Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life . . . God blessed them and told them, “Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Genesis 1:26, 28
At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words . . . They began to talk about construction projects. Come, they said, “let’s make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies—a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world. But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other. In that way the LORD scattered them all over the earth; and ended the building of the city. That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that the LORD confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth. Genesis 11:5-9
I would like to respond to a question that many others and I have been asked. The basic gist of the question is this, Why are so many churches in Columbus going through upheaval? Maybe your immediate response would go something like this, O well, our church is no different than many others. It’s just the way things are. Although that response may be true, please tell me that you find no comfort in it!
As a whole the institutional church is in deep trouble. Reams of statistical data are available that verify the fact that people and even pastors are abandoning it at an alarming rate. It is shrinking. Another response to the proposed question could be that all the defectors are a bunch of quitters. Or, they just aren’t very committed. Maybe your conclusion is it is all the devil’s doings.
Personally, I don’t think any of those responses are correct on a large scale. I don’t think they come close to telling the whole story. Actually, I think it may God Himself who is dismantling the institutional church.
Let me give you something to think about . . .
Let’s go back to the beginning—to the first and only man directly created by God. What were God’s intentions for Adam and his bride, Eve? In partnership with God, they were to go out into the entire world bearing His image, master all of life, reproduce, and fill the earth. I assume that you also know the story of Adam and Eve’s fall. The Genesis story, from that point on, reveals that man had little intention of carrying out the mission for which God created him. Instead of being God’s image bearers and mastering the entire created world, you see them in lockstep with a common language, a common motivation, and common political agenda. God summarizes their hearts’ desire this way, Let’s build . . . a monument to our greatness—an ignominious goal.
You know the rest of the story—God showed up—and He wasn’t pleased. In an instant He turned their communication to baby talk—Babel. Their self-centered agenda was irreparably disrupted. There would be no great monument to their greatness. No, instead, an unfinished tower. They had failed to count the cost. What resulted from all this confusion? God’s agenda came back into play—He scattered His image bearers over all the earth.
Let’s consider another example:
But when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8
A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers . . . fled into Judea and Samaria . . . Acts 8:1
Jesus left his band of followers with the mission of intentional global evangelism. His last words, recorded in Acts 1:8, gave clear instructions for the church He was building: it would be birthed in Jerusalem, but spread into Judea, then Samaria, and finally to any place where there were people. Race, speech, skin color, or culture would not be insurmountable barriers for the gospel. Note that the final book of the canon, the Revelation, foretells a day when people from every tribe and tongue would stand redeemed before God.
In chapter 8, Luke’s description of “church” life is telling. He points out that God’s people, instead of evangelizing the world, cloister in Jerusalem. Acts chapters 2 and 4 help us empathize with this decision: they enjoyed intimate fellowship, a sense of shared community, awe-inspiring worship, and the agreement on the ultimate authority in their lives—the apostle’s doctrine (God’s Word). But with all that, their agenda was off base. The temple building had become the church, and God does not dwell in a building made with hands.
In Acts chapter 8, Luke tells us what happened. A great wave of persecution swept over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers . . . fled into Judea and Samaria. Did you notice that—Judea and Samaria—interesting? Is God serious about The Great Commission? Yes. God’s agenda and purpose remain the same. His people are to go into the entire world bearing His image, and share His message of the hope of redemption. Is the institutional church doing that? A few are—very few. Instead, for the most part, the church has become an institution fixated on building monuments to its own greatness. Evangelism has been reduced to, “build it and they will come.” The competition to “pack em’ in,” warehousing thousands of people instructed to dress the same, speak the same, settle in and settle down the same—rather than get up and get out—has prompted God to act.
One final thought . . .
In Matthew 23 Jesus brought a scathing rebuke and warning to those who had assumed the charge and oversight of God’s people (read Matthew 23, and then come back to this post).
Not a pretty picture was it. Did verse 37 strike you?
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look your house is left empty and desolate . . . Matthew 23:37
Did you see the change in Jesus’ disposition? Did you see how He went from a rebuke, meant to bring repentance...to a broken heart, when His weighty words fell on deaf ears? Sadly, the temple had become a warehouse for religious people; empty ritual was everywhere-—God could be found nowhere; true Prophets were stoned—-profiteers were welcomed; tradition flourished—God’s Word faded.
Now listen to the eulogy Jesus delivers. Do you see all these buildings? I assure you, they will be so completely demolished that not one stone will be left on top of another! Matthew 24:2
History tells us that the Roman General, Titus, brought Jesus’ prophecy to fulfillment. Jerusalem was sacked, and the temple was completely looted and razed to the ground. Beyond the literal fulfillment of the temple’s destruction, I believe we see a sobering metaphor of the future of the institutional church. The old is going to disappear, because God is going to resume His agenda.
So to answer the question, Why are so many churches in Columbus (and nearly everywhere else) going through upheaval? Could it be that as God did with His people at Babel, as He did with His own in the infant church in Acts, and as He did with the fraudulent religiosity of the temple worship, so too, God is doing today? God is dismantling the church as an institution and returning it to a revolution.