Monday, May 25, 2015

Hiding Behind Closed Curtains

14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. – John 17:14–18 (NASB95)
Many Christians observe the world from behind closed curtains, bemoaning culture instead of engaging it. Many local churches are isolated from the wider community and world … suffering from fear of an open public square with divergent viewpoints and lifestyles. – Krish Kandiah, "An Explosion of Joy," Christianity Today (June 2014)
For much of my lifetime, I have endured a theology of the church that has caused a great deal of struggle on my part. The struggle has nothing to do with doubting, lack of faith, or any form of unbelief. The struggle has been how I see the church and her purpose in the world and what I’ve heard from so many well-intentioned Christian leaders. I thought they were wrong for years. I still think they are wrong. Bear with me as I try to explain.

Many of us labor under the mistaken idea that the church should be withdrawn from the world. It has caused us to hide in our church houses and reject the idea that we should engage the world around us. We have become isolationists. We frown on all but a very few connections with the community at large. We refuse to participate with others around us, even though they might be doing a great deal of good for others. We don’t want to associate ourselves with anything, or anyone because we fear it will somehow taint the purity of the church and cause us to compromise our beliefs.

Today’s church is often a secluded little bunch of hardheads who pride themselves on being “gooder” and “righter” than others, all while ignoring the fact that many others are shaming us by reaching out to a lost world, preaching a gospel that we refuse to take anywhere outside our building, caring for people in countless ways while we do little but talk about all the ways we disagree with their doctrines.

We talk a good game. We play a poor one.

Our members have forgotten old-fashioned doctrines like the priesthood of all believers. Newly-minted theological terms like “missional” are laid out as if the idea that the church ought to live in the world as a missional society is something new. It’s not. It’s a very old concept, it just got laid on a back burner somewhere along the way and now there is a new generation of church leaders who have never seen the church live this way. That’s sad!

We’ve become the church that is proud to possess the truth, but we’ve decided to keep it to ourselves instead of sharing it with anybody.

We let the hurting, miserable people around us suffer without hope, doing little to relieve them with the good news of God’s kingdom.

We often quote the verses that tell us that faith without works is dead, but refuse to practice the works that would prove our faith to be alive and vibrant.

We’ve become self-centered, selfish, and hard to satisfy. Instead of focusing on life-changing, world-changing activities, we fuss and fume over silliness.

We’ve become addicted to ritual, ceremony, and tradition while denying that we have any of them.

We’re slowly dying, retreating further into our cave, and with ever step of retreat we erect another barrier to the world around us.

Jesus did not call us to such a life. He prayed that the Father would not take his people out of the world. He said we are not “of” the world, but we must live “in” the world. The world needs the church that we are supposed to be, but it will never get it while we are hiding behind closed curtains.