There is much about the church today that is different to the church of the Bible. Indeed, over the years, our theological understanding has developed and grown, and new practices have been adopted. So much so, that I’ve often wondered whether a truly biblical church would be accepted in the 21st century. I’ve also wondered what the Apostles would say if they could see the church today.
As a consequence, I believe it to be time for the church to stop once again, and to re-evaluate its progress and direction.
After all, the Reformation did much to wind the clock back to earlier days. But with its focus clearly on the abuses of the 16th century, it did not remove all the adopted practices, and it did not return the church to its original design. Indeed, many of the differences that we have inherited today—particularly the linking of church and state and many of the expectations of the church by the community—have their origins well before the Reformation.
So, if there are differences, what are they? Well, here’s a short of list of some of the features of the modern church that were not advocated by the church of the Bible (even though some of them seemed attractive):
• Integrating the values of the community into Christian beliefs and practices;
• Adopting community’s standards;
• Accepting other beliefs and practices in the community;
• Explaining away Christian truths and values, to make them more acceptable;
• Using consecrated buildings for public (non-Christian) events;
• Providing services to the community in terms of weddings, funerals, and baptism on demand;
• Owning and administering hospitals, nursing homes, schools, welfare agencies, etc., which are required to comply with government and public standards—often at the expense of the gospel;
• Adopting the community’s values regarding fund raising;
• Relying on and seeking government and other external funding for the administration of welfare, etc.;
• Willingly complying with the restrictions (by government and other bodies) on how welfare and other funds are to be delivered;
• Employing non-Christians to administer and deliver welfare programmes;
• Willingly participating in the administration of a Marriage Act, which has never complied with Christian theology or biblical practice.
Now, in one sense, some sort of difference has to be expected. Change would be necessary as the church developed and grew. But does this list reflect a healthier church, or does it suggest that it has lost its way? Well, for me, it raises the questions, “Has the church of today grown beyond what it was intended to be?” And, “Is it time for the church to accept that the Reformation of the 16th century only began the reform that is still so desperately needed?”
Because it seems to me that real reform is still well and truly overdue—and being ignored. Because even much of today’s debate revolves around the more trivial—the use of candles, incense, bells, holy water, etc—or around changes to the Marriage Act, etc., not on the need for real reform.
Real reform—not superficial—is what is required. Because what we need is a church that it is disentangled from both government and society, where the gospel is restored to centre place, and not one that is lost in the demands and expectations of government and community expectations.
In practical terms, at the very least, the church should down-size its public welfare programme to only those things it can afford of itself. It needs to remove non-Christian influences (board members and employees) from its various organisations. Yes, it needs to outreach and care for the community. But it needs to do so using only its own resources—people and finances—with the Gospel restored to centre place.
The church needs to remove itself as an administrator of Marriage Act. It needs to reinstate the biblical idea that marriage is a universal gift from God, not one which requires a government-controlled ceremony. People marry other, and that is why there is no evidence for the need of a ceremony in biblical times—just a few comments on the public celebrations which tended to become more and more elaborate.
The church needs to do much to counter community expectations. Indeed, the church needs to focus on portraying and defending the Gospel. It needs to stand up for the purity of the faith and to make the distinction between the sacred and the profane.
And the church needs to refuse finance from other sources. It needs to live within its means—and not accept money from outside sources, which usually comes with strings attached.
Of course, once the church has separated itself from the demands and expectations of government and society, it will then be in a position to be outspoken about the things that it needs to say. Because it cannot do that if it is part of the establishment. Indeed, being part of the establishment merely makes it complicit in all the questionable decisions that are made.
And, having freed itself from outside influences, it will then be in a position to defend itself from contamination from other beliefs and practices, which come with being intertwined with government and society.
Yes, the church will remain part of society. But it needs to be a distinct part, set apart for the purposes of God. And that is something it cannot truly be, if it remains so entwined with government and society.
Posted 17th May 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis