Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Different, But The Same . . .

"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." - 1 Corinthians 12:3-6 (NKJV)

Do you ever think about what would happen if every church in your area was exactly the same?  What if you all had the same styles of music?  Better yet, what if you all played the same list of songs? And in the exact same way?  What if all of those churches put on the same events?  What if all of the local pastors taught for exactly the same amount of time each service, used the same number of verses per message, and taught out of the same translation?

The answer to all of these questions is apparent: if anything, our churches would all reach the same people (if anyone,) and only the people who found this particular stencil of church appealing would be able to receive the Gospel.

Obviously, with the conglomeration of cultures that make the United States the diverse nation that it is, we wouldn't be able to reach all of the different kinds of people in our nation if we didn't use different kinds of bait (I say "bait" because Jesus called us to be fisher's of men; we're obviously not trying to dupe and lure people, seeing as we preach the truth.)  This seems to be a truth that all of us can accept, yet somehow we still manage to find a problem that ties directly into this idea: churches speaking out against the activities of other churches. 

Now, you may say, "I've never known another church to openly disapprove of the activities and outreaches of another church."  Well, stick around: the unfortunate truth is that you're likely to see it at some point.  And, even if we don't see it happen publicly, who knows the number of times leaders from a particular church have sat behind closed doors, ridiculing the activities of another body.  I'll give you an example:

Here in Arizona, we had a church that was putting on a very highly-publicized sermon series on sex (back when such things were less common than they are now.)  There were banners generated, stories run in local newspapers, and many other mediums used to draw attention to the sermon series.  Needless to say, community response was tremendous: the church, whose normal Sunday attendance was around 1600, was seeing Sunday crowds of around 3000 (my numbers may be off, but the difference in attendance was quite drastic.)  Many of these new attenders were people who may have never darkened the door of a church had the topic not been sex (we'll address that thought more in a moment.) 

Under normal circumstances, having that many people come into a church and be exposed to the Gospel would be highly celebrated, especially given the opportunity created to bring those people to Christ.  Of course, there was one problem: the subject matter used to bring the people in, and it drew fire from some local churches.  While most of the criticism was not given on the record (and thank God for that,) there was absolutely some disapproval among many local churches, wondering why we would go to such "extremes" just to get people to come to church.  Questions arose about the merit, morality, and motivation behind such a sermon series.  This is where our foundational scripture comes into play:

" . . . there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all."

Teaching openly about sex on a Sunday morning safely falls under the category of "diversities of activities."  Now, I realize that our canonized Bible is not exactly running over with teachings about the particulars of sex, but it is definitely a topic that it covers.  Nowhere in the Bible is there a passage that says we can't address it, and seeing as it's one of the foundational parts of marriage, it seems like something too important not to teach on.

At this point in our nation's history, it's probably safe to say that we need to do whatever it takes to reach as many people as we can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, short of committing sin to do so.  If that means that (God forbid) we need to teach on a topic that is relevant to most people in our country, and that will actually cause them to come to church because they see the value in what's being offered, then there should be no place for anyone to nay-say, especially if the salvation of lost souls is the result.

We're not saying that every church needs to teach on sex like this; obviously, we're a body, and we all perform different functions, and we're all necessary in our own way (more on this topic at another time;) what we are saying is that we can no longer afford to stand in the way of ministries that are doing something that reaches people!  The Church in America, in a lot of ways, has been highly ineffective for too long, and it can no longer be acceptable for us to throw our two cents in when a church is making an impact.  Remember: it's still God who is working all in all!  That means that if God's love is the motivation, and salvation results, then there should be nothing left to say.  Who are we to say that God can't use a teaching on sex to remove the veil from darkened eyes?  Or that a church conference on political issues can't cause a person's mind to be renewed?  Or that God disapproves of reaching out to prostitutes on the street? 

Remember: Jesus our savior met us at our level as a servant; in reaching our nation, we must be willing to do the same.

Please understand that this is by no means an exhaustive dissertation on the need for diversities of activities, and the need to embrace such diversities, but for now, this is sufficient for getting us thinking on the right track. 

I leave you with Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (NKJV):

"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you."