(This is the seventh in a 10 part series. Item Number 3 will be released tomorrow. If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship; #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War; #8: Wrong priorities; 7: Cookie Cutter Attitude; #6. Self Reliance; and finally read #5 Fear Of Change before reading this one)
In this exploration of those things that are among the most vile things that are destroying the western church, particularly in the U.S.A., I hope you have seen a common thread. In each item there is a corresponding Scripture. The passage is either an indictment against that attitude or it is a passage that shows the exact opposite and how the church needs to embody that positive trait in order to be faithful in and to the Kingdom of God. Any single one will diminish the impact a local congregation has on a community.
Coming in at a very strong #4 is one that has plagued the church since her inception. It has rightly earned its place on this list. It is Choosing Form Over Substance. Look carefully at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 from the New Living Translation:
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 5 They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!
Hone in on verse 5: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” The King James Version puts it like this: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power .” Unlike the other symptoms of a dying congregation, this particular one manifests itself in 2 diametrically opposed systems, and we need to look at both of them.
First, there is the form of traditionalism. Now, do you go spouting off your mouth and revealing your ignorance by saying that I do not like traditions. I know we live in a free country where you are free to act and speak as stupid as you so please, but don’t abuse this freedom. I love rich traditions both in family and in the family of faith. But I did not use the word “traditions”; I used the word traditionalism.
Traditionalism does not value the rich traditions because they elevate them to the status of idols by making them simply a means to create a faux self that they think looks good on the outside. And they believe they can produce this themselves. It is all about human effort. You can look through that litany of things Paul writes about to Timothy and one thing becomes evidently clear. They are promoters of Self. Everything is about the external and nothing is about the internal. They are more concern with their outward appearance than they are about their true inward being. Seems like I recall Jesus having some tough and harsh things to say to, who were those really religious folks? Oh, Pharisees! I seem to recall something about them being low down snakes and something about looking like a cemetery on Decoration Sunday; really pretty on top but below they were nothing but dead bones.
Traditionalism is all about keeping up the appearance and it becomes a cheap substitute, much like when King Rehoboam replaced the gold shields that had been stolen with brass shields. It keeps a person from dealing with the truth because many Tenured Pew Sitters simply cannot handle the truth. Rather than looking for where God is at work and pursuing those things with Him, they are more concerned with going through the motions rather than being swept up by this fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. This is one extreme.
The other extreme of this is where brokenness that comes from sinfulness is celebrated and worn as a badge of honor. It’s like, the more brokenness you reveal and share, suddenly the more holy and Christ-like you become. This idea of celebrating brokenness has gotten a bit out of control. Yes God loves us where we are and as we are. But God wants to do more. He wants to bring about a complete transformation. But instead, some seem to take pride in their brokenness by calling it, “the way God created me”.
There is a movement afoot that promotes that God is such pure love that just about anything is permissible, within their definition of reason of course. In this group no one wants to embark on the journey to become who God created them to be. But it seems that some want to celebrate how they feel rather than how God’s grace makes us whole and brings us back to our true self–the self HE created us to be. They insist that it is God’s love and His love alone, without anything else happening, that makes them whole.
But notice that last line of Paul “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” The Gospel Jesus came to share and the Kingdom that His Gospel points to is the one that yes, loves us just as we are, but goes much further and even deeper. It is about trusting His power to change the brokenness that truly exists in all of us into that intended design God has for us. He wants to make us holy and this image of holy is to become exactly like Him. It is not about self polishing or throwing away old ideas of what sin is and does to us. It is about radical transformation that comes from His power working on the inside of us.
One of the founders of my Tribe was a fellow by the name of John Wesley. He once wrote:
I am seeing Wesley’s troubling concern coming true in my Tribe. But not only in my Tribe, but in other Tribes as well. We can be just as beautiful as a cemetery on Decoration Sunday but without the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and without His presence and power to help us overcome our sin, we will remain sinners–sinners that are lost without the Savior. We become a form that has no substance. Oh Lord, save us from ourselves!