Hi everyone, sometimes one of my biggest hesitations when sharing the Faith with someone and conversing with him/her about it is the fact that while I can answer some of the questions they have about the Faith well, the underlying tug at my heart is that, especially in the individualistic Western world, the behavior among the body of believers is itself not a great apologetic. While I understand that the body is made up of imperfect, broken people, I also understand that how people within the church treat each other and live out their faith within the community of believers often becomes either the greatest push for someone to come to the faith or the greatest obstacle. Often times, unbelievers hear the gospel being told to them, but they do not see it being lived out well. 1 Peter 2:12 tells its readers, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us,” (NIV). Framed within that exhortation, Peter then goes on to give specific instruction to believers on how to live out their faith in relation to not only unbelievers but also to other believers, as well (“the housecodes”). I can personally confess that I have a great deal more compassion and patience with even volatile unbelievers (because I know their behavior comes from ignorance) than I sometimes do with fellow Christians. So when I am explaining to an unbeliever that we are not only invited into a personal relationship with God, but also into a family, a community, of people, I sometimes fear for the disillusionment that person may go through if she was to make a decision for Christ and go join a church. Sometimes there is so much judgment and condemnation coming from within the church that it ends up even deterring mature Christians from being active participants within their church communities. What I’m saying, I think, is that I think apologetics needs to be as much about what is going on within the community of believers, among the believers in their relationships with one another, as it is about having conversations with unbelievers. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James knew this as they taught how people how to live in relation to one another as Jesus’ disciples in light of Jesus’ Suffering Servant role on behalf of humanity (Jesus knowing ahead of time how he would suffer and die in the service of others). How can we better look to and cultivate a sense of community, proper perspectives and attitudes towards one another, within especially the churches of the Western world, which values individual autonomy so highly, so that we can provide a better living witness to the watching world?
I feel the bigger question of how the Western Church can become more like Christ is one I need to mull over more, but I have also struggled with this same fear of inviting people to Church. For me, there are a few practical steps you can take:
- Know the better / healthier Churches in your area
- Build a good enough relationship with the person that they can come to you when the Church fails them - let them know that you will be there for them no matter what - be the Church
- Entrust them to Christ
In the end the bottom line is that we need to do whatever God has laid before us in a person’s life - invite them to Church, be their friend, share the Gospel, go with them to Church - but then trust God with the rest. We sow the seed, but God gives the increase. I do not think that any human institution can keep someone from Christ. People who truly want to know Christ and end up in a bad Church will either leave it or transform it from within. All who seek find - and to all whom ask it will be given.
I do think we need to be responsible witnesses and protect those who are new in the Lord. I think that is where self-sacrifice, as you mentioned, comes in. We should follow up with them and make sure they are alright if we can. And never cease praying for those with whom we have shared - that God would shepherd and guide them.
Do you have any additional thoughts or feedback? I hope that answer encourages you
Philippians 1:4-6 - " In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."
Matthew 7:7 - “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Acts 4:39 - “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God”
I Cor 3:6 - “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow”
Hi, Sean. Thank you for your response. I like all three of the practical steps you listed, but I think because I haven’t necessarily thought of it (or thought of it much), number 2 speaks to me the most. Many of my conversations lately have been with people I’ve just met, and I normally, despite my hesitation, invite them to our church or to at least our Bible study. But perhaps it would be beneficial to offer an email address as a point of contact in case they have more questions or maybe try going to church and want to talk to me about something that comes up with that.
And, yes, I agree that we need to do whatever it is God has given us to do in regard to witnessing to another and that trusting God in all of it is a big part of it. I also think that on top of being responsible with our individual witness, doing all that is necessary on our part in that, then we also need to work to help the church be a good witness. Obviously we cannot control every interaction or every person’s behavior, and that’s not what we are called to do, but I do think that perhaps taking steps to try to foster community, especially in-person community, in a world where that seems to be dying out might be a part of becoming more Christ-like as the church. As people grow more and more individualistic and autonomous, the words of James about people quarreling within the church because of their inward desires and agendas seem more and more relevant. Part of the problem with trying to foster community, though, is the problem of dizzying busyness that seems to be always working towards goals and achievement, and I can’t help but think that is at least correlated to the very individualistic perspective we have in the Western world. For the church to become more Christ-like, I think it’s going to take figuring out how to slow down enough to recognize that taking time out for each other is more important than goals or achievement. Unfortunately, working towards achievement and goals at the expense of caring for one another has been spiritualized (if that makes sense) in some teaching of the church.
