In religious circles, the start of a new year brings the same emotions to individuals as in any other organization, be it business, personal, or otherwise. A new year brings a time of reflection, perhaps regret, but always a determination to make the new year better than the one before it. Another year of experience hopefully brings a higher level of wisdom and increased ability to handle what life throws at us. New goals are determined, bad habits are put away, and sights are set on higher aspirations. We as mortal humans always want to think that we are getting better and better.
At my church, Bethel Tabernacle, the same determined approach to the new year has been promoted by our beloved Pastor David Fauss. The theme for 2016 began during our Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve as our pastor delivered a stirring sermon with a simple title, “More!” In his sermon, he asked us to not merely desire more in our relationship with God, but to realize that to receive more, we had to be willing to give more…not in money, but in consecration, prayer, and time: consecration in the way we live our daily lives, commitment to communication with our God through prayer, and time to the church through faithful attendance. The next Sunday the same theme was emphasized with his sermon “Activate the Promise!” He reiterated that God has made many promises to those who are faithful to Him, and the way we activate those promises is through our rededication of our faith, prayer, and time.
If you have attended church for several years, you would probably agree that none of what we heard in the sermons of the last few days was new material. But the message of rededication is always timely and effective; we as humans need to be reminded on a fairly regular basis of what is really important in life and where we should be placing our priorities. Pastor Fauss is very effective in taking a sermon the theme of which we have heard many times and make it seem as fresh as today.
But it was last Sunday morning as he was concluding his “Activate the Promise!” message that I realized that we as a group of people have a way to go before we reach that euphoric state of higher blessing. Pastor Fauss preached his heart out for nearly an hour, and as he was ending his sermon, a spirit of dedication seemed to settle over the congregation. He then asked those who were willing to offer more to the service of God to come forward to pray as a sign of rededication. That was the moment when it became abundantly obvious where the interests of many alleged members lay.
In my position as an usher, I sit near the rear doors of the auditorium. As the pastor gave his call to come forward, there were many who began their walks to the front…but I was shocked at the mass exodus of probably 75-100 persons. You would have thought that the pastor had dismissed the service instead of given a call to come forward. With quiet music playing and audible prayers coming from the front, these people chatted and smiled as they blithely strolled out of the church…completely untouched by the sermon. The somewhat telling fact of this situation was this: our church prides itself in being a “diverse” church…whatever that means. It is a contemporary philosophy which has no basis in scripture, but it makes us feel good. Regardless, it was noteworthy to me (and mentioned by more than one other person) that ninety percent of those who headed for the door at the first opportunity were all members of a single group.
The conclusion has to be reached that there are many church attendees who, if they honestly answered the question, “Would you like to have a better relationship with God?” would answer politely, “No, thank you.” These are the attendees who limit their church time to a 45-minute session per week and then call themselves “faithful Christians.” These are the attendees who come to church to groove and sway to the music and jump up when the preacher’s preaching and yell, “Amen! Preacher!”...and then split for the door at the first sign of a call to prayer. These are the ones who talk like the world, dress like the world, think like the world, and live like the world…but want to be called “Christian.”
The church has always had “hangers-on.” People who come to church, not to be guided, blessed, or saved, but just to gain the sensation of church so that they can profess to be church goers. They are in every church. They are the ones who come to receive only and never to give. If the church is offering a free dinner after a church service, they are the first in line. If the church is having dinner after a church service as a fundraiser and is charging $10.00 per plate, they are nowhere to be found.
When I witnessed the mass exodus from our church last Sunday, I was embarrassed for our church and for our pastor. I honestly hoped at that moment that he had not noticed all those exiting souls who were rejecting what he had so eloquently preached. But at the same time, I was reminded of the parable of the wheat and tares. Rather than tear out the tares (weeds) from the wheat and perhaps damage some of the wheat, the farmer determined to let both grow side by side until day of harvest. On the day of harvest, the wheat would be separated from the tares…the wheat going to a good purpose and the tares into the fire. So it will be on the day of judgement.
I am reminded of Elijah when he came to the people and asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, then follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.” (I Kings 18:21) Last Sunday, there was a group of people who were, in effect, given that very same challenge, and, just like the children of Israel, they “answered not a word.” But their actions spoke louder that any words, anyway.