Let me try to illustrate just how far afield the present day Christian mentality is from a first century mentality. If you went to Thessalonica, you would find believers who gathered in Jason’s home. You might find a few staying home, and you, might even find some who had forsaken the faith and who could’ have gone back to worshipping idols in the pagan temples.
But you didn’t find a dozen interdenominational organi¬zations, three ministerial associations and 144 denominations; seventy-five independent “churches,” thirty home-Bible study groups, ten “half-way houses,” and three “church-in-the¬-home” organizations. Such a situation simply never existed in the first century.
For sure they had a lot of problems but the above were not on the list.
So here is the question: What shall be our relationship to Christians who are totally immersed in organized religion? The problem almost defies solution.
Our Present Mentality
Let me first say that “modern Christian mentality” exerts more influence on the way we do things than all of our doctrines and all of our methods, goals, dreams, visions, and hopes combined.
Today there is a mentality that equates a non-profit inter¬denominational organization with the church. A man-made organization compatible with God’s very purpose for creation! Unbelievable!
Is it possible that the Lord has moved away because of our fragmentations?
A fine, spiritual brother gathers a group of businessmen together. He shares his vision for a new organization ….one that will do something unique, something needed.
The men present see the vision. They applaud his daring and thus another serving of the Lord’s body occurs.
Division is praiseworthy!
That is an unquestioned mentality of our day. A triple-digit number of churches in one city outnumbering gas stations! Interdenominational organizations and “store fronts” are proliferating; home Bible studies and “churches-in-the-homes” are multiplying like taxes!
Organization versus the body of Christ
And organizations! The Christian faith is out hunting for men with great organizational gifts; men who can start an efficient organization; one that gets the job done … for the Lord. As I stated previously, some of the great denomi¬nations boast in their intricate, smooth-running, and super¬efficient organizational operation.
All this is an unspoken, unthought-of mentality that elevates a “thing” to the level of a “person.” The Lord’s church is like a female entity; a living, breathing, divine organism. An organization is a cold, sterile, man-conceived contraption. Yet our mentality today unwittingly exalts the “thing” above the spouse of Christ.
The present situation
I have no argument with anyone on this subject. What I have described is simply the status quo. This is the way things are. And we’ve got to learn to live in this age the way things are. They will not change…not in your lifetime.
How do we relate to other Christians
The question before us is this: “With the situation the way it is, how do we relate to other believers?” This is a hard question. Be careful. We must find the highest possible way. Whatever that way is, it will not be an easy way, because we are surrounded by a Christian mentality so utterly far from of the first century outlook.
Frankly, I sometimes envy our first century brothers. Yes, they had lots of problems. Yes, they suffered a lot. But they had some things going for them, too. They had scriptural problems but what about us? We have so many problems that aren’t even scriptural! Just think of all the problems they didn’t have!
The Two Mentalities Contrasted
I’d like to describe what the first century church might have looked like if they had our mentality. But that would take a book. Instead, just for a moment, let’s see the contrast between these two mentalities.
Let’s say you got saved in the first century in the city of Iconium … a gentile church which was raised up by Paul. You had two choices: meet with the other believers in your city…or forget the whole thing. Those were your only two choices. Simple enough!
There was one group of Christians in Iconium; one. That was all and no place else for you to go. Not another “church” meeting down the street. No interdenominational organization you could join to “devote your God-given talents to.” No independent worker sailing through town with a lot of great stories to entertain you with for the evening down at the local amphitheater.
Nope. Not a dozen churches. Not a dozen works, or workers or Christian organizations to choose from. One church, one people, how dull. No choices. Nothing else, not even a mentality that could conceive of such a choice, or of division. No “Slums for Christ.” No house for Athenian hippies. No mission to Israel.” Not even a non-profit organization to win the local “Aristotelian philosophy students to Christ.” No “Rancho del Cristo,” no “Vegetarians for Christ:” not even a summer retreat grounds, no interdenominational tract society. Imagine: no Bible schools, no Christian colleges, no “International Corinthian Charismatic Fellowship.” No “Marketplace Mission.” No Christian coffee house, no missionary effort for the gentile lepers in South-southeast Ethiopia. And not even a healing service in Hilton.
I am not naive enough to suggest that outreach on a relevant basis is not necessary. But in the mean time we have to see the damage done to Christianity in the guise of ministry, through a non-biblical approach.
There was nothing in Iconium but the church, and only one of those.
Christians were out of the systems
What’s my point? This: There were no Christians in the religious system in Iconium. The Christians were all to be found in one place and one place only: in the body of Christ—which gathered in unbroken unity—in Iconium. The church was the sole repository of Christians in the city of Iconium. There were nonbelievers: Jewish non¬believers. You could find them down at the local synagogue. There were gentile non-believers. You could locate them down at any one of the nearby temples, bowing before some goddess.
Non-believers were to be found in two religious systems: Judaism and paganism. Believers were to be found in one place: in the organic, daily life of the bride of Jesus Christ.
Imagine. The thought had not yet been born on this planet—not even dreamed in a dream—that it was possible for a local body of believers to experience division!
Once more, think of all the things first century believers didn’t have in their city.
There was no chaos: some Christians meeting in homes, others at the synagogue … another group that rented out the local pagan temple every Sunday morning. No interdenominational organization with a president, a board of directors.
