Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Gospel, The Church, and the Denomination

Gospel men love the Church, but denominational men love the denomination first and most! To love the denomination is not necessarily to love the church of Jesus Christ, though these should be the same. Love for the denomination that is so strong and obsessive that the truth is no longer welcome within its bounds, is, sadly, not a rare thing.

Men of the Word love the Church of Jesus Christ, but it does not necessarily follow that denominational men do likewise. Men of the Word desire to see the Church of Christ transformed increasingly in her life and witness into a Bride fit for the Bridegroom. They love the Church so much, so dearly and so tenderly, that they will expend whatever energy is needed to see her perfected and made fit for the great wedding day. But denominational men see no imperfections that need concern them. They see their own denomination as the perfect embodiment of the Christian Church, a denomination so righteous that it needs no repentance.

Men of the truth love the Church with a deep and deepening passion and want only her spiritual well-being; but denominational men are "at ease in Zion," and reject any suggestion that she can be improved spiritually. Of course, when you believe that your denomination is the purest expression of a biblical church in all its aspects to be found anywhere, then to even hint at her spiritual improvement is tantamount to heresy. To hint in this way is to assert that she is not perfect, and that is anathema to every denominational man, regardless of how pure he believes his 'church' to be.

Men of biblical and theological principle love the Church with an undying affection, and want to play their small part in leaving her in a better spiritual state than when they found her. Of course, denominational men frown at the very thought of the church/denomination to which they belong and in which they minister having to be improved spiritually.

Holman Hunt's memorable picture of the figure (Christ) standing outside the door (of the sinner's heart), and having no handle with which to open the door on the outside but only on the inside, suggests that the Church has a responsibility to welcome the Lord of the Church inside and into every aspect of her life, and not to leave Him standing on the outside. How easy it is to see this as an exclusively evangelistic appeal to the sinner to admit Christ into the heart while He is there standing at the door and knocking to gain entrance.

But the application of this principle comes much closer to home. In Rev.3, John describes Christ standing outside the church, knocking on the door, because He wants to enter and be welcomed by His redeemed people. In the tepid Laodicean church, with all its lukewarmness, the members and leaders have driven Christ, the Church's only Lord, King and Head, out of her midst. And He is ready to 'spew' or 'vomit' her out of His mouth! She turns His stomach! This church is so 'steady,' so 'unchanging,' so 'loyal to her historical and theological past' that she has become fossilised, so encrusted with years of unbending tradition, that she is now incapable of being renewed. So set in her ways is she that any thought of spiritual renewal or theological reformation is out of the question.

But 'my people would have it so,' it would appear. The one thing they say they want is for Christ to rule as the rightful Lord and Head of the Church, but in reality, if we take that too seriously, and He comes in, then our church will be no longer under our control, but His - and we can't have that! We and our forefathers have been in complete control of the denomination, and it has served us very well, so we do not want this Christ of yours to start exercising His rule in our church. "My people" still want to 'lord it over the flock,' instead of being its humble and obedient servants.

Can such a situation be changed? Can it be reversed? It all depends on what you mean, I can hear you say. If mere denominational men continue to control the church according to their dictates, or diktats, then the future is bleak, so far as any reformation or revival of the church is concerned. Yes, they will perform a 'holding operation' with their 'safe hands,' but they will not instill any spiritual life into dead denominations, of which there are plenty. Ministers will have to learn to take their responsibilities much more seriously, and be discerning about 'what a Christian is,' and 'how does one become a Christian.' The battle seems to have been lost at this basic level; and, like Elisha's question as to where exactly the axe head fell, the church has to return to where the problem arose, and start from that uncomfortable vantage point.

But if the denominational leaders do not even realise that the axe head has fallen off, but are still wondering why they are not seeing more true spiritual fruit for their labours, then the situation is indeed critical. What must be done in this situation? First, realise the true situation that confronts you, then work at the remedy from there. Second, have the courage to restore the lost 'axe head,' for without this, no effective and God-honouring work can be done. Third, be determined to see the matter through to its conclusion.

This is most costly, you understand. The denominational authorities simply will not stand for it. Why? Because if you are correct in your diagnosis, the implication is that they must be wrong. And if they are wrong, then you will have denuded them of the infallibility in which they took refuge - against the Word of God. And that will never do, will it?