The society that we live on is rapidly changing its views about God and the church nowadays. With technological advancement, and the speed at which information is being shared, what was of value and sacred in the past is rapidly being disregarded. Homes and families are constantly under attack, as our society is becoming more secular. The influence of the bible in public places is being excluded. The religious world is finding itself having to adapt to the rapid changes in the society or else they face extinction. The church of our Lord as an ancient institution is always being viewed as outdated and not living up with the times. This has resulted in many feeling uneasy about the church and as such venture to explore other things.
In times of changes the approach by most denominations has been to adopt a market approach to religion. This entails giving the people what they want irrespective of what the bible says.
With the proliferation of different philosophies that has crept into society, it is obvious to note that such will affect the church. One such dominant philosophy is postmodernism with signs of it creeping in the church being evident these days. Simply put, postmodernism affirms that there is no objective or absolute truth, especially in matters of religion and spirituality. When confronted with a truth claim regarding the reality of God and scriptural religious practice, postmodernism’s viewpoint is exemplified in the statement “that may be true for you, but not for me.” While such a response may be completely appropriate when discussing favourite foods or preferences toward artwork etc, such a mind-set is dangerous when it is applied to the bible because it confuses matters of opinion with matters of truth. With this mind set, basic doctrinal stand that we have always stood for is subjected to this kind of thinking thus sowing the seeds of doubt about the church and its origin to unsuspecting members.
It is fair to note that the church of our Lord has gone through many difficulties in the past and has survived. Key to its survival was having men and women who were ready to defend the truth. In affirming Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of the living God, Jesus promised to build the church which the gates of hades would not prevail against it, Matt 16:16-19. The church as a divine institution will never die. However it can disappear in some generations due to attack and generations that may arise in its absence may suffer, but God will always find ways to make sure that it exists.
The challenge to us these days is that how can we maintain the identity of the church in light of the changes in the world and the society at large. What does it take to maintain the identity of the church?
• Identity finding
The first thing in maintaining the identity of the church is to at least know who we are and what is our purpose. In a local congregation context, the identity of the local church plays a major role in determining and understanding the process of building up or developing ministry objectives of that congregation.
The denominational world has a growing realisation that identity finding is critical and this is evident as most religious literatures that are published these days are hardly without the question “who are we?”. In most of these literatures there are opposing views. Writers are struggling to come up with the identity of the church. This is in part due to the emphasis that is placed in the identity of the local congregation rather than the whole sect. What the local congregation tries to achieve is chiefly guided by the needs of the local community. In pursuit to meet the needs of the local community biblical authority is often compromised leading to deviation from sister congregations. A case in point is one denomination that is accepting homosexuals within its ranks. In this particular denomination homosexual partners crept in and became very active in different ministries. Instead of dealing with the issue, the minister of that denomination has this to say, “these are just wonderful people who have chosen this kind of lifestyle. Let’s embrace them and show them that we love them”. The irony of that is that down the road a sister denomination is vigorously opposing this stance saying that it is unscriptural.
Within our congregations what is needed is re-emphasise the Identity of the Lord’s church and the fact that we are the church of the New Testament. To claim that we are brought out of the restoration movement is by no means claiming perfection. It does mean that we have New Testament worship with prayer, singing, teaching, giving, and Lord’s Supper. It also mean that we subscribe to New Testament government of the church by elders and deacons, New testament obedience with faith in Christ, repentance from sin, confession of Christ as Lord, and burial and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. From the New Testament teachings, our chief work is to make the gospel known and that can be achieved by communicating the gospel in different ways. Communicating the gospel in different ways will be guided by the needs of the local community where the congregation is located. In pursuing the local needs, the scriptures must not be compromised.
In maintaining identity of the church members must be passionate about that. We must love the church and not despise it. Some despise the church because they want freedom to teach, believe and practice as they desire. In the book of Rev 2:4, the Angel warns the church at Ephesus “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first”. In simple terms you have lost your passion for the Lord as the church. The Angel further warned that they have somewhat fallen back a great deal. Losing the passion and the first love for the church will always results in a state of retrogression. When that happens, all the gains that have been achieved in the pass will be eroded quickly. It is a blessing for a congregation to notice that it has lost its first love and repent as angel urges. I must be quick to add that it is not that easy but with prayer and supplication it can be achieved.
• Light of the world
No matter how difficult the situation can be as children of God, we are the light of the world. The sinful state of the world can help Christians to shine. Matt 5:16. The darker it is around us, more light can be seen. The world is not very interested in religion these days because the life that most Christian live does not project that image. The world sees greed, hypocrisy, jealousy etc out of Christianity and has nothing to do with that. It should be emphasised that the world is constantly watching us like a roaring lion looking for one to devour. However if genuine faith and love can be demonstrated the world that is tainted with sin and is in darkness will take notice. The presence of such righteousness people will not only be noticed but will benefit the society. In Proverbs 14:34 we read “Righteous exalted a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people also”. The church that maintains its identity will be a light of the world. In that vein it should be a church that takes a stand on issues that are against the scriptures in society without fear. Things like polygamy, same sex marriages and abortions etc, are some of the issues that the church should take a stand. A church that changes its identity only causes confusion not only to believers but to non-believers as well. For example, the church opposed instrumental music in worship for a number of years. Intense debates with denominations on this subject were held at different forums. Facts were presented based on scriptures. People left the denominations after they understood what the bible says about “to sing and make melody” in worship Eph 5:19. The world also noticed our stand on this subject, to stand now and say there is nothing wrong with instrumental music in worship is absurd to say the least. When confronted to give scriptural basis the answer that is given is that it’s not a salvation issue. The quickest way to loose credibility is when people do not know where you stand.
• Teach our children
In Ex 1:6-10 we read , “ Joseph and all of his brothers died. So did all of their children.7 The people of Israel had many children. They greatly increased their numbers. There were so many of them that they filled the land.8 Then a new king came to power in Egypt. He didn’t know anything about Joseph.9 “Look,” he said to his people. “The Israelites are far too many for us. 10 Come. We must deal with them carefully. If we don’t, they will increase their numbers even more. Then if war breaks out, they’ll join our enemies. They’ll fight against us and leave the country.””
This is a typical example of not teaching children how things were in the past. The new King did not know anything that Joseph did and he started to come up with new things. Perhaps if he knew what happened in the past, he would have undoubtedly behaved differently. Within the church today, we are faced with similar situations. Doctrine should be taught, to prevent our young children growing with a notion that the Lord’s church is as good as any other denomination. This should start by examining the Sunday school materials being used. Most of these materials in the market today are not written by members of the church and as such emphasis on doctrine is not there at early age. In one material that I found depicted baptism as sprinkling if not checked this will land in our Sunday school classes. Our pioneers did a great job when it comes to doctrine. Most young people who leave the church then did not join any denomination.
• Identifying and correcting false teachers.
Again in Rev 2:2 ‘I know what you are doing. You work long and hard. I know you can’t put up with those who are evil. You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not. You have found out that they are liars. The church in Ephesus here is being commended for testing people and finding out that they are false prophets. False teachers are not going to come in the church with a sign hanging over their necks proclaiming they are false prophets, they will creep in unnoticed, Jude 4. It should be mentioned that not everybody who says something in a class or a pulpit which is not accurate is a false teacher, he may as well be misinformed just like Apollo’s in Acts 18:24-26. A false teacher will persist in teaching error.
In maintaining the identity of the church, the above points are important and cannot be excluded.