What Is Wrong with Today’s Church?
“And He has qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
2 Corinthians 3:6
To be clear, from the get-go, the church us us. It’s you and me, as believers. The church is the body of Christ, not a building. After all, Jesus destroyed the need for a building to have access to God, as well as the need of any human middleman. However, it’s still a healthy thing to gather with other Christians to love and encourage one another.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written you know my stance on the church is that it’s all of us as one, not a building, which is also biblical. Not once was a church building referred to in the New Testament, but only groups of Christian believers. But for this devotional I’ll be using the word church in the context of building gatherings. So here we go…
People are leaving churches in droves. According to a recent survey, more than two million people have left their church, every year, for the past seven years. 62% of churches either have no growth or their congregations are declining. On Christmas and Easter our buildings are packed, but why not during the rest of the year? The answer is very simple: the message.
The message isn’t the gospel. The gospel is good news.
Christmas and Easter sermons are normally about the birth and resurrection of Jesus. It’s good news. Why can’t we hear good news sermons all year long on Sunday mornings? Because the message is changed the other 50 weeks. We’ve believed the lie of the enemy, that good news might lead to bad behavior. The reality is bad behavior is already happening plenty with not-such-good-news preaching.
We think God is naive–or He baits and switches us–before and after salvation. Once you’re saved, good news turns into bad news. As a result we get quasi-gospel sermons. In the drop-down menu are:
Behavior improvement sermons
“Just be like me, I’m your best role model” sermons
Try harder, do better, surrender more sermons
Churches aren’t normally filled to capacity 50 Sundays of the year because after these two holidays, many of them turn back into a country club for the holy rollers. Conduct modification programs, volunteer syllabi, and pastoral worship replace the simplicity of the good news, the gospel. Rather than continue to tell people what Christ has done for them and to them, so that He can do through them what He’s designed them to do, sometimes you won’t hear His name an entire teaching.
To add insult to injury, many churches want to “keep things balanced” by placing us into the Old Covenant while ignoring the New Covenant completely–as if it never happened. It’s not always blatant, but if you put microscopic pieces of glass in someone’s food, eventually it will harm them in great ways. Most folks don’t realize what they’re being fed, but it’s still deadly. The meal is filling them up but it’s tainted and there’s no nutritional value. Marking the checkbox of obeying the Sabbath becomes obsessive rather than realize Christ is our Sabbath.
This weak teaching happens when we refer to the Old Testament as if the New has never come to pass. Here are a couple examples of what I mean:
- The praise and worship team begs God to “Fill this place with His presence.” This is completely Old Covenant. God is not filling any geographical place with His Spirit. We are the place. According to the Old Covenant, He filled the temple with His presence. The Jews called it His house. We are now the temples. We are now the house of God–our spirit and our physical body–not any building (see 1 Corinthians 6:17,19). The Spirit in us goes into the church building with us. We aren’t going there to find Him or feel Him. He’s not bound by four walls, two-by-fours and bricks. He’s everywhere at all times, and for believers, inside us. There’s no need to “call Him down into this place” because He’s already in. The first time this happened was at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. This truth is extremely important because when we think we have to keep asking God to fill up the church we neglect the truth, which is He’s always inside our very beings (see Colossians 3:3, Acts 2:4,17, John 12:32).
- The Old Covenant patriarchs and prophets are used as our “best examples” of holiness and righteous behavior. This can be very confusing because most of them followed the Law of Moses. They “delighted” in the Law, “meditated” on it day and night, and were informed they’d be healthy and wealthy by doing so. This is not how the New Covenant works. Jesus put the Jewish health-wealth preachers to shame. He said it would be more difficult for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, than for a person who’s gotten rich from following the Law to enter heaven (see Mark 10:25). He also said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor” to the Pharisees’ faces, basically calling them sick (see Matthew 9:9-12). This blew the disciples’ minds because of what they’d been taught their entire lives! “Obey the Law and all the days of your life will be prosperous and in good health.” On this side of the Cross, Jesus Christ is our example of holiness and righteous behavior, not Law-followers; and He lives in us, teaching us how to live–the Law does not. He is our holiness, He is our righteousness–the Law is neither of those for us. Our spirits are in perfect health because of Him, even when our physical bodies are not. It’s okay to glean from Old Covenant peoples’ lives, but they longed for what we now have which is God’s presence in us, guiding us, and keeping us whole forever! (See Romans 6:14, 10:14, Galatians 3:24,25, 2 Corinthians 3:7-17, Hebrews 11:39,40).
