What do you think and feel when you hear the word “Church”?
In our society this word conjures up memories and emotions as diverse as the denominations that represent it. For some the church is a wonderful experience of community and intimacy that is indispensible in their spiritual journey. When they hear the word “church”, their heart glows and they anticipate Sunday morning like a child waiting for Christmas Day. They can’t wait to gather with their friends and family to worship together the God they love and serve.
But there are others; people who hear the above description and think, “I remember when it was that way. I wish it could be that way again but I’ve been hurt so often and deeply that I’m tired of hoping such a place exists anymore.”
I’ve heard it said that the church is often like Noah’s Ark; if it weren’t for the storm outside you couldn’t stand the stink inside. This may be a witty quip intended to add a bit of humor to a sad situation but if you just chuckled or raised your eyebrows in agreement, there was something of truth in this statement that resonated with you. That means you’ve been hurt or know someone who has been hurt by the church.
Now, I understand there is no perfect congregation. The fact is the church is made up of imperfect people with faults and quirks that sometimes make ripples in the calm of unity. But what do you do when those ripples become waves that knock you for a loop? Where do you go when the stink inside the ark becomes more unbearable than the storm outside? What happens when you realize that when you hear the word “church” you get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and it dawns on you that the pleasant memories of the past have been replaced with feelings of disappointment and tears of hurt and anger?
The brutal fact is that many in this world identify all too well with the last three questions. Such experiences are far too prevalent and widespread in today’s world for us to continue to ignore and dismiss them. It shouldn’t be this way. Something is wrong. This is not what God intended His church to be. There is a sickness in the body of Christ and we must find a cure if we are to survive.
I’ve seen too many pastors with emotional breakdowns because of verbal attacks brought on by “old saints” of the church whose ministry expectations the pastor did not meet. I’ve counseled too many ex-church attendees who love Jesus dearly but no longer want to have anything to do with organized religion because they crossed the wrong person in the congregation and ended up as the main course on the gossip buffet. And yes I know we are all human. We are flawed people who often make mistakes, but when those professing to be the temple of the Holy Spirit regularly exhibit in their character arrogant, self-righteous, ego-centric attitudes and actions, you can no longer play the “I’m only human” card. We are supposed to be different. We are supposed to reflect Christ. They will, after all, “know us by our love for each other.” Tragically however, more often than not we are known instead by our arguments, contentions and divisions.
The typical “church” in America has become a cliché unbelievers use for religious, narrow minded, bigots that are the epitome of hypocrisy. A friend of mine took a religion class in college where his Zoroastrian professor observed, “Christianity is a wonderful idea. Someone should actually try it sometime.”
Webster defines the word “perversion” as, “…a diverting from the true intent or object; a change to something worse...” I believe this word is a good fit to describe this phenomenon of inconsistency we see in the identity of the present Institutional Church. When we look at the typical religious establishment in America today, we do not see a portrait of a Biblical Church, we see a perversion of a Biblical Church..
For many years I have endeavored to reconcile the way Scripture describes the church with the contradicting attitudes and actions of those professing to be a part of the church. The discrepancy between the church that is preached about on Sunday mornings and the church that the world typically encounters throughout the week has become too great to ignore any longer.
This is a call to action; a call to the remnant of the Body of Christ within the walls of the religious structure housing the Church of God. It is a call to those who are disturbed about what they see masquerading as the Church. It is a call for change. The Body of Christ is much too beautiful to remain disfigured and marred by impostors posing as His disciples but manifesting the character and behavior of His enemies.
Even as I write this I suspect that there are those who will read this, say “amen” to my last statement, then slip on their pharisaical robes of self righteousness, picture someone they know who hasn’t lived up to their moral expectations and assume that I am joining them in the battle against the unrighteous hypocrites. If that is you, then understand this: the unrighteous hypocrite is not the believer struggling to overcome sin in his daily walk; rather it is the arrogant, religious person who has deemed themselves the spiritual sheriff of those around them.
The judgmental, haughty soul, who no longer acknowledges his own sin but prefers instead the indignant smoke screen of exposing the faults and failures of others while basking in the comfort of their own holiness, does more damage to the name of Christ than all the imperfect, guilt ridden, saints trying desperately to work out their salvation on a daily basis. Remember, it was the Pharisee who looked at a sinner and said, “I’m glad I’m not like them.” The followers of Christ were those in the crowd of everyday ordinary people who stood out, not because of their “holiness” but because of their Master.
This is a call to declare again who it is we follow. It is a call to disengage from the senseless squabbles and battles of a self consumed religious establishment that has long since forgotten why it exists; to leave behind the pull of denominational superiority and theological litigation. It is time to realize that the only name over the door that matters is His; to realize that we have no case to argue, we simply have a gospel to proclaim. It is time to abandon the nets of our own ecclesiastical comfort and pursue again with reckless passion the One who called us to be fishers of men. It is time to rally ourselves around our Savior and make His Kingdom the priority of our lives. It is time to set our eyes on Him and Him alone and settle it in our hearts that we will fight no battles save those for which He gave His life. It is time to get ourselves out of the way and allow God to restore His people.
What does that restoration look like? I don’t know completely. But I know it doesn’t look like the state we are in now. I don’t have all the answers, but He does. The restoration and healing of His body that must take place will not come about through more programs, leadership strategies and human ingenuity. His church will be restored when the individuals who make up His church determine within their heart to seek His face again, tune their ears once more to the sound of His voice and follow the gentle tug of His spirit.
Sound cliché to you? Does it seem simple minded and naïve to believe the answer is to honestly seek and obey? Revival has never been complicated, just costly. It will cost us our agendas, status, schedules, programs, methods and preferences. It will require us to think differently than we have been thinking. It will demand a reprioritizing of our values, time and lifestyle. It will cost us the same thing it cost the early church: everything.
The world is dying, Church. Souls entrusted to us are being lost. It’s time to count the cost of discipleship…and pay it!