Sunday, June 27, 2010

Are You Fed Up With Your Church?

Every now and then, I come across some blog posts about how irritated some people are with their church. They've absolutely had it with the pastor, the congregation, the new color that was chosen to paint the walls, whatever. The issue has really got them all hot and bothered, and they tell everyone on the World Wide Web how heinous and awful their church is (taking special care to play the victim so that their gossip will be justified). Then they pose this question to their readers: Should I leave this church and go somewhere else? If you are one of those who is wondering whether or not to leave your church, allow me to share a very personal story, which I hope will put your "crisis" into perspective.

When I was 18 years old, a girl from college shared the gospel with me, and I was born again on the spot. But my new Christian friends told me I needed to be baptized in order to be truly saved. All I needed to do, according to them, was get baptized. Sounds simple enough, right? There was just one problem. I didn't believe for a second that baptism saved me. I considered that to be a work, and the Scriptures tell us that no man is justified by works. Naturally, this caused a great deal of friction in my relationship with my new pals in Christ.

For two months, my new church friends harassed me day and night. They waited outside the steps of my dorm, so I couldn't get in or out without bumping into them. They followed me down the streets, to the point where I had to have campus security escort me to all my classes. Once, when I was window shopping, a loyal disciple of Christ accosted me by getting within inches of my face to tell me I was going to hell. (The only way I could shake him that day was to cause a public disturbance large enough to get mall security to come to my aid.) I was unable to change my phone number, so I had to turn off the ringer. They left horrible messages on my answering machine every day, telling me that I was going to burn in hell because they were the only church on the planet that knew the truth. They also followed me to my job, causing my boss to hide me in a free-standing closet when they demanded to know my whereabouts.

They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment.One day they called a truce, and asked me to meet them for lunch. I still remember the address of the four-story apartment where I was served a tuna melt sandwich and greeted with all sorts of awkward, yet obviously rehearsed pleasantries. They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment. This was before cell phones, and I couldn't get to a landline. There was only one of me, and about five of them. They locked the doors and told me that the only way they would release me was if I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell." At first I didn't comply. But after about an hour, I realized that there was no other way out of there. And so I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell" probably about three or four dozen times before they released me with one last warning that by walking out that door, I was walking out on God Almighty Himself. I don't know how many hours I was there. All I remember is, it was lunchtime when I arrived, and it was dark when I left.

So that was my introduction to the body of Christ. I don't tell that story very often, but I feel inspired to share it all these years later. I remember feeling absolutely spiritually destitute during that time. Growing up, I was constantly under the weight of existential meaninglessness, hoping that by some miracle there was a purpose to this life, and when I am finally introduced to the most beautiful Person my mind and soul could ever imagine, I am told by His "followers" that I couldn't have any part of Him. It took me months to get my facts straight and rest on the promises of God. I'll admit, there was little comfort in the fact that God allowed that to happen to me in the first place. But some people told me that one day, my story might edify someone. Well perhaps that day is today.

Perhaps you are someone that is in this type of predicament. Let me assure you, God is faithful. He will never abandon or forsake you. You will come out of spiritually abusive situations a bit bruised, but intact. And He promises to make you whole.

But for most of us, situations like this are not the norm. Most of us are just irritated that our leaders are not running things to our liking. Most of us have no idea how good we really have it in our churches. We don't know what real corruption is. We have never experienced real abuses of power. We have never been persecuted by our government. We complain because there's too much emphasis on men's ministry, or there's not enough opportunities for singles, or we don't like the way the hospitality committee is functioning, and so on. We need to remind ourselves that the church is made up of flawed, sinful people. And since we are a sinners ourselves, our presence is only adding to those problems. Instead of complaining about what your church is lacking, consider the fact that perhaps God has brought that to your attention so you can begin the work of building up that area in your local church.

Do I get fed up with my church sometimes? You bet! But I know I have it really good where I am. I know that my leaders, although we don't always see eye-to-eye, always treat me with respect. They do not hold me captive in their homes and force me to chant lies. They do not preach a false gospel. And even if they did, God is in control. His Word has survived throughout the ages. Whatever you are going through, it will pass away -- but His words will never pass away!

So where does your issue fall? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a petty disagreement with your church leaders, and 10 being an all-out abuse of power and defamation of the gospel, how would you honestly rate your situation? Or better yet, how would someone else rate your situation?