Easter and Christmas are the open houses to attract new members but if the New Covenant is not being preached all year long the sermons are of no value. The Bible says we are only qualified to preach the New Covenant and nothing else, which is complete reconciliation with God through faith in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:6, Ephesians 2:8,9). Therefore, if we aren’t teaching people about the peace they now have with God–or can have instantly through Jesus–there is no competency to our message.
Today’s churches have got to start preaching this good news every time. It is the goodness of God which leads us to change our actions and attitudes (see Romans 2:4).
“Matt, you just want pastors to tickle ears! Our planet is in terrible shape because of ear-tickling sermons!”
Friend, I’m not saying tickle ears, I’m saying preach the good news. There is a huge difference. This planet is not in bad shape because of the good news being preached but the opposite. In fact, Paul told pastor Titus, it’s the good news–the grace of God–which will teach people how to live authentically as saints:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12)
He never said, “That’s too much grace! Balance it with Law!” No. He said it–grace–is what teaches us how to live godly, self-controlled, upright lives. Not talking out of both sides of our mouths, but grace.
I’ve never seen anyone finally have the aha moment of understanding God’s grace go buck-wild in sinning. It just does not happen. God knows this and this is why He’s set things up this way.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (See Proverbs 23:7)
You will act like who you think you are. If you think grace empowers you to live in a holy manner, guess what will happen when you embrace grace as the air you breathe?
What’s more is, grace is not cheap, as the self-centered person will yell. They think it’s cheap–as did the Jews who refused to believe Jesus was Messiah (see Hebrews 10:29)–but God’s grace is the most expensive thing ever and Christ paid for it in full at the Cross. It only becomes cheap when we try to water it down by adding to it through our own efforts or feeble attempts at Mosaic Law observance (see Romans 6:14, 11:6).
Titus 2 is overwhelmingly powerful Scripture in regard to God’s mighty grace, and what it does for His children on a moment by moment basis. If our churches didn’t dabble in grace, but dumped it on the crowds in buckets, sinful actions and attitudes wouldn’t stand a chance because we’d know more about who we are.
If you don’t understand this fact, re-read Titus 2:11 and 12 daily.
GRACE. EMPOWERS. US. TO. LIVE. PROPERLY.
I don’t know how much simpler our Father could have made it.
Yet still, most churches won’t teach this. Rather than water the parched people with grace, they dump flies into the sticky ointment with fear-mongering, “righteous” anger, and guilt trips. Scorekeeping of sins and good deeds are hallmarks of scattering the lost and saved alike–but, they’ll be back on the two holidays.
Grace insults the most sanctimonious folk because it’s completely unfair. “These newcomers ain’t getting no free meal–just one or two, and that’s it! We ain’t going crazy on grace!”
We should go crazy on grace.
Paul calls the gospel, the gospel of grace, in Acts 20:24; and if we look into Scripture, the only time ear-tickling is mentioned is in 2 Timothy 4–and guess who were the targets? Non-believers, not Christians, “Those who turn away from the truth.” Who is the truth? Jesus (see John 14:6).
It’s impossible for a Christian to turn away from Jesus because God has hidden us inside of Himself with Jesus. Nobody can snatch us out of His hand, and we can’t jump out either. He’s combined our spirits with His Spirit forever. The only way this can change is if Christ loses His life (see John 10:28, 2 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 3:3,4, 1 Corinthians 6:17, Hebrews 7:25).
