Episode 48: Attacks on Christianity, Part 2- The Church

Peace to Live By Episode 48: Attacks on Christianity, Part 2- The Church - Daniel Litton
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       When a lot of people attack Christianity, one of the first things they focus on is the church—or the condition of the church. Opponents believe that if they can show the people who follow Christian principles to be no different than anyone else, to be hypocrites, then they can undermine the church. And it is true that when Christians don’t live up to becoming more like Jesus that it can and does from time to time set a bad example for unbelievers to see. But we cannot, nor should anybody, judge Christianity on the actions of one individual or even a small group of individuals. Just as one cannot judge a team based on one sports performance, or a cast based on one television episode, so Christianity should not be simply judged based on one setting or group of Christians.

       But in talking with folks who are against Christianity, there are some typical arguments that come up to try to undermine it. Today, I want us to work through these arguments, one by one, consider a total of five that are common against the Christian church. My goal is to accomplish two things here: 1) to help Christians better be able to defend their faith, and 2) to help unbelievers to reconsider the positions they may hold in regard to looking at the Christian church. The arguments I’m going to consider today are as follows:

1) Churches actually exist as organizations with ulterior motives. Some say, “I will not listen to any preacher who is asking for money.”
2) Because many Christians and churches are rich, they are not following the model of Jesus.
3) All people who go to church are hypocrites. They don’t practice what their Bible tells them.
4) Christians are no better than people who don’t go to church. They are just as bad as the rest of us.
5) God doesn’t dwell in places built by humans. Therefore, I don’t need to go church. I can just have a relationship with God on my own.

So, let us examine these arguments one-by-one, and try to unravel any unbelief that exists in the minds of individuals.

1) Churches actually exist as organizations with ulterior motives. Some say, “I will not listen to any preacher who is asking for money.”

       A good church is one that exists for the purpose to presenting the Bible as God’s true Word to live by, and also wants to multiple more and more followers of Christ—to be disciple-makers. To overgeneralize and say that all churches are fraudulent and exist for ulterior motives just doesn’t make good, logical sense. It could be true, and surely is, that some churches of the great amount which are out there do exist just to make money or for perhaps another political reason. In fact, the Apostle Paul told the Philippians some 2,000 years ago: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18, ESV).

       Apparently, even within the church back then, there were those preachers who preached in competition with each other, trying to outdo one another. And then, as Paul noted, there was just those who preached because they felt God’s call to do so, and weren’t really concerned about what others thought of their preaching. That’s the way it is supposed to be with the preacher. The preacher is just supposed to preach the Bible and not worry about what others think, including those who are doing the same thing. But Paul called those who preached out of “envy and rivalry” as doing it for “selfish ambition.” That means, obviously, these preachers were trying to advance themselves and were not that concerned about the kingdom of God—people coming to know Jesus or with Christians being helped in their own lives. As far as these selfish preachers afflicting Paul in his imprisonment, it could have been that they were actually arguing against Paul that he was in prison in the first place because God was not on his side, or some other sort of distorted view.

       So, while there may be some preachers who preach in order to make money—those who preach “out of selfish ambition.” There are also obviously those preachers who tell people about Christ because they really believe that they are saying. They are not doing it for any monetary gain or even personal gain. Interestingly enough, however, God says in the Bible that it’s not wrong for a preacher, or evangelist, to be paid for their work on behalf of Christ. Turn with me in your Bibles, or tap in your Bible apps on your digital devices, to 1 Corinthians chapter 9. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul discusses the rights of preachers, and the issue of making money. This is a lengthy text, and I want to consider a good portion of it. He says, beginning in verse 3:

“This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?”

“Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?”

“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.” (1 Corinthians 9:3-15, ESV)

So, here we note that it is not wrong for a preacher, or evangelist, to receive money or material goods in return for his or her work. It was just that Paul and Barnabas decided to work for their living rather than collect a paycheck from the churches of which they ministered. But it would not have been wrong for them to have done so—to have collected a paycheck. Paul did point out that he had an advantage over those who do collect money since he didn’t, for no one could accuse him of preaching or evangelism for financial gain. It gave people more confidence in his authenticity.

