Last night, I was over at my pastor's house to catch the NBC Thursday night sitcom string. Halfway through 30 Rock, the Reverend (as I affectionately call him) and I began talking about the dangers of some of the approaches to correcting, rebuking and even just discussing that certain Christian leaders have today.
I won't go into everything (and everyone) we talked about- because that really isn't the point. The point - at least for me - is that I'm beginning to realize that the purpose of the Church (and church) is to point others toward Jesus - to be in relationship with Him through teaching His Word. It's to hang out with those that society and the teachers of the law reject. It's to wrestle through tough questions about God. It's to promote mercy and justice for those forgotten and unheard. But to do all of this with humility, gentleness, and respect. (Ephesians 4:10-24) Seriously, take a look at those verses.
See, here's the thing. I don't think being a Christian, believing that Jesus is Lord, is about us "being right". I mean, as a Christian, I am affirming that I believe Jesus is the only way to salvation- restoring and redeeming me into relationship with God - which means I am NOT affirming other faiths. But, is me being right even the point? Let's make it more "in the family". What value - seriously - does it have for me to approach my brother/sister with an "I'm right" mentality when it comes to their convictions? Does it not make more sense for us to come together and look at the source of knowledge for our faith- the Word of God? Can we do that together as brother and sister? "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever," right? Last I checked it doesn't say, "Man's chief end is to declare how correct he is, thus glorifying God."
We preach and teach...but when pastors and leaders start acting as gatekeepers for heaven- we have a problem don't we? If I attest to the Apostles Creed and am working out what I think about certain elements of the faith, and I get it wrong, my hope would be that a brother or sister would come along side and show me, through Scripture, where I'm off.
Trevor (my pastor) brought up something interesting. Peter- the rock upon which Christ built His church who had hung out with Jesus, learned directly from Jesus - didn't even fully get it until years after Christ had returned to the Father. In Acts 10, we learn of the story of Cornelius and Peter. Peter had a vision where he was hungry, God laid out a plethora of food and commanded Peter to eat. Peter refused, saying he had never touched or consumed anything "unclean". He had this back-and-forth with God 3 times. After the 3rd time, God said to Peter, "What God has made clean, do not call common or unclean" (v. 15). He then is introduce to Cornelius, a Gentile. God had brought Cornelius to Peter. "So Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'"
So Trevor's point- and mine now - is that if Peter didn't get it, how slow should we be to proclaiming that we get it fully? How much should this humility shape our approach to each other - to the Rob Bells, the John Pipers? Even more so, how should this shape our approach to those dealing with sin - you know, people like you and me?
For years, I have spent time in churches that address specific sins, specific government stances, and thus alienating people and ending any opportunity for questions and "working it through". I believe that Jesus is Lord and is a great and might Savior, but there are some things in the Bible - which I also believe to be the Word of God- that I just don't get and in fact, they weird me out. I imagine that I'm not the only one. Shouldn't the leaders and pastors of churches be committed to engaging in discussion, pointing to resources, and dare I say be OK with not knowing the answers fully?
I thought, for a while, that 1 Peter 3:15 meant that I needed to have an answer to every question about my faith. I'd memorize apologetics books, get into long debates about theology. I got really tired really quickly. So, over the past few years, I've been almost resistant to debating anything. But no, if you look at the surrounding verses- the reason for the hope that we have is Christ. He came to bring salvation and redemption. Do I understand the fullness of that? Nope. Do I have some questions? Yep. But I believe it with every ounce of my being. My relationship with God is the most real, lasting relationship I have. So, my goal should be to spend time with others who share that relationship, questioning, wrestling and learning more about who Jesus is and what He has for us as His followers.
Be wary of the temptation that comes with knowing and believing in truth - latching on to pride and the need to be right.
2 Peter 1:5-9 says, "For this very reason (see verse 3 and 4 for 'the reason'), make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." (emphasis added)
Those of us in the church are on this journey to find who we are in the Lord- what that means and how that looks in our day-to-day. Maybe our focus should be on that. The judgement that I believe should come from the pulpit is that which calls us all (even the preacher) into account and points us to the reason for the hope that we have - calling us to not be lukewarm, to love God and our neighbor, and to encourage and walk with one another as we discover Christ.
Thanks to Trevor DeBenning, pastor at RISEN Church in Santa Monica, CA for coming alongside and offering some food for thought as I continue to process this.