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FIRST-PERSON: Finding fault with the church

KENNER, La. (BP)–My wife’s cousin, June, lives two states away and we’ve never met. Recently, I was mailing her something for my wife and dropped in a couple of articles I’ve written on the Christian faith. In return, June brought me up to date on her spiritual journey.

June was taken to a Baptist church as a child, and although she’s grateful for the nurturing she received there, as an adult she finds issues with our denomination. She was infuriated when our leaders decided to boycott Disney and exasperated when our convention voted to “force women to submit to their husbands.” Meanwhile, she said, little children need mentoring and old people in nursing homes need someone to sit with them and bathe them and read to them. We’re spending our resources erecting expensive buildings and maintaining the program, she said, while people starve and inner cities crumble. I thought about what she said all afternoon before replying.

“June,” I wrote, “let me tell you about my friend Ed. Thirty years ago, Ed was a member of a church I pastored and easily the most negative person on the rolls. Nothing ever pleased him. Not long ago, he and his latest wife were through our city and stopped to visit. In short order, he was denigrating the homeless people he had spotted on the downtown streets of New Orleans. ‘You can’t tell me they are not able-bodied,’ he said. ‘They choose to live like that, and the government should not be giving them handouts. Don’t you agree?’ I said, ‘Ed, it’s possible you are sincere and really believe that. Here’s how to tell. If you are helping homeless people whom you know to be in genuine need, then I believe you are sincere. But if you don’t help the ones you know, then it’s safe to conclude that all you’re doing is complaining. Which is it?’ He never said another word on the subject and we moved on to other things.”

Now, being a Baptist preacher and not given to subtlety, I wrote to cousin June, “I have no trouble believing you really care about children who need mentoring and old people who need ministry — if you yourself are helping them. But if you’re not doing any of these things, then I will conclude you’re just criticizing the church, and if you were not complaining about this, it would be something else. You tell me.” I’m still waiting for her answer.

Now, June may be a faithful believer having a lover’s quarrel with the church. I understand and have been there myself. Or she may be a sniper taking potshots at the people of God when she doesn’t have the courage to admit it’s the Lord she’s rejecting. In the Scripture, people without the courage of their lack of conviction would criticize the disciples to Jesus, then complain about the Lord to His disciples (See Matthew 9:11, 14).

Almost every outsider I’ve ever met has an agenda for the church. The backsliding Christian and the card-carrying atheist can give you a list of works they would like to see the church engaged in as the price for their darkening the door of the sanctuary. Activities such as worship, Bible-teaching and bringing people to faith in Jesus do not appear on their lists.

No follower of Jesus who takes his discipleship seriously conducts a poll of the unchurched to see what believers ought to be doing in the community. “What will you have me do?” we ask of the Lord Jesus alone and not our critics. Fortunately, the Lord has not left us in the dark on this issue. Scripture teems with instructions for God’s people on how to live and work in this world. It does indeed include ministry to children, the elderly, the hungry and the imprisoned. But obedience to Him also requires us to meet together for activities like worship, instruction and fellowship.

Anyone can criticize the church. The church is visible, composed of imperfect humans, and as often as not deserves the criticism. But according to the Bible, the church is still the body of Christ, the bride of Jesus and the household of faith. The church is the flock of which the Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd, a people purchased with the very blood of God.

Personally, I’d be very careful about running down the Lord’s bride. The Groom will be back any day now and He might not appreciate that.
Joe McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La.

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