Monday, February 9, 2009

A Tirade

I say this without reserve and admittedly without tact: I am currently quite furious with the Baptist church. Not a specific church (though several specific churches have evoked my ire), but the denomination as a whole. This is not to say there are no good Baptists out there, that is quite untrue; my friend Joel over at this blog is the shining example of the contrary. However, currently I am more than a bit miffed over the practices I see taking place with commonality within Baptist circles, and have seen for twelve years of my life spent in affiliation with Baptists. I will address a few of these practices without apology (and noting that Baptists are not the only ones perpetrating many of these issues), and if you feel offended by anything that follows, I request only that you ask yourself if the offense is because I have truly spoken out of line, or if it is because, subconsciously, you know that either you or your own church have perpetrated some of these ills.

1. Neglect of the body -- the church is meant to be a place of sanctuary for its members, and yet this function has been abandoned in all but the name of the worship room in most Baptist churches I have attended or observed. From the time of the early church, the meeting place has been the place for the church to come together, be encouraged, prepared, strengthened, and refreshed for their outward ministry in their community. In the modern day Baptist church, the meeting place has become the place of evangelism, and because of this, very little real growth occurs. It seems that the entire denomination has become so consumed with "winning souls" that no other concern may bother them. They evangelize in the church and send people out as missionaries to other countries to evangelize there. The problem with this evangelism-driven system is that the members of the church themselves become neglected, being dealt with only in ways that will keep them in line and keep appearances good so that non-believers who visit might be more receptive to the message. When this occurs, the body withers from the inside out, and most of the church becomes apostate. Attendance and tithing dwindles, the church grows stale, and the administration wonders why, usually opting (much like our government) to start new programs and open new branches of the church in order to get more people involved; but, in the long run, the heart of the issue remains untouched, and the church either dies or converts itself into a glorified social club. Has your church reached this point? Ask yourself, and you must be honest, do people go to Sunday school and Bible studies because of the excellent, thoughtful teaching going on, or because they get free pizza (or coffee and donuts, depending on the age) and they get to hang out with their friends? Once a church has hit this stage, members are encouraged to cover up their problems in order to keep everyone comfortable rather than address them that they may be solved with the aid of their spiritual family. Marriage issues are overlooked, drug problems are swept under the rug, behavioral and disciplinary issues are ignored, and people simply put on their church faces once a week to smile for Jesus. However, if a soul prays for Heaven, yet lives like Hell, for which destination is it headed? If a church can't even maintain the faith of its own flock, how can it hope to bring others successfully into the fold?

2. Trivialization of the Gospel -- Growing up in a Baptist school, I cannot tell you how many times I was witnessed to. We had chapel services every other week, and every single service was either evangelistic/revivalistic or oriented on foreign missions (and sometimes both, just for good measure). Everyone had a different take on the Gospel, everyone had their own opinion, and everyone challenged us to do our best for God. Basic psychology tells us that any repeated action is normalized by the brain in order to remove distractions and remain alert. If someone pokes himself with a pin repeatedly in the exact same spot, eventually that spot will become numb to the poking. It's not that the sensation is no longer taking place, instead it's that the brain is ignoring that impulse that says "pain" so that it can be alert and ready for other things. The same as when you enter an area with a foul or strange smell, or spray on strong cologne or perfume, after a while the smell seems to vanish, when in reality the smell is still there, but your brain has stopped recognizing it so that if a new element is introduced, it is recognizable and not masked by the previous odor. In the same way, by repetition over the years, the Gospel becomes commonplace, and it becomes progressively harder to inspire people to react to the message. By feeding young people the same message over and over, the church effectively drives them away. I believe that this is the primary reason for the rates of young Christians leaving the church when they leave their parents and go to college or move out on their own. The Apostle Paul says that mature Christians must leave behind milk and move on to meat and solid foods (spiritually speaking, of course). By never moving past the basic Gospel, the church deprives its members of the deep theological truths that they need to explore in order to grow and become strong in their faith, and so some leave because they are simply sick of the same old story again and again with no real substance, and the rest leave because they are confronted with new ideas and have no way to combat them, which leads me to my third point.

3. Inadequacy of education --
A common modern-day stereotype of a Christian is an ignorant bigot with unfair prejudices and no reason or rhyme to their beliefs except the mantra, "The Bible tells me so." To many, to be a follower of the Bible is to be ready and eager to buy bull. While stereotypes can be unfair, it seems to me that oftentimes this one is far from incorrect; however, this is not the fault of the individual believer so much as the fault of the church as a whole, primarily its administration. Often it is the cause of a heavy missions focus which spawns a neglect of the body, yet it is also frequently caused by the simple ignorance of church leaders (and sometimes all of the above). Modern day Christianity is a perfect display of the inadequacy of seminary and doctorates in the education of the men and women of God. One can be well versed in the knowledge of the Word and still mishandle it horribly. How much a man knows is greatly undermined by how much he understands, and this is the dividing line between not only knowledge and wisdom, but wisdom and application. Ancient Israelites knew the scriptures intimately, and yet they constantly strayed; Solomon was gifted with great wisdom, and yet he also strayed. Man is not infallible, and he must never forget that God always knows what to do better than he does; yet, in our arrogance, we abandon the Word of God Himself in favor of our own ideas. Our churches operate largely on decisions of men based on church mission statements based on ideas of men based on the Bible. By the time the original Biblical thought passes through to where it is carried out, it has often departed far from its original intent; and so we carry on and on about whether to baptize by submersion or by sprinkling and we never even realize that we are ignoring the broken hearts and wounded souls seeking the love of Christ. They come seeking Salvation, and find only squabbles and legalism, then they are met by Muslims or Buddhists or members of some other religion actively seeking self actualization, and they move on from our doors. We never equipped them to understand the Bible and its facets, we never equipped them to understand other religions, and often we teach them only to fear what is unknown, so whenever new ideas come around, good or bad, rather than engaging them with the truths of Scripture, the members of the church either abandon Christianity in light of new things or they retreat into their hidey hole never to emerge.

4. Emotional overdose -- Where in the Bible does it say that Christianity is an emotional experience? I want desperately to know, because I still haven't found it. In fact, whenever the scriptures speak in reference to themselves, our instruction is to meditate on them, as in, with our brains. Christians from the early church to the Rennaissance were scholars of the faith, avidly studying and divining the nature of God and His relationship to mankind. This is where the vast majority of our modern doctrines and traditions come from: the work of our ancestors, because we no longer do this work for ourselves. Rather, in the modern church, we have thrown intellectual matters to the wind in favor of something emotional, something we can feel, and it is these feelings that we pursue above all else. This is understandable, considering how inadequately the church educates its followers, because people don't know what there is to know about Christianity anymore. In fact, many of the old doctrines have become infamiliar to the modern church, and thus have become an object of fear rather than part of a proud heritage. If a Christian minister were to offer to teach his congregation about the conflicting natures of Christianity and Islam as the world's premier monotheistic religions, most of his congregation would either stop listening seriously, feeling intimidated, or be shocked and offended that he was about to talk about a false religion in their holy sanctuary. However, if a Christian minister were to tell the people to stand to their feet, raise their hands, close their eyes, and pictures themselves in the arms of Christ and try to feel His presence, rather than feel as though they were being treated as lunatics, most would either follow along eagerly, hoping to feel close to Jesus, or remain seated uncaringly. By robbing Christians of the knowledge and understanding of Scripture, they are left only with an emotional attachment to the church, seeking feelings that may or may not be elusive, depending on the person, and spawning only two kinds of followers: the emotional, obedient servant, following and never really knowing why, but not caring because of their conditioning not to; or the apostate "follower" who comes to church but never really shows much interest in anything but doing fun things with friends afterwards. Neither is equipped to handle themselves in the real world, surrounded by people of different beliefs, as is exemplified by this, this, this, this, and many others.

These are merely some of the factors that lead to the rampant spiritual apostacy we see in our churches today; however, we can do nothing about them until we see a reform in the leadership of the church. Followers are generally only as good as their leaders, and the Bible calls spiritual leaders to a higher standard than laymen. In order to instruct, one must be readily and constantly instructed, not by men, but by the Word (which can be gleaned from the Bible and from rubbing brains with other Christians, but the Bible is the ultimate, final authority). Christ spoke to sinners with nothing but love, yet He openly rebuked and chastised the Pharisees and Sadducees for their legalism and hypocrisy. The church is in desperate need of tough love from the top down, and unless it receives some, lowers its pridefully bloated head and allows itself to be instructed once more, it will continue its blistering fall into the pitfalls the Bible warned us about, yet we stumbled right along into anyway. If God is to speak to us, how will we ever know it if we refuse to quiet our own noise and bustle long enough to hear?

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