What Has Happened to the 
Church of Jesus Christ

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by Sharon Culbertson

     If the disciples or early apostles were to walk into a modern day church, would they even have a clue as to where they were?

     In the past few years I have noticed some very alarming things happening in the churches of America. I would like to say at the outset that I am not necessarily speaking of all churches by any means. That would be terribly presumptuous because I obviously don't know all of the churches. However, my observations, experiences, and conversations with many well traveled and well connected fellow Christians tells me that far too many churches are guilty of one or more of the following oversights and transgressions.

"The Over-Reaching Church"

     Many churches seem to be spending way too much time, money, and effort with their coveted "outreaches" while ignoring the needed "in-reaches" right under their pastoral noses.  Maybe it's because it makes them sound and feel important to have "Sidewalk Sunday Schools" or a "Feed The Poor" drive in the inner city.  Whatever the rationale, it does not make up for the damage that is being caused by not growing a healthy church among those people who show up at their church on any kind of regular basis.  In plain language, these churches which are over-reaching their own hurting souls for dubious reasons need to reach in to their own pews to insure that the needs of their flock are being met. In most cases, they'll find this to be a full time job.

"The Corporate Marketing Church"

     There is a growing and disquieting trend in some of the modem "progressive" churches around the country. These churches could easily append "Inc. " to their church name just like a business in your local office park.  Unfortunately, in many cases, church has become big business and some of them have become ultra efficient organizations in terms of handling money, developing a corporate structure, hiring multiple specialized leaders of various "market segments", and, in general, functioning like a well-oiled (not anointed) but cold-hearted machine.

     Of course, this is usually done in the name of "ministry" but somehow much ministry is lost in the unanswered voice mail messages, the impenetrable phone menus and the phalanx of secretaries and administrative assistants.

     Somehow I can't believe that the Lord intends for His Bride to resemble a big budget corporation or government department.  We are called to be "salt and light" and "to be about our Father's business" not act like some sort of market research driven corporate entity focused primarily on looking good with a snazzy logo but on "doing good" for the people paying the bills.

"The Legalistic Church"

     When a church is so large and impersonal that every person must obtain individual permission from the leadership before they are allowed to go the altar to pray with a hurting soul, then something is very wrong. Even when a visiting evangelist commands prayer warriors to "get down here and pray with these people" and you literally must beg God to have 2 angels sit on you to keep you in the pew because you haven't taken or completed the church's "official" training course enabling you to be a part of the "Official Prayer Team".  And worse, if you try to pray with anyone, you will be asked to leave because you have not earned your "prayer badge".

     This example is symptomatic of the type of legalism which is becoming pervasive in today's churches.  It all stems from a controlling spirit which fails to recognize that all they need to do is raise up their congregations in a natural atmosphere of freedom to properly act in accordance with scriptural precepts instead of living in fear that some "unauthorized" person will do or say the "wrong" thing.  Maybe that haven't noticed that despite our litigious culture churches don't get sued for allowing The Spirit to reign supreme.

     So, where will these very real examples of church ignorance, arrogance, and insensitivity lead us?  What will be some of the manifestations of such oversights and performance based direction?

     I'll tell you in one typical impression after leaving one of these "modem" services designed to "give the people what they want"- not what they need.

     When did the pulpit become a stage?  When did the light of day and the lamps by night become spot lights and state-of-the-art lighting systems?  When did the booming, resonate voice of the pastor and undershepherd give way to a "high-tech" sound system?  And when did the beautiful voices of the people become a well orchestrated choir to be applauded for their accomplishment?

     I am so very grieved to the depths of my spirit for the "lost" church. Will it be like "The Lost Colony" where no one has a real clue about its disappearance and it is simply recorded in history as an unexplained mystery and life goes on?  No, because we have been given the promise that our precious Lord Jesus will return for His Bride - His Church- without spot or wrinkle!!

     More questions. Would Christ Himself even recognize the church today?  Would He grieve over what the church has become?  I believe that He is grieving now over a church which is unrecognizable with its myriad stains and wrinkles.

     It is really a sad state when there are as many sheep departing the back doors of churches as there entering the front doors. And yet, the leaders don't seem to care about these individual sheep as long as the size of the flock stays about the same. But, alas, these aren't sheep but flesh and blood and soul human beings representing families and marriages.

     So, back to my original question, "Where is the Church of Jesus Christ?" and why do we sit in church today and even walk out of church and feel as though we have just attended a "production"?  A beautiful, well orchestrated production, but a production nonetheless.

     Were we worshipping the Lord or just going through the 20th century motions of "playing church" once again?  Do we come out fed or do we come out "fluffy" ?  Where is the meat?  Do we come out feeling like we just exited a child's Sunday school lesson or have we been deeply touched by the "message"?  Are our lives changed forever more -- from glory to glory?

     When was the last time you exited a church after a service and felt the conviction of the wonderful Holy Spirit and had your eyes opened and you knew in your heart of hearts that there was at least one area of your life that the Lord was dealing with and helping you get victory in? Think about it.

     Maybe, in these last days, the Lord is allowing churches - from the most dormant to the most Las Vegas style "show" church - to fall prey to the 3 types of ministry failures described earlier while He uses certain "extra-church/para-church" messengers (media, home churches, individual discipleship) to form the "core church" of the next millennium. Maybe, just maybe, these nontraditional entities are being raised up to do the evangelism and possibly even the discipleship functions while the traditional churches busy themselves with programs at the expense of people?

     Perhaps no one knows for sure, but one thing is certain. What is now widely considered and accepted as The Church of Jesus Christ must undergo many dramatic changes in order to fulfill its destiny.

  by Sharon Culbertson

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