Friday, March 17, 2006

What's Wrong With Church? - Glory Thieves

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"Ah, such a beautiful building! What happy, smiling people! There are so many! This church does so much for the community! Your pastor is such a dynamic speaker! I really like the way you make it easy to get from the parking lot to the sanctuary. I just can't say enough about your church!"

What's wrong with the above string of praises? On the surface, nothing. Compliments on a church facility or the people or the pastor or the charity work... those are fine. Where the problem lies is in the response of the church. Does the church accept those comments as praise heaped upon them or as praise for the One who deserves it? Deeper still, does the church exist to draw comments like the above paragraph? Are we looking to glorify the local church? Are we rejoicing in glorifying our pastor or our denomination? Are we trying to glorify ourselves? Or is our church doing ministry so that the world "may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven"? There are far too many churches who seek to glorify themselves first and foremost. They brag about their denomination and show off their celebrity pastor. And somewhere in the process the glory due to God gets waylayed. Sidetracked. Stolen.

One of the most basic excuses is that anytime the church is lauded, so is God. And to a certain extent there is some truth to this. But as with most everything in our lives, God is more interested in the condition of our hearts rather than the justification slathered on afterward. So you've built a $15 million facility. Is it for God's glory or for your own comfort? Be careful with the answer because God knows what's in your heart.

Is God more glorified in a huge cathedral or a school gymnasium? Does a huge and beautiful facility really reveal God's character? What about a hut made of sticks in the jungles of South America? Why do we get so caught up in having a nice church campus? First, because some people won't bother to come hear if the building isn't comfortable -- trying to please the world. I've wrestled with this whole issue previously. Certainly there is a need to keep a person from being physically uncomfortable, but too many churches cross the line into luxury and opulence.

The second reason we want the church to be nice is because it is for us. Just as we attempt to make improvements in our houses and try to have the latest, fastest technology, and strive to make everything as easy as possible in our lives, we take that same mindset and try to squeeze the church into it as well.

Third, we want things to look good so that others will be impressed by them. Let's be honest about things, we enjoy having people talk about our wonderful facilities. The sanctuary or the gym are bragging points. But it's more than just the facilities. We want the most entertaining music, the most charismatic pastor, the fastest-growing denomination or church. We take pride in our blessings rather than in our Blesser. We gladly accept the praise of man for ourselves in our finest Pharisaic style.

The dangers of stealing God's glory are not readily apparent unless your are looking at the situation spiritually. It all seems right to have the best... to keep up with the Jones' church and maybe a little better. It seems normal to take pride in the "selling points" of one's denomination or pastor or church, but the church exists to enable His people to give Him the praise and worship and honor and glory which He and He alone so richly deserves. If we steal His glory, our heart is in the wrong place. It's not supposed to be about us. It's about Him. And if our boasting is in anything other than Christ Jesus, we are taking the glory which so rightly belongs to God.

May the words of the Apostle Paul be the prayer of each and every person within a church and within the Church:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Up next: The Business of Church.


Mark Winter said...

Rev Ed,

I've made about 10 or so mission trips to the interior of Mexico over the last dozen years. I have not been to one fancy church building--most are modest, cinder- block structures with no a/c or heat. But the people are so thrilled to be there and praise God. They put no emphasis on the building, but everything on the foundation, Jesus Christ.

In the U.S. religion scene, we are very enamored with lights, sounds, special effects, etc. I get caught up in it, too. Going to Mexico recalibrates my thinking and reminds me what-- or Who--is paramount.

Dan Edelen said...

If you're going to spend a million dollars to build a church building in the United States, why make it so dull and drab?

So much for using the God-honoring gifts of Christian architects and artisans!

Carol said...

I don't think a million dollars is going to build anything fancy if a growing church is in need of a significant space increase. It cost $750K for us to add on to our existing building 5 years ago and we're already busting at the seams again. Nobody can figure out why the mass growth. We love our church, but it's not anything spectacular or even entertaining. It's very modest and our pastor is just a regular guy who loves the Lord. I'm in women's leadership, so that right there tells you there's no monopoly of giftedness among leadership. The building is old and we share with a school.

It takes a bunch of money to build even a modest facility. I can't imagine what the extravagant ones cost or how many modest ones they could build for the price and still accommodate everyone.

Okay, here's a question that's been plaguing me for some time: We want to attract the world to us, but not in worldly ways. But we're talking about a world that is addicted to worldliness and scoffs at humility. How to attract them to a church? I do have some thoughts on this, but they're sort of radical. Am interested in hearing yours, Ed.

