Over These Prison Walls

I feel like, and have felt for a long time, that the church has been imprisoned by its own walls. That through its history, the church has created a prison fortress that has defined it since the beginning of the industrial age. When I study the history of the church, that is the institution that lies within the control of men, I am saddened at how quickly it departed from the model of Christ to become a deterrent to the gospel of His coming, rather than the encouragement he intended.

Oh, I can feel your outrage, but the scriptures are clear concerning the power of God, the “keys of His Kingdom,” and the authority of the church to use that power. Yet, as I look at the world around me and the history of its journey to this point, it is clear that the church has failed to use the power of God, as it was given, and has hidden the keys away, beneath an alter to, what, or whom, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that the church, as an institution of men, like their father, Adam, has chosen the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, that is, dependence on the power of men rather than the power of God. I don’t exclude myself from error, but I simply identify cause and effect, observing what is obvious to a lost world, if not to ourselves.

Over the last century, the general model of the church has been to meet for worship on Sunday morning, to, in some cases, eat a meal together, then to close the doors of the church, that is the building, and go home to resume a secular life until next Sunday.

Even so, for many of those years, the gospel was still preached from the church’s pulpits, without neglecting the realities of sin, or the price that was paid to reconcile us and to save us from an eternity in Hell but the model has all along promoted a “feeling spiritual” worship experience, along with cheap grace, lazy discipleship, the promotion of programs rather than relationships through the power of the Holy Spirit, and an inclination toward exclusion, “separating” ourselves from the sinful world that surrounds us, as if we were somehow better than they. That kind of thinking has created a deeply flawed “us and them” mentality. As a result, the worship experience today is more focused on “feel good religion” than it is on the problems of a sinful world, and it seeks solutions more from  government than from God. The entire enterprise reminds me powerfully of the message in the story of Jonah, so often missed by those who claim to believe, but we have become like Jonah, defiant and disobedient in the face of Christ’s command to “Go,” and to “make disciples,” not converts.

As it is, a few do occasionally “Go,” and others occasionally “make disciples,” mostly, however, we insist that the lost world “come,” to us, to enter our fortress, our private club, where we can share the lie of cheap grace, telling them they are saved through an insincere prayer, a salvation that requires no recognition of sin and, therefore, no true repentance.

When rarely we are compelled to “Go,” we often go grudgingly, like Jonah, with sour faces and sour hearts then we wonder why the world shows our religion no respect. We complain about the trampling of our constitutional rights and the worsening conditions of morality in the world outside our fortress. We seek out politicians who will agree with our utopian goals and promise to fix the problems that offend us rather than see the truth, that the problems are spiritual in nature and our goals fall short of the Kingdom of God.

Something has to change. I keep praying for a new vision for the twenty first century church and the answer that consistently comes is the model that Jesus left for us in the gospels. Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)

As I read the scriptures I see that this was consistently the case, that Jesus was always working, “doing good,” on the Sabbath. It stirred the ire of the religious leaders of his time, as the suggestion will today, but if you step out of the fortress and look around, you will see a world in desperate need. Our duty as His disciples is to minister to those needs. That ministry begins by forming community, that is, putting ourselves among them, where they are. Only in community with the lost can we convince them that we care enough to commit ourselves to making things better by the power of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That process means spreading the tent of God’s Kingdom to include the lost where they are, a feat that can only be accomplished by faith, earnest prayer, and the power of God. No politician or political solution will ever alter our path to destruction. Abraham bargained for Sodom and Gomorrah, but the lack of ten righteous persons brought about its destruction. Today, with the advantage of the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice and the Holy Spirit, people can assume righteousness in God’s eyes, but they have to make that choice themselves, by faith. Only earnest prayer can accomplish that and the church, that is The Body of Christ, is the source of that prayer. So I ask you, where is the prayer? Where is the sack cloth and ashes of earnest intercession? I don’t see it. What I see is a lot of people divided over music, hog tied by an order of service, fighting over budgets and preaching to the choir while the world plunges ahead to its prophetic destruction. Surely there must be a better way.

Following earnest prayer, the gospel requires us to “go” out from our zone of comfort and form community with the lost around us, as He sent the seventy before Him, (ref. Luke 10:2 – 6). As we go, led by the Holy Spirit, the many needs for ministry and God’s love will be revealed around us. As an example, there are elderly widows and even couples among you who’s homes are falling down around them because they lack the strength and, or financial ability to maintain them. This is a place for the church to work on the Sabbath, as Jesus worked, a place to gather for worship and share the love of Christ and His gospel in a way that He would have approved. It puts the church out there, visible in the community, a testimony to God’s love for those who don’t know Him. Worship should not be a rut that traps the followers of Christ in a comfortable routine of shallow commitment to an order of service. Jesus wants more from us, yet what He calls us to is not complicated, it’s simple, just like His gospel, a simple church.

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About B. James Wilson

Author, Artist, Teacher, Apparent Illusion...
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