Looking for the real Church may not be as easy as it sounds. It may be more akin to looking for buried treasure, or at least the finding of it would be. Some have found it when they weren’t even looking for it; others have tripped over it and never appreciated its true value, kicking it aside for something more concrete or “relevant”, and others have lived in its presence without ever having taken notice. The Church, as related to the Kingdom of God, doesn’t exist or appear through observation. What I mean is this; the Church as it is made up of men is visible and can be observed, i.e. they live in community and share, and those things can be seen; but the spiritual nature of the Church and the Kingdom is not visible to the carnal, unregenerate man. Consequently when unregenerate man seeks to find, observe, locate, or define the Church he is easily satisfied with anything presented as a typification or appearance, instead of the actual thing itself. The unspiritual man, although sensing the existence of spiritual things, can never know them apart from being born into the Kingdom of God, because they are the exclusive family values of the children born of the Almighty. The unspiritual person or Christian, although detecting something extraordinary, doesn’t necessarily feel that it is such a terrible thing to just go to Church on Sunday, in the ordinary way; but to the enlightened spirit it is a crime against Heaven to go on, year after year, as if the only thing God had in His thoughts when He permitted His Son to suffer the agony of hatred, mockery, and the cruel torture of Roman crucifixion, was a bunch of people assembling for an hour on Sunday mornings, or Wednesday evenings to listen to speeches or be entertained.
So, instead of asking “What does the real Church look like,” a preliminary question should be, “What does the false Church look like?” If we can make the generalization that the false church is the church of the world, and therefore looks like the world, then we can presume that all we have to do is look for the earmarks of the world in the church, and voilà, “the false church.” Well, this is too easy; we all know what the world looks like, right? Let’s see, the false church would be an organization, built by man, on a set of organizational principles, with a hierarchy of important people and things, setting up programs to attract even more people. Some energetic person with worldly insight, who wanted to start or “plant” a church business might ask himself this question, “Why should I reinvent the wheel; I’ll just find out what other successful church planters have done and just copy them?” So, looking for similar patterns would be another clue. That is precisely what I did when I started a Christian business some time ago; I followed a precise business and marketing plan, with psychographics, demographics, the right zip code, plenty of qualified buyers, a killer logo, a moderate build-out, a great product, the best software, expert sales force and management, well stocked shelves, and a pretty good service department. The business was successful; we eventually closed the doors, but for other reasons; but the point is, anybody can build a business in this world if they follow a good recipe. Ours was a Christian business, all the way down to the employee handbook. We called it a Christian business, but our banker and accountant knew very well who and how the business was built; after all, they had the Performa, with all of our own predictions and forcast. From the get-go it had the fingerprints of men all over it, even though we prayed and went to “Church.” Our business was no more built by God than any other secular business applying good, sound, honest, principles toward business and people. I’m not saying that what we did was a bad or evil thing; it was just a business; we did it to make money selling a good product at a fair price, and it worked; but it was Christian only as to principles only. Lots of people do business this way; look at Chick-fil-A; it is a business run by applying Christian principles, and that is all.
Let me explain this a little further. God has put into effect certain laws that affect everyone, for good if they are obeyed or bad if they are not, regardless of their belief in Him; these laws are of physical, mathematical, and spiritual natures. No one would argue that physical laws, such as the law of gravity, have equal effect on everyone under similar conditions. Although God put the law here, it is not just for Christians; and all the other physical laws are the same. Certain spiritual laws operate the same way. If we apply these spiritual laws to our lives we can reap a good harvest. These laws are numerous and can be found in the Sermon on the Mount and in Proverbs, and other places in the Bible. An example of these laws are, the law of “sowing and reaping,” and the law of “give and it shall be given unto you,” and the law of “going the extra mile,” and the laws governing work and family. All of these laws are for mankind in general, and not just for Christians.
Many have applied these laws of God, having never known God, but gained health, happiness, and success, because the laws are sound, and apply to everyone, regardless of their position with God, to the “just and the unjust” alike. The spiritual laws that dictate honesty, a positive outlook on life, integrity, and the like, work for everyone when applied consistently; and the more they are applied the better off that person will be; but this is not Christianity. Many Christians have mistaken the good results from obeying these laws, as Christianity itself. Robert Schuller, for example, built his Crystal Cathedral by applying the laws of positive thinking, and he assumed that he had found Christ because “positive thinking” well, has positive effects, but he did not find Christ, only a spiritual law of having a good outlook on life. It is the same for Rick Warren. Rick built an empire on hard work and applying spiritual principles of having a “Purpose Driven Life,” but this is not Christianity; and the same thing applies to Joel Osteen all smiling and positive; this is not Christianity, and what they have built is not the “Church.” Nearly all the Church planters are the same, applying spiritual laws to build a Church business; but this is not Christianity. A church business does have one advantage over other businesses though, they have the advantage of being a “non-profit” business, and get by without having to “. . . Render unto Caesar . . . .”
