Discovering Church in an Age of Deception – Part 1
(Deceive: to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid)
And when I speak, I don’t speak as a Democrat. Or a Republican. Nor an American. I speak as a victim of America’s so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy – all we’ve seen is hypocrisy. Malcolm X
Few things sting the soul more than discovering one has been intentionally deceived. I suppose the hurt arises from being made to feel foolish or inadequate or even dumb. It is somewhat like being robbed, having something taken from us (to take from; to rob. Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary.) As much as we detest it, deception has very much become a significant part of our way of life both nationally and internationally. Whether it is in politics, the mass media, advertising or over the Internet, some form of deceit is practiced and usually with little regard for the consequences. I believe the entities listed above, the Internet simply being a platform of conveyance, are probably the greatest public abusers of truth, transparency and sincerity I could suggest. Politics, the mass media and advertisers are rife with hidden agendas and misleading verbiage. Of course, one could find honest workers in all of these fields of endeavor. However, for the greater part these fields have come to virtually require deception in order to carry on business as usual. To better understand the nuances of deception, let’s distinguish it from outright lying.
According to TheContentAuthority.com, we could define lying in this manner: “Lying is the act of intentionally making a false statement with the intention of deceiving someone. It involves saying something that is not true, with the knowledge that it is not true, and with the intention of leading someone to believe something that is false.” This then could be juxtaposed with deception thusly: “Deception is a broader term that encompasses lying. It involves intentionally misleading someone by withholding or distorting information, or by presenting information in a way that is intended to mislead. Deception can involve lying, but it can also involve other forms of communication, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions.”
I do believe we can be guilty of practicing a kind of naïve unintentional deception even though it may end in misleading others in some manner. On a personal note, I am aware that I choose clothing that tends to flatter my figure and hide the bumps, rolls and sags I feel are distracting. I am not at all conscious of doing this at the time I purchase or don clothing but on reflection have to admit it’s true. Most of us unconsciously put forth our best appearance and demeanor in hopes of enjoying the approval, acceptance and admiration of others. An important aspect of deception is in simply not conveying or telling a complete story or truth. Even in the practice of law, if a D.A. becomes privy to new evidence which might jeopardize his prosecution and withholds it from the defense attorney, he would be guilty of breaking the law.
Although there are occasions of what we might call “light” deception, such as playing a joke or bluffing in poker, we need to recognize and acknowledge that deception has its origin in the father of lies, the one who was a liar from the beginning, Satan himself. In fact, you might say that deception is the principal ploy or tactic of our arch enemy. When we have anything to do with lying or deception, we are identifying ourselves with and agreeing with the devil himself.
Having said all that, what could it possibly have to do with our discovery of the church? I have been in pastoral ministry now for 48 years encompassing ordination in two major denominations as well as serving independent, non-denominational churches. My experience has led me to basically reject what I refer to as institutional religion in favor of authentic or organic church. I believe there are myriad sincere believers all over our nation who love the Lord and who fundamentally walk righteously before him but have no church relationship. Most of these dear followers of Christ have drifted from the church because what transpires on Sunday mornings in one hour ritualistic, non-relational, pastor-dominated and program driven services fails to reflect what they are understanding from Scripture to be the church.
Now I know we are all responsible for our decisions and commitments. However, I also hold those who oversee and preside over fellowships, those with the degrees and ordinations appointed to churches all over our land, responsible for what transpires as “church” wherever they are assigned. While the gospels demonstrate that Jesus’ focus was entirely on the kingdom of God, pastors today are trained to put their emphasis on numerically growing the church. Those pastors who develop large congregations are considered successful and usually advance within their denominational structures. The $64,000 question is: Does gathering a large number of people together in one place at 11:00 on Sunday mornings as spectator participants in a prescribed ritual constitute a successful church? Additionally, are they as congregations fulfilling biblically what the Word teaches us regarding what defines the church and its function? What is it that really attracts and sustains attendance in churches with hundreds or thousands of congregants?
This is where I begin to question whether deception has also found its way into the church of Jesus Christ. Remember, deception can take various forms and doesn’t have to be necessarily intentional. One form of deception is simply withholding or omitting the full truth of what you are presenting. The lack of full disclosure, for example, regarding what it means to be a Christian, can result in many church attendees living with a false assurance in their relationship with God and ultimate place in his eternal kingdom. Telling only part of the story can result in assemblies of persons who faithfully gather for the meetings and programs but have no relationship to the church the Bible describes. Scripture and early church history seem to reflect a church which was hard to get into and easy to get out of while today the church makes it easy to get in and hard to get out.
When the angel of the Lord came at night to free the apostles from jail, he gave them the following instructions: “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” Some translations omit a significant word in this Acts 5 passage and that is the word “all.” They were told to preach all the words of this new life. That would include words that many would not be willing to hear. They wouldn’t be willing to hear because of clinging still to their love of the world and the things of the world. Not to give the whole message is a type of deception.
A careful reading of the gospels tends to portray a picture wherein Jesus discourages any following which does not amount to complete and total surrender of one’s life to him. With Jesus, there was always full disclosure. Consider the following passages:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” Lk 14:25-29,33 NLT
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus[m] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Lk 9:57-62 NRSV
There is no question that a decision to follow Jesus meant absolute surrender and life commitment. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Jesus’ call to follow was simply, “Come and die.” I believe everyone who considers becoming a Christian or already considers themselves to be such needs to prayerfully consider this question—Is it possible to be a Christian but not a disciple? If we can’t or don’t define what it means to become a Christian correctly, then we won’t be able to clarify biblically what the church is either. I believe Scripture is clear in that there is no such thing as a quasi-Christian. From the beginning, it was all or nothing. Anything less than this would make the church meaningless. It would corrupt the spiritual purity of the church and disenfranchise it from its biblical purpose and calling. Throwing the doors of the church wide open to any and all who would enter regardless of their relationship to Jesus would result in a congregation which ran the gamut from saints to satanists.
Anyone who shares the gospel of Jesus Christ and fails to clearly delineate that it will cost you your life is not telling the whole message and is guilty of deception by omission. When Jesus called those first disciples, their response was putting their hand to the plow and not looking back. Levi’s answer to Jesus’ “follow me,” was the quintessential example for every call to salvation in Christ—“So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.” Belief in Jesus has to be defined as following! Believing that Jesus is in fact the Son of God and Savior of the world is a truth that demands a verdict. When the call comes, you are either all in or you are rejecting eternal life.
In part 2 of this article we will be addressing more fully the essence of Christianity and what the alternative to institutional religion really is.