Monday, October 20, 2014

Dare I send you to Church?

 The scary Westboro baptist church members protesting... everything.  A stark reminder that some churches are not churches.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV) So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Recently I was attending an event at a local college campus.  I won't say the name of the organization, but it was certainly interesting.  I'd be meaning to make time for more fellowship with believers.  I attend the Salvation Army church in my town, and also their adult sunday school, but I wanted to meet more people my age.

Now I understand that I was at a sort of "outreach event."  But my goodness.  I only went twice, and the stuff I overheard was quite surprising.  Two girls, friends came up to each other and hugged.  I overheard two guys, one was the speaker for the night, and the other was one of the core leaders of the group and they whispered "lesbians" to each other and giggled.  There was an openly homosexual individual, which is fine, but no one in the group seemed to acknowledge the scriptural view regarding homosexuality.  Another guy mentioned how him and his buddies were going to smoke tobacco on the front porch later.  Social posturing, games, alpha male crap, social climbing, you know.. all that worldly stuff.  And I thought to myself.. is this it?  Is this the church?

The church is described within the pages of the Bible as the body of believers on Earth.  The people within the "body" are baptized into the family of Christ.  The act of baptism with water is representative of a rebirth of the individual into a new family.  It is a ceremony of joyous adoption into a new family.    If you're a follower of Jesus, you're part of the organic church, the versatile, adaptable "body of Christ."  Another symbolic statement.  That's the metaphor, we are the body, moving about the Earth, doing the work of Christ.  We are the hands and feet of Christ.  And he is the head, it's his work, his goals, his ideas, his plans, and all things that  bring glory to God the Father.  

So being part of the "church" is being part of "the body of Christ."  It is an organic statement, a way to describe a people rather than a building, denomination, or institution.  

I know that many Catholics are part of this organic body.  I know that many Prysbeterians are part of this body.  I know that many Evangelical Frees, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and so many others are all, individually either part of the organic body.  I will even say that even groups like Mormons, even many Jehovah Witnesses are indeed part of the body of Christ, despite disagreeing with many of their core doctrines.  Core doctrines may reveal the tendency within a group.  But since Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses consider the Bible as the authoritative word of God, there are certainly many Jesus loving followers within their ranks.  Of course, that's something you're not suppose to say, and I might get jumped on and assaulted by some strict Calvinists.  But I'm interested in the truth and love, not lining myself up with theological bullies. 

Small men will, will, will try to keep great men down.  Small men despise great men because they see outside them something they wish to be, but are too foolish, cowardly, and pathetic to become.  They will feel threatened, they will attack you, mock you, minimize you, and attempt to lock you out desperately, perhaps in some attempt to comfort their own fragile ego.  

They will try to steal your ideas.  They will quietly attempt to recreate your efforts, while locking you out of leadership.  They will copy many things you do and are, and try to claim the ideas for themselves.  They are worms, leaches, and the church is full of them.  They will cook up charges to cover their own sins, and take every opportunity to fill your mind with jaded thoughts about the church.  Don't let them.  

The church is an organic, wonderful communion of followers of Jesus.  It's also very messy.  It's difficult.  Confrontations take place, and that's always been very hard for me.  I'm an introvert you know!  And the church is a very extroverted place.  So I've had my problems in community.  It's probably been the most difficult thing about being a Christian so far.  Existing in community, where power structures are in effect, and the possibility of abuse of power takes place, and there are clashes of ideas, and harsh words tossed back and forth.  

So I was considering the question recently: Dare I send my readers to church?  

There are many fascinating, creative, and compassionate people who read this blog.  There are some very wonderful people who read this blog.  There are some people with some very great ideas who read this blog.  There are also people who have struggled in the past with churches, leaders, and false teachings.  And I certainly wouldn't want to put those people in harms way.

Can I really send such introverted, sensitive, politically minded, intelligent, wise people into the churches of today?  

It's a very difficult question.  I have to consider my own experience with churches in central Wisconsin.  To say I've had a bad experience is an understatement.  I've found it to be very difficult.  You come in with a lot of new ideas, and people don't want to hear it.  They want to do things their way.  And that's certainly fine.  

But what about the many churches around the states and Europe that are dead?  With false teachers, crumbling with sin, or just old and decaying?  There are so many churches like that!  

Dare I send these libertarians, political activists, depressives, introverts, readers, writers, learners, brilliant, gentle, humble, loving folk out there!?

I don't want someone to go out, find this nasty, scary, creepy little church, get rebuked by some weirdo, and come back and say "see Steckbauer was wrong Christianity sucks!"

So let's just think this through first.  And we'll go over a few words of caution and suggestions regarding fellowship with believers.  Alright?  Let's start.

I've had some weird experiences at churches.  I went to this one church, it was one of the few in town that had an evening service.  I was working 2nd shifts at the shelter and having trouble waking up for church so early in the morning.  So I went to this church.  And naturally, I was the only person there under 60.  The pastor did preach a good sermon.  Unfortunately after the service I was cornered and surrounded by congregation members, led by the pastor's wife who proceeded to interrogate me as to why I came.  And as she asked me questions, and I answered them, about who I was, where I came from, what I did for a living, it was like she kept insinuating that I was lying.  Now I know from experience, that sometimes people will try to use churches for free assistance.  But come on.  I hadn't asked for anything.  

Another congregation member was trying to kind of defend me.  She told the pastor's wife that I had gone to Good News Baptist in the past.  The pastor wife asked her if she had said that first or if I had.  Like I might just be playing along with what the congregation member had already stated.  

Then the Pastor's wife started asking me about doctrine, what does salvation mean, and on and on and on.  I told her I worked at Salvation Army.  She still seemed like she didn't believe me.  So I gave her my business card.  Still, it seemed like I wasn't quite off the hook yet! Haha! Creepy.  Finally I left, never to come back again!

First thing, remember all churches are not created equal.  And it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with denomination.  A Catholic church may be a wonderful Spirit filled community while a Baptist Evangelical church may be a dead church full of sin.  It's just hard to say.  So try a few out, and if you have a bad experience at one, keep trying others.  Seek out a church that teaches what's in the Bible.  Don't skip around based on how you necessarily "feel" about it.  Test the church in regard to our ontic referent the Bible.  

 If you can't find a church where you can successfully take part in group worship, Bible study, and evangelism, then consider starting your own house church.  Have you ever heard of the House Church Movement?  It's a pretty cool thing in my humble view.  Click here to a free online book about it.  You could always start a Bible study in your home too.  Are you feeling led to do that?  Pray about it!  With the internet, the possibility of online Christian fellowships is exciting!

God loves you.  He will help you to find a good church, so pray first before you try to find one!  If you can't find one, pray about starting a house church or a Bible study.  In the meantime, be sure to spend extra time in prayer, praising God, and studying the Bible on your own.  Despite what some theological bullies might tell you, there is such a thing as a "solo-Christian."  It's a fact of life in this world.  One can be a follower of Jesus Christ without ever being bullied into the authoritarian power structures of churches, or into fellowship with "believers" who embrace sin.  

However, being a solo-Christian is difficult, and dangerous.  It's like leaving the safety of the flock.  Of course in many parts of the world there is no flock, like 3rd world countries.  So stay close to the shepherd.  In the west, same problem, maybe there is no flock, just a bunch of wolves around a false teacher, or worse yet, a bunch of wolves, and a few sheep around a shepherd.  That's a tough one.  But once again, stick with the only true shepherd, Jesus Christ.  Sometimes I've had to go it alone for seasons (if I call it a "season" it's Christian then, right?) and that was tough.  Glad to have found the Salvation Army church, and my wonderful job at the shelter.  

So I'll leave it there.  These are difficult issues.  No one said this would be easy did they?  Nope, no one did.  So be in a lot of prayer, contemplation, and study of scripture.. the book of Acts is useful regarding church issues.  So is Timothy, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and many other books of the Bible.  

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The War on Earth
12 Musts for the Future of Christianity in the West
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American Traditionalism vs. Biblical Christianity