This week I would like to share with you an article passed on to me by Tracy Brininger. As you know, our theme this year is TRUTH. Tracy commented, “Excellent article especially with the year’s theme.”
With that said, I would like you to take a careful read of the article. Undoubtedly, if we heed the message of this article, written by Patricia Engler, Christian speaker, writer, and Youth Outreach Coordinator for Answers in Genesis Canada, we can avoid some painful pitfalls.
To glimpse the devastating consequences which can stem from swallowing a lie, look no further than the lowly caterpillar.
While munching its merry way along a plant, a caterpillar may happen upon a leaf that looks like a perfectly sumptuous snack. But the caterpillar doesn’t know that one of its most insidious enemies, the tachinid fly, has already visited that leaf—and left behind a clutch of teeny, tiny eggs. Unwittingly, the caterpillar scarfs down the eggs along with the leaf.
Now the havoc begins to unfurl. The eggs hatch into larvae, which begin to consume the caterpillar. On the outside, the caterpillar is marching along on its business as usual. But on the inside, it’s slowly dying. Its inner assassins develop into adult tachinids, which burst forth to go and lay eggs of their own. Rather than fulfilling its mission to become a butterfly, the caterpillar dies as an asset to its enemy.
Now let’s think about how a similar process can unfold in the church. Scripture warns us that we, like the caterpillar, have an enemy who’s constantly seeking “someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus called this enemy the father of lies (John 8:44).
Like tachinid eggs which prevent a caterpillar from becoming a butterfly, lies left unchecked can keep churches from fulfilling their God-given purpose and potential. Lest we, along with the caterpillar, serve to incubate the cause which would destroy us, let’s look at seven common lies which churches may swallow.
Lie #1: You need to see results or you’re not doing God’s will.
As humans who don’t see the grand scheme of reality God does, it can be easy for us to judge our ministries’ value based only on what we can see—results. We might suspect that if we don’t see our efforts drawing massive crowds (or any crowds), changing countless lives (or any lives), or making a major difference (or any difference), we must not be doing God’s will.
True, a seeming lack of results may signal that we need to prayerfully re-evaluate whether we’re best stewarding the time and resources God has given us. But if we already know we’re performing the task God has called us to, and if we’re fulfilling it to the best of our abilities with the strength He provides, then our perceptions of the results are irrelevant.
Think about the prophet Jeremiah. When God tasked Jeremiah to warn Israel of coming judgement, God told Jeremiah that the people would not repent (Jeremiah 7:27). Like Jeremiah, our job is not to “see results,” but to obey God. Our success does not lie in our impact, but in our faithfulness. And our worth does not rest in the world’s response to us, but in our Creator’s love for us.
Lie #2: Age is proportionate to relevance.
Driven by the desire to see results, some churches may try sporting a youthful appearance in hopes of seeming “relevant.” We may believe that to look attractive to culture, we must appear modern. To appear modern, we must cater to the youthful and stylish. And to cater to the youthful, we must marginalize seniors.
Two questions. First, where does Scripture say the church’s priority is to look attractive to culture? Granted, we don’t want to perpetuate the image that belief in God is outdated and irrelevant. But ask people why they might think belief in God is outdated, and you probably won’t hear them answer, “because churches occasionally play old hymns and may include elderly congregants.”
More likely, you’ll hear people suggest that biblical teachings (and morals) are outdated because “the Bible is a bunch of myths” or “science has disproven Scripture.” Those are lies for another discussion. The point for now is that to show Christianity is relevant, we must demonstrate that its foundation is true—not that its followers are young.
Second, where does Scripture say seniors are less “relevant” than younger people? That’s a message we get from individualistic Western cultures, not from the Bible. If anything, Scripture teaches the significance of godly older adults in the Body of Christ, with elders playing central roles in both ancient Israel (Numbers 11:16) and the early church (1 Timothy 5:17).
Lie #3: People of different ages and stages must be kept segregated.
Believing that age is proportionate to relevance, some congregations might relegate seniors to their own circles and services peripheral to those of the “real” church. Kids, teens, and young adults may also be shuttled away to their separate containers, abridging the Body of Christ into a careful selection of 31-59-year-olds.
I’m absolutely all for offering churchgoers opportunities to access age-specific teaching and to connect with like-minded peers. Those are fantastic, invaluable aspects of belonging to a church—but they’re not the only aspects. If we’re solely learning from and interacting with our peers, then we’re selling ourselves far short.
Personally, I began to deeply appreciate the need for intergenerational relationships within the church when I traveled asking Christian students what helped them keep their faith at university. Across the four continents I visited, students expressed the importance of having both like-minded peers and godly older mentors. Mentorship emerged as one of the top themes from my research!
