The Great Divorce … of the church?

I just finished The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I highly recommend reading the book if you never have.  It’s clever and filled with an interesting view of things that won’t be allowed to enter the Kingdom.

It also has a vision of Hell that I can jump on board with, lol.  It is this deary little town, which has been awaiting the coming night for an long, undetermined amount of time.  I interpreted the people as not fully understanding their surroundings. Here was what captured my thoughts though … this place extended infinitely in all directions, for the most part, with people going about their next life alone.  Often these people were obsessed about an earthly sin, personal shortcoming, place of self shame, or failure.  And this is why each was alone here … Every time a person would disagree with another, they would move further out, build a new house, and wait for the next person to come along that they disagreed with.

And I hear a voice say …. Two are better than one.

What would it be like to live in a place where love was not the center? Or in a place, the apostle John might say, that God is not the center?  Where the primary goal was to surround ourselves with people who are perfectly aligned with our own vision of how things “should” be?  A place where every time there is a disagreement people see it best to go their own way. A place where people choose to separate in order to attain an unreachable perfection … they move down the street, build a new building, and start over.

An echo rings in my heart … A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

We are a broken, perhaps a disturbingly divorced, church body.  Up until this time in history, when a church body is brought to a place of disagreement we have decided the best option is to split.  We separate from our own brothers and sisters, take it upon ourselves to judge where they are wrong, and relocate with the next looming split inevitably around the corner.

How sad this must be for Christ.  Denominational divides are causing His own body to be mutilated and tortured once more.  We are ripping His bride limb from limb.  As His body, we are so disgustedly self centered on our ideas of what the church should be, we have completely abandoned what Christ told us to do – spread the gospel.  We have carelessly abandoned that which He said were the only two laws that mattered … love up and love out.

Another whisper in my ear … Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

I do not want to split anymore.  I want to unite.  I want to love God, love others, and allow the Spirit to do His refining work in each of us, as only He can do!  Even if that means serving alongside someone who I disagree with. I am the bride of Christ, and I have a place in the body.  I will not stand by and see that body be torn further apart by ideals that we can not reach here.  When you disagree with your Christian brother or sister, do not allow Satan to cause further separation.  I would rather disagree and be strong together, then split and hurt Christ (hurt others) one second longer.

There was a man all alone;

    he had neither son nor brother.

There was no end to his toil,

    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.

“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,

    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”

You Can’t Handle the Fruit

The creation story was opened up to me in a new way this week.  In particular, the very source of original sin; the fruit … the tree.  In my life, I’ve pondered how Adam and Eve were suddenly shamed by their naked bodies.  I’ve tried to imagine the fear they felt as they hid from God.  I’ve lived through the curse of painful childbirth … twice.  But up until this week I hadn’t given the name of the tree as much weight as I should have.  I don’t know how I could have missed this, or how in the 32 years of my life (on and off) in the church this has never been exposed in a more deliberate manner.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This fruit gave them wisdom to [believe they could] know between light and dark.  The incite to [think they could] see what was right and wrong.  The [in]ability to lean on their own understanding of sinful nature.  Adam and Eve literally ate the obsession to bring justice.  They tasted shame, fear, and judgment.  It wasn’t just Adam and Eve though; we are still eating the fruit.  We are ignoring the origination of sin … taking it upon ourselves to play God, to determine, to decide another’s fate.  We have pridefully had the audacity to pretend to know another’s heart condition.

The first thing our gentle, loving creator asked of us was to leave this in His hands.  He knew – as He still knows – that when we feebly attempt to pass judgment, the result will always be the same …. our own further separation from Him.  And worse still, the separation of God from others.  Those people that we should be directing towards Him, not leading away.

Who have I steered away from God?  Who have I led astray because I felt complied to determine their shortcomings?  Upon understanding the depths of this truth, what must it feel like to be a priest in a confession booth … determining the weight of each and every sin, then handing out the answer for forgiveness?  How could a Christian resist repentance in the light of this? What actions have I taken part in that may have drove others away? All due to selfish fear, pride, and this fruit; this fruit which leads to the [mis]understanding that we know what only God can fully know?

Lord, help me to avoid ignoring your first request of us.  A request made out of Truth, out of love, and out of sympathy for our weak minds.  Open my eyes to see when I fall into the sin of desiring to judge another’s life.  Allow the Holy Spirit to refine the sin in my own life.  And give us all the faith to let the Spirit refine sin in the hearts of others as You see fit.

