Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tearing Down the Body of Christ (Part 1)

Over the course of perhaps the last year or so, I have noticed an increasingly disturbing pattern among Christians that goes beyond simple "disunity". The term "disunity" implies that some sort of genuine community exists, and I am beginning to question that maxim. For all the lip-service paid to the notion of "community", "oneness" and - the ultimate ambiguous "Christianeze" term, "fellowship" - I have seen more fakeness, backstabbing, callousness and insincerity in the "Body" than I care to notice.

The net result seems to be a growing cynicism and isolation among those who simply want to follow Christ, sans bureaucracy and without striving to "people-please". Their reaction? Counter-attacks and withdrawal. There is a meanness, a cynicism and an unscriptural defensiveness present among too many different believers, for too many reasons. Ironically, none of this has anything to do with Christ Himself and I probably would not have even mentioned it if it hadn't been for the events of the last few weeks.

The causes of this cancer of negativity (and the backlash from the wounded) come from at least three places, in my opinion, and at the risk of opening several cans of worms I'd like to frankly explore them. I'd like your insights. I expect this discussion to take at least 2 or 3 posts, and some of what I will say I freely apply to myself. I have avoided the whole issue because of my own growing cynicism and disillusionment with "the Body" and what it claims to be....anything that violates the Ephesians 4:29 principle is not edifying. ("Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.")

So what is causing so much discouragement, apathy and disillusion among so many of us? I'll start with the one that I notice in my own environment most clearly, then move on to the complaints of other Christians.

1). "Politics" in the local church. By politics, I do not mean running for office of deacon or committee head. Those are necessary roles and should be filled by the correct person with good leadership skills. What I am talking about is the virtual "caste system" present in any church that everyone pretends doesn't exist; the proverbial elephant in the living room that we all step around.

When newcomers enter a church, generally speaking, they are fawned over by "old timers" and effusively welcomed into the "family". This is especially true if they happen to be new Christians, which they are generally assumed to be (a condescending tendency that never ceases to amaze me). People with aspirations of church leadership can't wait to "disciple" the newcomers - even if those newbies happen to have PhDs in systematic theology - and save seats for them until they enroll in the "membership classes". By this time, they are essentially a sure source of income and fresh testimonies, so the Higher Caste Christians move on to the fresher newcomers, in what becomes a never-ending revolving door of caste-shuffling.

Have you ever noticed that everyone wants to "disciple" you, but no one has time to just meet up for a coffee?

The other night, my husband and I were venting our spleens (only to each other) about the presence of politics even in excellent churches like ours. We vowed never to become involved in the game, but I (being passionate about missions) am continually frustrated by the double-standards used to consider proposals for actually doing good. Who you are (and whether your husband is a deacon/elder) seems to have bearing on how seriously you are taken -- which leaves those desiring to make a difference with two options: a) start climbing the church hierarchy, or b) give up and go home. I am entirely too Irish to choose the latter, but my husband and I are both too principled to attempt the former.

Do I really have to say this? Church should not be a "networking opportunity". Not only is this common sense, people, it's forbidden in Scripture: James and Paul both blast Christians for their tendency to show favoritism based on status and rank.

Another toe I'm going to step on is this whole "fellowship" myth. "Koinonia" encompasses a much deeper meaning in Greek than the current, casual use of the term as a noun, verb, and adjective. The word has become so overused in evangelical circles that it is utterly meaningless. Instead of true friendship, we are expected to sign up for the Christmas Fellowship Something or Other and purchase our tickets for only $5 each in order to enjoy a Time of Fellowship. I swear I am not making this up. So people who can't be bothered visiting each other, helping bear each others' burdens (either spiritually or physically), and have no friends outside of Facebook avatars are expected to replace spontaneous gathering as friends with Church Fellowship Events.

I cannot even begin to articulate how bizarre, unnatural and repugnant this is to us. Try inviting these same people to a casual get-together at your house (which is not a designated Church Fellowship Event). They are so busy being busy that if they bother to RSVP at all, it will be to complain about how "busy" they are but they will "try" to stop by...as if you are inconveniencing them by scheduling a party during December, and they are doing you a favor if they condescend to attend.

However, you will still be greeted - exactly once a week - by the Fellowshippers who call you "brother" (or "sister" if you happen to be a woman) and perhaps even hugged. THAT is the extent of "Fellowship" - a contrived, facade of friendliness pulled out around other Christians. At no time is this charade more apparent than during the Christmas season.

Sometimes the facade, for whatever reason, drops and this adds to the growing sense of alienation (and doubts about the authenticity of "fellowship"). Now, speaking only for myself, since Thanksgiving I have been badly snubbed by four other Christian women (two online; two in real life). Now, in one of the cases, it could be chalked up to "it's not personal; it's just business", but it still stung because the lady in question was neither acting in love nor practicing what she preaches. Regardless, even in the other three instances I have gone back and tried to figure out what happened - to see if I had any responsibility at all for the rudeness. I'm coming up empty.

Not that such things will turn me against the Body, but my point is that these things, among Christians already observing hypocrisy, will add to the protective walls we put up around our hearts. Last week, discussing the proliferation of ambitious "Career Christians", I actually said it out loud: "Sometimes I don't even feel like going to church any more." My husband, a bastion of wisdom and straight-forward common sense, replied: "Well, that's wrong already." He is right, of course. To put it simply, when we take our eyes off of Jesus and look at what others are doing, we will always be disappointed, disillusioned, and yes; hurt.

The truth of the matter is, though, my spirit has become so dry and jaded that while deep down I still love the Lord, I cannot worship anymore. I no longer thirst for His Word, although I know it is the only antidote to what I see His Body becoming. I have been running on autopilot for many months - even counseling hurting women; I am so familiar with what I need to say - but have not verbalized my cynical, negative attitude for a reason: Psalm 73:15. "If I had said, "I will speak thus," I would have betrayed your children." You can read the whole Psalm in context, but the gist of it is that Asaph sees the injustice of the wicked prospering, hypocrisy among Israel and a host of other social maladies. He nearly loses his faith, but after pouring it all out to God he realizes it was better that he kept his mouth shut than to bring down God's people. This is, indeed, an important point often lost in the search for "authenticity".

These are some of the things I personally have noticed, and I confess my reaction and attitude has been less than Christ-like. The task of full repentance seems daunting right now, as I have always wanted others to change before I address my own sin.

There are other factors, however, that are causing similar reactions of "forget this" in other believers. I'll touch on just one more in this post.

2.) Ignorance, apathy, and professing Christians who take pride in ignorance and apathy.

Hadassah is one of the sharpest and most gifted Bible study teachers I've had the pleasure of knowing. She was also a superb blogger who shared excellent insights on topical Bible issues, as well as some of her own research into the finer points of Scripture. Her expository writing was a delight to read and was a blessing to many. Over a year ago, she poured her heart and soul into writing a Bible study (the lectures of which I shared with my fellow Bible study leaders at church, as we were gearing up to do the same book). She and I corresponded several times about the stunning level of biblical illiteracy among churchgoers (even though she lives in the Bible Belt).

What is worse is that people seem proud of their lack of knowledge, and derisively label those who study the Bible as "religious", "pharisaical" or "arrogant". Over the course of several months, the apathy of those in the Church seemed to wear her down. While I cannot speculate or put words in her mouth, this gifted servant of God seemed to take on the attitude of "why bother"? I suspect there were other reasons, but she eventually stopped blogging and did not want to lead another study, because of the lack of accountability she was offered.

To say that this is a shame doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Scripture itself tells us that we are to study God's Word, to accurately handle it and to "be prepared in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2). Since when did deliberate ignorance and uncertainty become the new sound doctrine?

There are two more issues I would like to address that are tearing down the Body, but I will pick this up later. Lastly, the question remains: how are we to respond productively?

1 comment:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Outstanding, thought-provoking post!