Is church a spiritually shallow experience leaving you seeking a better connection with God? If so, what should you do?
[Gary Petty] Are you dissatisfied with attending church? Do you find that you enjoy the shorter sermons filled with self-help principles but you’re still longing for a deeper relationship with God?
Let me ask you something you may have never thought about. What was the church like when it was made up of people who personally knew Jesus, Mary and Peter? What was it like to have the apostle Paul as your pastor? Wouldn’t it be great to worship with those people?
Those first churches seem to be places of miracles and powerful and life-changing preaching. Where would you even find a church like that today?
Stay with us as we explore the experiences of the early Christians and what you should do if you are “Dissatisfied With Church.”
Today we’re talking about what to do if you are dissatisfied with attending church.
If you’ve seen Beyond Today before you know that our purpose is to explore and discover original Christianity as taught in the New Testament. When you watch Beyond Today you see programs showing what the early Christians believed about issues like baptism, the resurrections, and the seventh day Sabbath.
So what was it like to worship with those early Christians?
It must have been amazing to talk with people who had met Jesus, or listen to a sermon given by the apostle John, or have your congregation receive a personal letter from the apostle Paul. Being with those people must have been exciting and always spiritually uplifting.
Well not entirely. Let’s look at what it was really like to be a member of a Christian congregation at the time of the apostles.
Think about the Apostle Paul’s letters written to congregations in far-flung regions of the Roman Empire. Letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians. When you read these letters it can be a little disconcerting. These people had problems. Problems like arguing over how to conduct worship services or how to deal with members consorting with prostitutes, problems concerning marriage, divorce, gossip, prejudice, divisions over leadership styles, members taking each other to secular courts. And this list is just from Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.
It would have been easy to become fed-up about attending worship services even among the earliest Christians. But there were no other options for them. It’s not like there was a Christian church on every street corner. In the ancient world, there just weren’t that many because the Christians were a small minority in the Roman Empire.
Which brings us to an important point about how they defined “church.” The word “church” in the Bible didn’t originally mean what we usually think of in English.
The English word church can mean an organization or a building. But in Greek the word translated church means people “called together.” Ecclesia was used to denote a gathering of citizens called together to discuss the issues of the community. The New Testament writers use “church” as a reference to people called by God to assemble together to learn about the teachings of Jesus Christ.
This is important because it means that the church is people and these people are called by God to assemble together. Paul’s letters were written to people who gathered together. His letters were to be read to them when they assembled.
So if you are disillusioned with church, you find that it is a spiritually shallow experience leaving you seeking a better connection with God and Christ, what do you do? Give up on gathering together completely?
Of course not, God calls people to gather together so He can do His work in them and so that they can teach others about Him. Reading Paul’s letters show us that the early Christian assemblies had difficulties, difficulties getting along with each other many times. Then, just like today, any congregation is filled with people who are a work in progress.
At the same time we must recognize that there are very real reasons why people become dissatisfied with attending church. And these reasons need to be addressed.
Let’s look at three common reasons people give to why they become dissatisfied in attending church and see how to deal with that dissatisfaction.
One reason people become disillusioned with church is they don’t see how an ancient book like the Bible has any relevance to their everyday lives.
The Bible was originally written in ancient languages to people whose cultures can seem as foreign and bizarre to us as a sci-fi movie. To understand the Bible, it is important to remember that this book was written by real people and it was written to real people as a message from God. It isn’t just a book of legends or history.
You will never unlock the power of the Bible until you approach it as a book inspired by God containing a message from Him that transcends time and culture. It is a message concerned with your life. It is just as relevant for the issues you and I face every day as it was for the people who heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount.
But what if you already believe the Bible is inspired by God and still feel like what you hear in church isn’t relevant to your life? In all honesty, it may be because you are hearing a watered down version of the gospel.
Yes, God’s love is expressed to us in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. This is the very foundation of the gospel. But when was the last time you heard a biblically-based sermon about defining, facing and overcoming sin that was so powerful it made you feel a little uncomfortable?
