In almost three decades of attending churches in America, I have encountered five main problems therein. Sometimes only one is present; sometimes a combination thereof, but they are as follows:
1. The church is a religious social clique
You need to be “In.” Not as, “in Christ,” but as, the “In Crowd.” To be “in,” you must meet their criterion, or a set of them.
The criteria are not necessarily bad, but they are not requirements in Scripture for fellowship and friendship amongst believers. Indeed, Scripture would never require such criteria. For they are often of this nature:
- Not sending your kid to the Right School, or the Right (Bible) College
- Not enrolling yourself (if you are a young person) at the Right School or Right (Bible) College
- Not a relative of the Right People
- Not following some Important Person’s Teachings (dotting each “i” and crossing each “t” as he dictates)
- Not having the Right Kind of Job or the Right Kind of Income
If you don’t follow the herd, you are, at best, left out.
Sometimes the In Crowd might take notice of your existence—to subject you to rebuke, mockery, or criticism. Sometimes this may occur face-to-face, but it can also happen in more indirect, more cowardly ways. For example, a pastor who wants to target someone for not fitting in, or or falling into line, might shame his victim by taking jabs (which few besides the jabbed will recognize as jabs) at his target in a sermon. A sentence here, a paragraph there, thrown in just for the victim.
These cliques can easily lead to splits over the silliest of debates. For example, I recall one church which split because they disagreed on how people should (not ‘may,’ but should) make their bread.
2. The church focuses on being comfortable, not convicted
Adrian Rogers once said, “It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error,” but a lot of congregants, pastors, and church leaders would rather have unity (and numbers) than error.
No one should tell the truth about abortion; that might hurt or upset someone’s feelings. (And the attendance might decline! The finances might decrease!)
No one should tell the truth about pornography; that might hurt or upset someone’s feelings.
No one should tell the truth about gambling; that might hurt someone’s feelings.
No one should tell the truth about adultery, fornication, sodomy, or other sexual sin; that might hurt or upset someone’s feelings.
Indeed, no one should tell the truth about almost anything, because the truth will hurt or upset someone’s feelings.
Scripture not only instructs Christians to tell the truth (regardless of church attendance, or finance numbers), but that Christians ought not to keep company with unrepentant sinners who claim to be Christians. 1 Corinthians 5:9–13:
“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:10Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the coveteous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then ye must needs go out of the world. 11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat.13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
If Paul were pastoring a church, I expect he would not fret if an unrepentant sinner stopped attending his church because the truth hurt or upset his feelings.
But in the comfortable churches, you can only talk about the “safe Scriptures”—and often they are yanked out of context. You will hear people quoting verses such as Deuteronomy 3:16, “Be strong and of good courage; fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” without any context.
They use such verses like a one-size-fits-all hospital gown to make modern carnal Christians feel good about themselves, and the verse fits them about as well as hospital gowns fit all. The context of these verses makes it clear that God is not our genie in a bottle, existing to grant our wishes. For example, in Deut. 3:16, because the Israelites were going to obey God’s commands, He was assuring them that He would be with them.
God offers no assurance to the disobedient. In Hebrews we read, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” And Jesus said things like, “[W]hosover is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Ouch! Where’s the teddy bear god the verse-yankers, context-pullers invented?
3. The church self-segregates by age, social status, or a similar criterion
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen self-segregated congregations. For example, in a church service, the elderly would seek out seating next to other elderly persons. Younger couples would do likewise; as would the “youth” and the children. And oh, the looks you’d get if you sat with someone you weren’t “supposed” to sit with. What? You’re fifteen and you sit next to your parents? What’s wrong with you, you dinosaur in fifteen-year-old flesh? Get in the Youth Group Row already!!
Government schools teach children for twelves years of their lives that they should segregate by age. But the church should not reinforce this —implicitly or explicitly—for this hardens the ungodly and unnecessary “generation gap.&rdqou; How shall there be “fervent charity” among the members of the body of Christ if the members avoid (consciously or unconsciously) fellowship with fellow members in Christ who have differing ages, interests, abilities (spiritual, physical), social status, et cetera?
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12,
14For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?… 21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon those we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.”
Romans 14 makes clear the need to be considerate towards our brothers in Christ: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak,” (14:21), “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (15:1).
Paul was addressing spiritual strength and spiritual weakness, but loving consideration of spiritual weaknesses in other Christians will accompany and reinforce loving consideration towards physical or material differences in other Christians. Plus, it would be difficult to know a fellow Christian’s spiritual strengths or weaknesses if one has avoided fellowship with him because that Christian was too different in age, or material status, or physical ability.
