recently attended an introductory seminar for a popular human potential program with some friends from a local Church of Christ. They had recently "graduated" after completing the final phase and were expected to remain actively involved by inviting guests who might be interested in participating in the program. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the group, and the dedication of those who attended these sessions on a regular basis. There were warm friendly greetings, lots of hugs and a general atmosphere of caring and kindness. My friends were very enthusiastic about the seminar, commenting how beautifully it complemented their "Christian" faith.
The benefits of the program were presented; a list was made describing "less" and "more" things in one's life upon completion of the seminar. As the words went up on the board, I immediately noticed a correlation between what was gained and lost with what God promises those who have faith in Him. The "less list" included guilt, fear, selfishness, unhappiness, hate, and anger. The "more list" included love, joy, happiness, peace, intimacy, compassion and commitment. The speaker went on to confirm that it was the intangible rather than the tangible that most people found evident in their lives after completing the seminar which is fairly time-consuming involving several days at a substantial cost. The speaker closed commenting on priorities; this program being a commitment which was guaranteed to change one's life, offering a full refund of the money paid if dissatisfied in any way. Both friends agreed - it was time and money well spent.
After the presentation, I asked my companions if they had noticed that most of the things people claimed to have gained and lost from this seminar were promised by Christ to His followers. Both agreed but responded that they had not grown as quickly in their "Christian faith" or received as much out of "attending church" as they had this seminar. This led to a discussion about "church" and both stated they rarely enjoyed "going to church" and in fact, were embarrassed to invite visitors. They also commented they had felt more love and acceptance from the people at the seminar than at "their church". In fact, they were excited and eager about inviting guests to attend this introductory" session with them. Neither of them understood why they felt this way; they were confused, saddened and disappointed that the "church" was unable to meet the needs in their lives as this secular organization was doing.
I proceeded to share my observation that most Christians were "church-centered" rather than "Christ-centered". Busily serving the organization to keep it running, few had time to serve our Lord. Deceived into thinking one is worshipping the Lord by working for the church organization, little time, energy or money is left to love and serve one another as Christ commanded. I explained how I was growing personally and spiritually since I had left the institutionalized church and began to serve Christ and my fellow man. My life was simplified when I was no longer a slave to men; I now had time to worship my God as He intended, with my daily life. I was also teaching my children to be Christ-centered rather than church-centered. Yes, it's a tremendous responsibility, but it's also freedom from bondage to the traditions and doctrines of men. They listened intently and said they'd like to discuss more later.
Questions I asked myself after this conversation were: Why are so many Christians unhappy? Why can't believers accept God's promises of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22.23)? Is it a lack of faith? What was the secret of the first century Christians who radiated love of God, self and each other in that they found favor with all the people (Acts 2:47)?
I believe it is because they knew the Master and had not been lulled into a false sense of security by an institution that promised to meet their needs and fell drastically short. They also understood that grace is an undeserved and unmerited favor. Do Christians today feel they have to pay in order to profit? Does contributing time and money to a "church organization" put one in God's favor? After devoting time and money to the institution, do Christians have enough of either left to do the true will of God - loving and helping those who need it most? Or, is so much given to the organization that there is no time, energy or funds left for ourselves or others? Do Christians give to the "church organization" out of their abundance and save the "leftovers" (if there are any) for service to God? Have believers forgotten that grace is a free gift from God with forgiveness of sins and eternal life being priceless?