Are Christians Really So Hateful?

church2I’ve pretty much had it. Every article I read about the response of Christians to the same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court seems to be an indictment. Some serious head-shaking at the missed opportunity Christians had, but didn’t seize, to show the love of Christ. Recrimination over Christians responding in anger. In other words, in one form or other, it’s been, Shame on you Christians for reacting so badly to the Supreme Court ruling that has changed our culture.

One article, for example, in listing out six ways Christians blew it, said this:

We could have looked around at the hurt generated this past week; at the deep sadness so many LGBT people and their loved ones felt at being the center of such violent arguments and the horrible aftermath of them, and responded in love. We could have moved toward them with the mercy and gentleness of Christ, seeking to be the binders of the wounds. Instead, far too many of us felt compelled to rub salt deeply into them. We basically walked past those who were down—and we kicked them hard on the way. (John Pavlovitz)

My first thought is, Where are all the posts responding in anger? I haven’t read them. Perhaps I was somewhere else when all the kicking took place. I haven’t seen it. In fact, I didn’t see a lot of LGBT people in deep sadness. Most I saw were celebrating by putting rainbows on their Facebook avatars and rushing to the court house for marriage licenses.

On the other hand of course is the exhortation that we Christians aren’t taking this same-sex marriage ruling seriously enough (see Matt Walsh), or that we’re not doing enough to fight it or are doing too much to fight it.

I come away from it all feeling beaten down, like Christians who believe the Bible are misbehaving.

The topper for me was an article that actually came out some time ago about the Christian’s attitudes and actions being more like the Pharisees than like Jesus Christ. The conclusions were reached from a 2013 research project by the Barna Group, a Christian research organization. The conclusions were reached by identifying five attitudes and five behaviors of Christ and five attitudes and five behaviors of Pharisees, then respondents were asked which they agreed with.

This could have been a very interesting study, but in truth, the statements seemed more consistent with Love Wins than with the four Gospels.

Here are the attitudes and actions chosen to represent Christ:

Actions like Jesus:

I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.

Attitudes like Jesus:

I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
I believe God is for everyone.
I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.

I’m more mystified by the attitudes attributed to Jesus, though I don’t think the actions are accurate either. God-given value? I don’t know how His conversations with the Pharisees revealed Jesus’s belief that they had God-given value. When someone was setting himself against God, Jesus openly opposed them.

Did He show God is for everyone? When He told the Samaritan woman that He wouldn’t heal her child because He’d come to the Jews, did that communicate His belief that God is for everyone?

Other places in Scripture let us know that in fact God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, that He desires all to come to Him, that His plan was for the nations to follow Israel’s example as His chosen people, and that now He has brought together people of all nations and tribes and tongues into His body, the Church. But was that Jesus’s message? I don’t think so. He praised those of faith and commended the Samaritan woman on that level (and therefore healed her child). But He didn’t start a healing ministry in Samaria. I think you’d have a hard time validating the idea that Jesus showed God is for everyone.

I could go through the whole list, but that’s not my intention here. The point is, I don’t think those actions and attitudes are a fair reflection of who Jesus is and what He said and did when He was on earth. So comparing Christians to that caricature of Him is bound to make Bible believers look different from the artificial construct.

Reading that report was the last straw. Christians are being blamed and bashed, but a lot of the unpleasantness isn’t coming from people who believe the Bible.

I think it’s telling that no Christians rioted in the streets or burned down gay bars or bombed a gay pride parade. I haven’t read a single blog post in which a Christian cussed out gays. If these things are happening or if a vocal group like the Westboro Baptist few is hurling insults at homosexuals, it’s more an indication that they are pretend Christians than evidence that Christians are behaving badly.

Please, can we Christians at least stop bashing Christians!

No, we aren’t perfect. We have not prized marriage as we should and have left the door open to the perversion of the covenant God invited men and women to make with one another. Yes, this redefinition of marriage is a game changer in our culture, but it doesn’t change the mandate we have to share the good news with the lost.

