I recently received a welcome punch to the gut by Frank Powell in the form of a blog posted to ChurchLeaders called 7 Churches Jesus Did Not Die For. Read it. Develop an opinion. Come back here when finished.
After posting it to social media and reading comments, it does not sit right with its audience. I found it fascinating as I was able to see past the semantics and nitpicking. First, the title in and of itself has fantastic cajones. Who is this author to say that Jesus did or did not die for anyone? Who is this author to say that a church shouldn’t be cool but shouldn’t be outdated. Who is this author to say segregated American churches is sin? I want to briefly dissect three of the seven churches discussed by Powell in his blog.
What vehicle is your church in? Where is your vehicle headed?
Let’s tackle the title first. 7 Churches Jesus Did Not Die For. First, it’s a perfectly appropriate title. It grabs your attention, and chances are you’re offended before the first paragraph.
Fact #1: Jesus did not die for walls and confines.
Within the walls that Mr. Powell describes is a fruitless group of people that miss the point. To expose one problem with all seven churches in his list, these churches have walls. Not just physical, but spiritual. They are walls, vortexes if you will, that only allow in and nothing out. Did Jesus die for everyone? Absolutely. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 4:14. Did Jesus die for brick and mortar? I’m struggling to find evidence for that. Jesus did not die for these churches in the same sense that Jesus did not die for carved, engraved idols.
And that’s exactly what these churches are treated as. Idols. Does your vehicle bring you to an idol or to a place where you keep moving?
Church number 1 describes the “cool” church. At first glance, these seem like the kind of churches that are getting it right. You walk toward the building, there’s a smokers circle and no one thinks twice. You walk in, and even your “dress casual” seems overdressed. Tattoos paint the arms and gauges adorn the ears of those the walk around. You’re having trouble discerning if you’ve walked into a church or a Phish concert. There are lights, expensive sound systems, and an adonis of a worship leader.
At first, I looked at the “cool church” and saw so much of my church (sans adonis worship leader). Read deeper, though. There’s nothing wrong with lights, sound systems, and quality worship. It’s the distinction of a church that filters Scripture through the lens of culture and the church that makes Scripture relevant to culture. The cool church chooses the former. This is the church that says Jesus and the message in Scripture is not offensive. In fact, these churches defy the very fate that Jesus has for His followers.
Fact #2: Christians will and must be hated by the world.
Matthew 10:22 makes it clear that followers of Christ will be despised. The cool church seeks to sidestep that for the sake of attracting young people and putting on a weekly light show. The cool church is willing to compromise Scripture for the sake attraction and acceptance. The cool church, at any opportunity, will straddle or even cross the line of Universalism. Jesus did not die for walls that suppress His message. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me,” (John 14:6, ESV). These very words are offensive, but once you consider yourself a follower of Christ, you hold these words as unwavering truth.
Cool church, take note. You’re doing right by love and inclusiveness. You must, though, show your love the way Christ did—not the way modern culture has come to define love. You must include people in the Gospel—not include people in the walls.
Why do you decorate your vehicle the way you do?
Fact #3: God is not impressed with your theology.
Church number 2, the 1970s church, is criticized for contradicting church number 1, the cool church. So, don’t be outdated, but don’t be too cool? Is Mr. Powell now suggesting we find a middle ground?
Answer: irrelevant. That’s not the point Powell is making.
The 1970s church speaks of a stereotype—one that statistically speaking is a safe assumption should you ever walk into a 1970s church. Picture the wood panels, the gold carpet, the stale smell of mildew, groaning pews, and the dusty electric organ which was once probably the center of controversy.
What’s the problem? One problem is that the 1970s church rejects a paradigm shift and becomes irrelevant. These are churches that will not reach out to seeking millennials, rather they focus on turning their church into what it used to be for the sake of tradition. The message is laden with well-articulated theology, but no challenge for heart change. Scripture, as the living, breathing Word of God, is always relevant, and it is always useful for life change. Theology is wonderful, and it should be taught in relevant churches. When sermons become recycled to a group of people that have heard it before, theology becomes irrelevant.
The greatest mistake of the 1970s church—blatant neglect of the Gospel and the Great Commission. These churches are focused on keeping members in rather than accepting new seekers. New faces that walk through the doors, a 1970s church would expect them to have it all together already. Members should wear the right clothes, have the right translation of the Bible, sing the right public domain songs. Do members of the 1970s church disbelieve in the Gospel and the Great Commission? Absolutely not! They will, however, typically leave that work to other churches and street preachers, and eventually the work of others will lead seekers and finders into their walls to salvage their faltering budget.
Sitting in the 1970s church is the last generation unless serious Holy Spirit change is allowed to sweep it. This church needs to accept the sick with open arms and allow healing (Mark 2:16-17).
Is your vehicle overdue for a tune-up?
Fact #4: The Church is not brick and mortar. It’s a living, moving, functional body.
Paul addresses church division in Corinth. People love to use 1 Corinthians 3 as ammunition to address denominations and theological differences. Consider the historical context of this. Yes, this does address denominational and theological splits, but this also considers cultural and racial splits as well. Corinth was a city divided of different races—European pagans, Jews and Christians from Rome and the Middle East. Of course, definition of race on this continent is different than modern day North America.
Church number 7 refers to the segregated church. It’s not segregated by Jim Crow, but segregated by choice. Whites choose to go to a church because its members are majority white. 1 Corinthians addresses people who want to follow Paul (a Jew from modern day Turkey) and those who want to follow Apollos (an Egyptian convert of the Roman Empire). The theologies were different, but the early church had few differences before the Nicean Council, Constantine, the Inquisition, and the Reformation—all dividing points in the church history. Paul is addressing a cultural diversity issue as well. The greatest takeaway is verse 21: “let no one boast in men.” When a person identifies with a church because of similarities with its leader, that person is boasting in the leader rather than moving the Gospel forward. To boast in men, for culture, race, theology, age, or gender is sin. “Black” and “white” churches sin when they make skin color an unspoken requirement.
Church should never be a racial decision. We are one body, loved by God, and that blood sacrifice was sufficient for all races. Jesus did not die for the four walls with the unspoken requirement of like race and like culture.
Who’s included in your vehicle?
Fact #5: No church building is going to get it right.
Every church is going to have some sin issue. It’s important, then, that our hearts align with what God wants from the church.
- Treat all Scripture as life saving truth. 2 Timothy 3:16
- Include all generations as God extended His grace to all who will listen. Matthew 11:15
- Don’t add to or subtract from Scripture. Placing modified contents in Scripture to satisfy culture is addition. Silence on relevant Scriptural issues is subtraction. Revelation 22:18-19
- Be relevant to all cultures. Exclude no one. People of all races, languages, and nationalities will acknowledge Jesus as God. Revelation 7:9
- Remember the Great Commission is a command, not a suggestion. Matthew 28:16-20
If a church is not speaking of freedom and prosperity because of what happened on that cross, then it’s pointless. If a church is not discussing what that sacrifice means outside of the four walls of the church, then it’s pointless. If a church has any priority that sits above grace, redemption, and hope in the truth of the gospel, then it’s pointless. These churches on this list are pointless. They point people to stagnation, greed, and heresy, and most importantly, they do not point the lost to Jesus. You can’t have a perfect church, but all that’s asked of us from Scripture is that we put the Gospel first. You do that, and your vehicle is at least headed in the right direction. Jesus died for humanity, not the walls they’ve built.
Where is your vehicle headed?
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
-Philippians 2:3 (ESV)