Have you heard the challenge, ‘You’re talking the talk, but are you walking the walk?’ It can be put another way; Are you living the Christian life, or are you simply following a Christian ‘lifestyle?’ Is yours just an appearance of Christian respectability? People are watching us to see if we ‘walk the walk,’ even more so those coming out of the cults. Do they see the Christian life in me, do they see the Christian life in my church? Are we a walking apologetic for Christ?
The three fundamentals in this ministry are the Bible, the local Church, and the prayer room. How the first and the last are practically utilised depends on the local church. It is the local church that either models, or fails to model, implicit trust in the word of God and in prayer. It is the local church that teaches and models Christian living. It is to the local church we look for spiritual homes for the people we help.
It is the local church that prepares us for the work we undertake in reaching out to the cults. It is the local church that is under attack from countless voices from within the wider church itself crying, ‘he is in the wilderness, he is in the inner rooms, come out to us.’ (Mt.24:26)
My plea is for faithful Christians to find and support Bible churches, local churches that meet around the word of God and pray. The people of God, gathered around the word of God, ready to do the will of God. Such things are essential to our ministry.
Belief and Business as Usual
There was a time when going to church was seen as a badge of respectability. To be seen at church was to be seen rubbing shoulders with important, influential people. For many, belief and business sat comfortably together in the same pew. Christian living, for some, wasn’t as important as having the right image before society.
This is not to bring the charge of hypocrisy against everyone in church or every church. In every age there is the remnant, those faithful souls whose lives go against the tide of the surrounding culture. My call today is for us to go against the tide of much of the surrounding church culture. It is possible to have a ‘Christian lifestyle’ without Christ, and we see this today in too many places. We see this in Jesus’ admonition to the church in Sardis:
‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of God.’ (Rev.3:1,2)
How does a dead church have a reputation for being alive? Busyness will do it. In his foreword to Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity, William Willmon, Bishop of the United Methodist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, describes the evangelical church as:
‘…busy downsizing, becoming culturally relevant, reaching out, drawing in, making disciples, managing the machinery, utilizing biblical principles, celebrating recovery, user-friendly, techno savvy, finding the purposeful life, practising peace with justice, utilizing spiritual disciplines, growing in self-esteem, reinventing ourselves as effective ecclesiastical entrepreneurs and, in general, feeling ever so much better about our achievement. Notice anything missing? Jesus Christ!’
Today, church as business has been conjoined with church as buzz and frenetic activity. Heaven save us from programme-driven Christianity, where we ‘fit things in’ if the calendar allows, where leaders talk about programmes not people, where Christians accommodate the world in the wrong-headed assumption it will ‘bring them in,’ where those who do come are coached to be consumers, where niceness trumps faithfulness, spectacle entertains audiences, sermons become TED-Talks, busyness gives the appearance of life while all that should matter is dying unnoticed in the rush and pell-mell pace of a busy church.
If my life doesn’t reflect my confession, if it is show without substance, we all know what to call it -hypocrisy. My friends, this can be true for a church as well as individuals. Michael Horton cites the late Donald Grey Barnhouse:
‘What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ was not preached.’
The trappings the world thinks make a Christian, respectability, generosity, neighbourliness, church attendance, sobriety, the timely biblical meme dropped into a conversation, are not it. Christian living is submission to Christ, adherence to God’s word in Scripture, the Christian life, not the Christian lifestyle. Kingdom business, not business as usual with a patina of church. The devil delights in our respectability, smiles indulgently at our efforts to be good, as long as Jesus isn’t our focus.
Nice Books for Nice People
I was attending a Christian Convention and really quite enjoying it. The preaching was good, the people great company, and the fellowship encouraging. It was especially good to watch, on the first day, people arriving from all over the country, even other parts of the world, and greeting friends perhaps not seen since last year’s bash.
The thrill of recognition, the joy of meeting, the business of sharing, it was all quite inspiring. It reminded me again that Christianity is more than doctrine, vital as that is, and more than organisation, helpful as that can be. It is about how we live and how we love one another, how we encourage and how we challenge one another.
There were various stalls where ministries and bookshops could show their wares/services and offer resources and this caught my attention on that first day. The big bookstall was especially popular, after all the meeting and greeting was over and generous quantities of tea and coffee administered. I was curious to know what people were buying so I sauntered across to ‘have a nose’.
