Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV
Recently, I have found myself in conversations with Christians where the discussions ultimately devolved into a dissection of the present-day cultural landscape. Just about everyone I know is trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact on our culture.
All of the obvious causes were debated in detail at one point or another. Among other things, the effects of powerless-preaching, unloving Christians and the anemic moral standards of most churches were all hit upon at some point in each of the conversations. During those exchanges, I would find myself listening intently, chiming in from time-to-time and nodding along enthusiastically at most of comments.
It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually just symptoms of much bigger problems that no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It also occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.
Part of the problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that we are mostly guilty of creating. Some of those problems are:
We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God is attempting to tell them something radically different-
I used to do this a lot. The scenario would go something like this: I would be talking with someone and they would confess exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they were and how guilty they felt about it (James 5:16). Because I love people and I genuinely hate to see them suffer, I would proceed to tell them how awesome they are, give them a hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. In the process, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in their situation. It’s critical we remember that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember that the only spiritually healthy way to get free of guilt is to confess sin and then to repent (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we tell others that they are awesome (when God or circumstances are telling them otherwise) we are assuming (in a kindhearted but prideful way) that we know the person better than they know themselves and that we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or the heaping on of even more guilt. That said, rather than talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.
We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-
Somehow a lot of church people have bought into the worldly notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, now even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling (guilt) leads to something good (repentance and restoration).
We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–
It has become trendy for Christians to stridently declare how awful Christianity is to anyone who will listen. According to them ALL Christians (themselves being the singular exception) are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians (especially the immature or ignorant) can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian (myself included) has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for reform in the church (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with a broad and ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13).
We have forgotten we are in a war-
Ephesians chapter six tells us that we are in a battle for the souls of men and women. This battle desperately needs Christians who are willing to fight. However, we won’t win if we fight using the weapons and methods that the world uses (2nd Corinthians 10:3-4). Rather, we are called to stand firm in the truth, live righteously, correct gently, love fiercely and lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).