No traveling band of young musicians holding forth in the local arena, all wearing identical white-with-golden trim tunics … singing psalms to the tune of some of the latest pagan songs, giving their testimony of how wonderful it is to live by faith…(That distant noise you just heard was Paul rolling over in his grave.)
Yes, the early believers had some very distinct advantages going for them. Christians, generally, were in the church. There was no division.
To be saved and in the fellowship of the local body of believers was to be outside the religious system.
True, you might find a backslidden Christian back in the synagogue (if Jewish) or in a pagan temple (if gentile). But you didn’t find a whole room full of them meeting in the pagan temple and calling it “the second Iconium church” or “Pagan Temples for Christ, International.”
The present situation and the ignorance of Christian
Today the situation is reversed. The Christian faith has t, organizational systematization upon itself … and most of Lord’s people are in that religious organizational structure. We, I repeat, have got a first class problem—a problem found in Scripture.
To complicate the problem even more, the Lord’s people don’t know all this. They haven’t the vaguest notion that they belong to a structured organization that someone has glued the title “assembly” or “church” onto.
Anyway, you get the idea; the present day Christian mentality is a set thing; an unconscious thing; and we have to live with it … despite the fact it is both universally adhered to and at the same time, totally opposed to the mentality and outlook of first century believers.
Now to the big problem; a gigantic problem. What shall be our relationship to Christians in the religious system? Remember, there are dear, precious Christians in the religious system. And remember this; they don’t have even any idea that they are in a system.
Now you tell this to a devout a church member as a human could be. Now if you had told that person that his denomination was an organization and that organization was patterned after the structure of the Roman Empire, which had been borrowed from Babylon, which was a replica of angelic order, chaired by Lucifer, he might have either fainted dead away or possibly chased you out of the house.
He would not know that. He wouldn’t agree that it was true, wouldn’t have wanted to know it if it was, wouldn’t have changed if he had known! That’s just information that he would do better without.
Not everyone will leave. Not everyone wants to! A few will seek a way out. A few will leave. Most will not. Please remember that.
Now get a firm fix on this: There is a vast difference between the religious system and the dear, precious saints of God—some in love with the Lord with all their hearts—who are in that system. Now we come to our calling. What shall be our relationship to the Lord’s people in the system? This is our mission; the Lord has called us to something that seems to be impossible.
However let us consider this:
1) When we start fellowshipping with the religious system it will be time for us to close shop and forget about ministry.
2) When we stop being open to other Christians then it will be time to close shop and vanish from the earth.
It is true that there are major divisions in the body of Christ. This is an age that promotes division. Of course none of us thinks of it that way. Let me illustrate.
You see, if we have nothing to do with other Christians, we will end up bigots and that will destroy us.
It should. On the other hand, if we have anything to do with that system they are in, we will end up back in it, too! And that will also destroy us.
Out of the camp
The Lord has called us to be the voice in the wilderness of Christianity in the order of John the Baptist; out of the camp, the religious system, beyond the Jordan in the wilderness. We must leave that system. Leave it. Never go back to it. Despise it; never help it, condone it, participate in it, nor even touch it but at the very same moment, we must be totally open to Christians in it and to be a testimony of the truth and a representation of the whole counsel of God.
We are ignored
How can we do this? The answer will not be easy to find.
Perhaps it won’t be found (I remind you, we are dealing with an unscriptural problem. Scripturally, all Christians ought to be outside the systematization of organized religion). However, we have one thing going for us, though. To a large extent, our problems are nonexistent. Most Christians “out there” are monumentally uninterested in us. When they hear about us, they are underwhelmed. We are easily overlooked. We are a very forgettable people. What do I mean?
Basically, it is only the seeker, the heart-hungry Christian, and the recently saved “gentile” who never so much as heard of Christianity or the system, who make up our ranks. The rest of the Christian family is somehow able to not even see us.
Let this be our standard: When you meet a Christian in the religious system, treat him as we treat one another! Greet him with all the love and openness of unhindered hearts. On the other hand, we do have a task, and we must not get distracted. And that just might create a problem. He will love your openness; it is only logical he will try to get you involved in his religious activities.
So be sure, one day you will wake up and find yourself in a tight spot. One day, with all this uninhibited openness on your part, you are going to get invited to a fund-raising banquet or something! Then you are going to have a problem.
And what will you do?
As I said, you’ve got yourself a problem! Sorry. There are few guidelines anyone can offer you.
Let’s sum up
As to the religious system: In the days of Paul, there existed a religious system. Paul grew up in that system, but he left it when he became a believer. That system persecuted him all his life. He never went back into that systematization. And that system never got into the body of Christ. Paul and Judaism were two worlds apart.
Today the situation is radically changed. We became a Christian only to discover that virtually all believers are in a religious system. We have been called to come out of that system and yet be available for God to use us in dealing with the systems.
Further, we can expect some opposition from that system. History says so. We must never react to that opposition, or in any way be negatively affected by it and we must continue to do to that which we have been called to.
In every such situation, you are going to have to take this matter to the Lord. We will each have to individually deal with the Lord concerning these situations. The very basis of our old nature must be rooted out. In every man, there is a sectarian spirit longing to be expressed. On the other hand there is also part of each of us that would dearly like to go back to Babylon. Both elements must be dealt with.
We are called to be a people without a sectarian spirit and to be out of the religious system.
May we see such a high mission accomplished through and by us.