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Virtual Religion

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Religion is in a state of metamorphosis. With every new change it takes one step farther away from the church established by Jesus and his apostles.

The statistics say that the average American is turned off by organized religion. George Barna claims that relatively few people – one out of every six – believe that spiritual maturity is meant to be developed within the context of a local church or within the context of a community of faith. He projects that, in the future, there will be greater variety in America’s communities of faith. He continues, saying, “Ecumenism will expand, as the emerging generations pay less attention to doctrine and more attention to relationships and experiences. …there will be a broader network of micro-faith communities built around lifestyle affinities, such as gay communities of faith, marketplace professionals who gather for faith experiences, and so forth.” The bottom line is that people are looking for something different, something that sounds like church without actually being church.

Americans are asking for virtual religion. They want a kind of faith, bottomless hope, and unconditional love, but they are unfamiliar with the gifts of 1 Corinthians 13:13. They’re looking for friends, not brethren. They want moving praise but could do without worship that is done “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). Americans ask for blessings, but don’t tell them about sacrifice. Give them prayer but never a cross. A scary development has taken place in the hearts of professing believers. “Give me a spiritual life,” they say, “but whatever you do, please don’t put me in a church!”

A couple of weeks ago a man walked into our Sunday evening worship services and wanted immediate assistance. One of our elders met with him for awhile, and then I got a chance to speak with him when the worship hour had concluded. He was emotionally unstable. He didn’t like his job, and the bank was about to foreclose on his house. He needed a new career and a roommate, and he wanted us to find that for him in the next two hours. I told him we sympathized with his problem but that we were a church, not an employment agency, and he shouldn’t expect us to get him a job. “That’s what everybody says,” he cried. “They don’t want to help me unless I become a member of their church!” Next came a rant about how churches claim to help people but are really a bunch of phoneys. I prayed with him, restated our purpose of helping people spiritually, and never saw him again.

This incident got me thinking about the impossible posture the world is trying to force on the church: help people without changing them. It won’t work. There are exceptions, but nine times out of ten we are experiencing problems of our own making.

Christ’s church is flawless in its design (Mt. 16:18). Within its borders we find salvation (Eph. 5:23), and in exchange God asks for our very lives (Mt. 16:24-26). Those who find this to be too demanding don’t have to believe in the system. But those of us who believe in it ask them, please, just step out of the way.