The Christianity “Box”……..

Not to belabor the whole “they will know we are Christians by our love” thing, but it sticks in my craw that if we run around saying it, we should  at least be attempting to “do” what we “say”, or in this case, sing. The lyrics are from an old song written by a priest in 1968 referencing John 13:35 that reads, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

In context, Yeshua (Jesus) is preparing his disciples for continuing on in ministry after His crucifixion. We could get really nit-picky here and make the case for loving only fellow Jews, or moving forward into modern day, loving only those within the church, but I believe the statement was specific, and at the same time, general. In any event, giving lip-service to  a key tenant of Christianity needs to be addressed.

Can we be expected to “love” everyone? No, of course not. We are woefully human, and therefore incapable of truly “loving” everyone. People’s personalities clash, life gets in the way and we are sharp with others, hurt others with our words and actions, become self-absorbed and forget the world is bigger than our tiny sphere of existence. All we are expected to do is draw close enough to God that He can love thru us, but that is a challenge unto itself.

Love starts with acceptance of the differences in others. My preferences are not going to be the same as yours, but isn’t that what makes our relationships interesting? How boring would it be if we all thought alike, looked alike, and believed alike? Being different from others needn’t be feared, rather it needs to be embraced. What if we just opened our minds to learn about others who were different from us? Who knows, we might find common ground! At the core of our being we all want the same things; acceptance, to be heard, loved, a sense of belonging in community.

Man has always struggled with the acceptance of others; if history has taught us anything it is that there will forever be those who believe themselves better and more entitled than others. The majority of the  world’s evils originate with this one undeniable fact; I don’t know you, understand you, and therefore I believe in my superiority over yours. Wars are fought over conflicting ideologies, one group of people is enslaved by another, and on and on it goes. Women in our country have fought for the right to vote, the right to equality in the workplace, African Americans have fought for equal status within the human race, and that battle still flares and rages more and more frequently. Now the final frontier of equality seems to be that of the homosexual population. I really do get it; when we don’t understand a group of people different from us we tend to make general assumptions about them that often are not based in truth or reality. It’s human nature to assign characteristics to others to help us fill in the blanks of our limited understanding.

I could overlook that mindset in the world at large, but not within the church; not within an entity that preaches “love” on a nearly weekly basis in some way, shape, or form. Churches are segregated into like-minded cliques when it comes right down to it. One particular brand follows Martin Luther, another modified the Lutheran tenets, still others claim origination with John the Baptist, or Jesus Himself. The modern church had its origins in the Jesus Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s; it’s predecessor being the Charismatic Movement practicing the spiritual gifts thru tongues and prophesy. Now many churches offer contemporary services with full bands and worship teams who sing, clap, dance, and in general celebrate Jesus each time the doors are open. Gone are the stuffy services of yesteryear having been replaced with relaxed orders of service, coffee bars and casual dress in many churches. Many of these contemporary churches tout their acceptance of gays and lesbians, welcoming them into the fold. The lip service paid them seemingly stops there, however.

Don’t think the attitudes of exclusion exist within today’s body of believers? Think again. I recently found out that a friend of mine who was part of a music ministry in one of the modern “box” churches was asked to sign a statement that said the members of the worship team would not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, use illegal substances and would not participate in homosexual relationships. Huh?? On the surface this is likely explained away citing the need to provide leadership to those in the congregation; what I see is a need to control those who come thru the front door. Why are we only singling out those “sins”? Why aren’t gossip, judgment, gluttony and other “sins” listed among the unacceptable “sins” for the music ministry? Doesn’t God see “sin” as “sin”?

She wasn’t able to honestly sign the paper since she does occasionally drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and happens to be a lesbian. She also has a beautiful voice. She understands love and accepts others for who they are without judgment, welcoming all people into her circle of friends; black, white, rich, poor, male, female, “normal”, developmentally disabled, tattooed, non-tattooed, straight, gay or transgender. If you happen to attend church, that’s cool; if not, that’s cool too. Does she get along with everyone? No, of course not. At the end of the day she is as human as you or I, but she gives everyone a chance. She was raised in the church, but she discovered that the church was no longer willing to accept her when they found out she no longer fit into their “box” of acceptable “Christians”.

Could she still attend the church if she chose to ? Sure, but not as part of the music ministry. What does praise and worship have to do with any of the things that precluded her from being part of the worship team?

Here’s my question; could everyone on that worship team honestly and legitimately sign that statement, or did some choose to sign knowing that they smoked, drank, partied occasionally with illicit substances, or God-forbid, loved a person of the same gender? In terms of “sin” who is the bigger “sinner”; the one who signs knowing he/she is being dishonest, or the one who does not sign choosing to be honest? I despise more than just about anything not being able to be who we are so that we can fit into the “Christianity box”. Imagine the dilemma of many forced to go underground and lie about who they are or what they may do in their personal lives just to be included in the “box”. Chew on that for a moment. How do you think God views that attitude; a willingness to lie just to be included with a group of other “sinful” people? Messed up priorities in my mind………

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Adjusting My Crown…….

The church is a microcosm of society, at least society in America. Ask most Bible-toting, church-going folk and they will tell you that they are set apart; the church is to be set apart from the world. Unfortunately that’s not quite true, not in my experience anyway. In their defense the church is made up of humans, and as such, we have a tendency to screw things up no matter how good our intentions. The flip side of that is the microcosm statement; the church looks like the world in a lot of ways.

The Bible talks about how “Christians” are supposed to act; what it takes to be “set apart”. And we fail at that mainly because we are all human. Where I differ is that I challenge the attitude that many times accompanies the “set apart” ideology. Too often it is given lip service as if somehow one has arrived in the set-apart-community when, in reality, many of us are working toward that end each and every day. I have an issue with attitudes.