Therefore, it’s impossible for a Christian to have itching ears because we have the same ears as God (see John 1:12,13, 1 John 3:1). But most churches won’t teach this. They teach us we’re at battle with God, even as His own children. This is wrong.
So who really wants their ears tickled? The people who spit on the Cross. Those who want teachers to give them more spiritual disciplines and stuff to improve their completeness with God. Those who want to prove to God how holy they are by what they start and stop. Those who want more behavior-focused sermons: Jesus-plus-this, Jesus-plus-that.
“Simply believing is too easy! Anyone can do that! These nasty sinners need to repent like us! God won’t stand for it!”
It’s foul. It’s wretched. It stinks. It’s part of what’s wrong with today’s church. Unbeknownst to this type, the Galatians did the same thing. Paul called them fools for beginning with Jesus and then trying to add in the Law with Jesus (see Galatians chapters 1-3). “If Messiah is good, then adding Moses in would make us even better Christians! Let’s at least follow parts of the Law! How about the Ten Commandments? Or the nine plus tithing–because I want to do some yard work on Saturday. How will we know how to live in a moral way without the Law?”
The answer is the Spirit within us. Christ will never lead us to sin.
Like oil and water, the Law and Jesus do not mix. The Spirit and the Law are not friends. Not even drop of the Law is allowed in our lives because the Law is not of faith (see Galatians 3:12, 5:9). This is not my idea. Just look at how Paul rebukes this church for doing such a thing:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.” (Galatians 1:6,7)
The context of Galatians 1 is this church turning to the Law after starting with Christ. The Law is no gospel at all. Do you see how they were called to live? In the grace of Christ, not by the rules of Moses.
Truth be told, Paul was so mad about their legalism he publicly called out Peter for refusing to eat with non-Jews. Peter knew better but was put under pressure from the Judaizers who had rolled into town, so much that he was leaning back toward Moses (see Galatians 2).
The Law was an all-or-nothing proposition, just like it is for today. If you failed at one commandment, animal blood had to be shed at the next annual Day of Atonement. Not confessing, not behavior repentance, but blood had to be poured out at the altar by way of a Levitical priest (see James 2:10, Galatians 3:10, Hebrews 9:22). Why do you think Jesus had to die? It was because we needed His blood in order to be settled up with God (see John 1:29, 19:30, Hebrews 1:3, 7:25, 10:10).
Hopefully Peter and the Galatians took this seriously and the church repented of Law-following. Sadly, this same message of Covenant-mixing happens in the majority of our churches most of the year. Not only that, but preaching which says, “Look, I’ve done it both ways—good and bad—good is much better. Just be like me because I say so, because of my experiences. This is what you need to do and the Bible backs me up. I have a seminary degree so I’m right.”
Jesus is rarely mentioned, if at all.
Be like the pastor is the focus.
“Look at my success and start mimicking me, then come back next week for more instructions.”
That’s not the gospel. The gospel is Jesus. What He’s done for us, so He can do to us, so He can do through us by way of grace. This is good news! 52 messages a year should be good news!
So today, my friends, know this: If the message we preach would change to the gospel, our churches would be overflowing all year long. The “Chreasters”–Christmas and Easter goers–would be excited to hear more about what’s available, which is God’s grace, through Jesus!
A prayer for you: Father, today I pray for our churches. I pray we will begin to embrace the simplicity of your grace through faith in Jesus. I pray a new revelation sweeps our planet in the minds of the behavior-centered church-goers. If this good news message would be preached with no caveat, Christians would start to enjoy you on the deepest level possible. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. So many of these dear readers have experienced harsh, double-talk teachings. The craziness of Covenant-mixing has harmed their thought life. I ask for you to begin revealing just how much Jesus has done for them, as well as just how much He’s done TO them. As they grow in this grace, teach them how to be their true selves, moment by moment, and day by day. Let your grace flood our church messages year round and change the lives of countless people! Amen!