Thinking Church – Expectations

My pal Chris Gallagher is running a month-long series of guest offerings on the question, “What I Love About the Church…” Your favorite Fumbler will be sharing his own reasons for loving the church on August 17th, but until then, I want to mull over some thoughts I’ve been wrestling.

In the world of pop Christianity, tremors rang out this week as Anne Rice declared that she was quitting Christianity. In her words, “It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”

I wish I could express how deeply I sympathize with Anne’s perceptions. How many times have I considered taking the leap she has described??? I wish she would read Blue Like Jazz, where one of the finest authors of this era wrestles with many of the things causing Anne (and the rest of us she leaves behind) such agony.

But I have a bigger question, about expectations. Let me lead into it this way.

Jesus has been looking forward to this night with an incomprehensible mix of emotions: dread, excitement, the teacher’s passion for a climactic lesson, a child’s desire to please their father, a hero’s desire to save the day, and more besides. He’s sent his disciples ahead to prepare the Passover gathering; have they figured out that he’s giving them a test, a little quiz before the other examinations coming that night?

Needless to say, the disciples flunked the quiz, and we over”Christianize” Jesus if we don’t read John 13 with all the emotional subtext of a frustrated and disappointed young leader having to teach the basics AGAIN! Feet were scrubbed red, and Peter’s little “you won’t wash MY feet” spiel was clearly unamusing. After three years, these guys would still rather sit around the table with stanky, nasty feet and argue about “who’s the man???” Could you blame Jesus for calling ten thousand angels right then??? But he didn’t. He died for these roughneck jerks and selfish losers. Losers like me.

Losers like the Hebrews about whom Moses said to the Lord, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Ex 32:31-32 ESV)

Losers like the Jews about whom Paul wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Rom 9:3 ESV)

Anne, you’re a recovering drunk, and I have a huge amount of respect for you — but what in the world gives you the idea that a bunch of Spirit-filled recovering sin junkies is going to be anything but a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” lot? I know you’ve gone to group – was it all sweetness and light? Of course not! Even while we pray, “Come quickly, Lord!” we’re still a wreck. The church is the hope of the world, because *Jesus* bought it, filled it with His Spirit, and cast it to the four corners of the world to make his glorious strength clearly visible in the midst of our weakness. Do you know what would happen if we *weren’t* so weak?

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Co 12:7-10 ESV)

If we weren’t weak, how much prouder would we be???

Maybe that’s why I love the church: it’s the one place on earth that it is safe to be honest.

in HIS love,
nick

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About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 4 August, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Well said. I have to remind myself that the church is not perfect, it’s made up of imperfect people. Despite all the church’s faults, there are so many good things about it.

    • Every good thing about the church comes as a wedding present from her Bridegroom.

      I read the other day that “we must be clear to delineate between the Lord’s body and the frailties of its members.” I think 2 Cor 12 exists to say that there can be no division between body and frailties, because it is precisely by those frailties that God’s power is glorified.

  2. It would seem to me that the church is only truly strong when she acknowledges her weakness, a la 2 Corinthians 12:10.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Wow! Great article and response. I relate in a way to Anne’s comments, but if ever there was a place full of hypocrite sinners like me to come and share repentance in my sinful nature, I am glad it is the church where I can relate. By leaving the church Anne is boasting she doesn’t need Jesus’ redemption and that is arrogant.

    • Thanks, Mike, and welcome to Fumbling Towards Eternity! You sound like you’ll fit right in here!

      And I’m not sure Anne is being arrogant – I’m certain she doesn’t intend to be – but she’s certainly being *ironic* – an addict refusing to go to group because they can’t stand being surrounded by addicts.

  4. Your words are well spoken, soft spoken and true Nick. And Anne needs to hear them, we all need to hear them. But we also need to hear the words of Anne. She is but the latest and perhaps more recognizable name that has “quit Christianity” … not because of Jesus but because of his professed followers. She is a “witness” against us! The world holds us to a higher standard than we do ourselves. Even if we do not see eye to eye on every jot and tittle she (and millions of others) at least expect us to behave as friendly to one another as the folks on Cheers. And sometimes we have to look in the mirror and confess that not only do we not act like the Holy Spirit is in us we don’t act like civilization is in us … If truth be told her exasperation sounds very much like old brother Thomas Campbell in the Declaration and Address or Barton Stone saying that Christians produce atheists. My heart breaks … for her and for us.

  5. Nick,

    I really enjoyed your article; well written and insightful.

    One thing though… I am not sure Anne would agree that Church is the one place where we can be honest. I am not sure I would agree either. It should be that way but, and I speak from unfortunate experience here, often the Church will directly or indirectly spurn those who are too honest. I have asked honest questions and expressed honest doubts in my congregation and was quickly removed from leadership once those questions became too bothersome. Maybe Anne has experienced some of the same things. If all Churches were a place where we could be truly honest (sounds like yours is such a place) we might not lose so many people who, like Anne, get frustrated and give up.

