There was once a time that we lived “normal” lives. We Americans could have been excused for thinking that life was all about creature comforts. Many of our churches even reflected and encouraged this in their teaching and worship. Living your “best life now” was more than a book; it was the aim of this version of Christianity.
But, then, 2020 occurred. We expected a few changes due to Covid with a relatively quick return to normalcy. (Remember “flatten the curve”?) But now it’s been nearly a year and normalcy is nowhere in sight. We are faced with ever-rising death counts. Vaccines have brought a glimmer of hope; yet, some are raising concerns about their efficacy and safety. Many have lost jobs. A multitude of small businesses have closed forever, wiping out the dreams and hard work of many. Public protests have become riots – not just in our streets but in our nation’s capital. Election results have been disputed. Public leaders have demanded one thing of the general public and acted contrary in their own private lives. Divisions within our culture have deepened. On different sides of the chasm(s) lie competing views of reality, humanity, and equality. In all of this, it is difficult to see an end in sight.
I would encourage you to pause and ask yourself, “Is my church preparing me to endure faithfully in difficult times, especially if I should face persecution for my beliefs?”
For decades, Christians and churches have fooled themselves into thinking that Christianity is about self-fulfillment (“Become a Better You”). The Apostolic Faith has been turned into therapy – “feel better about yourself” instead of “die to yourself.” Rather than receiving Christ by faith through the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, praise bands have become high priests who are believed to mediate an experience of Christ.
But it is hard to imagine true Christians being fooled en masse by this charade any longer. If the last twelve months remind of us anything, it is that we still live in a “present evil age,” characterized by thorns & thistles, pain, and death. Of course, this has been the case since we were exiled from the Garden, but it has become especially palpable of late. A moralistic, therapeutic Christianity is impotent. Only a return to serious, biblical Christianity will empower us to endure.
Might it be time to ask yourself some questions about your church, its teaching, and its worship?
singing in worship:
congregational singing prioritized or the performance of musicians?
there any Psalms being sung? (God gave us 150 songs to sing.)
the songs expose my sin and encourage me to die to myself?
they encourage the fear of the Lord and reverence & awe?
they preparing me to suffer faithfully for Christ?
they remind me that I am in the midst of a spiritual battle?
Regarding the sermons and teaching:
- Do the sermons prioritize biblical texts and doctrines over current events?
- Do they address your sin more than sins in the culture, while not ignoring the sins of the world?
- Do they portray Christianity as dying to yourself and to your desires or as affirming and maximizing your innate self?
- Are they characterized by jokes and trite stories, or is the pastor bringing you a weighty message from the Lord?
- Is Jesus Christ central to the sermons, or could they be preached in a synagogue or self-help seminar with only minor changes?
- Does your pastor teach you about the doctrine of the Trinity? the doctrines of justification and sanctification?
the overall service:
you confessing your sins?
you confessing the Christian gospel with an historic creed (e.g., Apostles’ or
prayer reverent? Do you sense that you are speaking to a holy God?
the sacraments (or ordinances):
they central to the life and health of your church, or are they marginalized?
they treated as holy, as sacred treasures from God?
your church hold you accountable for your beliefs and life?
you become stubbornly unrepentant, would your leaders withhold the sacraments
from you to warn you – for your own spiritual good, for the health of your
church and for the glory of God?
These questions are only basic and preliminary; much more could be said. Hopefully, this assessment confirmed that your church is remaining faithful and reminded you of some things that are truly important to the church, its teaching, and its worship. May you appreciate your church, be zealous for its unity, and encourage its ongoing faithfulness. Pray for your pastor(s), leaders, and fellow members. The world always pressures the church to stray from Christ, and it appears that we are in for an especially difficult season.
If you struggled with a large number of these questions, it may be the case that you are not being fed, nourished, protected, and discipled as Christ would have it. The Lord has not changed; sadly, Christian churches have changed and do change. Even in the first century, with Apostles still living, many churches were straying. Think of those that were in Galatia (Gal. 1:6-7), the Corinthians, and the churches in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7), in Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17), in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6), and in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22). The Lord entrusted His word to us, which tells us what to teach and believe, how to worship, and how to support one another, and there are disastrous consequences when these things are abandoned. A church may lose its lampstand (Rev. 2:1-7), meaning it is no longer a place of life and light, because Christ the Priest no longer tends its flame. This leaves the sheep spiritually-malnourished, wounded, and exposed to the dangerous attacks of Satan, sin, and the world. Without a serious, biblical Christianity, it is difficult to envision a Christian being prepared to face the mounting cultural pressures of our time.
Seek out a church that you need, not a church that you want. Find a church that will prepare you to stand in the day of trial.