For the past two months my head has been occupied with number crunching to the point that there was little opportunity for wordsmithing. Income tax season officially ends tomorrow and I think I have finished anything pertaining to that for this year. Now I can try to capture and organize the thoughts that have been hiding in the corners of my mind.
Christian news media report that 26 million Americans stopped reading the Bible regularly during COVID19 and that thousands of pastors are nearing burnout. What has gone wrong? Is God letting us down?
I wonder if much of the problem might be an impractical view of how Christianity should work. Some 800 years ago Petr Chelćickỳ lamented that the collusion of emperor and pope had created a situation where there was no discernable difference between the people within the church and those without. How common is such a situation in our day?
Some years ago, a friend who was a pastor in one of Canada’s most liberal denominations told me he thought there were seven or eight real Christians in his congregation. He didn’t name them, but I thought a few of the older people in his church still had spiritual life. How does one pastor a church like that without burning out?
Whie visitng Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts thirty years ago, the man playing the role of Samuel Fuller told me. “The church hierarchy in England says that we are not a legitimate church, because we have no ministers. A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t even have a church. Who made them ministers and bishops?” The Congregational churches of my New England forefathers soon declined to much the same state.
What would practical Christianity look like? Firstly, and most importantly, a church could not be a mixed multitude of saved and unsaved. The unsaved should feel welcome to attend. They should feel drawn to come and find out what this is all about, but to include them in the membership undermines the very foundation of the church.
Secondly, and as a corollary of the first point, the functioning of the church would not be totally dependent upon the ordained ministry. If all members are born-again Christians, then all share responsibility for the life of the church.
Thirdly, pastors are necessary. But what kind of pastors? A tentmaker like Paul is better than someone who views a costly lifestyle as evidence of his success. The biblical qualifications for the ministry are heavy on faithfulness in doctrine, in lifestyle, in family life and in hospitality. Such a pastor will no doubt face opposition and difficulties at times, but will also feel the love, respect and support of those he serves.
Does that sound like an impractical dream? I believe it is highly practical and to to attempt to do church in any other way is doomed to dissension, decline and eventual failure.