Recently I overhead someone saying something to the effect of “this is a church, not a courtroom.” I don’t remember exactly what the context of the statement was, but it got me thinking a bit about the comparison and contrast of the 2 of them. For myriad reasons, courtrooms can be very intimidating, uninviting, unnerving, and flat out frightening. This is of course not how the local church should be.
There are similarities between the 2, both in how each operates correctly, as well as how each operates incorrectly. Unfortunately the proceedings in courtrooms are often lacking integrity. However when they are functioning as they were designed to, they do act with the utmost integrity in order to carry out their mission. The courtroom’s mission is to hear assertions and determine their validity, based on how well they align with all available, relevant, and truly legitimate evidence, in the context of established law. To break that mission down to its essence, it is to find the truth.
The true Church; the true body of Christ; that being all of those who have put their faith in the finished work of Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection, according to the Scriptures, to pay for their sins; who have therefore received the irrevocable free gift of eternal life, do indeed have the truth living within them; they have Christ. He is of course the truth (John 14:6). The local church, has the mission of not only to seek the truth, but to proclaim the truth as well.
It is unfortunate that very often just as courtroom proceedings are less than honorable, proceedings in the local church are as well. This happens when a given church, particularly its leadership, is not focused upon [seeking] the truth [Christ]; the one who saves the members of the true Church, and thus fails to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just as corrupt courtroom proceedings may ignore evidence and manipulate the law in order to achieve a given end, the local church can twist, distort, and pervert the meanings of Scripture passages to justify some sort of sinful behavior that they don’t want to view as sin. Amongst these sinful behaviors are even ones that God goes so far as to refer to as abominations.
This perversion of Scripture can also [just as wrongly] take the form of legalism in the local church. The message from many pulpits begins as salvation by grace alone, yet in one way or another, the necessity of works for salvation is added to it. Some do it more subtly by getting people to question their salvation by looking at themselves to see whether they are living sinless enough, or doing enough, etc., in order to determine if they are really saved. This is simply back-loading works into the equation, resulting in a distorted and powerless, impotent, works-based false gospel. This has the person looking at and focusing on the dismal lacking and sinfulness of themselves, and not on glorious imputed righteousness of Christ, and what the Scriptures tell us when they are rightly divided. Sometimes this distortion of the Gospel is to the extreme of where the unsaved person is told that they must make total commitment to Christ and submit all to Him in order to be saved. Being totally committed to Christ and submitting all to Him is an EXCELLENT idea, but it is not how anyone gets saved, and an unsaved person most certainly cannot do it. One must be saved and possess the free gift of eternal life before one can even begin to meaningfully strive to live this way. I will not go into the myriad problems with this evil false gospel, but the most obvious thing is that it is a message of salvation by works, or works plus grace (they are both powerless to save, thus essentially the same). Scripture is clear that we are saved by grace alone and not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). I have even heard preachers go so far as to try to define faith as what amounts to nothing more than a set of works. This is flat out wrong. The Greek word for faith used in the aforementioned passage is “pistis;” its meaning has nothing to do with any set of actions or works. It is all about reliance and trust/belief.
The reason a lot of these sorts of teachings came about was because there were those in leadership who believed that church members were not behaving well enough. While this may have indeed been true, this solution to the problem was not of the Holy Spirit but of the devil. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Gospel message just as it is. The last thing that we need to do is to “help the Holy Spirit” by changing His Gospel message. If there is a problem in the local church, we can trust the Holy Spirit to guide and work, without altering the rightly divided meaning of Scripture; again He most certainly does not need our “help” here. These false gospel messages wind up producing a lot of unsaved, uptight, frightened, and legalistic folks, as well as a lot of “former Christians.” [Please refer to the section entitled “Former Christians” on page 29 of Angles and Aspects of Salvation, the free e-book that is accessible from many places on this website, for more discussion of this.] We are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believe the Gospel; the real one (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Ephesians 1:13). If we have never truly believed it as it is, we are unsaved and have never received the Holy Spirit and therefore have no power to truly live a righteous life; a legalistic one perhaps, but God sees this as nothing more than filthy rags (Isiah 64:6). Remember that the Pharisees were great law keepers, but these were just about the only people that Jesus had harsh and damning words for. God is not impressed with human “righteousness,” which is achieved by empty and meaningless legalism. The only righteousness that we can have that He is impressed with is the imputed righteousness of His Son, again which we only receive when we believe the Gospel.
People in courtrooms often distort facts, tell half-truths, intentionally take and assert things out of context, etc. in order to make the evidence [or lack thereof] say what they want it to say. Church leaders often do the same with Scripture in order to somehow make it supposedly say what they want it to say. This is a shame on both accounts, but the offense of the local church is far greater. The courtroom is representing human law, which is known to be subject to error and inconsistency at times. The local church is representing God and His Word, which are without error or inconsistency.
The people in courtrooms should be all about what the law says and should be working to properly uphold it in every way in order to find truth. The people of the local church should be all about what the Bible says and trusting God to uphold it in every way. While a courtroom will always be a frightening place at times by necessity, the local church should be a place of comfort, peace, refuge and godly consistency. Let the local church always uphold, preach and proclaim the truth; the true Gospel; the eternally good news that brings forgiveness and true rest and peace.
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