WHITHER CONTEMPORARY CHURCH?
P. M. Joseph
It is quite unfortunate that we are destined to live, historically, in a period when the very purpose of the church has become trifling and its relevance, to a large extent, negligible. As a result, the church stands just about neatly deprived of its significance and way behind its lofty mandate, largely owing to its cavalier attitudes, habitual disobedience, and wayward pilgrimage. Doubtlessly, it is an awkward position the church finds itself in vis-à-vis its lofty calling. Strangely, the church is least disturbed about its negligence and that vitiates the predicament beyond mending. Originally, the church was intended to be a sacred structure where the saved on earth would gather together to honour God in worship and fellowship with one another, to plan the implementation of His will, having acknowledged its legitimacy as individuals and community. Then, the church was meant to be an outpost of heaven, subscribing fully to the demands of God's word being equipped with moral calibre and spiritual competence. Hence it had the legitimacy to challenge all existing moral and social perceptions lock, stock and barrel, demanding conformity with God's quality expectations. Further, as a moral and spiritual establishment, it had the rare authority to tear down every stronghold of evil that challenged God and defied His values enforcing kingdom values in its contexts on God's behalf. It was when the church acted on those lines, it became relevant and unwelcome to the world. However, now the church is perfectly at home in its context and the world has no problem with even ten thousand local churches in its neighbourhood. Honestly, it is not a positive affirmation on its status or role, but the opposite. It is an unenviable predicament for reasons galore.
Absence Of Quality Worship
Categorically, the church is the only institution on earth with the right to worship God and it, being an assembly of redeemed people through their faith in Christ Jesus as Lord, qualifies it. Worship, as specified in the Holy Scriptures is a precise, God honouring and sacred employment and only those who know God personally can engage in it. Though God had revealed Himself in the natural world in a general way, and progressively in the Old Testament, a comprehensive revelation of His being came only in the person of Christ as the Holy Scripture says, "No one has seen God at any time but His Son revealed" (Jn. 1:14, 18).It corroborates the above requirement and makes the Lord Jesus Christ indispensable to any legitimate worship system. Further, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself claimed that he who has seen Him has seen the Father' (Jn.14:9), making clear that He is the exact representation of God, inferring that in Him alone can anyone find God and subsequently, involve in worship. It boils down to the fact that it is the church alone that has the exclusive right to worship and no one else can. As a point of fact, an accurate understanding of God's being fills any man with awe, reverence and wonder and that expresses itself in worship, both individually and collectively. Subsequently, it leaves the worshipper gripped with a sense of utter lostness and attendant unworthiness that makes him cling to God's grace desperately. In opposition to the popular assumptions, true worship can never afford a sense of enjoyment or satisfaction, but a sense of His awesome power, grandeur and presence which makes one fall prostrate in continuous worship. The Scripture is abounding with its kind, and whether it be Moses before the burning bush, Isaiah at his vision or John in Patmos, the sense of awe is clear. The non-existence of such a sense in the worshipper neatly undercuts its very legitimacy and propriety. Finally, genuine worship, as a rule and as an exact test of its authenticity, steadily and incrementally makes the worshipper like the God he worships in nature and demeanour-transforming life from the inside. Quite aberrantly, all these ingredients are strangely absent in present day worship in our churches where the worshipper is rapturously singing, frolicking and entertaining himself to his full, with no sense of God's awesome presence, invincible power or His majestic attributes. Absence of the above central components downgrades the unique Christian worship to the levels of casual religious ritual. This has never been part of historic Christianity. Contemporary Christian worship is more conceited in nature as it seeks more to keep the worshipper delighted than honouring the One whom he professes to worship.
Lost Its Sense Of Uniqueness
Historically, the church was a dynamic establishment and everyone except Christians seems to recognise it. The church's uniqueness rests solely on the fact that it is a God-gathered group and the Gospel is ever His means of in-gathering. As a gathered group, it finds itself to be God's exclusive possession and committed wholly to own God as God. Then, it is a community committed to live with the help of the Holy Spirit, having been liberated from the bondage of sin and its attendant inhibitions. Socially, it is not allowed to entertain discrimination of any kind among its ranks in conformity with its confession of faith in Christ as Lord. Emotionally, it draws its strength from the risen Christ and its charm from His charisma. Indeed, this is an awesome identity and a remarkable existence situated solely on His grace. Then, no one can find his way into this gathering on his own merit, making the sovereign operation of God's grace essential. As a response to this unmerited act of God, the church should pledge absolute allegiance to the Person of Christ and His teachings, courteously yielding to all His demands. Consequently, its social and religious habits, outlooks and preferences undergo changes attuned to this status. Predictably, it adapts a new world view distinct from their fellow beings, reflecting a reorganised temperament and a modified loyalty. Further, the church works passionately to conserve the authority of Christ as Lord and Saviour within its ranks and outside, expressing a sense of gratitude. As a matter of fact, living life consistent with this identity has been a huge challenge and, not surprisingly, many have failed to deliver it. The entire Old Testament is the story of this failure and the church too is deficient today to such an extent that the world fails to take notice of its presence, as it squandered its claims through sloppy living! Undoubtedly, this made the church the victim of ridicule.
