Something is off…
Many christian communities today have started modeling themselves around a few basic ideas that have created a sort of “sameness” in the christian population at large. First, let me state that I am in no way anti–church, anti–community or anti–anything that is expressly called for, permitted or condoned in scripture. However, the following are concerns that, presently, remain unchecked and un-scriptural to a degree that are creating gaps in our relationship, reverence and understanding of Yahweh (God) and debilitating Christians in the freedom provided by the cross.
8 Food will not affect our relationship with God. We are no worse off if we eat [that food] and no better off if we don't. 9 But be careful that by using your freedom you don't somehow make a believer who is weak in faith fall into sin. 10 For example, suppose someone with a weak conscience sees you, who have this knowledge, eating in the temple of a false god. Won't you be encouraging that person to eat food offered to a false god?…
1 Corinthians 8:8-10 (gwt)
Many of us will reference this passage to food only and potentially miss the significance of the text that this applies to our behavior overall. I’ve done this before and have had “deep” conversation regarding vegan and vegetarian diets, missing the larger point of the text. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the cultural aspects of where we are as a Christian body today.
The dogmas I’m referring to are community, worship, giving and culture. Again, I must reiterate, each one of these are not inherently bad in terms of the faith. Quite the contrary even. These habits are actually crucial to building deep relationship and an aspect of modeling true faith through action (James 2:18). A problem arises when, these become the focus of the body rather than a pure focus on seeking Yeshua himself , exalting the Kingdom of Elohim (Matt 6:33) and what he’s detailed as “true religion” in Yahweh’s view (James 1:27) . What good is it to be passionate about community, worship, giving and culture if we are not ACTUALLY laying our lives down before the Father in surrender and repentance, diligently studying (and doing) His word like our lives depended on it (Matt 7:21-23), understanding what worship really is from His perspective (Jeremiah 9:23-25).
23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
25 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh…
Truly there is a contradiction here that is quite subversive. When this diversion takes place it seems that everything is on the right track. The biggest difference is the switch from God to community, from God to worship, from God to giving, etc. It is the order of priority that is flipped and begins to look like;
Community then God.
Worship then God.
Giving then God.
It almost seems like semantics but, the order is quite crucial. A couple ways to see and understand the subtle transition here is to take note of the following:
What do the people in my community talk about most?
Is Yahweh, Yeshua, Holy Spirit as it relates to scripture the “hot topic” or is it social gatherings, giving (in terms of frequency/how often its pushed), personal endeavors, social media, emotional out pouring, etc?
Is it the brand of the church or a person (other than Yeshua or scripture)?
Is there an overt focus on the music (to the detriment of the word being taught)?
Is the community attempting to be “culturally relevant”?
The dogmas of our day have been addressed time and time again by many figures in scripture and throughout respected Christian authors and preachers (John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Lloyd Jones, C.S. Lewis and many more). Ultimately, what they saw when looking at scripture was that it speaks to what’s happening in present day (their and ours) as a form of sensuality. When our senses are being appealed to versus challenged and redirected towards repentance and submission to the Holiness of the Father.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
A good number of us might classify or define sensuality as it pertains to lust, pornography, greed or things of that nature. Thus, this form of sensuality flies under the radar undetected and subversive as mentioned earlier.
However, let’s take step back and look at the definition of the word and how it was used in antiquity and when the old and new testament was authored.
Merriam Webster defines sensuality as:
relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite : FLESHLY
a: devoted to or preoccupied with the senses or appetites
noun: sense; plural noun: senses
a faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus; one of the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch."the bear has a keen sense of smell that enables it to hunt at dusk"
a feeling that something is the case."she had the sense of being a political outsider"
Transversely, this word was not used until the early 15th century. Prior to this, there are a multitude words that capture the meaning of “sensuality” when looking at scripture and common language before then. The equivalents found in scripture are:
Lewdness, Insolence, Wantonness, Lustful desires, Promiscuity, Filthy, Debauchery, Shameless lust, Outrageousness, Lasciviousness, Harlotry, Excess, Self indulgence, Licentiousness, Unbridled lust, Indecency, Arrogance (a)
The correlations are staggering but the point is this… When community, worship, giving and culture are centered around sensuality (a feeling or environment of self-indulgence, self-expression, in excess or arrogance, etc) then the likely output is will be much of the same, fleshly. The natural law that everything reproduces after its kind (Genesis 1:11-12, Matt 7:15-23, Matt 12:33-37) is completely applicable. Alternately, when we come with a right perspective, pursuing intimate personal relationship and continually laying down our lives at the throne of Yahweh and Yeshua so that our heart and motives have changed and aligned to his word, then we are able to experience truth and true freedom as intended when Christ stated in 1 Peter 2:15-17.
15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:15-17 (nasb)
In reality we are all subject to this in some way. Even the stoic entertains a proclivity toward a “lack of feeling” which in essence is pleasing from a stand point of shielding ourselves from emotional hurt or pain… and this can be and is to some a pleasing to the flesh.
The encouragement is this:
Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” Matt 16:24
Eternity in view
So why does any of this matter? Is this too granular or nit-picky? This sounds like judgement… and so on. These are questions I challenge myself with in processing and prosecuting the line of thought here. So let’s go back to scripture to level-set. The next few articles with focus on the following:
Diving into Acts, the Epistles and other aspects of community throughout scripture.
Learnings from the Old Testament Jews, New Testament churches and Revelations.
What God ordained, what Christ proclaimed, how pop-culture and people twist it and why it matters.
What it was/is, where each aspect is leading to and what does it look like through the lens of scripture.
Disclaimer: I want to be careful in sharing this and stating that this is a charge towards all of us (myself included). There is no specific reference to any particular church, person, or community. I remain open to discussion on these topics and open to correction as it relates to scripture. Grace and peace to you who believe in Christ alone.
(a) various bible translations reviewed to understand the context and meaning of each word via biblehub.com and blueletterbible.org.