I awoke around 3:30 this morning, which is not unusual considering my odd sleep patterns of late. However, this morning I asked, “God, why am I awake?” I read my daily Bible reading then wrote for the next three hours about the following concerns which have been on my heart for several years. If you feel I’m stepping on your toes, know that mine have been trampled on, as well. Hobble along with me if you dare.
The American Church
I wonder if when real persecution comes, will we consider the American church worth dying for? Or will we timidly do the convenient (American) thing and disassociate ourselves from the church because it’s no longer comfortable and it doesn’t much resemble Christ anyway?
I wonder if the typical, institutionalized American church is so far from being Christ’s body that if we left it, would we even feel like we turned away from Christ? Or that we just reduced the number of activities on our social calendar?
What is the difference between the American church and the persecuted church on foreign soil? What is it that causes persecuted believers to be a part of the church at the risk of their very lives?
I think the main difference is that there is the Church, and then there are churches trying to be the Church but not really knowing how to do so in our affluent, post modern society.
One is worth dying for, the other is not.
The Precious Gospel
I’ve never been part of a gathering of believers so intent on worshiping together and learning together that they do it under cover and in great peril. I’ve never been among believers so desperately hungry for the Word of God that they secretly share pages and chapters of the Bible. But then they don’t have study bibles, large print bibles, audio bibles, dramatized bibles, modern language bibles, antiquated language bibles, paraphrased bibles, “gender neutral” bibles (otherwise known as not real bibles), children’s bibles, teen’s bibles, women’s bibles, men’s bibles, and graphic and comic book bibles (no kidding) lying about their heated, air conditioned, carpeted, stuffed to the rafters, multi-room homes. They don’t have a Bible on their coffee table and in the floorboard of their car and under a layer of dust on the shelf and on their nightstand and in the lost and found at church and on their iPod, phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop.
What’s the difference between them and us? I think the key words are they don’t have. Period. Their lives are not cluttered with so many material possessions that Jesus just seems like another belonging, and a not so precious one at that. But when all you have is a page or portion of God’s Word, how precious is it to you? How precious would it be to me? I cannot imagine not having all those places to keep a Bible, let alone not having my own Bible…or twenty.
Of course, I am thankful for the things I possess, for the material blessings God has given me. They are more than I could ever deserve and I pray to be a good steward but probably am not. I am also so very grateful that the threat of imprisonment or death doesn’t loom over me as it does for millions of Christ-followers around the world. But if it did, if I were required to lay my life on the line to attend church, I wonder, would I show up? Would you?
The Hip, Marketable Church
I am not picking on any particular church or any certain church leaders. After all, I am part of the American church. I am speaking of churches in general because I think most have morphed into the same image: an institutionalized, programized, budgetized, professionalized, business model machine that handles the gospel like a product to be marketed and sold rather than the good news that gives life and keeps people out of hell.
And they’re doing it with the best intentions. Many churches really are trying to reach the lost and really are sharing the gospel from the pulpit. But far too many are doing it by making themselves look just enough like the world that the world is tempted to believe it won’t have to change all that much if it joins up. After all, it can still dress the same, listen to the same (high decibel) music styles (but with catchy, lukewarm, slightly christianized lyrics that can play on secular stations and no one’s the wiser), and it can still get tattoos and piercings and be cool and hip.
A Control Disorder
And the church is also trying to do it by orchestrating every aspect of its services, all in the interest of quality control, time, and efficiency. We have schedules, song lists, rehearsals, sermon series planned months in advance, and in some denominations “closed communion”–because we don’t know if you actually ever came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ or if you just like grape juice.
But is this what Christ would have us do? Should we be a chameleon church that changes depending on its surroundings? Should we resemble the world just enough so that when the world looks upon the church, it should be mortified by its own degradation and need for salvation, but isn’t?
Should we tell the Holy Spirit He can arrive at 11:55 a.m. on Sunday morning for the invitation and not before? Should we inform the Holy Spirit what songs He wants to hear from us instead of joyfully singing the songs He pours into our hearts? Should we usurp the role of the Holy Spirit and in our human frailty judge who is worthy to partake of communion? Is He not capable of dealing with hearts and souls in this regard? In all regards?
Such a church is not one I would die for. And I don’t believe it’s the church that Jesus died for.
How do we fix it? How do we repair the American church? The solution is easy and hard. We need a renovation. Not a building program, not a committee meeting, not a budget projection, not new staff members, not better donuts on Sunday morning, but a complete overhaul. How?
The easy part is to ask God Most High to renovate us. And the hard part is to ask God Most High to renovate us. We must deeply desire and then sincerely ask for revival like we’ve never experienced before. We need to be willing to sacrifice comfort and programs and routines and be willing to do things we’ve never done before in ways that make us nervous because we have relinquished control.
We need to surrender to the Holy Spirit all, and I do mean all, aspects of our corporate gatherings, from the music to the sermons. No more planned down to the minute services, no more sermon series, no more worship team exclusivity, no more singing of songs just because they are the latest releases, no more implementing approaches proven “effective” by the latest church marketing and research teams.
But as the saying goes, we need to be careful what we ask for. If we humbly and wholeheartedly ask God for revival, He will bring it. He will rain down on us such a mighty move of the Holy Spirit that we will be forever changed. Do we truly want to be changed?
Powerful and Painful
We can know for certain that His revival won’t be comfortable. When He shows up, He won’t check the church calendar or beg the worship leader for a few minutes on stage before the sermon. It won’t be a scheduled performance.
His renovation of our hearts and our worship won’t leave us feeling proud of our church buildings or pretty darn good about ourselves. But His renovation will ignite a holy fire in our souls and in our churches that burns off the dross.
Fire is powerful and painful. Are we ready? Are we ready to empty ourselves enough and tired of status quo Christianity enough to experience the God, the Alpha and Omega, the Savior, the Holy One whom the persecuted church lives and dies for?
Are we brave enough to pray this frightening prayer and mean it?
Almighty God, empty us and make us ready. Make us want revival with every cell in our bodies and every desire of our hearts. Show us how to worship you in spirit and in truth. Show us how to be your body, the church. Bring it, Lord. No matter what it costs us and only by your presence and power, for we can accomplish it no other way. In the Name of Jesus, the One and Only, Amen.
I am shaking in my spiritual boots. Are you?
Janice Powell 2014
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.
From Luke 12:48
Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
Scriptures from the New American Standard Bible.