Numerous studies have been conducted regarding why the lost will not come to church. Biblically, we know that no man desires God (Romans 3:10-11) and this is the ultimate reason the lost will not come to God’s house. However, it appears at times we Christians can compound the problem. Just today, I had a conversation with a fellow Christian who explained how he looked for a new church home when he and his wife moved too far away to continue to attend.
They were met by an usher when they entered the building and he explained there was no room for them in a Bible study class, especially “without an advanced notice.” They sat in a pew and waited for the worship service to begin. When the Pastor stood behind the pulpit at the beginning of the worship service, he lamented how someone had borrowed the paper cutter out the church office and had not returned it. My newly acquainted friend and his wife never returned and I cannot say that I blame them. And we Christians wonder why we are not making more of an impact in our world! How can Christians turn people, saved or lost, off towards the church?
Paul wrote to the Colossians:
“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry defines legalism as “the excessive and improper use of the law”. This legalism can take different forms.
- The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation.
- The second is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation.
- The third is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed.
It is this third type of legalism that I have seen most in churches. Legalism critiques everything from the style of music, to how people should dress, to which version of the Bible is superior. Legalism is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ that says we are made right with God because of His grace alone through faith in His Son Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Human effort cannot commend us to God before OR after we know Him. Having a church that is infiltrated with legalism can be palpable to outsiders and could surely drive away those who know Christ or those who need to be converted. Churches should seek to be driven by the grace and goodness of God and highlight this in opposition to human merit. In addition, churches should emphasize that a Christian’s obedience to God is based on His grace to us and not meritorious work we give to Him.
Legalism can take on a divergent view of sin. While different sins produce different degrees of consequences, all sins are equal in their offense to God. Note what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In this text Paul equates homosexuality with covetousness and several other “acceptable sins.”
Paul wrote to the Galatians that the “the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
Any and all of the sins disqualify a person from admittance into heaven. Yet in our culture we create a gradation of sins: homosexuality is worse than drunkenness; murder is worse than sex outside of marriage. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those outside the church detect and see this. The result is, they want no part of us.
2. Church Splits
I grew up in a church that split twice within about four years when I was in my late teens. My Dad was involved in the leadership of the church as a deacon and church clerk. To say these splits created a bad taste in my mouth would be an understatement. My parents ultimately left and joined another church. It has split several times since. I ultimately used this as part of the reason to drop out of church in my late teens. God by His grace drew me to Himself about five years later and genuinely converted me in the summer of 1990. There is a joke that says, “Church splits are the Baptists answer to church planting.” It may be truer than we want to admit.
The possibility of partiality and division have always existed in the local church. This appears to have been an issue in the church at Corinth, where the Corinthians were apparently choosing sides between Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and Jesus.. Paul wrote:
“Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12).
The Apostle likewise exhorted the Ephesians to maintain their unity. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-2).
If Christians cannot get along with one another why do we expect unbelievers to think we are any different than they are? A church experiences a split and ultimately the news reaches the surrounding community. The split hinders the witness and the testimony of the church. A lack of unity in the local church turns people off from the church.
Like the other issues I have mentioned here, hypocrisy is an age old problem. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees when He said:
“Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28).
Peter encouraged his readers to “lay[ing] aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking” (1 Peter 2:1). As God’s people we should not be hypocrites, pretending to be something that we are not…the Sunday School teacher who is a known gossip in the community, the deacon who frequents the local liquor store, or the Pastor who pads his expense report are all hypocrites at best. What I fear most is that in most of these instances we hear about, the people in question have never been genuinely converted. They are hindrances to the gospel.
Before my conversion, a fellow co-worker openly shared with me how he was having an affair with a woman who sang in the choir of a local, well-known church every Sunday. I was repulsed. I knew enough about the gospel to understand that as a Christian you should “practice what you preach”. Hypocrisy is saying one thing and living another on a consistent basis. Hypocritical Christians turn people off from the church.
Are you helping or hindering others from coming to Christ and His church? I had a seminary professor who would pray, “God make us attractive and winsome for the gospel.” Nothing truer can be prayed.