By Dr. Mark H. Creech
King Duncan, a United Methodist minister, in his book, Amusing Grace, tells the following story:
I was getting dressed one Sunday morning to speak at old First Church – a high steeple church with a rich history. The radio was on. The early morning service from a fast-growing Pentecostal church was being broadcast. I knew the pastor. He is not a great preacher – a little too emotional for my liking. But he knows how to reach people no one else can reach.
As I straightened my tie, I heard him say, “Before we begin this morning, I want to say a couple of things to you. First of all, I want to say that there is far too much moving around in the service while I am preaching. It’s distracting.” I thought that was a rather amusing thing for him to say on radio. Then he added, “And another thing. I would appreciate it if you would wait till after the service is over to go to the restroom.”
I thought to myself, “Is he really saying this on the radio?” Then, to make matters worse, he added, “I have to wait till the service is over to go to the restroom and so can you!” I let out a hearty laugh. That’s not the sort of thing most of us would broadcast as a part of a worship service.
Smugly, I finished tying my tie and laughed inwardly about this unsophisticated messenger of the Gospel.
Then the voice of God spoke to my heart. “King,” God said, “the reason that pastor has to tell his people how to behave in church is that a year ago many of them were not in church. Some of them were having serious problems with alcohol and drugs. Some of them were going through painful divorces. A few were in jail. That’s why they don’t know how to act in church. They haven’t been in church very long.”
Then God said, “Don’t worry, King, you won’t have that difficulty at old First Church.”
And I thought to myself, “God help us, we won’t. Everybody at old First Church will know how to behave in church.” And I couldn’t help thinking that might be the most tragic thing that can be said about any congregation.”
What good is church if it doesn’t make any difference in people’s lives, if it doesn’t change the community, if it doesn’t affect the nation? Jesus taught that God’s people, the church, should be “salt” (Mt. 5:13). Salt in Jesus’ day was used as a preservative. In other words, it saves and stabilizes. That’s what the ministry of the church is all about – glorifying God by saving, stabilizing, and redeeming lives. Nevertheless, Jesus also added, when the salt loses its saltiness, “it becomes good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the feet of men.”
Unfortunately, much of the church today is “good for nothing,” because it isn’t functioning as “salt.” Sadly, most of what takes place in the average church is little more than the actions of a religious country club. Feel good institutions, preaching to “itching ears”, having a form of godliness, but denying the power that transforms the human heart and society. Professing Christians asleep in the light of God and laying in their flowery beds of ease. There’s no cross, no sacrifice, and no pain. The focus is on self and not the giving of self.
To such, Jesus would say, “Wake up. You have only a little strength left, and it is almost gone…I have found that you are not completely obeying God…turn from your sins. If you don’t wake up, I will come when you least expect it, just as a thief does” (Rev. 3:3).
Yes, much of the church of Jesus Christ in this era has become obsolete, irrelevant, and under the disciplining hand of God – because it no longer follows the example of the Savior – no longer does it follow the example of the New Testament church before her – confronting the needs and issues of the day with the Word of God, sacrificing with blood and tears to turn men’s feet back to the path of righteousness.
Many who are a part of the church may know all about how to behave in church. But the greater concern is whether we’re actually behaving as the church? If we aren’t, well, that is the most tragic thing that could ever be said about any congregation.