I don’t know, I hope what I’m writing makes sense. I have had these thoughts before, but this is the very first time I am taking time to attempt to organize and write them down. I guess what I’m saying is that before we can act like a community of Christ, being more like Christ as a community, we have to first make sure the community is there and that it is different from the unbelieving community that drives people to autonomy and achievement as the heavier values. Does that make sense???
Lindsay, your question and concern are really big issues. I have a tendency to oversimplify but what I think that we as an apologetic community need to do is to explain the truth of Jesus to them. When they see that He is the Truth, we encourage them not to look upon mankind because we will always disappoint -guaranteed! However, Jesus NEVER disappoints. Where has He ever lived in a faulty way?
Having said that, it is not meant to take us off the hook but as we immerse ourselves in His Word, we are led to allow Him to work through us. A life lived in Jesus is such a spotlight to this dark world. But again, I always emphasize the truth of Jesus. He is spotless.
@psalm151ls I think that makes perfect sense. I wish I could give you a good answer to how we build community that is not based on personal significance and achievement - a community where the outcast and the unpopular and unloved are truly cherished and sought out rather than those with the best speaking abilities or personalities or the most lovable or similar to ourselves. Lord Jesus how we long for that community! Let Your Kingdom come!
My attempt at saying what forms that kind of community:
- The community is Holy Spirit filled and Christ centered
- The community has a mission that requires sacrifice of the community - the community is missional
- Within the community, people sacrificially love on another
I certainly see glimpses of that community here on earth amongst believers. For example, a Pastor friend next door recently gave me a book about a man named Richard Berry. One of the men in his congregation became homeless and asked him, “Well, Pastor Berry, what are you going to do about it?” Pastor Berry let the man live in the Church and soon more men joined. Not too long after Pastor Berry had lost most of his Church! Only 18 people were left. But God blessed his desire to love these men (and soon to be homeless families) and a homeless shelter was born with 0 initial funding.
I do not know the answer to your question, but I encourage you to read this book because it encouraged me. I do not think less of those who left Pastor Berry’s Church. Rather, I am inspired by Pastor Berry’s willingness to really love those who needed it - to lay down his life for them.
Later in his life Pastor Berry needed a house - he had been living with his wife right near the homeless shelter! And these once homeless men who were so thankful helped renovate an old house for him. It took them weeks. But they gave as they had received - with the love of God.
Pastor Berry freely admits the shelter is not all roses and happiness, but his story encouraged me so much. And the secular press covered it extensively where he lives as well. I do not know the answer. But I think part of the answer is that the world will take notice when we start putting others before ourselves - when we really love to the point that it hurts that others might know the love of God. The root of true community is sacrificial love.
I also know an elderly lady who lives here in town that used to work in mental wards. She loved people who had been utterly abandoned. And into her old age she would man the suicide hotlines helping people to keep their lives rather than take them.
I think both of these people demonstrate ‘love with feet’ - faith that works. And as the Book of James says, true religion is to live a holy life and look after the orphaned and widow in their distress - to take care of the least of these. I think when we do that, the world will take notice.
I am preaching to myself now I wish I was more like these wonderful people. I think real community is built when the truth of Christ and His Word meets real, down to earth self-sacrifice. The world will not always join in - real sacrifice hurts. But I think that is where true community is found.
I heard once a speaker share a story. A dad is praying with his son as he tucks him in bed for the night. The boy kept saying ‘dad I am afraid something bad is going to happen tonight’ and dad kept assuring him that "Jesus is always with him’. After back and forth a couple times, the son says ’ Dad, I just need someone in flesh with me tonight’
Its simple illustration of how we need to be in the ‘present’ and as we carefully study Jesus, He was first and foremost ‘present’ and ‘willing’ to whatever His Father orchestrated.
