The first time I heard those words out of Tony Campolo’s mouth, I was shocked. Did he just say what I think he said? Seriously, you’re comparing the Bride of Christ to a slut?What-ev!
A few months later, I was sitting at a round table in a room filled with pastors, priests, and even a few politicians. Represented was a large cross-section of the Church. Liberals. Conservatives. Pro-life. Pro-everything and anything. Men. Women. Rob Bell devotees and Johnny McArthur disciples.
At the time, it was both fascinating and disturbing to me. Once again, from my right-thinking-sound-doctrine-I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out position of superiority I thought, the Church is messed up! And instantly I heard the Holy Spirit say in my heart, “This is my Church.”
Of course, I knew I was a part of the Church, but I wasn’t so sure about the liberal woman minister with the priest’s collar who believed it was okay to be gay. I had some serious doubts about the guy with a Brian McLaren book sitting on top of his new age looking bible (is that a flower on the cover?). Anybody with any true understanding of the bible knows that McLaren is a false teacher. Duh!
But those words keep ringing louder and louder in my head, “This is my Church.”
Okay, God. I guess if they love and believe in You, then they belong to You, but there’s a right and wrong. Surely somebody has got to take a stand for sound doctrine. Maybe those Bell-McLaren-Campolo lovers are going to make it to heaven (even if they don’t believe in hell), but they’re embarrassing the Church (and me).
“This is my Church.”
Yeah but Jesus, didn’t Paul warn us against heretics and those who abandon sound doctrine (it’s found in 2 Timothy 4:3 just in case you forgot the reference, Lord)? Aren’t we supposed to caution those who “gather around them a great number of teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear”?
“This is my Church.”
Beets! Have you ever tried to have a theological argument with God? It’s frustrating. He lands on facts but refuses to forsake love. He cares about truth, but He keeps wrapping it up in grace.
My problem: I often use truth (at least my perception and understanding of truth) to beat the crap out of people God apparently loves.
Ouch, could I be a modern-day Pharisee?
Do I make being right more important than being relational?
Truthfully, I’m never going to be a progressive liberal Christian. But have I built my faith on a “solid foundation of doctrine” while ignoring what Jesus said was most important?
While addressing the “religious” of His day, Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love. Everything hangs on love for God and love for others. Everything that’s been taught to us, and all the sound doctrine in the world hinges on one thing: love.
In another place, Jesus spoke these words that haunt me when I think about my occasionally self-righteous, theologically-angry heart, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35, NIV).
Pop quiz: How will the world know we belong to a good, merciful, and gracious God? How will they know that Jesus lives?
Answer: If we love one another.
Could it be that simple?
Does sound doctrine matter? Of course, it does. (I’m not suggesting we embrace atheists as brothers or Buddhism as just another way to God.)
Shouldn’t we be aware of false teachers? Yes.
Do the orthodox tenets of our faith matter? Absolutely. (We must proclaim one God revealed in Three, one Savior crucified yet alive, one way to the Father and one Church.)
But maybe I’m not as theologically sound as I think I am. Maybe I’m going to get to heaven and find out that some of the distinctives I held to so dearly are not so important in the end. Maybe there will be some folks standing next to me in heaven that I judged unworthy but Jesus embraced as His.
For my ultra-conservative friends (who are desperately looking for the unsubscribe button right now), relax; I’m not suggesting you embrace some willy-nilly free-for-all belief system based on tolerance or compromise. Seek, teach, and stand on truth, but please do so in love. Is it possible you don’t have it all figured out?
For my ultra-liberal progressive friends (who feel validated and are eagerly looking for the share button), practice what you preach—be tolerant of those who judge you—and please do so in love rather than disgust. Maybe you don’t have it all figured out either.
One last confession . . .
I used to despise the word ecumenism. I saw it as a weak attempt to unite the Church in an all-embracing, all-inclusive pseudo organization. Let’s get everybody in a circle, hold hands, sing Kumbaya and try to find our lowest common denominator as a point of unity. To me, it reeked of compromise.
Now I see ecumenism as unity around a central Person and preeminent theme: Jesus and love.
Sadly, too often the Bride of Christ acts beastly toward one another. And tragically, a watching world thinks, You guys can’t even love each other! Why would I ever want anything to do with you? How that must break the heart of Jesus.
Tony might be right. Perhaps the Church is a whore, a beast or even worse, but She is my mother and my sister and all Her children are a part of me. Even the Christians I strongly disagree with are forever connected to my life. Go figure.
I recently had a conversation with an author and a young woman who wrote about her spiritual journey. I read her book, and her pain and pursuit of God moved me. In many ways, I identified with her questions and struggles because I once wrestled with them in my life. The book is incredibly well written and destined for the New York Times bestseller list.
However, I was bothered a bit by her theology. It seemed she was an Omnist (one who believes all religions and all faiths are equal in value and all lead to God). After reading the final chapter, I wondered if she knew and loved the Jesus I know and love. Unfortunately, I was ready to write her off as another confused thirty-something who wanted to define God in her terms rather than His.
