I have something cooking over at my blog today, so I only have a short (?!) TeamPyro post this Wednesday. This is actually related to that post, but it is also related to this blog, so I posted this short piece here and will post the longer piece over at my blog later today.
See: we get letters. That is, I get e-mail often enough to say I get it from readers, and there’s one kind of e-mail that troubles me deeply. It goes like this:
Dear Cent,Let me say frankly that I have a big, importing-stuff-from-China boat load of sympathy for the struggling local church. There is no question that this is probably the greatest actual symptom in American Christianity today, and if we could somehow nurse all the churches which are struggling today to “health” – whatever that means (and boy is there a blog series in that) – we would have a much more robust (red-blooded, vital, strapping) church against which the gates of Pop Culture and Political Influence could not stand.
I’m an avid TeamPyro reader, and I just wanted to tell you how important the encouragement I get from your blog is. I’m technically a members of a local church, but my family and I are church-shopping right now because [something about this church is not right]. I know you’re sympathetic to that problem as I am sure many people face it, but I just wanted to let you know that you, Phil and Dan are my spiritual food right now.
Please keep up the good work and pray for us.
So when you write to me – or all three of us here at TeamPyro – and you are grateful for our encouragement, thanks. But I think maybe you don’t understand what we’re encouraging you to do if you write a letter which says what the fictional letter above says.
Let’s focus on the bit in the square brackets for one second: [something about this church is not right]. Let’s assume for one second that [something about this church is not right] is, for example, that your pastor is a rank Arminian – a guy who can’t even read the book of Romans without injecting the term “free will” (meaning a libertarian, unable-to-be-under-God’s-Sovereignty, human will) every place it says God chose or God kept. And let’s assume that while he never veers into Open Theism or Pelagianism, he never quite gets to the bondage of the will or the necessity of election in the face of the depravity of man. So he’s constantly on about how you choose, etc.
Or let’s assume that your elders (by whatever title they go by) have hired a worship pastor who is very, um, entertaining. That is, he sings all the songs with Jesus’ name in them, but you always find yourself waiting for the lighters to come out or the disco ball to lower from the ceiling because he and his band are so darn well-produced even in a live setting.
Or let’s assume, in the worst case, that you have prepared a series for our Sunday school class on the work of the cross, and out of conscience and humility you give the outline to your Sunday school administrator and he tells you that you can’t talk about election and the scope of the atonement – that it’s either too controversial or too deep or actually false, and you can’t teach that here.
What if you’re clinging to TeamPyro because of these things? What of you’re leaving your local church over these things?
Listen: I have advice for you who are in these [something about this church is not right] situations which you are not going to like, and you are going to think that I have somehow gone soft when you hear it – but I am actually telling you how to buck up.
My advice is this: God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. Some of you may be insulted that I have cited the Message to say this to you, and let me say plainly that this is what I am talking about.
See: in our personal logic – our normally-functioning brains – we say to ourselves, “holy moley – this is bad! We have to run away!” And we can even cite Bible verses to ensure that we have a Scripture basis for doing so, I am sure. You have to run away from error and sin, don’t you?
Yes, I think you do – and if you have a problem with pornography, you should run away from sin; if you have a problem with anger or a hard heart, you should run away from conflict; if you have a problem with overeating, you should run away from the Chinese Buffet. But the problem in every case here is not other people but you yourself.
See: the example Christ gives us is to die to sin and to do this for the sake of others. If our personal holiness is a matter of the highest importance, I think it turns out that it’s not in order to make ourselves into moral paragons: it is to make ourselves into offering poured out for the Lord.
And in that, in your local church where the Pastor does not have the theological shrewdness you have picked up on the internet and by reading the Top 100 Protestant Classics of all time – seasoned by the weekly Dose of Spurgeon, right? – maybe what you should do is pour yourself out a little rather than sniff at a guy who, unlike you, is an ox in the yoke who theadeth out the corn.
I love my pastor – but as we all know, love is not an emotional state: it is an act of the will. It is a commitment which results in action. Suffer for his sake a little. If you do that – if you have the truth, and you have love as defined by truth, and you speak the truth in love – and that fellow asks you to leave, that’s one thing. If you leave because you can’t find it in you to love him, that’s another.
Don’t e-mail me, either, to make yourself feel better. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who think a lot about the theological implications of love but can’t muster up 20 minutes a day to demonstrate the theological implications of love in a way which does more than point out [something about this church is not right].
Let’s be honest: there is something not right about you – and that is actually why Christ died. Christ died for our sins. Christ did – Christ who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. So if you’re really after Christ-likeness, start with the people you can see, and touch, and say something to with your mouth.
And get serious about being in fellowship. If you want more on that, check my blog later today.