What is it to be a normal Christian? Are we “normal” Christians attending a “normal” Christian church? When I was young, Catholic churches were standard wherever one would go in the world with only minor variations. The Catholic Churches always had their mass celebrating communion, confessions, holy days, and their Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes for the purpose of giving religious education. The Methodist and Baptist churches were also typical wherever you would go. Things were the same, you knew what to expect when attending a typical Protestant church in terms of the nature of its worship service, Sunday school classes, particular doctrine, and the various programs reinforcing community life within the church.
Christian life was usual, and predictable; it was “normal” and it was upsetting to the clergy and congregation alike for change to come in any fashion. Keep the norm, maintain the harmony was the mantra; let’s not deviate from the norm. It was the entrance of the Charismatic Movement in the late 60’s and 70’s that shook many churches to the core in my sleepy little town. Many churches split either dividing the congregations or getting new pastors. Things eventually settled and returned to normal. Of course a truce of types was later drawn with some churches agreeing to have two services, one with contemporary worship and one with traditional worship.
Just what do we mean by the word “normal” or average? When I taught college, there were basically two ways of grading exams: The first is by straight percentage in which if a student got 75% of the questions correct, he received a “C” grade, it was considered average or normally expected. A 90% and above would earn an “A” grade and below 70% would receive a D. The second method of grading was what is called “the normal curve” which meant the average grade, a “C,” was determined not by the percentage of correct answers but by where most of the students scored—because it was normal that most students got C’s and much fewer would earn A’s and D’s. This is typical of most everything on our planet. Most of the people in the world are not super smart, nor are they exceedingly dumb. Most are of average intelligence. So if most of the students got 60% of the answers correct, that was the middle C grade, and those who scored much better received the A’s and B’s and those who scored much lower received the D’s and F’s.
The problem. Now if over time the quality of student performance begins to change and students are not as studious as they used to be, this will show up in their straight percentage grade, there will naturally be fewer high grades because the standard was not met, and there would be many more C, D and F grades. If this happens it is time for society to wake up and change behavior and enforce a greater study discipline or to fire those hard liner teachers and give easier exams. This has been what is called, “dumbing it down”—that is, making the whole system simpler and easier to get through. But under the second system of grading with the normal curve, the slide in performance goes by virtually unnoticed because there will always be the same number of C’s and A’s because the grade is not based upon the percentage of correct answers according to a standard, but upon what is perceived as normal by the majority of students.
If 10 years ago the normal curve showed that most of the students got 70% of the answers correct on a particular exam, they would receive a “C” grade; and if 10 years later if most of the students got 40% of the answers correct on that same exam, they would earn the “C” grade. I hope I am able to make this troubling point clear. It is a dilemma. The educational system is failing. The same number of students are graduating but with a lower level of knowledge. And, the students don’t know this because the exams show they are normal.
Normalcy of the Church. What has happened to the spiritual performance of the church over the years? It was not long, in Church history, that many churches started to deviate from the high standard initially given to them by the Holy Spirit. In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus is seen grading the seven churches of Asia and rebuking 5 of the 7 churches for their failures. In Christ’s visit to the Church of Laodicea He said, “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other! So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of My mouth!” Rev. 3.15-16 Lukewarm is normal, it is the average condition that either cold or hot will eventually become. It is a departure from the standard. The church thought everything was fine and couldn’t be better, but the Lord said, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked…” This condition is unacceptable to the Lord and He was about to reject them with disgust.
Now, down through the ages the Church “standard” has been replaced by a degrading “normal.” And to each generation brought up in the Church everything seemed normal. The problem being that the degrading normalcy has been influenced and dictated more by the whims of society than by Biblical truth. All kinds of worldly standards have stealthily subverted and displaced the high standard set for the Church. The Church would no longer function as the Body of Christ with Christ as the Head and every member (joint) supplying; it was to be a Kingdom of priests. Today we find it functioning as a well-oiled organization similar in fashion to any other organization in society: governments, military, business, education, and so on. Of course the Church replacing the secular titles of “management and employees” of an organization with “clergy and laymen,” and their “offices” have been replaced with “ministries.” In reality, many churches have just become pseudo-organizations capable of self-sustainment.
The high standard of a living organism functioning under its Head, Jesus Christ, with a many membered body, each contributing to the welfare of the whole, has degraded to the normalcy of: qualifications and credentials, diplomas and degrees, seniority, motivational speakers and participants with itchy ears. The greatest fall to normalcy is spiritual behavior, in which the high standard of “Christ in us,” and being “changed from glory to glory” has degenerated to worrying that our behavior is more acceptable to society than to Christ. The moral foundation of the Church has been weakened with compromise. Somehow, in all its distorted and perverted thinking, it maintains that Godly love is accepting everyone just as they are, regardless of what they think, say or do; that in being tolerant would somehow win them over; and that it is un-Christ like to judge. All is error upon error.
