Did you know that churches tend to have certain kinds of problems, and have always had certain kinds of problems? It is the problems that churches have that make Christians the butt of jokes and satire, like Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live. Even though that schtick is over twenty-five years old it still strikes people as funny. In serious conversation Christians are often set apart for being “hypocrites.” It’s tough to hear, but true enough that it sticks. Many churches with over 50 years of history behind them have had their best days — more people, more programs — in the past. One big reason is that Church People have not related well to the world around them, but an even BIGGER reason is that Church People have not related well to EACH OTHER. Spiritual explorers who are searching for communities of faith in which to get involved, have seen that, noticed that, discerned that, and decided –for their own good– to move on to more nurturing environments.
When I say “churches have always had these problems” I don’t just mean “since the 1980′s.” I mean the problems go all the way back, to the stories of the Bible. After Jesus was risen from the dead, he deposited his Holy Spirit on his witnesses, and these men and women took the gospel throughout the Roman World. Almost as soon as any church got going it began to have the kinds of problems we still have today:
1) People judging each other meanly over external things, like clothes and manners.
2) Ethnic bigotry.
3) Moral bigotry — accountability deprived of grace.
4) Moral laxity — Grace deprived of a gospel of effective ethical transformation.
5) Leadership egos squabbling over power.
6) Hypocrisy — people presenting untrue pictures of themselves.
7) Generational disputes.
8) Factions. “I want what I want and I don’t care whether “THEY” get what THEY want.”
9) Theological error.
Sound familiar? It has ALL happened BEFORE. The New Testament leaders Peter, Paul, Priscilla, James and John all had to address them. That is why we at Elgin Covenant are going to make 2016 a year of studying problems in the church AND their solutions — as reported in the New Testament and applied to the Church of today.
You will learn:
1) That problems in Churches have their root causes in sin and their solutions in repentance.
2) That churches with a core culture of repentant hearts are active in the power of the Holy Spirit, while churches with a core culture of unrepentant or hypocritical hearts operate under their own power –which might work for a while, but unravels over the long term.
3) That the problems you have seen for yourself as a Christian in different church settings, in everything from hissy-fits of jealousy on the church’s margins to outright moral collapse among leaders, are not unique to your experience and do not indicate that the church you have been involved with is somehow especially bad or sick or sinful. These problems were seen by the apostles themselves, and addressed by them.
4) That just because these problems are normal does not mean they are unimportant. These problems poison the “wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3) and keep churches from flourishing as places where seekers want to test the wells — the depth and the purity of what we claim to be “living water” (John 4:10). A further note on the importance of solving these problems: I am using the Bible’s “wells” image to speak to the religious priorities of the Millennial generation in their search for authenticity. But it is not the millennials who first left the church. In the United States they are continuing the trend long-established by X’ers (mine) and Boomers, and the trend was already underway in Canada and western Europe.
5) Knowledge that these problems have been common should heighten our desire to see how they are solved in the guidance of the Spirit and the Apostles, that is, God’s Word, the scriptures.
6) Knowing that none of us are not tested beyond what is common to all , we can have empathy and grace as believers for each other across congregational and denominational boundaries.
7) The solutions to the problems come not by living perfect lives and never sinning (I John 1:8-9), but by love for one another (I John 4:7-12), since love “covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8); by broken and contrite hearts which the Lord receives as his own (Psalm 51:17); and by the power of the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us, teaching us Christ’s own empathy for the weaknesses we find in ourselves and others (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Our goal in bringing this preaching emphasis is that those who hear and participate with us will be inspired to live in God’s strength as the joyful, repentant, contrite, bold witnesses to Jesus Christ that we are called to be, within the churches we belong to, and beyond.