Where are we going wrong? It is not surprising that many people are leaving Christian churches. Many, perhaps most, Christian churches focus their activities and energy on things that are not found in Jesus’ teachings.
Layers of stuff
For nearly 2000 years we, Jesus’ followers, have been adding layer upon layer of stuff to his teachings. We have developed doctrines, beliefs, rituals, traditions and all sorts of stuff that we have come to think of as being Christian – but this stuff is not Christian. (If, at this point, you are thinking that this applies to other denominations, not yours, or that other denominations are particularly guilty of these things; pray, and read on thoughtfully). Jesus was passionate, perhaps brutal, in his criticism of the religious leaders of his day for teaching human rules as if they were rules made by God:
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor 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)
Much of what has been taught in churches over the centuries, and is still taught today, is just human teachings. These teachings have built up in layers to the point where our churches are now overloaded with stuff that is not helpful to people who want to follow Jesus. Indeed, this stuff hinders us from doing his work. This stuff hinders the coming of the kingdom of God.
Take a moment to think about some of the words and phrases that you hear in our churches – in the songs, prayers and sermons. Is the meaning of these words and phrases clear to someone who is not familiar with our particular brand of Christian culture? Think about the rituals and the forms of service you see. Did Jesus clearly instruct us to do these things? If not, why are we doing them?
The traditional language and practices that we use every week seem strange to outsiders, and they are strange. The commands of our loving Lord and Saviour do not seem strange to outsiders. They seem very logical and right. (Go to the home page for a list of these commands.) Let’s face it, in our church services we behave in ways that are very strange and it is not surprising that we do not make the impact on our communities that the very early Christian church did.
A few words about denominations.
We Christians often tend to identify ourselves by our denomination – emphasising the divisions between us, rather than by our allegiance to Jesus – emphasising our oneness. This is a problem that has affected the church for centuries. But things are improving. Today, many Christians are going out of their way to have conversations with Christians from different backgrounds. They are listening to each others’ experiences of God and they are expressing their love for each other. This is very good.
Christians who belong to one denomination are not very different from their brothers and sisters in other denominations or to those who do not belong to any denomination. We serve the same just and loving God. We follow the teachings of the same Saviour. We agree on the important things:
• God loves us.
• He wants us to love him.
• He wants us to love each other.
However, unfortunately, some of us behave as if our own denomination is right and others are wrong. We seem to believe that the problems facing Christianity would be solved if everyone else believed what we believe, adopted our way of thinking and followed our rules. This is not good. Jesus told us to be humble servants of one another.
It must be true that none of us have got our beliefs and practices absolutely right. We all make mistakes and get things wrong sometimes. We need to focus on living according to the teachings of our loving Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, rather than focussing on the activities and beliefs that have been laid on us by human teachers.
Jesus is Lord.