Man creates the “order of service” within religion. Christ is the order of service within true Christian community. Christ is the head of the church and we are the many members with different functions. Not so in religion.
In religion, man is in charge and he uses the Scripture to support the false dichotomy of “clergy/laity.” In religion, there exists a hierarchal leadership reflected in “offices.”
In Christ’s church, there is equality among all believers and everyone brings something to the table of fellowship. In the true church… the Holy Spirit is free to direct the affairs of the Body. In religion, man uses the wisdom of the world to do as he sees fit.
In protestant denominations religion can be seen in man’s predetermining of who God is and how and when God will work among his people. God is worshipped at certain times and in certain ways; ways in keeping with man’s tradition. Jesus is presented only from that particluar sectarian viewpoint and it is only in that viewpoint that the congregation may express its Christianity.
At this point, people are no longer seeking Christ free from man’s agendas and cultural bend… they no longer seek the Christ of the New Testament. They seek a Christ that is Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc. Even when they read the New Testament they read through the lenses of their denomination and cultural upbringing.
You may only view Christ and his church a certain preordained way that has been decided by man in these religious institutions. You may only see the Lord and his Word in the way that had been predetermined for you. On top of that… we are all influenced by momma, America, and Santa Claus!
We not only perceive Christianity through these cultural influences, but we perpetuate the influences and continue to cause harm to the Gospel that is presented to the world. Of course, many can’t see this is what they are doing, but nevertheless, it is in fact what they are doing and have done for centuries.
Has anything really changed since the 16th century “Reformation”? I submit to you there was only a reformation of pagan catholic doctrine and practice, not a revolution back to the heart of God. Luther’s “Protestant Reformation” was only a half-way reform. He even admitted that he never intended to break off from the catholic church, only reform it. He only wanted to tweak it a bit and keep the religion!
I strongly encourage you to look at the facts of history. Do we not understand that this is the model most Christians practice today? They are hand-me-down models from the catholic church. Almost every “new” version of church today is only that same religious system tweaked for the pleasing of man.
Many Christians today are not seeing authentic Christian faith and practice, but only a revised version of a pagan religion! With Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli… we only saw a return to Sola Scriptura (i.e. Scripture alone). Now it is time for a return to Sola Christus (i.e. Christ alone).
This is the purpose of denominations and divisions, is it not? It prides itself in what it believes and doesn’t believe; in what it sees and doesn’t see; in how it appreciates things others do not. It does not seek Christ alone and unity among all believers. How can it when it wishes only to enrich its traditional heritage all the more and maintain its ‘distinctives’ from other Christian groups.
How can Christ be pleased in this? Can a Kingdom stand when it is divided?
This religious denominationalism (i.e. divisions, factions, sects) is rooted in the prideful hearts of men. It is proud of those who follow Apollos, Cephas, and Paul. It is determined to continue this way of life by attempting to hold on to this thinking and at the same time pretend to get along with others who are priding themselves in their own denomination. If you doubt this… attend an annual denominational convention.
Does God work within religious institutional Christianity? Yes. However, his Spirit is only able to work in pockets of ministry. The Lord will never be free to move as he desires in the vehicle of religion that man has adpoted. This is why man will forever be hoping, praying, and waiting for a “revival” that will never come in institutional Christianity.
Why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ is not truly welcome. Man demands that the Lord meet him on his terms within his religious rituals. The Lord says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock… you have pushed me out of my church and turned my house (i.e. my people, my Body, my Bride) into a house of desolation!”
I believe this is at the heart of the religious Christian institutions: celebrating man’s way and widening the gap between Christ and his people. Man has gotten so carried away in his “tweaking” of the Christian religion… he has given the religious person many different versions of Jesus. They may choose from a long buffet of divisions.
For example… the “conservative, liberal, charismatic, liturgical, King James only, independent, non-denominational, free will, Holy Ghost, post-modern, emerging, mystics!” just to name a few.
Sure, there are deep problems with the anti-Christ models of leadership within the church. Yes, the institutional church does not match up to the church in the book of Acts. Church history testifies to the 1700 years of pagan accumulation and that the institutional churches reflect Constantinian paganism more than it does New Testament Christianity.
Anyone who cares about historical facts can observe this.
However, I believe the greatest problem of all–the starting point to leaving behind the religious and breaking free of its chains–is returning to the Person and the work of Christ. The church must learn the way of Christ all over again. The church must embrace the centrality and supremacy of Jesus before she can experience genuine community and the power of the Holy Spirit on the earth.
Let’s not concern ourselves with trying to unravel the mess that has been made these last 1700 years. Let’s scrap it all! Push these religious models aside and start again with Christ. We do not need these chains!
We were set free from these chains by the cross. Do not become a slave again to the ways of the flesh. I believe you and I both can see that the religious games of pop-culture Christianity are getting us no where fast! We have been purposefully driven in the wrong direction long enough. May we be willing to start over again like the religious leader Nicodemus.
It is time to gather around at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words of our Lord.
D.D. Flowers, 2008.