Much of the time, new church members are not welcomed with heaven’s (spiritual) joy, but rather, with the eagerness for those new church members to eventually fill certain churchy roles, such as, ushering, choir, Sunday School teacher assistant, etc. And, of course, churches are famous for supplying their new church members (even before they are given the "right hand of fellowship") with a whole year’s (box) supply of Sunday service weekly contribution envelopes, along with all those special “opportunities” [envelopes] designed to remind new church members that their principle role, is to financially contribute to the church’s upkeep and payroll.
One of Christ’s most notable and well remembered parables, is that of the “Prodigal [Lost] Son.”
The Lost Son is the major focus – along with the loving father who received him back into a restored family relationship. But the parable is about another (the elder) son, who, when the younger son returned after having spent his inheritance in riotous and lecherous living, begrudged his brother the hefty loving treatment of his father. It is this emeritus pastor (former parish pastor’s perspective), that many Christian churches, mirror that attitude of the older brother, told in the parable.
The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15:11-32:
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:11-32
Often in Christian churches, long established church members, principally do not perceive new church members coming into their midst, with [heaven’s type of spiritual] joy. Although church members who have been members for as long as 50 years, display and present a type of “sociable” behavior to new church members, – by and large, there are certain established church members who, by their (own) actions of omission, begrudge new church members as authentic brothers and sisters in the established fellowship gathering.
Look at Christ’s parable, closely, and zero in on the elder brother’s attitude as distinguished by his communication response to his father, about the celebration of his younger brother’s return:
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-32
As an emeritus Christian pastor [former parish pastor] I well remember a certain visit with one of the oldest members of the congregation. In the course of conversation, I mentioned to him that I had visited the oldest church member. At this point of the conversation, he stopped and corrected me – “Pastor Bickel, he is not the oldest church member. I am. I was baptized many years ago as an infant in this church, but he came later on, as an adult.” It was obvious that this old church member was “counting” on his long standing church membership. To him, that reigned supreme and foremost.
As with the older brother in the parable, church members pride themselves in having been with a particular church, longer than others. It is, apparently, a sign of genuine Christian character for them. But, from the parable of the Lost Son, this long standing presence means little to nothing to our loving and forgiving heavenly Father.
Pride and holier-than-thou attitudes destroy Christian churches
Christian pastors know what motivates their church members. They are no dummies to human nature. They know that their parishioners are motivated by pride and sense of accomplishment. Lavishing praise upon the church member for “church work” well done, is a common practice of “successful” Christian pastors.
But isn’t much of this self serving? Isn’t having been faithful to church membership and its many faceted roles and jobs, missing the mark? What is the emphasis of Christ’s Parable? It is, simply that the younger son who was once spiritually lost – was now wondrously found and restored.
I dare say that Christian churches are rife with the “Elder Son Syndrome” – those, long established Christians who have been in the church a lifetime and who have lost their joy over what should be a major primary focus of their Christian church experience.
Several weeks ago I posted the topical sermon [linked below]:
Failure to understand and implement Scripture’s teaching of the “’priesthood’ of all believers” thwarts the carrying out of Christ’s Great Commission Command – Why Christian churches end up, stooping to gimmickry
When Christian pastors – and, especially their church membership, either ignore and / or neglect the primary reasons for their existence – all types of ugly problems evolve within the local church. Churches then, become no more than glorified organizations and clubs.
What can you do, who find yourself in the midst of a “Elder Brother Syndrome” Christian church?
Pray for the Lord’s guidance – and, that he gift you with a patient and humble attitude. Otherwise, a spirit of superiority can rile your very soul.
Go about your personal business, exercising your royal priesthood responsibilities within your own family, employment and / or [otherwise] sphere of public and cultural influence.
Don’t expect to change your local Christian church from its mere “sociable” status into an environment of genuine love and acceptance. Don’t raise your expectations, only to have them disappointed, time and time, again.
Begin to appreciate your membership into the “holy Christian church, the communion of saints” as expressed in the timeless words of the Apostle’s Creed.
You sinner – who may be hearing or reading this message – don’t laugh that Christians and their churches have problems and challenges. You have a problem much more serious. Your problem is that you are a damnable sinner, headed for hell.
When you as a sinner, laugh and amuse yourself at Christians and their often sorry antics and failures – you lose your personal focus. You are then elevating yourself in a superior roll. You are being, “holier-than-thou.” You become a blind fool to focus on others while your soul is rotting in this life, only to be consumed by your reserved punishment and justice [served] in a future endless perdition.
You may think yourself better than others and that because of all your good intentions and public (kindly) endeavors, that you can avoid future hereafter punishment of your sins against God and his holy commandments. Don’t deceive yourself. You [also] need the forgiveness of Christ’s sacrifice for you. Would that God’s Holy Spirit gift you with a spirit of understanding and belief so that you can confess membership into His Church – the “holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” Then, and only then, will you be able to clearly understand that Christians, although, forgiven and cleansed by Christ’s perfect blood, often act according to their human sinful natures. Hopefully, by the grace of God, having once come into God’s Kingdom – you too, will join that dual nature crowd of Christians. Romans 7:1-25
May the good and gracious Lord, have mercy on your soul. May you seek him – and keep your “holier-than-thou” eyes off your oftentimes, bumbling Christian neighbor.
Related Scriptures [below] -- Intended to be utilized in a simple worship format:
Also: For a couple of other (more formal) worship formats:
The Order of Morning Service
The Order of Matins
Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures:
Proverbs 30:12 -- Self respectability, a no-count before the Lord
New Testament Christian Scriptures:
Luke 5:27-32 – God’s interest is, sinners – not churches full of people
Philippians 3:1f – What really, counts
Of Whom Does the Prophet Speak" -- by Victor Buksbazen -- Isaiah 53:1-12 -- an in-depth view of and the prophecy of Christ, hundred of years before his birth. Isaiah 53:1-12 underscores the truthfulness of Divine Revelation as exemplified in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
Please note: Topical Messages, by subject
Pastor (emeritus) Nathan Bickel
Please also note:
The "Words in Season" topical messages and related worship format are not intended to discourage or replace the Christian worship and assembly of Christians at their particular places of church worship. As this website's author, it is my prayer and hope, that many souls will find the topical messages, related worship format and other material, a useful and valuable Christian resource.