We all have a very simple decision to make: will we build or will we destroy. Now, simply making this decision doesn’t guarantee anything — many who choose to build and create don’t actually accomplish much, but at least they try. But those who choose to destroy — or simply allow destruction to happen — are another matter altogether. They disregard basic values of kindness, humility and respect, to breed discontent and dissension, leading to disunity and disharmony. Their energy, it seems, is expended for one purpose — to “dis” the church. Ultimately, such efforts are dis-gusting.
Disharmony — I wrote a post earlier in the week stating that narrow-minded, single-issue, selfish intolerance is killing Christian community — that people who don’t like something in the church use it as an excuse to simply walk away. I was a little surprised at the number of people disagreeing with the notion, especially those who took the “so you’re saying that if my church is full of Bible-burning Nazi pedophiles I should just suck it up and stay?” position. At no time have I said we should stay in churches filled with Satanic serial killer pedophiles. (As a matter of fact, my advice is not to join such a church in the first place…) If only it were that simple. We are not choosing to distance ourselves from evil — we are choosing to distance ourself from Christians with whom we disagree. Big difference. When we allow differences in belief to divide the body of Christ, we witness to the world that our faith is a sham. Those who walk away (run away?) clearly communicate that our God is impotent, that our human differences of opinion are greater than God’s power to unite and heal.
Disunity — our church and culture suffer from a simplistic definition of unity that denies the value of diversity. We mistake unity for homogeneity, sameness, and blandness. Some of the same people who are dead set against cloning demand uniformity in the church and are intolerant of any deviation from a very rigid norm. Being “one in the Spirit” means subscribing to a very limited set of criteria, denying anything unique or distinctive. For a small segment of believers, church equals the Borg collective — Christians are not members of the body but are assimilated into a faceless mass. Christian spirituality defined this way is totalitarian, not unified. We slip into the dangerous area of defining “super-Christians” — uber-saints that set a benchmark for all others. Unfortunately, these models of piety are often narrow-minded, arrogant, intolerant, and self-centered. When others fail to live up to the individual’s standards, they walk away.
Disgrace — a church that is intolerant, judgmental, hostile to minorities, self-serving and unwelcoming is a disgrace — it disses the grace that God freely offers by placing strict human conditions on that which is, by nature and definition, unconditional. We disgrace ourselves and God every time we waste energy and effort bickering over who is acceptable and who isn’t. We might decide we don’t want a reformed killer in our congregation, but does that mean this person should be exempt from God’s love? Generally, we’re fine with someone else reaching out in Christian love to a sinner — we simply don’t want the responsibility to be ours. If a person is truly a Bible-believing, evangelically-minded follower of the one true Son of God, Jesus the Christ, he or she would be ecstatic to have every sinner on earth in his or her church. If the only solution to sin is Jesus, then the very best place on earth to be is IN THE CHURCH. We need to get the righteous out of the church to get the unrighteous into church. If Christians work to keep the church clean and pure for themselves? This is the definition of “disgrace.”
Disrespect — I can disagree with someone and even find their behaviors and values appalling. I can support rules and standards of conduct, and fully support punishment when said rules are violated. I can even dislike someone who holds diametrically opposing views, opinions and beliefs. None of this gives me ANY right to disrespect the person. To insult, to attack, to slander, to belittle, to degrade, to injure — as a Christian I am prevented to doing any of these things. When I sin by doing any of them, I am in greater need of God’s grace than the object of my derision. Disrespect is NOT a fruit of the Spirit. If I am not being loving, patient, kind, gentle, peace-making, and exercising basic humble self-control, it is clear that God’s Spirit is not in me. Hateful behavior is indefensible in our faith.
Discontent — where did we get the idea that gossip is a Christian spiritual discipline? We must suffer this delusion since there is more gossip in our churches than prayer, scripture study, fasting and missionary service combined. Sowing seeds of discontent is a very different thing that what Jesus taught in Matthew 13. Rumors, lies, innuendo, back-stabbing, etc., function as toxins in the body of Christ — poisoning and tainting, doing immediate damage as well as long-term, residual harm. It is not that personal opinions are false or unwarranted, but how we express them is the true test of our spiritual maturity. We are not simply charged to speak the truth, but to speak the truth in love. We are also instructed to work out our collective salvation with fear (awe-filled respect) and trembling (whole-body gratitude and relief). We cannot do this by tearing one another down. Unity, harmony, peace and security are precious and rare. We need to work hard to preserve them.
Distrust — Christians are not measured by their ability to trust, but by their trustworthiness. Trust is a reciprocal benefit. Too often we demand others to be trustworthy with no sense of personal responsibility. We will take offense at every slight committed by others, but feel justified in our own trespasses. We live a daily violation of the Lord’s Prayer, but want to hold others to the strictest possible standard. Those who breach trust cannot demand trust. Where has our distrust come from? I think it is rooted in a fundamental lack of trust in God. We spend so much time talking about what we don’t have, what we’ve lost, what we lack, what we wish we had instead of focusing on all we have, all we possess, all we know, and all we’ve been given. A scarcity mentality and a gospel of anxiety is a lousy foundation upon which to build trust. Acknowledgement and celebration of who we are and how God is using us is a good place to start. Openness, honesty, good communication, patience and a healthy dose of forgiveness are essential elements in restoring trust in the church.
It seems so much easier to be negative than to be positive. This is why we need a Savior. Being governed and guided by our emotions and reactions is what Paul described as “walking according to the flesh.” It’s time to walk in the Spirit. We need to stop diss-ing the church and return to a better way. The choice is ours — walk in the flesh to destroy and tear down or walk in the Spirit to trust God and to co-create the kind of world God envisions. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice.