Are we introducing others to church, when we should be introducing them to Christ?
I’m doing some research on the very early church and have found out that, in the second and third centuries, a new convert was not immediately invited to join church services. In fact they were excluded. They underwent a period as a “catechumen” during which they were educated in the teachings of Jesus and were expected to demonstrate the changes that He had made in their lives. This period varied from church to church but may have lasted as long as two years. Only when they had completed this period were they baptised and allowed to join in church services, which included communion.
Church services were, therefore, restricted to those who had committed themselves to Christ, been instructed in his teachings and found to be living according to his commands.
Today, let’s face it, many people who attend church services regularly are not actively seeking a committed relationship with Jesus. Nor are they actively trying to live according to his commands. A genuine seeker, attending church services for the first time, may assume that the people they meet all have the relationship with Jesus that they themselves are seeking. And they may become confused.
I would suggest that a seeker needs a simple environment where they can spend time with one or more Christians who really do know what it is like to have a love relationship with Jesus. These people won’t have all the answers, none of us do, but it will be an environment where the seeker can ask questions, learn to pray and learn to start living according to the commands of Jesus. (Jesus said that new disciples should be taught to obey everything that he commanded his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)). I think a small group meeting, in someone’s home would probably be a good environment.
Here’s a question. If revival breaks out soon (and many of us are praying that it will) are our churches equipped to respond to large numbers of people who want to know Jesus? Our task will be to disciple and encourage these people as they develop their love relationship with our Lord and Saviour and live in obedience to his teachings. Is there a danger that we will respond only by encouraging these people to join our church communities?
Can we convince others that God exists? Yes we can – because testimony is evidence.
I heard a brilliant sermon this week about evangelism. It was given by a friend called Rick Fletcher, who I have come to know and respect deeply. Rick is studying Christian Apologetics and started by speaking about whether it is possible to prove that God exists. Rick practised as a lawyer for 11 years and his main point was that, in a court of law, testimony is evidence.
Many of us are nervous about the idea of evangelism. Rick said that all we are really called to do is be witnesses, provide testimony or, to put it very simply, just talk with others about our love for God and our walk with Him. Our testimony may well be convincing.
In the early church the good news spread rapidly but mostly it spread through ordinary Christians talking about their spiritual experience. They talked with neighbours, with people they met in the market place, with fellow workers, with anyone they happened to meet.
We can do this too. We don’t need organisations, funding or buildings. We just need to talk.
“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:37-38). Pray first, but don’t be surprised or afraid if he sends you.
Jesus is Lord.
Three things God wants me to do today…
1. Get out of bed.
2. Serve him to the best of my ability.
3. Go back to bed.
What Does God Want?
God wants all his children to live in a right relationship with Him. This is what He has always wanted. He wants us to leave our selfish lives and live lives that are right with Him.
When someone comes to us, wanting to learn how to live in a right relationship with God, we must carefully and prayerfully devote ourselves to helping them. They will need a person, perhaps a group of people, who know what it is like to have a right relationship with God.
We are called to encourage and enable each other to live in a right relationship with God. We are called to help each other to grow in that relationship. We are called to humbly work with each other, to mentor and disciple each other.
The Christians who are leaving our churches today may be Christianity’s best hope for tomorrow.
One of the reasons many people leave churches may be that too many churches place too much emphasis on the importance of human rules, traditions and doctrines and not enough emphasis on the key requirement of the Christian life; loving God. Christians who want to focus on loving God, and who want to be with other Christians who love God, are finding that many churches are not meeting this very central need.
Jesus strongly criticised the religious leaders of his day for losing sight of their primary role which was to enable and encourage others to love God. Jesus criticised these leaders for focussing on teaching human rules:
You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain. Their teachings are merely human rules.’ (Matthew 15:7-9)
Unfortunately many Christians today are focussed on obeying human rules. This weakens our witness and hinders the coming of God’s kingdom. We sometimes place more emphasis on our denominational traditions and rules than on the importance of loving God. We have become burdened and weighed down by traditions and rules that have nothing to do with loving God, but we find it difficult to even recognise those traditions as being burdens. And if we do not recognise them as burdens we cannot change them.
It gets worse. We do not just weigh ourselves down with traditions and rules; we burden others with them. Jesus criticised the religious leaders of his day, saying:
They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)
If we deliberately promote the traditions of our denomination as rules or doctrines required by God then we make them a burden for others and deserve the condemnation Jesus pronounces. But if we even fail to openly identify these traditions as being human, not divine, then we make them a burden for others and we deserve the same condemnation.
God does not want us to be burdened with human traditions. He wants those who commit themselves to his service to be set free from burdens. Jesus said:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
And Jesus’ beloved disciple, John, said:
For this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1John 5:3)
We Christians must free ourselves from unnecessary burdens, including our human traditions and rules, and we must be very, very careful not to lay these unnecessary burdens on others.
So why do I say that Christians who are leaving churches today may be our best hope for tomorrow?
The Christians who are leaving churches can help us in two ways:
• They can develop ways of expressing their love for God which are not hindered by the traditions and rules found in established denominations. Their witness to non-Christians will be free of these traditions and may be simpler, clearer and more effective.
• They can serve as an example and an encouragement to Christians who remain in churches to identify the rules and traditions that hinder God’s work in his world at this time, to throw them out and to focus on loving God.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
If our churches were full of people who followed the teachings of Jesus…
Then our churches would be full of people who: Loved God, did not do things in order to impress other people, were humble, didn’t wonder about other people, prayed, worshipped God in spirit and in truth, trusted God, didn’t worry, didn’t put their trust in earthly treasures, loved others (including their enemies and other Christians), prayed for anyone who persecuted them, treated others the way they would like to be treated themselves, talked to anyone who had offended them, talked to anyone who they had offended, were merciful, did not judge others, served others, forgave others, spoke in such a way that their word could be relied on, and taught others to obey Jesus’ commands.