Yes I used the word, that dreaded word, sin. The word that turns so many people off because they see it as judgmental. You need to understand that the gospel message is about God’s love, but it is also about God’s judgment. You will never experience the power of the gospel to change your life, to be relevant to your everyday problems, until you understand and deal with sin.
You know why? Because according to Jesus the root cause of most of the problems in your life is sin.
I hope you are feeling a little uncomfortable. Authentic Christianity should make us feel uncomfortable. In fact, you will never understand God’s love until you understand how offensive our sin is to God. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10 Romans 5:10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
American King James Version×).
Any gospel that doesn’t contain a message about the destructiveness of sin is a watered down version. God loves every human being but until we turn to Him as our Creator, our Lord, our Father, until He restores our relationship with Him, we are His enemies. That’s Paul’s words, not mine. Accepting the torture, death and resurrection of the Son of God as a substitute for our judgment by God and then dedicating our lives to Him is the only way you and I won’t stay an enemy of God.
When was the last time you heard a sermon built around these statements of Jesus that He made in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23 Matthew 7:21-23 21 Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
American King James Version×).
It’s a little uncomfortable to consider these words of Jesus isn’t it? It should be.
Christianity is more than a message of profession of faith. Authentic Christianity is a way of life that is relevant to every aspect of daily living. It’s relevant to your marriage, your job, your finances, your emotions, raising children and how you properly obey and worship God.
The first reason why the Bible can seem irrelevant to daily life is because you may be hearing a watered down version of the gospel, a version that doesn’t involve the power of change.
The second reason is something you’re really going to have to think about. I mentioned earlier that the people and culture of the Bible can seem so foreign, that the message seems irrelevant to today’s world.
Have you ever thought of this? Maybe the culture you and I live in is so foreign and bizarre that the values we think are normal are keeping us the enemies of God?
I want you to take a moment and think about what I just said, “…maybe the culture you and I live in is so foreign and bizarre that the values we think are normal are keeping us the enemies of God.”
We all know about the mid-life crisis, a time of reassessment by people facing the fact that they’re getting older. It is a time when some people look at their lives and question their achievements and values. Over the past few years there has been a lot of discussion concerning what is now called the “quarter life crisis.” This is a term used to describe a sense of loss, panic and depression experienced by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are questioning their relationships, their education and their careers. They find themselves searching for a more relevant life.
It’s time for you, it doesn’t matter what your age, to discover what is really important. The answers are found in the Book many people believe is absolutely irrelevant to daily life.
When you begin the journey of discovering real Christianity and when you do you will question the values of society, you won’t be the first person to look for deeper meaning in the teachings of the Bible.
Paul wrote to the Christians in the first century church in Corinth, Greece. He told them that they relied too much on Greek philosophy as the basis for relevant decision making. He explained that following the true teachings of Jesus Christ would actually seem foolish to those indoctrinated with the sophisticated Greek culture of that time.
These Christians in Corinth living almost 2000 years ago, they were struggling with the same question you and I face today, “How can the gospel be relevant to my everyday life?” You know, this is the same question asked by every Christian in every age.
So where do you start?
Here’s a great way to begin your exploration of authentic Christianity. First, read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. But don’t stop there. Take a notebook or the word processor in your computer and draw a line down the middle of the page. Then write or type out every verse in the Sermon on the Mount in one column. In the other column, while praying for God’s guidance, write out in your own words what Jesus is teaching.
When you do this you will find that the teachings of Jesus challenge many of the assumptions you have about authentic Christianity. This can be the first step in a new spiritual journey.
A third reason people say they become dissatisfied with attending church is: “My relationship with God is personal. I don’t need a church. Or, I’m spiritual not religious.”
We’ve already seen that in the Bible the word church isn’t a building, it is people. Your relationship with God is very personal. But to understand the gospel is to realize that we, you and I, don’t determine how our relationship with God actually works.
Listen to what Paul writes to the congregation in Rome, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2 Romans 12:1-2 1 I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×).
