At this point in history, Christians and church are front and center. The world is noticing lack of church attendance, stories of cults and deconstruction, and a general sense of “where do we go from here?” That’s both a fair and honest question, one the church needs to answer from a practical perspective. Both congregations and the world as a whole are changing. As in past generations, the church must confront itself; where it is going as well as where it has been and where it desires to go.
It disturbs me that, as a whole, Christians aren’t having conversations about necessary things. While there is some talk, much of it is slanted in extreme directions. As a result, we aren’t considering sincere issues worthy of our attention. (Some of these issues include Biblical education, inclusion, and understanding modern issues from a Christian perspective). Rather, there’s more attention paid to things that, while they seem to arise generation after generation, aren’t of much value or resolution.
Here I offer ten things the church needs to get over right now – if for no other reason, they are a huge waste of time. The Bible encourages us to move from elementary to advanced matters and here, we will explore the “elementary church issues” holding us back – and how to resolve them.
1. Modesty compulsions
I am completely on board that Christians shouldn’t show up to church naked. This is different, however, from the feeling that no matter what someone wears, there’s always some sort of judgment against it: skirt is too short, outfit too tight, top too low, or clothing doesn’t meet “standards.” Do I agree that we should reach a moderate position on attire? yes, I certainly do. It’s distracting to come to church with every body part hanging out everywhere. However, there is no universal agreement on what is considered “too short,” “too low cut,” or “too tight.” We need to make allowances for cultural differences, styles, trends, and clothing availability. People dress differently in different parts of the world. If we are a universal church, we must make allowances for such.
Men and boys are often excluded from modesty conversations, as if they have no responsibility in the issue. By extension, we also exclude non-binary and transgender individuals as well. This gives the impression that such is either irrelevant or nonexistent, which tends to leave the modesty burden on women, without question. This is both inappropriate and unfair, and automatically demands we start holding not individuals, but the church’s regulations to a higher standard.
What modesty is really about
While we run around today and assume modesty is about sex, Biblical modesty had nothing whatsoever to do with sex. It had everything to do with flaunting wealth and prestige, especially in the presence of poorer individuals. James 2:2-4 tells us: Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (NIV)
What this tells us: it’s not what we wear but why we wear it that matters. We don’t go to church to flaunt our social status. If we are, we are being immodest. Instead of worrying about skirt length, we should worry about the socioeconomic message our clothing sends to others.
2. Gender issues
Gender is a complicated issue among churchgoers, whether or not such should be the case. Having absorbed cultural ideals, Christian attitudes about gender are both varied and complicated. Gender bias – particularly against women – is either found or implied among a number of modern-day preachers. It’s also not a secret that women’s ordination remains controversial; only 3% of Evangelical congregations and 30% of mainline congregations have a female pastor.
This having been said, even understated gender bias causes women to face additional pressures and disdain when they ascend to pulpit ministry. She is often asked invasive questions, told to “go home,” that her “first ministry is to her husband or family,” or that she shouldn’t be in the pulpit. Women ministers also face harassment and criticism across social media.
As a secondary note, our controversy over gender now spills into non-binary and transgender issues, especially when it comes to issues of what the church should or should not accept as far as personal gender expression and individuality. I consider it a “carry-over” because there is a distinct air that crossing genders or deciding that one doesn’t identify with any gender is somehow against God’s plan for people (especially if it somehow involves effeminacy).
The Bible says…
There’s no Bible verse that limits a woman’s sphere to the home. Nothing suggests women have a “first ministry” to husband and family. There’s also nothing in Scripture that prohibits anyone from modifying gender or gender expression, nor is there anything prohibitive about the rejection of gender all together. On the contrary, Galatians 3:28 tells us: There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV) What this means: when we come together in Christ, every label that separates us – whether socially, according to custom, or biologically – is no longer relevant. In Christianity, it is our position to aspire to something greater.
Watching the many political commentaries of my online followers and friends causes me to sometimes question their faith. It’s not as much who they might vote for as the values and ideals they exhibit over a greater political divide. They might know where a candidate stands on gay marriage or abortion, but they can’t find a Bible verse that offers their specific perspective on those issues. They often believe the political scene is a spiritual battle rather than a worldly one. As a result, much of the focus – both in and out of church – has become about who to vote for or specific issues, as if our faith rests in our choice for president or governor.
History provides a grim reminder of what happens when Christians mix church and state. The modern mixing of the two stems back to a greater cultural debate between liberalism and conservatism, with clever politicians marketing an outdated concept of family values to pander for votes. If Christians stop jumping on the ideals of yesteryear, we will see the church is being manipulated in the name of giving the wrong people power.
Church should be one place we can go and put aside the cares of this world – including politics. Philippians 3:20 says: But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV) When in church, we aren’t Republican or Democrat; we aren’t bound by the confines of a nation or a set of political ideals. We are, before anything else, embracing our most important identity this side of heaven: children of God, embracing God’s family.