Lindsay. I think this is one of the most difficult questions to have a good answer for. On that note, thank you for posing it. I struggle with this dilemma often, because I hate the idea of “throwing the Church under the bus” so to say. I feel that, on the one hand, if I start making excuses for people in the church that the non-believer will smell hypocrisy. But then, on the other, if I start criticizing the behavior of people in the church, I am now being judgmental myself (which is likely what the non-believer is also doing) and acting the Pharisee with regards to my brothers and sisters in Christ!
However, there are some things I think we need to be aware of in situations where an unbeliever is being critical of the church “generically.” In fact, I would press the skeptic with regard to his or her judgments about people in the Church. Is he or she talking about someone in particular, someone in the Church who has actually hurt them? Or is he just making a sweeping generalization about everyone who goes to some kind of church? If the first, then I think you have a more pastoral issue at hand and need to treat it with kid gloves. If it is more the latter (i.e. the sweeping, generic generalization), then you might consider turning the tables on the person, since they themselves are now being judgmental of others.
So, I think that while this can be a frustrating dilemma, there is some intellectual work we can do to not only give ourselves some confidence, but also to disarm the criticisms of the skeptic. Let me put forward a few points that are hopefully worth considering:
Press the skeptic about whether or not they have a specific example of the Gospel not being lived out well. Do they have a specific person in mind, who claims to be Christian, and who has hurt them? Or are they making just a hasty generalization about people who go to church, and that without any evidence? This will hopefully give you some knowledge about their personal psychology and their emotional state with regards to the question coming at you.
If it is the first (i.e. they have been hurt personally, or personally witnessed some hypocrisy), then this is a pastoral issue and you will need to really take some time with them, since there is real damage there. If not, however, if they are making just a hasty and generic judgment, then I would actually press them further on who exactly they have in mind when they say they see church people not acting the way they should. Now, this could go one of two ways. One, they could have an actual example, but not a personal one, since you would have already found that out. But they could have in mind some popular pastor or church leader who has been caught in overt sin. This is, I think, the hardest situation for the apologist, since we all can think of examples of well-known and even well-loved church figures who have failed miserably (often at the end of their careers). I’m actually counseling someone right now who is struggling with the fallout from a large scandal up near my hometown of Chicago. I won’t name names, but many of you know the story and who my friend had as pastor. However, if the skeptic can’t name anyone who is acting the hypocrite, then I would turn the tables on them and ask them why they made the comment in the first place, and why indeed they are being so judgmental themselves of others that they do not even know?
If you get someone, who has not been personally hurt, or who has not followed a major scandal of a particular pastor or leader, then I would say try and engage that person in the area of beliefs and not in the back-and-forth about good versus bad people. This is where the real apologetical work can come in, because now you can try and work in the area of the intellect, since you have already either identified that there is not an emotional problem to be addressed and you have already caught the skeptic in at least one logical fallacy (making a hasty generalization without evidence). Thus, stay in the realm of beliefs at this point and bracket any further discussion on people in the church and what they may or may not be doing. The skeptic may keep bringing it back up (and he may even reach into the bag of “so-called” church history to do so), but these are red herrings and not relevant to the truthfulness of beliefs.
If the skeptic simply persists in wanting to talk about bad or hypocritical behavior by people in the church, then I think you have two options, one more intellectual, one more existential. Intellectually, you could press the person on where they are getting there concepts of “right” and “wrong” from, and ask them why they think those matter. This will get them back into a discussion of beliefs and not bad behavior. On the existential side, if the person just won’t let it go, what I would do is try and divert all of the skeptic’s anger and judgment on myself, since I am also the Church. I would make myself the primary target for the skeptic, just as Paul did to the Corinthians. Don’t start agreeing with the skeptic about how bad other people are, just go ahead and bravely admit some of your own more egregious sins and areas of brokenness. In the end we are trying to win these souls to Christ and our own authenticity may be the key in our witnessing to a genuine expression of faith. Further, to start criticizing others along with the skeptic, I think puts us in a place of sin.
Finally, if even this display of personal vulnerability doesn’t work, then I think you are just done with that person. They are not willing or not ready to see their own brokenness, it’s probably time to dust off your sandals and move on. Even Jesus said not to cast your pearls before swine.