God has made some very curious statements concerning the way He does things that we should listen to:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalms 127:1
If we come across a religious building and find that it has all the same ingredients of a business, as mentioned above, are we to suppose that because they call their business a “Church” that it is somehow anointed by God and special in some respect; or is it just another business whose banker and accountant holds the secret of its success or failure. It can be easily proven that the successes of all the new mega-Churches are based on a good business plan. Rick Warren’s secret has been exposed, and he is one of the most successful. Rick Warren and Bill Hybells, of Willow Creek fame, both used the best marketing man in the business, Peter Drucker; and Rick’s mentor was none other than the now defunct author of the Crystal Cathedral, Robert Schuller, the king of possibility thinking. If we are going to identify the true Church we must first have a clue of what a false church looks like. If I build my business using good business principals, why wouldn’t I expect success; but does that success equal God involvement, or even the godliness of the business owner or CEO? Peter Drucker was no dummy; give him a zip code, a product, and a niche market and he could give you a church, and make you famous, all without God. Are we to therefore conclude, because of the success of these men, that they are blessed of God, or that God’s ways and man’s ways are really no different? Or, are we to conclude that men are misled, through the pride of accomplishment, into thinking that they can build something for God, when in all reality they are fashioning their own Towers of Babel, reaching for a manmade heaven?
The difference between my business and the modern church is only the shingle hanging over the doorway. I would readily admit that the end result of my business was to show a profit at the end of the year; the church business will not readily admit that. If they fail to satisfy their customers and generate an income, or to replace deceased or dissatisfied customers with a steady influx of new customers, their business will fail and their doors will close, just like any other business. If they say that God built their business, they are deluded. But, you ask, “What does a real Church look like,” if all the brick and mortar buildings are only the fabrication of mere men? Do we dare ask the word of God to show us? And are we ready to believe what we discover? Well, we will ask the word of God to show us; but first let’s go just a little further in exposing the false Church.
We have had now over 2000 years to perfect the Church; and from the viewpoint of most Christians, Christianity is beginning to blossom out into a fullness that will eventually enfold all of mankind. The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31, 32) is, to these people, a fulfillment of an ecumenical wonderland of Godly perfection prepared to receive her Prince. Whoa, slow down, don’t reserve the party tent just yet; there is another side of the story. If we only look at Rick Warren, Bill Hybells, Joel Osteen, the Catholic Church and the unending parade of televangelist, how could we think otherwise, right? But, in actuality these guys are the epitome of the latter day Laodicean Church revealed to us in Revelation 3:14-22. You can’t help but notice that the whole state of affairs is a representation of gross spiritual blindness when seen from the Bible, which means that truth can’t be comprehended, and not least of which is the truth of their own condition. They are self-satisfied, self-fulfilled, self-confident, and self-glorifying. They see just the opposite of what God sees as lies and deception. They think they are rich; Jesus says they are poor; they think they have God’s glory, but He says they are rejected; they think they are smart, but God corrects them, and says they are ignorant. The whole choreographed performance is a lie from every angle; it is just the opposite of the vision Jesus had in mind for the Church. All of the above things Jesus testified to as the “Amen,” as the final word on the subject; “These things saith the Amen . . . .” By using that word He is making the declaration that His words are the last words on the subject; end of discussion. Jesus Himself is the standard against which all our efforts are to be judged, and the modern Church has not measured up to that standard.
This is the background from which our investigation will proceed; a picture of the Church in which it has failed to measure up to the fullness of God’s intentions; a picture of failure and not success. Earthly success will always be the deceptive factor by which unregenerate mankind (Christian or otherwise), will judge the accomplishments of the Church. Jesus’ answer to this problem is “repentance.” It is not as if we cannot see and know what we should do; we just plain don’t want to see the truth. Spiritual blindness is self-induced. Christ came to show us the way, but we have failed to believe what He has said, and set out to build the Church the way we want it to be built, according to our own plans and design.
“This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’” Exodus 25:40, Hebrews 8:5.
That pattern is the same pattern we must follow today when we are commanded to repent, and to go back and do our “first works over again.” So, when we ask, “What does the true Church look like” it is synonymous with asking, “What does repentance look like,” because repentance is to follow the “pattern” of God. Repentance is the first step in understanding the plans for God’s one and only CHURCH; it is not an organization; a dead thing; it is an organism, the living, breathing Body of Christ.
Along the way, as we unearth this hidden body of Christ, we will hopefully also find the true meaning of “resurrection,” in our own death and burial; unfortunately there will be no finding of the primitive Church without the experience of death in every member of that body. Much, or all, of our once cherished beliefs and possessions will have to be discarded to navigate through the narrow, restricted, passage leading onto the narrow way. It is common Biblical knowledge that most will have no taste for such a tedious, and possibly dangerous, venture; consequently, “Few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14.
With this prelude, and the blessings of the Lord we will hopefully discover, with great joy and celebration, that the Church of God is alive and very well, and awaiting all those who wish to share in its glory.
Stay with me as we explore together another world, that is hidden in plain sight.