       In discussing money, this leads to the next argument against the Christian church.

2) Because many Christians and churches are rich, they are not following the model of Jesus.

       What a transition here. Really, this question is an issue both for non-Christians and even Christians, as I notice myself that people from time to time tend to question how rich, or frugal, a Christian or church should be. The reality is, is that it is not wrong for a Christian or a church to in fact be rich. Paul did note in his first letter to Timothy the following: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, ESV). The idea here in Paul’s words to Timothy is that a Christian should not “desire” or have the “craving” to become rich. One should try to be content with the amount of money that God has given him or her. Jesus said on one occasion, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48a, ESV). It is true that God may give a Christian great wealth, but with that wealth comes great responsibility. Life is not easier when a person has a great amount of wealth.

       It’s also true that God has blessed certain churches with a great amount of wealth, and these churches should use that money wisely to help their church members become more like Jesus and to advance the Gospel, whether locally or off in great distances. But just because a church is wealthy, or a lot of wealthy members go there, does not mean that the church is not following the model of Jesus. Unbelievers will often site the story of the rich young man in Matthew chapter 19, or Mark chapter 10. Let’s look at Matthew’s account of it: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:21-22, ESV). If you read the verses prior to those I just read, you will see that the ‘moral’ problem in the rich young man’s heart was the fact that he loved money too much—not the fact that he had a lot of money. It’s not wrong to have a lot of money, contrary to popular belief, but if one loves that money too much—has too tight a grip on it—it is wrong for that person. And likewise, it is not wrong for a church to have a lot of money, provided they use it for the right reasons.

3) All people who go to church are hypocrites. They don’t practice what their Bible tells them.

       It’s sad, but you hear people say this from time to time. People just don’t want to go to church, or be part of a church, because they feel that Christians are hypocrites. Romans 3:23 and 24 state: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ESV). We, as Christians, are defined by who we are in Christ, not by our actions or performances in life. It is true that we should be trying to follow everything God has said to be true in his Word to the best of our ability, though, we should not be legalistic about it. We should have a right ‘heart’ attitude in following God. None of us perfectly follows everything God has said to be true in his Word, or even perfectly follows everything he or she proclaims. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but we will all slip up every here and there. It is the blood of Jesus that makes us right before God, not our own actions or works. Through our actions and works, we do not become acceptable to God in his sight. We have already been accepted and approved by God from the moment we accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.

       And this brings up the fact that all Christians—those who are truly Christians, who follow Jesus as Lord in their life—have been sanctified before God. That is, they have been made righteous before God in his sight by the blood of Jesus. Therefore, they are no longer counted guilty for their sins, past, present, or even future. And this true even if the sin committed is a ‘big’ sin. You will often here unbelievers sight past sins of current Christians, and they say things like, for example, “Well, this person cannot be a Christian because he was divorced twice, in jail for 10 years, and is a felon.” But if that person in question became a Christian after doing all these things, the person is no longer counted guilty for his sins. The person making the accusation has made an assumption. He or she has assumed the man in my example must have always been a Christian, when in reality, the person wasn’t. Or, the arguer has assumed that because the person did these things in his past, he cannot or can never be a Christian. This is a common misunderstanding. Just because a person has done ‘bad’ things in his or her past, this does not mean the person cannot now become a Christian and be set free from the burden of all those things.

4) Christians are no better than people who don’t go to church. They are just as bad as the rest of us.

       Now, it is the case sometimes that there are those who go to church, or even churches as a whole of people who do not practice what the Bible says. These people are Christians in ‘name’ only, but really don’t follow what the Bible says. They are sexually immoral—some fornicating, some committing adultery, others practicing homosexuality, etc, and yet still make a claim and profession in Christ. Some just commit non-sexual sins, like stealing, being greedy with money, or drinking too much. Whatever the case, these people give Christians a bad name because some in the world notice these people who say they are Christian and yet are doing things God clearly prohibits in his Word. But the New Testament actually says that these folks, those who regularly and continually commit the ‘big’ sins, are not actually Christians but are false brothers and sisters. So, their testimony should be ignored because it is not the true testimony of Christ. For 1 Corinthians 6 says: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV).