    Thanks and great job!

    Scott Shirley

  6. All honest Christians are weak at some level or in some issue and like Paul, confess: “What I do, I hate.” There is infinite mercy for those who are humble enough to say that and take practical steps towards change, including the difficult but necessary apologies, confessions, exhortations, etc. But there is a huge gap between those and others who say, “Yes, I know I’m worldly… what of it? Christ’s blood covers.” That is repulsive to Christ and tramples His blood underfoot. That person most likely is not a Christian and should be removed from the church (1 Cor 5). But for too long there has been enormous mixture and that mixture between those who wear the name of Christ (even in weakness and humility) and those who call themselves Family but do not exhibit one trait of Christ… that mixture has polluted the current state of Christianity beyond any semblance to Jesus. But there is HOPE for those with courage.

    Anne’s Jesus is make believe. Jesus does not tolerate unrepentant gays any more than he tolerates unrepentant greedy men who happen to get elected to eldership in too many congregations because of their business savvy. But when Christians bash gays and yet let heterosexual fornication go untouched in their ranks, yes that is extreme hypocrisy and embarrasses the name of Christ.

    A pure and radiant bride, the Church Jesus desires, isn’t perfect (but PERFECTION is where they are TRULY aiming), but it isn’t mixed either… and the Discerning know the difference. May Jesus give us all grace to know the difference and the courage to DO something about it.

    • You’re correct that Jesus doesn’t tolerate unrepentant gays, et al. He loves them.

      Tolerance is too easy! We’ve got to develop the courage and spiritual strength to love.

      Welcome to the Fumbling family, stephen! I hope you’ll be blessed by your visits to our waystation.

  7. “Maybe that’s why I love the church: it’s the one place on earth that it is safe to be honest.”

    Wow. That’s a heavy statement. You had me nodding in total “amen” until that nerve-provoking phrase.

    Is it really?

  8. @Alicia

    I think it is important to distinguish between the state of a typical “church” in America, whether Baptist, C of C or ?? and how the church SHOULD be and CAN be and IS BECOMING among those who won’t settle for mixture, lukewarmness and compromise. Jesus’ church is the safest place on earth to open your heart and be vulnerable… but do that in most man-made and man-run religious organizations (what many call “churches”) and you’ll be slandered, gossiped about and ostracized. But Biblically, those places aren’t churches. Rev. 2 and 3 makes it clear that a church is a supernatural entity that thrives or dies based on the Righteous standard of its Head, Jesus. So there may be a sign on the door that says “church” but if Jesus has withdrawn from a congregation who was ignoring Him already, do you think they will really notice when He’s gone?

    We all must force ourselves to be jealous for the Church that Jesus deserves.

  9. Either I’ve been too honest in the past or I’ve attended places which were mostly “man-made,” but I don’t think we’ll find what Nick is talking about this side of Heaven. Every attempt I’ve made at being myself has turned out exactly as you’ve described above.

    I would love to meet those who won’t settle. It would do my heart good to meet more people with a vision and passion and those who see beyond signs on doors. Here’s to all that and SFH.

  10. @Alicia… check out http://www.JesusLifeTogether.com and you’ll get a glimpse into what I’ve been amazingly blessed to experience, even this side of Heaven. Tremendous mercy for the soft and the weak. No toleration for the arrogant and the unbending. I think you’ll find that is is a Biblical model. Don’t settle for what you’ve experienced and don’t get jaded. 😉 Want it for Jesus’ sake, not just your own… Let His Dream be your only passion.

    @Nick… not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but you tell me, is Jesus more or less involved now in the building of His Church than in the first century? He does communicate still and in various ways. But He said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” One clear indicator of whether a church is His church is whether or not the gates of hell are prevailing in the lives of its people… Not just a single snapshot (like Corinth in 1Cor) but over time (like Corinth in 2 Cor. and how they repented) How are the marriages? Are the teens addicted to immorality and entertainment? Are the men more consumed with sports and business than with Jesus and His purposes? Is there Fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh? All of these are ways Jesus communicates His involvement or lack thereof. If He is present, it will be obvious. If He is absent, that too will be obvious… even this side of Heaven will see Jesus alive in His People in abounding measure. But we cannot keep doing things as we’ve always done them and expect different results. The paradigm must change radically.

