Christians and the Church

By Craige McMillan

St. Peter was giving the very newest arrivals to heaven the grand tour. “Now be very quiet,” he cautioned them as they prepared to go through the back of the church sanctuary. “These folks are Baptists, and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Last week’s column generated some interesting mail, none of it related to the most crucial point: The Christian church in America, indeed the West, is “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” if we are prepared to take Jesus’ words in Revelation at face value (3:17).

Yes, I know we have impressive buildings, high-powered celebrity pastors and professional staffs providing a myriad of programs to serve busy congregants. We’re building and doing like there is no tomorrow. We’ve dropped denominational names to become more inclusive. Our sermons rarely mention Hell, because it makes many visitors – not to mention long-time members – uncomfortable.

I grew up believing that Catholics were destined for Hell, and that Baptists were the only Protestant denomination that would make it into Heaven without singe-marks around the edges. Years of sitting in a variety of church pews have taught me that many Catholics are destined for Hell, where they will be joined by Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and a host of other denominations, along with those who sat on the fence instead of in the pew.

Why? Because most “Christians,” whatever their denomination, aren’t following Jesus Christ. Perhaps half the folks seated in church pews on Sunday mornings haven’t a clue. They know who Jesus was, but they don’t know who He is. The difference is key.

At its heart, the Christian message is very simple. God created everything, and it was good. Unlike the rest of creation, God gave humanity the ability to make its own choices, just like He does. That’s why we read that Adam and Eve could have intimate conversations with God as they walked together in the Garden of Eden – nothing separated them from one another. Then one day we turned our back on God and chose evil. The Old Testament is the Bible’s record of God’s struggle to re-establish communication with mankind. With a few notable exceptions, the effort never took root on our end. God fell silent for 400 years.

Then Jesus entered the world. We celebrate the event as Christmas. God entered his creation as a man. He walked the earth, healed the sick, raised the dead and pleaded with the religious rulers of the time to recognize him for who He was. For His efforts, the religious and secular world conspired against Him, nailed Him to a cross and mocked Him while He died. On that Cross, God the Father piled His grievances with humanity for all eternity on Jesus’ shoulders and then turned His back on His own son. In the deal of the centuries, Jesus died in your place and mine.

“Christians” are those who take God at his word. Our separation from God ended when Jesus uttered those words, “it is finished,” and we accepted that as God’s Truth. Jesus indicated His ability to enforce that bargain when three days later He walked out of the tomb and stood before history’s first “doubting” Thomas. Amidst the rest of the disciples, Jesus echoed Thomas’ own words of a week earlier saying: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Thomas’ response was identical to every Christian’s response: “My Lord and my God!”

The Christian church began when Thomas and his fellow disciples spread out from Jerusalem and told the world what they had seen and heard. It’s called the Gospel – the “Good News” that Jesus has reopened communication between God and man. Jesus’ words to the prostitute washing his dusty feet with her tears and her hair while He discussed weighty matters of faith amid the horrified religious leaders of his day apply equally to us, today. “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).

Those who accept that gift gradually discover their lives change to reflect more of what Jesus values. The brand of church pew they sit in on Sunday morning is irrelevant, and you can substitute your favorite denomination for the Baptists in my opening quip. Those who “worked hard and played by the rules” of any religion will one day learn that knowing Jesus was the only thing that really mattered. Jesus said so Himself: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:23). Yes, Hell will indeed be multi-faith, multicultural and very inclusive. The Good News is, God doesn’t want you to go there.