When the Church Disappoints

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Are you ever disappointed with the teachings from the church? Have you been hurt by fellow Christians?

Q: There is a growing group of disappointed people who are leaving the church even in places like Brazil. Most of them didn’t get what they were expecting from the church. Based on your experience in the U.S. church, do you think this trend will grow or is it reversible? 

Frankly, I think this phenomenon is sad. It shows a selfish view of the faith if I want church to satisfy my needs and desires without having to invest in others. How many places are there where we meet together with old and young, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly?  The church should be the place that “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.”  Instead we seek a place that comforts the comfortable. And yet, as you indicate, once the trend starts, it proves hard to reverse.

I take hope in the fact that the Spirit always finds a new way of breaking out in the church. Remember the Jesus movement, in which hippies, the least likely group, led the way to Christ. And the charismatic movement, which has spread worldwide. Now the emergent church has emerged, which brings new forms to an old institution. Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and that gives me hope. God will always find a way; all God needs is willing hearts.

I hear about the “back door” in Brazilian churches. Hordes of people come in the front door, attracted to the prosperity teaching, then leave by the back door when they find that their life hasn’t changed that much. Christians still get sick, lose their jobs, have marriage problems and kid problems. Unless we prepare our people for these life situations, we’ll become irrelevant. Our only solution is to go back to the Gospel, the plain and simple Gospel of compassion and discipline preached by Jesus. It takes a St. Francis or Mother Teresa to remind us that God is not our servant to help improve our lives; we are the servants.

Q: What would you like to tell or suggest to a Christian, a new born again Christian for example, who faces his first disappointment in church life?

I’d say, “Welcome to the club.” We’re humans. Are we ever disappointed in schools and teachers? In political parties? In relatives?  The church consists of flawed human beings. Whereas many organizations begin with the goal to fix the problems of the world, the church begins with people acknowledging their need for help—both from God and from our fellow pilgrims. 

A friend of mine once said, “I’m glad the church is full of hypocrites, because I’m a hypocrite and I feel at home there.”  There’s more than a kernel of truth there.

You’ve said you now see God no longer as a stern judge, but as a physician.  Doesn’t that pose the danger that the Christian faith becomes all a bit “therapeutical”?  After all, God is a stern judge too, isn’t he?

For me, the difference is understanding that God sets rules for our own good.  If a physician sternly warns me against the dangers of addiction to nicotine or alcohol or drugs, she does so because she wants me to live a rich and full life. The church I grew up in presented a God who was scowling, and trying to keep us from having fun. That is not at all the image I now have of God, nor the image that I believe the Bible presents.  Perhaps a “parent” is the very best model for viewing God -but of course that doesn’t work for many people who come from troubled homes. The essential point is seeing that God has our best interests at heart, even though those best interests may involve some discipline and sacrifice on our part.

 

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