Thursday, April 2, 2015

What Will It Take to Purify the Church in the West?



When I often read about the lives and the testimonies of our severely persecuted brothers and sisters in Jesus worldwide, and then read Scripture, I see much that they share in common. When I survey the situation of so much of the modern Church in the West and of my own life and then read the same Scripture, I see a disconnect. Our severely persecuted brothers and sisters i Jesus, outside the West, often live life in the Book of Acts. They so often are much closer to Biblical Christianity than most of us followers of Jesus in the West.

On the other side of the world, followers of Jesus meet secretly in homes, forests, or wherever they will remain undetected by authorities or by others hostile to them. The Holy Spirit moves in power among them. God is known to move in power in countries outside the West. The faith of these followers of Jesus, tried by fire, enables them to take Jesus at His Word. They are open to the supernatural. There is minimal structure or control, though there is order. They are lost in the wonder of the holiness of God. The Gospel is preached in purity; both the love and severity of God are considered together. They do not hide the offense of the cross to get converts, and they don't tell you how to "live your best life now." They pray for strength to stand strong and not deny their faith, even in the face of death. These gatherings are largely inter-generational and diverse. They don't ever want this meeting to end, as they know when it does they will go back to hell. They have to be careful to discreetly worship to escape detection by those who would arrest them for this "crime" or who would attack them for this "alien religion." They literally take their lives in their hands to meet like this. They concern themselves more with what they look like to God than about impressing each other, as they are all in the same boat.

Getting closer to home, we have a far different picture. Churchgoers get all dressed up to go to meet with may others in a building. This building is called a church. It works best if that building has a steeple, and the service has either a choir in a sanctuary or a band in an auditorium. The Pastor makes sure to keep his sermon to about 20 or so minutes. You hear much about the love of God, exhortation you "can live your best life now," but much is left out. God forbid that we mention Hell or God's wrath. Usually prayers, readings and worship is all structured. We dare not commit any breach of etiquette in what is considered this holy place. Everyone is largely out to impress everyone else, or at least to look "respectable." The Holy Spirit has little room to move in this atmosphere. In more "progressive" fellowships, the atmosphere is more relaxed but the same principles apply and still, the worship service runs more like a business than a fellowship of believers in whom God lives. We have may have groups, but they are homogenized and age-segregated, for the most part. After an hour of "worship," we are eager to leave, maybe after having some "fellowship" over coffee and doughnuts.

What is the disconnect here?
The first example is based on much research as to what a typical worship service looks like in many closed countries or conflict areas where religious freedom does not exist. The second example is what a typical worship service in the West, especially America, looks like. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, which example of a worship service looks more like the New Testament and like Biblical Christianity? Which example is more conducive to challenging us to bearing much fruit and to spiritual growth, as Jesus expects? Which example is more costly but also more rewarding?

If we are honest with ourselves and each other, we must make some admissions about much of the Church in the West. We may not face overt, blatant enemies like swords, threats, bombs, wars, or physical persecution, but our enemies are just as real. They are just as bad for our souls as these other blatant enemies are to our severely persecuted brothers and sisters in Jesus worldwide. I'm talking about things that we tend to readily let slip in the "back doors" of our local fellowships and influence us. I am talking about enemies such as materialism, individualism, secularism, relativism, traditionalism, and consumerism. How does that work? you may wonder.

Think about it.

We are to follow Jesus in the context of our cultures and we certainly cannot change the enemies we face, short of leaving our lands and taking residence outside the West. But I don't think most of us are called to do that. We can, though, prayerfully work to resist our subtle enemies and partner with nonprofits that serve the persecuted. We can do what we can to live more simply and sacrificially. We can stand with our severely persecuted brothers and sisters in Jesus in prayer and through giving to nonprofits that serve them. Or we can continue to "sleep in the light" and wait for God to purify us in the same way He has purified and tried so many of our brothers and sisters in Jesus outside the West. Some Christian leaders are predicting that severe persecution is coming to the West, especially America. Only God knows that for sure, but what will we need to purify us?

While no one wants severe persecution to befall us, what weapon does God have left to wake us up?

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