How would you describe the Church in the west today? Vibrant? Powerful? Weak? Disappointing?
Some people look at the church in the west today and see a mess. The church does not seem to represent Jesus’ words to Peter “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” In some parts of the western today it seems that the gates of hell are making good inroads into the church.
In England, church attendance is below 6% of the population and dropping. If you rely on statistics, you will be told that the Methodist Church will cease to be a viable denomination by 2015 if current levels of decline remain.
Some theologians have used the words ‘anemic’ to refer to the church in the West
Is the church today what the apostles envisioned when they began to spread the gospel across the Mediterranean world? Is the church what it should be?
It is too easy to get into self pity or even the blame game about the state of the church today, whether in the UK, or the USA, be it The Church of England, Episcopal, Baptist or Presbyterian.
Why are we in the mess we are in? Why is the Church seemingly weak? What happened? Are we paying the price for a previous generations errors?
The Israelite exiles were asking the same questions. They were blaming their forefathers for the mess they found themselves in. They were even angry with God that he continued to judge them, for something they claimed was not their fault.
Yet Ezekiel challenges them and tells them that the issue is not what happened in the past but what is happening in the present. The Israelites may well complain about their forefathers mistakes, but the real issue is what about THEIR relationship with God – Are THEY following his ways and being the people of God they are meant to be?
Ezekiel tells them they are not.
The past cannot be changed. However the prophets do teach us that the past is not irrevocable. The issue is never what has happened – but what will we do now, today. The past does not need to hold us in it’s grip. The consequences of the past need not be the norm of the present.
Ezekiel tells the exiles to forget their forefathers – focus on YOUR own relationship with God. How are YOU and God doing..
A similar problem was rife with the Pharisees. Their obsession with their own status and position, as opposed to those whom they regarded as sinners, blinded them to the fact that while they thought themselves to be righteous, they were not. Jesus tells them that mental ascent to belief, or even verbal agreement with the truth does not mean they will act on the truth, or even recognize it when it appears to them. Just like the exiles who believed in God, but were not living in that belief, Jesus challenges the Pharisees that unless they do the things that God has asked to be done then they are not in God’s favor. The fact they do not love their neighbor, or help the poor, or support the widow shows clearly their true heart.
And those whom the Pharisees despised, Jesus says, the sinners, the religious impure, these people, who are doing the work of God are saved.
If we kept everything we believed purely internally – if all our ethics, morality, loves, hates, passions, likes dislikes, if we kept them purely in our heads – if we only accented to them mentally and maybe at times verbally expressed then but NEVER acted on them what would the world be like?
We might all mentally agree that the disaster in the Sudan is tragic. But what would happen if that thought stayed in our heads? There would be no relief, no action, no compassion.
What about justice and truth? What would the world be like if we simply agreed that something was unjust in our mind and never said anything or did anything?
What would happen to marriages if we just mentally agreed we loved our spouse but never said it or acted like it?
Mental accent alone is almost always meaningless.
To only think something is true will have no bearing on anyone, or anything.
To agree with, or believe in something in mind only is meaningless because it has no action and therefore it does not become real.
(Part 2 tomorrow)