by Mike Ratliff
11See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:11-16 ESV)
As many of you know, my wife and I have been church vagabonds since May of this year. We are still churchless. We have visited many churches, but God has not given us clear direction about where our church home should be. We both agree that if we lived in Edmond, OK or near it, we would probably join Henderson Hills Church there. We both love the church and the pastors. However, we live in the Kansas City area on the Kansas side and we cannot agree on the church we should be part of here.
This has been a trying time. Part of that stress has been pressure put on us to be part of a local church body by many well meaning Christians. There have been some who have made it clear that we should remain Southern Baptists. I am not convinced of that by any stretch of the imagination, however, there are many “denominations” I will not consider. There are some I would love to be part of, but my wife is not crazy about them. There are some she would like that I refuse to be part of. Why are we struggling so? Why is it that I am as close, if not closer, to God in my walk now than I ever have been? Why do I not feel that it is a great sin for us to be “churchless” right now?
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe it is a very good thing to be part of a local body of believers, but God isn’t “cursing” us or “condemning” us because we aren’t right now. I believe that our service to our Lord must be from the right motives or it’s self-service. For the last several years, wherever we have been part of a church, I have become a leader in some capacity. I teach and I love to work along side others who are serving God. However, I also fall victim to becoming too busy for my and my wife’s own good. I tend to listen to people tell me positive things about my teaching. My service usually ends up becoming somewhat “political.” I absolutely hate that. In the last church we belonged to, which we left because I deeply disagreed with the theological direction the pastor was taking the church, I found that I usually spent more time in my class answering theological questions than teaching my lesson. As time went on, the pastor and I were completely in opposite corners on the matter of his pursuit of the Purpose Driven Church pragmatic.
What is God doing in my heart and my wife’s heart since then that has given us such deep peace with Him even though we are “churchless?” I am not sure, but I do know that He has given me the task of writing these posts on walking this walk with our eyes on the prize rather than on this temporal plane we exist in now. I doubt that I could do this if I was still locked in battle at my old church while still taking care of my Bible Study class and working full time. One of my dominate Spiritual Gifts is that I am an “encourager.” I have found that this ministry is all about encouraging those God brings to this site through clear doctrinal teachings and discussions. The focus of this ministry is to point God’s people to live their lives in a state of “unworldliness.”
We cannot walk the walk by faith, abide in Christ, take up the Yoke of Christ, run the race God has set before us, and be living sacrifices if we have a worldly focus. If we are enamored with the world and its ways then we are not doing any of these things. Instead, our service at church is nothing more than extensions of our pursuit of self-gratification. We are self-absorbed religious people who are not walking this walk as one who has died with Christ. In fact, when we are doing this we will find that our “service” is really no different than the ancient Jews reliance on circumcision as their “way to God.”
16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:16-23 ESV)
Are the Jewish regulations that Paul was writing against that were infiltrating the Galatian churches the same thing that happens in our churches when “works” become the focus? Yes they are. When we find ourselves in bondage to works for work’s sake then we are in bondage to what we do rather than on Christ working through us for His glory alone. The subtle aspect of this is that we usually start out right. We do have the right focus and are serving our Lord as extensions of His grace, but over time people put phony yokes on us that are counterfeit. Christ’s Yoke is easy and His burden is light. These counterfeit yokes always end up with us being overworked and on the way to “burnout.” They also are not bound to the cross of Christ and our death in Him. Instead they are bound to the service to the local church and the powers that be there. Now, I am not saying all churches are like this. I know many which are not, but all are susceptible to the temptations to become pragmatic religion that puts God’s grace in a mausoleum.
So what is the right approach to “doing church.” It must be done for God’s glory alone. It must be bound to what God’s Word says. It must be Gospel focused with the God’s Law as it’s backdrop. Service must be Spirit-led not guilt driven. God must be the focus, not the people in the church. Obedience to His will in all things will cause churches to be unworldly. They will be supernatural in their approach to all things. Property, church buildings, money in the bank, numbers for their own sake, cultural relevance diluting the Gospel, etc. are all things that are symptomatic of churches that are leading their flocks into the bondage of works righteousness. They become worldly rather than unworldly. Their sheep become religious rather than Spirit-led.
Unworldliness is the state of being dead in Christ. It is the same approach to this life that Paul had. It is completely God-focused. I encourage each of you reading this to forsake works as a way to please God. Instead, simply get as close to Him in worship and prayer as you can as you walk through your life and service as the Lord leads. Pray continually and put God first in all things. Don’t listen to any “Christians” who attempt to place a yoke on you that is bound to works righteousness. Instead, take up Christ’s Yoke and obey Him in all things. Then you will be Spirit-led and unworldly rather than simply religious.
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