I've seen more and more posts with titles like "What's Wrong With the American Church?" and "How the Denomination Needs to Change". I understand that many of these articles are motivated by a desire to help the Church make needed improvements, but too often the tone is not one of concern or love. Too often the tone reads more like rebellion, anger, and arrogance ("Thank God I'm here to fix you!").
Do you know what I haven't seen? I haven't seen nearly as many articles with titles like, "Why I am Grateful for Christ's Body" and "How God is Using the American Church".
So, either the American Church is becoming a monstrosity with absolutely no signs of God's grace at work within her (which not only marks our disobedience but a lack of God working, which is pretty insulting to Him, if you ask me), or we're choosing to focus on the negative more than the positive. We're choosing to see what we believe to be the disobedience of man with more clarity than we see the overwhelming grace of God.
And allow me to note that what a lot of these articles describe as "failures" are actually preferences. One such article described the need for churches to modernize worship, but that usually leads to a generational church (a church made up of a majority of a single age group), which usually dies with that generation and fails to raise up the next effectively (much like Joshua's generation, see Judges 2:8-10). I personally believe that the ideal worship scenario allows everyone the opportunity to worship in his or her own heart language and gives every believer in the room the opportunity to sacrifice his or her preferences so others in the room can worship in their heart language.
But that's my preference, not a command from God. It's not wrong to have a modern worship service. It's not wrong to have a traditional worship service. And it's not wrong to have a balanced worship service. In fact, in order for the American Church to reach all generations, I think we need churches that primarily focus on each of these categories.
We have forgotten how to make sacrifices for the good of Christ's Body, so when we are forced to make sacrifices in order to maintain relationship, we think it's a bad thing. This is why we're seeing more and more independent churches. In order to be a part of a denomination, churches will have to make some sacrifices in order to maintain the relationship, such as giving financially to the denomination or abiding by a covenant. I'm not insinuating that there is anything wrong with being independent from a denomination, but we are seeing a trend toward separatism that seems to strongly correlate to our desire to not be bothered by the demands of relationship and sacrifice, two major themes of the Gospel.
(Personally, I love being Southern Baptist. I see many flaws and weaknesses in our denomination, but I also see how God is growing us through those weaknesses and flaws. I have seen how God has used our working together to further His Kingdom, and I wouldn't trade that for all the freedom sacrificed for this community. I'm not an all-SBC-all-Lifeway-all-the-time kind of person, but I'm grateful to be a small part of this big organization that is genuinely motivated by a desire to please and serve God, though we do it imperfectly.)
We have forgotten that we're talking about the Bride of Christ. Ephesians 5:22-33 makes it very clear that the marriage relationship is a metaphor for Christ's relationship to His Church. But I don't think any husband would put up with the kind of insults being hurled at Christ's Bride. She isn't perfect. She still has a lot of growing to do. She needs to be washed by the water of the Word for a little while longer. But She is still His!
If an imperfect husband wouldn't allow such things to be said about his imperfect wife, how do you think our Perfect Groom feels about the way we speak of His Bride? Are we showing Her the kind of grace that He has shown Her? Are we reflecting the kind of love that Christ said would reveal us for who are (John 13:35)?
What's the solution?
Each of us must focus more on the changes that Christ needs to work out within us more than the changes we want to see in others. I think the thing that concerns me the most about these articles is the attitude that so many of them seem to have. There's an arrogance, and it's deeply concerning. How can anyone be so concerned about his or her own church (and we're all a part of the American Church, if we're American and saved), and not be moved to mourning rather than attack? As I've debated this post, and I have been debating it for months, I've had to test my own patience for the brothers and sisters speak so negatively about Christ's Body. That's an area that needs to grow and develop within me, and that's going to take the Holy Spirit.
Each of us must focus on seeing God's grace at work with greater clarity than we see man's failures. If God is at work, and He most certainly is, then there is something glorious to thank Him for today. There are some wonderful things going on in the American Church. I'm seeing increasing concern for deep, biblical theology. I'm seeing greater missional passion. I'm seeing that we are developing better plans for social justice and human dignity, all wonderful things! No, we're not perfect, but our Shepherd is focused on taking His sheep from where they were to where they are going, and He's more focused on progress than perfection. We can all rejoice in that!
Each of us must choose to submit to the authority God has placed over us and love those He has placed around us. I'm not saying that you should never leave a certain church, but as long as you're in a certain church, it's your responsibility to love it and submit to its leadership. This is also true denominationally. If you hate your denomination, either love it or leave it (and still speak lovingly after leaving it). I'm not saying that we shouldn't speak with other members of our churches or denomination to motivate change. Of course we must have conversations about matters that need change! But rarely does that need to take the open forum of a blog. Blogs (and I'm speaking as someone who is writing a blog right this moment) usually motivate whining more than change. We tend to gravitate toward blogs that affirm the beliefs that we already hold instead of blogs that challenge us to correct our errors.
But whatever situation you are currently in has been designed by God to conform you into the image of His Son. Jesus Christ submit Himself to authority, even when that authority wrongly put Him to death. Jesus Christ loved those who disagreed with Him and went after those who were wrong in order to show them grace. For each of us, the question is how we can emulate Him in whatever situation He has put us.
Each of us must make a point to speak out of Biblical wisdom as God describes it. Too often, we speak of ecclesiastical and theological matters as we would speak of earthly issues, and all too often, the results are very earthly. Many of the posts I read inflate the author and deflate the Church, but how would the world and Church be different if we applied James 3:13-18?
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.