It’s not a theological debate

I was recently told a favorite Bible teacher, from my past, had begun podcasting new sermons and I felt a surge of excitement.  As I dug into these new sermons I realized something; this particular pastor fed me spiritual at a time when I was broken, when I was in need of the type of healing only Jesus can bring, and at a place where I felt too unworthy to accept His love.  I am no longer in that place spiritual (Praise God).  I was also made acutely aware of how just two years has drastically changed the lens in which I choose to see – and live out – my faith in Christ.

This teacher is a conservative evangelical pastor, and something he said struck me while listening, a comment regarding the emerging church.  This is not an exact quote, but the comment was along the lines of this: that people today (those involved in the emerging church) are being led astray, being caught up in theological debates, and forgetting what we are here to do … which is love.  This irritated me so much because part of the reason I’m so drawn to ideals of the emerging church is precisely because of the way they love.  But as I thought on this some more I realized every conversation I become involved in, when positioning myself across from mainstream evangelical beliefs, I inevitably end up in a theological debate  …

Women in the church, homosexuality, the existence of hell, denominational divides, Biblical inerrancy, creation vs science, and on and on and on.

This is because [part of] what the emerging church would like to do is set aside ‘core beliefs’ and replace it with ‘love your neighbor’.  And, of course, the conservative/orthodox/ modern-era believer insists, ‘I do love my neighbor, but I would rather be honest then be the reason someone goes to hell’ (Or some other crap reason like that).  The opposing side would then remind that person what love tangibly looks like, and – in fact – their ‘core beliefs’ are exactly what is separating people from the Jesus we know and love.  But just at this moment a specific issue is thrown on the table, a challenge is made to take a stance/defend the issue, and a theological conversation has begun.

I believe God wants us to turn to Him when these conflicts arise, either within ourselves or with others.  And here is the reason I believe this to be true … The more I challenge what I’ve been taught to believe, the closer God draws me to Him.  The more I question who and what is ‘accepted’ by our earthly idea of ‘church’ the more God reveals truth to me.  The more I doubt, not God – but my assumptions about God (a thought taken from Pete Rollins), the more He brings me peace and teaches me what true grace is.

There is a saying they make you learn in rehab that goes like this, “If you always do, what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get, what you’ve always gotten.”  This reminds me of the Christians frozen in fear of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Maybe the wolf isn’t the post-modern idea that church should be whole, loving, and available to ALL, but actually is the box that Satan has you trapped inside … the box that takes you only so far in your relationship with God.  The box that keeps some from loving all in the same way Christ would if He were still walking this earth.

My heart condition, discernment, core beliefs, determination of what is [or isn’t] sin, and doctrine is between the Holy Spirit that dwells in me and no one else.  This doesn’t mean I don’t hold to a certain doctrine or take a side on a theological issue, it means it holds no weight in what my Christian calling is on this earth.  I have been called to love people.  People who feel too ashamed, too unworthy, too messed up.  In my life … I was ashamed.  I was unworthy.  I was [really] messed up.  But the God that I serve was a God of love, grace, and forgiveness.  He wanted me then – just as I was.  And He wants me now.  The same as He does each hurting person.

So today, I pray God will give me the heart to love others in the same way He has loved me and give me eyes to see when my love for others is not truly love at all.

Gummy Worms and Serving Each Other

I had some moments collide this week, in a way only the Spirit can direct them to, and I’m feeling called to share.  About a week before the anniversary of Matt’s death, some friends from church asked what they could do to help ease this time for me.  I initially declined the offer to be part of a meal train since I felt it was too much of a burden on those delivering meals in light of my situation.  After some prompting I agreed, but I still felt some guilt over the service.

So last week a wonderful woman, I feel honored to call a friend, brought over tacos.  Since it takes the three of us a good amount of time to eat all the food brought over; we had our last round of Mexican last night.  As I was bringing out all the containers of toppings thinking of what a blessing the meal was upon my week. I noticed the container that was holding the chopped tomatoes.  It was a container that once carried gummy worms from a local grocery store.  I thought for a moment and then become just a bit teary.

It was about six months ago that I was feeling completely swamped down with life in the midst of grief, when I was asked by a friend to be part of a meal train for a couple at church.  At the time the couple was still in the beginning stages of grief and hadn’t shared their story with others yet, so they requested to not have their name shared.  They simply requested we bring them sweets.

There I was that day at the grocery store.  I was running late to pick up Evie and feeling rushed.  The store was filled with people and the lines were long.  I picked up a basket, instead of choosing a cart, and my arm was loaded down and becoming sore.  I was on the phone, although I can not remember with who, I do remember the conversation being stressful.  All at once I felt annoyed by serving someone I didn’t know, at a time in life that wasn’t easy on me, in the midst of a troublesome day.  I pulled myself together that day; I found my heart for serving, and followed through.  I was glad I did.  I was even more grateful when I later learned who I was serving and why.

