Throughout Scripture we see the call to unity and spiritual growth for believers in Christ, yet so many Christians only grow to a certain point and then stop growing altogether and are not able to connect with the Universal Church! Many seem to be going in circles within their particular group. Why is this?
The primary reason for the stagnant growth within Christianity today lies within the structure and ideal of the Church, or lack there of. The very existence of the Protestant Church, as well as the creation of new Protestant churches, relies heavily on division (schism). From the beginning of the Reformation, churches have sprung off of the Puritan and Lutheran traditions through their personal agendas of purity. To them, the church exists only in the form of the elect (truly saved). Contrary to Orthodoxy, Puritanical Christianity does whatever it can to get a person “saved” and then weave them into the Church. But the ancient tradition is much different. We bring people into the Church in order that they may be saved. The Church, to us, is comprised of elect as well as non-elect. In Matthew 13, Christ speaks of the kingdom itself being comprised of both wheat and tares and that the refining – the ridding of the tares – will not be done until the end of the age.
The problem with this Puritanical expression of the Christian Church is that scapegoats are created to excuse the ungodliness of the tares. Rather than grasping the understanding that some people will never change and that some people take a long time to change, the Puritanical Christian runs to the closest doctrine to lay blame on it, creates a polarized doctrine to oppose it, then gathers people around these new doctrines to break off and create a “purer” Church.
When the Modernist, Puritanical Christian takes this approach they’re actually working against their original plan to help grow people and the Church abroad. The Church is designed to have a certain amount of doctrinal latitude within it. This is how the Church operated within the first millennium, before it fell into thousands of protesting pieces. The required doctrines for salvation and a good standing in the Church were very basic, based on the Trinitarian teachings expressed through preaching, prayers, the Eucharist, as well as baptism. Those that went outside of these basic structures where deemed as cults by both the bishopric, and in many cases, the state.
Unfortunately, the Church is no longer structured this way. Today, the Puritanical structure has gained much momentum and now Christians everywhere are hitting spiritual ceilings within their particular church. One of the most common ways I’ve seen this happen is when one begins to grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ, and in the process of growth, they’re hindered by their pastor or other church leader because their particular denomination is FOUNDED off of being polarized from the very doctrines that the Christian is growing into. This is how many of the schisms of the Protestant Church have been formed. Beginning at the top of the food chain (Orthodoxy) each lower link of the chain has hidden themselves from those who are higher up in order to RETAIN THEIR VERY EXISTENCE! The bottom line is that Christians are not allowed to grow, lest they be excommunicated or squeezed out by their church/denomination.
I like to call these people “Capped Christians.” They are frightened to grow because if they do they will be ousted in some form or fashion by their pastor and/or congregation, which means they will also lose many of the friendships that they worked so hard to build over time. Many do grow of course, and move on to a higher call; perhaps from non-denominationalism to the Reformed faith, or from the Reformed faith to the Eastern faith, but most do not take the leap because of how difficult a transition it can be.
These Capped Christians are capped from no one else but their pastors. Not only will the pastor do everything in his power to bar the Christian from growing into the opposed doctrines but they will also hide doctrines that they know to be true simply because their denomination does not teach it.
The pastors/leaders that refuse to accept Christ’s command for unity and insist on remaining divided from the Church-historical will be held to a high standard at judgment. We should pray that they would grow out of this cultic type of structure and mindset. The structure that they have adopted is that the Church is the elect and not the baptized, and therefore the doctrine must be that of which will immediately produce “electness.” This pursuit of pragmatic doctrine is never ending and it will never work. It will only continue to create doctrine that is completely legalistic. The irony of this is that within the past 30 years, many movements have created legalistic doctrines against legalism itself. They are theologies that claim to be anti-legalistic but are nonetheless themselves legalistic, just more complex. Why does this happen? Well, because they refuse to believe that God saves through the Church. They think that doctrine in and of itself saves people, apart from the visible Church. God saves through the Church. This is what Christ says in John 3 and Matthew 16, and what St. Paul teaches throughout the Epistles. Granted, someone can be saved if they do not go through baptism and become a covenantal part of the Church, but this is the exception and not the rule of the faith.
I’m very passionate about this topic and am willing to continue to discuss it. I have been through the ranks of a variety of Protestant churches and I know for certain that many pastors today refuse to grow in their faith because they do not want to lose their primary source of income. And often times, they do not want to lose the pride of being a pastor. Many are simply liars of the faith. Inside their heart they know that there is a greater truth within the historic church but they refuse to change and so lie to themselves and to others about the Gospel and the Church. Again, St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3 that these men will suffer loss in eternity. Are you one of these men? If so, be bold! Get out of your own way and stop leading people to dark valleys and dry deserts. Are you a Capped Christian, or one that is being led by one of these liars? If so, do as St. James says, and flee! You will not regret it.