This Week’s Beacon

Our minister writes a weekly column for our local newspaper, the Roanoke Beacon.  We’ve included the latest edition below.

“Church people are mean.”  When we laughed, our revival speaker doubled down: “I’m telling you,” he repeated, “church people are mean.”

He was right, of course.  Church people can be mean.  Churches have a reputation so tarnished that young Millennials have turned away from organized religion in ever-increasing numbers. Only 40% of Millennials say religion is important in their life, but 80% of this same group claims to have strong spiritual beliefs.  Millennials want to be spiritual without being religious; they want God, but not the church.

The church can blame no one but itself.  Not only are church people often “mean,” but over the last 30-40 years, churches and their leaders have emphasized the importance of “developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  We meant that no one would be saved by another’s faith.  It doesn’t matter what your parents believed, your friends believe or your spouse believes; it matters what you believe!  You must have a personal relationship with Jesus!

Churches failed, however, to equally emphasize that a relationship with Jesus makes one part of the family of God. When three thousand people were baptized after the message of salvation through Jesus was preached at Pentecost, Acts 2:47 (KJV) says, “… the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”  The New International Version reads, “The Lord added to their fellowship…” Simply stated, those who became Christians also became part of the church.  There was no relationship with Jesus apart from a relationship with other believers.

That fits.  When asked about the greatest commandment, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NIV). Then, without prompting, Jesus added (Matthew 22:39), “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus never envisioned a private faith divorced from loving and living with others that are part of God’s family. In fact, as soon as Peter gave voice to his faith, (Matthew 16:16 – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”), Jesus immediately said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Faith in Jesus means being part of the church He built.  One can search the New Testament from Matthew through Revelation without finding a single example of any “Lone Ranger” Christians, people who follow Jesus without participating in His church.  “Spiritual without religious” just doesn’t happen in the pages of the Bible.

And it shouldn’t, because that would mean substituting an individual version of Christianity for God’s version, and it would be a less effective, even dangerous version.

Lone Ranger faith is belief without accountability.  Apart from involvement with other believers, one could define Christianity as whatever one wished it to be.  While that might seem attractive and even personally fulfilling, most of us need the experience and comprehension of more mature believers to guide us and protect us from error.  Spiritual “fathers and mothers” help keep young Christians walking the straight and narrow.

Lone rangers can compromise their service. It’s easy to get caught up in a personal cause or dream without ever asking, “Is this really a service to God, or the indulging of a personal whim?”  The need to convince others to buy-in to a project helps filter out ideas that might be more self-serving than Christ-serving, along with ideas that are not cost-effective, sustainable or realistic.  On the other hand, when believers bond together in service, much more can be accomplished than might be achieved by one person acting alone.

There may also come a time when you need the support of other believers.  Following Jesus is hard!  Jesus Himself warned, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). When tough times come, the encouragement and love of other believers helps keep the struggling Christian moving forward.

My grandmother told me about one such time shortly after she became a Christian. Troublemakers had seized an opportunity to create turmoil and the congregation was in an uproar. My grandmother, a young woman at the time, was wondering what she had gotten herself into when an older Christian counseled, “Don’t pay any attention to those folks.  You just stay out of it and follow Jesus.” Without that one quiet conversation with a mature believer, Grandma might have walked out and not looked back.

Then where would I be?