Not An Active Frontier Of Godliness
Very few Christians recognise that the church was intended to be the venue where solid assumptions of godliness found concrete ground in social spaces to the extent that it could confront the degeneracy of man head-on, challenging him into compliance with God's moral purposes and spiritual standards as laid out in His word for a meaningful existence. The church, by virtue of its status and its nature, is God's sole agent in that endeavour having become an assembly that acknowledges the demands of authentic godliness and a venue of its expression. As a point of fact, the entire procedure can become active only when God's word is honoured as infallible and its demands as final with related obedience. Thus the church comes to rest within the purview of God's designs, absolutely loyal to truth, accountability and transparency. Then the church, as a godly institution, moves into action applying godliness on all societal frontiers, effectively engaging the evils there and challenging them prophetically. Next, as part of its involvement with godliness, the church maintains an unsympathetic approach to sin with righteous hatred. Sin has been wreaking havoc in human lives and society particularly in the area of relationships, God-wards and man-wards, and the church decides to distance itself from its varied manifestations. Subsequently, with its understanding of godliness and its uncompromising stand against sin, the church affords non-Christians a rare occasion to encounter strains of genuine godliness and the repulsiveness of sin. Then the church invites people to accommodate authentic godliness and participate in it by missionally implementing God's values in their contexts as the entire value systems of the world, however appealing they might be and beneficial, are aberrant, chaotic and topsy-turvy. The world opposes true values as enshrined in the text of the Holy Scriptures. However, the church seems to have squandered that responsibility by being pathetically deficient as a godly body today. Its state of affairs vindicates A. W. Tozer, who said, "Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that, if it were poison, it would not hurt anyone, and if it were medicine, it would not cure any one." Honestly, the church is in a pathetic situation.
No Longer A Pilgrim On Earth
One remarkable feature of the church over the centuries was its stringent sense of transcendental approach to life and the conviction that its members were pilgrims here with no claim to permanent residence. Positively, that was the church's unqualified strength that influenced its world view towards the material world. As a qualification, it made the church appear alien in its own contexts and it was rightly so. In the Book of Acts we find this attitude demonstrated where we read about the church that, "they sold all that they had and had all things in common," and it reflected the approach the early church had towards money and the material world at large. Moreover, the church and its members were never apologetic about this outlook, but were proud of it as a sign of allegiance to the Lord's teachings. It was an index of the church's loyalty to Christ as Lord as well. Further, its preoccupation with the eternal made it oblivious of the advantages of the present world, however appealing it might be. God was its sole obsession and it reflected in every sphere of its calling, involvements and preferences. It made the church invariably forward-looking and subsequently prepared to take risks for God and the implementation of His rule. It was precisely why the church grew fast and impressively in the first century, despite heavy odds bringing culture after culture under its influence and fold. As a forward-looking institution, it always had an unshakable faith in the person of Christ and His words fixing its hope in His imminent return. It made the world trivial and its lures immaterial, allowing the church to be a pilgrim in spirit and conduct, with eyes fastened to the future. Contrary to this, the contemporary church lacks this focus as its heart is on the present, with no care for the future. Affluence that the material world affords is more appetising than what the Lord offers. As a result, it places high premiums on the temporal with a covert disdain for the eternal. It abandons the church with a preference for the least at the expense of the best. The act is an apparent mark of church's denial of its own sacred trust and a disavowal of its hope. This approach, though inadvertently, undermines the Gospel, the redeeming work of Christ and the economy of God. Subsequently, it throttles the message of the cross and makes Christian faith a travesty. Obviously, it ensnares unwary believers to a state of captive residency and makes them sluggish to look beyond, despite their lofty calling. Modern day evangelical charlatans aid and abet this uncharacteristic approach embellishing it with their sophisticated terms and techniques rationalising apostasy. But God cannot be mocked or allowed to be taken for a ride except at one's own peril.
With all these developments and a host of others unnamed, many well-meaning Christians ask, whither the contemporary church? May God help us to think and act right.