Shelly said...

I would love to see some old fashioned country churches pop up in these parts.

Carol - I'm going to put my two cents in on your question about attracting people. I personally don't think that churches attract people, God does. People who may be attracted to some of the dog and pony shows out there, may not actually be looking for him.

rev-ed said...

Carol - That's a question we all have wrestled with at some time. I'm not sure I'll shed much more light on it, but I'll address it later on in the series.

So much for using the God-honoring gifts of Christian architects and artisans!

Dan - I'm not sure where you got that from what I wrote. My point was about a) taking pride in the building rather than God and b)making our church facilities showplaces when "more than adequate" would work fine. Most Christian architects and artisans should be able to use their gifts within that framework.

I see very little use for something which adds only appearance and costs an extra couple of hundred thousand bucks.

Jennifer said...

I am so blessed to belong to a church where the focus is on reaching out to our hurting community and sharing God's love with them.

Quotidian Grace said...

Great post, ed. And a timely reminder to me as well.

julie said...

I don't think a modest old-time church is more likely to be Christ centered than the fancy, high tech church.
It's an effort to keep preferences and superficial issues from becomming important...regardless of economics.

rev-ed said...

That's not what I'm saying, though. My point is that many people in many churches are filled with pride over their church building and their pastor and their denomination rather than giving glory to God. It becomes more important that people be impressed by the facilities than by the One to be worshiped.

Building something which isn't practical for ministry use must have a purpose that doesn't put God first.

This isn't just a big church problem. I've seen small churches with so much pride in the church (building, congregation, fund raising project) that any thought of God is merely an afterthought. That's wrong.

julie said...

My comment was more directed at Shelley's comment than at your post.
Hi Shelly :)

Claude said...

I love the article on Stealing God's Glory.I was inspired to write one myself,please read!
Stealing God’s Glory

It is imperative and significant that God's men and women who stand in His service by His power and might walk in the full understanding of the glory of God. That would definitely constitute a deeper and closer walk with Him. Which in turn would construe a greater level of glory through their ministries, The Father is diverse in His expressions of the manifestation of His glory and its desired purposes; for instance the bible declares that "the heavens declare His glory and the works of His hands." The other expression is the manifestation of the brightness of His splendor or beauty, which is also His glory. The Lord Jesus, when the time of His crucifixion drew close, uttered these words in praying to the Father for the apostles and us today, "I want that these that thou has called by thy name be where I am to behold my glory." The glory of God is also seen and revealed in the cosmos, the stars, the moon, sun and the earth; as well as in the different species on it, from man to every creature that walks the earth and swims in the ocean. Louis Armstrong, a well known singer from the sixties has a line in one of his world renowned songs, which say’s, "what a wonderful world!" If the earth in its fallen state can be so great and wonderful in appearance, imagine how much more majestic, wonderful and glorious is the glory of Him who created it, who is Holy and without blemish and declares that "my name is Wonderful"

But the glory in question here is not the manifestation of His power nor His splendor, Rather it is the glory of honor and acknowledgement or credit to what He has done. I'd like to think that any man or woman who does anything on earth would feel insulted and even take offence if another were to take or receive credit and acknowledgement for their inventions or creativity. Would that not be stealing? So the one is the manifestation of His power: the latter is the acknowledgement and credit to God for the manifestation of His power! To this one the Father warns, "I share my glory with no one." As a minister and a servant of God you would do wise to take heed to this warning. The very reason why Lucifer fell was because he didn't respect this one thing. With all the wisdom given to him, he failed to understand that certain things belong only to the Godhead. He wanted the glory! You can never want the glory unless pride has entered your heart. He was so consumed with all that God gave him and forgot that the gift can never and will never be greater than the giver. He missed the mark and fell, as the scripture states "How art thou fallen from heaven,O Lucifer, son of the morning." The bible also states that "pride comes before the fall." It now makes a lot more sense as to why God hates pride so much; for pride takes Him out of the equation. Pride says, I am God and I have no need of the Creator of heaven and earth. Now if any man has sense enough, he will know that "in Him we live and in Him we move and in Him we have our being." His word also states that "by Him are all things, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible. He is before all things, and by Him all things consist" according to this scripture. He didn't only create all things but He also keeps it alive and the very existence of all creation is a direct witness that God is on His throne. Pride is a sin only when found in any of His creations; even man as such was the case with Lucifer. But with God, it is His right full place for He has no beginning and He has no end. He doesn't need anything or any one and He definitely answers to no one. There is none besides Him, He alone is God. In the book of Isaiah chapter six the prophet declares, "I saw the Lord sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up and the train of His robe filled the temple." Oh, but let us not forget that He is also lowly of heart and near to them who are humble and contrite of spirit.

