Not Forsaking the Assembling Together

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)

If I could leave you with one thought, it’s this: Go.  Go to church.  Don’t go for the coffee, the presentations, the music, or the amenities.  Don’t even go for the feelings you may or may not get when you go because, no offense, these feelings may or may not be trustworthy most of the time.  Go for the gospel.  Go for the preaching.  Go to be near to God’s Word (Why We Love the Church, p. 196).

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan…He called [people] to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).  If we truly love the church we will bear with her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification.  I still believe the church is the hope of the world – not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give upon the church.  The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity.  The invisible church is for invisible Christians.  The visible church is for you and me [my emphasis added].

So I guess this is my final advice: Find a good local church, get involved, become a member, stay there for the long haul…Go to church this Sunday and worship there is spirit and truth, be patient with your leaders, rejoice when the gospel is proclaimed, bear with those who hurt you, and give people the benefit of the doubt.  While you are there, sing like you mean it…enjoy the Sundays that click for you, pray extra hard on the Sundays that don’t, and do not despise “the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10) (p. 226).

 

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Getting “Unstuck”

There is an old engineering joke about how to fix anything:

Is it moving when it shouldn’t be? Use duct tape.
Is it not moving when it should be?  Use WD-40.

There are times in life when it seems that we are stuck and left wondering if there is any Life WD-40 that can help get us “unstuck.”  While there may not be a spray can of WD-40 to spray on areas of life that are stuck in place, there are some small, simple methods that we can employ to get unstuck.

Casey Cease’s article Just Do It lays out some of these solutions:

Have you ever had a day, week, month, or year where you’ve felt stuck? (Or maybe you feel like this all the time?) Whether it be vocationally, spiritually, or relationally, you just feel like things aren’t moving along as they should. We’ve all been there. The question is, how do you get out of those seasons?

The other day I went to help a friend get his yard in order because he was feeling overwhelmed by it. Some time had passed from the last time he did yard work, for sure, but it wasn’t all that bad. However, the task seemed daunting to him, because he felt stuck. This experience caused me to reflect on times when I have felt overwhelmed or stuck, which has happened several times in the past.

Here are a few things to remember when you are feeling stuck and some things to help you become unstuck:

1. Remember Whose You Are.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you have been purchased, adopted, and identified with Christ. As followers of Jesus we need to remember that we are called to freedom (Galatians 5:1, 13) and not slavery. This freedom enables us to become unstuck.

2. Admit That You’re Stuck.

We were made to be in relationship with other people. For followers of Jesus, we’ve been called to live in community with one another. Confess your stuck-ness to God and to those around you who will love you, pray for you, and if necessary, hold you accountable.

3. Set Realistic Goals.

If you have some chores or tasks that need to get done, create a list or checklist. I like to use a free service called Do.com for this, but regular old pen and paper work just fine, too. If you haven’t read your Bible in months, then setting a goal of reading it for three hours is not realistic. If your entire house needs to be deep cleaned but you only have an hour, then pick one room. If your house is a total disaster, then start by cleaning the room used least, so that it will stay cleaner long. Setting realistic goals will help you experience some momentum and help you to not become discouraged.

4. Just Do Something. 

A lot of times, when we are feeling stuck, we end up not doing anything. That’s almost always the worst solution to this problem. Instead of sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, we need to find something constructive to do and do it. For those who are “waiting on the Lord” (there are certainly situations for this, but a lot of people use this as an excuse to cover up their laziness), they need to realize that there is a lot that they should still be doing (i.e. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission). I really enjoyed a book by Kevin DeYoung called—wait for it—Just Do Something.

5. Ask for Help. 

There is no shame in asking for help. Perhaps you need to hire someone, delegate a project, or you just need to ask some people in your community for help. After all, most of the time, our pride keeps us from asking for help, and we all know that that only hurts us.

The good news about the gospel of Jesus is that he meets us where we are, but also refuses to leave us there. You have the opportunity and the power to get unstuck. So what are you waiting for?

