Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus, yes. Church, no?

"Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
- from Ann Rice's Facebook page -

I read recently of this recent announcement of well known author, Ann Rice. Only ten years ago, she announced her embrace of Christ and the church. Now she has decided that although she still loves Jesus and considers herself his follower, she's just had it with the church.

I know how she feels. In fact, I would venture to say that I can relate to her sentiment in my own experience better than she can. Here's what I mean. She claims that her decision to leave the church and subsequent announcement has nothing to do with her personal experience with a particular congregation. It's about the "public face" of Christianity and the shortcomings she sees there, the way Christians in general behave. I, on the other hand, as one who has served as a local church pastor for three decades, have had personal experience up close with how disillusioning the church can be. I've seen a good deal of ugliness among church folks, and have on occasion been on the receiving end of it myself. In contrast to Ms. Rice, I find myself loving the idea of church in general, but sometimes find some of my personal experience with real church people more difficult. As one pastor said, "I love the church - it's just the people I have trouble with!" There have been quite a number of times over the years I have found myself very disillusioned and frustrated with the church and wanting to get out myself. Rice goes on to say that she's going to follow Jesus individually. She says, "Christ reaches out to us individually. He's saying 'Come follow me; I am the way, the truth, and the life.' These are beautiful things. I read Scripture every day, I study it every day, I'm mindful of it every day. I don't claim to have the right interpretation of every passage, but I wrestle with it, and that's what I think he wants us to do."

Sounds great. The only problem is, the Scripture doesn't know anything about Christianity without church. As John Wesley said, "Christianity is a social religion. To make it a solitary thing is to destroy it." (I believe I'm quoting that accurately). Following Jesus can't be done except in community. The problem with the church is it's made up of humans. But I'm human, too. The reason why I surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord in the first place is because of my broken humanity, and my need for transformation. And an essential way in which Jesus transforms us all is through relating to other followers of Jesus. If I'm going to be a follower of Jesus, I'm stuck with the church. Like I heard another pastor say, "You choose your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives." And when we begin to call God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we're claiming our brothers and sisters, too, warts and all. But they're also stuck with me. Years ago, a man in a church where I had just become pastor was sharing with me about his coming to be part of that congregation and how he had trouble with this church and that one, etc. before coming to the current one. I jokingly said, "Once you find that perfect church, you're going to ruin it when you get there...because you're not perfect." He didn't seem to think that was funny. Later on, he found fault with our congregation, and me in particular (big surprise).

Let me also say, that although I've witnessed some pretty bad stuff in the church, I've also seen some great things, things that would never be possible with all of us doing our own thing. The church belongs to Jesus. He hasn't rejected it. Neither should we.

Sorry it's taken me so long to post. I'll try to do so more often. I've been too busy dealing with the church!


Anonymous said...

john heverly here. beth linked me onto you. i'm not on facebook. but, as you may know, kenneth and gloria copeland are the one's that helped God get me born again five years ago. one of the copelands' "things" is that you need to sit down every year with a pad, notebook or whatever and list your spiritual needs versus what your current church is doing to meet your spiritual needs. you do it with your investments, why not church? your spiritual life is certainly more important than your participation in the babylonian economic system with a huge graven idol of a bull on wall st. anyway, i did that and came to the conclusion the roman catholic church was not meeting any of my spiritual needs. another one of the copelands' "things" is, "whether the church God wants you in is five blocks away or five thousand miles away, you need to move to it." that's what i did with the fredericksburg united methodist church; i moved half way across the country and changed from the catholic faith to the protestant faith to be in it. the bottom line is, and i know this from lamentable personal experience, if you are in a church that God doesn't want you to be in, don't bitch about it, because all the bawling and squalling in the world is not going to change that church/Church. GET OUT OF IT, BUT THEN, AFTER A DISCERNMENT PROCESS, GO TO THE CHURCH HE WANTS YOU TO BE IN.

Larry Nevels said...

Interesting posting...I think it was Charlie Brown who said, "I love humanity, its people I can't stand!"
Having served 3 years on the SPRC during a very tumultuous time I fully understand Ms. Rices comments. But then, I understand Jason's comments as well. I think a great deal of Paul's epistles were directed at churches that had become dens of bitterness. So this issue goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. The church is made up of humans and humans are by definition imperfect, so these things are to be expected. Still, there is a huge disconnect between the pious Sunday morning crowd and the vitriolic episodes that occur in person or anonymously. It can be, at best, disconcerting, and at it's worst discouraging. I think we all could use a little more kindness in our lives and in teh way we deal with others, even those with whom we disagree.