People often correlate church and church attendance with your relationship to God. People are forever saying that someone is a good person because they go to church every week (usually inferring Sunday, which isn't even the Sabbath). I also hear people say things like "I've turned my life around; I go to church every Sunday!" Well, that's nice, I guess, but did you quit any of the sinful behaviors you were committing before? I've been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while, but I couldn't seem to get the words out; after seeing my Facebook timeline bombarded with with the idea that the Word is synonymous with what the pastor says, I felt moved to finally get it all on paper (or in print, I guess I should say).
Going to church falls under fellowshipping with other Christians, which the Bible tells us is a good thing (Acts 2:42). However, it isn't a requirement or indicative of someone's relationship to God. The Temple, which was the house of the Lord before Jesus' sacrifice, was only accessible to the priests. Observing the Sabbath (mind you the Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, not Sunday), had very little to do with going to the Temple. God forbade working, buying and selling, and going after your own desires on the Sabbath. Jesus clarified to point out exceptions in the cases of acts of kindness, emergencies, and worshipping God. Not only is there more to the Sabbath than attending a church, it isn't the crux of faith in either the New or Old Testament. So, why do people think so much of this man made tradition?
In the section below I talk about doting on the pastor's word, and I think that is wrapped up in the idea that church is an indicator of one's relationship with God. The focus is placed on the pastor and the time spent listening to him instead of the time spent with God (praying, reading the word, etc).
Listening to the Pastor
Not everyone who claims to be a pastor is preaching the Word of God. Just because someone quotes a Bible verse and it sounds good to you doesn't mean it's the correct interpretation of the Word. A video of Rickey Smiley has been floating around on my social media lately, and I'm not sure if people caught a critical problem with what he says. The following is a quote from the beginning of his testimony:
Everything that these great pastors is [sic] talking to you about is...is real. I'm not telling people you don't have to go to Bible Study, but go get that word because and [sic] get that foundation because it will bring about a better understanding of everything that you going through. Because if I didn't have that word, if I wasn't listening to Pastor Kevin Bryant every Sunday and Bishop Joseph Walker on the web and listening to things that Pastor Haynes and Pastor Marcus Davidson and Pastor E. Dewy Smith Jr. is [sic] talking about, man I wouldn't know where to stand.
Now, to an extent, I understand what Mr. Smiley is saying. As I said at the beginning of this series, reading the Bible is not like reading Dr. Seuss and it isn't for the faint of heart. The Word of God is hard to understand. However, the pastor's words shouldn't be the foundation for your understanding. If the pastor's explanation is the foundation of how you look at the Bible then you can twist a number of passages to confirm what the pastor has said. The foundation of your understanding should be the Holy Spirit.
But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Like Paul and the other apostles, the duty of a pastor is to help in understanding what has been read. For those who are not saved, who have no relationship with God, it makes sense that the pastor is who will draw them to Christ. That is the entry point. However, if you are saved and your foundation is not the Holy Spirit, there's something wrong. How are you discerning truth from deception? Are you inspired because the preacher said what you wanted to hear, or is it actually the truth of the Spirit? Mr. Smiley said if he didn't hear the preacher every week he wouldn't know where he stood. The reason he doesn't know where he stands is because he's leaving out the most important parts of the equation: the Holy Spirit and the actual Word (the Bible).
Reactions From Supporters
When Jesus spoke to the masses, He inspired them to follow Him. He inspired them to be better. Now, this doesn't mean people became perfect or lost all their quirks, but if you hear someone's testimony of God, you should be fairly mellow for a little while after hearing the testimony... The picture to the right is a screen shot of a comment thread beneath the video on Mr. Smiley's official fan page. I will start by saying that I have no idea what the initial commenter is talking about; however, the comments that follow are very telling of the people listening to the testimony. The official fan page (which I doubt is run by Mr. Smiley himself) doesn't turn the other cheek or respond with a respectful rebuttal, instead they offer a hostile "shut up." His fans or people who were inspired by the video then continue to berate the commenter, insult their poor grammar skills, and essentially gang up on the user. One user asks "what in the world" the commenter's statement has to do with the testimony. Not only could they have phrased their question better, but they completely brushed the issue under the table. Basically, the original commenter complained that he or she believed Mr. Smiley was promoting violence within black youth (clearly, something God would not support), and the other commenters said "so what" or "the devil is talking." Why not rebut Mr. Smiley supporting violence or suggest that while promoting violence is problematic, his testimony may be step one to him being in a better place? All of the people praising this testimony, and yet they bear no witness to the testimony of Christ.
This tells me that while the testimony given by Mr. Smiley may have inspired those in a similar predicament—and that's wonderful—I can't be sure how much of God actually came through the message when his fans responses are so rude. No one really addressed the comment the user made, instead they attacked what he or she said because it wasn't what they wanted to hear. Remember, just because you don't want to hear it, doesn't mean it isn't true. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us (there's that foundation we don't have to wait to tap into and follows us everywhere, even to the comment section on Facebook).
Fruits of the Spirit—A Semi-Testimony
I know, I know, everyone makes mistakes. As someone with a hot temper, I totally understand how easy it is for someone to rub you the wrong way and find yourself responding in an unGodly manner. When Paul says a good tree doesn't bear bad fruit, I don't think he means that Christians never mess up. I do think, however, that when we find ourselves producing bad fruit, this verse should tell us we are straying from God. When I lose my temper I'm corrupting my whole spirit with that bad fruit. This tells me I need to pray and I need to spend more time with God. I remember this verse so if and when I catch myself exhibiting fruits of a bad spirit, I put myself in check. For instance, the last time I was rude to someone via a Facebook comment, I realized it within the day that I had posted the comment and I went back to apologize.
The reason a good tree does not bear bad fruit is not because it has incapable never done so, but because it has been pruned to perfection. The good tree is devoid of parasites, contaminated water, and unhealthy soil, which allows it to flourish. For me (and apparently the commenters on that thread), one of those bad branches is a smart mouth. Each step I take closer to God, is an inch or so trimmed off this branch of me and the more infrequently I say things I regret. Despite the fact that prayer does bring us closer to God, that isn't the end of the road for pruning our branches, expelling parasites, finding clean water, or relishing in clean soil. We have to remove ourselves from situations and people that cause such branches to flourish.
An alcoholic may remove himself from club scenes, a gambler may avoid casinos. For those of us with a temper, we may avoid certain people who are more likely to trigger rage or we may steer clear of certain topics known to make our blood boil. Jesus told us to pluck out our eye if it caused us to sin, and I believe this is what Paul is referring to when he speaks about bearing fruit. If you are following Jesus you will prune your tree until only good fruit can thrive in your branches. Someone who is not trying to follow God will let bad fruit overrun their branches until good fruit is unable to survive.
When it comes to our actions and temperament, we should always strive to reflect God. We are setting an example for those watching us and representing God. UnGodly behavior may not only strain your relationships with people, but it may push them away from God as well.
- Galatians 5:22
- "Rickey Smiley". Wikipedia; visited January 2018
- Rickey Smiley Official Fan Page. "Video". Facebook. May 3, 2016