Then we spoke.
And to my surprise and delight, she loves Jesus. She’s a Christian, and I have no doubt we will spend eternity together. Her book is simply a story of her yet unfinished journey of faith. (By the way, aren’t we all unfinished and in process?)
After we hung up, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart again, “It’s my Church, and it’s filled with people who haven’t figured it all out yet . . . just like you, Kurt. Will you love my Bride?”
With eyes filled with tears, I cried, Yes, Father, I will.
May I pray for you (and me)?
Jesus, forgive us for our spiritual arrogance. Forgive us for the times we have lobbed grenades at others in Your Church all in the name of sound doctrine. As You promised, lead us by Your Holy Spirit into all truth, but help us walk in humility. Remind us frequently that, at best, we only know in part. And let us be shining lights of glory that point a dark world to You as we are brought to complete unity in Your name. Amen.
I have given them the glory that you gave me,
that they may be one as we are one—
I in them and you in me—
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that you sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:22-23 (NIV)
If you’d like to read more of Kurt’s insights about life, the church and culture, please check out his books here.
I was recently asked by another pastor how he should feel about all of the sheep swapping going around in his city.
In the Bible, those in Christ are often referred to as “sheep,” and pastors as “shepherds.”
From this, there have come all kinds of catchphrases in regard to church life, most notably “sheep swapping,” which is when people move from one local church to another.
So, is that ever a good thing?
Always a bad thing?
Something in between?
Five good reasons to shop around:
1. Teaching veers away from historic orthodoxy.
2. Leadership consistently lacks integrity.
3. Community is infected with habitual disunity.
4. Mission has no focus or clarity.
5. Finances lack necessary accountability.
These are good for one reason: they are substantive issues.
Five bad reasons to shop around:
1. You don’t like long check-in lines and parking/exit hassles.
2. You don’t like capital campaigns for buildings.
3. You don’t like the influx of new faces and new staff.
4. You don’t like finding your favorite seat taken.
5. You don’t like having limited personal access to the pastor.
These are bad for one reason: they are all about not liking growth.
Five really bad reasons to shop around:
1. You want to gravitate to the “next, next” thing out of spiritual insecurity.
And then the “next, next” thing after that…and after that….
2. You are fleeing the community after being exposed and admonished for serious, unrepentant sin.
3. You voted on a non-doctrinal, non-substantive matter and it didn’t go your way.
4. Your toes were stepped on in regard to a lifestyle or obedience matter that, in truth, the Bible is clear on.
5. You got “offended” by someone, but never practiced Matthew 18:15 to try and resolve the offense.
These are “really bad” for one reason: they are rooted in sin, or at least immaturity.
Five “gray” reasons to shop around:
1. Your new address makes it too far to drive.
2. Your teenager wants to go somewhere else.
3. Your age group or “stage of life” group is under-represented.
4. Your philosophy of ministry is different, or has changed.
5. Your passion in ministry isn’t offered or enabled.
These are gray for one reason: sometimes they are legit, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they should be “catered” to, sometimes they should not. In truth, most of the time “not.”
Five reasons used most often for shopping around:
1. I’m not being “fed.”
2. I’m not being “fed.”
3. I’m not being “fed.”
4. I’m not being “fed.”
5. I’m not being “fed.”
So is being “fed” good, bad or gray?
In most cases, it’s bad. The apostle Paul talks about those who still want to be “fed” as akin to a middle-age man sucking on a baby bottle. Most of us already know more at this moment than we will ever act on. We don’t need to be fed more – we need to live more. And if anything, feed others.
Being “fed” is often a euphemism for any and all disagreements that desire a spiritual smokescreen for departure. The irony is that I have dialogued with many of the leading teachers of our day – those who write books, have radio programs, have hundreds of thousands of podcasts downloaded (the teachers of the teachers) – and even with their qualifications the #1 reason people give for leaving their church is “I’m not being fed.”
The bottom line is that continually shopping around as a sheep, as a rule, is not best. What is best is to find a church home, be loyal and committed to it, and to work to make it all that it isn’t with a servant’s heart.
There will always be more
…better stage-of-life churches
But there will only be one that is your church.
Like a marriage that goes the marathon, there is a depth and sweetness to staying in a community year after year, decade after decade.
Knowing the stories, the people, the milestones.
There are people at Meck who have been with us since the earliest of days. Some since the very first year. Some since the very first service.
To a person, they would tell you that it is among their most precious investments and realities.
Why? It’s their church.
The one that God called them to.
That’s not something you shop for and buy.
It’s something you make.
Note: This is a guest post, used by permission, of pastor and author, Dr. James Emery White. To read more of his blogs, go here.
If you’d like to read some things Kurt wrote regarding the Church and faith, please check out his recently released book: Perfectly Imperfect.