For anyone who believes the Bible to be the very Word of God the idea that you can be a follower of Jesus and "forget the Church" is as absurd and impossible as telling a newborn baby that they can go ahead and live life without growing up. Perhaps, if you are Peter Pan, you can imagine a place called Neverland where people never grow up, but Jesus said that He came to gather a people for God's kingdom, and He called it the "Church," the "ekklesia," the "called-out ones."
In an article for Newsweek which was the cover story for the week prior to the celebration of Jesus' resurrection, a man named Andrew Sullivan (a name that certainly pales in comparison to that of Jesus!) wrote an article entitled, "Forget the Church, Follow Jesus." In the article he encourages people to leave the organized church and simply follow the lifestyle of Jesus; doing what Jesus did and loving others as Jesus loved others ... caring about the poor, seeking to transform the world into a nicer place. He complains about the Catholic Church for their scandals, among other things; he complains about the Protestant churches for being out-of-date and for their denominationalism; he complains about evangelicals and their political involvement and emphasis on social issues that are, in his opinion, out-of-touch with reality ... things like abortion and homosexuality. He does a lot of complaining. But as usual, is blissfully ignorant of what the Bible teaches because he has already determined that the Bible is not the Word of God - at least not in the sense that we believe it is. It may contain some truth that points to a higher being, but most of it is the opinions of men and has produced untold horrible consequences through the centuries. In short, we would be better without it and without the church at large. He does a lot of complaining, but offers nothing but a stale old idea that continues to be recycled by those who have nothing better to offer.
To make his point, Sullivan uses Thomas Jefferson as an example of a man who just wanted to follow Jesus. It is said that at the age of 77, Jefferson took a razor blade to a Bible and cut out the parts that HE believed revealed the real Jesus and pasted them into another book, effectively making his own New Testament. Fortunately, the Thomas Jefferson version of the Bible never caught on, but if Sullivan and others had their way, they would resurrect it! They want what they call a simpler Christianity. They just want everybody to be nice people and to get along and to love each other. Let me quote one brief paragraph from Sullivan's article which points out the problem with his suggestion that we can and should forget the Church and just follow Jesus:
"The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest (not sure that's a word!) questions - Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote speck of a planet? What happens to us after death? - remain as pressing and mysterious as they've always been?"
Well, Mr. Sullivan, you have just finished throwing away the BOOK with the answers to those questions!!! What is not amazing or surprising is that the argument made in this article is as old as the history of mankind. It is nothing new! Since the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 people have been making up their own religions. This is just another attempt to do so. What IS amazing is the number of people who are "buying it!" Sullivan holds up St. Francis of Assisi as the new model of holiness, of selfless living. He says that the crisis of our time is that "self-help" has replaced "ascetic self-denial." In other words, people care more about themselves than about others. REALLY?? News flash: the Bible explains that problem by pointing out the sinful nature with which every human being is born. Because of his utter Biblical illiteracy, Sullivan fails to understand that Jesus came to bring freedom from the disastrous effects of sin upon human nature ... AND that the CHURCH is the central piece of God's plan to make this new life that Jesus offers available to others.
Now, before I go further, let me say that I understand the cynicism and skepticism and criticism of the organized church. Not only do I understand it, but I agree whole-heartedly that the organized church as it exists in many places is a disgrace to the cause of Christ. This is NOT what Jesus said He would build. The hierarchical system of authority and control coming from organizations that lord it over individual congregations is not only unbiblical, but also destructive to the life of the true body of Christ, the true Church. When people say they don't like the church, they are usually referring to this organizational structure that inevitably becomes political and focuses on power and control rather than service and love and grace and compassion. The organizational structure takes on a life of its own and exists for its own purposes rather than God's.
With that being said, there IS a purpose in God's plan for the Church, the body of Christ, made up of those who know who Christ is and who are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Him. This gathering of true believers is God's idea. If you throw out the Old Testament and its prophecy about who Jesus is, and you throw out the New Testament and most of the Gospels as perversions of truth concerning the purpose of Jesus' coming, you have nothing left. You have then made a new religion based on a man who lived a long time ago who is now dead. That's not Christianity as Jesus came to establish it. That's not the Church Jesus came to build. What Sullivan and others want is a religious social movement ... nothing more. Take the best of all the social movements that attempt to help people in various situations in life, mix in a belief in a generic "god" and the teachings of a dead prophet, Jesus, who called everybody to love each other, season it with what is good from other dead religions and see how the landscape of the earth's peoples evolves. Surely, it will be better than what the church is doing with the teachings of Jesus (whoever he was).
