If there is one mantra that agitates me more than any other, it is people complaining about the church.
That said, I do understand particular church issues and respect that there are people who have been hurt by churches (including some of my closest friends). I know there are healthy churches, unhealthy churches, noisy churches, subdued churches, isolated churches, worldly churches... The list goes on. I am not a fan of every church, nor does this mean that I don't get angry at the church from time to time.
My frustration is with those who approach the church with unrealistic expectations and walk away, bitter and disappointed. Throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, giving up on Church because of isolated incidents of hatred or bigotry.
So to address said issue, I've decided to write about a few incidents (starting with my own) and muse about a Biblical approach to such problems. This is hopefully relevant to both Christians and non-Christians, though I mostly hope to sway the opinion of Christians. For the non-Christian I hope I can offer a new perspective on how Church conflict should be viewed...
For most of my Christian life (all of five years now) I haven't experienced much trouble with the church. I became a Christian at 18, found a church close to where I worked in Caldwell and I enjoyed going. The people were friendly and the teaching satisfied my appetite for learning. I was involved with the worship team for a while (not my calling, by the way) and also tried leading a Youth Group (also didn't turn out so pretty, but that's for another blog).
My first issue with this church occured when I noticed that the preaching of the Pastor seemed tainted to me. When reading through Acts 16 where Paul and Silas are singing to hyms to God in prison, the Pastor said something to the effect that the only reason these two were singing was because they were in such dispair. Like it was an effort on Paul and Silas' part to keep their spirits up during the horrible circumstances God had put them in.
Maybe it's because I'm a disgusting optimist, or maybe this is where I fall into being critical, but I always have and always will have trouble with the idea of the woeful Christian. For me, this interpretation of Acts 16 didn't settle right because it gave me the impression that for a Christian to do God's work he should expect to do it with a frown and a sigh. When I became a Christian the most important revelation to me was that I could have hope. That no matter how bad my circumstances looked I could hold on to the truth that God had a plan and a purpose for my life. Silas and Paul singing despite being in prison was a demonstration of that truth, not a contradiction.
The end of my story is short. I tried bringing up my feelings to the said pastor, but instead of building him up I think I tore him down more. I walked away from the conversation feeling like more prayer and understanding should have been in order, and I learned my first lesson about the church:
Leadership is allowed its weaknesses.
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13
Even the most well-intentioned Christian leader is NOT infallible, nor will he or she always behave at the top of their capabilities. Healthy leadership is to set a good example for the rest of the congregation (and that includes working on said weaknesses), but leaders should not be expected to always be perfect. Only Christ can fulfill that expectation.
Most of you probably have a story you can tell, and I'm sure are more devious than a well-intentioned pastor gone awry. I've heard stories of fellow-church members walking up to someone in the congregation to say, "Fuck you", and that was supposed to be God's will. Or fire and brimstone preaching. Or manipulation. I can list my own behavior as a horror story where I have aggressively attacked someone to make a point. A portion of these comes from a flawed nature we Christians still battle with from time to time, but a part comes from the fact that the church isn't made up of 100% Christians.
Believe it or not, simply because one goes to church doesn't mean they're "in":
""Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.'" Matthew 7:21
"Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
"The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
" 'An enemy did this,' he replied.
"The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
" 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' " Matthew 13:24-29
It brings to mind my favorite quote of St. Augustine,"Never judge a philosophy by its abuse."
So please, don't let the ones who put up the appearance of Christianity without substance be the ones you use to judge the rest of us...
"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:15-16
The truth is, folks, the Church is necessary. The Church is you and the Church is me. To say that the Church is too flawed to function is really saying that we are all too flawed to ever be in community, Church or no.
Community is an intergral part of the Christian experience where even the pain can serve a greater purpose. Through the hurt and frustration that comes through relationship we learn humility and strength as we depend on Christ. To walk away from such an experience would be to deny ourselves of a deeper, more fulfilling, Christian life.
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:25
Painting is titled "Betrayal" by David Boyd