When the things of God take second place to the commandments of men
The scribes and Pharisees, religious leaders of Jesus’ time, held a man-made tradition whereby Jews were to wash their hands before eating – something that God never commanded.
When the scribes and Pharisees asked why Jesus disciples didn’t wash their hands when they ate bread Jesus rebuked them:
“He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” – Mark 7 v 6-9
The Church today is no different, as many Christians brush aside God’s most important commandments. Self-righteousness is embraced, where people believe that obeying commandments invented by man is the way to obtain righteousness, as the outward appearance is considered more important than the heart.
Self-righteousness seems to be the doctrine of today’s church. Encouragement is often replaced by complaining, and God’s commandment of showing unconditional love is thrown aside as church leaders look for righteousness based upon works.
Righteousness measured by attendance of church services
“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 20 v 24-25
As we can clearly read, the purpose of Christians meeting together is to build each other up and encourage one another to love and do good works. Contrary to this, instead of receiving loving encouragement to do good, many Christians find their spiritual well-being is ignored, and more importance is placed upon what roles they are fulfilling within the church, and what meetings they attend. Christians who do not regularly attend all services are quite often treated with disdain, with the assumption being that they have no time for the things of God.
There are many valid reasons why Christians do not regularly attend church services. People are increasingly finding that what they are taught at church is mostly irrelevant, has little substance, and does not encourage spiritual growth. Attending church for fellowship with other Christians is often pointless, as after the service many Christians seem to talk only about worldly issues rather than the things of God.
Due to their desperation to hear the word of God, people are turning to Christian television, radio, and Websites, spending less time at church. Church leaders complain that these people are failing the church rather than realising that the church is failing to fulfil their needs.
Preachers frequently tell people that the attendance of morning and evening services, prayer meetings, bible studies, etc., doesn’t make anyone a Christian – one cannot become righteous by doing good things. In hypocrisy, these same preachers often treat Christians with contempt, reprimanding them as though they are unrighteous, because they do not attend every service. This very thing encourages the self-righteous sentiment spreading throughout the Christian Church.
Many church leaders complain about Christians who only attend either the morning or evening service; however, one has to ask, where in the bible are Christians told to hold two services on a Sunday? The bible certainly doesn’t mention it. Also, where in the bible is the ‘prayer meeting’ mentioned? We are told to pray, but nowhere in the bible are we told to hold a regular meeting specifically for prayer. It is a fact that most prayer meetings are poorly attended, and this shouldn’t be surprising considering that no such meeting is required of Christians in the bible.
The bible reveals that ‘services’ did not exist at the time of the early church; the structure of the meetings was not predetermined, but members of the congregation would in turn start a hymn, pray, give a message, or a prophecy, as the Holy Spirit led them. True fellowship was where all members of the church could take part.
Rather than condemning people for not turning up to church services, surely the goal should be to draw people’s hearts closer to God through encouragement? What gain is there if people turn up to services just to appease church leaders? The truth is that there is more concern for the outward show of attendance than the spiritual well-being of the congregation.
Righteousness measured by roles within the church
Many roles within the church are taken on through guilt, especially in small churches where no one else is able or willing to fulfil them. Rather than being encouraged, Christians are often pressured into fulfilling roles within the church, suffering rejection and experiencing an uncomfortable atmosphere should they not concede to demands. While the early church waited on guidance from the Holy Spirit it is sad that, too frequently, church leaders today do what seems best in their own eyes.
Christians are often pressured into taking Sunday School lessons, even if they have little or no experience, do not feel led to do so, or feel unable to cope with the role. Quite often people are enrolled who are not fit for the task, and whether or not the children benefit from the lessons is rarely considered.
People who have been Christians for only a short while, who have little experience in leadership or are not suited to the job, are being enrolled as church elders, leaders, and teachers.
Far too many decisions made within the church result in failure, or are unfruitful, because God’s will is not taken into account by those leading the church. Sadly, when failures occur in this way, church leaders will often blame the congregation.