To be reconciled to God, to go from being His enemy to being His child, is to accept Christ’s sacrifice as a substitute for the penalty for your sins and to love God and Christ so much that you present your life as a living sacrifice. Authentic Christianity means to be transformed by the renewing of your mind! Feeling uncomfortable yet?
How does this transformation apply to being a member of an ecclesia, or assembly?
After you do your study on the Sermon on the Mount, then you need to read the book of Acts. In this short history of the earliest Christians you will discover that every place the gospel was preached people were expected to assemble together as the disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples are more than students. They are imitators of the Teacher. It is in a Christian community where disciples learn how to apply Christian teachings. Assembling with other Christian disciples – it’s messy. But let’s be honest. Your life is messy. At times all of us are still falling way short of authentic Christianity.
It helps to think of a congregation as a hospital for the spiritually sick to go to learn how to get better.
I mentioned earlier the problems in the assembly of the Christians in Corinth, Greece. In Paul’s letter you find him dealing with a highly dysfunctional community. What you also find are practical instructions concerning what is acceptable Christian conduct and what is not acceptable Christian conduct. The earliest Christians were serious about biblical teachings and they were real serious about sin. Jesus Christ wants you to learn about sin, then receive God’s forgiveness, and get it out of your life. Remember, sin is the cause of many of the problems you face every day.
Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians. Paul writes about a man who was having an affair with his step-mother. How do you think Paul dealt with that issue? Maybe don’t judge, just show love? Paul actually told the congregation to remove the man from their assembly until he had repented to God and changed the behavior.
Would that happen in your church where you attend? Or, is it a place where the watered down gospel creates a watered down Christianity that feels attractive but does not contain the power to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The transformation God wants in your life begins with coming to grips with your sin, receiving God’s forgiveness and then you have to live authentic Christianity so that God removes sin from your life.
Find a congregation that preaches the power of the full gospel and you will begin to experience the power of God’s transformation. You will find relevancy and you will begin to accept biblical values.
So, how about simply watching an online worship service or watching a religious television program. Does that fulfill the Christian requirement to assemble?
Online messages are wonderful for shut-ins or for Christians who can’t find an assembly in order to participate in a worship service. Watching an online service can be a spiritually uplifting addition to your Christian growth. But it can’t take the place of face-to-face assembling together with other people. Remember, the ecclesia is people who are called together to assemble.
The early churches were communities where people shared their lives. Once again, read the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians and realize that simply watching online or religious television isn’t the fulfillment of being a member of a Christian community.
Authentic Christianity involves a calling from God to attend an assembly of other disciples of Jesus Christ.
We’re going to discuss how you can become rejuvenated to attend a church. We’re going to talk about these things with the Beyond Today panel but first let’s review what we’ve covered so far.
In the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus Christ are expected to assemble together.
Attending a church well, it’s messy, because it’s a hospital for the spiritually sick.
People can become dissatisfied with attending a church because they are hearing a watered down gospel message.
People can become dissatisfied with attending a church because they aren’t willing to give up the wrong values of the society in which they live.
People can give the excuse that they are spiritual not religious, but the early Christians saw the gathering together as a spiritual command.
We’re joined by fellow Beyond Today presenters Steve Myers and Darris McNeely. Thanks, guys, for joining us here today. I want to review the three reasons why people become dissatisfied with attending a church and get your input on how when people bring you these concerns.
Now one reason people give is that I’m in a personal relationship with God. Attending church has nothing to do with that relationship with God because I’m really spiritual and not religious. How do you deal with that?
[Darris McNeely] Well I would say people like that just don’t really fully understand the Bible. The Bible is about relationships. The Bible is directly tied to how we relate to people. The 10 commandments deal with our relationships with one another. The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian church, you were reading out of Corinthians that when you come together, speaking about how they relate to one another in their fellowships. That’s how we learn about God, that’s how we knock some of the rough edges off of our own personality and character to be conformed to the image of Christ. And as we in our modern age kind of cocoon and draw further away through technology from people, it’s more important to look at what the Bible really says and to realize that just being spiritual in your own mind doesn’t measure up to the example that is there in the Bible.
