For me, answering this question doesn’t require that I put myself in a non-believers’ shoes to honestly critique the church. I have no reservation saying yes; in most cases the church is outdated. With sadness I share my response as to how some churches in recent generations have been stewards of their priceless gift, stewards of their little corner of overseeing the Kingdom. From the outdated buildings, to the half empty pews, this is not a reflection of the powerful and living Word of God, but a contradiction.
God, being the Alpha and Omega, cannot become old or outdated in any respect as He created everything that can be, whether in the year 1800 or 2050. (New Testament, John 1:3) All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In addition, (NT, Hebrews 4:12a) For the word of God is living and active. So, if the church has become stale or the pews (or rather the folding chairs) empty, it is not that God is irrelevant or out of date. According to His Word, this simply cannot be true. Therefore it can only be the keepers of His Kingdom on earth to which the burden falls.
So, let’s look at the church. Scripture tells us that just because there is a church building with people gathered, or for that matter a group of people who hold a church service in any particular place, it does not guarantee that God is present with them. Although when a person has the Holy Spirit – a new life inside of them – then God resides with that person, in that place (NT, Acts 7:48, 51). So I ask, what does a person look like with whom God dwells, and therefore what does a group of people with whom God dwells look like?
Jesus said in (NT) John 14: 23, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him and we will come to him, and make Our abode with him. What do those who are obedient to Him, the people in whom God is abiding, what do they look like? Jesus said He came that people might have life, and have it abundantly (NT, John 10:10b). Paul said he wanted believers to be filled up to all the fullness of God (NT, Ephesians 3:19b). Christ redeemed people (NT, Ephesians 1:7) back from what was lost in the Garden of Eden, as He intended for people to have eternal life (NT, John 3:16), fullness of joy and pleasures forever (Old Testament, Psalm16:11b).
If people of the church are obedient to Him, then the people will be living an abundant life, filled with the fullness of God, full of joy and experiencing pleasures. That sounds a lot like the people who were a part of the thriving church in Acts.
I suggest that the church today has become outdated because slowly, throughout recent generations, people have become less obedient to God’s Word; this disobedience manifesting in various ways. Due to the lack of obedience, we observe less of God’s vibrant life among professing believers and among the professing church. Sadly, due to believers not loving God, nor obeying God, the professing church has largely become outdated, because the God who gives eternal life, abundant life, fullness, joy and pleasures can never go out of style.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, you have likely heard of King David, if from nowhere else but in reference to Michelangelo’s marble Statue of David. In the Old Testament of the Bible and in 2 Samuel 11 you find the story of King David. Having spent his life following the God of Israel, he commits adultery, the woman conceives, and King David has the woman’s husband murdered to cover his behavior. King David later receives consequences for his actions but is still allowed to follow God and be used by God as a great instrument in Christian history.
In the New Testament of the Bible, John 8 speaks of Jewish religious leaders bringing a woman before Jesus who was caught in adultery to see if Jesus thought they should stone her, as instructed in the Old Testament according to Moses’ law. Jesus told the woman that He did not condemn her, but instead told the believer to go and sin no more. (While we might assume the woman is a new believer, scripture does directly say whether she has only just become a believer…nonetheless) Jesus did not say to the woman that she was unable to sin any longer, but to go and sin no more.
Later in John 18, one of Jesus’ closest followers who would later be paramount in building the Christian church after Jesus’ death, Peter denies that he was a follower of Christ, just hours before Jesus was killed. I wonder today if many pastors would still have a job if they denied Jesus in a public way at such a critical time. While Peter was one of the closest followers of Jesus, Peter sinned by lying and dishonoring God, yet God chose to use him greatly to influence the church in the months and years following.
In addition to these few excerpts from the Bible, all throughout Paul’s New Testament writings he admonishes believers to be loyal to God for the salvation they have received and to mature in their faith. Paul himself states in Philippians 3:12, 13, that the he has not become perfect, but “press(es) on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ”.
It is because of scripture like these that I trod along in my faith after having sinned in egregious ways as did these imperfect people in the Bible. I have had seasons in my life when, despite my faith, I was shamefully rebellious, and even now I sometimes fear that others could learn of sins I’ve committed, words I have said. Do I deserve condemnation as did the adulterous woman brought before Jesus? Yes, I do. Have I received consequences for my sins as did David? Yes, I have. But I am grateful that scripture shows a God who does not ultimately condemn the believer who has sinned, but rather He pushes the Christian forward, telling us to sin no more.
For many who use hypocrites, such as myself, as an excuse to say that Christians in the church deserve to be ridiculed…I can agree with them that people in the church are sinners, that we still do things wrong after we become Christians. But to them I extend the scripture taught in the Bible which shows that while we Christians are forgiven and should strive to obey our higher calling of holiness, on this side of heaven you will still see us sin, and that’s one reason why we go to church, to encourage each other as we learn how to become like the only person who never sinned, Jesus Christ.