In my last post I dug a little deeper into Rob Bell's newest book, "Love Wins." In it, I did my best to get to his main thesis in order to see where he may have gone wrong. I have to admit, I have big problems with the Emergent Church and the subculture it has created among us. I talk about it a lot. What I want to talk a little bit about in this post is what I find to be at least a part of the root of the negatives in this movement rather than the movement itself. The movement did not "emerge" in a vacuum but was birthed in the churches we all live in.
It's not new for those in the church to often find faults in the four walls of their local bodies. While many of the complaints have merit, there is a difference between constructive criticism and a culture of complaint. In a sense, I think this is the kind of atmosphere that this movement has created. While there have often been complaints, it seems that the Emergent Church has created an entire "denomination" of sorts that gives permission to it's members to let these discomforts run rampant.
So, what do you think of "the church?"
It seems very common today for this generation to have the habit of referring the "the church" in a very broad sense. "The church" has done this and that right. "The church" has done this or that wrong. It's strange, but it often seems to be done in an "us" vs. "them" kind of way. I'm not talking about non-Christians either. I'm talking about people who have been saved for years. It sounds like they're talking about "themselves" over here and then "the church" over there. This especially seems to be true when they are speaking about the church negatively. I remember a conversation I had with a Christian friend of mine recently where he unashamedly said "I hate the church."
I read a book not too long ago called "Why We Love the Church" and it said something very convicting right off the bat. You never walk up to a friend of yours and say, I like you but I can't stand your wife! So what do you think the church is? That's right. It's the bride of Christ. It doesn't matter if she is a low down rotten excuse for a bride, we are made to defend her honor. Remember that before you decide to criticize next time.
So how should we respond next time we see "the church" do something wrong? I have a few thoughts. Some are mine, some I've read, some I've heard.
Number one, check the motive of your heart. The first thing we need to remember before we criticize "the church" is that we are a part of it. We are a part of the church we are criticizing and therefore in a very real sense, the sin we are mentioning connects with us because we are part of the family. It seems that many don't seem to think of this. If they did, I think there would be a much more pained tone in their voice as they speak.
Think about it. Think of the subtle underlying joy that seems to live under the surface of the one who so often criticizes. It's as if they're saying, "if every Christian thought like I did, there would be no more hypocrisy, no more bigotry, and everyone would want to join up with us. The church would be the place to be!"
Number two, while we should recognize that we are connected to the church in the broad sense, we should recognize our sin as an individual first before we focus on the more widespread sins of the church or the sins of church history. Examine yourself for a moment. Have YOU personally ever slapped a homosexual in the face? I'm talking to you the individual and not the church overall. Have YOU personally ever bombed an abortion clinic? Were YOU personally a part of the crusades? Have YOU personally ever become a famous televangelist and then fallen from grace or conned thousands of people out of their money?
While we should be pained when our broader church family fails, I find that there are too many Christians who use the many obvious sins of the church as a whole in order to avoid personal change. It's easy to point out that there has been a lot of unnecessary hatred towards homosexuals through the church, while ignoring the fact that we haven't shared our faith in years. It's easy to point out that we have no right to bomb an abortion clinic, while ignoring the fact that we haven't shown love to our neighbor in the most simple ways. Why are we always trying to get those outside the church to realize we're not "one of those Christians" but "one of the cool ones"? Does our desire to be "with it" ever cause us to ignore the more pressing issues in our own lives?
Third, we need to discern between whether the problems we see in the church are indeed problems, or if they are in fact a necessary sanctification from the world. It's easy to criticize the church for being bigoted, intolerant, judgemental, or neglectful to the poor. Yet how does helping the poor or being tolerant make us different from the world? Obviously Jesus wanted these things, but how does stating the obvious make us distinct? There is no risk of being unpopular or disliked by the world when all we talk about is our agreements. Our goal should never be to become unpopular, but I think that when it comes to extremes, there is no way the church of today is on this end of the spectrum.
One preacher I heard recently said it best. If anything, "the church of Jesus Christ in America today is in a crisis of conscience." While there will always be extremes in bigotry here and there, It is definitely not what I find to be the most rampant problem in the church. Our problem is silence and fear.
Fourth and finally, know the word of God. I think that many of these problems could be avoided if more regular, ordinary, lay Christians would simply build a more biblical theology of their own. Okay, maybe that's not so simple, but it is necessary. I find that what seems to be a common root of both the most intolerant Christians and the most undiscerning is a failure to truly know the God of the Bible. We either fail to know the true nature of his love, or we fail to know the true nature of his holiness.
Knowing the word of God will show us where we should stand. At the beginning of Brian McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christianity" he said something that sounded deep, but in the real world it makes no sense. Basically what he said was that we don't need a new place to say "this is where I stand" but what we need is a new direction to go together as Christians. Think about that for a moment. How in the world can we have direction if we have no stance? If we have no stance on what is sin and what is not, whether it be bigotry, hypocrisy, homosexuality, or neglect of the poor, how in the world can we know when we are approaching this "place" we want to be? Our "stance" determines our "direction."
For those of you who are confused or angry with the church, realize that you ARE the church. Own it. Know what you should believe and embrace it. Love it. The sooner you do this, the sooner you can help make the church a better place.