All that said, I think it is worth mentioning two observations with regards to the hypocrisy in the church that we as believers ourselves experience. One, and theologians have know this since Paul wrote Galatians and John wrote 1 John, the simple fact is not everyone “in the church” is “of the church.” We are living, for better or for worse (I think for the better), in a time, however, when the cultural, social and legal pressures of the day will begin to reveal who truly is “born again” and who has, what the Scholastic theologians used to call, merely a cultural faith (i.e. they were simply born into it, but never born again).
Second, we always need to remember that “love covers a multitude of sin.” The Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw this to mean, and I think rightly so, that as we personally grow in the love of Christ we begin to actually not see the sin in others. Possibly, because we just aren’t looking for it any more, and also, because we actually are seeing people as complex, broken and just worthy of love. The more we tend to find fault in the members of the Church, the less I think we are actually growing in love. This is not to say we simply gloss over egregious sin, by no means! We do not ignore or look aside when serious abuse, violence or deception occurs, but we do, I think, stop noticing all of the petty jealousies, the bad habits, and the hangups that people have. This is what the world does and we see it every day in social media. The world feeds off of “fault finding.” Let it not be so with us.
God bless you in your journey,
@anthony.costello Very astute observations. Let us not be fault finders! I also like how you pointed out that we need to discern whether the person has good reasons for their point of view or whether they are just being critical without cause.
Regarding point (5), do you think it is dangerous to label someone as incapable of responding to the Gospel? I have heard multiple stories of someone who came to Christ many years after being persistently befriended by a Christian over time even though that person was essentially a scoffer. How do you feel we determine whether to press in with Christ’s love and be patient or to move on when dealing with real people? Does that make people seem like ministry projects? I feel like if it was our childhood friend or child, we would never want to give up on them in this way. I realize there is a time where it is no longer appropriate to keep trying to reach someone, but I am asking in hopes of stimulating discussion and further clarifying this idea
I believe context is so relevant when it comes to interpreting the bible and parables. Truth and principles dont change but application might and will change.
God brings people into our lives for a season. Some for short and some for long time. Let me give some context in my own life.
- I have people in my life through years I have come to known through my job, business and even church associations that I dont talk or have not seen them in ages. But in that season I have prayed and some were in my life for key times in my life. I moved on more because my life moved on or they moved on. Some of these people are incredibly intellectually bright and very progressive. (I live in the silicon valley). I have prayed for them earnestly through the times God kept me in my lives and even when we ‘moved on’
- I come from India from a Hindu family. After God got a hold of my heart(1992-93), it has been a battle since then in many ways to witness to my family. Their salvation became my idol as I stressed, worried, prayed and reasoned with them. Then came a moment in my life God did reveal to me that their salvation has become idol and in doing so I have stopped ‘living’ Christ in their lives. So I had change my ways and heart in how I see these relationships.
- Today as I continue to live and associate in the business circles in silicon valley, where there is not just quite a bit of mental and unspoken hostility anything to do with “Christian”, “Jesus”, but its easy to get into arguments and holding grounds and I have done that plenty. Sometimes I felt I was not defending Christianity or Jesus (as you know God doesnt need me to defend Him), it was my fragile ego trying to defend myself my beliefs. The current start up we work together, I have been a mentor to the CEO for many years through various companies and God orchestrated over last year things, that I now end up working for him. He is a brilliant person and has declared himself atheist but very tolerant and respectful to who I am and I believe in his own way relies on my spiritual strength. He someone I believe I will pray for all the way to my death bed (unless he dies first…lol)
There are many other scenarios but to bring all of them together in the context of what Sean and Anthony have brought up, with the power of prayer I dont think we ever move on when it comes to one’s salvation. The very remembrance of someone from the past I have prayed and dealt closely must encourage me to give them back to God. I am big proponent of “Dust of our sandals” and ‘dont cast your pearls before swine’. They in my opinion are mission minded statements to help me keep focused on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1,2) but never directed to a person. In the case of my family where I will never lose that association, demonstrating Christ has become paramount as opposed how much I want salvation for them and the pressure it creates while i am around them. That is for my prayer time. Their timing might be much like the thief on the cross at the last moment or never or any time in between. I my friend CEO case, I just need to see where God is working in His life grasp on to those moments and join God in His work. He will do the rest.
