I texted this to our Pastor to relate how his sermon had spoken to me. He suggested that it should be published, so here goes….
THE EXCLUDED MIDDLE:
…been thinking and praying about last Sunday sermon. It is generally true (as you said) that there are two kinds of people in the world, lost and saved — or lost and not saved, –yet. In our culture, I think there is an “excluded middle”. These are people that we don’t think about, don’t want or like to think about, and don’t want to admit exist. These are people whose ego and reputation have been so shaped by culture as to affirm their pride as being known as a “religious” or “christian” person…or even as a “good American”. They want sermons and church experiences to affirm their ability to “keep the rules”, so they find churches that do that. They are by and large strangers to the Gospel of Grace. These people are “Clairol Christians: only God knows for sure” (Dating myself by quoting an old, old TV commercial). And, many (like the leaders you have mentioned) are simply lost. In that “wonderful, terrible mix” they have created, they can happily live like hell all week as long as they “give ’em heaven” on Sunday. Some are disobedient Christians, some are simply lost, but all hold up ego and reputation as their true idol. It is what they love, and they will fight for it. It includes enough spiritual buzz words and Bible snippets to sound religious, but it is not biblical. It is cultural, political, popular, and humanistic.
When the real group of lost people look at the church, they see this group first, because they are most outspoken as they promote self over Christ. They have a thousand humanitarian reasons for “being good”, and a thousand criticisms for both the lost and genuine Christians, because both threaten their home-made religion of self. They are “keeping the rules” and no one should dare suggest that continually practicing the Presence of Christ via the indwelling Holy Spirit 24/7 should be a thing, much less their thing. The thought that Christ is the biggest issue in their life daily is practically foreign.
The world sees this hollowed out religiosity, detests it, and interprets what they see as the church as irrelevant. They are right. It is Pharisee-ism. It is too much of us, not enough of Christ, and certainly not 100% about Christ.
The enemy of revival is not the world of lost people, but the “excluded middle person” beside us in the pew…or maybe it is me! The question is not whether I am behaving like a Christian, or like a righteous person as I “ought”. It is, am I in Christ, walking and communing with him through his Word and Spirit as that new creation he has made, –and receiving his joy? Or, am I settled into my version of self aggrandizing “church life”?
“Determinedly take no one seriously but God, and the first person you find you have to leave severely alone as being the greatest (spiritual) fraud you have ever known, —is yourself.” Oswald Chambers
2 Corinthians 5:17-19 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
John 15:7-17 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
It would seem that in these tumultuous times, we in the church must get our hearts right, –not controlled by fear, anger, or disgust, but driven by continual communion with Christ through his Word and Spirit, and powered by his love at work in us. Surely, the times are ripe for revival if only the world could see the ‘real’ church of Christ through his followers. If not now, when? If not us, who? Perhaps we exclude the middle group of people in our thinking because we know it is ‘us’. I think that is what I do. If I do nothing about it, who will?
You got me thinking, Pastor. Thank you.