       I agree that this is a problem—the fact that some proclaim to be Christian and yet do not follow the Bible—and it is more an issue in certain churches versus other churches. God actually had made provisions for this in his Word. We just considered a passage from 1 Corinthians chapter 6, let’s go ahead and move back a chapter to chapter 5. If we pick up in verse 9, we read the following from the Apostle Paul:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13, ESV)

So, here, Paul instructs us not to associate or eat with any person who says he or she is a Christian, and yet, is actively committing a ‘big’ sin in his or her life. This is not talking about people who have done these sins in the past before becoming a Christian, or during a time of drifting away from Christ, but who is currently, actively participating in one or more of these sins and yet sees nothing wrong with it. God says to remove this person from the church, no longer associating with the person, even though most churches do not do this, even when they are aware of it. I guess they’re afraid of being sued or something. So, not getting sued is then more important than following what God says. Churches rather need to have faith and practice this part of Scripture.

5) God doesn’t dwell in places built by humans. Therefore, I don’t need to go church. I can just have a relationship with God on my own.

       It’s true; a person can have a relationship with God without being actively involved in a local church. The issue is that God wants people to involved with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Just reading the New Testament through, it becomes obvious, rather quickly, that fellowship with other believers is pretty important to a balanced Christian life, being pleasing to God and helping others. You have to look at it as it’s not so much what you will get from others, but rather it’s what you can contribute to better others. Remember what President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Well, in the same way ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church. And the Apostle John has told us, as I discussed a couple weeks ago as well, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7, ESV).

       The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24,25, ESV). We can’t be helping each other out, as Christians, if we are not involved in our local church. We are to be stirring up each other in love and good works. We are to meet periodically. We should be encouraging each other, as we are all waiting on the Lord Jesus Christ to return. Jesus said, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31, ESV). That’s the second greatest commandant. We cannot love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ if we never see them. If we aren’t participating in activities from our church, we can’t fulfill the second greatest commandment in our lives. So, fellowshipping with and loving other believers is pretty important, both to be pleasing to God and to our own personal spiritual growth.

Conclusion

       In conclusion today, I hope I have helped answer some questions to some who are considering coming into a personal relationship with God. My desire is that you look into and follow the Truth. He can be depended on, and anyone who puts his or her trust in him cannot go wrong. Indeed, God wants everyone to come into a personal relationship with him—every person who exists on this earth right now. But, if you’re not willing to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your offenses against him, and give your life to him, there is nothing God can really do for you. God doesn’t force anyone to come to know him. However, he will send anyone to the eternal fire who does not have his or her sins covered through believing in Jesus. This is because God is a holy and righteous God, and he cannot let offenses against him go unpunished. God in his love desires everyone to come to know him, but it’s also true that in his holiness he demands all humans to holy who want to have fellowship with him.

       The good news today is that though we have all sinned greatly against God, anyone can have his or her sins completely blotted out through trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus came to earth, some 2,000 years ago, and died on a cross in all our places in order to provide a payment, acceptable to God, for our sins. Anyone who trusts in Christ’s sacrifice and believes he is Lord will be forgiven of all offenses against God. But anyone who will not accept this free gift, who will not accept Jesus’ sacrifice, leaves him or herself open to the wrath and vengeance of God. God wants everyone to accept his free gift of salvation through Christ. Jesus has died in our place, and he rose from the dead, showing that he even has power over death. In the same way, though we must all die because we have all sinned, Jesus will raise each person individually who has believed in him, and will take them to be with him forever. He said in his Father’s house are many mansions, and he is preparing a place for everyone who believes in him today.

       If you would like to accept Jesus today as your personal Savior and Lord, then follow lead in this prayer:

God, I have done many things against you in life. I understand that I am not in personal relationship with you. However, today, I want to turn from living life without you—from doing things that I know are wrong, that are against you. I believe Jesus did die for me, and rose from the dead. I want to have a new life in Christ, and I am giving him my life today. I want to live for now on following you. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton