Friday, October 12, 2007

A Good Question

Lawrence Henry, writing for the American Spectator, asks a good question. In an article entitled Church and Me? he asks,

Is a church its people, or is it the body of Christ, or both? When you feel like certain people -- perhaps key people -- have let you down, what do you do?

Lawrence states a problem I have often had in my own ministry and as a church member. What do you think?

But, at various stages, I have stopped going to church, because some human fallibility, some shortcoming in the congregation itself, has brought me up short. As a church, we belong to Jesus Christ, not to any particular person, whether he be preacher, teacher, elder, or friend.

But those preachers, teachers, elders, and friends do mean something, and when something goes awry -- when the church as a church just plain doesn't work, and when I start to feel the way I felt as a child, that some of the grownups are faking it, or taking refuge in rigidity -- then I start to feel that old uneasiness again, and find it a lot more comfortable to retreat to my Bible and my prayers and solitude.

12 comments:

Les Puryear said...

Tony,

There's an excellent book which addresses these questions much more throughly than I could ever hope to do in a comment section. The book is by Philip Yancey and it's entitled, "Church? Why Bother?".

As for the hypocrisy of others within the church being a deterrent, my answer is "God does not excuse our disobedience because of the disobedience of others."

Good post.

Les

Tony said...

Thanks for your comment and the book recommendation, Les.

selahV said...

Tony: I totally understand the rationale folks have at times for leaving a particular body or fellowship. I've been there myself only I was the preacher's wife and had no other option but to work through the situations I found myself. I know for me, I found my solace in knowing God knew what I didn't know. And my heart, though breaking in a thousand pieces, could only be mended in His presence.

So much of the heartache a pastor, his wife, their children endure in ministry is unnecessary. Most of the time it is a result of the "key people" as Henry writes, are not getting their way or are trying to force their way rather than God's way.

This is true of people in the pew also. I know of some people who email me all the time due to problems they are having with overbearing, dogmatic preachers who do nothing but lay guilt-trips on their people week after week. A person who is fed the word is not beaten up each week. It is most difficult for anyone to maintain a relationship with the church when their relationship with Christ is questioned rather than fed and encouraged.

It is most important that we as Christians are vigilant and seek to reconcile brothers and sisters to one another when they are trusting in the examples of others, rather than the Lord Himself for guidance. It behooves us all, especially ministers, to continually point them to Jesus as their standard.

It's important that we recognize that when we become part of the body of Christ, we are important as a portion of the body to the body. We are to build up the body and we cannot do that if our legs are off on their own when the rest of the body is in need of them.

For what they're worth--my thoughts. selahV

Tony said...

SelahV,

There is much wisdom and guidance contained in your words.

In our little church we have been receiving the "fallout" from a neighboring church that has just "fired" their pastor. I am praying right now--really praying--about ministering to these folks.

I know they are hurting and desire to be part of a loving church family. However, I know that church hopping is not the answer. Just like marital troubles, usually after six months of prayer and peace-seeking, the problem dissipates.

It is most difficult for anyone to maintain a relationship with the church when their relationship with Christ is questioned rather than fed and encouraged.

This pastor was guilty of this; how can we minister to the body when we are continuously calling their Christianity suspect, preaching "thou shalt not" rather than grace and forgiveness?

There is a place for thou shalt not, but what about mercy? It gets eclipsed by Moses too often, I think. "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

When pastors point people to their places in the Body, encourage rather than discourage, and love rather than point fingers, the Body operates so much better.

(And your thoughts are always worth A LOT.)

Steve Sensenig said...

There is a place for thou shalt not, but what about mercy? It gets eclipsed by Moses too often, I think. "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Very well-said, Tony. I will be praying for you as you minister to these people.

I would suggest that the "place for thou shalt not" is primarily that of the Holy Spirit.

I can't say this for certain, but my overall sense is that Jesus didn't talk about "thou shalt not" unless directly asked about something.

His message was one of hope, forgiveness, mercy, love, and the kingdom of God. "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" was not his message. Yet somehow, that gets held up by many in certain circles as the "proper" way to preach.

Relating this to our thread about the Decalogue, notice that the two commands Jesus gave both are commands to love. Not "thou shalt not", but "love". Love God, and love each other. By doing these, the "thou shalt nots" fall into place without even thinking about them.

Oh that the message of love and mercy would be preached from the mountaintops in our world today!!!

Tony said...

Yet somehow, that gets held up by many in certain circles as the "proper" way to preach.

I think it is because most church folks like the 'fire and brimstone' preaching over the 'mellow message' of Christ.

I got into it over at another blog about the ongoing masculinity/femininity deal and that churches present a feminized Jesus. I took the opposite stance and I still think that is baloney, plain and simple. I don't mean to open up a can of worms, but it is one reason that folks don't respond to Christ as readily because people know more so what the church is against than what we are for.

It is claimed that the feminized Jesus magnifies God's love, compassion and mutual concern and respect, so 'the sinners in the hands of an angry God' wins out.

So, Steve, I agree--let us proclaim the one that brings grace and truth, love and mercy!!!

Steve Sensenig said...

It's always nice when we're in agreement, Tony :)

It's interesting you bring up the "feminized Jesus". I find this to be a frustrating topic because I think it creates a very false dichotomy between "masculine" and "feminine".

Gentleness, meekness, love, patience -- these aren't feminine qualities. They are fruit of the Spirit.

Go ahead. Call me a sissy. Say that I'm contributing to the emasculation of Christianity. I still maintain that my Jesus isn't defined by John Eldredge.

Tony said...

Neither is my masculinity defined by Mr. Wild at Heart. I read about fourteen pages of that book then threw it aside. After a few days I took it back to its owner. I didn't provide a good review. :)

I think that is the disconnect with any discussion about the 'masculine' Jesus. To sum it up, if I'm caring, compassionate, and gentle with my wife does that make me less masculine? If she wields a hammer with ease and exhibits steadfastness and courage does that make her less feminine?

It creates an artificial construct and really, a straw man for why 'men don't come to church.'

I'll stop there because well, I need to. And go ahead, call me a sissy, too. Hey! It looks like I'm in good company.

Gordon Cloud said...

My wife told me that she wouldn't let me be a sissy.

Seriously, I am in agreement with you. There is a time when we are to warn people of their sins, but if we find ourselves delighting in that warning, it is probably a good indication that our spirit is wrong.

Tony said...

Gordon,

That is a great point. The love chapter has something to say about that, I think. Too often we justify the delight by saying we're sharing the "truth in love" when most often that just isn't the case.

I like that phrase, but it has been so misused and abused it has been divested of all its meaning.

selahV said...

Tony: It's so nice to know you fellas don't think ya have to go out and climb mountains to prove you're men.

I'd be willing to bet there are many men who would climb Mount Everest, run marathons, battle crocodiles, hunt bear with a bow and arrow and would quiver in their shoes if asked to go across the street and share Jesus with their neighbor. Courage is defined in many ways, so is masculinity. selahV

Tony said...

Selah,

I also find that very interesting; some of the most 'manly' men I know are afraid to death to pray out loud, share Jesus with someone, or even talk about the Bible.

In the NT and in early Christianity, manliness might have been described as willing to give your life for the Gospel and its propagation.