The Pruning Process
I have been stressing that before Christ can build His Church into a conquering army (Matt. 16:18) He must engage in some serious purging. In a previous article
I wrote about the yearly process of producing grapes in a vineyard. It is primarily about pruning the vines in the spring. This pruning process involves two basic procedures. The first is the removal of the deadwood that harbors insects and disease that that may cause the vine to rot. The second is the drastic cutting back of the live wood to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood instead of the fruit. In the early spring, vineyards look like a collection of barren and bleeding stumps, but when autumn arrives, they are filled with luxuriant purple grapes.
The Church Today
The previous article explains how this process describes what Jesus must do in the lives of Christians so they can bear fruit. Today I want to take the analogy a step further to show how I believe the process also applies to the Church in these challenging days. Jesus promised that He would build His Church into a conquering army (Matt. 16:18). Picture the Church (when Christ has built it) as a perfectly cared-for vineyard in autumn. Before this can happen, the spring pruning must take place. The deadwood must be ruthlessly removed.
Identifying the Dead Wood
I see the deadwood in the Church as whatever allows the growth of deadly heresies, false doctrine, and false teachers. I believe the American Church today is full of dead wood—the feel-good messages, the emphasis on large numbers and large buildings, compromising to avoid offending anyone, catering to wealthy patrons, perpetuating the machine instead of growing an organism, emulating other “successful” churches, trusting in what man can do, and running the church more like a business that a faith-based ministry. The Church’s deadwood also fosters loving the lovable while ignoring the rest and causing divisions when others don’t see things your way. I believe the things so many churches hold so tightly are the very things Jesus sees as “insects and diseases” that are destroying His vineyard.
Identifying the Live Wood
The live wood must also be pruned. In the Church, the live wood is whatever is good but can drain vitality away from the best. Here we have all the things so many churches pride themselves in doing—programs, activities, elaborate productions, flashy performances, and even some ministries. Church live wood can house “religious activity” that makes people feel good about what they have done but prevents them from focusing on their relationship with their Lord. . When new believers are immediately put to work serving in some capacity (instead of first being discipled), they assume that Christianity is all about what they do, but the more they do, the more burned out they feel, followed by a good case of guilt for not doing enough. They never learn about their new identity, so they keep striving to become something Christ has already made them to be.
Pleasing our Vinedresser
I believe the more we follow the example of the Early Church, the more we will please Jesus. Our emphasis is to be on fervently loving one another, meeting each other’s needs, bringing the gospel to a lost and hurting world, and discipling new believer to maturity. It’s that simple. Too much of the Church’s efforts have been at the expense of the most important things Between our dead wood and our excessive live wood, we have made idols out of the very things that Jesus is about to prune away. Only they are stripped away by Christ’s chosen instruments will we be forced to be about our Master’s business and become the Church Jesus promised to build.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
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