Why did Jesus come when He did? Theories abound, but the state of the Church was likely, at least in part, behind God’s timing. Religious practices and teachings had gotten far off course, fueled by impure motives and metrics – and leading to cynicism among non-believers and an improper understanding of God among believers. Jesus came to blow up those misconceptions and set the record straight – about who God is and what He expects of His followers. Jesus reserved His harshest words and greatest indignation for the religious establishment.
We live AD but “church as we know it” has largely reverted to BC principles. It was intended to operate much differently than it did before Christ, but on close (biblical) examination it appears we have partially repaired the veil Jesus tore and rebuilt the temple Jesus said would be knocked down.
Consider what Scripture says about issues with churches and religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who had become…
A “4 walls” mentality with people treated as “customers” to attract and retain rather than as the embodiment of “church” to disciple and deploy.
BC Church positioned as an institution formed an unintended wedge between God and man (both churchgoers and those on the outside looking in):
- You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)
- When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)
AD Jesus went out to where people were, bridging the gap formed by “religion” to demonstrate His love (e.g. healing and feeding) before telling them who He was:
- At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
- And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2)
Emphasis on budgets and giving to keep the institutional church machine running.
BC Significant dollars were required to operate the Old Testament church:
- To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. (Deuteronomy 12:5-6)
- I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. (Numbers 18:21)
AD Flattened hierarchy frees up more giving to be directed toward fellow Christians inside and outside that church (e.g. the persecuted):
- All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)
- Now about the collection for the Lord’s people:…when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:1,3)
Not following the Lord’s commands to be compassionate and generous.
BC Religious leaders rarely gave to help the poor:
- But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God). (Mark 7:11)
- When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. (Deuteronomy 26:12)
AD The critical importance of compassion was strongly reemphasized, with Jesus as the model (yet only around 1% of the average church’s budget today is invested back in the community – whereas the Church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter, and started most hospitals and schools):
- For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. (Matthew 25:35)
- Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:27)
Defining church around a place and pastors to build the institution rather than disciples.
BC Success was measured by the magnificence of facilities and the celebrity of religious leaders:
- Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. (Mark 12:38-39)
- Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. (Matthew 24:1)
- Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones. (Luke 21:5)
AD Clarification that believers are truly the definition and personification of “church” (however, nearly all Americans today associate church with a building and its “success” with size in terms of square footage, occupancy and budget):
- You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5)
- Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)
- They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20)
Claiming ultimate authority and power, but rather than relying on the Holy Spirit being driven by human principles.
BC They did not recognize, possess or leverage the power of the Holy Spirit:
- The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. (Hebrews 9:8)
- Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. (Acts 1:4)
AD All followers of Jesus possess immense power through the Holy Spirit (however, few churches today emphasize the Holy Spirit, likely because He is too “spiritual” for non-believers who pastors are eager to attract and ensure feel “welcome” and “comfortable” in worship services):
- After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
- God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4)
Emphasizing the Church gathered versus the Church scattered to ensure organizational viability and job security.
BC Knowledge of God and His Word was largely trapped within the confines of buildings and the minds of religious leaders:
- The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…What kind of house will you build for me? (Acts 7:48-49)
- Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. (Luke 11:52)
AD Wisdom shared directly with individual believers who can meet anywhere for prayer, worship and fellowship (however, pastors today do not prepare members to be evangelists, but simply ask them to invite their friends to the church building to let the “professionals” handle Gospel presentations):
- But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands. (Hebrews 9:11)
- I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (Matthew 12:6)
- …and to the church that meets in your home. (Philemon 1:2)
Conducting an air war of words rather than a ground war of love and compassion to fight the culture war.
BC Religious leaders battled to maintain a controlling theocracy against competing influences:
- No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them. (John 7:49)
- But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
AD Church focused on Jesus as King and winning people to Him through love and mercy (however, Christians and churches are known less today for what they’re for than what they’re against):
- Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mark 12:17)
- For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6)
Summarizing the Solution
The answer to how today’s Church can look like the Church Jesus intended (AD) rather than the Church Jesus reviled (BC) lies in addressing those 7 issues, becoming:
- Proactive – Turn church “inside out”, tearing down the 4 walls by equipping and sending individuals and groups into ministry where they live, work and socialize
- Generous – Reevaluate church finances to mirror the giving expected of members, investing first fruits outside the “4 walls” and living off the remainder
- Compassionate – No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, so follow His model of opening ears to hear the Gospel by demonstrating God’s love first before sharing who Jesus is
- Commissioned – Build disciples who are prepared to live out their intended role as the embodiment of “church” to those who would never step into a church building
- Empowered – Boldly proclaim our need for the Holy Spirit, not worrying that non-believers in attendance will be “weirded out” since worship services shouldn’t be designed around those who don’t worship Jesus
- Decentralized – Restructure around a proper definition of “church” and the models that fueled its explosive growth in the Book of Acts, where small assemblies of believers were equipped to gather anywhere to reach their neighbors for Christ
- Kingdom-Minded – Ground church objectives in Kingdom advancement, which has much more to do with love and unity than with political victories
Imagine the reversal of the current decline in growth, influence, impact and public perception that would occur if churches in America would adopt these 7 AD principles.
It’s Your Turn
Do you agree that most churches in America today look and operate more like the “church” BC than AD?