Know Your Bible

VOL. 9                           November 28, 2010                           NO. 48

 Eccentric Christianity
     The denominational world would have us believe that it really doesn't matter to God what one believes, as long as he or she is sincere. The denominational world would have us believe that the thousands of different churches that exist in this country are all working toward the same goal. The denominational world would also have us believe that they are all following the same Lord, they all are pleasing to the Lord in their own different ways, and they will all eventually end up in the same place [heaven].
     But, friends and brethren, this is not the concept of the church intended by its founder, Jesus Christ. It is not the concept of unity He desired, either. When Jesus prayed as recorded in John 17, He prayed "that they might all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (John 17:21-23) From this prayer, we know that Jesus was not asking that disciples of the future would all be divided up by their thousands of different creeds and practices; His desire was that they all be one as He and the Father were one.
     But in the realm of religion in which adherents call themselves 'Christians,' it is clearly obvious that this unity does not exist. Even more so, it is obvious that many do not even seek the unity for which Christ prayed, and many have no idea how to achieve it, either. Many of the religious leaders within these distinctive divisions have a stake in maintaining the separation and will, at best, make only superficial moves to appear they are unified with their cohorts in some of the other denominations. Some mainline denominations have even "merged," but not so much that they have dispensed with the existing creeds and gone back to using the Bible as their only source of authority. More often than not, these "unions" are in appearance only, for none have rejected their former creed books and started instructing their members to follow another.
     Though the denominational world would have us all believe that they are all working in beautiful harmony and are all pleasing to the Lord, such is simply not the case. If you have ever visited a few different churches within a short period of time, it didn't take long to figure out that the different churches had not only a different teaching and/or practice, but they all likely had a different focus. What we have, in effect, is eccentric Christianity [using the term 'Christianity 'in the loose sense of the word as it is often used today].
     'Eccentric Christianity'? What do I mean by that? First of all, let us define terms. The word eccentric means not having the same center. In the religious world, particularly in the denominational world of what is so often [but erroneously] called 'Christianity,' this simply means that these churches [denominations, as they are known] do not have the same central focus. Though, for the most part, they claim to have Christ as the focus of all they say and do, such is clearly not the case. And the difference is apparent even between different congregations within the same denomination; some churches focus on entertaining their members, while others focus on entertaining the 'unchurched'; some decry the entertainment ploy and appeal to the lost through other means, like food or social support groups. Some actually dispense with all the material and fleshly offerings and provide only that which relates to the spiritual well-being of both the believer and unbeliever, but even in this there is no unity to be found.
     Despite the vehement denials of disunity and division, it is clear to honest observers that unity among the denominations does not exist and - worse - the reason for the disunity and division is what actually separates them from Christ, the very One they claim to be following!
     The lamentable fact of the matter is, denominations that exist today do not have the same central focus, and a good portion of them do not even have Christ as the center of their faith at all. Even among the so-called churches of Christ, there is a growing number of congregations who have surrendered the call for "book, chapter, and verse" and are following the lead of the denominational world in offering food, fun, and entertainment to draw others into the fold and, like those who went before them, they, too, have moved "off-center" and replaced Christ as the reason why they even exist. But this is not new.
     In the first century, there was a church that was very troubled. The members of this church did not break up and start a whole new work in another location because they had so many problems [like some do today], but they did manifest divisions amongst them even as they came together as a church. The silly thing is, they divided themselves along the line of who had either taught or baptized them. Furthermore, these same brethren were tolerating a brother among them who had committed a sin not even the Gentiles would admit; they were defrauding and taking one another to law; they were insensitive to the personal beliefs of their brethren regarding the eating of meats offered to idols; they made a mockery of the Lord's Supper, gorging themselves while others went without; they acted arrogantly toward one another based on what spiritual gift they had been given; and some denied the fact of the resurrection.
     You probably recognize this church [Corinth], but do you remember the consistent answer Paul gave to every one of these problems? Do you remember what they had to have again as their focus if they were to ever be united again? That's right: Christ!
     The solution to the divisions based on who taught or baptized them was a reminder that they were Christ's (1 Cor. 3:23). The solution to the sinner amongst them was a reminder that Christ was their pure sacrifice, and that they needed to keep it pure (5:7). The solution to brethren defrauding one another and taking one another to law was a reminder that they were washed, sanctified, and justified people who were made new by the sacrifice of Jesus (6:11). The problem of causing their brethren to stumble by the eating of meats was solved by a reminder that when they did so, they were sinning against Christ (8:12). The confusion and inequity taking place during the communion was addressed by reminding them that it was supposed to be a memorial of Christ's death (11:23-26) and that doing this improperly would bring the blood of Christ upon their own heads (v. 27). The arrogant attitudes that came because of the differing gifts was answered by reminding them that all the gifts had come from the same Spirit (12:4), and that they were all members of one body: Christ's (12:27). The matter of the resurrection was settled by reminding them that if there was no such thing, then Christ did not rise and we are all still in our sins (15:17) Time and again, Paul tried to re-orient them to who should have been the central focus of their life: Christ. As they were, they were eccentric in their practice and treatment of one another: they did not have the same center and basis for their faith and practice, or even as the reason why they were there.
     Friends and brethren, it is no different today among the denominational world, and even among the churches that identify themselves as "churches of Christ." How do I know this is the case? I know this is true because I read their bulletins, see their advertisements, and I have actually visited some of their assemblies.
     I have a collection of advertisements from denominational churches, and churches of Christ who have become denominational, that offer food and games, but do not mention God or Christ or any kind of spiritual offering; I have advertisements that offer a chance to win gift certificates to Wal-Mart, stereo systems, game systems, or money; I have advertisements that promote Halloween hayrides, candy, costume contests, and various games; I have advertisements that promote a person who is coming to sing or break bricks over his head; but what all of these lack is any indication that their focus is on God, Christ, or His word. What I see is that Christ is not their focus. But if you asked them, they would tell you with a straight face that they are "Christ-centered." I was born in the morning, but not this morning. I am not fooled and neither are the people who come for these offerings. As soon as the food, fun, and entertainment go, so do they. Christ is not the reason they come!
     Let us not be so shallow as to resort to these things for the plain purpose of increasing our attendance numbers. Yes, I will readily admit that if that is your purpose in doing these things, you will find "success." But "success" in this is not "success" to God; the church's task is to save souls, and all the food, fun, and entertainment in the world will not bring them one step closer to salvation. The only thing that will do that is God's revealed word, the Bible (Rom. 10:17). If they don't come for that, nothing we can do will save their souls.
     Please take a look at what your church is offering to its members and those who come. Is Christ really the center of all they teach and practice, or are they an eccentric church? Is Christ's word the basis for all that is said and done, or do they resort to their creed book when differences arise? Does Christ's word settle all disputes, or does your pastor or priest have the final word? Who - or what - is the center of your faith?
---Steven Harper
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