I live and serve in the heart of the Bible-belt. I grew up here in a conservative God-fearing home for most of my life. I grew up in a very legalistic independent baptist church, where everything was wrong, except for what the pastor said was right. He was our moral authority, because he was the only one who could hear from God. This led to me being very closed minded and unaware of the deep truths found in God's Word, and the ability for me to experience this God firsthand. I was never aware that there was the capability to have a real, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. The only thing I could do was to quote certain scriptures that would defend the personal beliefs of a pastor that I knew very little about, but was told that he was following God's leadership. On a side note, I am not attacking the character or beliefs of one particular individual. I am attempting to attack something that is reigning so high in the Bible-belt at this time. This being modern day Pharisaic living.
Coming back to my home town after serving in the military and seeing my need for a deeper understanding of what living a life for Christ really looks like, I am deeply concerned for my community, because there doesn't seem to be this same concern in the lives of many of the churches and Christians around me. People are willing to fight to the stake over church tradition and personal preferences, but a lack of fight for sound biblical truths and doctrine. This reminds me of what we see in the Gospels that Jesus was facing when he was speaking to the Pharisees. He spoke to them with the prophetic words of Isaiah, "You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me."
I see this being played out inside the churches of our community and in the lives of many good-intentioned Christians. People are capable of quoting Scripture to defend their traditions and personal preferences, but due to being uninformed they are unable to express what they believe and why they believe according to Scripture. In all fairness, this is not their faults, because this is what I was taught as well. Many just need to be given the permission to study and think freely for themselves. Many people need to be taught how to study Scripture and find out what the Bible really says about the Christian life.
It seems as though we are good and content with following laws (just as the Pharisees), but not so comfortable with actually being responsible for our own Christian lives and how we live them in accordance to Biblical truths. What I fear this leads to is what Jesus expresses in Matthew 7:22-23 "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name; and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
This is my fear because I believe that many have bought into a religious ideology, but haven't actually given their lives Jesus and made Him the treasure of their lives. I know this is not a popular topic and one that I could potentially receive a lot of ridicule for, but I have placed myself in this same post. It wasn't until recently (the past 3 years) that I have understood this more clearly. Being a Christian is not about me, but it is all about Jesus. Quite frankly, I don't believe that there is enough room for Jesus in many of our churches and our Christianity today. We need to to do as Paul says in Philippians 2:12, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." I don't say this to cause fear, but to awake us from our slumber and begin following Christ and run quickly from religious stagnation. When Christ becomes the center of our lives, our churches, our religions, other things become more important. We start paying closer attention to our hearts and their motivations, and pay less attention to how we look and appear to others. I believe this is what is needed in order for a modern day reformation to break loose and our world to experience a great revival of the heart and spirit.
I humbly invite any thoughts on this subject. I truly believe this is something that not only pastors need to be discussing with each other and their congregations, but also this needs to be the topic of discussion between husbands and wives, parents and children, and friends. So feel free to add to this discussion, even if we disagree.