While we alluded to this briefly in a previous post, I believe it is beneficial to give further consideration to an epidemic of massive proportions that is prevalent within evangelical churches throughout the west. The epidemic has caused much heartache but few seem to see it for what it actually is. The reason for this is at least two-fold. First, the epidemic is not considered a danger because living with it has become normal within many circles. Second, some would stand forth and while they would proclaim the dangers, many ignore them or consider them to be religious fanatics.
Psalm 133:1 reminds us that it is good for brothers to dwell together in unity. Yet, this is rare. Dwelling together in unity seems to be either a bygone relic or conjures up the idea of living in a commune with other Christians.
Let’s consider a far too common scenario in the average evangelical church that goes something like this. People get up on Sunday morning, rush around, and show up late for one service. Many mouth the songs projected on the wall while their minds wander to the events that will need to transpire during the coming week. The pastor/teacher stands with a prepared word of exhortation and edification while a few more either doze off to sleep or make further plans for the next week. Finally the service is over and many bolt for the back door before somebody catches them, especially the pastor!
Jumping in their vehicles, the majority leave almost before the strains of the benediction have died away. The rest of the day there is no further thought of those with whom they were just “worshiping.” The entire week is filled with various activities that are designed and orchestrated by the world to keep us from interacting with one another. So, the week rolls quickly by and we fall exhausted into bed late on Saturday evening only to get up and run through the same routine again on another Sunday morning. Patting themselves on the back, they justify what they have just done because everybody else does it.
For those who fail to submit to the normal protocol, we might even loudly proclaim in a self-righteous tone and/or demeanor, “Well, Hebrews 10:25 says, ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.’” (ESV)
However, is one rushed service on a Sunday really assembling ourselves together? Is such behavior among the people of God truly permit us to proclaim to the world that we are not neglecting one another? To ask further, how is little to no interaction throughout the week and certainly none on Sunday actually “encouraging” one another?
Surely, this cannot be all that the writer of Hebrews was exhorting and encouraging the believers to do was a small one hour window on a Sunday morning. Is this all that is required? At what point did we fellowship.
The teaching elder may have even stood and reminded us that worship is not just something we do on a Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11:30. Our corporate interaction is to be a direct reflection of our own personal, private, and family worship throughout the week being manifested before the world and our brethren of the wonders of the triune God.
But, was our corporate worship truly a reflection of the worship in which we were engaged throughout the week? Or, is our Sunday one hour offering all that we can manage to give because it conflicts with our overwhelming pursuit of the Great American Dream?
This is compounded by the fact that in our coming together, we give little time for prayer which should be another uniting factor. The requests normally mean nothing to everybody but the person giving it because we actually know little of those with whom we are worshiping. Prayer time can often be lifeless or another ritual that we go through because the Bible commands we pray without ceasing.
Yes, there is the rare church fellowship where most seem to sit in preassigned seating and everybody walks out full but with no greater knowledge of their brothers and sisters than when they came that morning.
Oh yes, we also have the time of a bereavement when everybody shows up with the never-ending green bean casseroles. We sit around awkwardly wondering what to say either to the family that is suffering and then with a quick whispered, “We’ll be praying for you,” we fade back into the twilight until the next event that “pulls” us all together again.
While their doctrine is wrong and damning, we could learn much from groups like the Mormons, the Muslims, the Amish and others. They spend a great deal of time together. They laugh together. They mourn together. They build their homes together and they see each other throughout the week. Weddings, funerals, or normal every day activities are not the cause for their fellowship. These are simply products of who and what they are. Their connections are strong.
But along comes the evangelical seeking to share the gospel with a person from one of these groups. The invitation is extended to pay the local church a visit and every now and then, the invitation may be accepted. Walking out of a cult that shows preferential treatment to every person within their midst, the cult or religious person walks in and observes – well, nothing extraordinary. People sitting off to themselves and most do not seem to know one another.
The prayer time is a perfunctory measure that sounds lifeless, there is no fellowship, and there seems to be no encouragement to interact with others throughout the week. But wait, yes, there is a house group that meets during the week. Maybe that will be different from what was seen on Sunday.
Accepting the extended invitation, the person shows up and listens to talk about everything from the weather to the latest job news. The conversation covers the scores from the professional ball games since last Sunday, and again, sadly, all of the communication seems so lifeless. There are little to no connections between those who have gathered together. A quick prayer and short Bible study later, everybody departs still not really having a clue as to who the brother or sister sitting next to them may be struggling with or whether they might have something in which they may rejoice together.
The beloved apostle recorded the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He writes again in the epistles of 1 & 2 John that it is not a new commandment, but an old one that we are to love one another.
How can we say we have love for one another when we cannot stand to be with one another for more than one hour per week? How can we say we love our brethren when we very little about them? How can we attest of our love for each other to the world when visiting with each other throughout the week only works if we live within a 10 minute drive from each other, and everybody outside the 10 minute drive is too much of a chore to visit because anything more is an inconvenience?
Whatever happened to the older men and women teaching the younger? I venture to say that so many churches are either catering to the young people or a small group of old people sit week after week wishing and hoping that some young families will come and visit. When the young families visit though, all they receive is a quick handshake and a “Hope to see you again” and we are all off on our merry way again. The young families never come back again and we proclaim that they obviously wanted the latest and greatest programs for their children.
Is it possible that what the young family really wanted was an opportunity to be connected with somebody who would love them, welcome them, and make them feel like they were truly part of a family? Maybe they want a church where the older gray-haired couples will assume the role of surrogate grandparents and help encourage their children in the ways of the Lord. I guess we can never know when we never extend the offer of help, love, friendship and fellowship that extends beyond a one hour window on a Sunday.
I welcome your thoughts and comments. How can we (or even how do you) bridge the widening gulf of no fellowship that is so prevalent in evangelical churches? Instead of placing the blame on the pastor, elders, deacons, or anybody else, what should each of us be doing to exhibit the love of Christ that has been shed abroad in our own hearts to a world that is lost and dying with the Savior?