Rather than pointing fingers at what we didn’t do in the past or should have done in the present or had better do in the future, perhaps we can let Scripture guide us into all truth. Who knows better and who cares more for the Church than Christ? We are, after all, His bride.

I’m not sure why we think it’s OK to beat up on the Church. After all, we’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ; we’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; we’ve been rescued from the dominion of darkness; we’ve been saved by God’s grace, through faith. We are who Christ is making us. When we rail against the Church, aren’t we, in a way, railing against God Himself?

Published in: on July 8, 2015 at 6:51 pm  Comments (18)  
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Church And Church Bashing

The buzz, whether it is true or not, says that the younger generations are leaving church. Fewer and fewer young families are investing in Sunday morning worship or are putting their offspring into Bible classes designed for their age.

How much of this shift is due to church bashing, I wonder.

The traditional church has long been criticized. The Jesus Movement of the ’70s was an outgrowth of the dissatisfaction of a younger generation with the traditions they deemed straight-laced and meaningless.

Some congregations bowed to the demands of the youth culture, and for a time an exciting revival appeared to be sweeping through the church. Until some of those groups, led by the untaught, crumbled under false teaching or scandal.

A number of other churches held fast to the Bible as the authority even in a culture in flux. I happen to be fortunate enough to attend just such a church.

I hear what others on the web say about church, and it sounds like a foreign entity to me: mostly attended by women, full of infighting, legalistic, hypocritical, out of touch with the needs of society. That just doesn’t happen to be my experience.

Don’t get me wrong. All churches have shortcomings because they are made up of people, each one a sinner saved by grace, living somewhere between Romans 6, 7, and 8. In other words, some of us are struggling mightily with sin, some are living as more than conquerors, but probably most of us are somewhere in between.

I’ve been in a bad church before — where the worship leader didn’t believe in the divinity of Christ or much of the Bible as anything but myth. That was not a healthy church.

I’ve sat under good teaching, only to find out that the pastor’s wife was having an affair and their marriage ended up in divorce. This was not something that strengthened that body of believers.

What’s my point? Part of me wants to take an entire generation by the scruff of the neck and say, Man up! Stop complaining about church and get in there and make it better. (This approach is probably not the best example of speaking the truth in love, however 🙄 ).

No, the church isn’t perfect, but sitting around complaining about it and boycotting it (I did that for a while, too) assure the fact that you will have no part in a solution.

The truth is, the Church is the bride of Christ. He will not let His bride fail. Whether churches in America pay attention or not is another thing.

In the book of Revelation John wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to seven churches, and they all failed. The church in America faces a good many of the same issues those churches faced: wealth that can be a stumbling block, complacency, a propensity to leave our first love, a lukewarm attitude, false teaching, compromise, immorality. We have a choice to make. Will we bail on church, and so insure that the American church fails?

As I see it, church bashing may be in vogue, but it is certainly not in line with God’s purpose for His bride. Rather than sit back and complain, perhaps we would be wise to pray for our local body, to engage our pastors and worship leaders with thankful hearts, to love those in Christ who we sit next to Sunday after Sunday. God makes it clear that the way we treat each other (not our style of worship) tells the world who we are. I believe a body of Christians who love God and love each other will be winsome and attractive, even to the post-modern generation.

Published in: on June 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm  Comments (17)  
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Pride and Criticism

It seems to me that criticism can be an outgrowth of pride. Strange, I suspect, coming from one who, in part, earned a living, as a teacher and coach, evaluating students’ work or performance. And who now regularly critiques the writing of others, either as a paid editor or as an occasional book blogger.

Writing book reviews and editing, teaching and coaching, may not seem like “criticism,” but there is a shared element. In each instance, the one reviewing, editing, or evaluating is taking the position of judge, even if only for a short time and in a narrow jurisdiction. Generally the person in such positions has the right, and in many cases, the responsibility, to exercise a degree of criticism. How much would students learn if teachers refrained from instructive criticism and became mere cheerleaders in the classroom?

