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The Baptist Testimony
Volume 56 Number 4 July/August 2010
The Word Has It
“Strengthen me according to Your word,” -Psalm 119:28
MARBC Executive Director
I have just enjoyed a sunset walk with my wife, Sharon, as I write this column. We are taking advantage of these nice summer days while we have them. Soon the cold chills of winter breezes will be blowing through our neighborhood. The constant parade of walkers, joggers, bikers, and parents pushing baby strollers will diminish to the few dedicated exercise fanatics who are willing to brave winter’s brutality.
As we stroll down the sidewalks along the tree lined streets we often hear the shrill or melodious sounds of varying species of birds as they call out to their mates or offspring. I am able to identify some of the more familiar calls and quiz Sharon as to what bird just made the distinct squawk or chirp.
One sound that both of us hear often and can identify automatically is the slow, somber call of the Mourning Dove. I am sure that these particular birds are no more sorrowful or cheerful than the others that inhabit our neighborhood. Yet, their sound is not one that motivates you to open your window in order to hear more clearly. It seems strange to realize that a bird that broadcasts such a mournful song is closely related to the White Dove, a bird that symbolizes peace and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit on the Church of Jesus Christ.
The pigeon is a cousin of the dove. Pigeons also have a distinctive sound, although its “cooing” cannot be heard from as far away as its cousin, the Mourning Dove. When we think of a pigeon, we most likely think of a nuisance bird, primarily because of the mess that it makes.
Now, admittedly I am not an ornithologist – although I have been called a “bird brain” on some occasions! I am not an expert regarding varying species of birds. However, I believe that I am on safe ground making the following theological observation about two kinds of birds in today’s church culture. At first glance or sound they may seem fairly similar. It is sometimes difficult to see or hear the difference between authentic New Testament Christianity and a counterfeit: the difference between dove power and authority and, what might be called, “pigeon religion.”
I coined the phrase, “pigeon religion” while serving as a pastor several years ago. The methodology of “pigeon religion” on the surface may seem similar to that of the church. It is often masked with spiritual sounding terminology and wrapped in religious trim. Sometimes the efforts of such a person or church may seem to be motivated by good intentions. These efforts might include large financial gifts, moving songs, or stirring testimonies and oratory. But if it is done in the flesh with the desire that these efforts or events be seen by many, it is not God honoring nor will it be God blessed.
Jesus declares in Matthew 6:1, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” “Pigeon religion” has very little to do with Biblical Christianity and much to do with “attracting the attention of a crowd.” It focuses upon outward actions rather than inward attitudes and transformation.
Jesus comments on this crowd seeking mindset in Matthew 23:5 – “But all their works they do to be seen by men.” To whom was Jesus speaking? He was speaking to the religious establishment, known as the Pharisees, as well as other prisoners of religion whose identity was in what they do and how they were noticed while doing it. That could be defined as “pigeon religion!”
Have you noticed that you rarely see just one pigeon? Typically one pigeon quickly attracts a flock of other pigeons. Perhaps this type of gathering is what led to the coining of the phrase, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This pithy phrase reminds us that a person is impacted and branded by the group with which he or she is associated. Perhaps this is a good time for you to consider the groups and places where you gather.
Pigeons scavenge for a few moments until they are frightened away or distracted to their next location. They leave behind them filthy and potentially disease ridden messes that can pose great risk to those that make contact with it.
The Apostle Paul addresses this “pigeon religion” mindset in 2 Corinthians 3. He reminds his readers that those who base their spirituality upon keeping religious codes of conduct find themselves covered by a veil while speeding down a dead end street. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:15-18)
Dr. Richard J. Shropshire, author of the newsletter, “The Barnabas Connection,” has observed, “The approval of men is a fickle commodity; but the affirmation of God is dependable and eternal.” Until we are willing to find our sufficiency in Christ, we try to find it in other human beings. This is spiritually dangerous ground upon which to tread.
After I had written this column and proof read it, I decided to “Google” the phrase “pigeon religion.” My search resulted in finding hundreds of references to a “post- punk” band that operates under that name. Here is the summary of an article from Wikkipedia: “‘Pigeon Religion’ is an American post-punk band formed in 2008 in Phoenix, Arizona. Pigeon Religion live shows are notorious for their uncomfortable atmosphere, characterized by violence and excessively loud volume. Pigeon Religion are rarely able to finish a full set without being shut down by police or angry show promoters.” (July 2010, www.wikipedia.org) What an interesting commentary, don’t you agree?
Pursuing human attention and affirmation is not God’s plan, nor is it the dynamic of a Spirit empowered Church. Acts 2:46 reminds us that the early church was characterized by a consecrated, Biblical mindset as they – “continued daily with one accord in the temple.” Other translations render the phrase “with one accord” as “meet together,” “with united purpose,” “in unity of spirit,” and “were one at heart.”
True worshippers enter into God’s presence through praise, the expression of awe at who God is. Spirit led worship and Spirit empowered churches are characterized by the expression of gratitude for what God has done. Those who shun “pigeon religion” in favor of genuine worship will utilize this God given criteria in order to evaluate what is “dove” defined and what is merely the activity of “pigeon religion.” Jesus declared in John 4:23 – “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
God is glorified and we are blessed when our worship is God focused and Spirit empowered.
You have His Word on it!