But age segregation cuts Christians off from so much mentorship. It prevents generations from worshiping together, serving together, and learning from each other. How can we expect the Body of Christ to thrive if we’re disconnecting its members from one another?
Lie #4: Cater to the individual’s comfort.
One reason why churchgoers may expect age-exclusive teaching is because Western churches have long been promoting a culture of Christian consumerism. The message goes, “You deserve a church that suits your tastes, fits your life, makes you comfortable, and keeps you happy.”
This brand of “Churchianity” teaches Christians to choose a church not by considering, “Does this community teach, believe, and live out the Bible? If so, how can I join in their mission?” Instead, it teaches people to come to church asking, “What’s in it for me?”
Imagine if the early church adopted this same mindset. In that case, Paul may have encouraged believers in Philippians 2:3-8, “Do everything from selfish ambition and conceit, counting yourself more significant than others. Let each of you look only to his own interests. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who came to earth as royalty, demanding the treatment he rightly deserved.”
If that sounds like the exact opposite of what Philippians 2:3-8 actually teaches—that’s because it is. In other words, promoting me-centered Christianity means advancing a message which runs contrary to the gospel.
Lie #5: Tell people what they want to hear.
One particularly deadly symptom of me-centered Christianity emerges when churches only communicate the kinds of messages which people want to hear. This happens when churchgoers become so conditioned to believe the church exists to make them ‘feel good’ that they refuse to tolerate any message which strikes them as offensive—including the gospel.
At best, delivering only messages which people want to hear reduces the church to a self-help society or a social club. Church becomes a place where people can meet with friends, take in a concert, and experience a motivational message. In such churches, average people learn how to lead better existences—but dead souls do not learn Who can make them come alive.
At worst, delivering the messages which people want to hear means spreading false doctrines. Paul warned about such situations in 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV), explaining, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
Lie #6: If you ignore tough topics, they will go away.
Only teaching messages which people want to hear likely means avoiding difficult topics in hopes that the related issues will somehow disappear. Maybe this means dismissing parts of the Bible that are unpopular, uncomfortable, or controversial. Maybe it means silencing tough questions rather than seeking scriptural, logical answers.
Or maybe, it means refusing to take biblical action in the face of adversity, as did the many churchgoers who remained silent in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Unfortunately, difficult issues don’t melt with neglect like ice cream dropped on a sidewalk. Instead, undiscussed topics, unanswered questions, and untaken actions only tend to fester over time, like a deep untreated wound. Cursory references, pat answers, and token responses likely won’t alleviate the situation any more than a band-aid will mitigate gangrene.
Major issues demand major attention. They demand biblical discussion, biblical answers, and biblical responses. These responses, in turn, require immense amounts of wisdom and gentleness, backed with prayer.
Lie #7: If culture and Scripture disagree, side with culture.
When the Bible contradicts our culture, we may be tempted to try adjusting the Scriptures themselves in response. Tweak a verse here, explain away a passage there. Just like that, we can dodge controversy, avoid looking weird, and—above all—stay “relevant.” Easy, right?
If we reinterpret, delete, or otherwise interfere with clear teachings from Scripture to accommodate human ideas from outside Scripture, then we’re treating the wisdom of error-prone humans as superior to the word of our infallible God. This elevates humans to illusionary godhood, essentially saying that truth is up to us—that the Bible can mean anything we want it to mean. Such a Bible means nothing whatsoever.
That’s how, by deeming humans right and God wrong, we make our faith irrelevant in our attempts to appear relevant.
Even reinterpreting seemingly minor teachings from Scripture can lead to major consequences. For instance, I’ve seen a professing Christian writer try to accommodate evolutionary teachings by removing a literal Adam from Genesis. But 1 Corinthians 15 affirms that an actual Adam committed actual sin leading to actual death for all humans, which is why Jesus had to die an actual death to pay for human sin.
Rejecting these teachings obligated the writer to conclude that Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was not to die for our sins, contrary to Scripture’s core salvation message. Ultimately, reinterpreting one teaching in Genesis meant eviscerating historic Christianity.
No room for compromise
In the end, we see that one attempt to mesh Scripture with culture can undermine the gospel. One lie can incapacitate a church. One tachinid egg can keep a caterpillar from becoming a butterfly.
If only that caterpillar had a way to recognize tachinid eggs before accidentally consuming them.
If only we had a way to recognize lies before they consume us.
God’s word is our ultimate standard for truth. It’s the paramount litmus test for recognizing lies, the weapon for destroying lies, and the reality for replacing lies. By constantly filling ourselves up with God’s word, we can resist swallowing lies that would destroy us. We can grow strong on the truth which sustains us. And we can take wing in fulfilling our God-given purposes.