When Is a Church Not a Church?
A Sermon Delivered at the
Compassionate Internet Church
13 April 2008
Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
1 Corinthians 8:13
The true meaning of "church" is a congregation of faithful believers and followers of Jesus Christ and His teachings.
So, when is a church not a church? When the "Christians" in the church are not really Christians.
We need to remember that simply believing that Jesus Christ is Lord is not enough to make a person a Christian.
A Christian must be a follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings, just as James explains to us in James 2:18-20.
18 But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
To go along with the ways of the world with all its corruption, pain, and suffering, and even bring such things into the church and try to justify them, is saying that they are not really a church, but rather some kind of social club.
And all too often, churches like these make truly compassionate people feel very uncomfortable and even rejected.
This is when a church proves that it is not a church, for they are living a lie, and not loving their neighbors (all their neighbors) as themselves (Leviticus 19:18).
What are we who are compassionate to do when we find ourselves in such a situation?
Are we to sit there quietly and say and do nothing?
Are we to leave and go somewhere else?
Or, are we to speak out?
Some people are concerned that if they do speak out they will cause more tension by seeming to be "holier than Thou" or spiritually superior.
So what do we do?
We do as Jesus did.
When it came to talking to the average person, Jesus spoke lovingly and encouragingly to try to explain to them the will of God for their lives, as opposed to the ways they may have been taught, or the way they were living.
He was trying to love them into the kingdom.
The best example of this is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explained in step by step fashion how God expected us to live.
He told the people under what circumstances they would be blessed, as with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11).
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me."
Let's think about this in terms of the greatest series of atrocities that humans have perpetrated upon any other living beings, and about which the church, for the most part, has turned a blind eye.
If a person is poor in spirit, they have allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them, and have suppressed their own will and spirit; and for this they will be blessed with the kingdom of heaven.
And since nowhere in the Bible is cruelty to animals ever sanctioned, it is clearly God's will that animals be treated kindly.
When animals are tortured and killed for food and other human lusts, the sensitive people of this world mourn for them and abstain from contributing to such pain and suffering.
They are gentle and merciful, and hunger and thirst for the righteousness which has been withheld from these animals.
The people who are pure in heart are the peacemaking children of God who seek to end the corruption of this earth and bring it God's everlasting peace.
For these efforts they are usually persecuted by the very churches that claim to follow Jesus, but do not.
A truly loving and neighborly church would do as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 8:13.
13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.
When sensitive and empathic people "stumble" over the hardness of heart they see expressed toward animals in the church, they don't want to be there; they want to leave.
And Paul is telling the insensitive people, if your insensitivity is causing others to leave the assembly of believers, then you should hide your insensitivity when they are in your presence.
In other words, don't do in church what you do at home, but how much better it would be if all believers were loving and compassionate to the whole of God's creation at all times.
When the people didn't listen to Him, Jesus never got angry. He just moved on to others who hopefully would listen, and he told His disciples to do the same, as in Matthew 10:14.
14 "And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet."
However, when it came to the leaders of the Temple, which is an example of our church leaders and pastors of today, Jesus took a different approach, because they should have known better.
The church of today is always looking to convert someone to Christianity, or to be born again; yet in the process, they harden the hearts of converts to not have any empathy for the suffering animals or those who care about them.
Listen to how Jesus addressed these types of religious leaders, as in Matthew 23:13 and 15.
13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men [and women]; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he [or she] becomes one, you make him [or her] twice as much a son [or daughter] of hell as yourselves."
There's nothing gentle about Jesus' words to these religious leaders. They are direct and to the point, and He is holding them responsible for misguiding the people.
When another religious leader, Nicodemus, came out to see Jesus about the kingdom of heaven, even if it was under the cover of darkness, Jesus explained things to him in a loving manner, for he was seeking the truth (John 3:1-12).
But when Nicodemus questioned what Jesus was telling him, Jesus gently chastised him with a question, verse 10:
"Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?"
This is the way we need to address the hypocrisy in the church today when it comes to their hardness of heart toward animals and those who care about them.
Jesus wasn't shy, and neither should we be.
The church needs to wake up, and history is telling us that it's not going to do it on its own.
It needs to be jolted into the reality of their actions and inactions.
They need to return to the loving, compassionate, and peacemaking Jesus of the Bible.
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