In reading Romans I realized there was a similarity between what the church in Romans was experiencing, and our ‘mega-church’ problems.
In Romans we see Jewish believers who have grown up in the ‘church.’ They have been raised with rules and expectations regarding what it means to be ‘good.’ Some are saved, and others believe that they are believers even though they are merely rule followers. Both groups tend to believe the ‘rules’ are very important and their words and actions imply that the rules may even be more important than belief, even though they may deny this to be so.
We also see, in Romans, that there are a lot of Gentile believers. They did not grow up with the ‘rules’ and many of them have not bothered to study scripture. They have faith, but only a few know how to live as a believer. There are more ‘true Christians’ in this group, but their lives are often messier than those who have no faith, but live according to God’s law.
How to balance these groups is difficult. Those who grew up with the ‘rules’ and whose lives are a lot less messy will of course believe their ways are better, except the truth is that some of them are not saved- which is worse than having a messy life. Many with messy lives believe, but see the rule followers as judgmental. The lack of faith of some of the rule followers likely draws those who believe away from discovering the blessings associated with knowing and following God’s laws. It was a mess then, and is still a mess now. Combine that with the fact that those who really like the rules expect new believers to be completely perfect in actions upon salvation. These ‘old believers’ (who may not actually believe, but think faith is about works- like the Jews in Romans) will then criticize those who are actually trying to disciple people, which is a slow process (think about how resistant you are to change and conviction even though you are saved and then imagine if you had bigger hang ups such as addiction or family and/or close friends who were loved by you but not good influences). Paul was likely pulling his hair out when he wrote Romans (and every other letter…).
Mega-churches are getting people saved. They may not be doing it the way other churches are doing it, and not everyone may be truly ‘saved’ within the church, but the people are there worshipping God and praying. Mature believers need to figure out how to come along side to help these new believers with their messy lives and lack of Biblical knowledge rather than tearing down what their leaders are doing. They are introducing people to God. Small churches with few converts often resemble the Pharisees more than the early church, making them lovers of the ‘rules’ more than lovers of God. The early church was messy in many, many ways (hence the many different letters, all addressing different problems). Jump in, join the mess and welcome someone to life in Christ!