Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Church's image? A pointed finger.

The Church has an image problem. Better said, followers of the Hebrew-Christian God have an image problem, as it dates back prior to the establishment of the Church. So, it's not a new problem. Jesus admonished us to stop it. So did Paul (though perhaps even he fanned the flame). Today, the image problem is evident when talking with those outside the Church about the Church. The Holiness Movement and successive denominations have added to the poor image. It is sad to me, but I'm sure I've not helped along the way sometimes. But I'm trying to do otherwise now.

Both within and outside, the Church is better known for her attempt to define sin and "uphold righteousness" than she is for being a welcoming and forgiving community of faith. What are we best known for today?
- Dividing, splitting, schisming, denominationalism - whatever you want to call it - but we fight with each other and go separate ways thinking our theology is "most correct".
- Our debates over whether or not those involved in the homosexual lifestyle can participate in ordaination, in lay leadership positions, in matrimony, membership, or even in association.
- Our derision and condemnation of those who perform and undergo abortion procedures.
- Our attempt to "make peace" throughout the world by wars and conflicts (yes, I know this is carried out by Western governments and armies, but if you don't think the rest of the world sees it as a religious endeavor by Christians, please look again).

There are other things we're known for, but as I quickly think right now, these are what come to mind. I do not mean to downplay the positive aspects of the Church (compassionate ministries and those faith communities that do well in demonstrating the will of God), but these are problems with our image for which I am worried.

What the Church should not be:
- An intimidating institution of individual inquisition.

What the Church should be:
- A philanthropic fellowship fostering forgiveness.

I truly believe that when a person has experienced forgiveness, he will know what it is in life that needs to be changed and is contrary to God's will for her life. Yeah, I know. That's backwards from what we preach and teach (conviction-->repentance-->forgiveness). I just look at Christ's ministry to individuals and wonder from where we get ours.

So, to help me with this in part, I'm working on a definition for sin. I like the "separation from God" proposition I've heard. But Jesus really had quite a bit to say about human relationship as well (this is also evident in the law of the Israelite community of faith). So one might add "separation from brother (or sister)" as well. But I want to take this further to use the positive side rather than the negative. Sin is anything that deviates from the loving relationship between me and God and me and fellow human.

But really the question shouldn't even be, "What is sin?" The question should be, "Is what I'm doing pleasing to God (first), and pleasing to my fellow human?" This is my whole point - the Church shouldn't be primarily known for defining, outlining, and "managing" sin. Rather, the Church should be known as the establishment of the love, grace, hope, mercy, and forgiveness of God here on earth.

- J


  1. Well said Jeremy.

  2. do you think this is an institutional problem; which can be addressed by individuals? or an individual problem; which should be addressed by the institution?

  3. I'm not sure it can be separated. That's the problem with institution. People get caught up in the glory of the masses and forget that individuals are what're important (and where great things happen). "Institutionalism" is a post I'd like to write someday. It's killing us, just like it did the Israelite monarchy, the priestly system, the Pharisees, and anyone else who got caught up in anything other than keeping the main thing the main thing (which is God).

    I guess I haven't really answered your question though (I don't think I can at this point). It is certainly an institutional problem. But it is also seen at the individual level (an institution is a bunch of individuals). Change won't happen at the institutional level without individuals starting it. I don't think that the institution (the Church) can address it all at once. Although...that would be awesome. Perhaps I'm faithless in that statement.

    Actually, your point reminds me of something I've pondered lately. Using your terminology, I think that individuals take the institution's word as "good to go". So if and when the institution can say something, the individuals will, for the most part, listen and follow.

    Good question.

    - J

  4. You see, that something I do wonder about. People in our church taking the words of Charles Stanley, Pat Robertson, or the Nazarene Church to be the 'ultimate truth'. Setting these individuals' statements to be the measure with which all things should be measured. And while that consists of both individuals and an institution...if these individuals, were to say something new or different...or if individuals who are the head of 'an institution', would change be effected, or would they be lynched?

    Obviously a completely hypothetical question...but when will someone stand up? When will those who want to see the church return to a church with a mission of reconciliation and love...and not morality...when will they stand up, without fear? I wish I knew...I so fear never having a church if i stand up...that I never speak up. Anyway, I'm done. Back to work. Much love Jeremy, i'm glad you got this thing up and running.

  5. Yeah, definitely a problem when people take the golden word of individuals. When an institution (organization, church, denomination, etc.) says something, it should be the collective agreement (for the most part) of the whole group. (This is why I got/get upset when the General Secretary of the CotN writes letters to the US government on behalf of the whole denomination. He's not even on the Board of GSs.) Anyway, you're right.

    At the same time, I wonder (and I mean that literally) from where we need to get our authoritative statements. Sure, God is the authority. But God has always used human leaders to communicate to the world. If we do not have some kind of canonical authority, everyone is free to decide for themselves. On one level, everyone needs to decide for themselves (otherwise nothing could be done in sincerity of heart, which God wants). Man, I'm rambling, but my point is - I'm wondering with you: At what point and when and where do we stop and say, "Hey, you're wrong." and try to change the authority.

    By the way, in regards to your comment "I fear never having a church if I stand up" - I hear ya. I assume you make that statement in regards to the CotN. I've found that I'm increasingly less and less concerned with that than I am with being true to that which God is calling me. And honestly, that's very tough, as I'm sure you (Nick) know coming from a family that cherishes her denomination so much. But I guess in the end we have to commit to what we know is the ultimate authority - God. Greater things than the CotN have gone by the wayside before.

    Perhaps I've shared this with you before, but I remember back when all that hubbub was going on about ENC closing. In my mind and heart I was saying, "Oh no! What're we going to do?!?" But I realized that perhaps I loved the institution and my pride in her too much and forgot the mission - the heart of the matter.

    We have to be in a place where we're willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the mission, even if it is the dearest of things to us (tradition, an institution, even our own life).

    I don't know how the above really relates to what you said, but oh well...

    Love ya man,
    - J

  6. Jeff,

    As to a sin definition, I like the following: "Seeking love in the wrong places, or medicating the pain that comes from lack of the same"