Might I suggest three things:
- One’s personal relationship with God.
- One’s relationship with one’s family and close personal friends.
- The ideas (knowledge, wisdom, understanding) that God gives one and one’s effective communication of them – one’s life work.
Yes, these are the things that matter.
In contrast, on our deathbeds, will it really matter who was elected president, sheriff, or school board trustee? About to face the Judge of the Universe, will it matter to us who sits on the Supreme Court of the United States?
Do we really comprehend why only the sacrifice of Jesus could save anyone from the death penalty of sin ... or do we sometimes squirm and wonder a little ourselves when we hear someone say that Christians are arrogant to believe that ours is the only way to heaven? Do we really know what it is to confess and believe … to live a life of faith?
What is the church? What is the ecclesia? And how do they differ?
One of the popular theoretical reasons for the existence of the local church is to have a mechanism whereby to exercise “church discipline” … which is – again, by popular theory – the expulsion of someone from membership. As if it makes sense to have an institution for the purpose of ejecting disqualified members from the institution. But what says the scripture upon which this idea is based? In Matthew 18 Jesus said to treat someone who will not hear the words of the ecclesia as a Gentile and a tax collector. We assume that means to reject and eject them, but how did Jesus regard tax collectors? Remember Zacchaeus? Levi – a.k.a. “Matthew,” the author of this very text? Did He throw them out … or sit down with them, eat with them, and invite them into His inner circle? And while the gospel had not yet been given to them, what was Paul’s later approach to the Gentiles? To shun them and lock them out … or to lovingly pursue them?
Why do people in “the world” seem to know well one specific scripture when talking back to Christians – “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) – and why does it get under our skin so deeply when they seem to throw that verse in our faces? Do we not understand that Jesus was telling us there not to pretend that we can do what only God can do – to accurately know (so as to judge it as right or wrong) the heart intent, the motives, behind someone’s actions?
Does “first century church history”– the record of the practices of early believers, as well as we can discover it – have authority over us believers today and, if so, how does that “authority” compare to the authority of scripture itself? Acts 17:11 serves as a guide: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so.”
What do the scriptures say? Not some commentary; not some preacher; not some religious institution; but what does the Word of God say? And is the Word that we read simply black squiggles on white paper … or is it alive, powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, abiding, discerning, edible, life-giving – a treasure? Is the Word become flesh to us, and do we behold His glory, full of grace and truth?
Just the facts: Barna Research says that regular church attendance has decreased almost 30% amongst believers in the past 25 years to where it currently hovers at just above 50%. Churches all across America are struggling to meet budget. Thousands of churches are closing and pastors are quitting every year. Is “the church” still relevant, and should church people be content with the status quo as opposed to making it more relevant?
Do the scriptures address all of life … or just that which we have come to regard as “religion”? If the answer to that question is self-evident, why do churches not teach the scriptural perspective about all areas of life – law, money, education, health, nutrition, etc.? Could it be that, if churches boldly upheld God’s winning protocols in all areas of life – in ALL of the “seven mountains,” not just the “religion mountain” – they would be more relevant, touch more lives, and more completely impact the culture, bringing salvation in more ways than just heaven after death?
Is there a church really interested in greater relevance?