When I first saw the word conformity I think my stomach rolled over. Sometimes this happens when I see someone else vomit, other times it is when something within me just has so much feeling attached to past events, my mind refuses to process it and I feel physically ill. Conforming is easy, not conforming is usually difficult. Difficult is what my mother would have used for my middle name if I had one. After 11 children she had run out of middle names so I have none.
One of my first remembrances of breaking from family traditions was when I was about nine years old, my father explained to me why black Americans were rioting. It was the civil rights era and I was being raised in an almost all white upper middle class town, Pitman NJ. He gave a lengthy explanation but what I recall most was, non-white people weren’t as smart as white people. He explained that at work he was a supervisor and he would tell these people to do something and sure enough if he told them to turn the valve to the right. He would come back and find they had turned them all the wrong way. I remember thinking, why would that happen repeatedly? Since the few black kids I went to school with seemed to be the same as all the other kids. I knew a few who were the top of the class. It took about 10 seconds for me to realize, they were doing it to get back at him for being so mean. These workers had organized a quiet revolution. If you won’t treat me as a decent human being, you will get what you expect and deserve. I knew they were making his life at work as difficult as possible and it was probably bc they were more intelligent then he was since he obviously had not figured that out. An intelligent supervisor learns to do what it takes to get their workers to produce. The only thing is, I could never tell my father this because he was also that mean to his own family. My understanding is that racism is built on making groups of individuals “the others”. The need to differentiate people who we believe are unlike ourselves is rooted in a need to heal our own damaged selves. The anger and hate is pointing outward, simply because it is too painful to point it toward the real problem, our own hurt. As Joyce Meyers says it, “hurting people hurt people”. Racism is rooted in the need to feel better about ourselves. People who need to feel better about themselves must make the choice of improving themselves or tearing apart others to make themselves feel better and racism is about “the other” guy. When I look out over the whole church, organized religion, I see a hurting society. Hurting people all too often hurting people. My thought is the church is trying to heal itself, by making everyone else “the other”. We have an ‘ism’ for every doctrine, dogma or perspective and tens of thousands of denominations to prove it. Instead of racism dividing our churches, we have factions who conform within their own faith communities. Sometimes over race, sometimes over doctrines.
This month’s blog is not about the evils of racism it is about what lies within us as a church body. Can we as a body see one another as part of the same body? Or do we need to see the “other”. Can we take from our collective psyche and relearn the paths we should go or will we remain mired in traditions and conformity. Are we willing to be conformed to the mind of Christ or will we seek healing in “the other”.
I’m asking, did Jesus come down out of glory so that we could go to church on Sunday and try to be good people. Sitting in our own little group of like-minded church goers. If that is all there is, then we are the equivalent of the religious system that crucified Jesus 2000 years ago.
We look no further than our Sunday services to see that we aren’t doing anything differently than my father did with the “other”. When we attend a church because it reflects our own beliefs, we encourage one another in our own beliefs. Rarely stretching ourselves to be prodded and poked by the Holy Spirit, to be taught His ways are not our ways.
Have we questioned what is taught in our church? in our fellowship? in our own homes? Why do we sit under one or two pastors who tell us what the Bible says when the scriptures clearly tell us how the Lord will teach us. Jesus never said, I must go so your pastor can teach you about Me.
John 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
What happened to Jeremiah’s prophecy?
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to[a] them,[b]”
declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
1 Jn 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.
2 Cor 3:4 4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
I have a dream of a church that gathers in His Name, to glorify Christ and not our own beliefs. Where we share our beliefs and accept education, exhortation and encouragement from one another. Where there is no one head, who tells us what to believe but where believers encourage one another to believe. If we encourage one another to follow Christ, then and only then will we want to truly learn of Him and be conformed into His image. The image of Christ is His bride. That desire is something that grows within us, it is not something we visit on Sunday. No one can spoon feed you Jesus. Although, there are many gifted teachers who can give you spiritual food to chew on and be fed.
Why do churches have to birth new churches because of division within the body. If we celebrate our differences and a group has serious differences within a church. Encourage that group to explore the possibilities and birth a new work of God, instead of having a split that tears and wounds the body. The whole point of the church is to spread and grow, not to become bigger than the church down the street. When churches become too large, they are unable to meet the personal demands of the individuals so go and be at peace with one another. There is no our church or your church, there is one invisible church that belongs to Jesus Christ, whom is the Head.
I personally have found Peg and Jim Gilbert to be my ‘idea’ of the church body. Moving through and with other churches, other denominations toward the same goal, conforming to Jesus. Glorifying Christ. What that looks like and how that is expressed in our own lives is different and it is also fluid. I am not the same Christian I was 20 years ago. I have grown. But I have seen many fall to the wayside, unable to come to terms with what they see as heresy, unkindness or just plain indifference within the organized church body.
I have learned more about being a good human being moving through the 12-step rooms addressing addiction and co-dependence issues than I have from the pulpit. I have learned more about being honest with myself on a secular psychologists couch than I had from any pastoral counseling. Yet, I learned to put that together in the past few years by fellowshipping with other believers in an open and honest prayer group. With women who told it like is was and expected the same. I thank God for Mary Datz, Laura Williams and Tina Siberio. What great friends and soul mates they have proven to be. What a wonderful church body we could have if we all had friends like these, there would be no ‘isms’ no ‘others’ because godly men and women would challenge us to be as Christ to the world.
Sharing my problems and imperfections has allowed me to witness Christ in my life far more than anything else. This is me, I have trouble, I have pain and yes, I believe the Jesus can make something good come from it… I know because I have experienced Him in my life.
When at church and everyone smiles and dresses well and they are hurting but there is no place to take it. They have serious issues in their faith but cannot share it. They have questions but they can not be addressed by one man standing at the door shaking hands. Many believers have children who have lost their faith, how do we address this and how do we encourage one another in our own faith even as the world seems to be falling apart?
I have been inspired by reading great men and women of God who write: N.T. Wright, Scott McNight, Dallas Willard and so many others. My hope would be to inspire others through this blog.
Yet the scriptures also tell me:
Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils.Why hold them in esteem?
We need to be encouraged in our relationship with Christ and we need to encourage others to do the same. They don’t need them to believe exactly as we believe. There is so much room for differing beliefs but only one Lord of all. Room for differing personalities but only one Lord of all. We can not take the scriptures and reduce them to a bunch of one liners nor can we cherry pick our way through them but we must take the whole of the scriptures and see God’s hand… His way of salvation, His plan of redemption and His great love for His children. If we as parents know how to give good things to our children, how much more has the Lord God have for us who believe?
And then I must add all of 2 Timothy 2 because sound doctrine is important but without God’s love it is just another religion, another writing…
2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,we will also reign with him.If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 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.
May the Lord richly bless you as you walk toward our mark… Jesus Christ. God bless, andrea