Monday, July 03, 2006

In Defense of the Bride...


I have to confess right now that I'm angry. Actually, I don't really need to confess it because anger is not a sin, but I just thought I'd start there to explain the intensity of the following rant.

I just read a blog that was very disturbing to me. It's the same song, same verse that gets sung all the time. Church sucks. It's boring. Everyone's fake. Nobody cares about me. It's all about religion, a checklist and routine. Why can't I just be myself? Why won't they play music that I like? Why do I not feel better when I leave? Why can't it be more like a rave? Why can't we just drink beer, smoke weed, and talk about God and spiritual stuff?

The common theme is always the same... someone who doesn't put anything into the church but expects a whole lot out of it. Someone who is so consumed with their own wants and desires that they miss the whole thing. Someone who wants to experience God, but doesn't want to obey His Word. Someone who is all of the sudden a music critic b/c they can't get beyond their own preferences.

I have little patience for this way of thinking. Believe me, I've experienced ritualistic worship in a traditional church. I've watched with broken hearts as people just sing words off a page with no expression, no emotion, and certainly no excitement. I understand you can make an argument that emerging churches can fall into a pattern that is comfortable for them. I even understand the parallels between the traditional forms and emerging forms. This is what I don't understand. What gives any one the right to show up once or twice a month just to give the church a rating? The church doesn't exist for the satisfaction or joy of any man. It exists for the glory of God. The moment we criticize an honest service of worship that has been put together by pastors or leaders who have prayed to God for direction and led by volunteers who have sacrificed their time, energy, and talents for a greater good, we place ourselves on the throne and focus our worship there. Nowhere does scripture teach that worship is supposed to make you feel good. Though experiencing the presence of God is what we were created for, and it does bring us joy in a way we can't understand, the reality is often when biblical characters actually experienced the presence of God - they were afraid for their lives. The bowed in honor and reverence. They prayed for others. They ministered. They were used by God to bring about life-change in others. They experienced the supernatural in their very lives because they were focused on God and not the songs, or whether or not anyone talked to them, or whether they liked the sermon. They showed up every day in excitement of what God was going to do. That's right every day. Scripture tells us not to forsake meeting together. It also tells us they met together daily to be sharpened by each other. Proverbs says that as iron sharpens iron one man sharpens another. When iron sharpens iron ... sparks fly. I've experienced this in my own life more times than I would care to admit. When I need to be sharpened, my sharpening experience doesn't always make me feel good, but knowing that I'm being molded and shaped and stretched is good. Worship has that same potential - sometimes - a lot of times what's more important is that it hurts good not just feels good. Look at the people's reactions to Jesus' teachings. How do you think the pharisees felt when Jesus told them they were sons of their father the devil? I'm guessing that didn't make them feel good. The old adage that the truth hurts is true. But it hurts good. When I put on my critic hat, which by the way I'm very quick to do when I attend churches other than my own, I become the object of my worship.

Now, is there any excuse for Christ-followers to not grow in community with other Christ-followers? No. Is there any excuse for not being missed? No. Is there any excuse for exclusivity? No. However, in my experience the people who complain about that intentionally avoid contact from others. Intentionally don't initiate conversations. Intentionally don't let anyone know what's going on with them. Intentionally leave without telling anyone just to prove that the church has failed. Community is two way. The root is the same as the word communication. It is impossible for communication or a lack of to depend on one party. It's always both. Not "feeling" part of a church is never one party's fault. It's both. However, if your worship experience is dominated by feelings of "I dont' really like that" or "these people are all fake" or "I'd be better off on my own" you're more focused on yourself than what Scripture teaches us about church.

I think it's tragic that people complain about how pastors like me expect people to come to church. The collective church is the bride of Christ - the very people that Christ died for. It crawls all over me - just like if someone talks bad about my wife - when people attack the church either generally or specifically. The bible talks about those attacks too. Be careful about pointing out the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye when you've got a plank in your own. In humility, having someone pull your plank out is going to be painful, but necessary. It's time to come to church in humility with brokenness, with an open heart and mind, with a desire to plug-in, with a desire to serve others and consider them more important than yourselves. It's the bride of Christ, not of ourselves. It's not for us to talk bad about another man's wife - especially Jesus'. It's our job to get to know her, spend time with the bride and the groom, and grow in love and respect for them both. The epistles say that the two become one. So, when you trash the bride, you trash the groom. It's ironic that people say "I like Jesus but hate the church". It's impossible. The two are one. It's time to see the church for what she will become, not for all of her faults. Thank God Jesus doesn't look at us like that. He takes us as we are, reconciles us to Himself, and spends the rest of our lives sanctifying us, perfecting us, making us more like Him. The church is by no means perfect. There are faults, there are problems, but she's still the bride. Still one with Christ. Maybe it's time to stop hopping around from church to church and finding all the problems and time to plug-in and be a part of helping them to be what God is leading them to be.

I'm tired of "Christians", religious or non-religious, blaming the church for all their problems when all the church desires to do is provide them with an opportunity to connect with God. It's time to take ourselves off of the throne and remember what church is about - for the glory of God not the glorification and enjoyment of ourselves. Lord help us that we think it's too hard to follow you in modern day America and that we have good excuses for not commiting to pouring our lives out as a drink offering for the greater good of mankind. May you break our selfishness and pride.

I told you it was a rant.

May the Lord have mercy on the critics of His bride and pastors who are caught in the middle of a God who loves His creation, and a creation who loves darkness more than light.

10 Comments:

Blogger Media Tycoon said...

that was a solid rant.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

If a person who is married is reading this, then they understand more than anyone that the bride is supposed to be cherished, loved, and most importantly, protected. They are not supposed to be crticized, hated, and attacked. You would never do that to your own wife, so why do it to the Bride of Christ - the CHURCH!!!

Strong word baby!!!!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jen in TX said...

Hi Jason!

I appriciate your passion! However I don't share in the idea that the church is "untouchable" or immune from criticism. I don't know anything about your church, so none of my comments apply to your ministry, but just to ministry in general.

So many churches have lost the Gospel. They try to please everyone, make people comfortable, try not to offend anyone. This needs to be highly criticised! I'm sure the staff prayed hard and worked hard on their dervice, but if the focus is not the holiness and love of God and my total need of grace, then that service needs to be scrutinized. I'm pretty tired of sermons about how to be a better friend or how to get along with people. The church is to teach the word of God, to evangelize the lost, to meet the needs of the body and the community. If it's not, it's not fulfilling it's purpose and deserves to be re evaluated in love.

Thanks for the post!

Blessings,
Jenny Gresak

12:32 PM  
Blogger Jen in TX said...

Also wanted to add that we are in a fallen world and the church is made up of sinners. The Bible says all our righteousness is as filthy rags before him. Even our very best is still not nearly enough. The church is nowhere near on the same place that Christ is. I'm a little uncomfortable with this bride/groom analogy as it seems to put the church on equal footing with Christ.

Christ will come for His bride and perfect it- perfect the people that are the church. Until then, the church is made up of fallen people. Just because it's a church does not mean it is in the will of God, does not mean the leadership is being guided by God, doesn't mean the leadership and body is even seeking God's will. I think we need to test each church we are a part of. Do they boldly preach the word? Do they believe in our basic doctrine? (It's getting more and more common to have churches that no longer believe in the inerrancy of Scripture!)

I may be taking your post a step farther than you have intended. Are you saying there should never be any questioning or criticism of any church????

Blessings,
Jen

1:54 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Jen,

I'm sorry that you have a problem with the church being the bride of Christ, but that's what Scripture says. You mention doctrine, but you reject part of it? It's not an idea that's original with me. It's truth. It is blemished, it is imperfect, it is subjected to the fall, and it can be improved upon. However, it sounds like your making judgments on certain types of churches that don't function like you think they should. Whether or not we agree, Scripture says that the church is the bride. Jesus has chosen to marry himself to the church. They are collectively one with him. (Ephesians 4:23).

It is always appropriate to confront the truth IN LOVE, not in frustration or judgment. Churches can improve on many different levels, but what they need is not people who think they know everything telling them how they should be, but people who get involved and help them be more effective in reaching and serving and equipping mankind to love the Lord with all their heart.

Critcism in general is usually done by people who have an inability to look at their own problems. The Bible talks about noticing the speck in your brother's eye when you have a plank in yours (Matthew 7:1-5). In my 10 years of ministry, my experience is the biggest critics have the biggest planks, but it makes a lot more sense to point out the faults of the church or those within it.

What the Bible does say is in love to humbly serve the church and fellow man. If you think there's a problem, get involved and help fix it. Don't exploit it. Don't trash another man's wife. It's not right.

As far as righteousness, Paul refers back to Abraham and says that when we believe in God, He gives us His righteousness. Absolutely our best is filthy rags, that's why by His grace He gives us His righteousness to walk in every day.

If you feel like it's your job to test every church you're a part of, I'm sorry. A church is a place to serve, the be strengthened and to share life with fellow Christ-followers. It exists for the glory of God, and it is God's job to discipline those who are not honoring Him with their leadership. It is my experience that God does a pretty good job bringing darkness to light. We need to be very careful in taking on things that are God's responsibility. He can use us if he wants, but He's quite capable of disciplining churches who are out of line.

It sounds like you're a part of a church that you don't respect, and that makes me sad. If you feel this strongly about any church, I hope that you've spoken with the pastor and pledged your support in helping this body become all that Christ intends for it to be. Jesus challenged people's doctrine, then He had them over for dinner or washed their feet or healed people in their families.

Maybe I'm taking your reply too far. It's fine to admit we are fallen and imperfect, as the matter of fact that's the whole point. The Father of our Faith (Abraham) messed up a lot, but God still used him. God never complained about Abraham. He disciplined Him, imparted consequences for His sin, and used Him for God's ultimate glory. The same is true of the church. God will purify the Bride.

