Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stop Beating up the Church

Bullying the church is in. Respect for the church is out.

I get it. The church isn't that cool. It's populated by people who don't always live like Jesus. Sometimes a church-going person is downright obnoxious. 

The church has long been the whipping boy of the secular world. Some of that is well-deserved, but much of that comes naturally from being a follower of Jesus Christ. In his classic work Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr talked about the church's "enduring problem", which is how should believers who are "disciplining themselves for the purpose of godliness" (1 Tim 4:7) relate to a world that is dominated by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life" (1 John 2:16)? In other words, the very presence of light exposes darkness for what it is. The presence of goodness exposes evil. Is it any wonder why the non-believeing world automatically views church folks as 'churchy' and Jesus followers as 'Jesusy'? We live according to a different standard, and that standard exposes the evil world for what it is.

One would think that other pastors intuitively get this. After all, they are the ones (supposedly) taking the message of Jesus to dying world. But it seems this new crop of preachers (my generation, by the way), likes to spend more time belittling and tearing down other believers than they do preaching Christ (especially if those other believers aren't as hip). Instead of confronting the world with Jesus' radical and life-changing message of love and freedom and salvation, it joins the world in its hatred and annoyance at Christians. The motto of these churches seem to be "I would love to be a Christian if it were not for other Christians."

Sermons about Christ seemingly cannot be preached with saying things like...

..."hey, I know how you feel. Church sucks." 

..."We've all been hurt by broken religion."

..."Christianity can be hateful and cruel, but don't worry, Jesus hates those Christians just as much as you do."

Several years ago, when I served as pastor in Northern Michigan, I received a postcard in the mailbox from a new church plant that would soon be launching. Now, I fully support church plants and was very glad to see a new church starting in our area. What I didn't like was what was written on the front of the postcard: "Are you sick of boring and hypocritical churches? So are we! Come join us on Sunday....blah blah blah." I know the thought process behind this postcard, because I've sat in the same church planting conferences. Market studies were done indicating nonbelievers hate the church and think Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. Thus, in order to reach this market, they tailored their message accordingly. If you want to sell beer to young men, you use pictures of scantily clad women hold mugs of a stout ale. If you want to sell Jesus to people who hate Jesus' people, then you beat 'those other churches' like dirty rugs at every opportunity.

There's just one problem. Jesus told us "by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). He was talking about believers loving other believers. The apostle John tells us that if we do not love other believers than we do not really love God (1 John 4:7-10) and that if we claim to love God but show disdain towards fellow believers than we are really "liars" who "cannot love God" (1 John 4:20). By the way, John also told us that we can't give lip service to love, but must show love to fellow Christians "in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18), even to the point of laying down our lives for fellow believers (1 John 3:16).

Don't get me wrong. Some Christians (and even some congregations) can be annoying. Some can be downright sinful. But the last I checked, making accusations against Christians was the Devil's job (Rev 12:10). I'm just surprised many of my fellow pastors and fellow believers are rushing out and submitting resumes.

Protect the sheep. Love the Church. Shoot the wolves. Treat Christ's Bride with dignity and respect. Flawed and soiled though she may be, it was for her that Christ died.

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