I believe that this message is of great significance and well in season to the body of Christ and that it needs to be inundated with this profound truth, for where ever you turn in these last days, the flesh has exalted itself in the church of the lord Jesus. Many men have risen and set themselves lords over Gods precious heritage which is His saints, receiving credit for their books, church buildings, conferences, cd's and DVD's sold. Their names are marketed as business logo's to sell their product. One wonders is it really about God? Or are these the men the apostle Paul warned us about, and told us by the Holy Spirit to stay clear from such? Who think that Godliness is gain. Its gone to the extent that even the miracles the Lord has performed in the lives of His dear children, Are credited to these men of God. All you hear these days is, and I quote "the man of God", "the man of God". You barely hear the name of Jesus any more. Have the saints of God become so guillible that they can’t recognise pride when they see it? Many saints have become followers of men and have placed more emphasis or importance in the names of their churches and leaders, rather than the name of the one who actually died and rose from the dead that their souls may be delivered from eternal condemnation. That is the name of Lord Jesus Christ. I’m well aware of the biblical concept of the Lords blessings for His children and the Father does bless us. Whether it be in spirit, leadership, financially or materially but also if you carefully read the bible from Genesis to Revelations, you will discover that there isn't anywhere in scripture where the gifts are exalted above the giver. Could this gullibility of the saints of God be the result of the lack of interest in reading the bible for themselves? Perhaps it is a total dependency on what is heard from the pulpit?

Stealing Gods glory has serious implications. It's the very reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land. When the children of Israel were thirsty in the wilderness, they pleaded with Moses in unbelief and the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock and it shall bring forth water. But Moses in his anger told the children of Israel," Hear now, you rebels, must we fetch water out of this rock"? And the bible goes on and states that, "Moses lifted up his rod and smote the rock twice,: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank and their beasts also." Two sins were committed on that day by this great prophet Moses. The one was, “God said speak to the rock” but he disobeyed, and let his temper have the better of him and smote the rock. That was not the Lords instruction. The other was that he said to the Israelites," Must we bring water out of this rock? Right there unwittingly, his temper had the better of him again and put him in a very dangerous position, so much that he stole Gods glory before the eyes of all of Israel. No man has the power to perform miracles. Only God is able, but an interesting thing happened here which is a valuable lesson to all ministers of the gospel. Though there was rebellion and the stealing of the Lords glory, yet water still came gushing out of the rock. By this we learn that God is faithful to feed his flock, even in the presence of sin. We also learn that judgment is postponed on many of His servants due to the need of the sheep. As His ministers, it’s important to know who God is and who you are. It is equally important to know your place as His servant, because that's what you are, His servant. No servant is greater than his master. In the relationship you're his child, but in service you’re anointed as His servant. Your nothing more than a conduit which He sanctifies to touch the lives of the people He loves so dearly.

The Lord God also doesn’t need the incorrect use of degrees titles and high accolades in His Kingdom. Which is indicative of a pride infected spirit; when men use these to exalt themselves to have eminence in the church. Every title in the bible is an office and every office has a responsibility tied to it. Theirs are titles which spring up every where having no spiritual bearing in the Kingdom and have no biblical significance as far as scripture is concerned. They only buff up the flesh and have their place in a secular or corporate environment. All the Lord asks for is your availability and not your ability. As it is written, ” For it is not by might nor by power but by My Spirit.”

The apostle Paul stated in one of his letters,” I want to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” In Romans he goes on to say that,” The preaching of the cross is the power of God.” Paul magnified his weaknesses more than his successes and admitted that the sole reason he did this, was that the power of God may rest upon Him. No wonder why God used him and the rest of the apostles to raise even the dead! According to biblical data these men were not looking at the Lords hands, as many do in the church today, but were seeking His face. This led to holiness and the power of God, to the faith and salvation of those who were still held captive by the devil.

In conclusion, this is not the time for glory seekers, but time to give back the glory to Him who alone is worthy of it. To Him who sits upon the throne and to Him be all the glory the power and dominion in the church, both now and forever more!

God Bless You Claude Chikozho

Cell: 073 687 5066