But there’s a danger in taking on that role of judge—the temptation to think more highly of oneself than he should.

Being in authority, even for brief moments, can be a heady experience. I’ll never forget my first day of teaching when I told my homeroom students to take out a piece of paper … and they DID. I was shocked by the fact that thirty-one twelve-year-olds were doing what I told them to. It was a little heady (until the day they decided to test me to see what would happen if they didn’t listen and obey. 🙄 )

Here’s where I’m going. In our contemporary American culture, we all act as if we have the right to criticize … anyone and anything at any time. We criticize the coach of our favorite team if they lose, or the best player on the team if he has a sub-par performance. We criticize the President and Congress, generals and governors, police officers and city council members, teachers and pastors, political parties and … the Church.

Am I saying we should shut up and dutifully toe the line when we have serious disagreements with any of these people? No. In all cases we need to be praying. In some, we have the responsibility stated in Scripture to go to individuals and confront them. Other times we need to state our points of disagreement publicly, for the sake of people who may be blind to the things we’re seeing.

But this last is tricky. How do we point the finger at others and say they need to do thus and so or refrain from this or that, without pointing the other three fingers back at ourselves? We can’t, and that fact ought to make those of us giving critiques, reviews, evaluations some pause. We ought to dole out a little honey with the sting, a little mercy with the judgment.

How much more so is this true when we’re talking about the Church! Yet there is a growing number of professing Christians who vilify the Bride of Christ, as if it is their right, even their responsibility … not to lovingly correct those in their immediate sphere of influence, but to condemn the institution as we know it, and by extension those who remain a part and a support of the institution.

As if only those who separate from the traditional church know what it means to be spiritual. Everyone still a part is too wrapped up in programs and lists of thou-shalt-nots and (horrors!) doctrine.

Here are some of the things I see regarding this current movement among professing Christians to disdain the Church:

Anyone rightfully giving criticism does so with construction in mind, not destruction. Can someone who has left the Church rightfully be said to have constructive goals?

Criticism sometimes puts the spotlight on the critic, in which case the goal seems self-centered, not redemptive or even corrective.

Disdaining the Church as a whole implies more knowledge and spiritual insight than all pastors, seminary teachers, Bible scholars, and lay leaders throughout the world.

I wonder. Is it too far fetched to think pride may be playing a part in this current movement against the Church from the ranks of professing Christians?

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Just Criticism or Bashing?

One of the current fads seems to be church bashing. Or is it just (as in, fair and balanced) criticism?

Bashing or criticizing, whichever we decide it to be, has shown up in non-fiction, magazines, blogs, fiction. Some people say they are fed up with the church and opt to “drop out” of formalized religion. They are followers of Jesus, they say, and evidently that exempts them from “doing church.”

Curious, because I thought church was who we were, not what we did. Seems like I remember the Apostle Paul writing an analogy about the church and the body. We aren’t all feet, he said, because how could we then see? And we take special care of those who are weak.

Is that what’s happening when Christians hurl vindictive comments at the “failed institution”?

Let’s admit, the church is filled with sinners. Forgiven, yes. And in need of forgiveness. One of the sins we commit is pride, certainly, a particularly egregious sin the drop outs point to. You’ll find no argument from me. Pride is egregious. The church has prideful people. I know because I’m one.

But doesn’t that mean that we are the ones in need of special care? Care, in the form of loving confrontation and encouragement and forgiveness and counsel and discipleship and prayer. How can drop outs minister to those in the greatest need if they are out, not in? if they don’t know the needs of their weaker brothers and sisters? if they aren’t around to model humility as they imitate Christ?

