OPIN­ION

Churches and God’s bless­ings

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

A num­ber of years ago, a min­is­ter friend of mine at­tended a min­is­ter’s con­fer­ence spon­sored by a rapidly grow­ing church and fea­tur­ing its own min­is­ter as the pri­mary speaker. My friend was in a dif­fi­cult church sit­u­a­tion and it had got­ten him dis­cour­aged. He at­tended the con­fer­ence in hope of get­ting some en­cour­age­ment. Un­for­tu­nately the meet­ing turned out to be any­thing but en­cour­ag­ing. Ac­cord­ing to my friend the key­note speaker pointed to his great suc­cess and then made this ap­palling pro­nounce­ment: “If your church isn’t at least 5,000 in mem­ber­ship, you need to get out of the min­istry — you are not se­ri­ous about min­istry.”

I can only imag­ine that if this in­di­vid­ual had been re­view­ing the work of the seven churches of reve­la­tion, the only two with pass­ing grades would have been Sardis and Laodicea. If church health is judged by size, pro­grams or ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, th­ese two con­gre­ga­tions had it hands down. They were both unique for their day. In a day of gen­eral per­se­cu­tion, th­ese two churches were be­ing praised in their com­mu­ni­ties. Sardis had a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing alive and vi­brant, Laodicea was wealthy and very likely us­ing some of that wealth to reach out to the less than for­tu­nate. Th­ese two churches had it all to­gether as far as hu­man in­sight was con­cerned. They could have been run­ning their own pas­tor’s con­fer­ences telling oth­ers how they too could get in on the bless­ings.

The lord of the church saw them in a whole dif­fer­ent light. Sardis, ac­tive in rep­u­ta­tion was dead in spirit (Reve­la­tion 3:1). We should be care­ful never to mis­take move­ment for life. There are, un­for­tu­nately, plenty of churches run­ning around like the prover­bial chicken with its head cut off. It is my un­der­stand­ing that this prover­bial state­ment comes from re­al­ity. That the body of a head­less chicken will ac­tu­ally run around un­til it drops. The chicken, of course, is dead the in­stant its head is re­moved from its body, but it ob­vi­ously doesn’t seem to rec­og­nize this prob­lem. There is plenty of move­ment — but no life.

A sim­i­lar thing hap­pens in the church. Far too many of us are run­ning around do­ing all sorts of ac­tiv­i­ties, main­tain­ing won­der­ful tra­di­tions, but we are not con­nected to the head, Je­sus. That was the prob­lem in Sardis.

In Laodicea the is­sue was a marked luke­warm­ness to the things of God. Their fo­cus was on their ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions. The lord of the church says to them, “You claim to be rich and suc­cess­ful and to have ev­ery­thing you need. But you don’t know how bad off you are. You are piti­ful, poor, blind, and naked” (Reve­la­tion 3:17, CEV). To­day there are those who would have us be­lieve that ma­te­rial bless­ing is the nat­u­ral re­sult of spir­i­tual obe­di­ence. They mis­use and mis­ap­ply verse af­ter verse to sup­port this de­luded doc­trine. They even claim that Je­sus was se­cretly wealthy (though over and over again we have his words to the con­trary) be­cause they claim that since he obeyed the fa­ther’s will com­pletely, he had to be a man of suc­cess de­spite the fact that the Bi­ble iden­ti­fies him as a man of sor­rows. Like Laodicea it is pos­si­ble to be ma­te­ri­ally wealthy but spir­i­tu­ally bank­rupt. Wealth does not equal spir­i­tu­al­ity and spir­i­tu­al­ity doesn’t equal ma­te­rial bless­ing. God sup­plies our needs not our wants.

Here’s what I know: if you be­lieve the il­lu­sion that as a be­liever ev­ery­thing should be com­ing up roses for you, you will be­come dis­il­lu­sioned be­cause it doesn’t al­ways work that way. Faith is not merely claim­ing and re­ceiv­ing some cov­eted thing; some­times faith in­volves ac­cept­ing what God gives us with­out doubt­ing him and with­out com­plain­ing. This is true on the in­di­vid­ual be­liever level, and it is true on the cor­po­rate church level.

It is not up to us to de­cide which church has the bless­ing of God upon it. He is the head of the church, and he alone gets to hand out the com­men­da­tions or con­dem­na­tions. Cer­tainly we are re­spon­si­ble to look into the is­sues and, I think where nec­es­sary, point out sin, dis­obe­di­ence, etc., that may have crept in. Paul for in­stance op­posed Peter when Peter fell prey to the sin of hypocrisy (See Gala­tians 2:11-21). But when all is said and done, it is the Lord who will hand out the re­wards or take them away. Un­til then, our job is to know the truth, stay in the truth and walk faith­fully with Je­sus.

John Pear­rell

Colum­nist

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