When over a decade or more, our family had been to churches that split, a church where we were told “people are tired of praying for you all, you need to do something to help yourself” and churches that have embraced error and nonsense with open arms, and finally found a church that was committed to the fundamentals, we discovered sadly after trying our best to plug in there for four years, this description C.T. gives of “going a day’s journey without Him” seemed to be the way it was in that fundamentalist church. With the busy-ness, the keeping up a front, the walking ahead of, getting out of pace with Jesus. The going about the routine and losing sight of what it’s really about.
Below is an approximate transcript of the portion of this sermon I am referring to:
The Bible is not just a history book. It is a book that is very much alive. And the job of a Christian is not just to read the Bible as a textbook or a history book, but to read it and ask God what it is HE is trying to say to us. Now I believe all of us can point our fingers at Mary and say, “How in the world could you go ahead of Jesus and leave Him behind” but I believe from the oldest to youngest Christian in the room, about all of us have had times in our lives when we got ahead of God, and disconnected ourselves from His presence. The very first problem was that they were faithful in their religion.
May I tell you that it is very possible to be both faithful and neglectful at the same time. Sometimes the easiest place to get out of sync with God is right in the middle of being busy for God in the church. I know a lot of people that substitute a relationship with Jesus based upon what they do for Jesus in the church. Well if they help park cars and they are there every Wednesday and every Sunday night, then everything’s alright between them and God.
But may I say that God did not create you to go to church.
He created you so he could have relationship with you. Every single day when you wake up, God desires that intimate relationship with you. Not just mother and father, but God wants that relationship with the teenager. He wants when we wake up, for Him to be the very first thought we have in the morning. But rather we see the very same way that Mary and Joseph became distant with Jesus, that our propensity as a born-again believer and still living in our fleshly bodies, is to get so very busy in life and so very busy doing what we think we should be doing, that often in our business for God, we forget about the most important things that we are there to do, and that is to have that intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I preach at a different church nearly every night of my life, and 99.9 percent of them are Independent Bible believing Baptist Churches and the problem I am seeing is not church attendance, it is not a matter of enough people in the choir, it’s not (a problem of enough) people to fill the pews, but what I am finding is we’ve got a lot of Baptist robots that know what to do and how to act, what to say, they know how to get to church and put the churchy face on, and act like everything’s fine, act like everything is peachy at your house, make us want to believe that ain’t nothing going wrong, but may I tell you, that you might as well quit trying to fool, ‘cuz the wrong man is here tonight, and I know that every one of us is made out of the same old stuff, ain’t nobody any better than the other, all of us have the same problems, we all have the same struggles and if we’re not careful we all live in a rat-race society, we got school in the morning, we got to go to a job after we drop the kids off, we pick the kids up they got ball practice…and before we know it we’ve gone a whole day and haven’t have any time to sit down and open our Bible and ask God “what do You have to say to me today?” and we say “tomorrow’s going to be different”…only for Junior to come through the door, puke up all over the living room, rush him out the door to the school house, and before you know it, it hits your mind that you promised you’d study and spend time with Him, and you make another promise, and something else comes along.
A founding family essentially have been the functional heart of the fellowship at that last church. I don’t think they intended to be, and I am not convinced they like it that way themselves, but because it is down into the third generation (with fourth generation up and coming), it seems to me that they also can’t really see the issue and so there results, in my view, a great disconnect between the founding family along with a few remaining charter families, and “everyone else”. The description above about “Baptist Robots that know how to say the right things” was kind of what it felt like to us on coming in and trying to find our place there. There was seemingly very little awareness or acknowledgment of the daily grind (battles, challenges, frustrations) that Christians encounter in daily life in the modern day world, because it seemed that those (mostly) running the church have created (or perhaps inherited) an artificial bubble of a world there, (which also, they seem to hold as a high priority, keeping that bubble intact) that is so separated from the outside world, those who aren’t inside that inner circle, can’t relate to those who are, nor can they relate to the artificially created “safe zone” they seem operate within. Conversely, the ones at the heart, who are admittedly the backbone of that fellowship, feel alienated, put upon, overworked, and as they are viewed as being “in charge” (if only by virtue of their years of investment as a family, deferred to) they also are the ones to whom any dissatisfaction is addressed. There is an affiliated small private school on grounds, and a close association with a Christian Bible College an hour away, there are about thirty missionaries supported, and all of that is good, but those things are not sustainable without a thriving church filled with mature, Bible-literate Christians behind it.
In some cases, like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes, it is often the pastor’s family that gets lost in the shuffle. This is definitely NOT the case here, as a majority of this extended family have in fact gone on to be very active in ministry, (very commendable!) but in this case, between nurturing a school and supporting the college and missionaries, in the meantime the church family has not been cultivated. At this point the onus of this may neither rest upon the pastor, nor really upon the remaining people or the new ones trying to come in, but if no one acknowledges there is a problem, there is little hope of anything changing or improving. In this time when we need to strengthen what remains and should not forsake assembling together to exhort one another, this is a particularly unfortunate state of affairs.
There seemed to be a lot of stuff not preached because it seemed to be assumed people just knew it. (Much like doctors who explain everything to the patient in medical-ese, forgetting everyone hasn’t been to medical school. Maybe this is because the fundamentalism is so central to the identity of the church. But if the very fundamentals that they operate on, are not actually being taught, how will the new generations know? It is like parents who grew up in a much more moral generation not realizing they need to TEACH their kids about sexual purity. They don’t realize the magnitude of what they are assuming, nor the huge implications this ignorance will have.
Of course as in most churches, the people who are doing most of the work, are worn out, but people coming in can’t plug in, because of the huge divide. Call it a spiritual “generation gap” or something. Whatever the case, it seems to be killing that particular fellowship. And it is tragic.
There was often mention of a desire to see the Holy Spirit move there, but when everything is already set in its own groove, and runs like a clock through the same routine week in, week out, month after month, year after year, where is there space for the Holy Spirit to move? There are precious few young men/families and few hands sharing the labor. Weekly gatherings with lots of hand-shaking, lots of smiling, but where is that intimacy? When the emphasis is on being there, being dressed to the nines, having that smile in place and everyone trying to maintain a façade of everything being fine, what are we there for? It is the sick who need a physician. Decorum can easily turn into pretense, and fostering an expectation of stoicism can hinder the process of bearing one another’s burdens and being “real” with one another.
I spent too many years feeling forced to put up a front when I was dying inside, to stomach more of that in church of all places. I tried to address my concerns to the pastor, but it seemed that the only result was offense or hurt feelings on his part. No indication that what I was trying to convey, was hitting home in a productive way, and that was even with much prayer and caution in how I spoke about it. Now our family is one of the many who feel they cannot find a strong and well-rooted church to join with. I am still praying for that one though, because I believe God wants to turn it around.