Gen. 2:18 π Prov. 18:1 π Prov. 22:7 π Ezek. 34:2 π Mt. 6:24 π Heb. 12:26-28 π Jas. 1:27
Time magazine has reported that “The only group vanishing faster than the population in rural America is its pastors, stranding farm congregations and challenging church leaders to find new models.” (Time, “A Rural Exodus,” David van Biema, Feb. 9, 2009) In this article, Daniel Wolpert, pastor of First Presbyterian in Crookston, Minn., says, “It’s a religious crisis, for sure, and to the extent that these churches are anchoring institutions, it’s a crisis of community.” (ibid.)
The writer of Hebrews tells us, “…now [God] has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” ( Heb. 12:26-28; top )
Let us observe here the bottom line difference between this world and the kingdom of Christ and God. The kingdom cannot be shaken whereas this world can be and indeed, as God has promised, will be. The purpose behind the shaking of this world is so that the temporary, created, transient things men have concocted will fall away and only the eternal, divinely wrought, permanent kingdom of Christ will remain. As this world shakes, those who wish to remain in Christ’s kingdom must let go of any and all the things, ideas and practices that come from this world so that they themselves are not carried away during the shaking process. For the people of the Midwest (a people well known for their association – however imperfect or flawed – with Christ and the Bible), this “religious crisis” is nothing less than God shaking away all the practices of churchianity (the false counterfeit of genuine life and assembly in Christ) from those who intend and hope to remain in Christ’s kingdom.
There are three foundation blocks of churchianity already in view in these quotes: the “church,” the “pastor” and “anchoring institutions.”
- As the religious people of the Midwest are finding out (or at least should be as a result of this shaking), the real ekklesia (the Greek New Testament word poorly translated “church” in English) has absolutely nothing to do with buildings but rather people.
- What is apparently yet to be exposed to most of these people, however, is the fact that “pastors” are not a Scriptural concept – that is, they do not come directly from the Bible but rather trace the evolution of their office, practices and usurped authority to the Nicolaitan, divisive and even demonically-tainted writings of Ignatius of Antioch, one of the so-called “church fathers.”
- And while the counterfeit “church” may indeed have acted as an “anchoring institution” (in truth only because enough of the people involved were clinging, as best they knew how, to the Rock, the Almighty God and to His Christ), nowhere, absolutely nowhere, in the Scriptures do we find either the word or anything resembling “institutions.”
Though many have tried to insert this concept into their understanding and teachings, institutionalizing the Way (as it was originally called) has only produced similar results to the traditionalizing of Judaism that occurred prior to Christ’s first coming:
- the real way of following Christ and God is hidden behind traditions of men and teachings of demons,
- men hold positions of power and prestige that block the door to the kingdom of heaven (neither going in themselves nor making the way open and clear for others to enter in),
- the real followers of Christ are ostracized, ridiculed, excluded and persecuted, and
- the life of the Son and the Spirit are routinely quenched and killed in the spirit- and soul-numbing process of obeying the institutionalized rules, regulations, laws and by-laws that supercede and often completely replace the Scriptures (especially in the upper levels of “church” leadership).
Another aspect of the nature of churchianity is exposed in this article: greed and desire for security and comfort. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money, riches, wealth).” ( Mt. 6:24 - emphasis added; top)
The article points to the squeeze that is occurring which is precipitating this mass exodus of “pastors” away from the rural “churches.” Seminary graduates (another concept which cannot be found anywhere in the Scriptures and which accounts for much of the spiritual lifelessness of churchianity) are exiting their “pastoral” schooling with large debts (a concept clearly warned about in Scripture – Prov. 22:7; top ) and the smaller congregations (which are becoming even smaller, some less than half their historical average) simply cannot afford the usual starting salary ($35k!) of a seminary graduate. The article quotes Shannon Jung, a “rural church expert,” regarding young “pastors”: “A town without a Starbucks scares them.” (ibid.)
God rebukes shepherds (the real word that is supposed to be behind the Latin/English word “pastor”) for feeding themselves at the expense of the flock. ( Ezek. 34:2 ) And James instructs us: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” ( Jas. 1:27; top )
After paying one man at least $35,000 and paying for the building (mortgage, maintenance, upkeep and utilities), what small group of people would ever have any money left over for orphans and widows? Also, anyone who uses Starbucks as a determining factor as to where he should care for Christ’s sheep is as misguided as can be as to the nature of the work he is embracing. And instead of seeing all this as spiritual error, it is excused as simply one of the changes that have just simply and coincidentally occurred with the modern times. All this is precisely how completely antithetical the nature of the institutionalized “church” is to the original Way and the unshakeable kingdom of Christ!
The article attributes the shrinking size of the rural congregations, at least in part, to the overall exodus of the general populations in rural communities. Since the 1970s, farming communities have been “hit with sinking commodity prices and job-cutting farm technology, a combo that sharply reduced the population.” (ibid.) Many historians hail the Industrial Revolution as a wonderful advancement in the history of mankind but the rotten fruit of mass production is there to see. The real fruit of the mass production capabilities and techniques made possible by the Industrial Revolution (aside from the obvious bad fruit like world wars and weapons of mass destruction, things not possible before) are greed, strife and the depersonalizing and impersonalising removal of people from work and labor that addresses real-life problems (and which satisfies God-given talents and callings) and relocating them into jobs that tears families apart and propels individuals into the quest for staggering amounts of money just to pay for all the amenities and luxuries our culture has redefined as necessities.
God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” ( Gen. 2:18 ) The primary application is to man’s need for a helpmeet (primarily a man’s wife) but another aspect of this innate need for others is shown in the words of Solomon: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment.” ( Prov. 18:1; top )
As these farmers have embraced technology that made higher profits possible, many have inadvertently ignored this piece of God’s wisdom and insight regarding human nature. Now as God is shaking everything that can be shaken, those who have chosen this isolation will have to rethink not just their models of Christian assembly, they must also rethink their models of farming. Is their current methodology prompted by greed or desire for unnecessary comfort, prestige or worldly “security”? Or is it truly done their particular way because the King, Christ Jesus, personally instructed them to do so? Can some technology be sold or abandoned so as to make place for brothers and sisters needing to get out of the Sodoms and Gomorrahs that so many of our American cities have become?
These are not questions that can be resolved by taking a poll or by searching the text books and internet sites on farming techniques. These issues can only be resolved (for the genuine follower of Christ) in one’s personal prayer closet, on one’s face before the holy and Almighty God.
But know this:
- God will not lead anyone to spend money on salaries and buildings while the orphans, widows and the leasts of Christ’s brothers are suffering need – but the devil sure will lead you there.
- God will not gather His people in any way that causes them to ignore and disobey deeper truths contained in His Scriptures – but the devil sure will lead you there.
- God will not have any true follower of His utilize technology for the purpose of enabling one of His followers to wallow in great excess and luxury while His other true followers have less than enough daily bread, clothing and shelter – but the devil sure will lead you there.
Let he who has ears hear.
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