Not too long ago there was a group of us sitting around one night talking about a ton of different stuff. Because some where church goers the conversation soon turned to the church. As we discussed what we believed would be the future of the church in America (and most of us felt good about the possibilities) we all felt that the current incarnation of the church could stand some major changes. Many, but mostly the non-goers, felt that the current incarnation of the church was not meeting needs or helping people with life issues. Let me share with you what came out of the conversation
Many churches today – fundamental, evangelical, liberal, or any other category you desire to place a church in – teach a “cultural faith” – a faith based on “good old American values” like independence, democracy, being a patriotic person, it is a faith based on the “red, white and blue” and the perceived values of the 1950′s. It was funny how the “camps” divided on this, and other, issues. The “goers” felt the need to call people back to a “solid theology,” while those who were “non-goers” felt that the “solid theology” they desired to call us to was outdated and rooted in some kind of “Victorian” past. Many of the “non-goers” felt that the church was out of touch, and was using non-biblical ideas to determine what it did in the world. But even more than any question of theology, was the reality that many of the “non-goers” and “ex-goers” all felt that the church was not a very inviting place for them, and others. One “non-goers” mentioned that the last time he visited a church he was welcomed as he came in, and people said good-bye as he was leaving, but no one talked with him at any other point. He mentioned that no one in the church ever asked anything past his name.
Over the past I have heard pastors and other church leaders say that the church “is only human” and that it has “the same pains and problems found in the rest of the world” – but where is the scriptural support for such an understanding? How can a pastor or church leader support the idea that we are “the same as the rest of the culture” from scripture? You see, I believe to claim to be a follower of Christ you must be change, for the better – people inside the church must be loving, open, welcoming and forgiving – but they are not. Peter puts it this way, “So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. You’ve had a taste of God. Now, like infants at the breast, drink deep of God’s pure kindness. Then you’ll grow up mature and whole in God.” In Ephesians Paul says it this way, “But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”
For me it is simple, if a church is unwelcoming it is not a community of faith that follows the teaching of The Way. Now, that may be harsh, and that may seem judgmental, but at what point are we going to stand up and say that we must be changed to be a Christian – if we are just like the world, what good is the faith? If we have not been changed, what good is Christ in our lives? If we have not been changed, why do we desire to share our faith with the world? It is like the words to that Nickelback song, “love cannot save us, look what love gave us.”
Most people in church have no understanding of forgiveness – “true” and “absolute” forgiveness. They have replaced “forgiveness” with a concept of “silence.” We somehow think that we need to have the American concept “tough love.” No place in scripture are the words “tough” and “love” used together – nowhere. In fact, Paul tells us that love is not to be tough – it is to be kind, forgiving, and open – it is always to forgive, always to accept and always to push us beyond our personal safety zone and into the danger of standing naked before the world, looking the fool – can you love like that? To truly be forgiven, you must forgive – it truly is that simple. If you do not forgive others for their sins against you, God will not forgive you your sins against him and others.
You see I believe the people of the church must be different from the world around us – if not, why should anyone go to church – after all, it is not required for salvation. If the people in the church are no better than the people outside the church – why go?