Which makes me wonder if the criticism leveled at the church isn’t actually bashing. When was the last time you railed against your hand for dropping something? Or against your toe for stubbing itself on the end table. Well, idiot, you wouldn’t be throbbing in pain right now if you didn’t stick out so far or if you’d only LOOK where you were going. Why don’t you grow a pair of eyes, for goodness sake!

Interestingly, Paul, in I Thessalonians, calls the Christians he was writing to, “brethren beloved by God.” How would that phrase fit in with the criticism of the church today? Brethren beloved by God, I can’t stand what you’re doing on Sunday morning. Your formal worship is a mockery of what God intended. Your evangelistic efforts are cheesy. You don’t do half as much as you should to help the needy. Why don’t you get out of your safe little bubble you’ve created for yourself, brethren beloved by God?

How would that strike someone coming from a person on the outside?

Honestly, it reminds me a lot of the criticisms leveled against Christian fiction by readers who admit they haven’t read Christian fiction. In order to join the conversation, don’t you first have to be a part of the reading audience? Or the church-goers?

A final observation. It’s amazing how a person in Florida or St. Louis or Phoenix can make a judgment about the Church universal. I’ve read, for example, the church is doing the worst job of evangelizing in the history of the world! Do people who make these kinds of statements know what’s going on in Colorado or Illinois or Georgia, let alone what’s happening in China or Kenya or Bolivia?

So a person has a bad experience in church. Maybe in several churches. Do these experiences then override the counsel of Scripture and give a person the right to stop assembling with other believers? And if an individual stops assembling with other believers, is he giving just criticism of the body he’s left, or is he bashing his brothers and sisters when they need him most?

What are your thoughts?

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
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Content or Contentious, Part 3

Yesterday I left off with this:

You might wonder, then, if I am advocating Christians just being content, regardless of the problems evident within the church. Yes and no.

Church hopping. A breakdown in church discipline. A lack of accountability. These are the problems I see that might be behind the sins that seem to be drawing the criticisms of the church. If there is hypocrisy, judgmentalism, or self-righteousness and no one is stepping up to correct an offending brother or sister or hold them accountable for change, then, yes, those sins will flourish.

In other words, I am not defending the church as if it is already the pure bride it will one day become. It is not. But what are we to do with that fact?

Let me digress and give you a little quiz by way of introducing this next part of the discussion.

If you saw some injustice you strongly believed needed to change, what would you do to change it? Place the following in order of what you would choose to do first, second, third, and so on.

___ Look for opportunities to educate others regarding the injustice
___ Participate in a boycott to try to force change
___ Talk with others about the circumstance to influence their opinions
___ Pray about the unjust circumstances
___ Write to an authority who has influence over the circumstance
___ Make an effort to be an example of justice in like circumstances

So what was your number one?

Where did prayer fall into the mix?

My point is this. God wants us to depend on Him. He invites us to ask Him for what we need. Yet just like the people of Israel traversing the wilderness after leaving Egypt, we Christians (especially American Christians who have bought into the idea that we are entitled to be free and happy and wealthy, we who don’t often think about being holy) so often take it upon ourselves to figure a way to handle the problems we face. And when we don’t see a way out, we rail against our leaders and against God.

That’s what I think this church bashing is.

But what if we prayed instead?

What if every Christian made a concerted effort to pray for their pastor and the other leaders of their church? What if we started praying that we believers would repent of our hypocrisy, our judgmentalism, our self-righteousness? What if we prayed we would seek God’s face?

How different would church be if we did nothing else but pray? All of us.

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Comments (3)  
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Content or Contentious, Part 2

Great comments to the Friday post introducing this subject. Interestingly, the majority seemed to uphold the idea that the church, especially in America, needs bashing.

Here’s what I see. The church is far from perfect. Some church-goers put on a Sunday face that has nothing whatsoever to do with how they behave during the week. Some judge the church leaders, and each other, on a regular basis. One preacher, in a sermon broadcast on the radio, mentioned congregants having “roasted pastor” for lunch every Sunday. People laughed, that nervous kind of laugh when the joke is on them.

“Church” for many people has become almost a bad word because it brings up images of hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and twisted theology. As a result, some seem to be moving toward a “start over” mentality. In some cases, it’s even an “I don’t need church to be spiritual” stance.

Ironic. The answer some of these people have come up with is to judge the church, find it wanting, and leave. But wasn’t one of the problems of the church judgmentalism? And hypocrisy? And twisted theology?

“Yeah, but the problems in the church are real” one might say. And I would agree. Although I think a great deal of my church, I know others who left not so long ago because they weren’t happy. I know attendance has dropped in the past year. Some people are seeing something, evidently, that makes them discontented.

But there’s the issue, I think. Contentment versus contention. Christians aren’t known for our contentment, at least not in America. We are actually seen more and more as those who want to force others to Do It Our Way.

We often say this is because we believe the Bible and the Bible is Truth. It shows the Way. As if this entitles us to be offensive, mean-spirited, demanding, critical, self-righteous.

Don’t misunderstand. I believe unequivocally that the Bible is Truth and that it does reveal God’s strategy for bringing Man back into a relationship with Him. But more and more, it seems some cling to bits and pieces of the Bible, not the whole counsel of Scripture.

Taking verses out of context, some preachers claim all kinds of rights and privileges for Christians, for example, ignoring other passages like “Godliness with contentment is great gain” and “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

You might wonder, then, if I am advocating Christians just being content, regardless of the problems evident within the church. Yes and no. I’ll elaborate next time.

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm  Comments Off on Content or Contentious, Part 2  
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Content or Contentious?

I mentioned I had a topic I planned on bringing up but let the Book Buzz Tag play out for a few days. I’ll have some wrap up comments on that in a few days, but I want to return to the topic that won’t seem to let me go.

Those who visit here regularly know I’ve voiced concern over a trend that seems to be picking up steam—church bashing. At the same time, another trend seems to be full-blown—Christians shaking our angry fists at God. Are these two trends autonomous or is there a connection?

Let me back up and take a look at the first trend—church bashing. I’ve come across an increasing number of books that would seem to throw negative light on the church. Here’s the short list:

  • I’m Fine with God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual Truth
  • Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
  • So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore
  • They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations
  • unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters
  • Here’s the product description for one of these books:

    Many non-Christians find the behavior of some Christians off-putting rather than inviting. Many Christians do too! Now [the authors] take an unflinchingly honest and often humorous look at some believers’ outlandish behavior. This candid assessment of the church will bridge the communication gap, empowering Christians to share their faith more freely and helping those who don’t yet believe discover the truth about God without being distracted by…

    judgmental attitudes, hypocrisy, and condemnation
    confusing mixtures of politics and the gospel
    defensive positions in the “God vs. science” debate
    extreme teachings about prosperity
    unbalanced fixations on the end times
    uninformed opinions about others’ beliefs
    unprofessional Christian media and entertainment

    Is that who we Christians actually are? Judgmental, hypocritical, condemning, and all the rest? And even if it’s not, much of what this brief description states is what a good number of people think.

    So why is it the world sees us as contentious when God calls us to be content?

    Could it be, in part, because we’ve bought into that other trend? The one that says we need to honestly tell it like it is, even if that means we end up shaking our fist in God’s face. Honesty means I need to set those evolutionists straight, I need to picket those pornographers with the sign that says they’re going to hell, and especially I need to tell God He’d better keep His promises.

    It makes me sick to write that drivel.

    Here’s an example of the culture getting into the church, not the other way around. Many Christians have bought into entitlement—and many who call themselves Christians.

    Above all else reigns this belief: I must be me. Authentic. Never mind who I might insult. I have to tell it like it is, about me. About anything else, I must be tolerant, of course. But about me, about what I believe, honesty forces me to bleed out.

    I’ve just scratched the surface on these intertwined issues, and already this post is too long. Your thoughts?

    Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 2:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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