Wrong ways of dealing with the church
Frequently, pastors and teachers who feel uncomfortable broaching their grievances with certain members of the church will find other ways to approach this. With the intention of making people feel uncomfortable, they will subtly slip their condemnation into a sermon, or even proclaim their condemning words under the guise of prayer. Church leaders sometimes turn their prayers into short sermons of reproof, where they are obviously talking to the congregation, or perhaps an individual, rather than God. The very time of prayer that church leaders claim is so important is often wasted upon such a self-righteous whim.
How many souls have been lost because church leaders have neglected to act in love, or have passed a negative remark at a backsliding Christian? How many people have left the church due to pressure put upon them when they needed help and prayer? Nothing can make up for taking away the salvation of even one person. Many times it seems that church leaders encourage Christians to tear down rather than build up.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” – Luke 18 v 10-14
Justification with God is to be considered righteous in his eyes. The parable of The Pharisee and the Tax Collector reveals that the man who does good works and exalts himself, if he looks down upon others because they don’t do as many good works, is not justified before God. Justification with God requires that we look down upon ourselves, knowing that our salvation comes from God alone.
If only the church would put as much effort into helping those who are experiencing problems as it does seeking to fulfil roles, and making people feel inadequate until they do.
“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” – Romans 12 v 4-8
We are clearly told here that not all Christians have the same calling. Some have ministries of leadership, such as evangelists or teachers, and some minister in ways unseen by others, such as those who give of their time or money. As the above scripture tells us, the gifts and calling of a Christian come from God, by his grace. One who has a more prominent position, such as a teacher, is no greater in God’s eyes than one who spends time praying unseen.
When church leaders have a particular ministry it is easy for them to assume that everyone else should have a passion for the same thing. In many cases, those who have a particular calling for evangelism tend to put pressure on other Christians, telling them that they should all be going off around the country, or around the world, and trying to convert people. Obviously there is a need for evangelism, but one mustn’t assume that everyone should be an evangelist.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” – Ephesians 4 v 11-12
Here we read that the ministries of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, are for building up the Church. Evangelists are categorised with pastors and teachers in leadership ministries. To suggest that every Christian should be an evangelist would also mean that every Christian should be an apostle, prophet and pastor, which is obviously not the case. Of course, if the opportunity arises, Christians are encouraged to share the gospel with others, but it is not everyone’s calling to dedicate their lives to this, any more than it is to dedicate their lives to preaching.
There are many great things that Christians can do that do not involve taking on a role of leadership. William Tyndale, born about 1494, spent no time evangelising or teaching others, and yet he is highly esteemed by the church. Having spent his life translating the bible into English for the first time, his ministry has allowed the gospel to spread to billions of people for almost five hundred years. Imagine how many saved souls would have been lost if he’d been coerced by a church leader into becoming an evangelist or a preacher instead!
Sunday School – the commandment of men?
Although Sunday School is considered to be one of the most important ministries in the church, the bible mentions nothing about having special services for teaching children, and in Jesus’ time children attended the same meetings as their parents. Sunday school was invented in England in the 1700s, but took off in 1780, popularised by Robert Reiks. Up until this point Christian children always remained in the church for the duration of the service.
In 2009 an investigation was performed by America’s Research Group, commissioned by Ken Ham (from Answers in Genesis), as to why younger people no longer go to church. Participants were those between the age of 20-29 who attended conservative evangelical churches when they were younger, but no longer go to church.
The investigation lead to the discovery of ‘Sunday School Syndrome‘, where those who went to Sunday School regularly as children went against the teachings of the bible more than those who had never attended, revealing that Sunday School has been detrimental to the spiritual health of children.
The research revealed that going to Sunday school increases the likelihood that one will not believe in God, that one will not believe all of the bible, that one will believe in evolution, and that one will defend abortion and premarital sex. Going to Sunday School also decreases the likelihood of becoming a Christian.
