By Bob Muni
Recently a team of researchers led by Dr. Ralph Neighbor conducted a survey in New Zealand. They asked people: “How would you describe the apparent condition of the Church?” The answers: “Irrelevant, unheard, ineffective, impotent …” Strong words!
We may not like the above description, but the facts are hard to ignore. The very people we are called to reach, the world, have responded with a negative and unpleasant message. It would be easy to give way to pious platitudes and self-righteous remarks. As human beings we would rather convince ourselves that they are wrong, they don’t understand, they are just not one of us. It might be tempting but it would be wrong.
We need to take a look at ourselves through the eyes of those we are trying to reach. The lessons might be painful as we see ourselves through their eyes. If we have ears to hear we might benefit immensely from what is being said and become more effective in our mission.
In Matthew 5:13-6, Jesus likens the Church to the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are exhorted to be full of flavor as salt causing people to be thirsty for the source of our life. Our lives must be as a light open for all to see, set on a hill, our good works causing people to glorify our Father in heaven.
We are warned also, that if the salt loses its flavor and the light is hidden, we become good for nothing and easily trampled under foot. This sounds a lot like the description of the Church in the survey, doesn’t it? Irrelevant, unheard, ineffective, impotent … these words describe a savorless salt and a light that has been hidden.
Let us examine several reasons why the salt has become tasteless to the lost and the light has grown dim to the world. In viewing the problem, we will also see some of the solutions.
The Salt Has Been Kept In The Shaker
Christian activities have consumed so much of people’s lives that they have no time and little energy to make or have an impact in the world. Salt is most useful when it has been poured out of the shaker.
Christianity has been practiced in the midst of our “holy huddles.” There is a lack of Christian energy being expended on reaching the lost. We are using it all up at our gatherings.
Jesus has commanded us to go – to bring the kingdom of God with us to a lost world. We have instead been trying to bring the world to Christian meetings. We have been seen as irrelevant because Christians have been nowhere to be seen.
The Power Of The Cross Has Been Diluted
Compromise in standards of holiness and biblical purity has allowed the people we are supposed to reach to ask: “How is your life different from mine?”
We must have tangible evidence of integrity, honesty, and purity consistent with biblical principles. If the Cross has no effect on our lives and we do not conduct ourselves any differently than the world, we will have no power to witness. No one is going to listen to the words of truth from a life riddled with sin.
If there really is power over sin from the Cross, then it must be practiced before it can be preached with power. When we begin to believe that there really is power in the Cross and our lives consistently reflect it, then we will arrest the world’s attention.
The light is growing dim because there is too much darkness in our midst. We have been living in gray areas and God has called us to be lights. That means we have a stark contrast with darkness, not a compromise to accommodate it.
Wrong thinking from humanism, secularism, existentialism and all the other “isms” have crept into our thinking and lifestyles. Too much emphasis has been placed on man. We must return to the power of the Cross as the power source of life in the Church.
Legalism Has Left a Bad Taste in People’s Mouths
In the absence of real internal power being expressed in our lives, we have reverted to lists, rules, expectations and traditions to govern our behavior. We have too often relied on forms but have not enlisted or trusted the power of God. The Holy Spirit wants to govern our lives as the love of Christ constrains us. The grace of God is a mixing of the power and desire to do God’s will internally.
God wants the freedom to mold people into His image for them. Often we are too quick to try to mold new converts into the image of what we think God wants them to be rather than letting God do it.
We need to closely examine all areas in our Christian institutions to rid them of all the vestiges of legalism. Only what is found in the liberty of the Spirit will contain the flavor to draw others to the Father.
In John, 13:35 Jesus says: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Is the world seeing this love? Or are they seeing church splits, factionalism and backbiting?
Who would want to be a Christian if all they see is division? There is too much of that in the world already. How can they believe that we would love them if we can’t even express love among ourselves?
Our example of love speaks louder that our words. People are looking for the real thing – LOVE – the unconditional agapé flavor. When people see us living lives full of love, their desire for love will be aroused. When we can be united our light will burn far brighter than it does.
We Have Lost Our First Love
The only flavor or light we have as Christians is that which the Father imparts through us. The only way to remain flavorful and full of light is to spend time with Him.
We must return to our first love. Seeking God must be our passion. Activity is no substitute for time with God. Doing God’s work is not the same as seeking Him. Our priorities must be adjusted accordingly.
Jesus said He would spew the lukewarm out of His mouth. We must remain hot, full of passionate love, not lukewarm and half-hearted. That means 100% of our lives must be given to Him. Anything less than full consecration is diluted and lukewarm.
We Christians have created a safe little subculture. We have our own protocol, traditions, methods and meetings. We have even developed our own language. To the outsider looking in, we appear weird. The result is that people stay away in crowds.
We need to be real people relating to the world in real ways. We are commanded to be “in the world but not of the world.” But too many of us have compartmentalized our lives wanting to be “out of this world.” We won’t be heard if we are not understandable.
We need to find ourselves relating in real ways, addressing the pressing, relevant issues of today in language they can understand, not in “Christianese” or with chapter and verse. There needs to be a tangibly felt link in bringing the kingdom of God within us to the outside world.
So many of our attempts at reaching out have really been inviting people into a meeting to watch us be different. We need to be different out in the world and not just in meetings. Our love and compassion is what make’s us different. If we can’t demonstrate our love for the lost, we are totally missing the purpose of the Great Commission.
We have been commissioned to go out into the world and be in their midst, demonstrating the love and power of God in practical, understandable ways. But first we must remove the religious garb that isolates us and keeps us from being real among real people.
Up until now, we have been using methods that are comparable to fishing with a pole. When we go out in the way Jesus did among sinners, ministering in their midst, addressing real problems with working answers, we will begin to fish with nets and they will be full.
There is a tremendous challenge set before us. In God’s grace let us meet it and see our world rise up to meet Jesus.