I am sure you all have your scenarios in your life that you can connect a lot of these to and many more. There is a lot of science to following Christ but a lot of it is art and He reveals this art as we walk with closely when He deems I am ready.
May God bless you this Saturday
@vvarada There is a lot of wisdom in your words! Thank you for sharing your life with us. May Christ open the hearts of your family members to His love and may they see Christ in you, the hope of glory. May God open your CEO’s eyes that he may know the love and wisdom of God through the cross of Christ and may God bless you mightily in your workplace.
I had never thought of ‘don’t cast your pearls before swine’ as a mission minded statement - that is a very helpful way of thinking about it. We must keep our eyes and hands to the work God has given us and leave those who have set themselves against Christ in God’s hands - never ceasing to pray for their salvation but realizing it is beyond our power to bring about.
The apostle Paul even says this in 1 Corinthians 5:5 - “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord”. Sometimes we have to let people go to the pig sty that they might return to the Household of God. But with a very heavy heart and many prayers.
Hi, everyone! I’m so glad and grateful to see all the responses to this! From reading a couple of them, I am looking forward to conversing more and will be on this evening to respond! Thanks so much, everyone! So much wisdom to be gleaned from a variety of perspectives on such a difficult question!
There are at least three examples from the Gospels (that I can recollect off the top of my head), where Jesus seems to clearly suggest that we simply let people go in their rebellion and move on to the next village, so to say. There is sending of the disciples (Matt 10:14/Mk 6:11/Lk 9:5); the story of the rich, young ruler (Matt 19:16/Mk 10:17/Lk 18:18); and Jesus’ saying about casting pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). It seems to me that Jesus is saying that indeed, at some point in our outreach to the lost, we should cease with our direct evangelism to them. I think this has some serious theological significance. One, as you pointed out, it respects the dignity and free agency of the skeptic, while at the same time safeguarding us from treating them as a sort of “project.” Second, with regard to our own psychology, it helps us remember that ultimately it is God who is in control of salvation, and if He is hardening that person’s heart, then it is not the time for us to continue to press the issue. This is where I think we would then back off from direct witnessing, while still making it a case of indirect evangelism through prayer and intercession. Also, to make our evangelism less direct in that we make intercessory prayer for the person, I think really does us the service of realizing, that if we indeed find out later that that person did convert, that it was our prayers, and not our ingenuity or our skill, that were the main cause for God converting him or her. In other words, there is less temptation to see our own hand in the conversion, if it is accomplished indirectly through prayer as opposed to directly through witnessing and, thus, less temptation for us to ignore God’s role in the conversion. Thus, there seems to be a spiritual lesson for us to learn there as well.
With regard to your question about whether at some point someone could be really incapable of responding to the Gospel, I would say this. Yes, I think that at some point God may actually remove from a person (after persistent and increased rebellion) the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit (see Matt 12:32). What I would say, however, is that we cannot know when or to whom this has happened, thus, we must continue to acts as if the person can still respond. For example, I really doubt that Richard Dawkins has the capacity to respond to the Gospel. He has been presented the Gospel so many times and by so many people and in the most sophisticated way that I imagine he cannot receive salvation any more. However, I cannot say that I know this. Thus, since I don’t know it, if I were ever to meet him I would still give the Gospel message to him.
Does this sound about right?
@anthony.costello In my opinion, yes, I think that is an accurate summary. Thank you for sharing!
I agree it is important to acknowledge that we do not know peoples’ hearts, even though there are certainly passages like the following that indicate that God does indeed give those who delight in evil or the defiling passions of the flesh over to delusion:
2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 - “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
But as we minister to those with seemingly hardened hearts let us remember Paul’s exhortation to Timothy and may God uses us to break the chains of the accuser on peoples’ hearts!
2 Timothy 2:25-26 - " Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."
Great scripture references Sean. 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11 is more of the science I was referring to, 2 Timothy 2:25-26 is more of the art. The science does make a truthful statement but can be construed harsh when it comes out of my mouth but art is the continued grace side of it because of what was said in Romans 5:20.
