Last spring while I was in Europe going to the various Youth With a Mission bases (by the way, I realize I have not really fully blogged about my time there other than at the beginning part of the trip in Scotland. Someday, maybe, I'll get around to that too) our team of OJ, Suzanna, their kids Ariel and Judah, Pete and I decided to take a trip into a town called Largs (I think that was its name, not sure now it's been so long) to go shopping. Immediately upon arrival in Largs began looking for a place to eat.
We walked around for a bit looking for something that caught our eye. As we were walking down the street we came upon what we thought was a church. However, upon entering the courtyard, we could see that what was once a church had now been converted into a pub! We decided to eat at this restaurant and as we walked in, I have to say, I was a little weirded out by being inside. It was very strange to be looking at what used to be the pulpit and seeing people eating there, or looking over to the side of the church and seeing a bar where alcohol was being served. It was a a surreal experience to say the least. I couldn't help but think of when Jesus threw the market out of the temple.
I have heard a statistic that there are now more pubs in Europe than churches. If my experience is normal...some churches are now pubs! The decline of the church in Europe is well on its way. Some even say they (Europe) are about where we in the US are headed in about 20 years.
I have spoken in previous blogs about how irrelevant the church has become to people's lives and the statistics that prove this in various articles like the Newsweek one or the one I posted from the Christian Science Monitor. One of the things Mark Anderson spoke on this weekend is how church has become something it was perhaps never meant to be. It looks nothing like it looked if you compare what we are doing now with the early church in the book of Acts.
I have become more and more interested over the last few days in what exactly the early church was like and how it is exactly that the church today came to look the way it does. What I have found is really interesting.
The church in the book of Acts looks NOTHING like it looks in Western culture. It actually more closely resembles the way the church currently works in China: meeting as groups in people's homes, eating together, sharing things, being relevant in each others' lives, the gospel being spread by word of mouth and because others seeing the changes in people's lives. The bride of Christ in Acts was full of power and love. Christianity spread in 300 years to include almost everyone in the Roman Empire. This caused Emperor Constantine to take notice and, like any good politician, made changes to accommodate this new majority in his kingdom.
The enemy worked for 300 years trying to eradicate Christianity by martyrdom and oppression, but his greatest work came from within. After Constantine made Christianity legal, he insisted on its elders (particularly those already IN Rome...smart man) getting together to come up with common doctrine (Council of Nicene), taking over old pagan buildings and implementing a hierarchy of leadership. This is when the church as we see it today began to take form.
There is a lot to go into on details, but basically what happened is that Christianity began to lose footing with everyday life and quickly became something only on Sunday, filled with hints and reflections of paganism (seriously...study the cult of Isis and how worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus is an off-shoot of that) to make Christianity more palatable to those coming out of polytheism and paganism, the church became entangled in politics to the point that men saw gaining positions in the church not as a calling to serve the Lord, but to serve their own interests. Christianity moved from everyday life and common men and women to buildings and men who used it to serve their own purposes.
Sure, Christianity spread (and the Dark Age right with it) but I suspect that many people were not truly saved. There have been attempts to make changes to the way we do church (Martin Luther, Jan Hus, Charles Finney among others) but many of those man were kicked out of the church for their beliefs or martyred. The Reformation happened and some things got better, the First and Second Great Awakenings helped, but I believe we need a Third Great Awakening.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the Western way of doing church is a death sentence to Christianity on so many levels. We have taken our relevancy and put it in a building on Sunday mornings and called it good. One of the things Mark Anderson said was that we expect people to get up, dress funny, sing strange songs, listen to someone talk about a subject for a bit and then pay for it! I don't even want to go to a church like that anymore.
Our beliefs were from the beginning meant to permeate every bit of our lives. Read the passage from Deuteronomy 6:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
The Lord isn't saying here to literally tie His commandments on your hands or head or doorframe. What He is saying is His word should be a part of everything you do everywhere you go! It should be on your lips when you speak, it should be at your jobs, it should be in your dreams, it should be a part of all you are.
Is it any wonder non-believers are not attracted to our churches? They call us hypocrits and they are right! We have sold them a Christianity that is without power, without holiness, without the ability to change a person's life, and without relevancy. Sure, we're not perfect, but can you really blame a non-believer for not being attracted to what we've made our Christianity?
We tell them: "Oh just say a prayer and you'll be saved." Really? Where does it say that? And then we wonder why, after saying this nice little prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts (instead of TAKING our hearts and REPLACING it with His) people don't start coming to church or they come for a while and then stop.
Oh, friends, we HAVE to change some things about how we do church, about how we live our lives, and about the Jesus we preach. I don't have the answers for how to do this, but it is burning on my heart! May it burn on your heart too.