Thus, over time, the church has fallen more and more into the world in how it functions, into it belief system, and into its liberal philosophy. Jesus warned the church at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” Rev. 2.5 The church as a whole had lost their first love. The fortunate part is that they at least had a vague memory of the standard from which they had fallen. They could remember their former relationship with Christ. They had to opportunity to repent. The problem today is that the church cannot remember its first love because to them everything appears normal. In today’s church, generations have past and none has the faintest notion of its former position with Christ. They simply look at their current relationship with Christ and assume this is normal. In the absence of memory, it must become a matter of spiritual revelation. The Church has to be shaken to its core with the word of truth. It is spiritual warfare at the grass roots level. It is time to expose “normalcy” for what it is.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rm. 10.17 It was probably about 50 years ago I was introduced to two books by Watchman Nee: The Normal Christian Life and The Normal Christian Church Life. The books are still available online or by downloadable pdf. It’s been such a long time and I would have to revisit the books to relate the specific messages, but then I was immediately overcome with the notion that these are not the “normal” of today’s Christian…far from it. Nor was Nee describing what would be considered a normally “good” Christian Church. In reality, he was shining light on the “standard” from which today’s “normalcy” has degenerated. He was attempting to put into remembrance “from where we have fallen.”
Are you a “normal” Christian”? You know, like most other Christians with whom you associate. Yes, there are those that appear more spiritual, but God knows there are those that are far less spiritual. Are you content with your normalcy? Have you attained that standard in your life in which you are satisfied? Are you comfortable with your Christianity? Are you content with your “C” grade? Are you satisfied with what the blood of Christ has purchased for your life?
Is your Church a “normal” Christian Church? Of course there are those churches more fanatical; and for sure there are those churches that are a little more than social gatherings masquerading as a church—much less normal. Does the life that surrounds your church readily meet the standard set in the heart of Christ when He told Peter that, “on this rock I will build My church.” Mt. 16.18 By the way, the phrase, “This rock,” does not refer not a man (Peter for example as the first pope), nor is the rock a system, it is not a religion, not an organization or denomination…it is the fact that He, Jesus, is… “The Christ.” The Christ is the Rock! This is spiritual truth visiting us in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both the Son of Man and Son of God, in one soul.
The Standard of Religion or the Standard of Life. Degraded normalcy in the church is found in established rituals, standard services, set doctrines, programs and routine. This is known as religion. Religion is not the Church, it is not Christianity, it is a system for worship. But the Spirit of life is found in the Christ—it is living faith as He is living. O’ to meditate on the following scripture, it is so overwhelmingly powerful yet also so sobering:
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And, if Christ is in you…” Rm. 8.9-10
“If Christ is in you!”—this statement alone establishes the high standard of God. “If Christ is in you” is like “a shot fired across the bow”—the expression is from a naval tactic of firing a warning shot across the bow or front portion of a ship in order cause it to stop or to alter its course. If not heeded, severe consequences will follow. “If Christ is in you” then, and only then, you are in the Spirit, and your life should thus reflect the presence of God…the presence of God not nearby, or in heaven, or in the surroundings, or in thought only, but in reality in you.
The scripture goes on to read, if Christ is not in you, thensimply you are not His, you are yet in the flesh, you are yet in your sins, and you will suffer the consequences of your actions. Religion is not a substitute for the Christ, but it is the normalcy to which the Church has degraded. Religion is but a facade, an outer shell, actually concealing the truth; religion is only a shadow cast by the reality of Christ in you. When the church fell from the standard of Christ in you it could not imitate it, it could not act it out in the flesh, all it could do was to form a vague system of worship as its substitute, and to live in the shadow of truth.
The high standard of Christ for His Church is the presence of God in the midst of our gatherings: “In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit.” Eph. 2.21-22 Mary, the sister of Martha, could not tolerate being apart from the presence of Christ, even to suffer the rebuke of her sister to put on her apron and get busy doing good on behalf of the Lord. To sit in His presence was life to her soul. She became like that branch firmly attached to the vine, forever drawing the life-giving essence and nourishment flowing out from the vine.
“I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Jn. 15.5
You can do nothing— in the Greek the word nothing is a powerful negating word. It rules out, that is, “shuts the door” and leaves no exceptions. This word nothing brings to light and life the absolute necessity for the grace of God. The finest essences of all the religions of the world, including Christianity as a religion, could not extract the overwhelming significance of “I in him.” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, who was all bound up in religion, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Jn. 14.10. O’ do you see that the grace of God is bound up in Christ alone and that He is the Father’s free gift to all that would ask?
Christ Himself must become our standard, He is our high calling, He alone is the essence of God’s life… in us. Christ is not found in religion or in fleshly attempts to please God in one way or another. Man is incapable of atoning for his own sins or wayward behavior, or to somehow regenerate a new life within threw some fleshly act of repentance. Our Father in Heaven is less interested in what man may accomplish for Him, or in His behalf, than in freely giving the gift of His Son.
”That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph. 3.16-19
This, beloved, is the absence of lukewarm normalcy and the antithesis of religion; it is the return to the standard of the high call of God in Christ Jesus. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1.27