I've attended so many churches that are mean and unwelcoming. So many Christians fight and are hypocritical. I am embarrassed to say I go to my church. Can you comment on what happens when a church gives a bad name to the Christian Church at large?
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Of course, I would love to comment. Once upon a time a preacher was sentenced to prison. Not long afterwards, he met up with a group of prisoners who had recently found Christ while incarcerated. When he first attended their weekly Bible Study he candidly shared that he used to be a preacher. Immediately someone in the group whispered, “Well, don’t tell anyone; you’re bad advertising.”
We all know of churches that are just down-right bad advertising for the Kingdom.
Whether a church contributes a good or bad name largely depends upon how closely it monitors its message, its morals, and the loving manner (or not) by which it presents itself to society at large.
Cults or hate groups can hide in plain sight under religious auspices.
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Here's an example:
A few years ago, Justin Kendall summarized the actions of the Westboro Church in response to an Arizona shooting:
“As the nation mourned a senseless, tragic loss of this mass murder, there were some who were praising God for the shooter's actions. The Westboro Baptist Church (widely known for their ‘God Hates Fags’ shtick and frequent protests of funerals, concerts and religious organizations) announced they would picket the funerals of those killed during the deadly rampage. This includes the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green. On a message posted on the Westboro Baptist Church website the group states, ‘Thank God for the Shooter!’”
Of course, the Westboro church was unmasked as a “hate group” that few would associate with Christianity in any form or fashion. However, we do well to ask whether or not our own church is helping to give a good name or a bad one to the Christian Church at large.
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Let me give some examples.
Some churches model themselves after the Old Testament Prophets and see their main job as confronting society with their immorality and sin. They attempt to change morals and behaviors into biblical ones by changing the laws and influencing the politics of our Land. Unfortunately, changing outward behavior does little to change the heart. The danger for this type of church is to shout so loudly with a voice of judgment that the other churches are seldom heard. 78 percent of Americans consider the evangelical church to be the most judgmental church in America. This does not bode well for the name of Christ.
Some churches fear society, so they withdraw in an attempt to keep themselves and their children from being exposed to the ills of society. The danger here is their failure to carry out the Great Commandment to evangelize the world and to welcome people unlike themselves into their Fellowship. This type of church basically is irrelevant in affecting good or bad to the Christian Church. However, their attitude of caring for themselves often spills over into society as a whole and people are drawn to a church that cares for people. When this occurs the name of the Church is exalted.
Some churches intentionally penetrate the culture in ways that help spiritually disenfranchised people find spiritual life in the church. This church may be criticized for all the things it doesn’t do, but what it does do, it does passionately. It often evangelizes people who will be reached by no other means and in no other places.
Some churches attract people “at any cost” in the hope of eventually introducing them to Christ. One danger here is failure to keep the gospel message pure. Another danger is their inability to properly disciple new Christians. The good thing is that they spread a wide net that eventually leads many to Christ.
Please notice that I have given only a few examples of different churches and how they impact—good or bad—the name of the Christian Church at large.
But, it may well be that everything that I wrote in the previous paragraphs is totally irrelevant to you. Let me tell you what I mean.
I once took notes on an observation of the current Christian Church by my friend, Dr. David Ferguson, of Intimate Life Ministries. He said:
“Imagine a world where immorality is widespread, materialism is a god, corruption is commonplace, the persecution of Christians is increasing, and absolute truth is mocked as if it doesn’t exist.”
Am I describing the 21st century or the 1st century?
The irony is that, in the face of all those same issues, the 1st century church turned the world upside down, but we struggle barely to survive.
How did they thrive in the expression of the Christian faith and we barely survive? Let me make a suggestion: Let’s explore what they had that we don’t.
They had much, much less than we have: no media, fewer resources, less money, few church buildings—so that’s not what made the difference.
Instead, I suggest that they had an identity as a people who knew how to love God and how to love others. The difference is that we have lost our sense of identity as a people who know how to love.
The surveys done today when non-Christians are asked to evaluates Christians are alarming. Non-Christians tend to describe us as, “the people who are against this and against that, protest this or that; they are the most judgmental people in society.”
On the other hand, the first century church was committed to the simplicity of loving God and loving others.
The 21st century church will be relevant when we again become known as the people who know how to love.
Remember that Jesus said in John 13: “The world will know that you are my disciples when you…”
Know a lot of stuff—No!
Do a lot of stuff—No!
Judge a lot of stuff—No!
Love one another—Yes!
About The Writer
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.