with This Picture?
(The Church's Identity Crisis)
Not long ago I went
to a church and to a couple of bars. Following is what
I encountered. Can you tell which is the church and which
is the bar?
At the first location,
the doors were wide open, everyone spoke and was very
accepting. More than one person greeted me and invited
me into their conversations as they discussed problems
and things that were on their minds. A couple of them
even offered me a chair and wanted to be sure I felt welcomed
and comfortable. The people were refreshingly genuine.
They weren't "wearing masks" or trying to portray
themselves as something they were not; they were just…real.
They had helpful hearts and weren't afraid to serve others
or to get their hands dirty. One man, for example, was
having a bad day and asked me to pray with him. He hugged
me and held me tightly when I finished. Another person,
an older woman, had received some very bad news about
the death of a relative. I asked her if I could pray with
her; she was deeply moved and grateful for my prayer.
No one shunned me and I felt un-rejected.
And then there was
this other place down the road. When I arrived, the doors
were locked. People had to ring a bell and ask permission
to enter; and even then, everyone had to be approved by
the "bouncer" in order to get in. When they
did get in, some of those inside looked down their noses
in disgust at outsiders as they entered. It didn't take
long to discern that most of the regular patrons who frequented
this place were "wearing masks;" few of the
patrons were genuine and most wanted me to think they
were better than they really were. Some were timid and
acted as though they weren't real sure they should be
in a place like that. It was obvious that many patrons
felt out-of-place and really didn't "fit-in;"
they pretended to be a part of the establishment, but
they didn't speak the language and didn't know the rules
of the place. Most of the patrons weren't interested in
helping me or serving others. No one offered me a chair;
they only wanted to be served. I was stunned by the number
of people who refused to speak to me and totally ignored
me…even when I spoke to them. They acted as if they were
owed a medal just for being there. Many of the patrons
even hushed when I walked by, betraying the fact that
they'd been talking about me. The lies and rumors the
patrons conjured up proved they did not know me. They'd
positioned themselves in impenetrable cliques which baffled
me because I tried hard to penetrate their world's, but
they wouldn't let me in; I was held at arm's length.
Have you figured it
out? Can you tell which is which?
Here's another illustration
for you, this time about church "leaders" and
My family and I recently
moved. We were pleasantly surprised when people we didn't
even know showed up to help us. These people were genuine
and talked of the struggles they'd had with life and,
yes, even with drugs and alcohol. They shared freely the
victory they'd experienced in Jesus and that they couldn't
stay late to help me because they didn't want to miss
their AA meetings; yet they were more servant-hearted
than anyone I knew.
In contrast, the other
group of people that I knew well didn't even show up to
help. They were accustomed to being served and they prided
themselves in the leadership positions they'd attained.
They talked a lot about serving others, but actually doing
it was rare, except when they would receive recognition
for doing so. They boasted about the things they'd done,
the places they'd been, and, yes, even the rude responses
with which they'd blasted those who got in their way.
They knew a lot about talking the talk; but very little
about walking the walk. When engaged in conversation,
they didn't share anything personal or deep or meaningful;
only surface talk without substance. The servant's heart
Can you guess which
For the past several
years, I've been doing a study of the church (please see
the other articles in this series). I never cease to be
amazed at my findings. The attitude and spirit I see in
many churches today is similar to the attitude and spirit
that characterized the church during the 1400s.
John Hus stood out
as a prophet of God, boldly speaking the truth of God,
and refusing to preach to the people in the required language:
Latin. Having come from an impoverished family in Husinec,
Bohemia, he understood the challenges of everyday life.
For that reason, when he later became pastor of Bethlehem
Church in Prague, he chose to preach in the tongue of
the people, Bohemian, and to provide relevant, specific,
and timely application for their daily needs, rather than
to bore them to death with a sermon in Latin that they
didn't even understand.
The church leaders
were furious and denounced him for doing that; they demanded
he preach in Latin. He refused. He openly held up Catholic
theology on one side and the Word of God on the other.
When they didn't match, he said so and courageously proclaimed
that the Bible is the final word on…everything. He was
later condemned and burned at the stake for the position
he took on God's Word and for the truth that he unabashedly
Matthew Spinka wrote a book entitled John Hus' Concept
of the Church from which the following quote is taken:
a sermon dealing with Peter, Hus asserts that the Church
is not founded on him [Peter] but on "the surest
that is, Christ Jesus." In support of his assertion
he quotes Paul's passage, "No other foundation
can be laid
than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.".
