When Church = Pain

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.  Romans 7:4

A quick read through the blogs of those who are associated with churches will keep us aware that there are many people for whom church = pain. There are self-willed elders who purposefully divide churches and destroy the confidence and faith of others. You can read about preachers who use the pulpit to beat up hurting people. There are the hyper-critical ones who could never be pleased. Sinners are disfellowshiped and tossed out of the Body without any attempt to restore their soul. Worship wars tear apart congregations that have lost their identity. Ministers are fired for daring to be individuals who think and share ideas. Families are divided as churches split or are dissolved. My heart is hurting for a church that has been torn apart by divisive personalities. And my heart is hurting for a preacher friend who has been abused by his elders. He has loved them enough to excuse it away over the years. Church = pain.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

For many people church is a painful place. Perhaps in their weakest moment when they needed the most support someone at church became judge, jury, and executioner. Two brothers with diverse opinions … who both KNOW they are right … can become enemies quickly. Diverse opinions so often become “false doctrines”. I do not even know if I have ever heard of a church dividing because of true apostasy. Two elements are always present: a straw man (false teacher, false doctrine, heresy – put out in front of everyone to be destroyed) and strong personalities who are unwilling to yeild.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16

There are the people left behind who have nothing to do with all of this rancor. They attend a church that they love. They see pain all around them. They have no power to change or intercede, so they watch these things develop with tears rolling down their faces. Some become angry and begin assigning blame. Some grow discouraged and their spiritual life fades away. If this is what Jesus calls us to, then they want no part of it. Innocent bystanders become lost in the fray.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. Romans 14:13

The church can become a place of loss. Loss of faith. Loss of friends. Loss of confidence. Loss of family. Church = pain. In fact, church looks a lot like the pagan world around us sometimes.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. Titus 3:3

Our church has been there. Hasn’t yours? And while everyone may feel justified in their actions, no one involved is innocent. Mistakes and misjudgments are made by all. Words that didn’t have to be spoken were said with an edge, with a little more volume than necessary, and with the intent to score the kill. People’s souls were at stake. Pain is inflicted in order to achieve success. It hurts. Church = pain.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:7

When are we going to learn that when Church = pain we all lose? Yes, there is a time to confront dogmas that lead us into slavery to man-made systems. But also there is a way to do that which can alleviate pain, not inflict it. We cannot always help how others respond or what others think … we can always help how we treat others. It is never wrong to love somone. Even someone who is very wrong.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10

Are you always right? Isn’t there a possibility that you are wrong? That I am wrong? When we entertain the potential that we could be wrong, does it not temper our responses a bit? When we learn about grace we come to know the truth that even if we are wrong, we are not going to be lost because of it. Not everyone has arrived at that conclusion yet.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

When Church = pain, we stop serving one another. We only want to talk to those who agree with us. We only want to love those who walk our paths. We act as if our friendship is a motive for someone to change their minds. Do you think we ought to find someone with whom we disagree and purposefully serve them?

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

When Church = pain we do not give people time to grow. Did you come up out of the baptismal cleansing with deep spiritual understanding? Or was it enough that you were lost but now you’re found? At that moment did you have the answers to hand clapping in worship, versions, Holy Spirit indwelling, and women leading prayer in the assembly? I thought not. So why can we ‘progress’ in our understanding to the point that we are willing to look down on those who have not arrived at our conclusions?

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

And since when was it OK to let past pains and hurts keep us from loving each other today? I know it’s hard. I’ve been hurt too. By people who pretended to be my friends. I think I have hurt God at times when I pretended to be His but my life didn’t measure up. I want him to forgive me … doesn’t that demand that I forgive others?

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Church does not have to = pain. There are many other equations that should exist. Church = acceptance. Church = love. Church = forgiveness. Church = redemption. Church = service. Church = good news. Church = family. For those things to exist in reality, they must first exist in our hearts. Are there those around you for whom Church = pain? Pray that God will begin a new equation in your heart: Me = healing.

Give Me Peace 
by Henry Van Dyke
  
With eager heart and will on fire,
I strove to win my great desire,
“Peace shall be mine,” I said; but life
Grew bitter in the barren strife.

My soul was weary, and my pride
Was wounded deep; to Heaven I cried,
“God grant me peace or I must die;”
The silent stars glittered no reply.

Broken at last, I bowed my head,
Forgetting all myself, and said,
“Whatever comes, His will be done;”
And in that moment, peace was won. 

Thanks for reading.

John

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