Is Church As We Know It Preventing Church As God Wants It?
We Christians are strangely devoted to how we do Church. We love tradition. We enjoy the feeling of going to fellowship with other like-minded people in a beautiful building. We delight in hearing the choir or worship team sing and listening to the inspiring messages. We appreciate the children's programs and youth mission trips.
But are these traditions producing the result that Jesus expected from his Church? Is it producing devoted disciples or cultural Christians? It is impacting the hurting in our local community and the lost in foreign lands? If it isn't, then we need to reconsider our approach.
There is a deeper way to experience and encounter Christ. We've all seen glimpses of it at youth camp or weekend retreats. For a few days, we experience a profound connection with other Christians and a more intimate relationship with God. But we can not seem to stay in that sweet spot.
We can maintain the zeal for a few weeks or months, but eventually, the structure of our current worship practices choke out all of the life and force us to re-conform to the status quo. And in most cases, we respectfully comply.
Martin Luther recognized a different way.
In Luther's "German mass and order of divine service," he prescribes a structured liturgy for all Protestant churches to use in their worship. Luther established a Latin Mass which used the contemporary language of the time and was especially appealing to the younger people. He also described the German mass, which was mostly evangelistic and meant for sharing the gospel with the general public.
But ironically, in the same document that Luther established the order of worship for most protestant churches for the following 500 years, he would also write about a third mass he called the "Evangelical Order." He described it in this way:
"But the third sort (of Divine Service), which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practice other Christian works."
"In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix."
"Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer."
Characteristics of the Evangelical Order:
Not open to the public
Reserved only for devoted Christians
Members were to be active with both hand and mouth
Met in homes to pray read, baptize, celebrate Lord's supper, and actively practice their Christian faith.
Practiced accountability and church discipline in obedience to scripture
Took offering to help the poor.
Didn't focus on performance but on God's word, prayer, and mutual love of one another. `
Luther also recognized that the "Evangelical Order" was a very difficult goal to accomplish, because most people don't want to be "Christians in earnest." They want to do the bare minimum to receive the benefit, but not so much that it causes any discomfort, suffering, or hardship, especially in social circles.
He said: "In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that I must do it and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it and will help it on as best I can."
This is an uncomfortable truth in the Church today. We don't mind participating in an inspiring church service once a week if we must. But if Church is going to disrupt our lives in any way, we aren't interested in that level of fanaticism.
Luther recognized that if this change were to happen (and it seems that he hoped it would), it would take some time to gradually move Christians into this level of devotion and interest in the things of the cross. The Radical Reformers (Puritans, Anabaptists, etc.) captured the concept that Luther wrote about, they hung onto it as long as they could, but most of them were killed for rocking the "religious boat." Again proving the lengths we will go to in order to protect our precious traditions.
It has been almost 500 years since Martin Luther wrote about the Evangelical Order. He said it would need to be a gradual change, but I think we have stretched this out for too long! It's time for us to take a stand and make changes in our hearts and congregations. The time of the Evangelical Order has finally come.
The Reformation is upon us. Are you a Reformer or a Traditionalist?
The time is right for a Second Reformation. The Reformation broke us free from the Roman Catholic Church's corrupt practices and a faulty understanding of grace and salvation. The Second Reformation will address our departure from biblical church practice and expose the traditions that hinder true worship—leaving a vibrant and revolutionary church in its wake.
As Protestants and Evangelicals leave the Church in droves, we must recognize that the Church has lost its relevance in society precisely because we have become enamored with other lovers. We have diverted our eyes from our beloved redeemer. We have devoted ourselves to politics, celebrity, consumerism, and the culture wars; instead of giving our lives to reach the lost, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and healing emotional wounds in the name of Jesus.
Whether we like it or not, the religious landscape is rapidly changing. The coronavirus and closing of churches have accelerated these changes in ways that we could have never imagined.
The traditional church strongholds of the Twentieth Century will effectively die within the next 50 years, but the Church will never die, she must adjust and evolve to the current landscape.
I believe this is a unique time in history. It is an opportunity for the Church to undergo a massive paradigm shift that will allow her to regain spiritual (not political) relevance.
Some of us are desperate to see the Church again fulfilling the mission that God sent us here to accomplish.
Imagine a Church that:
Views Jesus as the true Head of the Church (not their pastor or denomination)
Meets in homes and reaches out to their neighbors.
Values community and deep relationships
Provides gospel solutions to social problems
Rejects racial segregation in the community of faith
Actively heals emotional wounds through confession and reconciliation.
Feeds the hungry; clothes the naked; visits the prisoner; welcomes the stranger.
Welcomes sinners of every kind to find freedom and forgiveness in Jesus
Repents of their sins instead of justifying them.
Prays for the lost, hurting and even for their enemies
Reads the Bible searching for commands to obey, not just promises to claim
Listens instead of argues
Embraces unity in the face of diverse theological perspectives
follows and pursues Jesus through obedience to all of his teachings
There are a growing number of Christians that see through the stale traditions of the modern Church. Our elaborate buildings, our predictable structure, and our ignorance of Jesus' commands.
Something is happening in Christendom. Please don't fear the change.
We have learned to submit to personal sanctification. Now God is calling us to submit to corporate sanctification. The cleansing of the modern Church. The second Reformation. The Evangelical Order.
I have made my decision.
Because I love Jesus and I love His Church.
I am a reformer.
What about you?
If you are are Reformer, or you want to be, Please share this post on social media, somewhere in the text proclaim "I AM A REFORMER."
[This is an excerpt from a book I am currently working on about the beautiful Church of Jesus Christ, subscribe if you want to be informed when it comes out.]
For a related post check out "What if they don't come back to Church?"
Also, Check out my first book on Christian mentorship. Letters to an Apprentice.