I would be happy to correspond more with you about this, but I stand by my original rant.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Jen in TX said...

Hey Jason!

Oh, I'm not trying to change your mind about anything - just clarifying what I believe your post to say.

I believe the church is the Future bride of Christ. I do not believe we are currently living up to that expectation. Scripture tells us to test every message/messenger and gives us the guidelines to do so. Discernment is even a spiritual gift - it would not be if there was nothing for us to discern. I have no doubt that God wants us to test what we hear against Scripture so that it's worth may be proven.

I love my church!! I am faithfully serving on two committees and teach one year old Sunday School. I bathe my church staff in prayer and trust that they are in God's will. But that does not mean I participate in everything my church offers - only what is beneficial and edifying to my family or allows us to serve others who are edified or benefited by it.

Hope this clear up any areas of confusion.

Blessings,
Jen

2:52 PM  
Blogger Jen in TX said...

Jason,

I really need to better organize my thoughts and make one big comment instead of posting over and over. Sorry!!

The only place I can find reference to the church being the Bride of Christ is in Revelation - when we are in our perfected bodies, and sin has been abolished, and satan is bound. I certainly believe that is the destiny of the church. When Christ reigns on a perfect New Earth we will be his bride.

Hopefully that will be my last thought for awhile : )

Blessings,
Jen
H

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jen in TX said...

Okay - seriously - last one!!

I am on board with you 100% about people criticizing the music style, or the dress code, or the menu at the potluck, or the color of carpet in the sactuary. But I'm not sure if you've answered my original question which was "Is the church off limits to any criticism?"

I can think of many examples in Scripture where Christians are publically corrected or chastized. (And OT examples where the same thing was done to GOd's people.)

How about extreme examples of homosexual or women pastors?? How about churchs that reject the inerrancy of scripture? These situations should not be questioned or criticized?? I just can't get on board with that, nor can I find Scriptural support that we should do this.

Also, I do not think the Bride of Christ is the congregation of church members, but the entire family of brothers and sisters in Christ - whether they attend church or not. The woman in Communist China who cannot attend church but worships privately in her own heart is the Bride of Christ. The man who is in a nursing home and loves God with a fervant heart is the Bride of Christ. The little child who's parents are unsaved and do not take him to church, yet he has the precious faith of an innocent is the Bride of Christ.

Scripture clearly says that we are not immune to discipline from other Christians when we are in error, as well as discipline from God. So why would a church body be immune/exempt from it from other believers??

I SWEAR this is the last one, unless you wish to continue this discussion further.

Blesings on you and your family!!

Jen

3:58 PM  
Blogger raj said...

wow i wrote this response through the day...only to find a number of added comments!

hey jason....
it is an interesting issue on both sides. we of course have had many talks about this type of thing, but i think it is really an issue of on both sides there is an issue.

or gerneration (some dub generation ME) are too preoccupied about only one...me! i agree fully that from your point of view (and witnessing many people complaining--i won't call it criticising) you see people whining about how it is not good, because it does not satisfy MY needs. how screwed up is that! christianity MUST be about removing self and placing GOD's desires first. i understand fully you anger...because usually we are guilty of this! (i find i get really angry about things i catch myself doing too much!)

on the other side, disagreements usually turn in to an ad hominem attack. (for example, any one who disagrees with the war in iraq supports the enemy.) how can we truly rebuke and correct the church? paul's letters are just that criticisms of the church. some times they were wrong (gentile issue), most of the time they were right. i believe each criticism should and must be looked at and interpreted (and reinterpreted...and reinterpreted...etc) to continuously test your ideas VS GODs ideas. i am always nervous as a "teacher" and "older christian" since GOD expects more from me. HE expects nothing from the unbelievers and the "tares within our fields."

finally, i love the comparison to the wife (of course it is biblical) in this conversation. it makes sense that our love and commitement to GODs bride should decline as the love and commitment seems to decline in society to our own spouces! both divorces, where blame runs free toward the other party, and seemingly abusive relationships within marriage where talking behind their back and criticism is very common, run rampant.

when we as devout christians find ourselves criticising the church, we need to look at why it exists, why would GOD allow that, is it biblical or a "style" thing? but GOD does call us to judge! HE does not want us following David Koresh or the KKK who draped their teaching in perversions of the church. when it is not so obvious...we are forced to dig into the bible with the HOLY SPIRIT. i love the old story about houston's FBC's anger at the organ being introduced to church and it magically disappear until a few years ago where they found it in the Buffalo Bayou! we will always whine about style. it is up to us (the leader's of the church) to respond patiently with much explanation why our view is valid. this is how it stays transparent and always verified through the bible. just look at the latest declarations by the PC-USA. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/religion/4016271.html

its a fine line---often much finer than we (esp ME) like to believe!

5:09 PM  
Anonymous shelley said...

that was a good word.

wow - that we become the idol of worship when we criticize a church's different style of doing things. that brings a very convicting question - what are we truly worshipping?

8:49 PM  

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