One person, a man named Trig Bundgaard, who commented on the article in his blog, pointed out that he believes the church needs to strip away its "archaic doctrines" and get down to the Jesus who surrendered himself to the cross and so transcended our world in order to be with "God." He says that Jesus was never meant to be worshiped the way we worship him, as an exalted King, as the eternal Son of God, as the Savior who died to pay the penalty for our sins and who is coming back to reign in a new world. No, this "scholar" tells us that the best way to worship Jesus is to be like him - to love as he loved and to go through life as a homeless ambassador for human kindness. (Who ARE these people???)
He says that he "walked away from a dead corpse hung on a cross and toward a vibrant loving conscience of Christ that can, could and should pervade all humanity." Then he challenges people to do the same: "You should walk away, too. Abandon the dead and old, and start something simple and good. Start your own Yeshua small-group in your town. Serve others. Love as God loves." Isn't that interesting: love as God loves?? "God do loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life." Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus is not a dead corpse hanging on the cross. He is the risen and exalted King who is ruling over all things until He has put all His enemies and ours under His feet.
This writer goes on to say that we should do this "not for the sake of your own salvation, but for the sake of all God's children ... no matter what faith (or lack thereof), gender, age, race or sexual orientation." Once again, nothing new here. It is the old universalism promoted by Satan and his messengers for countless centuries. Forget about the God who is the Creator, who is holy, just, righteous, loving, compassionate and merciful. Forget about the plan of God in choosing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Israel as His people. Forget about God's promise to send a Savior and the significance of the Old Testament prophecies. Forget about Jesus being the fulfillment of those promises and the fact that Jesus came to suffer the penalty for God's wrath against our sins on the cross (Isaiah 53), so that we might receive forgiveness as the Spirit moves us to repent and believe. Forget about the darkness of the human soul without the Spirit of God, the darkness that makes our world what it is. Forget about God's plan to join Jews and Gentiles together in the Church (Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:10). Forget about God's call to believe in Jesus and to look towards a new heavens and a new earth. Forget about the Bible!
We have entered the time of the apostasy predicted in the Bible - the falling away from the truth (II Thessalonians 2:3). This is no longer something for the future. It is NOW! There are so many holes in Sullivan's premise that there is nothing to even shoot at, except to say that it is the same old lies that Satan has been telling since the Garden of Eden. "Did God really say ..... ??" YES! He did!! Jesus is the Seed of the woman who defeats the power of Satan. Jesus died on the cross to satisfy God's justice and to remove His just wrath against the sins of those who by His grace are moved to receive Jesus as their Savior and to acknowledge Him as their Lord. Jesus sent His Spirit into the world to transform people, not to make the earth heaven. That is coming later, when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness, when God will dwell with men. Until then, the Church, the true Church, brothers and sisters in Christ from every people, nation, tribe and tongue who confess Jesus Christ and who believe in the God of creation who has revealed Himself in His Word as Father, Son and Holy Spirit ... THIS Church will continue to be God's instrument in the world to accomplish His purpose to save those whom He has chosen to be His for all eternity. And we will do that by proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Bible, the very Word of the living God.
ALL who believe are part of THIS Church. There are still some pastors, some congregations, where God is honored and Christ is exalted and people are loved. Is any congregation perfect? No. But does that mean we can "forget the Church to follow Jesus?" No! The Church is the Bride of Christ. Not the organization, but the body. God has given to this body (Ephesians 4:11-16) a structure. Pastors and teachers, elders and deacons, are GOD's idea. They are servants of the body. You can tell those who are following Jesus because they are servant leaders. Those who are following Christ are doing so not to make a name for themselves, but to exalt the name of Jesus. These love God above themselves and give themselves to the task of loving others and sharing with them the good news that in Jesus Christ they can find forgiveness, hope, joy, peace and LIFE with God, now and forever.
Once again, our mission statement hits the mark of what God has called His Church to be and to do: We exist to proclaim the reign of Jesus Christ over all things; glorifying and enjoying God, now and forever." May God help us to be faithful to that calling!!
In Christ's love and grace, Pastor Steve