Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bad Religion

This past Monday, there was an article on the front page of the Houston Chronicle about the growing number of people in our country who are dropping out of church.  As you may have heard, 1 in 5 Americans now have no religious preference.  That’s the highest that number has ever been in this country, and it’s growing.  It’s growing faster than any religion.  In fact, when you ask adults under 30, the number is 1 out of 3 who say they have no religion.  What most people don’t realize, and what this article points out, is that a great majority of these people—74% to be precise—were raised with some kind of faith, most of them Christian.  Most will tell you they still believe.  They still pray and try to live according to the teachings of Christ.  But they have no use for the institutional Church.  They’ll say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  Some say perhaps this is a good thing; maybe the church has become obsolete.  Maybe in the future, Christians won’t need to gather together.  They’ll just live out their faith individually.  
Let me be clear about this: That is not what God intended.  Like it or not, He created the Church.  In Scripture, He calls it His Body and His Bride.  Would you tell a man, “I like you, but I can’t stand your wife?”  That’s what we tell Jesus when we say we believe in Him but don’t like the Church.  Hebrews 10:25 says, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching. So according to God’s word, the Church doesn’t become obsolete as time goes on; it becomes more important the closer we get to Christ’s return. 

That's what the Bible says.  Now, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, our culture needs the Church.  That’s not frequently acknowledged and it’s not popular to say, but it’s true.  Let’s just take our one church for example.  Because of Westbury Baptist Church, Braes Interfaith Ministries is better able to meet the needs of the poor in Southwest Houston.  Because of WBC, an under-resourced elementary school has volunteers and money that enable it to do a better job of helping kids who are at risk of dropping out of school, living in poverty, turning to crime and drugs.  Because of WBC, hundreds of thousands of dollars go around the world to share the love of Christ, to establish and maintain hospitals, orphanages, universities and to do disaster relief work.  Because of WBC, five other churches have a place to worship, rent-free, in languages other than English.  One of these is a very vibrant Iranian church, one of only a few such churches in our city.  Because of WBC, Family of Believers church was established in our area last year.  The past few months, volunteers from our church have given dozens of hours helping them renovate their new worship center.  Since they started worshipping there, attendance has doubled, and they are now planning to baptize a huge number of new believers right here in our baptistery.  And that doesn’t include the hundreds of kids who are touched through day school, day camp, basketball leagues, mid-week programs and Sunday School.  And it doesn’t count all the ways the several hundred active members of this church live more productive lives in part because of the encouragement they receive here. We’re just one church, and not a mega-church at that.  Yet if we suddenly disbanded, decided to become spiritual and not religious, our society could never afford to replace the positive impact of our one congregation.
  But…Jesus knew, even as He was establishing this amazing thing called the Church, that it would have a tendency to stray from His leadership.  He knew His Church would need constant revivals and reformations.  And so we have Matthew 23.  In this chapter, we see Jesus speaking out against His own religion, telling the truth about what needed to be changed. Specifically, He was talking about the scribes and the Pharisees, the leaders of Judaism at that time…and the very ones who would conspire to have Him crucified.  He wanted us to make sure we didn’t become like these men.  This chapter is often referred to as “The Seven Woes,” because of the seven times Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees…”  It is worth reading in great detail.  I once preached a six-week sermon series on this one chapter.  But this Sunday, I want to sum up for you three things about religion that can destroy the work of God; three things we find in the Church today, just as we find them in Matthew 23.  I hope we'll all consider these words of Jesus with an honest and repentant heart.

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