There is a book entitled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, (note: I do not endorse the author or the movement he is part of). Certainly the church is not perfect—far from! However, is the author correct? Jesus is not at all concerned with whether people like him or not. We are told in the Gospels:
But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. ~ John 2:24-25 (ESV)
People are fickle. They can like a person one day and betray him the next. Or they can be infatuated for a season only to have the infatuation replaced by the coldness of winter.
What does Jesus say about people’s thoughts about Him and His people? He tells His disciples (men who struggled with ambition, pride, anger, prejudice, fear, etc.),
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. ~ John 15:18
Elsewhere, He explains:
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. ~ John 7:7
A common complaint is churches are “filled with hypocrites.” As opposed to what? Politics? Hollywood? Realms where people are applauded and idolized—in spite of blatant hypocrisy! Furthermore, while hypocrites exist in many churches, there are also many wonderful, godly, honest, humble, and compassionate persons (but no one wants to give any credit to these). Yet, it is these that are just as much irritants to those who supposedly “like” Jesus. Notice what Jesus said, the world hated Him before it ever hated His people. And why does it hate Him? Because He testifies about it and its evil practices.
The apostle John declares,
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. ~ 1 John 4:19-21
And Jesus says plainly,
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me…. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ~ John 14:23-24; 15:12
Jesus’ call has never been to follow His followers. Rather, He bids each of us to pick up our cross and follow Him. For someone to say he “likes Jesus but not the church” is merely a smokescreen concealing rebellion against the very One he claims to “like.”
Imagine traveling across a continent, desert, or ocean with a destination in mind, yet neglecting your map and compass. No doubt you would get lost and disoriented. Now, consider what would happen if you began following a group of people who were going in an altogether different direction than you had in mind. What would happen? You would eventually arrive at an altogether different destination than you had anticipated.
Without being critical, this is precisely what is happening with many churches and professing Christians today. God has given and preserved for His people His written Word and Holy Spirit, but too often these are being neglected, even scorned.
The prophet Isaiah prophesies the Lord’s disciples will complete the sacred writings, and these (with the help of the Holy Spirit) will guide people to truth.
Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples …. To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. ~ Isaiah 8:16, 20 (ESV)
Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s Word, throughout which the psalmist notes that the Scriptures are a light and safeguard to him.
The apostle Paul declares,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. ~ 2 Timothy 3:16
And the apostle Peter explains,
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. ~ 2 Peter 1:19-21
And finally, Jesus repeatedly declared His confidence in the absolute truth and trustworthiness of God’s written Word, copied and passed down from generation to generation.
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. ~ Matthew 11:13
Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” ~ Luke 24:44
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. ~ John 16:13
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ~ John 17:17
The prophets, apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ all testify to the Scriptures being the Word of God; thus, being absolute truth and completely trustworthy. Yet, how is it so many preachers and teachers are questioning as to whether or not the Scriptures can be trusted? How can so many mask unbelief with false humility, saying we cannot be certain of anything? How can many say Jesus is but one of many ways to heaven, when Jesus declares Himself to be the only way (see John 14:6)?
Still, how can some who profess to be “Christian” go to conferences to worship such false goddesses and/or to follow along with the world and its acceptance of practices, behaviors, lifestyles, and philosophies? The Scriptures declare, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). In Christ, the two are not separated; therefore, grace (which is so often emphasized) is never to be disconnected from the truth.
The Scriptures are to be the map for the church, and the Holy Spirit serves as our Compass, if you will. Nevertheless, many churches and professing Christians dismiss these in order to follow their own deceptive hearts (See Jer. 17:9; Pro. 14:12), feelings, and the ebb and flow of the world and its various religions and philosophies. So then, how can they reach their desired, and assumed, destination (heaven) if they disregard the map and compass?
I know of pastors and theologians who say, “Christianity, and its theology, must change.” Each of them have these in common: 1) They disregard clear teachings of the Bible, and 2) They mean that Christianity must become more “relevant”—that is, to become more like the world in its supposed “progression,” “inclusion,” etc. The overarching consequence is while trying to be “relevant,” churches are becoming irrelevant. By disregarding the map and compass, the church is losing her moral bearings, and has become increasingly ineffective and powerless.
Christianity does not need to change, let alone become something it was never intended to be. Rather, churches and the people of God must regain dependence on the divinely given Scriptures and Holy Spirit. We must accept as truth what God has revealed, regardless of our initial thoughts or feelings. As Paul declares, “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). We must accept what God calls sin, and we need to yield to what He deems as holy or profane, acceptable or unacceptable. We need to follow His commands and instructions, instead of trusting our own plans and agendas.
The church must not only understand, but also accept, the fact that this has never been well received by popular culture. Christians have always been persecuted for their rejection of godless behaviors and ideologies. The church has always faced conflict for her believe in an exclusive God and the means to come to Him. It does no one any good to compromise truth in order to make it more “attractive” and “palatable.” While the truth should always be proclaimed in love (see Eph. 4:15), if it is twisted or distorted it ceases to be what God has intended. In other words, distorted “truth” ceases to be truth. Apart from truth there can be no true salvation, no true redemption.
Thus, when the church neglects her map and compass, she becomes disoriented and lost. When she begins following the lost world which is traveling toward its own destruction, where does she then think will be her destination?
• For further consideration as to what it means to be a Christian and a part of God’s holy people, I invite you to read my book, A Royal Priesthood: The Christian’s Privilege and Responsibility – Studies in Practical Theology: