disciple. Yet somehow, we have taken the glorious message of faith, repentance and total commitment to God and boiled it down to one simple message for the world around us: “just believe”.
It reminds me of the story of Peter Pan. If you have ever seen a stage show of Peter Pan, you know there is a special scene where Tinkerbell is losing all of her power and is about to die. That is when an appeal is made to the audience to just say “I believe!”. “If you want to save Tinkerbell, you have to say ‘I believe’!!” Soon the entire audience is shouting at the top of their lungs, “I believe! I believe!”. To the delight of all, little Tink is saved.
There you have it, the modern Evangelical message: “just believe”.
Seriously!? Just believe??
Jesus is not some weak fairy that is in desperate need of others to “believe” in him or he will surely die. He is God. And someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord of all. And on that Judgment Day many will watch in horror as countless numbers of those who said “Lord, lord…” with be cast into hell for eternity.
“But pastor, the bible says to believe and we will be saved”.
Indeed. But when the bible says “believe”, it does not mean a mere acknowledgment of existence like in some Peter Pan play. It means to completely trust in and then adhere to and obey the teachings of Jesus. (Re-read the italicized paragraphs above if you have already forgotten what some of that message is.) In fact, in the Great Commission – where Jesus instructed his disciples to go into all the world and preach the Gospel – he specifically told them to, “teach them to obey everything I commanded you”.
“But pastor, millions have to come to Christ through our simple message of ‘believe’!”
You mean the millions of people that have repeated “the prayer”, who claim to be Christians, who only go to church when it is convenient for them, who never give of their time in service to the Kingdom, who spend more at lunch than they give at church, who ignore their children, who divorce their spouses, who put every thing, every sin and everybody in their lives ahead of Jesus? You mean those converts??
In our efforts to have churches as large as possible as quickly as possible, we have filled our congregations with people who largely serve Jesus only as long as it is convenient for them. Some of the largest churches in America actually tell of how they built their congregations by taking surveys to see what people really want in a church. I don’t know… I have a hard time seeing Jesus taking a survey…
Is it any wonder the church has become so incredibly impotent? Instead of experiencing the miracle working resurrection power of the living Christ that can transform lives by setting people free from the power of sin, we have churches where miracles are the exception, where bitterness, anger and unforgiveness rule the day, where we barely have the finances to keep our churches operating, where people who are struggling with their emotions need to be medicated and those who suffer from addictions are placed into special programs in order to help them cope. And we are different from non-believers in what way?
Look, I understand forgiveness for those who fail, but when Jesus forgave someone he told them “Go and sin no more.” Sadly, we use forgiveness as a green card to sin whenever we please.
The glorious Gospel of Christ that inspired millions of Christian men to sacrifice their lives and treasure, who confidently proclaimed the message of Jesus to hostel pagan cultures, who helped to change the very world in which they lived has now become an anemic message that calls for “accountability partners” to keep our men from masturbating. Apparently, the only way we can keep from grabbing our crotches is to hold hands with other men in an accountability group. After all, if we are holding each other’s hands we can’t be grabbing our…well…you know. Some power…
Am I opposed to recovery groups and accountability partners? Certainly not. Let’s use whatever we can to live holy lives. Its just that it seems to me we are more reliant on our own power today than the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rarely do we hear any messages from the Gospels preached from pulpits today. And if we do, it is so we can creatively explain away why Jesus didn’t really mean what he said.
Take this not-so-popular verse:
“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:9
Who believes that anymore? Jesus gave us one exception to the divorce rule. Yet we, in our great wisdom, have added many others: neglect, abuse, and addictions. And, of course, there is the need for personal happiness and “What if I made a mistake by marrying the wrong person?” While we are at it, why not add skin rashes and recurring diarrhea as other reasons for divorce?
It has gotten so bad, all you have to do is ask most Christian leaders, “When is what Jesus said about divorce ever true?” You will witness as they struggle and squirm to find an answer.
Let’s just be honest: many Christians don’t really believe what Jesus said about this or a host of other issues. We even have some evangelical pastors like Rob Bell telling us that this is so easy, we don’t have to even believe while we are in this life, we can just believe after we die! But then, isn’t that the next logical step to the “just believe” advocates? Now we don’t even have to fear hell. If only Jesus had been so enlightened…
Until we are ready to embrace the words of Jesus, until we preach the message of turning away from sin, until we begin to emphasize the Christian disciplines of prayer, fasting, scripture memorization and financial giving, until we start teaching people that God is not breathlessly waiting to give them anything their selfish little nature wants if they just have enough “faith” and instead actually wants them to die to themselves, don’t expect to see the real power of God at work any time soon.
We need to repent. We need to give ourselves once again to the scriptures and rediscover the true Gospel message. We need to teach that putting Christ first is not an option, but a prerequisite to truly experience the living Savior.
Or we can remain impotent and just keep encouraging Tinkerbell conversions where people simply cry out, “I believe!!!”