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What's Wrong 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 non-leaders.


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 eluded them.


Can you guess which is 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 preached.


Renowned historian Matthew Spinka wrote a book entitled John Hus' Concept of the Church from which the following quote is taken:


       In a sermon dealing with Peter, Hus asserts that the Church is not founded on him [Peter] but on "the surest
       foundation, 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
       after Peter 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.


"Snatched keys" 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 and sinners!'"


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.


       I plan to lead a Bible study…in the bar.


              I plan to pray with people…in the bar.


                     I plan to invite them to "party" with me in a way that is new to them: in a new kind
                     of 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 in Jesus.


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.

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