Ithink it should be a constant source of surprise to thinking Christian people the extent to which so many absolutely clear biblical injunctions are totally ignored.
For example, I remember as a wee boy my father, who was a preacher of sorts, criticising the Catholic Church by quoting 1 Timothy 2:5: ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.’
He was referring to the position that most Catholics give to their priest: he is a mediator, he interprets scripture for them. And yet isn’t that how the vast majority of Christians from most, if not all denominations practise their faith?
I had a conversation along these lines with one of our senior politicians recently, and he told me, quite unashamedly: ‘I don’t study the Bible for myself, I let my minister do that for me.’
Now I happen to know that the same gentleman would share my father’s critical stance, and yet isn’t it ironic that if he were to study the Bible for himself he might risk seeing that his position is exactly the same as that of his Catholic counterparts, of whom he is so vehemently critical?
The real tragedy is that if his minister were to preach a sermon based on 1 Timothy 2:5 he would be doing himself out of a job.
However, I think the most startling example of our ability to cherry-pick the scripture (to major on minors and minor on majors) is our obsession with ‘sacred’ buildings. Let me explain: The New Testament model for the way in which ‘church’ was to be conducted is to be found in the book of Acts, chapter 2: ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.’
They met in each other’s homes, they shared meals together, they had ‘glad and sincere hearts’ and that’s what separated them from the masses and drew converts to their cause.
They were what the apostle Peter referred to as ‘living stones being built into a spiritual house’ because God had expressed his passionate desire to ‘dwell in buildings not made with hands’.
There is a church in my home town, one of the biggest in the country and in the process of building yet another extension for a six-figure sum. Surely that money could be better spent? At the planning stage there was no consultation with neighbours whose homes will be impacted by the construction. And yet the tag line on their literature reads, ‘Serving Him, by serving you’.
I am reminded of a survey carried out by the organisation founded by George Verwer, Operation Mobilisation, which concluded that on average, over 98 per cent of the funds raised by the Christian churches in Britain was spent on self preservation, less than two per cent being directed towards what the church should be all about, the so-called ‘Great Commission’: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”
And they wonder why churches are haemorrhaging membership?