Drawing people into the church
Rather than relying on the gospel – the message of salvation – many Christians are embracing secular ideas in order to draw people into the church.
Modern music styles resembling popular music are embraced because they appeal to a younger audience. Worship of God through singing and music is now focused on the sound and rhythm, creating feelings and emotions in those participating. While the feelings may seem spiritual, they are no different to those created by Hollywood films, which have an atmosphere designed to provoke an emotional response. In fact, many young people have commented on how modern Christian songs are similar in style to those in Disney films.
While modern Christian songs focus on emotions, it is the message in older hymns that is the most important part. Old hymns were usually similar to a prayer, or praise to God, rather than focusing on sentimentality. The main aim of the old fashioned hymn seems to be aimed at causing Christians to consider their lives and walk closer to God in holiness and humility. While frequently using Biblical terminology, modern songs are mainly based upon popular Biblical phrases just thrown together, which sound scriptural but actually make little sense when read normally.
Going to church has become centred on what one gets out of it, rather than what one gives to God. The main goal of youth work seems to be focused on entertainment, and to fit in with the world, than get the real message of the gospel out. Youth leaders today are expected to act and dress in fashions accepted by young people, and to use the same words and phrases common to today’s youth. The standard opinion in the Church today is that young adults should be youth leaders. Most people who are 50 years old or over tend to use their age as an excuse to not teach children, even if they are perfect for the job. Modern preachers tend to draw attention to themselves more than the message they are giving, desiring recognition and stardom. The words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3 v 30) seem to have been banished from the modern Christian Church.
Many churches are becoming like the world around them. Politically correct, watered down sermons are often preached because they will appeal to more people and won’t cause offence. In doing this, rather than people becoming Christians, the church is being turned into a faith system based upon secular ideologies. It is becoming a form of religion that claims everyone goes to heaven, and that there are many ways to salvation, denying the very Christian ethos that salvation comes only through Christ. People are now told that they can almost do whatever they like, regardless of what the bible says. In fact, the bible itself is being changed to fit in with modern secular values, and new versions of the bible take away what have been held as the main principles of Christianity. Churches that do hold fast to the original bible are usually guilty of promoting self-righteousness, going against the very heart of Christ’s teaching.
The ‘Sunday Assembly’ secular church movement is becoming popular in the UK and USA. It is an atheist church, offering non-believers all of the positive aspects of church, such as music, ‘sermons’, fellowship and community work. In fact, it offers everything a Bible believing church offers, but without God, and without the bible. The Church of England is becoming more like this, where many members of the clergy don’t even believe in God, and defy the holy requirements of God laid out in the Bible. They take on the job purely because they see the Church as a form of social entertainment, a method of being part of a happy community with positive goals. On one hand we have Christian churches becoming more secular, and on the other we have atheists embracing the traditions of church, and both are increasingly cutting out the word of God.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” – Romans 10 v 17
While modern Christians try all manner of things to draw people into the Church, we are told that it is the word of God that acts upon a man’s heart. The very thing that is being ousted to make way for new modern methods is the very thing that should be magnified. Every time a Christian revival has occurred it is through the preaching of the word of God.
People are increasingly put off Christianity as the church tries to integrate with the secular world. Even non-believers who once had respect for the church are in disbelief, as church leaders publicly accept things that go against the bible in order to appease the world. It should be obvious that problems will arise when the word of God is watered down and preached without conviction, and the focus is taken off God and put onto works, and the preacher is considered more important than the God he is preaching about. Christianity has lost its respect because it has lost its respectability.
By their fruit ye shall know them
“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” – Matthew 7 v 16-17
Unfortunately, many church leaders seem to believe that ‘good fruit’ refers to cleaning the church, attending prayer meetings, and giving lots of money in the offering. The bible clearly shows us what the real fruit is:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5 v 22-23
How sad that love, peace and meekness are so often ignored within the church, only to be replaced by self-righteous acts, the very things for which Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees.