Another “Follow Jesus, Forget the Church” Epic Fail

Contributing author Andrew Sullivan wrote the cover story of the “Easter edition” of Newsweek informing people that they should “Forget the Church. Follow Jesus.”  Sullivan’s headline is not new, in fact, he is a bit behind the times as there have been a number of books published over the years that have already debunked his premises (e.g. the 2009 book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion – an insightful, pointed, yet humorously witty book by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck).

Sullivan recycled old points while mixing in some current events in order to try to sell his point; ending with the tried and found wanting appeal that “all we need is love.”  As Trevin Wax points out in his article (posted below), Christianity in Crisis? A Response to Andrew Sullivan, the “love of Jesus” that Sullivan wants is not the love of Jesus according to Jesus.  Or, as Wax states it, “It’s interesting to see how those who advocate a return to the words of Christ often display a frightening ignorance of what Jesus actually said.”

For a great synopsis of the Sullivan article and Wax’s critique of the positives and landmark failures of Sullivan, check out the article below:

Christianity in Crisis?  A Response to Andrew Sullivan by Trevin Wax

Newsweek’s cover story, written by popular author Andrew Sullivan, encourages Americans to “forget the church” and just “follow Jesus.” According to Sullivan:

We inhabit a polity now saturated with religion. On one side, the Republican base is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life. On the other side, the last Democratic primary had candidates profess their faith in public forums, and more recently President Obama appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care. The crisis of Christianity is perhaps best captured in the new meaning of the word “secular.” It once meant belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics; it now means, for many, simply atheism. The ability to be faithful in a religious space and reasonable in a political one has atrophied before our eyes.

Sullivan sees the problem of a politicized faith, one that focuses relentlessly on gaining power, changing laws, and regulating the morality of others. He sees contemporary Christianity as a faith obsessed with getting doctrines about Jesus right to the exclusion of what He actually taught us to do and be. This leads him to ask some piercing questions:

What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?

From the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality to evangelical Christian support of torture, Sullivan makes his way through a long list of perceived threats to the centrality of Christ among believing people.

So what’s the solution? Sullivan points us toward Francis of Assisi and Thomas Jefferson. Francis – for the simplicity of his vision for following Jesus. Jefferson – for the way he stripped away all the miracles of incarnation and resurrection and got to the greatest miracle of all: Jesus’ message of love.

A Response

Where to start with an article like this?

On the one hand, Sullivan is absolutely right to point out the politicized nature of Christianity in the West. He has witnessed the counterfeit gospel of activism that gives us “culture warriors” from the Right and the world’s “errand runners” from the Left. He has seen what happens when churches unite around a cause rather than the cross, and the results are indeed repugnant. If we deny the shortcomings of the church or minimize the scandals, the abuse of power, or the existence of injustice behind our stained-glass windows, we are departing from the righteous vision of Jesus’ kingdom and joining the first-century Pharisees.

Likewise, we should admit that we have too often been known more for our denunciations of those outside our walls than for our passion to uproot our own self-righteous hypocrisy, something Jesus was always confronting in His day. Sullivan sees many of the problems within contemporary Christianity with a perception that should give us pause and bring us back to our knees.

Jesus without Jesus

Unfortunately, his solution is woefully inadequate. He wants to return to the simple message of Jesus as if that message can be divorced from the Man who delivered it. Despite his protests against a politicized faith, Sullivan is saying we should follow a Man whose primary message concerned a kingdom. You can’t get more political than that.

It’s interesting to see how those who advocate a return to the words of Christ often display a frightening ignorance of what Jesus actually said. The primary message of Jesus was not love – at least, not love in our sense of the world. The message of Jesus was Love with a capital “L” – meaning, His message was about Himself. It was about His kingdom, His identity as king, and the cross that became His throne.

So when Sullivan says that Jesus would have been “baffled” by current debates over homosexuality or abortion, I would counter that Jesus spoke to both of these issues and more, albeit indirectly:

  • The sexual ethic He put forth is so radical that even a lustful thought after another human being is considered sinful.
  • The picture of God’s intention of marriage – male and female from the dawn of creation – is reinforced so strongly that divorce ought to become unthinkable.
  • Abortion? How can we listen to Jesus talk about God’s care for a fallen sparrow or watch Him bless the little children and believe He would have nothing to say to those who would still the heartbeats of those who are “more precious” to the Father than the birds of the air?

