Rules. Rituals. Irrelevant. Hypocritical.
These words are used by those outside the church to describe the church. For those of us in the church, we may defend the position and say, “These aren’t our rules, they’re God’s rules.” Or we may say, “They aren’t just rituals their faith traditions.” Or “You have to work to make God’s truth apply to you today.” Or “You just caught me on a bad day.”
While these statements have truth in them and we can be defensive against attacks, there is another reality that nearly 80% of people would welcome a spiritual conversation, but yet are not interested in being part of organized religion.
While we could dig into the statistics to understand a bit better what is going on, there is enough evidence to suggest that perhaps we have gotten off the purpose of the church. Because it’s also evident that God didn’t set up the church to be known as the “rules, ritual, irrelevant, hypocritical” church of the 21st century…or any century for that matter.
Should we accept the hard truth, it is an opportunity to repent, refocus, and renew our understanding and commitment to be the church God intended his church to be. Sure, we are imperfect people so any earthly manifestation of the church will be flawed, but that doesn’t mean we don’t seek to set our compass in the direction of where the Lord would have us focus.
This week’s devotions will help us do that.
Because we wouldn’t be the first to need this help. In fact, if you would go to the “First Pharisee Church” of Jerusalem, we might be the ones looking in and saying, “All they’re interested in is rules, rituals, and regulations. What a bunch of irrelevant hypocrites they are.”
And, sadly, we’d be right…not because it’s our observation, but Jesus himself made statements to this effect against the Pharisees and the other members of the “organized religion” of the time, the teachers of the law and the Sadducees.
One of the Pharisees was curious to understand. Unsure to come out in the daylight, he came to Jesus at night. The interaction is recorded in John 3. Verse 16 is familiar, but read John 3:1-17 and see what Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the kingdom of God, i.e. the church. In the next devotions we’ll unpack three key components of God’s church that Jesus teaches Nicodemus and us.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Apply: It’s easy to point out the flaws of the church…but what about our own hearts? Reflect and repent today of how you have made church to be a place focused on rules, rituals and regulations instead of the saving work of Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us for making the church more about us than about you. This week refresh, renew and refocus on you and what you desire to be at the heart of your church’s mission and message. AMEN.