No Accountability Christianity
A New Type of Christianity?
It would appear that a new type of Christianity is becoming more and more popular in North America, and perhaps elsewhere too. What does it look like? It is a form that is characterized by a strong stress on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus but also with an ambivalent attitude toward his body, the church. It professes to believe in holy living but is reluctant to give concrete shape to that holiness. It says that worship is important but regards regular worship as largely optional. It finds refuge in the fact that there is a catholic, universal dimension to the church but does not really commit to the local, concrete expression of the church. It professes a desire to be biblically rooted and grounded but then is selective in terms of what biblical principles it puts into practice.
To clarify what I mean, an example may be helpful. A young man decides to join a certain church in the community. He attends the morning worship service but sees no need to attend the afternoon or evening service (if there still is one). He has decided that on the Lord’s Day the morning is for the Lord (most of the time) and that the rest of the day is his to do with as he pleases. As for the kind of activities that he chooses to participate in for the remainder of the Sunday, that is all rather wide open: sporting events, eating out, etc.
Getting back to his Sunday morning worship experience, he appreciates the fact that the music is contemporary and the songs are easy to sing. He likes the pastor’s messages because they are personal and direct, short and funny, low-key and upbeat. He knows some of the people, but none of them really well. They are all very friendly, but that friendliness does not extend to too many invitations to “come on over.” When he comes to the morning worship service people are happy to see him. When he is not there, no one calls him to find out if he is sick or in difficulties. No, they leave him alone.
You see, he is really quite free to do his own thing. No elders ever inquire about his spiritual health and well-being. No one questions his moral fitness to attend the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. No minister issues warnings from a pulpit. No, this is religion that is strictly between him and the Lord. Private.
As for his conduct during the week or how he lives his personal life, those too are untouched areas. His entertainment choices are not questioned by other believers. Life style issues are not addressed. Should he happen to be living together with a member of the other sex (or even same-sex), nothing is said.
We are into a new era of Christianity. It has to do with personal religion, some worship, and a degree of involvement. However it requires no real commitment in terms of faithful worship attendance or holiness as connected to the Ten Commandments, nor the giving of first fruits, and, above all, there is no one who will hold you to account.
Is this Biblical?
Now, whenever a new trend emerges we should not dismiss it out of hand. No, we have a duty to study it, to discuss it, to weigh it and to come to some conclusions about it. The same applies to this newest brand of Christianity. Is it biblical?
Before we can answer that we first need to get a grip on what biblical Christianity is all about. In that connection a number of principles stand out.
The first is that biblical Christianity is indeed personal. There is no doubt that faith in the Triune God is a fundamental requirement. Each and every believer has to believe in God and thus to love, serve and honour Him (Matthew 22:37).
A second principle of biblical Christianity is that it is communal. Faith in the Triune God unites believers not just to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also to other believers. John Donne, the English poet, used to say that “no man is an island unto himself.” The same applies to believers, for “no believer is an island unto himself or herself.” Personal faith is commanded; individualistic faith is a perversion (Ephesians 4).
A third principle is that all believers have an obligation to worship God together on a regular basis. Hebrews 10:25 states, “let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” There is a pattern here, namely of setting aside one day for the Lord (not just a few hours) and meeting together faithfully on that day.
A fourth principle of biblical Christianity has to do with mutual responsibility. Believers are supposed to look after one another. They are to be “kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32). They are to “speak truthfully” to one another (Ephesians 4:25). They are to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). They are to confront one another about their sins (Matthew 18:15).
A fifth principle deals with the elders in the church. Now, this may well be the most neglected aspect in modern Christianity. How many churches still have elders? How many churches that have elders also see to it that they function as real elders? Still, the Scripture is very clear on this matter. We know that elders were appointed wherever a New Testament church was instituted (cf. Acts 14:23). We know about their qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).
We know too about their work. Elders are supposed to keep watch over themselves and over “all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made (them) overseers” (Acts 20:28). They are to “be shepherds of God’s flock” (1 Peter 5:2). They are to “encourage others by sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). They are “over you in the Lord and ... admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).
Now, these five principles are by no means exhaustive. There are many others that could and should be mentioned; however, space hinders us from doing so. At the same time we have enough to come to a preliminary evaluation of this new brand of Christianity.
A Word of Lament
For openers, I would say that a word of lament needs to be uttered here. When I hear of people attending churches where the members are not held accountable I can only express deep regret that these churches have strayed so far from the biblical norms.
Of course, it is understandable in a way. After all, accountability cannot be totally separated from disagreeable work like posing questions, confronting people, getting personal, even from words of admonition. Worse than that, it cannot be divorced from church discipline either. Yes, and is that not something which has fallen almost universally out of favour in our world? As it is so much easier to let sleeping dogs lie, so it is to let wayward fellow believers wander.
Yet the question always needs to be asked, “Does such a hands-off approach really benefit the saints? Does it help them? Does it bring them closer to the Lord?” The answer is obvious. It does the opposite. Not to hold someone accountable when necessary is really to say to that person that it does not matter whether or not they fall into the hands of an angry God. It is a denial of all that the Bible teaches about
God’s justice and integrity. Churches and members who are willing to turn a blind eye to sin in their ranks do a grave disservice to their members. They are not really intent on seeing the spirits of disobedient saints “saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
A Word of Warning
Even more than that, they do an even greater disservice to the Lord. They violate his holiness. They invite his wrath. In short, a word of warning is also in order here. Those assemblies and believers who fail to promote accountability among their members will not be around for long. Is that not a basic lesson that can be learned both from the Old Testament and New Testament? God’s patience with an Israel in which priests, prophets and people lived careless and disobedient lives reached a breaking point. Christ’s words to the seven churches of Asia Minor remain a reminder to us that toleration of sin and worldliness of life is a sure recipe for extinction.
A Word of Encouragement
On the other hand, repentance and change offer a different route. Also today there is hope, hope for believers and churches who decide to do things God’s way. Churches that are devoid of elders need to appoint them and give them real spiritual work to do among their members. As for the members, they need to realize that they are the keepers of their brothers and sisters in the Lord. So a word of encouragement goes out to all believers and churches who truly desire to be ruled by the Word of God. He will surely bless such efforts.