Later I spoke to a friend I saw and asked if she had seen the bookstall. She replied, “Yes, they are ‘Nice’ books – for ‘Nice’ people.” I knew what she meant. They were ‘lifestyle’ books, designed to help you become more financially prosperous, a better you for Jesus, have a more positive self-image, exercise power over your life in this way or that, or just put a more attractive Bible cover in your hands.
There were Bibles built around promises for men and promises for women, Bibles for ‘Spirit-filled’ people and Bibles for more ‘thoughtful’ people. Bibles designed to help young people avoid having to go to the trouble of actually reading the Bible, and ‘bibles’ containing only the promises of God and none of the messy stuff. Books, in other words, that served the purposes of ‘Lifestyle Christianity’.
The people at the Convention were in the main Christians, of that there can be no doubt, but I wonder how we have come so far from the Christian living advocated by Paul in his letter to Thessalonica.
‘Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.’
These Christians had obviously got something so right that all Paul had to do was urge them to “do this more and more”. As Christians ambitious to walk the walk we should be anxious to know the secret of these people and apply it in our own lives. What did the people of this thriving Macedonian sea port do to elicit such praise from Paul (and is there a book somewhere to help me live the same way?)
In the first chapter we read:
We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
You know how we lived among you for your sake.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (VV 4-10)
What a reputation! There is a pattern for Christian living here that is worthy of consideration:
- The Thessalonians heard the message of truth and turned from idols to God, putting their trust in Jesus to save them from the coming wrath.
- They saw and imitated the lifestyle of Paul and his companions “in spite of severe suffering” (no prosperity Bibles here) just as all Christians should imitate their leaders (2 Thess.3:7,9), just as Paul had imitated Christ, and all were imitators of God (Eph.5:1).
- The result was that believers in Macedonia and Achaia, in turn, imitated believers in Thessalonica.
When we turn to our Bibles and read such things it is clear what we need to do. Read the Bible, go to church, attend the prayer meeting, and imitate the good examples of those who do the same.
If you are a leader are you that example? If your congregation followed you home would you be glad to have them see how you live? If you are in the congregation, and you see the good example of your leaders, are you put to shame, or are you glad you listened to that sermon, applied the lessons, followed your leaders’ example?
For Such a Time as This
When Hamlet’s world is turned upside down in the realisation of the great burden that is laid on him to avenge his late father’s murder he says, ‘The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!‘
In the church today the time is out of joint. We are surrounded by false prophets, we are too easily drawn into Christian consumerism, clamorous voices cry out for our attention, ‘come, buy my wares!’ Proverbs 7 has a father warn his son of the wiles of the forbidden woman, the adulteress:
‘I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of might and darkness…’
This youth’s folly, we read, will cost him his life. So many today are seduced by entertainment passing for worship, busyness masquerading as faithfulness, management labelled leadership. The answer is found in this father’s words:
‘My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom,’You are my sister,’ and call insight your intimate friend…’
Who would be born in such times? Who, with Hamlet, might say, ‘O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!‘ Yet here we are. Such times are upon us and nothing to be done except set about faithfully reading our Bibles, going to a Bible church, and praying with the saints of God. These are the things that prepare us for the ministry to our friends in the cults, these are the things that prepare a safe and trustworthy place for them to come and be made whole by the saving work of Christ – the gospel.
I suppose what many of my Christian friends buying Christian Lifestyle books are seeking is some guidance on Christian living, on how to work this out in their own lives, and I have no problem with books to help us do that. However, is that what many modern authors and speakers are doing? I do find many of today’s authors, ‘platform speakers,’ and Internet influencers advocating ideas that are more self-help and self-regarding than self-sacrificial, more about my image of me than God’s image in me. We can easily end up imitating the world rather than imitating Christ.
Perhaps, like Esther, we were born for such a time (Esther 4:14). Perhaps God’s purpose for us is that we should read our Bibles, go to a Bible church, and pray, and who knows what he might do with such a saint?
I pray it may be said of us that we are imitators of Christ and that the world, and the lost in it, can see a real distinction between Lifestyle Christianity and true Christian living.
CRU also have a helpful article: