I have a confession to make — I like ruts; well, more precisely, I like my ruts – yours, not so much. My ruts have served me well, and I’m comfortable in them. However, as much as I like my ruts, I realize that if I stay in a rut long enough, and allow it to get deep enough, I will eventually “bottom out.” At that point, the ruts that once served me well will actually impede my progress.
I say that to say this: We may have some “religious ruts” we’re quite comfortable in, but out of which we need to climb before they impede our progress.
What religious ruts am I talking about? Consider these.
- What’s the Name of the Church? Many Christians do not realize the church you read about in the Bible doesn’t have a name. Wait! What? Of course, it has a name! Have you never read Romans 16:16, “the churches of Christ salute you?”Yes, I’ve read that verse along with dozens more that offer varied “descriptions” of the church, but which offer no “proper name” for the church. A description is not the same thing as a proper name. Failure to make this distinction will eventually “bottom us out” in a rut that results in a denominational view of the church; a view that measures faithfulness by being in a church that has the “right name.” The irony of that is we get so invested in the correct name of the church, when God, in his wisdom, chose not even to give it a name.If we stay in this rut long enough, we will become sectarian, and be the very thing we oppose. We’ll find ourselves denominating ourselves by saying things like, “I’m Church-a-Christ” in the same way our friends say, “I’m Baptist,” or “I’m Presbyterian.”Get out of the rut! Recognize the church doesn’t have a name, but has many varied descriptions, and begin using them. It’s not that using the expression, “church of Christ” is wrong, it’s not, but when we get to the point that we use it exclusively, as a proper name, we’ve bottomed out in the rut.
- What Do We Call Our Church Leaders? Answer this question in your head, “Who must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, etc…?” I’m sure that the vast majority of those who answer this question will answer with the word, “elders.” I find that interesting because the actual text from which these qualifications are quoted uses the word “bishop,” not once, but twice. So why do so many answer with the word, “elder?” Could it be that we’re in a rut?
Would eyebrows be raised in our congregations if we began praying for our “pastors” (Eph. 4:11) instead of “elders?” Would anyone wonder if we announced a “bishops'” meeting following morning service instead of an elders’ meeting? If so, then we’re probably in the rut of using “elder” exclusively. I once received a phone call from a sincere Christian lady who was concerned about the direction her congregation was heading because she read in their bulletin that they were beginning the process of appointing additional “shepherds.” You see, it was the “wrong” word. Had they said, “elders,” all would have been well.
This rut will rob us of the richness and fullness of this work, that at least the apostles thought was broad enough that it should be described by a variety of terms (pastors/shepherds, bishops/overseers, elders/presbyters). Get out of the rut of using only one term to describe church leaders before people think it’s the only correct term.
- My Church, Your Church, or His Church? On several occasions, I have cringed as I listened to an unsuspecting novice step onto the hidden landmine of “personal pronouns.” Here is how it usually goes. A seeker in our weekly Bible class, who is interested in learning more about God’s word will say something like, “Does your church believe…” only to have a well-meaning brother dismiss his question to rebuke his verbiage by saying, “I don’t have a church. It’s Jesus’ church, not mine.” This usually leaves the seeker with a confused look on his face, wondering what just happened.
If one speaks of “my” church or “your” church and means to suggest ownership, then, of course, he needs to be corrected. But that is not what people mean when they say, “my” church or “your” church; they mean “identity with,” not “ownership of.” And we use this sort of language all the time. I will speak of “my Pittsburgh Steelers,” and I have yet to have anyone correct me by telling me they’re not mine. They understand I’m not speaking of ownership, but of identity with.Unless we’re willing to correct the apostle Paul, we need to get out of this rut of correcting people for not using our preferred pronouns. Did you know that Paul said Jesus was raised from the dead according to “my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8)? Wait, I thought it was the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16). It’s both. It’s not an either-or proposition. If we can understand what Paul means and allow him to speak of “my gospel,” then we need to extend the same grace to people who speak of “my church.” Get out of the rut and don’t let your preferred verbiage get in the way of reaching the lost.
These aren’t the only examples of “religious ruts” that could be identified, but they do illustrate the danger of getting out of balance, limiting ourselves, and codifying our preferences. Give it some thought.