I came into the office this morning to find this note in my mailbox. It was a note from one of our church members about a person (whose name and identity I have obscured) in this man’s family. This person has turned away from church, and this man wants me to convince him to come back to church. To help in that endeavor the man left me this list of problems this person has with church.
The problem with this list, though, is that it is not the real problem this person has with church. You can tell that it is not the real problem this person has with church with how easily these problems can be dismissed. Just for fun, let me do that:
- “doesn’t need church” – 1) you don’t know what you need (when I was a kid, I thought I needed Pepsi more than water and only found out how wrong I was when the dentist told me Pepsi had permanently damaged my teeth) and 2) church may not be about what you need but what others need from you (you’re not the only person on the planet, you know, and you have been called to a life of service, some of which is clearly done in the regular gatherings of Christ’s followers).
- “most people are living in a bubble” – 1) and you’re not? 2) Followers of Christ understand death more than anyone. We understand death is not just physical but spiritual. This is why we work so hard and sacrifice so much to lead people away from death.
- “church people just like everybody else or worse” – I could say the same thing about the military, which this person clearly respects. There have been traitors in the military. There have been murderers and rapists and all sorts of ugliness in the military. Should I hate the military or avoid the military because they are just like everybody else or worse? If the answer is no, then why should I do that to the church?
- “gossip and holier than thou attitude” – again, you never see that in the military?
- “Christianity looks ugly to non-Christians” – same thing; the military looks pretty ugly to many civilians.
- “clubby, tight, selfish attitude” – again, you have that in the military. This person talks about his “Marine buddies”. Would I be accepted in their group? Should I criticize them for being clubby and tight?
- “grossly hypocritical way beyond that of non-Christians” – how did you come up with this measurement? Why scientific method did you use to show that Christians are more hypocritical than non-Christians? I seriously question your thesis here.
- “he and his Marine buddies have a beer and it becomes a crisis when the church finds out” – yeah, people in the church don’t always react to things the way they should. I can find plenty of people outside the church who don’t always react to things the way they should, either.
By this person’s standard, you should not only leave the church but you should leave the military and all of society. There is no accusation here which cannot be legitimately leveled against those outside the church as well, and there are plenty of accusations here which are false or skewed at best. That being the case, these accusations can, as I said, be easily dismissed.
If I meet with this person, though, as this man wants me to and dismiss his accusations as easily as I can, will he back in church? Of course not. I know that and you know that. And that in turn shows that his real problem is not this list of grievances against the church. His real problem is his heart. He has tried to present that heart problem as a head problem (heart problems always try to present themselves that way; see Jeremiah 17:9), but it is really a heart problem. He is not following God or serving God or submitting to God wholeheartedly. That’s not a criticism; he may be following God to some degree, may still have a believe in and love for God. I’m sure he does, in fact, and I commend him for it. But it is a reality. If this person were serving God wholeheartedly, these problems would not be problems. If this person were serving God wholeheartedly, he would stick with the church despite its many problems. People who serve God wholeheartedly do just that; they do things that are difficult or counter-intuitive or unpleasant because God told them to. Hosea married a prostitute because God told him to. Gideon dismissed the majority of his fighting force because God told him to. Paul stuck with the Corinthian and Galatian congregations despite their many shortcomings because God told him to. So these accusations against the church, legitimate or otherwise, are not the problem. Not submitting to God wholeheartedly is the problem.
And I don’t know how to solve that problem. That is the real point of this post. I’m not writing this post to castigate this person or to defend the church. I’m writing it to say that I don’t know how to solve the real problem, the one problem that really needs to be solved. I know how to win arguments and dismiss accusations, but I don’t know how to change hearts.
Jesus did. Jesus had a way of dealing with people which drove through the symptoms and hit the real problems. His encounter with the woman at the well is my favorite example of that (John 4:4-26, see especially verses 19-24 where Jesus sidesteps her theological debate and brings the discussion back to her personal convictions), but there are dozens of others in the Gospels.
And I want to be like Him. I want to be fruitful and righteous and effective as He was. I’m not sure how to do that yet, but I am sure it does not have to do with dismissing lists of accusations such as this one. I think it instead has to do with sidestepping such lists and driving to the heart.