Publication: Pastoral Letter, July 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings from all of us at CSM! I trust your Summer is going well thus far. This month, I want to share from my heart about a critical situation facing our society today…a situation that calls for a response.
The Church is being marginalized; it is being pushed further and further to the edge of social influence. Public policy, morals, ethics, and entertainment are becoming less influenced by the Church and its values. Society is becoming more secular. And while God’s power has not diminished, our impact as the Church upon the nation has.
What is God calling us to do? We could do several things: we could react as some do, by withdrawing even more. We could grow more critical, judgmental or even bitter. (Someone said that bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.) Of course, withdrawal was not Jesus’ response.
We could do as some churches have done; we could “go with the flow.” We could adopt the new age philosophy, or embrace feminism, homosexuality, and abortion. Then we could mask our compromise in religious language. Of course, this was not Jesus’ response either.
Another option would be to accept responsibility for our situations and re-think the way the Church works…and our mission in the world.
How Did We Get Here?
How did we become marginalized? The foundations of Europe and the United States are historically definitely Christian. But today, both cultures are secular. Over the last several centuries, numerous factors have contributed to our loss of influence:
- Division has weakened our voice and spiritual power.
- “Prayerlessness” has left us to human devices.
- Presumption left us asleep while secular activists filled the void.
- Institutionalization put the responsibility on the clergy.
- We gave more and more power to the state_including education.
- We accepted “escapist” theology.
- We misinterpreted “sanctification” as non-involvement.
- We focused on experiences instead of mission – “virtual reality”.
- We offered sacrifices without obedience.
- We turned churches into temples and made “the Body” a building.
The Temple Mentality
King David had a vision of the temple – a house of sacrifice, prayer, and praise. God would dwell there, and the people would receive the grace of forgiveness. Priests and Levites would officiate their offices and serve the people. There would be salvation at the temple – the “house of God.” So David gathered abundantly and Solomon built the house.
Both David and Solomon understood that the temple was not able to contain God. It would be a pattern of heavenly things, revealed to the world through Israel. Both the temple and Israel were tools for a larger mission. But as so often happened, the tool became an end – even an idol. A wrong “temple mentality” emerged.
In times of spiritual decline, the temple became a place where terrible practices occurred (see 2 Kings 23). The prophets often spoke out against the temple. What had been blessed became cursed. Finally, it was desecrated and destroyed, not once, but twice.
The “temple mentality” was a serious error. It confined God to a place. It was a “go to” mentality, instead of a “go from” mentality. It relied on officials to dispense grace. It glorified the building instead of God. It failed to evangelize and deal with issues out in the nation.
Herod built the third temple and again, Israel fell into the same error. Jesus spoke against it and even cleansed it (see Matthew 24:1-2). And when He died, the veil separating God’s presence from the world was torn in two from the top down. There can be no question that God had used the temple, but neither could there be any question that He was through with it. It was destroyed a third time!
A few years ago, God spoke to me, “Don’t mend what I have torn!” Too often, we try to get God back behind the veil. When we do that, the world around us becomes dark.
The Great Commission
Jesus said, “Go into all the world” (see Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ message was clear from the beginning. We were not commissioned to reproduce what God allowed to be destroyed. God was looking for worshippers who worshipped in spirit and truth_everywhere (see John 4:21-24).
Jesus saw what the prophets had seen – a world filled with the knowledge of His glory (see Habakkuk 2:14). The Gospel was for the whole world. His kingdom was bigger than the temple, Israel, or even the Church. That same message is ours.
Jesus’ plan carried the Church, and the Church carried His plan for centuries. But alas, it again embraced a “temple mentality.” In the 4th century, Christians consecrated buildings that formerly had been used in pagan practices, and even consecrated statues by simply changing the names of the statues from pagan gods to the names of the apostles. Again, “Christian worship” moved indoors.
Centuries later, the Reformation renewed Christian theology, but failed to deal with the “temple mentality.” It brought back the scriptures, faith, and grace, but left the Church concepts largely untouched. Buildings have certainly been useful, but years – even centuries of tradition – have dulled our sense of mission. And the traditions have distorted what the apostles taught about the real temple of God, the Body of Christ.
The Barn Mentality
Buildings are defined by purpose. Some buildings are for families. Some are for storage, and others for offices and business. Still other buildings are barns. These buildings store equipment, seed, fertilizer, harvest, and provide shelter for livestock. Some barns are very well built and painted; others are plain. But the value of a barn is what it contributes to the harvest. They are not objects of adoration.
Jesus spoke numerous parables about farming. In Matthew 13:38, He said, “The field is the world.” One might see a barn in that picture, but it certainly was not the focus. Harvest was the issue. The “barn mentality” is when we see church buildings as places where sowers get seed; a place we go from to sow in the world.
How Can We Change?
Change begins when we want to change. I doubt that most Christians want to change from a “temple mentality” to a “barn mentality.” But what the Holy Spirit has not led us to see, because of our hardness, the world may force us to see.
Israel did not see even though Jesus was indeed a great light. Traditions had blinded their eyes. Nevertheless, He was right about the future. One could argue that those who destroyed the temple, as Jesus prophesied that they would, did the Church a favor. Though it was a terribly awful, painful “favor,” it did force the Church outward.
If farms were operated like churches…there would be nicer barns, with more office space. Farmers would spend more time in the barn. They would actually plow in the barn and then sow in the barn. They would spend more time encouraging, and counseling the harvesters. They would even pray for it to rain in the barn and then they would pray for the barn to “catch on fire.” Meanwhile, the wild beast would thrive in the field.
If football teams were operated like churches, they would be measured by the quality of their huddles instead of their touchdowns. Quarterbacks would be more eloquent. Players would not be required to attend the huddle, and more players would actually get injured in the huddle. Players would even be allowed to change teams in the middle of a play.
You get the picture! Thank God that farms and football teams are not run like some churches. In all cases, the goal is outward.
What can we do that will help us to affect the world?
- Pray for God to help us to change before the world forces us to change.
- Pray for church members to become sowers, and not just sitters.
- Pray for the Lord to send laborers into the ripening fields.
- Let us spend less time in the barn, and more time in the field.
- Get more activity into homes and businesses and less in “the Temple.”
- Measure the quality of our experience by our results in the world.
- Don’t withdraw…go out with the Gospel of the Kingdom.
- Encourage every true believer to take personal responsibility for the corporate mission.
We could take any one of several paths. We can lament the darkness in the world, or we can become a light in the world. We can become angry at our loss of influence or we can preach His sovereign grace. We can wait to be taken away, or we can “occupy until He comes.” We can emulate the traditions into which we were born, or we can emulate the One we worship. This is a great hour in history. We still have choices and opportunities. The field is ready_if we can just turn temples into barns.
P.S. Please continue to stand with CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. As you sow into this ministry, we are sowing good seed around the world!
Scripture Reference: 2 Kings, Matthew, Habakkuk, John