There's another "move of God" that's sweeping the nations. Have you noticed? Very few of those I've spoken with actually have. There are others who don't necessarily view it as being a literal "movement" because it's not quite as defined as they like. Not to mention those who don't particularly approve of God "moving" in this direction. But as one British minister said to me several years ago, addressing all the controversies revolving around every new thing God has done since Genesis, "There's never been a tidy move of God."
Just as the Egyptian magicians were able to mimic Moses when his rod was turned into a snake, Satan is STILL duplicating and infiltrating whenever possible, muddying up the purity of the flowing river of God, deceiving "even the elect" of Christ's Kingdom. And successfully dissuading many a curious onlooker from diving in as a result of the disjointedness of The Body of Christ.
What is this move of God? It's the incredible mass exodus, the numbers of people who are leaving organized Christianity at an alarming rate, and the ministers who are either leaving the faith, or are ceasing to believe in the inerrancy of God's Word (in a moment well see if these are really men of God at all). Fact is, what most theologians and church people see as a horrific trend, may well be a mighty move of God's Spirit. And when the wind of the Spirit begins to blow, Wisdom cries out for us to adjust our sails. Let me explain.
Very simply, Jesus wants His Church back. It's His Bride. Sadly, this lovely young woman has been made a prostitute with Religion as its Master. She was never intended to be structured, organized, or institutionalized. She's an organism, not an organization. A living, breathing entity, not a cyborg to be programmed by a pious, human chain-of-command. Just as Christianity was once seen as a radical move among Judaism, I see this "Churchless Christianity" phenomenon as a move of God within the Church itself.
People are leaving organized churches in Biblical proportions; at a rate of 53,000 a week in Europe and North America combined (the U.S. lost 57,500 in the entire Vietnam War, to put that number in perspective). As a whole, Christians lose 7,600 a day to other religions or irreligion. I hear from these people all the time by eMail.
Incidentally, several years ago a leading Bible seminary sent 12,000 letters to pastors of various denominations and asked one question: "Do you believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God?" The results of the survey were startling: 85% of the Presbyterian USA pastors said NO; 85% of the Methodist pastors said NO; 85% of the Episcopal pastors said NO; 55% of the Baptist pastors said NO; 45% of the Catholic priests said NO. (Source: Warner A. Bonner, Newsletter@LeadershipJournal.net)
These are our "leaders," folks.
Be concerned. Be very concerned.
Christian Researcher, George Barna says of the American Church, "...new research supports our contention that the structure of the American church is already undergoing radical change. If you add up the proportion of people who will call the cyberchurch their 'church home', those who will align with an independent house church and individuals who will be steadfastly unchurched, within the next 15 years a majority of Americans will be completely isolated from the traditional church format." (There are many church organizations well able to support existing ministries of each genre rather than attempt to launch their own from scratch. Hint. Hint.)
According to a study released 12/23/01 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, while Americans flocked to their synogogues and churches after 9/11/01, one out of four adult American Internet users, roughly 28 million, have sought out religious or spiritual information online since that infamous day. I can attest to this.
More than 3 million U.S. adults find religious information online EVERY DAY, up from 2 million last year. That's more than use the Internet for gambling, banking or trading stocks! Sixty-nine per cent of those engaged in religious activities online search for educationalor reference material, 50% research other faiths, and 35% seek spiritual advice through eMail. Forty-one percent said they sent or received eMail prayer requests. Seven percent made contributions online (unfortunately, I cannot attest to this stat).
As a man with an eMinistry, I don't see this "Church Exodus" as being a bad thingat all, for I've witnessed the fruit of CyberChurch and it's quite bountiful! No, I'm not advocating that we stop face to face fellowship. Perish the thought! We need each other. We are a Body fitly joined. But for those who need specialized attention - and the statistics reveal there are MANY, including the shut-in, the handicapped, the shift worker, the spiritually shipwrecked - I liken CyberChurch to Christ reaching the masses from town to town, in fields and on beaches, in the market, or wherever people gathered who would listen. Even if they must gather electronically.
The Lord could have erected a church building after the Sermon on the Mount but He chose to minister while making disciples in preparation for the harvest to come (no farmer harvests his crop without a barn or a silo in which to put the harvest - otherwise, it rots on the ground). The Western Church must learn to use today's information technologies in conjunction with our postmodern orientation, to serve the greatest number of unchurched people possible in the most nontraditional and non-threatening ways. In other words, like Moses with his staff, God used what Moses had on hand at the moment, coupled with Mo's willing spirit. In the third world Church, they use things such as wind currents to send Scripture-laden balloons across borders. They use flowing rivers to send the Gospel downstream in bottles. They get creative with what's available. Little is much in the hands of God. What do WE have available?
The lowly computer is just one option.
It's simply naive to expect our local professional ministers to do the job or to expect the unchurched to "come to church." After all, shepherds don't produce sheep; sheep produce sheep. It's pure fantasy to believe the world could be won by Christian TV, radio, or music either. The Christian entertainment world is a ghetto into which the mainstream rarely strays. I didn't, before I was saved. Did you? What arrogance to think that THEY should come seeking US!