[Steve Myers] I believe there is two things that the Bible is clear on. You have that personal relationship, absolutely, you have to have that. But there is also a collective relationship that’s important as well. You talked about the Greek word for church and it means you are called out and you are brought together. So it’s not just an individual kind of thing and in fact when Paul wrote to Corinth he also talked about the example of the body. The church wasn’t just an individual, it wasn’t just an eye or a big toe, it was all the parts together and so the whole body is one and it is all these individual parts that come together and so you can’t be an isolated Christian. It’s just not biblical.
[Gary] By the definition of Christian you come together and assemble. It’s part of what we’re supposed to do.
Now, I’ve heard people say this. They’ve said it to me and its one reason why people can become so dissatisfied with attending church. It’s because they say the Bible is irrelevant to my everyday life. It might have all this theology in it but it doesn’t have practical information. How do you deal with that?
[Darris] Well again let’s go back to the book of Corinthians. What was Paul addressing with the church there but divorce, immorality, alternative lifestyles, and he was giving them practical information from the Word of God, from the law of God, to deal with that and helping them to distance themselves from the chaos of their life created by their relationships that were mixed up. A man living with his step mother, for instance, as you say. That creates chaos and confusion and has no good fruit. So irrelevant just doesn’t square with what you really unwrap from the picture of the Bible and what is really being told there of a life that is very similar to ours today.
[Steve] Yes I think when you see it’s about people and what are their circumstances, what are the circumstances that they’re dealing with and life is similar whether you are talking about first century with the New Testament church of whether you are talking about today. We’re talking about people and how we act, what we think and there’s really not that much difference other than the circumstances themselves. It’s about human nature, it’s about our challenges and our problems and the Bible recognizes those things very clearly and when we can see what it’s really saying we can see how it is applying to us today, and I think that is what is critical.
[Gary] Okay but here is what some people will say. Some people say, they’ll say, okay I’ll go to 1 Corinthians and I’ll read all that but that is concerned with the bizarre culture 2000 years ago and that means nothing to me today because my culture is different. Now how do you deal with that?
[Darris] The Roman culture of the first century was probably more chaotic and worse morally than ours today. They had immorality, they had gender issues, people were mixed up with what they were and who they were sexually then. They had problems with human nature, dealing with murder and moral problems and ethical issues. Paul addresses every one of them there and frankly even we see that today. Those of us that have worked in pastoral ministry understand all of that is with us today but it doesn’t take a scholarly mind to go back into scripture and show that that world is the mirror of our world today. Paul was giving concrete information based on the Word of God how to deal with it and come out of it.
[Steve] That’s the unique aspect of the Bible. It applies throughout time. That God knows His creation. He knows us. He knows what’s best for us. And so when we look even today we have various cultures around the world. Does the Bible apply all around the world to all the different cultures that are out there today? Well of course it does. Of course it does. But you’ve got to get beyond just saying well it’s a first century thing or it’s a Moses and Israel kind of thing. It’s a people thing and God knows how we work and He knows what is best for us and He gives us this guide in order to help us in this walk.
[Gary] You know, if you’ve read 1 Corinthians, there were people in the congregation who had these same questions. They would have said, oh no the Greek culture is so sophisticated that this Christian culture is really sort of primitive. All the things that we’re talking about here and all the things we’ve talked about that people bring up as reasons why they aren’t satisfied going to church. You will find people in Corinth dealt with those same things. So it’s not new. These are the same questions people have been asking since, well, since Christianity started.
[Darris] That’s right.
[Gary] So what is the relevancy of Jesus Christ? That’s why people need to do the studies that we’ve talked about here on our program today.
Today we have examined three of the most common reasons people give for being dissatisfied with church and we’ve offered solutions to these complaints from teachings of the earliest Christians. Hopefully you’ve found this discussion both valuable and enlightening. To help you gain even more understanding about the type of church you should be looking for, we have prepared a free Bible study aid: “The Church Jesus Built.”
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Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in constantly praying, “Thy kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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