You are a very deep thinker Anthony.
One of my mentors used to say ‘There is a lot I dont know. The things I do know many times it aint so’
@vvarada Yes, the fall and the curse of sin are a factual reality, but the Cross is our guide for how we engage with those who are under the curse of sin. Whenever I am tempted to think too much of myself I remember Titus 3. The kindness of God leads us to repentance and the remembrance of it to good works.
Titus 3:3-8 - “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”
Hi, Tim. Thanks for the response. I don’t think you’ve oversimplified at all. I definitely agree that we need to point to Jesus and explain the truth of who he is and what he’s done to people. Absolutely! Even though we don’t want people to look to mankind, though, we cannot deny the obvious responsibility of the community of believers as the church to behave in such a way, not only towards believers, but in relationship with one another, that it bears witness to the gospel. If I may state it in a different way, apologetic conversation between the church and wider society happens when society is able to see the truth of the gospel in action among the group of believers within the church. In my view, apologetics does not simply involve explaining the truth to people…it includes living it out so that people can see that truth in action. However, if the church or a body of believers acts much like the rest of the culture in which it is thriving, (individualistic, too busy for each other, quarreling among each other, etc), then how is a watching world to understand the truth of the gospel in light of that despite what we verbally explain? I love the church and often times find myself defending it, but that doesn’t mean I am not honest about where it is today and that perhaps there needs to be some major changes and shifts so that we can provide a better apologetic through how we live the truth out in believing communities.
Sean, thanks for the book recommendation and for sharing that story with me! It’s always so encouraging to read about people who have really risked it all for others! I love your statement, “I think real community is built when the truth of Christ and His Word meets real, down to earth self-sacrifice.” For me, this reminds me of James’ statement in his epistle, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds,” (James 2:18). In light of self-sacrifice being part of forming true community, I wonder, then, if sacrifice is taught and preached enough in the church. In America, Christians have certainly been comfortable enough to where sacrifice would have a different meaning for us than it would for Christians in areas in which they are under severe persecution. I hear much being preached about what we “get” as Christians but not a lot about the path of suffering that leads to our future glory. In the American church, that may look like sacrificing activities in order to be there for others in their need. It may mean ceasing to merely send a Facebook message to someone down the street and actually making the effort to make an in-person visit (which, at least in my area, does not happen often). These may seem like very light sacrifices, but here, those things would mean a lot to people, I think, even those simply watching (and you never know who is going to see and be touched by simple little actions like that!).
@vvarada, being present, YES! How do you think we can practice being present for others? In a world in which social media platforms are so popular, it feels like even though we are better connected with people across the world, we are becoming more and more isolated within our own local communities. For me, being present can include being there for someone through messaging or texting, but I think, especially in our local communities, presence is felt and appreciated the most when it is in person. That is difficult to do in such a busy society, though, and unfortunately, I think the church looks too much like the rest of the world in that.
One thing I think we as believers can do is learn to actively listen better, which is a huge part of simply being present with people. We are always so eager to speak and respond that sometimes we do not actually hear what others are saying. When people feel heard and truly understood, they feel cared about. I’ve found that in church communities even, people are almost desperate to be heard by their fellow believers. That is just one way that I can think of being present that could help us build better community within the church. That is one of the biggest things that came to mind when I read your comment about simply being present with people.
