What Should a Christian Church Be Like?

A truly Christian church would be different. It would be about actions rather than words. People would notice that difference; believe and join in building God's kingdom on earth and in heaven. Lives would be changed now and for eternity.

If we took God's word seriously and seriously shared God's love with the world -- EVERYTHING -- would be different.

It's important because if we keep "doing church" as we are -- we really are showing that we don't believe in it. Not really. And, naturally, "the world" sees our hypocrisy; sees that we don't really believe what the bible says; sees that we disobey the most important commandment of all each day; sees that the "church" doesn't even comment on our disobedience and so it's understandable why most turn away before ever experiencing God's love.

So, I've been thinking and it seems to me that most churches I've attended in my life don't really resemble a biblical christian church. To me, the mark of a truly christian church would be a church that is known for the impact it has on the world for good. And, I'm not just talking about speaking "righteous" words or even increasing membership. I'm talking about actually changing the world (God's world) around us for the better. Doing things to improve the lives of people and God's creation (of course these two things work hand in hand).

Mostly, today "christian" churches are really mostly social clubs where people who share similar views gather to pat each other on the back and tell each other how good and righteous they are. [I'm speaking of the adults; I think the education of children is pretty much where it should be -- it's the adults who aren't.]

In a very real way, American churches actually serve to support and enable people (us) to live lives that wallow in selfishness and gluttony because the church lends us moral support for the way we choose to live our lives. Most christian churches even assure us that we are "righteous" if we give money to them and say that we believe in God and Jesus and that Jesus is the way to heaven.

We are even told we will be rewarded for this righteousness (giving money to the church and affirming church beliefs) in heaven. None of this is particularly "bad" except that it all supports a system that enables people to believe they are living christian lives when they really are not. And, it encourages people to devote their time and resources to efforts that don't do much to further God's kingdom.

The truth as stated clearly by God is much different. Please read this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

Mt. 25:31-46. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'

Then they themselves will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'

Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

From beginning to end the bible is full of similar passages. Hundreds of them. God talks more about the requirement for Godly people to help and bring justice to the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, the immigrant, the marginalized in society -- He talks more about this in His Word than anything else.

Jesus talked more about building God's kingdom on earth than he did God's kingdom in heaven. Which makes sense since that's where we are now. Earth. Check out Luke 4 sometime. In Jesus' first message to the world He says this:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Yet, do we hear much about this in our churches? We are called to help the people who need help. The people who need housing, clothing, food, education, health care -- yes, very physical, very tangible needs. Needs that would require sacrifice for us to meet. We are commanded to provide for them as best we can. To share what we have with them. In large measure, this is what it really means to live a Christian life; to be a Christian.

Yet, the church as it now exists encourages us to spend our resources -- not helping the poor and needy -- but rather paying for ever bigger and more expensive church buildings and salaries for "full-time" ministry workers. [Of course we are all called to "full-time" ministry, not just the few who get paid for it.]

Now, I think there is a place for full-time, paid ministers. But, it is a small place. The vast majority of the work to be done should be done by the people, by all of us. We should only devote precious resources to paying for full time ministers if there is a real need for it to most efficiently accomplish the work we are called to do. I actually think the true New Testament model was simply that everyone did what they could all the time. So, everyone was a full-time minister. Now, some also had to work a job (fisherman, etc) to earn a living. But, others, perhaps were retired or otherwise financially able to do the work full-time. This idea of a paid clergy class to lead the church seems like a rather modern and unbiblical idea. But, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. In our modern world, maybe we do need to pay some folks to work full time doing God's work. But, again, it should be a small part of the total church picture.

Of course our church budgets today reflect quite the opposite. Most churches spend 80 or 90 percent of their budgets paying for buildings and salaries. Buildings includes utilities, maintenance, interest on loans, etc. Salaries includes health benefits, retirement benefits, etc, etc.

If you dig into the relatively small amount that goes to "missions" you will find most of that also goes to fund buildings and salaries.

In the end, I wonder if even 1% of what is given in tithes and offerings at most churches actually goes into what it really should go into -- helping the poor and needy; protecting God's creation; sharing God's love (with more than words).

That work, our primary mission as christians, is relegated to the occasional literal "drop in the bucket" that we are sometimes invited to do as we exit the church sanctuary after a service.

Churches are a booming business. As I drive around Prince William County and really all around the country -- I am amazed at the church palaces going up seemingly everywhere. It seems the best business around. But, is any of it doing any good at all for our communities? In a real way, it's a disgrace. We are squandering the resources God has given us to build palaces to serve as testament to our great righteousness and Godliness. There's nothing righteous or Godly about a big, expensive building.

I'm not against buildings per-se. Just wasteful ones that sit largely empty most of the time. A church building that also served as a homeless shelter or rehab unit or after-school sports and study clinic -- one that shared God's love in a real way -- wow, now that would be a great church. A christian church. Anyone know of any of these at all in Prince William County Virginia?

How about instead of buying expensive property and building a huge, expensive new building -- why doesn't a church take over an abandoned building on the poor side of town and turns it into a community service hub that does "church" all the time? Why exactly not? We'd be helping turn the community around and efficiently using God's resources at the same time. What kind of witness would that be to the community? Come on, this is a no-brainer, isn't it? Why not? How uplifting it would be to see a community in need turned around by such an effort. And that would be just the beginning. This is the work God has called us to.

Some people say our primary mission is to share our christian "beliefs" with others; not so much to make the world a better place. Not so much to actually physically do things to help people with their real physical, mental and emotional needs. Instead, we are primarily called to help them with their "spiritual" needs -- this is the heart of "missions" in most churches.

That seems like a rationalization to allow us to escape any real sacrifice. We tell ourselves we don't need to share our time and money with those in need; rather our words are enough. Our words are more important because our words can help them spiritually which what really matters.

To me, if our christian life is just about sharing words -- then as I said at the beginning -- that's just nothing like what Jesus had in mind. Words are cheap; actions are priceless.

And, this gets to another fundamental thing the church (particularly the modern protestant church) gets wrong.

One of the reasons for protestant/catholic split during the reformation was the dispute over faith vs works. The catholic church had gone too far on the side of works and Luther revolted and proclaimed that we are saved by faith, not works.

I believe that, but I also believe that faith without works is dead. That means if you don't do "works" (good deeds) then your faith is dead. You don't have "faith" at all.

James 2:14-26 (New King James Version) 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your[a] works, and I will show you my faith by my[b] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?[c] 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."[d]And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.


Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mat 7:20)

Now, it is certainly also true that there are many scriptures that also say we are saved by grace, not by our works.

So, the challenge is how do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory ideas? I think God's word is most eloquent when it provides us with seemingly contradictory ideas. Because the truth about God is there, in between the two ideas. We just can't really understand it. Our salvation is a beautiful, precious gift from God; fragile, incomprehensible to us. The human language can't quite capture it. Our minds only grasp it "as through a dark glass." But, the truth is that we must have both faith and works.

I think the modern evangelical church understates the importance and necessity for good works. Christians are called to do them every day. If we don't, we aren't christians. Simple as that.

Sharing God's Word is nice; but not enough. Sharing God's love is much more powerful, important and necessary. And by sharing God's love; His word is spoken through us.

Sharing God's love is about real actions to help people and our world.

And, not just people. We also should be taking real actions and sacrificing (and supporting sacrificial policies) to care for God's creation. God created the world to share it with us. It is his world. He left us in charge of it, to care for it. Obviously we've done a horrendous job. We sin against God and his creation each day by how we choose to live. Just look at the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico caused by our insatiable demand for the cheapest possible energy to support our glutonous lifestyle.

[This is without even getting into global warming which the experts say is caused by our voracious and ever-increasing consumption of carbon. As a result, lakes are drying up (huge Lake Chad in Africa now gone; thousands dying of drought as a result); glaciers are melting (many are gone; huge one in Himalayas will be gone soon which is a water supply for millions). This crisis literally threatens the survival of the world. Yet, we passively sit by and do nothing because we don't want to sacrifice our lifestyles.]

We in America are the most to blame as we use 10 times the energy and carbon as everyone else. And if we are serious about our christian beliefs and the bible -- how can we do this without even speaking up? Genesis 1 -- the very first chapter of the bible, says God created the earth, the plants, the animals, the fish, and he called it "good." God created the earth so that he could share it with us; live here with us. He placed us in charge of it; to take care of it. So isn't it a grievous sin to willfully and wantonly destroy it mostly through gluttony?

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven..." -- so, why do we seem to not care about the earth (as christians) -- it seems the church is all about preparing for heaven, but we are commanded to also build God's good kingdom on earth while we are here. So, what is the church doing about the EARTH, God's creation, here and now? I would say that God's justice will hold much of the christian church in America accountable in eternity for the damage we selfishly/sinfully participated in and did nothing about while we could. Here's what God says about it in Revelation 11:18:

The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great--and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

So, why doesn't the church ever talk about this? This is probably the greatest sin we each commit each day, yet the church is largely mum about it. Why? Why? Please tell me why? Is it really because to preach about the real sin in our lives; the sin we'd have to sacrifice to rid ourselves of -- would be unpopular and the church might lose members and money?

In summary, we are called to be disciples of Jesus. To follow him; live as he lived. We are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. Our first, and most important commandment is to love. Love God and love our fellow man. Jesus said this is the way to receive eternal life.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' (Galatians 5:14 RSV)


One of the Pharisees tested Jesus with a question, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Matthew 22:36 NIV). Jesus replied, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).


Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:26-27

We need a church that is less self-righteousness (quite undeserved in any event) and has fewer pious words and more love for God; for our neighbors; for God's creation. Here's some comments on what it might mean to be christian in the social and political spheres.

That would be a biblical and christian church. And, entirely different than most "christian" churches out there today.

Churches that aren't primarily focused on sharing God's love in tangible ways just don't seem very biblical or christian at all.

I recently checked out John Piper's website to see what he thought of all this. He actually seems to agree, in theory. However, he doesn't take the next step of talking about what all this means in reality. What does it mean to pursue christian justice in our society today? How can we best attack hunger, poverty, illness, unjust dealings, environmental degradation? What does it mean about whether we really "desire God" if we support public policies that increase poverty, illness, environmental degradation, hunger, increasing riches for the rich, etc? Those are the questions most christians don't want to discuss. Anyway, you can read more about it at John Piper's Take on Social Justice.

So, what do you think? Agree, disagree? I'm sure I don't have it all figured out by any means. Our spiritual lives are journeys we take that hopefully we grow and learn new things every day. Please contact us if you have questions or comments. Or, you can share your thoughts with everyone by using the form below. We'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Liberal Christianity Should Offer the Whole Package: A Gospel that Saves Both Souls and Community

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