The obsessive and exaggerated observance of church system and practice is common in the modern church. Nothing is wrong with proper church systems. But a temptation lurks in the excessive desire for orderly service and religious programming above the spiritual health of people.
In my early search for God and truth, churches seemed to be community or political groups. They could even enroll people for the fires of hell because they failed a certain attendance pattern. Was I missing something vital to church discipline — something more important than simple worship and hearing God’s Word?
Then a word gave light to my confusion: ecclesiasticism. It resounded the phrase from the book of Ecclesiastes “Useless; it is useless” to my ear. Whether the word is related to the book or not, it had the same idea for me: an attitude of uselessness regarding church and tending to forget the meaning and privilege of gathering for God. Jesus addressed this problem in Matthew 23:2-4.
Pride corrupts the simple desire for a beautiful, collective offering, making it a yoke for others. We become too concerned with church appearances and prestige. Worst case for this would be the denial of our vulnerability to doing much yet meaning nothing. Hypocrisy has always been the risk as we teach righteousness — feeling too good about ourselves and our authority over others.
Jesus knew this. He was God made flesh, seeing and experiencing things that haunt us in this world. He taught us to be humble as a lamb, as He was. Humility is our blind man’s rope line to safety.
We may start with true intent to obey God, but somewhere along the way we get caught in the competition to be the “number one church.” What things matter most to God and in His house? An order of service does not create love. The prior existence of love for God and neighbor causes the church system to be a sweet incense offering to Him.
One church question in my country has always been about clothing. Is it a “polo shirts in church” rule or “only dresses for girls”? This leads to long debates, yet we found guidance in the wisdom that what God desires most is our heart pointing in the right direction. This is the first step into God’s house.
A service without a heart is an empty service: “Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:6), like a beautifully crafted bottle containing nothing but air. If our church system is decorated with ego and lacks the heart of worship, it means nothing. What if all our presentations are really going nowhere, becoming empty?
God doesn’t want the church to be famous; He wants His name to be well known. His grace will be revealed to the world not through our well-presented patterns at church but by the saltiness of our hearts and the light of our souls.
Christianity is more than religious practice on a particular day. It is love from God and for God, intense and pouring over into acts of love and service for all His creatures.BA