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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Representatives of Christ

In response to the last post about some of the Church's PR problems Melissa made some important comments that are deserving their own post/thread:
"Here's the question that's been on my mind a lot...with the predominantly negative and oppressive influence Christianity has on so many groups, is it morally right to continue to associate with such a group? If you say yes, do you think that by associating with a mainstream group practicing such horrible things as what is mentioned about makes you more susceptible to practicing those things in turn? Can one stand for greater values like liberty and justice for the oppressed and still be connected to Christian religion with all its history and negative influence on culture? being a part of this religion, how do you keep apart from the ones who might be negatively influencing the culture? For that matter, how do you deal with the possibility that at times you yourself as a Christian are doing more harm than good? By you, that is the implied you all."

My thoughts (share yours below!):
All too common sentiment
I hear more and more people identify themselves as "followers of Christ" rather than as "Christians," and I can understand why. The church is really broken. But I do think it is important to stick with the church and try to work on it from within. To the outside world, "Christians" will always represent Christ, whether they do a good job of it or not. If all of the sane people leave the church, I fear the pain that it causes will only increase.

Christ called us to be one with each other and to gather together into a body of believers. He saw the brokenness of organized religion is His day, and definitely was critical of it, but also did not come to abolish the institution. He called for change, while functioning within the established fellowship of Judaism. I think this is a model for us to follow. Even the most misguided of Christians are our siblings in Christ. I think as best as one can, one should stick with the offending organization. "Be the change you want to see…" and all that.

Same goes for individual churches that are broken. It is so easy to get disgruntled with a pastor, or to feel uncomfortable with a certain worship style, or have a grudge against certain members of the church . But I believe Christ calls us to unity beyond our differences. But it’s not easy. In fact, it can be extremely painful and there are sometimes points where it is better to go separate ways (Paul had moments like this), but it must come only after much deliberation and with an understanding of the witness of disunity it gives to the world. After all, if we cannot love each other, how can people trust us to love them?

The church is a family. And like any family we have our crazy uncles, selfish sisters, racist grandparents, and misbehaving children. We don't have to condone any of that and in fact should speak out against it. But we are still family. It can be dangerous, though, as Melissa implies. It is easy to take on others' habits. But that happens with anyone with whom we choose to hang out, not just our siblings in Christ, so we might as well be work for the betterment of the family at the same time.

We remember as well that as individuals we are sinful, and so often make poor ambassadors for Christ. Paul beats himself up for that all time. "We fall down, but we get up. For a saint is just a sinner who fell down, and got back up,” by God’s grace. And by His grace He continues to let us help as He goes about his work. Like a loving parent letting His little child help with the dishes. He knows that a few of them might get broken, and they won’t be cleansed of all of the grime, and it will take twice as long, but He allows us to be in partnership with Him. We have to have faith that ultimately He is in control through our shortcomings.

Can I stay with an organization that has such a negative history? Absolutely. To do otherwise would be to turn my back on a Church that my God adores deeply. Just as neither Allah nor Muslims around the world are in the slightest way represented by the extremists of 9/11, neither is Christ (nor am I) represented by ‘condemnation Christianity’. Of course we have to understand and account for the fact that when extreme people claim to be working for the team as we do, it makes our job much more difficult. We must be patient with people whose opinions of us are shaped by the negative examples they see, just as we would when working against any negative stereotype .

Christians have caused a lot of pain in the world, but they have also done a tremendous amount of good. Christ designed a network of believer to support each other as we work to bring a bit of His kingdom here on earth. We are broken because we are of this world, but His initial Commission is still at the core of who we are as a body and through tat we can do great things in his name. UMCOR is a great example of that, I think. And there are thousands of other positive examples for Christ both today and in history. Off the top of my head, author and philosopher, Chris Sunami, writes a great book, Hero for Christ, that sites many other examples. Perhaps some other posters can share some favorite testimony of their own?

1 comment:

  1. I've been pitifully slow in responding to this because this remarkably poignant response has given me much to think about. As of yet, I am not capable of reaching the definite "right" conclusion, but I will try to express both sides as best I can.

    Katelin, I can definitely see the many ways and reasons in which it would be right to stay involved with the church. It seems there is a history of a lot of good people sticking with the system -- Jeremiah stuck with his people no matter how often they didn't listen, Samuel continued to pray for his people and even Jesus continued to put up with his disciples. So yes, there is some validity to this decision.

    Now for the other side. I can't help but find historical basis to be wary about church and Christianity. More often than not, it ends up being about socializing and following the right doctrine or being the "right" kind of Christian. This can be kind of problematic for certain people that the church by nature of what it is excludes again and again and again. Why be a part of something if it means to destroy you for not being the "model Christian"? I'm certain I'm not the only one who has a friend who discusses the sad experience of being made fun of by Christians for not being like them. Why be a part of something like that? If that is the usual experience, why not run away?

    Of course, not all experiences are negative, true. There are a lot of positive experiences in the realm of Christendom. But my thoughts are for the person who has predominantly negative ones. For such a person, why bother to go even if they do believe in Christ? If church is just the place that makes them feel worse about themselves, then out with that shizz.

    Now for the next point to ponder. You say to just stick with it despite all the abuses and injustices happening. Now, I might be erroneous in this point, but Martin Luther didn't seem to have that kind of mentality when he posted the 95 Theses. True, he did try to stick with it, but the church then didn't seem to want to address the injustices within it until much later. His response to the injustice he was seeing was to leave. Was he wrong?

    Of course, I can't say the implications of that act are much better. There's something artificial about seeing a thousand variants of the "first church of" blah blah blah. But even today, a lot of people are again leaving the Catholic Church because of the very weak handling of the priest scandal. Are they wrong to do so? Or does there ever come a time when injustice grows so great that the only way to try to have an authentic spirituality is to leave?

    Consequently, God left the temple and at one point he even told Jeremiah not to have any part of his society because it was so bad. So, does that apply at all to Christians who see the negative again and again? To be more specific, I don't think I would be okay with remaining in the church that kicked the girl out because of her homosexual orientation. Staying in such an organization would only mean I sanction their actions. Which is what I feel I would be doing by going to places that might sanction yet more injustice. And consequently, it just doesn't seem as though much is gained by sitting for an hour and listening to a message that you could already figure out for yourself in a matter of minutes. But that's just my perspective. And granted, it's probably a bit jaded.


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