Like rats off a sinking ship!

An old, dilapidated church

I came across this very telling article about how best selling author Anne Rice has left her church.  First, let me say that I had no idea she was in a church to begin with, judging by the books she writes.   Be that as it may, the article points up a disturbing trend within the American Christian church:

Rice is merely one of millions of Americans who have opted out of organized religion in recent years, making the unaffiliated category of faith the fastest-growing “religion” in America, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The article goes on to say how various age groups are more or less committed to their church. Now, depending on your level of faith and your own personal commitment to Christ, this article will either bother you a great deal, or you will react like me:  big deal.   I am not surprised by the fact that so many people are leaving the church nor am I overly concerned about it. Let me explain why by going back to the article:

American Christianity is not well, and there’s evidence to indicate that its condition is more critical than most realize — or at least want to admit.

Pollsters — most notably evangelical George Barna — have reported repeatedly that they can find little measurable difference between the moral behavior of churchgoers and the rest of American society.

And therein lies the rub.  Perhaps all these people leaving the church shouldn’t have been part of it to begin with.  You say, “Mike, how can you say such a thing?  Shouldn’t the church welcome all people?”  Well, actually no, at least not if you want to be a Biblical church.  The church of Jesus Christ is most assuredly not supposed to be “inclusive.”  It was designed by it’s Founder to be the most exclusive organization in the world.

It’s not that the church shouldn’t welcome believers of all races or be accessible to people with disabilities; that’s not at all what I mean when I write that the church should not be “inclusive.”   What I mean is simply this:  The church is not a home for unrepentant sinners.  It is, of course a home for sinners saved by grace, but it is not for those who refuse to change their sinful lifestyles to fit the admonitions of Scripture.

Eventually unrepentant members of the church will have to either change or leave; they should be asked to leave, like the immoral brother of 1 Corinthians 5, or they will leave on their own.  And let’s face it, most people find it easier to just leave than to change their lives and live according to the teachings of Christ.  After all, it was Jesus who told the man healed of blindness:

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  (John 5:14)

Over the years I cannot tell you have many people have joined the churches I had pastored and am pastoring,  confessing Christ all over the place, only to just fade away after a few weeks or months.  I have come to expect no less;  who wouldn’t want to be a part of a loving, caring, and accepting group?  Who wouldn’t want the joy and peace and encouragement one finds only in a church?   The trouble is, wanting what the church offers is not enough.  There is a price to pay for such blessings.  And in my estimation (and that of our Lord’s) most of the members of most of our churches are unwilling to pay that price.  The current defection from church bears this out.

Christian activist Ronald J. Sider writes in his book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”: “By their daily activity, most ‘Christians’ regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is their Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate their allegiance to money, sex, and personal self-fulfillment.”

What do we do with such people?  What do we tell them?  It may be politically incorrect, but I like the old timey phrase:

Shape up or ship out!

If you’ve been sitting in a pew in my church, then you have heard the Gospel week after week after week.  If you refuse to repent and change, here’s your hat and there’s the door.

So, I am not at all concerned about people like that leaving the church. My concern is for those who attend faithfully week after week.

Link to the article here:  L.A. TIMES Opinion

3 Responses to “Like rats off a sinking ship!”

  1. 1 Jo-Anne Randall August 10, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    EXCELLENT!!!!!! I have to say that I couldn’t agree more with this article. There are way too many people that call themselves Christians that continue to live in sin. Yes….we are all sinners. When we come to Christ we are sinners who have repented and are forgiven…saved by grace. The word repented means to confess, ask for forgiveness and to make a change in your life. No……we do not become perfect…..we will fall….however, if we are truly sorry and ask to be forgiven then we are forgiven…..of course the key to this is to truly be sorry and want to give up the sin and to strive everyday to become more Christ like. The Bible clearly states that you can’t serve two masters. It is one way or the other….no fence sitting. Its all or nothing!!! There too many people who leave the church leave because of the uncomfortable feelings of conviction. These people look for a church that will accept them the way they are….that won’t judge and will be happy just to fill the pews every Sunday. There are many churches out there that just want quantity not quality. Too many chuches accept sin and call it “lifestyle choices’…..God forbid we offend someone. No matter what some churches teach….there is only one way to Heaven…and that is through the saving blood of Jesus. I am so thankful that I have a pastor that preaches the bible!! It is time to get off the fence and call sin what it is…..SIN.

  2. 2 Chris August 10, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Yet Rice engages in the very same behavior with her harsh words as she accuses the church of doing.

    Tim Keller said it best, “the church will be filled with immature and broken people who have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually.” Why should we expect it to be otherwise? The church is to be a hospital for sinners not a museum of the saints….

  3. 3 Dr. Mike August 11, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Far be it from me to disagree with Keller, a PCA minister, who is actually paraphrasing a thought from Augustine.

    Is the church a hospital for sinners or for saints? The Biblical church is a place for saints, not sinners, to gather. Of course, even the saintliest saint is still a sinner by nature, so some might say that the church is a hospital for saints; the minister acting like a physician, applying the Word to heal their hearts, emotions, etc.

    The difficulty I have with that metaphor is that hospitals cure diseases, and sin is not a disease, at least it is never described that way in the Bible. The Bible pictures sin as a something man chooses to do; it is something he is able to resist. Not that he may eventually be sinless, but that he will markedly grow in grace daily.

    This is why, I think, the church is better described as a “training center,” a place where believers gather to worship God together, encourage one another in their faith, learn from the teaching of God’s Word, grow together in holiness, and be disciplined or chastised when/if necessary. The end goal is to produce a healthy believer, able to engage in good works, resulting in God being glorified and new believers being added to the church. At least, that was Paul’s ecclesiology in Ephesians.

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