One could wonder lately whether or not the church in America is shaping the American culture, or whether the church is being shaped by the American culture?
I am reminded of the scriptural injunction that we are to come out from among them and be separate! Instead, it would appear that the church in America that is so obsessed with numbers, and head-count, has invited ‘them’, to come in and be, unconditionally, a part of the church family.
Adding new members, increasing the tithing roles, deciding whether or not to ordain same-sex individuals into the ministry and tearing down the old barn (sanctuary) in hopes of building larger ones, has resulted in an incredible altering of what one would have once considered to be the orthodox teachings and rules of the church.
Bishop Jakes of the Potter’s House ministries and his team define the church as ‘a business’. Americans, it would appear, have co-opted what was once a body of baptized believers in Christ, ‘a spiritual organism’, and turned it instead into a carnal money-making, networking, media-driven, get rich quick religio-secular organization. And sadly many individuals are joining the church today, and some are becoming ministers in order to get their share or slice of the money pie.
Have you visited one of today’s vanilla churches lately? In these come as you are, dress as you wish, high-fiv'ng, jive talking, wave your hands in the air like you don’t care ministries, everyone is saved. All you have to do is repeat the Apostle’s Creed generally given by one of the ministers at the conclusion of the service, and you have suddenly been added to the body of Christ; I personally, don’t buy it.
I suspect that after all of the singing, dancing and waving of the arms is over on Sunday morning, many in the audience return to the lifestyle that they are accustomed to. And afterwards the jet set minister also returns to his luxurious retreat to enjoy the lifestyle that he has of late become accustomed to; that of the rich and famous! Jesus, if he were here in person, might shock some of the latter by telling them to go and sell some of their riches and give to the poor! The same leaders would probably ask Jesus whether he was a bleeding heart liberal or something. Certainly our ministers in America today, do not have the heart of Jesus Christ, a Zachaeus or a Mother Teresa!
What happened? Today, America’s mainstream denominations are jumping on the bandwagon. More traditional and mainstream churches and organizations are updating their rules and relaxing their styles of worship and copying the style of the charismatic's, in order to bolster their floundering memberships. Formerly conservative denominations are behaving more like the Pentecostals and charismatic denominations that they once disdained. A Baptist member of a Maryland growing mega congregation tried to reach the members of the church over the internet, he reported to them that the pastor and the Board had surreptitiously turned their once Baptist church into a Pentecostal church. Who cared though given that the membership had grown, and as a result of emulating the Pentecostal's, the church was about to build a new $25M facility in Mitchellville Maryland?
Bishop Eddie Long and other Baptist churches have followed a similar pattern in order to experience rapid church growth. Is it an endorsement that the Pentecostal way is the right way, or will some pastors do anything in order to grow their churches? I was invited to do the same thing with my non-denominational/trans-denominational congregation some years ago. Come on I was told, down in Texas there is a minister, Morris Cerillo, who had a plan for church growth. My friend, a former professional football player now pastor was stunned that I was not interested. I reminded him that God said that he would add unto the church such as would be saved. My concern is and has been that many pastors have abandoned scriptural principles; they are adding to the church in some instances 'tares and not wheat', given their desires to expand their memberships and to grow the tithe roles in the churches that they pastor.
I heard one pastor of a large mega in my home state boast that he knew that many in his congregation were not saved. He said, "we use them to get their money in order to help pay for the church", eek!
America is believed to have about 1500 religious denominations and more than three hundred thousand congregations. One would wonder, with all of the people in America that claim to be Christian and believers in God, why is the country so full of wickedness, debauchery and crime? Is becoming more charismatic the answer? Is giving everyone the since that they are saved because they behave in the manner that charismatic’s behave in, the answer? Is having a form of Godliness more important than being converted? Why is the church today in America so full of sexual immorality, crime, malfeasance and extortion? Has the church in America like Israel (60% secular today), simply gone about to establish its own righteousness, and in turn replaced the righteousness of God with its own form of righteousness?
I. A Bit of History
When the ‘English colonists’, departed from the shores of England to come to the New World, they did so not only to pursue economic opportunity in the New World, many left England with the hope of freeing themselves from the grips of the state controlled-Church of England; at the time the King was both the head of the State as well as the head of the Anglican Church. It was the desire of many of the pilgrims to live in a place where they would be free from religious oppression and to worship independent from the mandates of the Anglican-church. To the early believers, Christ was the ‘head of the church’, and the minister was Christ’s representative on earth, not the King of England.
The New World, as it was referred to at the time, provided the early pioneers with an opportunity and a place to freely practice their religions beliefs. And once established, the American Constitution (Article I) guaranteed that the State would not make any laws concerning religion. Therefore churches were free to organize, to incorporate, to choose their leaders and to practice and spread their faiths as they elected to do. And given their newly found freedom in the New World, various forms of mostly Christian dominations (1500 today) sprang up all over the nation; the majority were mostly Catholic or Christian protestant.
II. And Where Has That Religious Freedom Taken Us To Today?
A quasi church-state relationship has existed since the first church was established in America. At times the marriage between church and state was rocky, and at times the two worked together smoothly. A closer state-church bond has been reinvigorated given the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Some churches believe, it would seem, that in order to accomplish God’s purposes on earth that they must join hand in hand with the state, and use America’s political and military machine in order to accomplish God’s objectives. I believe that this is apostasy. Jesus was aware that he could have commanded legions of 'warring angels' to appear and conquer at any time; however, this was not how God intended to accomplish his purposes on earth.
Some church leaders have convinced several American Presidents of late, and many in their congregations that it is the will of God to accomplish his purposes by employing the carnal methods of the government of the United States of America. I am reminded that the weapons of the believer and God are not carnal weapons; instead our weapons are mighty in God to the tearing down of strongholds. Many in these mostly Evangelical Churches are encouraging outright military destruction of America's enemies; they believe that America's enemies are God's enemies. What happened to, you will not have to fight in this battle for the battle is the Lord's; and to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Today's Christian is an advocate for what he or is she is being taught are 'just wars'. And today's Christian is being taught to believe in 'just war theory', as opposed to what they had been taught in scripture.
The story of the Children of Israel marching around the fortified walls of Jericho comes to mind; they did not bring down those fortified walls by incorporating worldly methods, weapons or armaments. Pat Robertson, television evangelist and minister, who encouraged the murder of the Head-of-State in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, forgot that Jesus reminded Peter to place his sword back in his sheath. Peter, being as zealous as Pat apparently is today, forgot all about the ways of the Lord, in a desire to accomplish his purposes for God. Are Christians told to fight in scripture? Yes, but Christians are not taught to fight in the manner that the world fights in.
Christians are taught to put on the whole armor of God, and to employ the weapons that God has provided for us! The Spirit of error, surely has taken over Pat Robertson, and many other American pastors, preachers and protestant religious-acolytes. And frightenly enough, aside from their church pulpits, many of them use the airways, and have built colleges from which they can propagate this spirit of error. Isn't it sad that some of these larger entities have emptied out the smaller churches, where people were being taught the Gospel?
In America, anyone can start a church. And by following a few simple rules, one can have his church organization fully recognized by the State, and receive tax exemption status. And since the Constitution guarantees that the Government will not make any laws concerning the church, churches are pretty much left to their own devices.
The American Free Church of today has mutated into something that we would not be recognizable by our New Testament forefathers. And I suspect that its behavior would not be endorsed by Jesus Christ. The American Free Church of today, to include all of its churches, denominations and organizations, has mutated into something that is completely unknown in the annals of the history of the Christian church, the Church at Corinth and others (See Revelations chapters 2 and 3) not withstanding.
III. Given the Current Crisis and the State of the American Church
As I said in my introduction, one would have to wonder lately whether or not the church is shaping the culture, or whether the church is being shaped by the culture and the state? And I am reminded of the scriptural injunction, that we are to come out from among them!