What’s more, Sullivan’s assertion that we should return to what Jesus asked us to do and be (“rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was”) flies in the face of Jesus’ own words to His disciples. Jesus is the One who raises the eternal stakes of understanding His messianic identity. Over and over again in the Gospels, we see the disciples asking, “Who is this man?” The wind and seas obey. The dead are raised. The lame walk. The deaf speak. Jesus is acting and talking like He’s in control. He’s either crazy or He’s king of creation.

Sullivan wants to take Christ’s teaching without Christ Himself. His vision tries to deliver Christ’s message of love without the atoning cross that gives love its meaning. It wants Christ’s justice without the victorious resurrection that launches the new world God has promised , the new world that totally changes the landscape for how we view everything: ethics, morals, politics, art, law.

Jesus’ teachings are not just about embarking on a new journey, embracing a new way of life, or experiencing a new spirituality. They are about His ushering in a new world order – a kingdom that encompasses everything.

Snip away at the miracles, like Thomas Jefferson, and you may be left with only the red letters. But even those red letters testify to the world-changing news of the kingdom’s arrival. This isn’t a Jesus whose message you can understand apart from His cross and resurrection.

The answer to Andrew Sullivan is to point back to everything the Gospels tell us. Let’s not isolate the sayings of Jesus we like and fit Him into our vision for how the world should work. Instead, let’s fall at the feet of King Jesus, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fit our lives into His vision, a vision of the world to come that has crashed into the world that is.

Religion Defined in “Jesus > Religion”

The internet has swarmed with commentary on the Jefferson Bethke poem Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus aka Jesus > Religion.  As mentioned in a previous post, “Jesus > Religion Second Glance,” we must be careful about making a blanket statement that religion is always bad, as the Bible does not always use the term in a negative sense (c.f. James 1:27).

(Also, to see how to brothers can communicate in love and respect with one another, even when critique is involved, see Kevin DeYoung and Jefferson Bethke’s correspondence about Jesus > Religion at “Following Up on the Jesus/Religion Video“.)

Giving Bethke some poetic license and the benefit of the doubt that he knows this, we can look at the negative definition of religion as defined by Bethke (and used in his poem) as well as a definition of the negative use of religion as described by Timothy Keller (per Tullian Tchividjian’s article Religion and the Gospel) and how this definition of religion is in contrast to the gospel:

A lot of attention has been paid to Jefferson Bethke’s video Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus. Jefferson is a great, humble, teachable brother who loves the gospel. But the response to his video has been varied. Many love it. Others hate it. And still others have raised a caution flag–uncomfortable with the way “religion” is often contrasted with the gospel.

Wary of the trend amongst younger evangelicals to justify their jettisoning of the institutional church and God’s commands and theological traditions by saying “That’s all religion and Jesus hates religion”, is a point of contention for those who questioned the fruitfulness of Jefferson’s video. If that’s what people think when they hear the word “religion”, then I understand the concern.

But, it does raise some important questions. For example, in the Bible, is the word “religion” always opposed to the gospel? Or, is the main idea of “religion” opposed to the main idea of the gospel? What about what people hear when they hear the word “religion”? Do they hear the word and understand something different than what the Bible says about the gospel? Good questions. Obviously words have their meaning in context and thankfully Jefferson provided context for his use of the word “religion” in the video by writing on his website:

[This is] a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth.

Regardless of what you think about the video, I think that Jefferson’s definition of “religion” above and Tim Keller’s definition of “religion” below highlights an important distinction between “religion” and the gospel (a distinction that, ironically, even those who raised concerns about the video agree with).

Justifying the contrast between religion and the gospel, Tim Keller has pointed out that the Greek word for “religion” used in James 1 is used negatively in Colossians 2:18 where it describes false asceticism, fleshly works-righteousness, and also in Acts 26:5 where Paul speaks of his pre-Christian life in strict “religion.” It is also used negatively in the Apocrypha to describe idol worship in Wis 14:18 and 27. So, according to Keller, the word certainly has enough negative connotations to use as a fair title for the category of works-righteousness. In the Old Testament the prophets are devastating in their criticism of empty ritual and religious observances designed to bribe and appease God rather then serving, trusting, and loving him. The word “religion” isn’t used for this approach, but it’s a good way to describe what the prophets are condemning.

