Did someone say the “r” word?
I’ve been thinking about rebellion lately. When did the people of the church get so cantankerous? I guess I could turn that around and say, “Since when did people in the church ever really get along?” Ouch! The truth is that we, the church, are a lot like the children of Israel. As a matter of fact, when Mark and I were going through some difficult days early on in our ministry, we were driving home from church one Sunday evening, and I made that very observation, that the congregation was acting like the children of Israel in the desert who were whining all the time about how good they had it back in Egypt! Egypt! Where they were slaves and treated like property. “Ah, remember the good old days when we worked all day at hard labor with whips on our backs and then went home to our impoverished huts and scraped together barely enough food and went to bed hungry?” That might have been a little sarcastic, but they were starving and dying and being worked to death for over 400 years. They were begging God to deliver them! When God answered their prayers and brought them out of captivity, what did they do? Their attitudes did a 180, saying “We were better off in Egypt.” Oh, my goodness! What whiners!
Anyway, while we were driving home from church, I thought about the children of Israel, and had the audacity to say, “It’s a good thing I’m not God because I would have wiped out the children of Israel.” YES! It is indeed a good thing that I am not God. Who am I to judge “ugly” that which God deems “beautiful”? Don’t misunderstand; the people of Israel tried His patience mightily (as do we, by the way). He knew how they were going to behave in the wilderness, their fickle attitude, their rebellion, their unfaithfulness. And yet He loved them. He LOVED them. They were His children, His beloved people.
The church does the same thing
Well, you might think that I have gone far afield with this one, but not really. The church today continues to do the same thing. God saves us, and we’re thrilled and on fire for God. And yet after a while, we lose our first love. The next thing you know, we’re saying things like, “I don’t like the music.” “The sanctuary is too cold.” “I don’t like the color of the carpet.” “The preaching makes me uncomfortable.” “I was in the hospital, and no one visited me.” And the ever popular “Oh if only it was like it was in the good old days.” Define the “good old days”? I’m just wondering exactly what “the good old days” means to everyone because it doesn’t matter how old you are; everyone has a memory of the good old days—even teenagers.
For example, our hymns are wonderful, but so is contemporary Christian music. Who’s to say what is right and what is wrong. If the message is pure, what does it matter which type of vessel delivers it, especially if it moves someone closer to the Lord, closer to salvation. The truth is that people who love hymns have as much right to worship with them as those who love contemporary Christian music. The problem is that people, quite often, go to extremes. A lot of Christians think their way is the only right way to do church. Because of this thought process, these two groups are diametrically opposed and they will fight to the death to make their point no matter who they wound.
Can’t we all just get along?
This tendency causes difficulty for those who minister, not just the pastor, but all who are trying to blend both extremes together to reach as many people for the Lord as possible in such a way that they will know the greatness of our Lord and develop a relationship with Him. It’s not about numbers. It never was or, in some cases, I guess I should say, “It should never have been.” Does that make sense?
The problem is that no one wants to play nicely, and the pastor quite often ends up becoming a glorified babysitter of squabbling children. How sad! This situation creates a mine-filled obstacle course that pastors negotiate, struggling to protect their families and to pick their battles wisely. When I say “pick battles,” I’m not saying that a pastor doesn’t fight for God. I’m saying that sometimes he has to become a negotiator, a diplomat, a wall builder, a translator, a shepherd, a counselor, and much, much more. If he is fortunate, he will be able to rely on the advice and wisdom of Godly people to help him, but sometimes and, in fact, all too often, the pastor stands alone with a huge target painted on his back. He’s a bit like Moses that way. (Remember, though, at one point God got so fed up with the children of Israel that He decided to destroy them all and build a nation out of Moses. This poor man stood in the gap between the people and the Lord, begging Him not to do it lest the heathen around the countryside see that the Lord led His children out of slavery in Egypt only to destroy them in the wilderness. So the next time you get angry with your pastor, think about that!)
Is change possible?
So what are we going to do about this rebellion, this unfaithfulness, this shallow attitude about church? Will there ever be a compromise reached? Will we ever get to the point where we can sit in different spots in the sanctuary, park a little farther from the church, bring a sweater, appreciate the words set to music regardless of the tempo, or realize the true reason we’re uncomfortable when the preacher delivers God’s message to the people? Probably not—at least that has been our (and most of our colleagues’) experience. The church has become a battlefield to the congregation—it’s about who’s right and who’s wrong. It doesn’t seem to be about God anymore.
The bottom line
What I think it all boils down to is that people are not pursuing a relationship with God. They are putting down their Bibles, allowing them to gather dust through the week, and only picking them up on Sundays. They think they know enough. Let me say this: no one has ever arrived spiritually (except Christ, and He was/is already there). We’re all works in progress, and, ultimately, we can account only for ourselves. So when someone starts complaining about something in the church, let’s remind ourselves that what’s important is not who’s right or who’s wrong. Let’s focus on our relationship with God, and let’s work together to share His love with everyone in and out of the church. The good old days are still good, but the present is good too. The important point is to be a unified church that cares about sharing the gospel so that people come to the saving knowledge of our Lord. Isn’t that right?
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4: 2-3
God bless and keep you all.