This was originally posted on January 30, 2008.
I have never read Blue Like Jazz. But I understand from my friend Dave that there is a chapter in the book entitled, “Church: How I Go Without Getting Mad.” That short thought got me thinking. We’ve been getting mad at church since church was invented; just check the Scriptures if you don’t believe me. The office of deacon was created because the Greek Christians were mad that their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to reprimand them because they were so mad they were filing lawsuits against one another. Before there even was a Christian church, there were “religious” people. Jesus’ disciples fought over who was the greatest among them. Cain killed Abel because he was mad that God preferred Abel’s sacrifice. As long as there have been people, people have been mad.
But the idea of being mad at church struck me, because church seems to be a pretty common place for otherwise calm Christians to lose their cool. People who would never say a cross thing to their boss at work seem to feel it appropriate to scream at their brothers and sisters in Christ during Wednesday night business meetings. People’s feelings get hurt because their house is not chosen for the next Sunday School class party. Women leave small groups if someone doesn’t check on them when they miss one Sunday and men move their families elsewhere if they are overlooked for a position on a committee. Seeing that I was raised in a pastor’s home, I have been eyewitness to enough selfish and unjust activity in the church that there was a time I wrote the church off completely. Falling into the postmodern idea that my religion was a matter between me and God and no one else, I left the church for a while to find my own way.
That didn’t work, though, because we were not designed to operate alone. God established the family and the church because we were created to be in fellowship—with both Him and with our fellow believers. So if the church is full of fighting sinners, but I have to be a part of the church, I asked myself this morning, “How do I go to church without getting mad?” And this is my answer…
I go to church without getting mad because I remember that some of the most respected evangelists and theologians on the planet conservatively estimate that 50%-75% of current members of evangelical churches are not, in fact, regenerate members of the body of Christ. When you work in the mindset that all of your church members are born again believers, it’s easy to get mad when you go to church. After all, they should know better! If everyone you encounter at church is a Spirit-filled born again believer, than the trouble makers are living in open and obvious rebellion, grieving and quenching the Spirit and hampering the worship of the rest of us. However, when you approach church with the assumption that the majority of people around you are actually lost, your attitude shifts from anger to pity.
The people sitting around you have placed their faith in the prayer they said at the alter, in the fact that they cried, that they were baptized, that everyone said “Amen!” when the pastor voted on their membership, that their mom and dad and grandparents were members of the same church. They have never experienced the godly sorrow that leads to repentance without regret, leading to salvation that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Instead, they have experienced “the sorrow of the world” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10b). The ideas of counting the cost of their salvation, of dying to self, of becoming less so Christ can become more, of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in their life, they’ve never considered their sin and been completely shattered by it. They’ve relied on themselves for their salvation and they are so deceived.
When you look at the church in such a harshly realistic light, the in-fighting and anger make much more sense. The church is full of people who are still bound without choice to the destruction of their sins! They have no choice but to behave in a way that it is un-Christian. Like my mom always says, “You can’t expect lost people to act like they are saved.” This can be frustrating for the 25-50% of people in the church who are truly regenerate members of the body of Christ. But the next time you get frustrated with the people in church who make decisions and show themselves to only be interested in themselves, remember that Jesus once said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Mt. 12:33). If that person is not showing godly sorrow for sins committed against God, chances are that person really doesn’t care, and a lack of sorrow is an indication of lack of relationship.
So how do keep from getting mad at church? I prepare myself in much prayer by asking the Lord to humble me—sometimes I’m mad because I’m wanting to get my own way, which makes me just as wrong as everyone else. I ask Him to search my heart, to show me my shortcomings and transgressions against Him. I ask Him to give me His eyes so that I can see the people around me as Christ sees them—as people made in the image of God, people that He loved so much He died for them.
If I consider myself more mature spiritually than the people around me causing the trouble, I need to check my own heart, work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. Then, if my conscience is clear and my leading is from the Lord, it is my moral and biblical responsibility not to get mad at them, but to instead come alongside them humbly and show them the more excellent way. I try not to brood, to mope, or get down on those people. That would only make me just like them, and then we would all just stay right where we are—mad at church.