I believe “church” can be one of God’s most important and valuable gifts. As a pastor, I firmly believe in the potential of church to be a community of Grace that profoundly impacts lives.
At the same time, I am often disgusted with religion and its spirit when it permeates a church. Like Jesus in His sermon to a specific church in the book of Revelation, at times I just want to “spit it out of my mouth.” There are occasions and trends where the Church (modern and traditional) has taken God’s Gospel of Grace and turned it into a religion of performance, rules, steps, levels, goals, guilt trips, fear tactics, and rituals.
In fact, truth be told, many Sunday morning church-goers attend a service and hear a message (in some fashion or another) that gives them a series of things they need to do (or not do), work on, or improve—all in order to be more “Jesus-filled” and faithful in living the “christian” life. Their closeness with God and status with Him are in the balance.
When people stop going to church (or never try it out) we assume it’s for some dark, sin-influenced reason. Yet, maybe it’s because they are actually more genuine than those that are attending—ever thought of that? Some people who stop going to a church, such as I have described, have resolved with a genuine heart that they are hypocrites because they will never be able to perform up to the standards and steps that are prescribed each week. They simply admit, “I can’t do all of this and get it all right.” Therefore, they conclude it’s probably better not to even try, fake it, and give the appearance that they are something that they are not.
Because the church they experienced is not a refuge of Grace, but more of a religious club of rules and self-help talks, they have decided to preserve their character and honesty instead of getting on a tread mill of religious performance where no matter how much you do, you are forever unfit. They have discovered in religion and churches that have welcomed a religious spirit, the best you can do is pretend. So, they have decided, pretending is not for them.
The Gospel of God’s Grace doesn’t produce nor create and environment where people must pretend. Rather, the emphasis is on the performance of Jesus and placing our faith in Him and His work. Right living never produces right living— it’s right believing that leads to right living. It is His righteousness that becomes our righteousness. It is His identity that becomes ours. As we believe it, we receive it, and then live it.
Obedience under The Law is to do rightly. Obedience under Grace is to believe rightly.
If you believe rightly, the behaviors will follow. But not from a foundation of rules and religious performance, but effortlessly from a foundation of Grace. There is nothing to pretend, it’s about Jesus’ performance, not ours! It’s His life in us, not ours.
People need the Gospel, the pure Gospel of God’s Grace. The light that God placed within all humanity won’t be fooled by a counterfeit. It is the deep calling to deep. When some sense a phony Church with a phony Gospel, though the may not be able to explain it or put words to it, many non-church goers are genuine enough to steer away from it.
Be careful before you put all non-churchgoers on an island doomed for hell, they may be more genuine than you.