. . The pope, who has usurped this power, does not
wish to hear
that Christ asked Peter three times before He granted
him the keys whether he loved Him. Only
declared his love for Christ did He bid him to "feed
His sheep." Now the pope and many priests do
not love God
and do not feed the sheep; they do, however, snatch
the keys in order to possess worldly power.1
to ensure worldly power is all too common today, and not
just in the catholic church. In fact, it happens in many
of today's churches. Church "leaders'" obsession
for being in control at any cost is the impetus for many
attacks on pastors; it was the impetus for incessant attacks
on this one.
These kinds of issues
are those that make the church contemptible to the churched…and
unappealing to the unchurched. I mean, after all, in which
of the settings at the beginning of this article are the
unchurched most likely to feel welcome? Is it the one
that has open doors or the one locked-up tightly? The
one that has people who are warm, welcoming, and thoughtful
or the one where the people won't speak to them…even when
spoken to? The one where they are offered a chair, shown
respect, and have people who go out-of-the-way for them,
or the one where they are derided and disrespected?
If you answered the
first one then you answered correctly. Most everyone would
expect to be treated like that, especially in a church.
But, was that the church or the bar? Think you've got
it figured out?
One critical problem
in the church today is that it has an acute identity crisis.
Unfortunately, it's getting harder to tell the church
and the world apart. It shouldn't be. The church is light…the
world is darkness. The church is love…the world is hatred.
The church is confident…the world is confused. The church
is victorious…the world is defeated. But it's becoming
more and more difficult to find churches that are light,
love, confident, and victorious.
And what about us as
individuals? What about you? Do you know who you are in
Christ Jesus? Do you know who you are in the Body of Christ?
Is the world putting you to shame with its helping others,
generous giving, ready acceptance of everyone, or willingness
to make sacrifices? If so, you're not alone. The problem
for the church is almost epidemic. In fact, I've experienced
it in most of the churches I've been in over the past
few years…and I've been in a lot of them. If the church
is to solve its identity crisis, it must be solved believer-by-believer.
Each believer must know who he or she is in Christ Jesus
on both an individual and a corporate level.
On both levels, we
are to strive to be like Jesus. And just what is He like?
Scripture reveals many characteristics about Him, all
of which are worthy to be imitated. But in light of the
subject at hand, it is only fitting that we consider Luke
7:34: "The Son of
Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look,
a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors
There were certain
types of people Jesus preferred to be around…and certain
types of people He preferred not to be around.
He wanted to be around real people, people who
understood their sinfulness and their need for a Savior.
He didn't like being around those who weren't sinners,
or so they thought: the religious leaders, the high-and-mighty,
the self-righteous…who didn't need a Savior.
An important step in
solving our identity crisis is understanding that our
DNA as believers includes befriending sinners. I mean,
if Jesus, my Savior, the Creator of the universe, was
a friend of sinners, how much more should I be, being
one and all?!
How are you doing in
this area? Are you loving the lost or are you struggling
to get out of the rut of thinking more highly of yourself
than you ought to think?
Since I have been so
burned (scorched, really) by the traditional church, it
may be a long time before I enter one again, but I plan
to go back to the bar really soon. Why? Because I really
do want to be like Jesus…I want to be a friend of sinners.
plan to lead a Bible study…in the bar.
plan to pray with people…in the bar.
plan to invite them to "party" with
me in a way that is new to them: in a new kind
church that is accepting of everyone, a church
full of "sinners."
After all, if Jesus
was the friend of sinners, shouldn't I be? Isn't each
believer just one beggar telling another beggar where
to find bread? And since Jesus is the Bread of Life, I
can't think of a better use of my time than introducing
sinners to the Friend of Sinners…to the Lord of my life;
to Jesus Christ, my Friend. Will you pray for me
as I go?
Oh, in case you're
wondering, the first description at the beginning of this
article was the bar and the second one the church. But
you probably already figured that out. So, let's work
harder to make our churches more accepting, more loving,
more inviting. How? By making more room for sinners…and
less room for the self-righteous church leaders many of
us have come to know. If we do, we'll all have a Friend
1 Matthew Spinka, John Hus' Concept of the Church
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966), 10.
Copyright © 2011. Faith Matters
by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.