IS THERE ANY HOPE?
Americans say they want revival! A poll conducted by Public Agenda, a secular think tank, showed that most Americans feel society would improve if people were more devout. 69% of the 1,507 U.S. adults polled in Nov. '00 agreed that "religion is the best way to strengthen moral behavior and family values." 74% agreed that "it is a bad idea for families to raise children without any religion." (Source: Tribune News Service, 01/10/01)
Brennan Manning, author of "Ragamuffin Gospel," says, "Too many people are living in a house of fear and not in a house of love. In the past, churches have been wounders of the healers, not healers of the wounded." He explains, "Our huffing and puffing to impress God and our thrashing about to fix ourselves while hiding in our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the Gospel of grace."
It's been said that Christianity is the #1 cause of atheism. We, ourselves, are to blame for this churchless faith phenomenon, resulting from years of misdirected church teachings and traditions. In its current state, we just don't stand up to the scrutiny of our critics. Only God Himself can get us out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into.
But that ALONE should inspire great hope within us all!
NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH?
Many years ago, a man visted my hometown of Arlington, Texas and was going about sharing what he referred to as "a revelation on the Church." Though he was way ahead of his time, the vision he shared for "how to have Church" was actually nothing more than what 80% of the Church was already practicing throughout the third world ... the ONLY places where Christianity is currently flourishing, and amidst persecution at that! Though all listened politely, behind his back he was mocked and belittled. And I held their coats, just as Saul did when they stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr. By the way, this man was James Rutz, author of the hot, new book, MegaShift. Read it and you'll see why it's so hot! we laughed at him back then.
In his book, Rutz chronicled more than a week in the life of his Church for the rest of us to enjoy. Fascinating and fun! Regrettably, though I've never journaled Church activities, his description reminded me so much of what I've experienced many times in the years since.
He writes: What does the Church of Jesus Christ, our current part of the Kingdom of God, REALLY need to look like in order to delight her Bridegroom? Let's imagine a "helicopter's view" ofdaily life together as TRUE brothers and sisters in Christ. What would the Holy Spirit and a family of believers living in obedience to His Word look like today? What does the Church today, walking in God's presence and full of grace, look like? How can we recognize the Life of Christ, alive again today in His Body, the Church?
It looks amazingly similar to the Life of Jesus in His physical body 2000 years ago!"
Here are 21st century nurses, restaurant workers, contractors, engineers, teachers, business owners and managers, carpetcleaners and secretaries - clothed in the garb of the teaching and Life of Jesus; a Church that was formed from His victorious death (Gen 2:21-22; Rev 5:9; Eph 2:11-22; 5:22-32).
This is typical, natural Life in the Spirit of Christ. This is a touch of the Life God's Family is MEANT to have - where Truth touches individuals specifically in its gatherings. Meetings are filled with openness, faith-filled confession of sin, teaching, training, and praise in response to all that is currently happening. Disciples bring songs they've written, praise they're brimming with, chapters from books that have elevated or challenged them, video-teaching tapes that have been a catalyst for growth in them, and ten thousand other possibilities. God's Family is gathered, circled in barns, parks, hotels conference rooms, living room, apartment clubhouses, gymnasiums, or stadiums. Every barrier between God's Children is destroyed...
This is The Church, the ekklesia (the "called out ones"), as expressed from Acts 2 to Acts 2002. There's real Life here. Accountability. Horizontal as well as vertical relationship. Face to face, and by any OTHER means available. Anopportunity to truly become "brothers and sisters"; the family of God. And an opportunity to expand the servant-base, empowering people so that even MORE disciples would be trained and equipped for making MORE disciples. THAT is the Great Commission, after all.
There's power here, too, as the family walks in agreement. Power in prayer. Power to heal and deliver those who are oppressed. Power in miracles. And it draws people unto itself as "many will come and see and put their trust in the Lord."
Quite a few who receive the eMail broadcasts of "Your Town For Jesus" from t.e.a.m. ministries are of the "Believers Only" crowd, not belonging to any organized Church body for any number of reasons. Some actually refer to me as their "Pastor." Some even call me "Father." (Please, just call me "Michael." God does.) I've even been "accused" of being a "prophet." If you're one of these - or want to be - please listen: though you may not attend organized services held in a building with stained glass windows, you DO require SOME sort of Christian fellowship. Iron sharpens iron. "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together" still applies, even if your only form of regular gathering is here, on your computer. Bottom line: all God really requires is your heart-felt availiability in order to open the door for miracles in someone else's life... in person or not.
Your worship of God is not to be limited to the Sunday sing-along. Nor is it about being entertained or "being fed" (Jesus said His food was in DOING the will of the Father). Worship is a lifestyle. To what do you give the majority of your time, energy, money? Careful, for this may have inadvertently become your God. Though church
attendance as we know it in the West is not biblically required (for the Church was never intended to be a building or an orgaization); Church existence is mandatory.
In other words, BE the Church, don't merely GO to church. The real SERVICE of the Church occurs AFTER the Church service.
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