    • heh! When I’m being sarcastic, I rarely leave room for doubt! 🙂 So no, I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was asking a serious question. I think Jesus is neither more nor less, but just as involved in the building of His Church (I noticed that wasn’t an option you gave) as he was in the 1st Century. He does continue to communicate, but I promise you that things aren’t always as obvious as you assert. Your simple math equation hasn’t always played out that way in my life, and I’m incredibly thankful for it. In my experience, when I was the most broken and battered and not prevailing, that was when Jesus was most obviously present to me.

      Also, I’m not sure I can make sense of these two statements:

      Anne’s Jesus is make believe.

      and

      No toleration for the arrogant and the unbending.

      Can you help me understand how you can say the first sort of statement and still find a place of welcome in the assembly described by the second?

  11. It is one thing to have convictions about Jesus’ standard and another thing entirely to be arrogant. The crimes I’ve committed as a Christian would make your hair curl. I believe on many levels you are probably a much better Christian than I. But the Jesus who said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” is the same Jesus who calls us today. I know you’ve had a hard road. We all have. But there is a threshold of who is welcome into the kingdom and who is not. That threshold, at the very least, involves humility and a recognition of Jesus as Lord. The criteria that Anne, a writer of vampire books no less, gave was “…I refuse to be anti secular humanist…” Anyone who is coming to Jesus with a list of “I refuse…” on such issues is believing in a make believe Jesus. He is compassionate to the weeping harlot, not the brash one who says, “I don’t need your forgiveness.” To the one who wants to bury His dad, “Let the dead bury their own dead, you follow me.” I don’t have the threshold all figured out… hardly. But when Peters says, “The men who just buried your husband are coming to bury you…” he was not arrogant but clearly stating that the church is supernatural and you don’t want to play hypocritical games with Jesus.

    Please remember, this post started by me pleading for Alicia and others to know that the church is a safe place for honesty. But to get there means leaving a world of lukewarm mixture into a place that externally may seem to be much more polarizing but in reality is just the result of being with Jesus who, by the nature of His Life within, divides between soul and Spirit, darkness and Light.

    Isaiah 57:15    For this is what the high and lofty One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:

    “I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
    to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

    Isaiah 66:2    Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
    declares the LORD.
    “This is the one I esteem:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
    and trembles at my word.

    Revelation 2:2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men.

    So He is High and Holy but dwells with those who are humble and contrite. It is a mystery how He can be both, but we can go there too. 🙂

  12. Please remember, this post started by me pleading for Alicia and others to know that the church is a safe place for honesty. But to get there means leaving a world of lukewarm mixture into a place that externally may seem to be much more polarizing but in reality is just the result of being with Jesus who, by the nature of His Life within, divides between soul and Spirit, darkness and Light.

    stephen, your passion for Christ shines out in every word you write! I’m glad you’re here sharing your time and thoughts with us. I know you will be a blessing to all of us.

    I think I understand your deep frustration with Anne’s justification for her decision, the arrogance you hear as she seems to be dictating terms of service to the Lord of the Universe. Having read her Christian writing and heard her talk, I’m not so sure. I believe she understands very well that our commitment to Christ is absolute – we surrender to him unconditionally.

    I don’t think she was dictating terms to Jesus: I think she was rejecting -isms. I think she was trying to say that she rejects the conflation of person and deeds. The positive message that I drew from Anne’s refusal to be “anti-” is that she was talking about people. I, too, refuse to be anti-sinner and anti-errorladen person. I’m anti-homosexuality and anti-secular humanism insofar as I understand those things to be deeply dehumanizing to people created in the image of God, but I believe that being pro-gospel and pro-kingdom means that I try really hard to look beyond the things they believe and the things they’ve done, to the person they are. I might never change their mind and the Holy Spirit might never convert them to Christ – but neither of those things is my job.

    My one job is to love them (and you). That means I’m honest when I disagree, but that that disagreement should never cloud my willingness, my readiness to serve them and bless them in the name of Jesus Christ. Those are the politics of the kingdom of God: self-sacrificial love and truth-telling as opposed to the violence and manipulation that are the world’s political tools.

    PS – whatever your crimes were as a Christian, you’re always welcome to share your story, either here or with me personally at falantediosATgmailDOTcom. I’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things. Alicia knows.

  13. Thanks Nick. I always tread on dangerous ground when I have no idea what I’m talking about, like with Anne… I know NOTHING about here other than that article and a basic knowledge of the book/movie. Fundamentalists who are against everything make my blood boil so maybe I can relate to her overall thought. 🙂 So if she’s quitting the same thing I quit 20 years ago, then maybe that’s a good thing.

    But the Church is the Apple of Christ’s eye… I just happen to believe that that designation, church, by its Biblical definition, should be treated as the rare jewel that it is these days… many sincere, born again believers, but I think it is fair to say, very few churches, where we can all be vulnerable and yet carried to higher ground.

  1. Pingback: Fumbling Towards Eternity » Thinking Church – Safe For Honesty?

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