The Circus Is Closing

DSCN0617Luke 9:57-62

When I read the newspaper yesterday, I was surprised to hear that after 146 years Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus will close its show forever on May 21. A circus used to be a big deal in entertainment. I remember that a small Ringling circus used to travel through our area in Ohio, and I went to see it once. The only time I was ever at the greatest show on earth was when Sharon’s cousin took our family when our children were young. An era of entertainment has closed. My granddaughter will not be able to see a circus. She and others will not know the meaning of a phrase like “someone ran off to join the circus.”

Regardless of any sentimental regrets people might have about that circus closing, there is another circus that I wish would close as soon as possible. That is the circus held every Sunday in American churches. This past week I received a postcard that a new circus, oops, I mean “church”, is opening nearby. It proudly proclaimed that it would feature a really good band. If that won’t bring in religious consumers shopping for spiritual entertainment, then what will? Remove the bands and children’s programs from most churches and you will have removed the main reasons for the assumed success of those churches. Replace the inspirational talk by the “lead pastor” with sound, Biblical teaching, and most of the rest of the crowd will disappear also.

The worship and mission of churches in America is far removed from the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to how he interacted with some who wanted to be his disciples (learners). As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62 ESV).

The Lord Christ was not desperately gathering people. He did not seek a loose attachment to him. He certainly did not offer entertainment. Observe how he rebuffed certain types of supposed followers.

  • Jesus did not accept people who merely said that they would follow him, even if their words appeared to commit to him (9:57-58). He taught that the life of faith was not about personal convenience. It required sacrifice. The “circus church” allows people to attend when convenient; it strives to put on a good enough show that people won’t find it convenient to miss.
  • Jesus did not accept people who failed to commit to his supremacy (9:59-60). He demanded first place above other relationships. The “circus church” excuses people for activities with family and friends, but hopes that they can convince them to join the weekly shows, at least occasionally. Everyone wants high attendance for Christmas and Easter programs.
  • Jesus did not accept people who looked for other opportunities (9:61-62). He demanded firm commitment. The “circus church” lets people play around, trying to keep them interested in attending weekend programs, while giving them a pass on godly behavior and commitment to Christ.

Let me stress that I don’t want churches to close. But I pray that they will shut down the circus and return to Jesus Christ and his mission. I doubt this will happen, because they know that they will lose many who attend their weekly religious entertainment programs. The local leaders have counted the cost of their church following Christ and do not want to endure it, or they do not want to follow the Lord themselves.

Each one of us ought to examine ourselves. Do I really want to follow Christ on his mission of being a disciple myself and making disciples? Or do I merely want some weekend religious entertainment. It’s time to end the circus and to begin discipleship.

Grace and peace, David

More on Meeting Together

20140916_160521Hebrews 10:25

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (NIV)

After thinking about the desire that the Lord has for his people to gather together as a church (assembly, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18), next let’s think about the reason. The writer might have mentioned a reason such as the worship of God. Or there is the opportunity for a gospel witness to friends that do not yet know the Lord but are willing to come and observe a loving and caring church that proclaims hope (confident expectation). Or, thinking of the passage already cited from First Corinthians, a church needs to gather for a meal to remember the Lord together. These are all good reasons to meet together.

However, the writer of Hebrews concludes this great passage with another reason. We are to meet together to encourage one another. While the Holy Spirit has come to encourage us, the Lord wants his followers to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “Encourage one another” is one of the basic differences between an edifice church and a sharing of life (koinonia) church. Those who attend an edifice church are very concerned about the “service” that will happen there. By the service, they mean the public program that is presented. In various edifice churches this means different actions, whether the observance of rituals and sacraments, or a strict order of service that is planned to the minute (that is no exaggeration), or a musical performance (dominated by the worship leader, band, and singers), or listening to a long, carefully constructed doctrinal sermon, or an evangelistic message that is followed by an emotional invitation (altar call), or some sort of combination of the above. The important matter in the edifice church is to have the best possible performance of the desired program. Before and after the program, there might be some chitchat about sports or children or politics or vacations. But to encounter personal encouragement is rare.

To meet together in a sharing of life church is to be involved with people, not a program. Yes, such churches will have worship, music, prayer, a message from the word, etc. But the concern is not to get through a program and then to evaluate how well the leaders lead the program. The Lord and people matter in a sharing of life church, because the Vine gives life to the branches, and he wants them to love one another with his kind of love (John 15:1-17). For this reason, there is a lot of time invested in talking together about the Lord and our lives in our families, job places, neighborhoods, and activities. Another time we will go into more detail. But the difference is the focus is on the Lord and people, not on any program. The Holy Spirit is in control, not an “order of service”.

When you are not in your local gathering of believers, your place in the body is vacant. Often when we meet together, it’s like being without a finger, a foot, an arm, or ears. You can’t contribute and the body is crippled. “My oh my, where is our ‘liver’ today?” Someone answers, “Oh, don’t you know? The ‘liver’ is off doing something or other with the ‘knee cap’. And by the way, the ‘back muscle’ is grumpy today, so be careful what you say!” You are at liberty to think that is a crazy illustration. But please listen to this. The exhortation to meet together to encourage one another is not merely “good advice”, but it is God’s will for your life. And this exhortation is addressed to people who have every reason to comply with it. The writer addresses those who are forgiven, those cleansed by the blood of Christ, those who may approach God boldly, yes, to those who are in covenant with the living God. As a person loves God and his family, he or she desires to be at family gatherings.

When we gather together, we must encourage each other.

  • Encourage one another to believe, to hope and to love. Notice how faith, hope and love occur in this paragraph (10:19-25), as well as many places in the New Testament Scriptures.
  • Encourage one another to grow in knowledge of God, of the word he has given, and in the Christian way of life.
  • Encourage one another to endure. It is tough to live for Jesus Christ in a world that hates him. Loving words of hope in the Lord’s resurrection victory can be greatly used by Spirit to strengthen each other in spiritual warfare.
  • Encourage one another to do good (1 Peter 2:11-15). The writer said this in 10:24, but we forget too easily that we are to do good works, so that others might see them and glorify our Father in heaven.

The writer adds a solemn motive. The Day is approaching. “The Day” means the “Day of the Lord”, which is the time when he will act openly in the greatness of his glorious power. The result will be salvation for his people and judgment for his enemies. Are you ready for Christ’s coming? Believers look for the dawning of that Day. We are watching for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. This requires us to grow in grace in the light of that Day: “all the more”. Since every day brings us one day nearer to the return of our Lord, we ought to be better prepared each day. For this reason, meet together regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Grace and peace, David