The most important commandments
The most important commandments for the Christian are to love God above all, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Jesus himself said this:
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22 v 35-40
Again, the importance of loving our neighbour is revealed in no uncertain terms in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13 v 1-3
The term ‘charity’ in the above scripture is translated from the Greek work ‘agape’, which refers to a love towards others, as in loving one’s neighbour as oneself. Without this love, any good works, even being put to death for the sake of Christ, will account for nothing in God’s eyes!
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13 v 4-7
In other words, those who do not have love can be described as any of the following: anyone who shows little patience, who is unkind to others, who envies, who brags about accomplishments, who is proud, who behaves inappropriately, who puts himself before others, who is easily provoked, who thinks evil, who enjoys what is wrong, who gives up on God under pressure or who is unsure of his beliefs.
While many Christians claim their love towards God, the loving of one’s neighbour as oneself is often ignored. We are clearly told in Paul’s letter to the Romans that loving our neighbour as ourselves is the very fulfilment of the law:
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” – Romans 13 v 8-10
In the bible, when a lawyer asked Jesus, “who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells the following parable of the Good Samaritan:
“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” – Luke 10 v 29-37
Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews, and were looked down upon in their eyes. Here we are shown that a Samaritan took compassion on the very sort of man who despised him, giving a great deal of himself to ensure that the man was built up. In this parable we are told to seek the well-being of even our enemies, and that it is even they who are our neighbours.
Moreover, we are shown that as we desire mercy we are to go and do likewise. Whatever wrong someone has done, we are taught to show them mercy and compassion, just as Christ has towards us.
“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3 v 17-18
Love is shown in how we treat others. It isn’t just what we do that makes a difference, but how we feel inside, whether or not we feel love, mercy and compassion. Who will have more compassion than someone who esteems themselves lowly, and who knows that but for God’s mercy they would be without hope?
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6 v 14-15
As God has forgiven us our sins against him, which are great, we must likewise forgive others:
“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” – Matthew 18 v 23-35
The debt of our fellow men to us is insignificant compared to our debt to God. As God has forgiven us this great debt, it is considered evil if we should not do the same to others.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” – Philippians 2 v 3
Trouble within the church often comes through proud Christians looking down on others contemptuously because they are not as good as they are. But we are told to remember our position.
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” – Luke 6 v 41-42
When we see someone doing something wrong, we only judge them by what we see on the outside, and we don’t know what is in their heart. We ourselves know what is in our heart, and know far more about ourselves than we do others. If we fully understand how much we have been forgiven we will treat others with the same grace and mercy God gives to us, regardless of what our hearts are like. If we pick at the problems of others in a negative way, pulling them apart instead of building them up, we are doing little more than suggesting that we are better than they are.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” – Galatians 6 v 1-3
We are also told to reprimand other Christians with meekness, as we are but human, and could so fall into the same problems that they have. We must treat others as we should want to be treated ourselves.
Although the church is more often inclined to promote condemnation, it is commanded to promote edification, which means to build, uplift, improve and guide. The New Testament is full of commandments telling Christians to edify each other:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4 v 1-3
Forbearance is to show tolerance and patience in trying and provoking circumstances. Forbearance, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and the keeping of unity are frequently absent in the church today.
We are told to edify one another in an attitude of comfort, patience, peace, grace and love:
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” – 1 Thessalonians 5 v 11
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” – 1 Thessalonians 5 v 14
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” – Romans 14 v 19
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” – Ephesians 4 v 29
Edification is presented as the opposite of destruction, which is to build up:
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” – 2 Corinthians 13 v 10
Many Christians place great importance over having spiritual gifts and ministries, and rightly so; however, the reason Christians have such gifts are to edify the church:
“Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.” 1 Corinthians 14 v 12
Each Christian has his own place in the body of Christ. Not all are evangelists, or pastors, or teachers. The most important thing is that the body of Christ is built up, to the end that Christians will become more like Christ:
“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” – Ephesians 4 v 10-13