Every sin known to man is found within the walls of a church; thus the microcosm. Some have repented, changed their way of thinking and acting, others are still active participants while pew sitting Sunday after Sunday. Some of those have no intention of changing their thoughts or actions, others battle their demons daily taking two steps forward, and one back.

The church being set apart doesn’t concern me, but many times the participants act as if that were true in their lives, and oftentimes it’s not so; issues that should be confronted and dealt with are not.

It wasn’t so very long ago that the church did not welcome unwed or divorced mothers, couples living together, and God forbid, people with tattoos, who drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, or are homosexuals. Some churches to this day will not tolerate, much less welcome the above. And yet many of those who turn their noses up at any of the aforementioned are involved in the very same. I would that someone call a spade a spade rather than bury an issue and pretend it’s all cool and have people tsk, tsking behind their backs, or worse, teaching intolerance for perceived “sins”, that in reality, are only “sins” to those with a very narrow vision of God and Christianity. Ever heard “ain’t no saint like a reformed sinner”?

Before we cram the Bible down the throats of those we disagree with we need to understand that while many issues are addressed in the Bible, some of the references are opinions of the writers, or inclusions added down through the centuries with the many rewrites and revisions of the Bible. Not every word is God-breathed, and I don’t think that takes away from the words that are God-breathed in any way. The writers and scribes of scripture, as we know it, were human, and as such had opinions that have been included. Any trip through the writings of Paul and one can easily tell he was a man of many opinions, but that doesn’t make him any less legit as a man of God, or pillar of the newly forming church, back in the day.

I have met far more tolerant, accepting, forgiving, loving people who are spiritual, God-loving and God-fearing outside the church walls than within the walls. People willing to go the extra mile, listen with their hearts, help out where and when needed, give of themselves or their resources when others are troubled or lacking. I thought that was the purpose of the church??? I could be wrong! And these very same people are quick to admit the demons they battle; able to empathize with the struggles of others.

And I have met many of the church-going crowd who are intolerant, gossip at will about members who don’t meet their narrow vision of “Christianity”, those who espouse “Christian” values, but treat others with disdain, disrespect, who have exalted themselves above others because of their perceived importance since obtaining college degrees in the carnal world, or have attained perceived status, have been a part of any given congregation since childhood, and the like.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a gripe session about the church; I have met lovely, God-fearing, God-loving church folk who would reach out to those in need with their dying breath. My battle is with complacency and hypocrisy in the church. By virtue of our humanity we are corrupt beings, unworthy of anything from the hand of a Holy God. My point is, let’s not allow known corruption in church leadership or the congregation to continue without being addressed if we are going to decry the wages of sin to others and yet neglect to shine that same light on ourselves. You know, the pointing a finger at another results in the other fingers pointing back at us, adage.

How many times have we seen leaders of the mega churches tumble, not over a minor slip up, but over gross, negligent sin? Surely someone in the church knew; leadership knew, and yet it went uncontested. When Yeshua (Jesus) trod the hills of Israel didn’t he call out the “church” leaders of the day, the Pharisees, and call them whitewashed tombs? Clean on the outside, but dead, rotting on the inside. Same idea here. And yet, this same man, perfection in the flesh according to the scriptures, loved, tolerated, gave of himself, but at the same time, called a spade a spade. None of us is perfect, however, I believe that we can at least make an effort to follow the example to the degree of our human capabilities.

So what do we do? We as believers need to make sure we have the mindset of Yeshua. He called people out, but He also offered a way out. Sometimes the church calls people out, but the rest of that statement is left out. It’s not the identifying of the issue that is the hard part. The hard part is helping correct the problem, and not contributing to the problem, and certainly not ignoring it. Ignoring the obvious gives tacit approval. And let’s admit when the issue isn’t truly “sin”, but a simple difference of opinion, let it go.

Let’s look at church “gossip” for example. If a person(s) is known to gossip about everyone and everything, setting themselves above others, and yet continues in leadership, or continues to cause hurt and difficulty for the targets of their gossip, how can we allow that to go on? There are guidelines for confronting known “sin” in the Bible. How can we preach Sunday after Sunday about the wages of sin, pounding them into the heads of parishioners and allow the very same “sins” to proliferate within the walls of the church? It has been my experience that it is allowed because of the status or contributions made by the “known” transgressors. Isn’t that being a respecter of persons?

Am I perfect? Far from it and I readily admit to it. I likely “sin” twelve ways from Monday before I get up in the morning! But if I were loudly decrying a sin every chance I got, but knowingly and sometimes publicly committing the same sin in my own life, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?

I don’t consider things like alcoholism, substance abuse, the aftermath of abortion, adultery, and the like the “sins” we need to focus on. The vast majority of people caught up in any of the above are well aware, and don’t need it pointed out. If they are within the walls of the church, likely they are reaching out, needing people to lovingly come alongside to guide them thru the house of horrors their actions have created. What if they come because they believe the church can guide the way, and these same people find the very same “sins” proliferating within the walls in the “holy” while stones are being throw from the pulpit and condemnation abounds from “holy” members?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the definition of hypocrisy?

I keep preaching on that “journey” thing, and everyone is on a journey. Let me repeat that: everyone meaning you, me, the pastor, the elders, the newcomers and the old-timers. No one has arrived just yet, so let’s stop acting like it and give people a break. Take a quick look in the mirror; bet that crown you’re wearing is just a bit tarnished and sitting slightly  askew……..just like mine!!!