So here I was, feeling grateful and guilty, because of those who had made the decision to take time out of their busy lives to serve my family when I caught a glimpse at the Spirit’s work.  In a fleeting moment of clarity I saw into the Spirit-lead, circle-of-favor we get to take part of on this Earth.  I had felt led by the Spirit to serve this couple friend, and despite myself, I did so.  And here I was witnessing the very source of where my service for them began, their service for me was handed back.

It was a small reminder of the huge impact the Spirit can have in our lives if we so allow Him to.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that respects and honors that impact the best we know how.  My encouragement for you is to follow the promptings of your heart.  Do not doubt.  Do not quit when your own shortcomings try to hold you back from that calling.  And when offered service?  Take it with grace and humility.

Discipline … Driscoll Style

There isn’t much left to say that hasn’t been said about the recent Mars Hill church discipline story that surfaced this last week.  I do feel the need to address it for a couple of reasons; 1) I know that some of my readers are not blog readers and so this could be the only place they hear of the story – and the story must be heard, 2) I feel for Andrew.  I want him to know that he is loved not only by Christ, but by the church.  I want him to know he is surrounded in grace and peace, and is being prayed for daily.

If you are unaware of the story please take time to read it, it is worth it to know the happenings at one of the largest churches in the country.  Matthew Paul Turner wrote about the story in two parts on his blog; you can read those here – Part One and Part Two.

I was grateful for the blog posts that followed in regards to Turner’s posts.  The two that I thought were the most thoughtful were Kurt Willems post from The Pangea Blog entitled Treat Them Like a Tax Collector; Reflections on Matthew 18, Church Discipline, and Andrew and Roger Wolsey’s post from Sojourners Why Mark Driscoll Needs An Elephant.

I can only imagine the internal struggle Andrew must have went through in order to decide to speak out.  I commend him for his courage.  As Christ’s church, we have chosen to divide among ourselves for menial doctrinal issues, and this divide has broken the body of Christ into a scattered people in small groups among the world.  We define ourselves not as Christians, but as Evangelicals, Baptist, Lutherans, or Catholics.  Although I believe these divisions do more harm then good – I can understand them, I can respect them.  However, a time must come where we recognize that the only label we are under is ‘Christ follower’.  I believe this is one of those times.

Spiritual abuse is unacceptable.  This ‘church discipline’ reeks of control, shame, and misuse of power.  More stories are coming out about this same type of abuse from Mars Hill Seattle, and I imagine there is still more to come.  I must admit my view of Mars Hill Seattle has changed tremendously over the last three years.  I paid good money to see Mark’s conference on Song of Solomon.  I have listened to the majority of his podcasts, read his books, and recommended his teachings to others.  I can observe two things about Mark since following his teaching over the last few years … 1) He knows the Spirit of God, and  2) He has lost touch with that Spirit.

We must pray.  We must pray for the elders and leaders of this church to repent (and when they do – as difficult as it might be – we won’t ask that they succumb to our demands until we decide enough is enough, and repentance has been achieved.)   We must pray for others in this church, and churches like it, who are experiencing spiritual abuse of this nature or another.  We have far too much evil in this world to worry about those who claim to know Christ as followers.  We must pray for Andrew, as he has been removed from his community, and suffering for speaking out against what he knows is wrong.

If you are suffering spiritual abuse please know that you have been given the gift of the Spirit by Christ himself, and you do have the ability to discern right from wrong (1 John 2:20).  The overwhelming desires to please the leaders of church, or to assume that what they say/demand is right is understandable – but you have Christ, and He should ultimately be the person leading you.  Stand up and speak out if you are enduring this.

Living in a community of Christ should not bring you shame, but freedom.  Being part of a church body should not hold you back from repentance, but instead gently guide you to where it is needed.  Elders are to be respected; if their hearts are pure, your soul is their main concern (Hebrews 13:17).  But do not be subjected to a life that is unworthy of Christ’s teachings.

As I said when I started, I am praying for Andrew.  I am praying for the members of Mars Hill.  I am praying for their leaders; including Mark.  This is such a sad story.  This church has the size, numbers, and resources to make a huge difference for Christ; they have the ability to bring peace and teach grace.  Instead they are being blinded of their true calling by the need to control and desire to be in power … not to mention their inaccuracy of woman’s roles in the church, male aggression, and sexual obsession … but those are for another time.

Grace and Peace to Andrew – I believe God has wonderful things planned in your journey apart from Mars Hill.