“Religious Evasion” from The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard (Pg 201 - 202)
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, the one in the heavens” (Matthew 6:16) [Jesus’] teaching leads to a discipline, not a law, and a discipline that prepares us, precisely, to act in a way that fulfills the law of whole-person love of God.
A thoughtful examination of local gatherings of Christian believers may reveal that in this teaching Jesus lays his finger upon a primary cause of their ineffectiveness as schools of eternal living. Truthfully, it seems to be a general law of social/historical development that institutions tend to distort and destroy the central function that brought them into existence. A few years ago Clyde Reid wrote a painfully incisive discussion of how our church activities seem to be structured around evading God. His “law of religious evasion” states, “We structure our churches and maintain them so as to shield us from God and to protect us from genuine religious experience.”
Along with many other telling observations of church life, he notes,
“The adult members of churches today rarely raise serious religious questions for fear of revealing their doubts or being thought of as strange. There is an implicit conspiracy of silence on religious matters in the churches. This conspiracy covers up the fact that the churches do not change lives or influence conduct to any appreciable degree.”
There is very little time and occasion for openness in most of our gatherings because we fear it. We think it may lead to confrontation, anger, and divisiveness. We are not open because we fear what others will think of us and do to us. If we honestly compared the amount of time in church spent thinking about what others think or might think with the amount of time spent thinking about what God is thinking, we would probably be shocked. Those of us in congregational leadership need to think deeply about this.
Often the “eyeservice” that occurs in present-day church services comes in the form of trying to “move” people. “Wasn’t that a great service,” we often say. But what do we mean? Are we really thinking of how God felt about the service? What is the correlation between God’s view of a great service and the human view? We need to be very careful about this, or the rule, “Truly, they have their reward,” may apply to us.
Suppose I am a pastor. If, truly, God did nothing in my church service, or in response to my efforts in ministry, how much would it really matter if the people in attendance still thought and spoke well of things and returned for the next service and brought their friends? I may be tempted to think I have to attract people to hear me but could get by without God. How can one in a leadership position not be haunted by what the Lord said to his prophet Ezekiel:
Everyone is talking about you all the time. They say, “Come and let’s hear what the word is from the Lord.” And they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them. For their mouths talk devotion but their hearts seek wicked gains. Why, you are just like one who sings about love with a beautiful voice and a well-played instrument. They hear what you are saying, but do not do it. (Ezek. 33:31–32)
Whatever our position in life, if our lives and works are to be of the kingdom of God, we must not have human approval as a primary or even major aim. We must lovingly allow people to think whatever they will. We may, if it seems right, occasionally try to help them understand us and appreciate what we are doing. That could be an act of love. But in any case we can only serve them by serving the Lord only.