Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What's Wrong With Church - Solutions?

Over the past couple of weeks, we have looked at various aspects of the Christian church in Western civilization. Each piece has brought forward many valid complaints about the state of the local church:

What's Wrong With Church? - An Introduction
What's Wrong With Church? - Doctrine
What's Wrong With Church? - Club Mentality
What's Wrong With Church? - Glory Thieves
What's Wrong With Church? - The Business of Church
What's Wrong With Church? - Conforming to the World
What's Wrong With Church? - You and Me

Then to balance this out just a bit, we discovered things which only the church could do:

What's Right With Church?

This post was set up to help us realize that the idea of a local church is not something to be scrapped. There is a reason people assembled in "churches" since Paul went about planting them and sending folks like Timothy and Titus to be pastor/teachers of the congregations. Every church has its own set of problems and rebelliousness. A quick read of Revelation 2 and 3 will show us that many churches don't have it all together. Then a tour of 1 and 2 Corinthians will make us wonder how local churches have survived for almost 2000 years. Churches and problems seem to go hand in hand. But that's not what we want our churches to be like. We want everything perfect. Of course we each have our own definition of perfect. But now, as we wrap up this series, let's see what can be done to address the problems of the local church.

I'll start by saying up front that we begin to fix the local church by prayer. I am hoping that this is a given for most people, but I know that is probably not the case. Instead of digging in and staking our claim and defending the methods and people of "my church" the first attitude change must be to acknowledge that it is not "my church" but God's church. This harkens back to the post about stealing God's glory. But more than anything we must be praying for a mindset and a perspective which allows us to loosen our grip on "my church" and instead look to glorify God
through every service, every ministry, every prayer, every class and every meeting. We must be willing to accept that. We are caretakers of the church, but it is not ours in any sense of the word.

With that understood, perhaps the most effective step toward fixing the church would be, of course, getting rid of all the people. I realize that's not exactly practical. But since people are causing the hurt and the problems and the disputes, we need to address this important issue. I have a couple of ideas. They may seem radical to you, but I think we're at the point where radical is what we need.

The first is the quaint biblical notion of church discipline. Paul writes extensively in Corinthians about the problems which occur when sinfulness becomes tolerated and even celebrated within the context of God's people. Steps to church discipline are laid out by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18, and the principle is clearly featured in Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. We, as Christians, are actually supposed to boot people from our fellowship!

I'm sure you all have scenarios running through your minds about what would happen if the church were to cast out Old Lady Jenkins, the human gossip machine. You're imagining the fallout from disassociating Old Man Taylor, the shady businessman on the church board. I know this sounds drastic, but it is what Scripture tells us to do. And Paul tells us why in 1 Corinthians 5:5:
"Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."
Discipline is not to be done to hurt someone, but to correct him.

Would there be catastrophic fallout if churches split because the denomination or the church board or the pastor and elders challenged the corrupt church patriarch? You bet there would be. But on the other hand, we're seeing some mighty big fallout right now because churches fail to keep themselves free from this nonsense.

Which brings me to my second suggestion. How about closing a few churches? This is not a conclusion I come to easily. The attitude of "letting them go" if they're "not hurting anyone" besides themselves seems like a good plan. It's non-confrontational. It lets the corrupt churches be happy among themselves. But aren't we supposed to rebuke our brothers and sisters in sin? Are we really supposed to let them continue without warning, without doing something? For years I favored letting these churches have their own little private parties each Sunday morning, but no longer. If a congregation has no desire to serve more than its own comfort zone, then they should mercifully be shut down. Denominations seeking more pastors would be well served to pull them from these "club churches" and put them to use where people want to seek God's face.

Finally, if we are to change the people who cause the problems, it is going to happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can pray. We can plead. We can try to reason with the unreasonable. But if the Christian who gives Christ a black eye by his or her actions is going to change, it's going to be done by the Spirit. That means that we are to provide the opportunities to get each person in touch with his Christian responsibilities. We are to put all kinds of effort into making disciples of those who are still sucking on baby bottles full of pablum. We are to give them the chance. And if they refuse, the Church must go on without them.