What is truly sad, given this current crisis; among Evangelicals/Pentecostals/Charismatics, is that there is an ongoing and deceptive explosion of church growth taking place. And why are people suddenly coming into these churches in such vast numbers? Are the blind pied-piper leaders of today leading the blind, who are following them into the mercurial ditch? It is not uncommon to find churches with memberships of 10,000 or more in America. (And politicians who are aware of their numbers have exploited this political feeding ground).
Is America in fact suddenly coming to Jesus? Or, are Americans suddenly being drawn to religious-lite American-style churches because of the watered down and accommodating teachings at these churches, or for political reasons or to use the church in order to get rich themselves? The enterprise networking matrix in some of these church establishments is formidable and very substantial. I will get into this more in the future. But I caution you that crowds, ten-thousand and more at a time, followed Jesus initially. However, the same crowds splintered, some shrank and others disappeared as Jesus fed them the sincere milk of the word. Many in the crowd, like those in crowds today, were not there for the right reason, but Jesus knew that. He knew those who were his!
Today’s American Capitalist (show me the money) Mega-Churches and the smaller ones are actively pursuing the get-rich quick growth philosophy. Regrettably, by following this syndrome, it would appear that they have taken a departure from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead the Spirit of Simon the Sorcerer seems to have taken them over, and the new get rich American political minister of today has 'bewitched' the followers. All that these groups seem to want is to be sold the power, so that whoever they come in contact with and lay hands on, will become bewitched and in turn follow them.
They in effect, detour people away from Christ, and in the end, the ministers and churches are the one's who will benefit financially, as they shear the new misguided lambs, goats and wolves who they bring in under the wrong pretenses. Christ envisioned a ‘serving church', an extension of himself, a body of baptized believers in Jesus Christ, a spiritual organism, not a meretricious business organization. The Church, the body of Christ, is to be like him, ‘the Suffering Servant; and not an extension of the State, or the American military/consumer culture.
More and more the capitalist principles of the state have been brought into the church. And like the idols of the Old Testament that were at times sat right up in the house of God, today’s Christian churches have brought the ‘state and cultural idol’ and sat it up in church alongside the cross of Jesus Christ. This new movement, ‘The American Idol church, is championed of late by leaders like Dr. Hagee and Dr. Kennedy, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others. And I often meet many of their zealous and outspoken followers who lack both the knowledge of Christ, and the spirit of Jesus Christ. Instead, they have taken on the spirits of their leaders.
Much of what the church leaders of today are teaching their congregations, has been garnered as much from the state’s founding documents and principles as they are far from the Bible. Many of today's clergy skillfully meld the two together. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been instrumental in this endeavor to bring the teachings of the state into the church. Many churches in America today have two holy writs, the Bible and the American Constitution. And for many Americans, the two are inseparable. And when the two find themselves at odds, the word of the State tends to prevail.
Today’s church in my estimation has coalesced with the state to the extent that one could easily identify the American Church as the American ‘Christian State Church’ at least that seems to be where many congregations and religious organizations are headed. What happened to our citizenship is in heaven? And are we no longer of the Congregation of the First Born in Heaven?
The Christian church in America has taken on a remarkably American flavor in terms of its belief system, and the Christian American church has without a doubt, become more politically aligned with the secular American polity, particularly those in the Republican Party. It is not uncommon (and many have experienced it) to come to church on Sunday and find a politician seated in the rostrum. He or she will be given 10 to 15 minutes, in congregations across the land, to bring his or her political message to the congregation. Instead of a sermon, many churchgoers are subjected to a political speech. And when it is not a guest doing it, some preachers will give the political sermon themselves, Pastor Rod Parsley comes to mind.
Again I ask, why are people coming into the church in droves? Is it because they have been drawn and convicted by the word of God, or have they found the religious-lite political churches of today to be more accommodating? Is it because the church has become just another secular organization where one can practice their politics along with a group who shares a common set of beliefs? I suspect that it is all of the latter. The Apostle Paul, finding believers at Ephesus (in present day Turkey), enquired of the disciples there, ‘did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed? Along with today's vast influx, the church has filled up with all kinds of immorality and debauchery to include rapes, molestations, pedophilia, homosexuality and licentiousness!
