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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

Righteousness Has Fallen Off Of The Cliff

The broader culture no longer has any definition of moral good that even approximates scripture. As a result there are as many definitions as to what is right as there are people

It is little wonder that research consistently shows that each person is the center of their own truth and therefore what each thinks is justified by that standard: how do I feel about so and so.

The cancel culture that is in vogue today derives all of its justification from this. If we feel threatened, or a particular thought or action is unfair, we have a right to take action, even violent ones, to “cancel” it from our midst. And so, property is destroyed, goods are carried away illegally, babies are aborted, marriages are jettisoned, universities are forced into positions, not because of reason, or history or even law, but because we feel them threatening us.

In this kind of environment there is little if any ground for discussion. When there is no longer any agreed upon sources of objective truth, we are left to yelling, name calling and canceling out voices that question our feelings. We are left only to silence or anarchy.

In the midst of this chaos, the way in which the church has prepared itself to deliver the message and journey into righteousness has been forcibly changed.

Initially, I was concerned with the way I saw churches responding to the mandate to shut down. Expectation that it would be short lived quickly turned into despair that church as we have come to know it would ever return.

One would hope that our theological conviction that the church is a people not a place would have kicked in and churches and church leaders would have switched to expressions of church that would not allow satanic fear, nor governmental over-reach to impede the advance of the gospel. Instead what I heard and saw too often was entrenched despair about our people and indeed our survival.

Early on, evidence began to appear that multiples of percentages of people had disappeared from any form of church expression. And then indeed many churches did have to close their doors. We have not seen the full impact of this as undoubtedly the number of churches, the number of attendees and the despair of church leaders will increase.

I must admit that I saw the silver lining in all of this. For a few decades denominations have acknowledged that a fair number of their churches were no longer effective and should close their doors. Research over the last two decades has consistently questioned whether the number of people said to attend church were actually followers of Jesus.

If one applies a biblical definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, most leaders would privately admit that a majority of people would not look anything like him. Of course many fall back on the patience argument. “We must be compassionate with people, maybe they will come around!” While I agree with compassion in the application of scripture to confessing Christians lives, I am unconvinced that decades of compassionate waiting is biblically justified for people who say that they belong to Jesus but don’t ever seem to show it.

Jesus says the opposite quite clearly, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.“ (Matthew 3:7-8)

Or, ““If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

The apostle Paul is also quite emphatic. “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” (Romans 17:4)

I was amazed at the fear of church leaders who were concerned that their people were struggling or overwhelmed or fearful, or worse backsliding. How in the world do we end up with people who have confessed that they have been followers of Jesus for decades and are unable to handle the suffering of the moment? Have we failed them?

Have we done so much for them that they are like the believers to whom the writer of Hebrews refers, “and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Do they not know how to nurture their own relationship with God our Father from daily time in His word? What will happen if, as is likely, nothing about “doing” church goes back to normal?

Righteousness has fallen off of the cliff because the church has not yet conceived of how to carry out its purpose in the face of greater challenge and growing hostility to the church’s public face.

We have been obsessed with buildings, programs, regular controlled religious regimen and highly defined roles of people who lead us. All of that is being swept away. If I, and others are right, nothing will be the same again. We should have seen the dark clouds on the horizon, but we preferred to maintain life as it has been, even in opposition to the data that was coming our way; even in opposition to what we knew scripture taught us about Christ and His people: the church. We are addicted to the gathered church and refuse to accept the apostolic nature of the church as God designed it: a people sent, sojourning here, carrying the Gospel everywhere they go.

As Paul so clearly says in Ephesians 3, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Or as I like to say, “wherever we go, God goes!”

A moment of difficulty, sure to increase in intensity has apparently caught us unaware. Not watching as so many of the biblical writers warn us! Our churches are not prepared to live the life of faith no matter what the cost. All over the world our brothers and sisters have known what this means, to live the life of faith no matter what the limitations, even suffering and death.

We will need to learn how to really disciple people, or better said, help people to mature in righteousness.


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