I had an interesting discussion with a friend at church last night. It was probably the most frank discussion we’ve had together about our church, our beliefs and our passions.
Principle in the discussion was how our church and our church-members behaved. A church should be a place where people can come and be accepted, whatever they are and however they are. Judging of people for any reason should not happen.
Sadly, this isn’t the case. I know I’m accepted at the church partly because of what people don’t know I don’t say. Even in my bible study, there are things I don’t raise because there are people who attend who are perhaps a bit more sheltered or a bit more hidebound than me. And they would criticise, too.
This is not a new problem. People have been warning the church since forever about becoming staid and insular. Church-goers have been retreating from the world into their church for a long time. This is the sort of thing Petra wrote about with “Rose-Coloured Stained-Glass Windows”:
Looking through rose-colored stained glass windows
Never allowing the world to come in
Seeing no evil and feeling no pain
And making the light as it comes from within
My friend told me an illustration used by someone fighting against this: imagine going to a cinema and sitting one foot away from the screen. That’s all we usually see of God. Move to the side a bit and we see a different part. Moving back and we see more, but that’s a lot harder. Most church-goers don’t even know what they’re not seeing. The reason this illustration works is because there is an awfully strong culture of limiting one’s study to just The Bible.
This has parallels in church behaviour. One of my favourite verses to challenge church goers with is Romans 12.2. “Be in the world, but be not of the world.” Many many church-goers see the “be not of the world” part and forget that we still need to be in the world. (In fact, the verse quite clearly says that we shouldn’t let the world shape us – it says nothing about withdrawing from the world.)
Being in the world is something the church is supposed to be. A church is supposed to be a place of refuge, a place of safety and acceptance from all the things in the world that judge and criticise. Things like broken homes, things like mental illness, things like controversial sexuality. My church doesn’t do that well. It just doesn’t foster people with diverging ideas, unless they know how to put them aside for certain other people.
My friend also spoke about being part of “The Emerging Church”. This is a church movement that is about reaching out and connecting with people where they are. It is not about evangelical fire-and-brimstone. It is not about setting up a ‘you must be this good’ standard for people to aspire to. It is about social action, and grassroots efforts. It is also very often denominationally neutral.
I can identify with this.
And I think our new senior pastor might be able to, as well.
I’d begun to wonder if I should be looking for a different church. One that was more progressive, more liberal and more connected with the world around it. One more interested in basically being Christ to anyone and everyone – and that means acceptance. Instead, I’ve found a strong ally for seeing if we can change the church we’re in.
I foresee interesting times ahead.