Where have we gone 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 have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus’ commands are that we should love God and love each other. These are the most important commandments. Everything else hangs on these two. Jesus said so.
Christian churches should be communities, families, whose members love God and love each other. The focus of church activities should be encouraging and supporting each other to love God and love each other.
Many, perhaps most, churches are not primarily concerned with following the teachings of Jesus. They have become weighed down with activities that are not part of Jesus' teaching. These things may be regarded as “Christian” by some of the people within these churches but they are not. These things distract Christians from following the teachings of Jesus. Here are a few examples of things that are regarded as important in many churches but which do not appear in Jesus’ teachings:
- A focus on buildings and decor.
- A focus on rituals and forms of service
- A focus on presentation – complex musical arrangements – expensive audiovisual equipment.
- A focus on study rather than prayer. (We are called to love God. Jesus encouraged his disciples to spend time with God in prayer and he gave them specific teaching about prayer. He never encouraged them to study.)
- A focus on telling others, Christians and non-Christians, how they should behave.
Jesus criticized the church leaders of his day for teaching human rules as if they were rules made by God. Yet much of what is taught in churches is, simply, human teaching.
A few words about denominations.
It is sad that 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. Many Christians who belong to a particular denomination understand that they should be more accepting of members of other denominations. Today, many Christians from many different backgrounds are going out of their way to have conversations with Christians from different backgrounds. They are exchanging information about their experiences of God and they are expressing their love for each other. This is very good.
Many Christians are also leaving denominations completely, both as individuals and in groups. The church that I attend was formed when a group of us decided that we could no longer be part of a particular protestant denomination. We didn’t join another denomination. We formed a small church on our own. We have a very thin rule book. We invite speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds, including protestant, catholic and orthodox. Many years after we set up as an independent non-denominational body we are doing just fine and God is blessing us. Many Christians are leaving denominations and not forming new churches. They are meeting in small informal groups or just maintaining a network of encouragement with others. This is also 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.
Some Christians behave as if their own denomination is right and all others are wrong. They seem to believe that the problems facing Christianity would be solved if everyone else joined their denomination, adopted their way of thinking and followed their rules. It would be helpful if such Christians could stop focusing on the differences that they have with other Christians and start focusing on what they have in common.
If your reaction to what I have said here is “The denomination that I belong to is OK. The problem is with the other denominations." Then I would respectfully suggest that you may be part of the problem. Thinking that we are better than the other person is prohibited in the teaching of Jesus.