I became a Christian shortly after my 12th birthday and threw myself with the enthusiasm of a zealot into the Baptist church I was born and raised in. There was so much to do, and you were only young once. Back then, we had those monthly ‘Business Meetings’, where everything and everyone was fair game. Which often accounted for embarrassing conflicts, public squabbles between church board and pastor, emotional clashes between adults and hormonally-charged teens (some kids dug up a monkey climb because they thought it unfair to lose their hockey pitch to it), and other little cold wars whose fires were never put out to this day.
"If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
There were good things too, of course, for which I and many of my peers will be eternally grateful. We grew through an early grounding in the Word, discovery and acknowledgement of our gifts, and found wonderful opportunities to serve and learn. Ours was a camaraderie born of shared ideals. All played a part in shaping a worldview that was firmly rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even now, many of us remain actively engaged in our churches in ministry and outreach, some in fulltime service.
I think I know something about scars, wounds, and rejections, coming as I did from that Baptist church in a small town. As they say, Christians shoot their own. In fact negative vibes were so overwhelming, youth fellowships and Sunday School were completely decimated for a couple of years. Now as a lay leader in another church in another city, I have no illusions about people being hurt. Here too, we have the walking wounded - decent people who are sensitive, thoughtful...and hurt. As glib as it may sound, that’s life.
Yet I believe God is sovereign: Jesus is alive, his word is true, and the Holy Spirit has come to make a home within God’s own. Contradictions between word and deed are inevitable among exiles from the Garden, but in spite of these failures, and because we live “in view of the heavens opened” (Dallas Willard), the Christian life must offer something qualitatively different. The question is, how?
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”
Meanwhile, comfortably ensconced in the upper rungs of Maslow’s hierarchical premise, the lines separating what we need and what we want get desperately blur. Propositions like love and obedience are up for grabs, like chaff in the wind. So we’re caught up with issues of individual space, personal rights, and vague notions about grace and tolerance. Fingers quickly point to sources of discomfort and antagonism. Hey, I’m talking about my legitimate need here! We are but victims of the self-righteous who value programmes more than people, conformity above creativity, structures over souls. Why can’t they understand? Achievement oriented churches suck.
So many people step on our toes, too many in authority fail us. Hypocrites crowd the institutional Church and if you can believe it, there’s not a shred of genuine Christian love in there. All you happy smiley people be damned.
There is a point to all this soul-searching for sure, until I hear a still, small voice: Do you honestly desire reformation or vindication? Is it about finding new ways of doing church, or shouldn’t we talk about going back to basics, of being God’s authentic people? The day of accounting will come soon enough, every speck of sawdust and misshapen plank in every eye weighed and measured; don’t suppose any help will be needed to pick them out . So I think I should be careful with finger pointing, for the measure of true righteousness lies not in my actions, but in my reactions as well.
If we love Jesus, we should not hesitate to die to self, to obey him - doggedly -in the midst of rejections, hypocrisies, prejudices, and bitterness. Work for reformation, certainly; pray for transformation, surely; and forgive others their trespasses daily, as much as we desire our trespasses to be forgiven.
"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
Frederica Mathewes-Green concluded the story of her spiritual pilgrimage out of feminism with these words:
“…the only path to salvation, to transformation in Christ, is by humility and repentance. Pray for the grace to see your own sins; pray that you may not fall into the trap of judging others. Consider yourself the chief of sinners, not the chief of the sinned against. Stop scrutinizing your experience, looking for examples of offenses; love keeps no account of wrongs.”Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in the upper room. Including Judas’.