Youth shouldn’t avoid fellowship with the elderly, and vice versa. The materially rich shouldn’t avoid fellowship with the materially poor, and vice versa. The physically strong and able shouldn’t avoid the physically handicapped and weak, and vice versa.
But sadly, in many churches, many (note: I am not saying most or all) young persons are too impatient and immature to want to spend time with those “old, wrinkled fogies.” Many elderly folks are too rigid, too inflexible, to spend time with the “noisy, rowdy kids.” Many materially rich persons are too puffed up over their material prosperity to spend time with those “dirty, raggedy poor,” and many materially poor persons are too envious of the materially rich to befriend those “greedy rich people.” Many physically able and strong persons are too proud of their physical abilities to spend time with those “mental or physical slowpokes.” Many infirm and feeble are struggling simply to live and don’t exercise much choice or independence in how they fellowship.
The goal of the members of Christ’s body is unity; but a church that self-segregates will not find unity in Him.
4. The church is about money, numbers, or both.
This can manifest itself in sundry ways. Even churches whose official church doctrinal statements, constitutions, sermons, Sunday school lessons, and so on, that are Scripturally sound, can have an unscriptural focus on money and numbers.
For example, if you’re a parent who takes it upon yourself to lead your children in memorizing Bible verses at home, the money-and- numbers church types will disapprove of you. For your children memorizing Scripture at home means that you aren’t sending them to be in the church program, and the church program has lower numbers or less funds because of it, so you’re a bad parent.
More often, though, the money-and-numbers types flourish in churches with unsound doctrines.
Follow fads. Re-model buildings & facilities periodicially (whether necessary or not). Better yet, fund-raise for a totally new building! Then sell the “old” one!
Rid the church of any fuddy-duddy song leader role; replace him
rock group “praise team.” No need
to dress with respect for church anymore; slouch around with purposefully
untucked t-shirts, blue jeans (when you have slacks at home, but God
doesn’t deserve the time it takes to dress up), tennis shoes, in
front of the congregation. Who cares whether the building is supposed
to be dedicated to the holy God, Whose holiness requires respect and...
reverence. Reverence? Ain’t got no time for that.
Whether people are saved matters much less than whether they
are “unchurched.” Scripture shows us that people can go to
a religious meeting (church) without being saved. But oooh, that word
‘lost’ is so offensive. Let’s not talk about the
saved and the lost. Rather, frame the focus over the “churched”
and the “un-churched.” Let’s grow this
organization and get more folks in our doors!
5. The church is feeding on milk—all the time
The world is attacking Christians and Christianity 24/7.
For example, the world attacks the Bible and its inerrancy. Even some professing to be Christians think the Bible has “mistakes.” But in a church providing only milk, the pastor and leadership don’t provide evidence to support Biblical inerrancy.
Sermons and church activities barely scratch the surface of Christian doctrine and Christian living. They fail to teach or equip the church-goers how to defend Scripture against the world’s countless attacks against God and His Word.
The world attacks Christians for not observing Old Testament rules. “Oh! You hypocrite, you’re wearing a garment of mixed fabric!” But in a church providing milk only, the pastor and leadership have never explained why these kinds of Old Testament laws aren’t applicable to Christians.
The world attacks the book of Genesis. Even some claiming to be Christians attack the book of Genesis. But in a church providing milk only, you won’t hear the evidence in support of six twenty-four-hour days of creation, as taught by Genesis.
The world attacks other events as described in Scripture, such as the fall of Jericho, saying that Scripture is full of myths and lies. But you won’t hear the evidence backing the Scriptural fall of Jericho, or evidence for other historical accounts in Scripture, from hardly a pulpit across America.
The world attacks the Old Testament as teaching genocide and violence and polygamy. But in a church giving milk only, the pastor and leadership don’t, or can’t, equip you how to defend the Old Testament.
The world attacks and loathes Biblical teachings on private property rights. It’s one reason why so many “get away with” (as regards justice from man, not justice from God) stealing what isn’t theirs.
In churches giving milk only, the pastor and leadership won’t expound on, or apply, Scriptures addressing private property rights. (Scripture is crystal clear on this issue. Not only is it forbidden to steal, it is forbidden to covet what is not yours! Habakkuk wrote, “Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his.” Of course, one man reason why pastors and church leadership won’t touch financial topics is that they’d have to own up that the Internal Revenue Service is unBiblical, and that fiat currency is a false balance, which is an abomination to God, and then they’d risk liberals leaving the church—less money! lower numbers!— and they want to cling to a status granted by that unBiblical IRS.)
Thus when atheists or anti-Christians tell Christians that the Bible supports polygamy, or slavery, or child abuse, or any other horrible thing they accuse the Bible of teaching, too many Christians are left stumbling and stuttering, because too many pastors and church leaders failed in their duty to give their flock spiritual meat.