Keller goes on to tease out this distinction with this helpful comparison list:

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted
THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity
THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God
THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life
THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs
THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment
THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure
THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other
THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God
THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

So let’s not lose sight of the fact that, as defined by these two brothers, there is an antithetical relationship between religion (the burden of achieving rescue and right standing with God) and the gospel (the blessing of receiving rescue and a right standing with God in Christ alone).

One final thought: as I mentioned above, for a thousand different reasons people hear different things and draw different conclusions when they hear the same words (Cornelius Van Til). So, let’s not forget as missionaries that if the gospel is ever going to reach people in our day it’s going to have to be distinguished from religion (as described above) because “religion” is what most people outside the church think Christianity is all about—rules and standards and behavior and cleaning yourself up and politics and social causes and ascetic appeasement and self-salvation and climbing the “ladder”, and a whole host of other things that Jefferson rightly points out.

 

Jesus > Religion Poem Second Glance

The Jesus > Religion poem by Jefferson Bethke has sprouted up all over the internet.  I posted the video-poem yesterday and have posted it again below.  Many people have responded with, “Yeah!  That’s right!”  Others are crying foul at what is perceived to be a false dichotomy between Jesus and religion.  Bethke, noticing how some have used his poem to attack the church, posted on facebook to clarify his position within the poem and warned people not to use his poem to attack the church:

If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.

The words of the Jesus > Religion author should cause people to pause before misusing Bethke’s creation to attack the church and Christianity.  Seeing the author’s intent, in his own words, should also help to quell some of the negative reactions from some Christians concerned about what the message could portray to the world.

On the other hand, it is worth looking into some of the weaknesses of the poem’s words, while at the same time giving grace and room for poetic license.  Kevin DeYoung wrote a lengthy response (and critique) of the poem, Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really, of which I have reproduced some of his better points that help us remember that we need a discerning ear (but should also avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater).

Concerning “Jesus Hates Religion”:

Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it. But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want…People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity.  We love the Jesus that hates religion. 

The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion…

The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col. 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical grounds for saying Jesus hated religion. What might be gained by using such language will, without a careful explanation and caveats, be outweighed by what is lost when we give the impression that religion is the alloy that corrupts a relationship with Jesus.

Concerning Religion, Wars, and the Poor:

More to the point, Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that we’ve basically been huge failures in the world. That may win us an audience with non-Christians, but it’s not true. We are sinners like everyone else, so our record is mixed. We’ve been stupid and selfish over the years. But we’ve also been the salt of the earth. The evangelical awakening in England in the eighteenth century is widely credited for preventing the sort of bloodbath that swept over France in the “enlightened” French Revolution. Christians (and conservatives in general) give more to charitable causes than their secular counterparts. Christians run countless shelters, pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and food pantries. Christians operate orphanages, staff clinics, dig wells, raise crops, teach children, and fight AIDS around the globe. While we can always do more and may be blind to the needs around us at times, there is no group of people on the planet that do more for the poor than Christians. If you know of a church with a dozen escalators and no money and no heart for the hurting, then blast that church. But we have to stop the self-flagellation and the slander that says Christians do nothing for the poor.

Concerning Some Concluding Thoughts…

The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger)—not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance…love what Jesus loves without tearing down what he also loves and people are apt to misunderstand…

Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion. After all, there is one religion whose aim is to worship, serve, know, proclaim, believe, obey, and organize around this Jesus. And without all those verbs, there’s not much Jesus left.

To be fair to DeYoung, throughout his article he points out many strengths and things he likes about the words of Jesus > Religion.  There are some points that he praises the poem quite highly.  The sections above are simply snippets of some of his critiques that are worth considering before a person takes the poem in a way that the author did not intend or simply runs around shouting a mantra of “liking Jesus but hating religion &/or the church & or Christianity, &/or…” well, you get the point.

“Love Wins” Loses Scripturally

Love Wins by Rob Bell has created a media firestorm, especially in orthodox Christian circles.  Some may claim that it is simply because of close-minded conservative Christians just don’t like Bell.  Some may not like Rob Bell, but that is not the reason for the reaction to his latest book.  The response is to the distortion of Scripture to the point of endorsing the heresy of universalism, reducing the seriousness of sin, distorting the perception of God’s love, reducing the greatness and holiness of God, minimizing the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross, and making a mockery of God’s righteousness, wrath, and justice.  In the end, the God portrayed by Bell does not paint a God with greater love than the biblical and orthodox view of God, rather is portrays a small God with less love, grace, and mercy than what the Bible describes.

There have been many writers and theologians who have tackled Bell’s book and misstep from orthodox theology into the realm of heresy.  I highly recommend listening to God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty by D.A. Carson and a panel of pastors from the National Gospel Coalition Conference.  They give a  great overview of universalism, the contents of Love Wins, and a pastoral approach to being with people who hold to Bell’s view or have been confused by the book.

Another good site with links to many good articles, including Kevin DeYoung’s twenty page response – God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”, can be found on The Resurgence’s A Chronology of Rob Bell on Hell.

Fatuous Fault-Finding

Fatuous. It means: “silly, foolish, unconsciously stupid, inane, nonsensical, childish, brainless, witless” (to name a few of the definitions I found).  My favorite is “unconsciously stupid“.  It is my favorite because it sounds so funny and because it tends to describe some of the passionate people (usually in their teens,twenties, & thirties, though there are some older people as well) who are out to denounce the church in the name of being “spiritual” or “intellectual”.

As I was reading through chapter 3 (The Personal: On Hurt and Heresy) and chapter 5 (The Historical: One Holy Catholic Church) in Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck’s Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, I kept thinking that they could have used the term “fatuous” or “fatuous fault-finding”.  Alas, they did not but still go their insightful and piercing thoughts across.  But if they had used the word “fatuous” I would have been really excited.

blameIn chapter three the authors point out the fatuous “logic” of many contemporary church critics (which I’ll quote at length in a little bit), and in chapter five they dismantle the uninformed & misinformed fault-finders of the church’s history (which Dinesh D’Souza also does in a chapter of his great book, 5 out of 5 stars from me, What’s So Great About Christianity?).   These two sections would be very good reads for anyone who suddenly finds themselves confronted with the accusations that the Christian church is “pagan”, “unspiritual”, “too modern”, “anti-[insert cause or people group here]”, “uncaring about [insert cause or people group here]”; or “the cause of much of the world’s evils” or any other historical attack.

The latter is something that you can read about yourself in Why We Love the Church or D’Souza’s book.  It is the former that I found to be “awesome” (per my note in the margin of the book) and worth quoting at length:

“I mention this aphorism [“you can’t have your cake and eat it too”] because it fits many contemporary church critics… Consistency is not a postmodern virtue.  And nowhere is this more aptly displayed than in the barrage of criticisms leveled against the church. The church-is-lame crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love.  They bemoan the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing.  They don’t like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then hate it when it has poor leadership.  They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in coffee ships with other well-educated thirtysomethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets.  They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they’ll complain that the church is “inbred.”  They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances.  They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political.  They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fall to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can’t find a single church that can satisfy them.  They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences.  They want leaders with vision, but don’t want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think.  They want a church where people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members.  They want to be connected to history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week.  They call for not judging “the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people,” and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms.  They’d lie to have their cake and eat it too” (pp 87-88).

Have you heard any of the statements above before?  Do you recognize your voice in any of the statements above?  I have to admit that I can answer “yes” to both of those questions.  I found that I am was one of those fatuous voices a lot more when I wasn’t involved & invested in serving other people in the church.  Now that serving in the church is a major portion of my life, I hope that I have ceased from this kind of fatuous fault-finding.

It is also one of the reasons that when people come with criticisms I listen to them and then shift the focus to how they would come up with a solution and when they would have time to get together and consider how they could help out and serve the church in that area.  I have found that in almost every situation their complaining (at least to me) stopped because all they really cared about was their perceptions, what they wanted, and didn’t have a serving heart.  Those who have taken me up on my offer tend to turn into wonderful co-servants of Christ and His church because it isn’t a “what’s in it for me” attitude that they have, but a servant’s heart.