Last week we looked at a few of the benefits and pitfalls of the new way some are “doing church.” As stated before, a periodic examination of who we are and what we are about is good for the soul of any individual and every organization. But we must remain faithful to the basic tenets of the faith set forth in scripture, one of which is key to any evaluation of who we are in relation to God and those about us.

A consistent theme of ministry throughout the New Testament, first espoused by John the Baptist as Christ’s herald (Matthew 3:1-3) and echoed by Jesus himself is, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17 Which when accepted as foundational to the development of the gospel of grace, at the very least infers conviction over sin and a desire for forgiveness – before redemption takes place. The message is not ‘Jesus loves you so much he doesn’t care who you are or what you’re doing.’ In truth, he doesn’t care who you’ve been or what you’ve done in the past, but he does care immensely what you intend to become and propose to do from now on; as being redeemed involves a need of, a desire for and an expectation of change – which encompasses a whole new mindset and lifestyle.

In considering Jesus’ instructions from Matthew 18:15-20, Paul’s caution of Hebrews 6:4-6 and Peter’s warning of 2 Peter 2:20,21 from last week, we must be aware that God is not addressing our condition of imperfection so much as he is condemning a frame of mind that is careless, uncommitted, unappreciative and therefore, unchanged. (See also 1 John 2:15-17) Nor can this debate be settled by an appeal to cultural relevance; as there is a vast difference between being sensitive to a seeker’s background and patterning ourselves after the culture we are called – by God – to be separate from. (2 Corinthians 6:17) Scripture characterizing Christians as strangers (1 Peter 1:1 & 17) and aliens (1 Peter 2:11 – translated pilgrims in the KJ) in describing our relationship to the world. In light of that, should we compromise any aspect of the gospel to make it appear less demanding or more attractive, can it be disguised to make it appear less offensive? Should it be presented in such a way as to leave room for individual “interpretation” – never challenging people’s perceptions or strongly leading one way or another – to enhance its acceptability?

Not all alternative ministries nor seeker sensitive gatherings do so, but we must be very careful that our own sin nature doesn’t get in the way of the legitimate expectations of God’s word and will (Galatians 6:1 & 7, 8), inducing us to soothe and excuse rather than allowing the gospel to convict and save. (See also the warning of 1 Corinthians 15:33 and the unflinching question of 2 Corinthians 6:14, “…what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what friendship can light have with darkness?) The realization of who we truly are and what we can finally become, as well as true ministry to unbelievers, can only be achieved by non-conformity with the world through the transformation of our minds and wills; enabling us to know God’s will while differentiating that from the dictates of the world and our own preferences. (Romans 12:2) Even as church tradition is expendable, biblical doctrine is not – and must not be diluted or compromised to satisfy anyone’s ego or soothe their conscience. For, “Anyone … who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17

The danger in totally rejecting and shunning all aspects of the established church and its long history is that we remain unaware or choose to deny its heritage and legacy. (Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 5:23, Matthew 16:18) Christ – at least in part – lived and died establishing and empowering the church (Matthew 18:15-20), with the expectation that we would follow his example and continue its outreach. (Acts 20:28) Admittedly, many grievous mistakes have been committed by some of its members and will probably continue to be made as long as it is made up of imperfect people; but it would be foolish and an immeasurable loss if we refused to recognize the incalculable good God has accomplished throughout the world when the church and its members represent him well.

A genuine Christian will be starkly different from the world and will derive his definition of success from an entirely different source. (1 John 2:15-17) That’s extreme in and of itself and often next to impossible to achieve. Our outward appearance doesn’t need to conform to a pattern set by anyone; but our lifestyle, including our appearance and how we present ourselves to others, will be noticeably different as a result of an encounter with Christ. That encompasses all our conversation and comments, not just our “witness;” as well as our minds, where we deposit and withdraw the thoughts and motivation on which we act upon; and our souls, the essence of who we really are. That’s when we will become “real” and empowered to be what He would have us be.

In conclusion, let’s consider some of John’s thoughts on foundational aspects of the gospel that any and every “church” must embrace and proclaim. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (But) if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (However) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:1&5,6 – 8,9

Any genuine profession of faith is paired with an expectation of an, “…obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5 Again, John insisting, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him’, but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6