Over the past few months I have received heartbreaking emails from so many people. There are those who have been abused at home and then abused again at their church. Oftentimes churches are so concerned with budgets, power, control and numbers that they forget their commission. Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
And the wounded from these groups are outcast, driven away and the fold is taken over by the wolves. They ask me, “What do I do?”
My heart weeps for them. But the answer is always the same. “Go to church”.
Let me put it this way. If you could ask God anything at all, what would you ask Him? Would you expect an answer? There is a place where God has promised to meet with His people and has promised to hear their prayers and give an answer. The problem is not God; the problem is that we don’t hear. God speaks to us through the preaching of His Word. And this happens at church. Go to church. There is a great banquet set for you each Sunday in Church and you are starving. So go to church, and feast on the word of God.
Are you wounded? Go to church. Are you downhearted? Go to church. Are you fearful? Go to church. Pour out your heart to the Lord. Listen to His voice in the reading of the scripture and the preaching of the word.
I will readily agree with you, however, that not every group that calls itself a church is actually a church. The vast majority are more concerned with numbers than with sheep; with programs, rather than obedience; with budgets rather than faithfulness. Perhaps you have been attacked and wounded by one of these groups.
The church in the days of the Reformation struggled with the same issues and questions. They also were outcast, excommunicated and considered evildoers, even criminals, by the vast majority of “churches”. But then they realized something. Not every group that calls itself a church is actually a church. The Apostle John spoke of churches who had their candlestick removed. It does happen. Those churches that used to be full of life and now full of decay and ruin, and the voice of God is never heard.
Many groups today have a lot of activity, a lot of people, a lot of money and a great reputation. But, to paraphrase Witsius, activity doesn’t mean life. There is a lot of movement in a dead body. Maggots and escaping gas from decomposition cause a lot of activity. I would suggest to you that much of the activity that we see today is the decomposition and active decay of a dead body, that doesn’t know enough to give itself a decent burial.
If God requires us to go to church (see Hebrews 10:25) would He leave His people to guess where that church is to be found? Would He have us join ourselves with a rotting corpse and promise to meet with us there? We, who once were dead, have been made alive by the gospel. Now we are to join with the living Church of God. God expects that the living join themselves with the living. God Himself has told us how to distinguish a true church from a false one. The Reformers saw this, and wrote in the Belgic Confession:
The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself (From Article 29).
And there it is. A true church is not one with the youth group, the great band, the charismatic and relevant young and tall preacher; a true church is not the one with the fantastic programs, the large and comfortable building, the most current marketing. A true church is not the one that does great concerts and revival programs.
The true church is where the Word of God is preached and everything contrary is rejected. The sacraments are administered according to the Word of God. The true church cares about the difference between wolves and sheep and are careful in their discipline. They understand about protecting as well as feeding the sheep.
To often, we look for the wrong thing when we look for a church. We always get what we are fishing for. When we are fishing for a church that affirms our own opinion of ourselves, we get a church that also affirms the opinions of wicked and evil men. When we fish for a church that seeks to cater to the spirit of the age, we get a church that caters to the spirit of the age and the prince of the power of the air. That isn’t good, in case you were wondering.
But God’s voice is not heard in much activity. Just like in Elijah’s day, the almighty, everywhere power of God is heard in the still, small voice. A faithful pastor, in a small church with a few sheep – but full of the power of God. Maybe the sound equipment is a bit faulty at times. Maybe he doesn’t do a blog very well. Maybe he isn’t the handsome media star who can captivate an audience by the power of his deep voice.
These aren’t the marks of a true pastor, and are not the marks of the true church. Does he know what God’s word is? Does he submit to the doctrine and authority of the One Holy Apostolic Church? (In other words, what creed does he hold to and love? Or does he change with the wind of opinion).
Don’t tell me that there aren’t any churches anymore. Even in the days of Elijah, God reserved 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. It is more likely that we are not looking in the right place. Do you need to change what you have considered important and bring it in line with God’s word?
Sometimes, you might have to move. This sounds drastic in an age where we look at schools, work, location, weather, shopping and neighborhoods to make our decisions and figure that we can find a church after we get there. But what if there are none?
Haggai rebuked the people of Israel for seeking the things of the world first and when that was sorted out, then they would take care of God’s worship (Haggai 1). But they had it backwards. Worship comes first. Everything else flows from there.
Go to church. Put everything else aside. Find where God’s sheep are meeting and join with them. Sit quietly. Learn about God, about yourself, about mankind, about Christ.
Learn about the forgiveness of sins, the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Learn about the imputed righteousness of Christ. Learn about patience, about resting as a weaned child on the lap of the mother. Feast on the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Sacraments. Stop going to the dead and decaying body, more interested in sound and fury, and learn to hear the still, small voice of God in the faithful preaching of the word, by weak, humble and godly men who know the difference between good and evil.
Go to church. Do whatever it takes. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.