Sunday, February 3, 2013

When did the church start to go "wrong"?

When did the church start to go "wrong"? - "openings" lately as I ponder what it means to follow Jesus, to be and do disciple/discipleship:

Probably not one specific date or instance, but certainly when Emperor Constantine in the 4th century declared Christianity the religion of the "state" and the church moved into buildings.  This marked a significant change, and apparently not a good one in the life of the church.  It heralded a movement from the Body life to a more structured, legalistic life.  A returning of sorts to that which Jesus Christ Himself had challenged while He walked the earth.

Some passages from Scripture seem to point to this aspect of the church's history:

“Woman,”  Jesus replied,  “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.    You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.    Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.    God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24 NIV)

Even in the Old Testament after Israel had returned from exile and before the temple was rebuilt (lots of issues during that time re: "building"):

"all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the  Lord  had commanded for Israel.    So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law." (Nehemiah 8:1-3 NIV).  NOTE: "in the square", a foretaste of another time when the Law was fulfilled in hearing a "sermon on a hill."

Most Christians who are familiar with the Bible will point to the book of Acts (acts of the apostles) for a living "definition" of "church" as Christ intended:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

Now, some would argue that it says, "every day they would meet together in the temple courts", indicating the "building" was still important. But one must consider the context and culture (changing) at that time, remember that Jesus Himself said, "not in Jerusalem . . . ".  The critical verses are those first ones; "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

When "buildings, programs and budgets" (Dallas Willard) become our focus, we are likely to lose the Church's reason and intent for existing, to "Go and make disciples."

Think about it . . . the only time Jesus went into the Temple and synagogues was to question and challenge the religious leaders, His "teaching" was always done outside or in homes.

"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’    Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,  drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.       “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—       no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep."(Matthew 10:7-10 NIV)

and later after He had risen:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,    and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV)

I am becoming increasingly troubled that we in the "church" spend so much time, money and energy on our "boxes" and living them, while neglecting the 24/7 life of following Jesus "Up, in & out".

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