When I read the Bible, I see that humankind:
- was created to fit into an order already established by God.
- was created in God’s image,
- was created to carry out his life in God’s “way”
- was warned again and again that God would be judging humans by how they lived
- was counseled to give careful thought to his ways
- was counseled to seek and get and pay heed to wisdom and prudence
- was counseled to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love his neighbor as fully as he loved himself
- was counseled to seek knowledge
- was counseled to correct himself and his neighbor
- was expected to wear a “yoke” and to carry a “burden”
- was expected to emulate Jesus, who was called “the Way” and “the Truth” and “the Life”.
- was expected to be ever transforming himself into the image of Jesus by the constant renewing of his own human life.
It was to be a busy and active life, filled with learning and growth and heartache and trouble and victory and accomplishment. Failures and successes. Pain and peace. And it was all aimed at something—that those whose lives were found satisfactory by God after a lifetime on Earth would go on to live in a second world, much better than this first. And here’s the obvious fact that most will never come to realize: This first world was quite deliberately designed to be a place of learning and growth and maturation. That is the point of being put here.
But who among humankind would want such a thing?
This is a huge question, so let me ask it again: Who among humankind would want to spend a lifetime learning and growing and maturing and correcting himself and always learning the better way? Who would want to spend a lifetime serving God’s interests and God’s plan for humanity, rather than serving his or her own desires?
That would become the big question, and it would be initiated right away in the Garden of Eden, as throughout the entire Bible saga, all the way through when they were being told at the end of the story that only those who “overcame” and “endured to the end” would be saved. And Jesus told everyone what to expect—that only a few would be saved, and that a narrow path would be sufficient to accommodate them, while broad would be the road necessary to accommodate all those who would not be saved. And he warned further that there would be “many” pretenders who would claim to have been serving Jesus, but who weren’t, and that they’d be calling attention to their supposed good works, while Jesus himself would judge that they were in fact “evildoers”, and that he never knew them. Ironically, to this day, people like this regularly boast about the strength of their “relationship with God”.)
As today, so many in Bible times failed the test. They had failed to mature while in this world. While some others had stayed the course and been blessed with the godly character that comes through faithful obedience to God’s principles and precepts, the masses would not listen—even though many among them would pretend to listen. And this latter group is especially deluded, for they don’t seem to figure out that if anybody could ever perceive their deception, God himself could do it—that God and Jesus would be the absolute worst beings in all existence to try to deceive. But more than to try to deceive God and Jesus, what these people are really trying to do is to deceive themselves. Rather than to place the proper value on the state of their own actual acquired character—on who they really are as people—they place it on outward things, whether possessions or positions or power or prowess or prestige—all things that mean nothing to God, though they may mean a great deal to the immature human. In their time here, these humans do not come to see things God’s way.
Even so—and here’s my big point—a great many of these people spend their lives in the refuge of the churches. They spend their lives in the churches and still don’t learn to see things God’s way. Is this some huge conspiracy at work? Is it a sinister plot of Satan? Is it just “how people are”, with too few proving to be exceptions to this uninspired way of thinking? Is it by carelessness that it has come to be this way? Or is it by design? Is it the unintended consequence of some lesser sins, or of negligence?
Well, in one way, I’m not sure it matters—because what’s happening here, regardless of how it happens, is that the churchers are not maturing to be like Jesus. Period.
However we got to this point, here’s where I think we are: As a rule, the churches are aimed at catering to the immature, rather than at coaxing, pushing, and pulling them out of the immaturity and into a robust life of godliness. They are designed to make people feel accepted and comfortable and at home, and to feel as if they “belong”, while Jesus himself says to the ungodly “I never knew you” and “away from me, you evildoers.” And in case you didn’t notice, these two statements don’t fit at all with the sought-after sentiments of comfort and belonging and acceptance.
Yet hardly anyone among the churches notices this. Some do, of course, and they design their camps with the Accountability knob turned up a little higher, perhaps, than it is in the other camps. But even so, can any camps be found among them, who do not hit systemic limits on the maturing they’re willing to undergo? Which institutions among them have not institutionalized certain sins and weaknesses and errors and biases and counterproductive habits?