4. Overdoing spiritual warfare
I believe in the spiritual realm. In fact, last season on my podcast, Kingdom Now, I did an entire episode on spirits. I believe spirits and spiritual activity account for matters not answered by mental health or physical ailment. Spiritual oppression and depression are very real things. It benefits us, as Christians, to be aware of the spiritual realm and the ways such may impact our human experience.
This doesn’t mean Christians should think everything that happens is from a spirit, or that we should become crazed with spirit identification. For example, there is no such thing as the spirit of Jezebel. Python spirit? That’s another made-up entity to attract attention. Too many preachers (and lay members as well) are trying too hard to sound deep and profound when they have no clue what they are talking about (hint: sources matter).
Before his discourse on the armor of God, the Apostle Paul tells us, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10, NIV). Rather than run wild, Christians should have the ability to stand strong in God and recognize His power to overcome all things (even spiritual warfare) in our lives. In other words, don’t follow “trends” on this topic. Understand what Scripture offers and follow that.
5. Victim blaming/shaming
In a new trend proving people don’t understand Scripture, we find the idea that being “offended is a sin.” This is actually contrary to Scripture, which assigns blame for offense to the person who offended the other. Matthew 5:23-24 says: Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (NIV) Offenders are responsible to make wrong things right…not the person who is offended.
Again, in Matthew 18:6-7 it says: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (NIV) Sinning against others so as to offend them is a sin – not being offended.
Yes, some Christians are offended by everything (even without cause). It’s not good to be offended for no reason. Blaming and shaming victims genuinely hurt by others isn’t right, either. It’s wrong to make a victim feel guilty for cutting off toxic relationships. It’s equally wrong to force relationships between victims and perpetrators. Victims do not have to “prove” they are all right with wrong behavior. The Bible commands us to bind up the brokenhearted. This starts when we stop condemning victims for their feelings.
6. Fighting over Bible translations
As I stated in an earlier post, every Bible we own is a translation. They consist of translations of manuscripts, many of which are from subsequent centuries after the time of Christ. No translation is perfect. None descended from heaven on a cloud. Are some translations better than others? Yes and no. The quality of translation depends on the working knowledge of language and culture. Different translations also exist for different reasons. With the intent to reach different audiences, different Bible translations seek to strive for both need in translation and accuracy at the same time.
Thus, it’s not true that there’s really a “best” translation out there. Christians have preferences in translations. Despite different movements to insist the King James Version is superior to all other versions, the arguments fall flat. If you prefer the King James Version, that’s fine, but it’s not true that it’s superior to other translations. I recommend everyone have a few different types of Bibles available for study, especially on matters of cross-reference. For a list of recommended translations, check out my books, Ministry School Basic Training: Be All That You Can Be in God’s Army (A Guide for Lay Membership) and Ministry School Boot Camp: Training for Helps Ministries, Appointments, and Beyond.
Whether it’s arguments about divorce or picking apart ministry titles, self-righteousness is a real thing among today’s Christians. It’s also a dangerous thing. It’s tempting to look out over the lives of others and assume that you’re doing better than someone else.
Galatians 6:3 advises against such behavior: If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (NIV) None of us are anything without Christ at work within us. Any good we produce is God at work. Just because you go to church and post a ton of Bible-clad selfies online doesn’t mean you have it all together. Humility goes a long way in the way we esteem ourselves. This is true not just before God, but before others who see our witness, as well.
At one time, I described ministry as “Junior High with Bibles.” We dress better, have more money, wear higher shoes…but it’s not uncommon for ministers to act as cliquish as we did in those days. Ministers get the message that we must run with the “cool kids” to avoid exclusion from ministry events and opportunities.
Romans 12:16 warns: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (NIV) If you never consider a minister outside your immediate circle, you might miss out on a word from God. Our church circles – and ministry circles – should extend beyond our immediate friends.
9. Deciding where others will spend eternity
It’s worth the reminder that none of us have a heaven or a hell to put anyone in, let alone say with assurance where they will spend eternity. According to online standards, people are going to hell for eating pork, being short, cutting their hair (women), preaching (women), supporting the queer community, not covering one’s head in church (women), watching television, liking secular music, working secular jobs, and not having children. There is not a single Bible verse that says any of these things “send us to hell.”
I do believe hell is a literal place. I also believe the Bible commands us to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, not preach hell. We should not need the threat of hell to live a life of faith. Maybe if we do as instructed, people will like Christians more.
10. Promising people things for their faith
It’s wonderful to have faith. It’s also wonderful to trust God enough to meet the needs you have. Somewhere in here, however, our faith should become about more than just “stuff.” We should, as believers, love God because of all He is rather than what He can give.
Psalm 34:8 says, Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. (NIV) As we experience the good things of God, they should draw us that much deeper into our relationship with Him. Instead of treating God like a vending machine, we should recognize God’s goodness in the fulfillment of His Word. Maturing in our faith and understanding therein brings a deep and profound change in our Christian lives, “stuff” or not.