On dealing with the hurt caused by churches

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I admit that I am a Christian despite the church and not because of it so I can relate this statement.

But, before I get on my soap box and denounce the church, I must remember that I am one of those Christians. I must immediately admit that I let myself and others down on a regular basis. Even though I grade myself on a curve, I still fall far short of my own standard. I can’t even think about approaching the standard set by Jesus Christ.

In short, the problem with the church stares back at me in the mirror every morning. I am the problem with the church.

So how do we respond to this? Do we just say, “well, that’s just the way it is” and go have another beer? Do we give up and buy into the “spiritual but not religious” nonsense? Do we keep hopping from church to church until we find a group that allows us to operate totally within our comfort zone? Or, do we strive for something better?

When Jesus gave us what is commonly called the Great Commission, he included a part that seems to make much the American church uncomfortable since we largely ignore it. He describes the disciple making process as “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Since we are to teach everything that Jesus commands us, we have no wiggle room for letting anything out.

Question: are we striving to yield to God like Paul commands us in Ephesians 4?

” . . . assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Ephesians 4:21–24 (ESV)

We are called to put off and put on. It is the analogy of taking off a garment and putting on a different one. We take off the dirty garment and put on a clean one.

This implies choice and volition. We need to choose to pursue different behavior and we need to have the will to do it.

This is not a call to pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps spirituality. Earlier in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us that we begin life, “dead in [our] trespasses and sins” (2:1) but God made us alive with Christ (2:4-5).

Salvation is a gift and cannot be earned. We contribute nothing. Christ’s righteousness is given to us as a status, the theological term for this is imputation. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us when we have responded to Christ in faith.

So then, why is it important to do the putting off and putting on?

In preparing for an upcoming sermon, I ran across a writer who made the point that not only is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, it is also imparted to us. In other words, while the imputed righteousness allows us to be viewed by God as righteous, we are also given the power to actually live righteously. The same power that caused Christ to live a righteous life is imparted to us so that we can also live the same righteous life.

We don’t earn any points with God by our behavior. We have perfect status already. So then, what is the motivation for obedience and righteous living? Off the top of my head, I can think of four reasons:

  1. Living as we were designed to live will promote inner peace.
  2. Living as we were designed to live will promote peace with others.
  3. Living as we were designed to live will display the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need it.
  4. Living as we were designed to live will remove barriers to our fellowship with God.

So, what is the best way to deal with the hurt that is caused by churches (the purported topic of this post)?

First, we must realize that we contribute to the hurt. It is harder to be severe on others when we are aware of our own shortcomings.

Secondly, we must look for a fellowship of believers that is honest about their own failures while at the same time seeking to be obedient to Paul’s commands regarding putting off and putting on.

This is complicated by the fact that our inner Pharisee can quickly turn the good motivation for obedience into Pharisaical legalism and checkbox thinking.

The question to ask yourself, especially if you are a church leader, is whether the leadership of the church understands the Gospel and is seriously committed to living it out in every aspect of life.

We can allow no shortcuts, no qualifications, no excuses.

The question to ask is, are we seeking to observe (do) everything that Jesus commanded us to do?