A recent Barna poll explored the shifting views that those Americans who still remain in the church have toward the church. While this poll explored the alternatives to the conventional church, other research shows a far more alarming trend. I am not so much concerned over the changing structure of the visible church as much as I am concerned over the changing belief system of the church.
It seems that modern man is trying to re-define the church, trying to discover why we exist. I'll tell you why we exist. We exist for the glory of God. That is the sole purpose of the church. When we forget that purpose, we set ourselves up for ultimate disaster. Someone once observed that the beginning of all heresy is an overemphasis of a burden and an under-emphasis of Christ. All of history supports that observation.
American Christianity has a propensity for the pragmatic - if it works, we figure it must be right. But never forget that the Bible is full of stories where what worked was, in fact, wrong.
One of my favorite characters is a little known prophet by the name of Micaiah. You can find his story in 1 Kings 18 and in 2 Chronicles 18. He is, in my book, a very unusual man. Here's a synopsis of his story. The King of Israel wanted to reclaim some land that the king of Aram had captured three years previously. But Israel was not strong enough to do it on her own. So Jehoshaphat is king of Judah and father-in-law to Ahab, king of Israel. Ahab asks for Jehoshaphat's help. Jehoshaphat agrees to help but only if the Lord approves it.
To make a long story short (and save space), Ahab calls together the prophets of Israel, and to a man they say in effect, "God's given you the go ahead." Jehoshaphat isn't convinced and senses something is not right, so he asks, "Is there still another prophet of God around here we can consult?" " (1 Kings 22:7, The Message). There was. He was sitting in prison. Why? Ahab didn't like his messages.
He's sent for, but with a warning to agree with all the other guys - after all so many can't be wrong. Micaiah stands firm, is ridiculed and mocked and put back in prison because he refuses to compromise his message; he refuses to take the politically correct route. He reminds me of Martin Luther, who stood against all of Christendom at the Council of Worms and said, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise."
Jeremiah, another of the Old Testament prophets, wrote, "To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it" (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV). It is this same condition today that has some in the church scrambling to re-define her purpose, task and image.
If the church would but stand-up for what she was created for, if we would stop trying to give the message that make the Ahabs of this world happy, stop copying what the prophets who have the ear of the king because they want in on the "success" and started listening once again to the voice of God as given in his revelation, then we would really begin to make a difference once again in our society.
The late Vance Havner once said, "The church, it has been said, is not running a show-boat but a life-boat, and we make ourselves ridiculous in trying to compete with the world. The preacher and church that stand for God and righteousness will be magnified."
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org