Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Church and Mission.

Evangelical churches are supposed to be the most missionary-minded of all churches. They give well to missionary endeavour, send out workers to work in the harvest field of the world, pray for missionaries and support their work.

But charity begins at home – at least that’s what we have been told! Why is it then that evangelical churches prefer the foreign mission work to the mission field that is right on their doorsteps? Is it because there is more kudos, more romance, more spiritual brownie points, with the overseas work than there is with more locally-based mission?

Let me give an example of what I mean. Suppose there are two really thriving evangelical congregations with an admirable missionary interest and track record that are located beside two small struggling congregations within the same denomination. Imagine the prestige associated with the bigger congregations, and the spiritual poverty of the two smaller ones. This is nothing other than a mission-field on the very doorstep, but no one wants to even admit it is there! They send their money and their personnel to fields far away, but would never even consider sending their best people to join these two struggling and neighbouring congregations, or even re-aligning the congregational unions so that the stronger could help the weaker – a Presbyterian principle.

Why this neglect? Is it because there are too many exaggerated egos in the big churches to care for the smaller ones? Do the bigger churches prefer to be “as ease in Zion,” as Amos put it, rather than get their hands dirty trying to build up and strengthen the weaker churches? Is personal comfort to be preferred to the arduous task of spreading the everlasting Gospel amongst needy people? Or is the spread of the Gospel not that important after all?

That Abusive Mother Church!

Augustine rightly said that “no one can have God as his Father who does not also have the church as his mother.” The principle is sound. The Church, which He purchased with the blood of Christ, is His treasured possession. Christ loves her, and gave Himself for her. His purpose: to present her as a spotless Bride to the Father. And her role on earth: to bring glory to her Husband, to nurture, feed, encourage, strengthen, discipline, care for, those to whom the Father has given new life. She is to be tender with her children, discipline them when necessary, always love and care for them, and act for their best interests.

So far so good. But when that ‘mother’ turns out to be abusive, uncaring, unloving; when she becomes unfaithful to her Husband and flirts with other gods, when she becomes drunk with notions of her own self-importance, blinded by power and pounds, when she becomes the end of all things, she then has departed from her high calling – to be the Bride of Christ, and to submit to His will in all things. When that mother turns from and against the very children her Husband gave to her, and treats them in a most abusive manner, the entire scenario has changed drastically. The sad reality is that it is the blood-bought church of Christ that behaves in this despicable way!

Yet when preachers, who are big on ‘theory,’ tell their congregations that it is their Christian duty to commit to ‘mother church’ as a covenant obligation, regardless of her track record, then they have gone too far. (I wonder how this approach differs from that used by the Baptists to convince new converts to undergo their particular form of baptism? If they are to demonstrate their obedience to Christ, then they have to be baptised in our way). In the outside world, if anyone suggested that children commit to a mother who has proved to be abusive towards her children, they would be roundly turned upon, and let know what reasonable people think about such a suggestion.

Further, before they agree to becoming church members, Christians must be told who and what the leaders, the elders, are. Before they join such a church, they must make it their business to discover what example the leaders set, how diligent they are at church services, prayer meetings, etc, whether or not they are truly spiritually men who are well-versed in the theology of the Scriptures and of the church, whether or not they have true pastoral hearts, what their record on church discipline is, whether they do lead in the affairs of the church or is their leadership a form of laisez faire leadership (if it brings the people in and keeps the church coffers filled, then who cares what God expects of His church), whether they are first and foremost ‘firm’s men,’ whether they possess the discernment that is desired in holders of this office; and so on. These and related questions must be asked and answered satisfactorily before any commitment is given to any church.

Christians must also be told in great detail what submission to the leadership in the local church entails. Do the leaders (elders) to which submission is to be given have the confidence of the people who are expected to submit to them? Are the elders worthy of the submission of thinking Christian people? Are they true to traditional theological values and modes of worship, or have they ‘sold the pass’ and gone the way of almost all flesh within evangelicalism in all its forms?

It has been said that one of the reasons for membership of local fellowships is to show who the true Christians are. And church members and other Christians are expected to take this seriously! The truth is that all who are members of churches are not Christians, and many who attend worship regularly but who are Christians are not members. In my experience, my best Christian people were not officially church members – best attendees at worship, Bible studies, prayer meetings, etc, the best givers to church funds, and the most supportive of my ministry. On the other hand, the people who gave me least support, the worst attendees at ordinances – except the Lord’s Supper and insistent on the baptism of unbeliever’s infants – the poorest givers to church work, the people who made most demands, were most critical of my ministry, and yet who had a say in the direction of the church, were full unconverted members. Even some of the elders were not Christians, and some of those who were did not possess the qualifications for this high office.

Given that type of ‘mother’ church, plus her track record as an unrepentant abusive mother towards her children – a track record that is current, is it unreasonable to expect, especially those who have been abused by her, to commit to being members? Add to this the fact that she is truculently unrepentant of her evil actions, and committing to her is out of the question. Indeed, her ‘faithful servants’ give their tacit support to church abuse, by refusing to identify the problem and deal Christianly with it.

These ‘firm’s men’ are not good for the church or the Kingdom of God, and are, at the end of the day, merely playing at church. As for motherly care of her children? Well, that’s the biggest joke of all!