This all sounds so very hurtful. And I wonder what God feels like when He sees a person who claims to know Him but proves otherwise by her actions.

Then I remember the image of my Savior, riding on a donkey's colt to the cheers of the bystanders along the road to Jerusalem. As he approached the gleaming city on a hill, with the sound of "Hosanna!" ringing in His ears, He wept. He wept because most of the city was missing the incredible gift which it was to receive. I guess I'm supposed to feel this way.

If you have other suggestions of how to fix what's wrong with the church, I'd love to read them. Feel free to offer them up in the comments, or provide a link to your blog where you have posted them.

And for those of you who have been hurt by the well-meaning, but mistaken or by the selfish and ignorant or even by the arrogant and judgmental at a local church, I offer my apologies. But more than that, I don't want you to give up on the idea of being a part of a church. Sure there will be plenty of idiots to put up with. But by the same token, as I have learned on many occasions, they'll have to be putting up with you. It's the grace of God which He has freely given us that we
are in turn to offer to our brothers and sisters in Christ.


Kim said...

I'm sure I can't offer any good suggestions, but I do support the idea of church discipline.

I was the victim (one among many, many others) of a woman who was absolutely relentless in her mind games, gossip, and manipulations. I went to the Pastor about her, because I just didn't know what to do. Turns out his wife was one of the other women who had gone through this. Our friendship came to an end, and she moved away. I am sad to say that no one really misses her. The really sad thing is that her good side was really good, and her problem was that she was a very insecure, hurting individual. Perhaps if she had been called to answer for her behaviour, we would have been able to stay friends. The fact that her husband knew about her behaviour and did nothing about it was also an issue, and he was a deacon.

Standing_Firm said...

I have to say a big hearty thank you to you. My experience has been summed up so succinctly in these posts. The solution is that we must be overcomers. I have had some pretty bad experiences but thos e experiences have grown me in ways that I am thankful for. I solely lean on Jesus and that is a good place to be. Again, thank you.

julie said...

Solutions. How brave! It's always easy to identify problems, but not so easy to find solutions.

I think that discipline may indeed be part of the solution. It would be a difficult, tricky proposition that would offend many. But it's probably part of the answer.

Closing some churches sounds good to me too - but who would be empowered to decide which ones?

Maybe another piece is setting the bar higher. Instead of just saying we don't endorse gossip, how about really holding each other accountable and calling each other on it? Maybe we need to be less polite, and more confrontational. I'd appreciate a loving rebuke when I'm missing the point. This is not a component of most church cultures. (we'd run some people off, but that's ok.)

rev-ed said...

Discipline and church closings depend upon having accountability. One of the biggest problems with independent churches is that they are accountable to no one -- and for some that includes God.

Denominations have to step up and do it. Churches have to step up and discipline those who need it. We've got to stop pretending we stand for Christ if it isn't 100% true.

As for the independent churches, I would hope there would be some kind of elder board who can see the light through the clouds. But yes, it takes bravery to take these actions. And great faith that God is directing these actions. I think I've got a good idea who to ask for that faith.

Vicki said...

Thankful for your blog and insights. Blessings!

Monk said...

Indeed. I think you are right; this is my understanding of the issue as well and I'm gratified you posted the clarification. I put it up as an update to my blog. That narrows things at my church to only a few, thankfully, but it's interesting that I can think of at least one couple who do meet your (and Paul's) criteria. Word of caution, of course: we all rationalize and may choose not to acknowledge sin as sin even to ourselves. Sometimes I envy the muslims: Life is so simple for them -- follow a few ritual rules and heaven is guaranteed; no moral ambiguity for them. Of course, then it just becomes religion and not a life of the Spirit.

Thanks Rev Ed.