Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dirty Church

The church is to be a beautiful community that worships the only living God, nurtures the seeker with the truth, fellowships in the loving community of saints, and encourages the brokenhearted with Christ’s love. In other words, the church looks ‘upward’ in worship, ‘inward’ to edify, and ‘outward’ to serve those in need.

However, the church, from Christ’s time on earth, has been losing these components slowly yet steadily (cf. Mark 11: 15-17). A church can profess her allegiance to the Lord Jesus, yet be corrupt in her core values and expressions. In other words, the church, from the surface, could seem adherent to the biblical teachings, but avoid being truthful, loving and gracious, and thus corrupt.

When resolving a situation, the church could opt to enforce law or grace. Here is a rather dense situation to highlight the church’s corruption. A church rejects the marriage proposal of a couple because one partner has had multiple divorces. Not only is the church ungracious, but she could be successful in driving away the couple from her precincts. While rejecting the proposal, the church may have even cited a few scripture passages (e.g. Malachi 2: 16). But is this the only viable or the most biblical option for the church? If you say yes, please allow me to contradict you.

I submit that the church should have married this couple, of course, with bible-centered pre-marital counseling. If this couple were married, it is possible that this marriage would survive and the past sins of divorce, repented. By rejecting the marriage proposal, the church eliminated a magnificent opportunity for the person to repent and establish a family. More importantly, the church may have even driven these two away from Christianity. (You could argue that the multiple divorcée, as in the past, would reject/divorce this partner as well. This, however, is an ‘argument from ignorance’ i.e., one cannot predict if that marriage would result in divorce.)

Now then, why should the church not be radically gracious in solemnizing such a marriage? The church may have either rejected this proposal to avoid unnecessary criticism (for the leadership to have their job intact) or because she is profusely legalistic (so to abandon grace into oblivion). In both these instances, the church abandons the minority. This is in total contradiction to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. (If the church leadership claims ignorance on this matter, then they are inadequate for leadership.)

It is good to err on the side of grace, than on the side of law. But only strong and courageous leaders (Joshua 1: 9) would dare to err on the side of grace. The selfishly fearful, corrupt and theologically impotent leaders would cite the law to evade being gracious. They defy the Lord’s act of running after that one lost sheep, leaving the ninety-nine. Losing one sheep is insignificant to these leaders. They satisfy the majority, even at the cost of one sheep and the gospel! The Lord is the epitome of grace (John 1: 14-17); when the church adheres to the law and abandons grace, the church becomes corrupt.

The first entity to take responsibility for the church’s corruption is her leadership. Christ showed the way for mankind to follow. Similarly the church leadership ought to be role models for the flock to follow the Lord. If the leadership is legalistic, the essence of the church would be legalistic.

However, it could be healthier to have a legalistic leader than a weak leader. If the leadership is weak, then the church would travel the way of the powerful group in the church, and the powerful, if biblically correct, will remove the weak leader (so to resolve the problem). If the weak leadership remains, the church is bound to be sold to the devil in one form or another. If leaders are ruled by fear, they will inevitably succumb to the temptations of the evil one.

The elaborate description of Jesus cleansing the temple in Mark 11: 15-17 presents an instance of a ‘dirty church.’ The Lord’s house was transformed into a house of business instead of a house of prayer. The Lord cleansed the temple by driving out the offenders (15). Wait! Did HE really drive them out? I don’t think so! Verse 17 fascinates me, for the Lord taught ‘them’ the true intent of the church. ‘Them’ refers to those who abused the temple precincts and the spectators. Hence the Lord not only cleansed HIS house off its filth, but taught the abusers the truth. Isn’t this what today’s church leaders ought to do and isn’t this where they fail?

We take pride in proclaiming the church as a congregation of sinners, and truly so. Sin is inevitable in the congregation of sinners. When sin is encountered, the sinful act should be eliminated by the power of God, and the sinful actor cleansed by the Word of God. 

Today’s church seems more intent on driving out the sinners; not the sinners who sin against God, but those who disagree with the leadership. The formula of today’s church seems to be if-you-don’t-agree-to-my-agenda-you-will-be-fired. Thus, instead of church multiplication, church division seems to be the order of the day. Where is the fault? It’s obviously in the insecure arms of the weak leadership.

I am part of a ‘facebook prayer group’ of a certain church. One day, I realized I wasn’t a part of that prayer group. Upon digging for clarity, I discovered that the church leadership had me removed from that group, because my blogs seemed to implicate that church. Thus far, I have not received a response as to what unholy or unbiblical content from my blog merited such an ungracious decision. If I am a sinner, where is the teaching to correct me? If there is no teaching, does it imply I am correct? If I am correct, why should I be removed? Or am I a terrible sinner beyond correction? This is not a personal rant, but an illustration of what I see as a failure of the church.

The church seeks easy, or evil, solutions today. Quite a few AGM’s (Annual General Meeting) of the contemporary church present a sad yet hilarious scene. The powerful oppress the powerless and the seemingly-more-spiritual oppress their brothers and sisters. If you speak the truth, you are mandated to shut up. Is this the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Laugh-out-Loud! It is the case of weak and unbiblical leadership. Weak leadership manifests in several ways. You are fired if you disagree; you are disciplined if you speak the truth. Both situations were a reality in the life of Martin Luther and many others who stood firm for truth. Welcome to the dirty church.

George Barna and Frank Viola expressed this sentiment as they dedicated their book, “To our forgotten brothers and sisters throughout the ages who courageously stepped outside the safe bounds of institutional Christianity at the risk of life and limb. You faithfully carried the torch, endured persecution, forfeited reputation, lost family, suffered torture, and spilled your blood to preserve the primitive testimony that Jesus Christ is Head of His church. And that every believer is a priest .a minister ... and a functioning member of God's house. This book is dedicated to you.” 1 Weakness hides behind law, discards grace and Christ out of the church. The church then is sold to the devil.

I think it was Malcolm Muggeridge who ridiculed the church to say, “they have taken that which belongs to the soul and institutionalized it.” Do you belong to a dirty church that destroys a soul, or do you belong to a grace-abounding, Christ-filled, Spirit-anointed church?

You can for all you want shout at the top of your voice that you are anointed. But if you discard grace from your life, you are discarding Christ. If you are abandoning Christ from your life, are you a true disciple of the Lord Jesus? You need to answer these questions as much as I need to. Amen.

1 George Barna and Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity, 2007. 

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