It's well known that the first and most difficult problem for an alcoholic to overcome is to admit that he has a problem. Until the time comes when he is able to acknowledge this he is in denial.
I believe the same problem prevails within the professing Christian church. Everywhere. I would say the cause of this phenomenon is the biggest and most fundamental problem of the human race. The prevailing madness of the human mind, which is to be in denial. Denial of the truth. Choosing to believe what we want to believe - what suits us. Saying, 'This is what I'll have, because this is what I like.' The one thing all the different denominations within the professing Christian church seem to have in common is that each one thinks that their way is the right way. Well that can't be, because they're all different. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. Apart from those of course, which God calls 'synagogues of Satan', I'll leave them out.
'FOR THEY THAT ARE AFTER THE FLESH DO MIND THE THINGS OF THE FLESH; BUT THEY THAT ARE AFTER THE SPIRIT THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT.' (Romans 8: 5.)
We must understand that by nature every one of us will always prefer the things of the flesh over the things of the Spirit. Christians are plagued by this because although we are born again by the Spirit of God we are still in the flesh - at home in the body - held back by the carnal mind. The closer we walk in obedience to our creator's revealed will the more we 'mind the things of the spirit' the more spiritually minded we will be. On the other hand, the less obedient we are, the more carnally minded we show ourselves to be.
'FOR TO BE CARNALLY MINDED IS DEATH; BUT TO BE SPIRITUALLY MINDED IS LIFE AND PEACE.' (Romans 8:6.)
The more spiritually minded we are, the less taken up we will be with outward displays of tradition and practice.
WHILE WE LOOK NOT AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE SEEN, BUT AT THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN: FOR THE THINGS WHICH ARE SEEN ARE TEMPORAL; BUT THE THINGS WHICH ARE NOT SEEN ARE ETERNAL. (2 Corinthians 4: 18.).
THE OUTWARD SHOW
The Pharisees, who hated Christ, loved the outward show. They loved their traditions. Their religion was completely made up of this - there was no spiritual life in it. Today also we have much of this carnal-mindedness in our churches. People have a tendency to look at their traditional, outward habits of so-called worship rather than the inner spiritual life. This, of course, is all we can do if we are not truly born again. But those that are born again are also susceptible to it. Some try to solve the problem by running to the other extreme of letting everything go and maintaining a kind of Christian anarchy, or licentiousness, which of course, contradicts the most basic principles of Christianity.
When churches spend their time looking at their outward habits and traditions instead of spiritual necessities they trundle along in a corpse-like manner. Actually, worse than corpses, because corpses don't have sin. Corpses don't assume they do well whilst looking down their noses at others. Treating others with contempt, saying, '...COME NOT NEAR TO ME FOR I AM HOLIER THAN THOU.' (Isaiah 65: 5.) If we are guilty we will not admit it. We may in fact not even know it. It is not what people say we are to be aware of, but what they do.
Remember what God says, which is the final part of the above text:
'...THESE ARE A SMOKE IN MY NOSE, A FIRE THAT BURNETH ALL THE DAY.' (Isaiah 65: 5.)
The text shows us how displeased God is if we self-righteously despise others.
THE PHARISEE STOOD AND PRAYED THUS WITHIN HIMSELF, GOD, I THANK THEE, THAT I AM NOT AS OTHER MEN ARE, EXTORTIONERS, UNJUST, ADULTERERS, OR EVEN AS THIS PUBLICAN. I FAST TWICE IN THE WEEK, I GIVE TITHES OF ALL THAT I POSSESS. (Luke 18: 11-12.)
The above text is an example of what we must all beware of. This anti-Christian sentiment is a transcript of the heart of man. This is sin. This is what grieves the Holy Spirit away. Christians, let us constantly watch and search our hearts for this pride, and by God's grace alone mortify it. That is, kill it.
Here's a challenge.
LET NOTHING BE DONE THROUGH STRIFE OR VAINGLORY; BUT IN LOWLINESS OF MIND LET EACH ESTEEM OTHER BETTER THAN THEMSELVES. (Philippians 2: 3.)
Can you do it? It requires God's power.
At the risk of sounding self-righteous, I find it very depressing when I sit in a church where everything that matters seems to revolve around what is outwardly said and done and then - off home. This is even the case when everything preached is quite right and proper.
HOLY ETIQUETTE - LEGALISM
You know what I mean. When people take too seriously the exact order of service etc. How and when the elders enter at the start, where they sit, how many singings before or after sermon, whether the first prayer is long enough (they're always un-scripturally long) and the really silly one of imagining that it is somehow pleasing to God if we sit down for a wee minute after the benediction has been announced (there are even people who find fault because we're not sitting for long enough and will enthusiastically argue that if you don't sit down for a long enough while after the benediction that it is somehow irreverent, imagining that they are having a last wee meditation before leaving.) I mean, we're already standing - why sit and stand up again before leaving? The trouble is that people are so terrified of going against the flow they join in with these things just to keep the peace.
This kind of carry-on in my opinion is what drives all the life out of the church. God has no interest in it - so why do we? It's sheer legalism. Obviously it's best to have some kind of routine, but let's not get carried away with it. Let's not make a religion of the routine. This is a massive problem.
THE BIGGEST PROBLEM
The biggest problem in my view though, is not so much that we're getting things wrong, but as I said at the start, we're not aware that we're getting things wrong. Or worse - stubbornly refusing to consider that we might be getting things wrong. We're in denial. It's no use to say, 'Oh we should be praying more' and so on. This rot in the professing church is of long-standing and requires a root-and-branch remedy. Anyway, we shouldn't be praying 'more' we should be praying 'better'. As far as long prayers are concerned, isn't it about time we listened to what God has to say on the matter.
BE NOT RASH WITH THY MOUTH, AND LET NOT THINE HEART BE HASTY TO UTTER ANYTHING BEFORE GOD: FOR GOD IS IN HEAVEN, AND THOU UPON EARTH: THEREFORE LET THY WORDS BE FEW. (Ecclesiastes 5: 2.)
EGOS AND SALARIES
One area where things are plainly wrong is in the ordination of ministers. Candidates are chosen on man-made merits. Academic education being at the top of the list. The truth is, the ability to read and write acceptably is quite enough as far as that goes (John Bunyan being a case in point.) How did the church ever allow itself to get into this lamentable position of being hi-jacked by academics? The Church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be a vehicle for the inflation of egos or the provision of salaries.
TRIAL OF FAITH
The truth is, what the Church needs is some hardship, some real persecution, the Church has always been in its healthiest spiritual state under real persecution, which usually precedes and ushers in true revival. It's the only thing which really separates the wheat from the chaff.
What is that I hear?
'But we mustn't seek persecution.'
Well, we don't, but the apostles thanked the Lord that they 'WERE COUNTED WORTHY TO SUFFER SHAME FOR HIS NAME.' (Acts 5: 41.) Good for us if we do the same.