Cause and Effect
Joseph Herrin (6-12-1996)
There is a law of science that states, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This law, though primarily applied to physical science, can also be applied to the spiritual realm. Actions cause responses. Decisions made and applied to the life of the church have an effect upon the church and society. Often we can see some of the results of past decisions, yet we have difficulty pinpointing the action that precipitated what we now are looking at. Some of these results can be negative. In this case it is necessary to identify the root cause of the negative results. Without properly identifying the cause, we cannot address the effect.
Let us look at one example as a case in point. It is often said that church members today lack commitment. Church attendance is often sporadic. Sunday School participation is very hit and miss. Volunteers are hard to come by. Many come to church to spectate rather than to participate. There is little genuine excitement or anticipation of what God will do among them. Evidence of a lack of commitment is not hard to find, but how should it be addressed?
Many church leaders recognize these symptoms in their churches. However, if these same leaders do not probe deep to discover the cause of this malaise, they will simply find themselves treating symptoms and never effecting a cure. Unfortunately, this is what often happens. Leaders will identify the symptoms and begin to bring them into focus before the congregation. They will identify the fact that attendance is down and begin to berate the congregation for their poor attendance. Some who are less inclined to utter negative pronouncements to the congregation will instead initiate some program to instill excitement and encourage the members to be at church. Others who are more mission oriented may make a push for evangelism or outreach into the community.
These same leaders may recognize that, besides poor attendance in church, the Sunday School has been suffering. Leaders will initiate a drive to stress the importance of Sunday School. They will appoint committees to generate new interest and recruit new “volunteers”. Or they may note that the offering is down and they will preach on stewardship. They may make public note of things that are left undone due to a lack of funds. They will stress the need for obedience and teach the principal of tithing. They may even resort to blackmail, “If you don’t give God what is His, He will give you pockets with holes in them.”
All of these things are merely addressing symptoms. In none of them has the root cause been identified. Why is it that commitment is down? Why is there not an excitement among the congregation and an eagerness to participate? To answer these questions we must look at cause and effect. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What were the actions that led to a lack of commitment?
When we read about the church in the New Testament, one thing that is evident is that they did not suffer from a lack of commitment. They were zealous. They were described as those “who have turned the whole world upside down.” Their gatherings were exciting, (in the case of the Corinthian believers, sometimes too exciting). They had no lack of volunteers and every saint freely contributed, even lavishly, to the needs of others.
One thing that the early church held as their belief was that every member was important and they were all called to be priests. I Corinthians 12 and 14; I Peter 2:5,9. They did not just consider it favorable or acceptable that each member should participate in the life of the church and in their meetings, they viewed it as a vital necessity. They were an empowered people who were urged to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts” that the body might be built up. Those in leadership were equippers of the saints. They did not hire on to do the work of the church. They were present to equip the members to do the work. They were a body with a mission and this mission extended to the most humble member.
Because the early church members felt so strongly their call to participate in the life of the church, they were an excited and committed people. Because they expected to do spiritual battle, they kept their spiritual swords sharpened. Because they were involved in ministry, down to the one who considered himself the least noble member, they stayed in a state of readiness and needed no one to goad them for their lack of commitment.
It can be correlated that people are only committed when they feel a strong sense of duty and have a clear calling. A soldier who never goes to battle and does not anticipate going any time soon, will fail to keep himself in a state of readiness. His armor will not be kept up. His sword will become dull. His mind will lose focus. He will become a drifter without purpose or commitment.
If church leaders will look closely, they will see that this is precisely what has happened in today’s church. The lack of commitment that effects so many areas of church life is due to a lack of purpose among church members. The church started out being a kingdom of priests, but at some point it became a kingdom where some were priests and some were common citizens or laity. This became pronounced with the advent of the Roman Catholic Church. During the inception of Roman Catholicism, church leaders began to be called priests. Before this time, the whole body were called priests. Also, during this time the calling to ministry was removed from the church at large and given to those in leadership. The priests became the ministers, and the laity became those to be ministered unto. This was never God’s design.
During the Protestant reformation, many of the heresies of Roman Catholicism were rejected. One fallacy that was not completely rejected, however, was the separation between clergy and laity. The names attributed to church leaders were changed during the reformation, they were no longer called priests, but the title of priest was not restored to the saints. In our churches today we still have an artificial separation between ministers and laity. Until this separation is done away with, the body will continue to be plagued with problems of commitment. Those in leadership must quit performing all the ministry and begin equipping the saints for the work of service. As the individual members of the body have their ministries returned to them, they will regain their commitment. The saints, once more vested with the calling placed upon them, will eagerly join in preparation for that calling.
In the long interval that followed the birth of the church, many decisions have been made and many changes have occurred. Each one of these changes have had an effect upon the body. Little by little, the responsibilities and calling of the body have been removed and placed into the hands of a few elite members who are referred to as ministers. In these last days before the return of Christ, many things will be restored to their right order. The body of believers will once again receive their calling to be ministers. The church will once more be a kingdom of priests before our God. When this occurs, the problem of commitment will resolve itself.
By digging deep to find the root cause of the church’s maladies, we can determine what it will take to bring restoration. Many today are treating symptoms while the sickness goes undiagnosed. Treating symptoms is a perpetual occupation. The symptoms will continue to surface as long as the cause is left untouched. The work that God’s Spirit will perform before the return of Christ will be radical and foundational. It will strike at the root to bring about lasting change. Let us look around us with clear and unprejudiced vision. When God’s Spirit exposes the source of our woes, let us respond faithfully. Let us stop at nothing to be all that God would have us to be. Let us cooperate with God’s Spirit as He prepares the bride for the return of Christ. Come Holy Spirit.