This is significant. Let’s just assume that all of these who are in the church today are believers, given that they repeated the Apostle’s creed, at least at that moment they believed. However, is that all that it takes, or is it as the Apostle Paul once wrote, "that if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his"? My point, you can say that you are a believer and I will not deny that you believe what you have heard. However, the real question is do you have the Spirit of Christ, and if not, you still have been converted yet?
I would argue that many of today’s new crop of believers still have never received the spirit of Christ, or experienced the transforming work of the Holy Spirit since, or when they believed. Many simply came into a church, sang and waived their hands in the air as they were instructed to do, they repeated the creed, were accepted into the congregation after consultation in one of the churches' adjacent side rooms, then they joined a life-group, believing that somehow all of these works (as they were being taught), have somehow saved them.
Can Reverend Pat Robertson truly say that he has the spirit of Christ, when he harbors the spirit of murder in his heart? The scriptures teach us that the heart is a harbinger of many things including murder, and Pat has that in his heart. As Christ once inquired of Peter, what spirit are you of; we are compelled to ask not only Pat, but many Christians who believe like he does, what Spirit are you really of? Who can know the heart?
When Evangelist Phillip journeyed to Samaria and ministered, he got word to the Apostles at Jerusalem that some of the Samarians had received the word of God. The Apostles went down to pray for them, because as of yet, the new believers had not received the Holy Spirit. Why such urgency? The answer is, because, without the spirit you are none of his, even the devils believe and tremble the scriptures teach us. But the latter are not saved either, in spite of belief.
In Romans the 8th chapter, Paul eloquently explains the adoptive/redemptive/transforming work of the Holy Spirit. A friend pastor of mine once informed me that the only thing that the Holy Spirit does is to empower one to witness. He was as in the dark as another biblical teacher, Nicodemus, was! But my friend was not alone, many even among today's clerics are just as much in error!
It would appear that many in today’s new crop of ministers, some who preside over massive congregations have never come to understand the redemptive work of the spirit and what it means to be born from anothen. One must be born into God's Kingdom, just as one is born into the world. The baptism by water represents the water that breaks just before the mother births a child into the world. And, in order to be born of God (just like a natural father) you must be born of God's seed, in this instance a spiritual seed, because God is a Spirit.
Additionally, many of today's church leaders do not understand the social dimensions of the work of the Holy Spirit and Christ's ministry either. Therefore many of them work hard at getting rich themselves, and growing their numbers, instead of eliminating poverty not only in the world but right in their own congregations. Many of them have all but forgotten the saving work of the Holy Spirit, if they ever knew it themselves. Their annual reports would suggest success given the growth of their memberships and the dollars that they raise per annum, however, their annual reports from heaven's perspective, would likely suggest an abysmal failure!
Paul was not concerned with the number of disciples who were at Ephesus, he wanted to know whether or not they had received Christ' Spirit, and later he gave warning to those who would enter in and fleece God's flock. Peter and John did not care about the number of believers at Samaria, they went down to Samaria to ensure that the disciples had received the Holy Spirit, it was imperative that they be 'sealed' with that Holy Spirit of promise. From heaven's perspective, the type of minister that we have today, catches men and women and they trap them. These leaders, according to the scriptures, are not going into God's kingdom, and they are not allowing others to go in; instead they have sat up a kingdom of their own making on earth.
Many pulpits today, have been Americanized, and the ministers have been vulcanized and taken away from original Christian church doctrine. And the Pastors themselves, like Nicodemus, not understanding the word of God have instead brought into the church, the teachings of the state, the culture or their denomination, and they are therefore responsible for creating this new syncretic anomaly.
The Lord shows me visions. What does this mean to you? I saw a church where the pulpit was equipped with the customary furnishings and accoutrements. What stood out for me, however, was that under each of the chairs in the rostrum where the ministers sat, all were empty at the time, each chair had a gravestone under it!
WHAT IS THE STATE OF YOUR UNION WITH CHRIST?
To be continued…
Peace & Grace
Rev. C. Solomon