Lately, I’ve seen many articles on the movement away from the traditional congregations. Leadership in these institutions is attempting many ventures to win back members, but to little or no avail.
Surely there are those who don’t believe in God at all. As I’ve stated before, I can’t really blame them because we as Christians haven’t truly shown that he is love. As Christians, the burden of proof through love lies on us here, not on them to disprove God. Are we showing his love to the rest of the world, or are we showing God as a long list of rules, obligations, condemnations, and performances. Those that don’t see Jesus’ love in us tend to reject our beliefs outright.
Others have left to seek a real relationship with Jesus. They’ve tasted that God is truly good (1 Peter 2:3, Psalms 34:8), not just because we say so, but because of his infinite love for us, his children, created by his own hand. Once they’ve fallen so deeply in love with Jesus, it is very hard to tone it down enough to stuff themselves back into a religious box. In this case, they are relegated by the religious into the same group as the “unbelievers.” In actuality, this group is similar in that they can no longer believe the misconceptions presented, unintentional as they may be, about our loving and gracious Father. As they draw closer to Jesus, they become more vocal about their passion for him, not caring about their own life anymore but instead speaking the truth as he lays it on their hearts. This often alienates them and gives religious leaders targets to claim heresy against. Regardless of their love and passion for Jesus, they are made to be examples of apostasy and accursed. However, Jesus said it would be so for those who love him (Matt 5:10-12, Matt 10:25).
Therefore, the gap widens. It seems falling deeper in love with Jesus means growing away from that type of religious society. Those that continue to exist within the institutions dig their heels in and struggle to find some type of solutions to the decline, ignoring those pointing to Jesus’ love as the way to relate to others.
Some go with more flashy services to appeal to the young.
Some go “back to the basics,” which are often rooted in misconceptions but appeal to the nostalgia of the older generation.
Some go with popular opinion—if my sermon gets “amens” of approval, then I’ll use those type messages to appeal to my congregational base.
Some spin the situation to claim a sort of “cleansing” of Christianity, claiming those leaving were never really Christians to begin with. Oh the lovely judgment, guilt, and manipulation tactics that Jesus seemed to dislike so much.
Some beg and plead for one more chance, though no movement towards a more loving expression of Jesus has occurred. It’s like the abusive spouse who repeatedly begs a mate to return, claiming some change has happened, but eventually regressing back to the same patterns as before as the external performance gives way to the internal corruption.
Some apply misdirection techniques to push the blame to anything else—politics, mega-churches, secularism, millennials, etc…instead of looking at whether their love relationship with Jesus is evident to others.
Some claim that others shouldn’t be judgmental and insist that they are just human, yet no spiritual growth takes place (Hebrews 5:12-14, 1 Cor 3:1-2). It’s perfectly fine to be human and fallible, but spiritual stagnation in favor of man-made agendas is often the cause. Those that leave are seeking a deeper relationship with God and not just a facade of religion.
Some press obligation even harder, demanding that those who remain are to give even more to the institution, promising rewards from God in return for such “faithfulness.”
Some use a combination of all of the above, creating an overbearing machination that eventually collapses into itself because of the financial and physical pressures involved in the production.
So what’s the solution? To me, as hard as it may be to watch those hurting that have tied their lives into institutions, I have to step back and let God’s plan take its course. It is a self-inflicted wound to continue to insist that religious performance and rituals are the way to Father’s heart instead of a real love relationship with Jesus. That relationship reaches far beyond the confines of the Sunday morning institution, deep into the world of hurting people.
On a similar note, the temple wasn’t just a worship center, it was the earthly replica of the temple in heaven (Hebrews 8:5), yet God still allowed it to be destroyed as the Jewish religion had become obstinate. If God allowed his own earthly house to be destroyed permanently in 70AD, what makes us think he will allow the institutional church to survive if it isn’t truly aligned with his will, regardless of the spin, rhetoric, and claims of righteousness that are presented? The Jewish religion made the same claims and defiantly stood the same ground though Jesus gave them implicit warnings on the coming destruction at the hands of the Romans (Matt 24).
Still, we can deny everything and close our eyes tight, cover our ears and hum a little ditty. We can stand defiantly in defense of our religion, but it may fall into obsolescence just as the Jewish temple system did. Attaching God’s name to our institutions doesn’t make them holy. Talking about and knowing things about Jesus only makes us stalkers and not followers. The proof of his love and being THE church is in living out our life in a relationship with him that the rest of the world starts to see as we mature spiritually. This love relationship doesn’t seem to be found in man-made religious methodologies though.