I do not know of one that has not.
And that’s not to say that there couldn’t be one. Rather, it’s to say that it is awfully surprising that if there really as such a thing as “The Church Universal”, that a guy with Internet access and over 1,500 Facebook friends wouldn’t know where to find even one congregation among them all, across all the various camps, that is doing well at bringing its members to spiritual maturity.
And this calls for some investigation, of course. Why should it be so? What has gone wrong? Or is this how things are supposed to be? How can it be fixed? Why hasn’t it been fixed already? Is something wrong with the system(s), or is it simply that hardly anybody is “doing it right”?
And I won’t even pretend to answer all that here. Besides, if a reader can’t be enticed to ponder these things with his or her own mental free will, then hearing my answers to them will be a waste of time. And one of the themes of my life these past couple of decades has been (as it pertains to trying to address these things with Christians), “Can I get you to care???”
And the answers normally range from “No” to “Maybe a little” to “I’m willing to care about this one Bible topic, but not the other.” The whole mindset is still at odds with a religion whose chief tenet is to love God with all that we are: heart, mind, soul, and strength. It’s just not wholehearted. It is philosophically at odds with the Creator—who is also the Judge. And isn’t it instructive to note how many are quite willing for God to be the Creator, who are less willing for him to be also the Judge?
Even so, there’s all this material in the texts about maturation and godliness and accountability and judgment, yet hardly anybody is interested in surveying the whole of it. There’s a little cherrypicking that goes on from time to time, but none of the camps, it seems, want to harvest the whole crop of fruit from the scriptures.
Whether it’s by a deliberate and sinister plot, or whether it’s just the result of indifference and negligence, the churches seem to be aimed for the most part at keeping the immaturity as it is, and their members are not itching for improvement. There is no popular maturity movement under way. Rather, they are content, it seems, to keep on with business-as-usual in the underachieving camps. And this is why “grace” has been so twisted today as to promise people relief from the very accountability that the scriptures mention and model and mandate again and again.
It’s like the 2.0 version of the Eden dare. Theirs went something like this: “It’s OK. I dare you to eat it, and you’ll see that you won’t really die, as the decree said.” And ours goes something like this: “It’s OK. You can still pretend to have church and be righteous, without really having to put away all your sins and errors, and without having to gain knowledge and wisdom and maturity. You won’t be held accountable.”
And for this dare, there are billions of takers. And you can almost certainly find some of those takers at the nearest church—even behind the pulpit and in the administrative offices. It is the religion of the world, much as it has always been, where instead, God seems to have been always looking for those who actually had the heart to listen and learn and love completely.
And yes, someone looking for an excuse not to listen will surely complain that I didn’t copy and paste any scriptures for this post. But you and I both know that the average churchgoer has already heard enough scripture over the years to know know I’m right. And the difference is that I have (finally) learned to take it seriously, where the masses of churchers have not.
And even now, someone out there is frustrated by all this and is harrumphing over how they don’t have time for this and how they have to get ready for Bible Group. And that’s the way we do it, friends; we pretend that those pangs of conscience and common sense—while they might indeed be worthy of some attention, are simply not the proper priority at the moment. And so we table them for later, no matter how often they keep coming up. And to us, this looks like we’re pious people who are simply too busy with necessary spiritual activities, while to God, it looks like apathy to his precepts and principles. To him, it looks like wanton neglect.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…
hebrews 6:1 esv
Whether you realize it or not, when you read passages like the one above, you give God an answer. He perceives your answer by what you do—by whether you take it to heart and put it into action or not. And he sees your inaction—regardless of however you may choose to see it—he sees it as sin:
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
james 4:17 esv
And this all comes down to whether you believe that the Creator has the right to create you with an image and a way and a truth and a life and a yoke and a burden—and then to judge how you do down here—or whether you have the right to do as you please, ignoring the maturity for which you were created. And I can tell you where most come down on that question. And if they allow God any rights in the matter at all, they are limited rights, with him not really having the supremacy in all matters after all, but taking a back seat to the human will on most issues. And that attitude, friends, is a far cry from this one:
… “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus Christ, SON OF GOD. Luke 10:27 ESV