Down On The Church

I’m noticing a pattern. Every time I write or talk about a spiritual issue, I accuse the church of wrong-doing. I’m trying to put a finger on why this is, and I think I’m getting close. I’m hoping that writing it out will help me to nail this down.

As I have mentioned before, I was raised in the church. I have always wanted to believe. Goodness and virtue have always been interesting to me, and I think I have always basically been mystified by the Christian story. As a young child I committed to myself that I would never stop searching for the truth, even if it took me outside of my own religion. And many times I read books or exposed myself to ideas that stretched my notions of God to the limit and made it very difficult indeed just to believe, let alone to live as if it matters.

But for some reason, despite my will to believe, my desire for truth, and the Christian insistence that they (we?) have the truth, I have never been very comfortable with the church. Christ spoke much of love, yet I see little of it practiced in the church. Christ loved especially those who were farthest from God. The church can’t even manage to love its own members or even to decide who truly is a member and who is not. The Bible speaks of a God who is all-powerful; mysterious; unpredictable. The church appears to have “tamed” him somehow. Jesus taught about sacrifice, but most of what I hear in church peddles comfort. Prayer is touted as the most important means of touching the heart of God, yet the church is usually satisfied using it as a tool for opening and closing worship services.

I could go on and on. But I’ll stop there. I am critical of the church, and frustrated with it, because the church should be a movement, not an institution. I have said these kinds of things in the church before and been criticized for doing so. Is the church not a safe place to ask people to think more seriously about God and what it means to serve him? Possibly not, and that thought is disturbing. But the church should be the place where it’s okay to say, “Follow God relentlessly. Do not allow the world (including the worldly elements of the church) to suck the life out of you, to conform you to some comfortable, plastic, non-threatening shell.

In fact, church should be a dangerous place. The church should be a counter-cultural training camp. Church should be the place where we are daily creating revolutionaries — people who will challenge materialism and Americanism and individualism and racism and homophobia and elitism. But we cannot challenge the things we embrace.

The other day I was at a restaurant. Okay, it was Applebee’s. Applebee’s is a great restaurant but it’s a sports bar. Everyone who steps into Applebee’s needs to know this. My family had just been seated after a long wait for a table. It was not long before we overheard a large party at the table next to us complaining that their table was too close to the bar. The “reasoning” was that they did not want to be associated with drinking. Now I will not belabor this point because these people had a right to their opinions, though I find nearly comic the obsession Christians have with what others might think. Knowing what non-Christians might think requires actually spending time around non-Christians, but apparently places where non-Christians like to be are “inappropriate” places for Christians to be. (Sidenote: Have very many Christians actually READ the Bible? Just wondering.)

So after having promised not to belabor that point, I belabored it. But the main point is that the way they spoke to the host as they insisted on being moved negated everything they claimed to be about. They wanted to move because of their Christian convictions, yet absolutely nothing about their way of relating to that host appeared to be Christian in any way. I’m certain the end result was a group of Christians sitting further from the bar and likely a non-Christian host standing further away from Christianity.

Though I am trying to cut down on the hyperbole in my writing, I can only say I find this nauseating. And the worst part for me is all the believers who would read this article and defend those people for what they did. And this is why I am critical of the church. [Prepare for the most stinging comment yet. If you offend easily, and are comfortable where you are, you may wish to stop reading here.] I spent time as an undergrad studying abnormal psychology. Abnormal psychology teaches that psychosis is defined as having a break with reality. Someone who quite clearly seems to not understand the world around him/her (or appears to believe he/she lives in another world) is likely psychotic.

But is that not what we do in large sections of the church? As believers have we not been given the greatest, most ambitious task in the history of humanity — that of spreading Christ’s message of love to every single human being on the face of the earth? Do we not serve a God who defined himself by his loving sacrifice for us? And yet our churches are characterized not only by divisiveness over petty issues such as styles of music and colors of carpet, but the leaders in most of our churches seem to have accepted this as a fact of life. There is little confrontation of these childish and petty attitudes, and no accountability for living in ways that run completely counter to what Jesus taught us. The world is desperate for love and most churches can barely bring themselves to even be around non-believers. Many are critical of those who wish to be.

And this is why I’m critical of the church. [I am not critical of all churches, but I think my remarks are accurate in terms of the church in general.] I simply do not feel that most churches are representing the whole truth of God accurately. Most leaders are too fearful to tell the truth and instead settle for telling people what they want to hear. Money has become too important. So has power. We need leaders who will say “NO MORE.” And until we have those leaders in churches all over America, our believers will continue to be, as a whole, out of touch, out of date, and out of the lives of hurting people. When I think about this it makes me angry. Not angry enough to leave the church, but angry enough to talk about it. To post it to the Internet and to preach it from the pulpit every chance I get.

Those are some of the reasons why I am critical of the church. But my criticism, to me, feels not like that of an outsider throwing stones. It feels more like that unique criticism that takes place mostly in families, where I am comfortable being critical because I am sure of my love for those whom I criticize, but hesitate to accept criticism from those who have not invested their lives into this family.

And I am critical of the church because I do not feel I have been taught the most important components of what it means to follow Jesus. Nor do I feel most Christians I know have been taught either. I think the church has compromised its responsibility to tell the truth, to be the standard-bearers not simply in right living, but in out-loving and out-serving the rest of the world.