@anthony.costello, I think you broke that down brilliantly. And I have definitely had conversations with people in all stages of their search for truth, which means some of them really were not looking for truth and looking just to “rattle cages.” You’re absolutely correct in saying that we should not “throw the Church under the bus.” However, believers, especially leaders, need to be willing to have an honest look at where the church is at, say, the American Church, in order to see where to take it next or how to move forward to hep the church be the witness in the world that it is supposed to be. Your response was wonderful, and I very much enjoyed reading through it; very wise words, suggestions, and advice. However, my question is how can we, as believers, help the Church be a better witness within the conduct of the relationships of the community. We don’t just witness through individual conversation, and the Bible makes it clear that we are to be concerned with the type of witness the Church is providing as a community. Do we, as a community of believers, look and act differently from the rest of the world, or do we conform to it? Believers’ relationships with one another can themselves be an apologetic for the faith. When people see the love we have for one another and how we care for one another, then people see the truth we often endeavor to merely explain through words. Yes, people will always be imperfect, and to expect otherwise would be hypocritical and unfair. However, that should not stop us from being honest about where the church is at in general. Just like we have to analyze the culture in order to know how to be a good witness within that culture, we also have to analyze the Church for the same reasons. That does not necessarily mean being critical or joining in criticizing the church, but it does mean searching for actions and paths that will help shape church communities in such a way that they don’t merely conform to the values of the culture around them so that they are able to remain in the love of Christ towards each other and others. Just as we as individuals need to be in conversation with skeptical unbelievers, we as a community of believers need to be in conversation with a skeptical watching world, and that conversation involves a type of apologetic we provide through how we are acting and moving together as a community.
Yes, I certainly see your point. Any group or organization or community has to exercise some kind of constructive self-criticism to be sure. It’s no different with the Church, and, as you have implied, it is even more imperative for us to exercise self-critique and self-reflection, since our behavior does matter to the world, and also because the stakes are so very high.
Further, you are right that the emphasis for self-critique and reflection must be put upon those who have taken on the role of leadership. However, how can the Church leader or pastor do the same with his congregation without just heaping guilt or shame upon them. It is a tremendously difficult task to be sure and one that requires a lot of wisdom and prudence.
Moreover, there is a tension that you have brought up between looking different from the culture on the one hand, but then not looking so different that we appear irrelevant to the culture. This is, of course, the burden of “being in but not of the world.” However, I think what you really want to hone in on, if I am understanding your flow of thought correctly, is the doctrine of sanctification. How do we literally become renewed people through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and yes, I think that “renewal” has to entail in some real way moral progress. We are supposed to become more moral through the work of the Spirit. Please, don’t get me wrong, we do not do any kind of work in order to earn our salvation, or, in my opinion, even maintain it (I am not a Roman Catholic, although I once was). No, but, with regard to our sanctification and our progress in moral virtue, I do believe we do work together with the Spirit. It is a cooperation with the Spirit after we are awoken to new life after our regeneration. This, however, takes time and effort.
So, perhaps, since this is such a difficult, yet weighty issue, we could analyze a bit deeper and start talking about some actual sins that we see or tend to see more regularly amongst those who at least claim to be in the church (without naming names of course)? I think it is hard to talk generically about sin, rather we must talk openly amongst our brothers and sisters about our actual sins. However, there must first be a safe context for people to do so AND also resources must be available that will actually help a brother or sister conquer the specific patterned or habituated sin they are struggling with. In short, I think every church needs a Spiritual Formation program and qualified spiritual directors, who can not only ground their counseling in the Scriptures, but also bring to bear the tools of psychology, the neurosciences, and even philosophy and ethics into their counseling. It is a massive undertaking, but I think many churches are already doing this and others can do it considering all the resources God has already provided us.
Finally, I do think that a bit more emphasis on removing ourselves from the culture is a necessary step to deepening our discipleship and formation. The world and our culture have become, through technology, an almost constant intruder in our lives. I think real sanctification takes focused intention on tuning out the culture and recapturing the spiritual disciplines (especially prayerful meditation). So, for example, I gave up watching sports about 10 years ago. I haven’t watched a Super Bowl or a World Series in years! I didn’t even watch one game of the world series when the Cubs won, and I am a Chicagoan! Perhaps that sounds extreme, and perhaps that is just one way I have found to stay more focused on Christ and intentional in my spiritual formation, but it seems reasonable to give up something like watching sports, especially considering how it has become such a vehicle for very unchristian practices and messages.
Finally, one positive suggestion I would love to see is all-day long church services. I think the idea of going to church on Sunday for an hour or maybe two is very American, and very shallow. Churches should hold day-long Sunday services that beginning with breakfast and end with dinner. We should literally act as any family would. Eat together, play board games together, obviously pray and read Scripture together, etc. I think Sunday worship should start at 8am and go until 8pm.
Does this sound reasonable to you?