Amen to that. I realize that is probably going to be taken the wrong way but it is so true, the church has been responsible for so much injustice. And the problem is that the church will probably continue to cause injustices because it is run by people. And people’s greed and thought of entitlement will continue to get the better of them. I think religion gets the blame because that is what the person says they are fighting for, but I think power has gotten the better of them. Keller states that “Societies that have rid themselves of all religion have been just as oppressive as those steeped in it. We can only conclude that there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that is expresses itself regardless of what the belies of a particular society might be.” Examples that he uses were the Communist Russian, Chinese, Cambodian regimes, and French Revolution, all who tried to rid their societies of religion.
All it takes is one person who is “religious” to forget what Christ taught us, to give in to our own self-righteous desires or thoughts, to think we have all the answers, or that we are better than someone else and that someone else will walk away from religion forever. I have heard it so many times from my friends in the academia world.
In fact, I used to be really against Catholics, and I mean really against Catholics. Why? Not because I knew what they believed in, what they valued or supported but because I had a few close friends grow up Catholic. As they entered college and left their family’s homes, they swore they would never set foot in a church again because of what had happened in those churches. Scare tactics were used like believe in Jesus or else, confess or else, well you get the picture. My friends also complained about the power struggles that they were in, how they were always forced and never giving a choice. All of the rules that were there, they had to follow in order to be a “good Christian”. It was totally based on rules; not love and it broke them. And I could understand why they didn’t want to step foot in a church again. I personally had also been ‘judged’ by a Catholic and deemed not worthy to associate with, talk to or have their kids around me. Their family avoided me for over a year at all cost. It hurt me a lot and I can’t say that my wounds have totally healed yet. Keller states that “Many people who take an intellectual stand against Christianity do so against a background of personal disappointment with Christians and churches.” I am not sure why my friends and I had these experiences with the Catholic church but it made me think that the Catholics were the root of the problem.
Just as a side note, I don’t think Catholics are the root of all the worlds problems anymore. I have lived next to some wonderful neighbors that are Catholic for the last 6 years and they have shown me nothing but love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Having them live right beside me has helped me get over this thought. They are Christians just like Ted and me, people just like me who have personal struggles just like me. It wasn’t the “Catholic” church that was the problem; it is simply imperfect people in the church – driven by rules, ambition, you name it but not love – that are the problem.
It’s sad really, that one of the biggest obstacles Jesus and the early church faced was getting the Israelites to understand that God wasn’t interested in how many rules and laws they could invent or who was the best at following them. Instead, he was interested in extending his grace and love to each of us regardless of who we were or what we had done. Jesus showed love and compassion to the prostitutes, thieves, and tax collectors while criticizing the religious leaders and teachers of the law for their lack of love. It is such a simple concept really, yet one that is sometimes overlooked so easily when we forget that love is the most important thing. When someone asked Jesus what the two most important laws were, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s all about love. It’s all about God’s grace. Not rules.
Apparently there is an old saying (according to Keller) however, I have never heard it before but it totally makes sense. “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” The church is made up of your average everyday people who struggle with greed and power and other over-bearing qualities. None of us are perfect. In fact, many of us are far from perfect. However, if we are truly following Christ, then we should all be trying to better ourselves. Loving more. Judging less. The reality is that each of us is at a different stage of recovery. Just like our medical health, we can sometimes start recovering from one virus only to get hit with a bacterial infection. Maybe that is why the church has so many problems.
I know something that I struggle with is identifying my “sin” which might to some people come across as self-righteousness. I look at myself and think, well I don’t struggle with this or I don’t struggle with that. Keller talked about how in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus criticized people who prayed, who gave to the poor, who followed the rules according to the Bible yet their hearts were not in the right spot, these people did it for power, for respect, for honor. I am not saying I am like the Pharisees of the Bible, doing everything for power and respect, but I do think I struggle with identifying the sin, the infection, in my life. If I can’t identify the infection, it is pretty hard to get rid of it. I was recently talking to someone about this in a Bible study that I am in, and she said to pray about it, ask God to identify what infections I have so that I can make sure my heart is in the right place. That my “works” are truly “works” to glorify God and not me. That my life will not lead someone else astray, to cause them not to want to step foot in a church again because they never want to be like “that” Christian.
I don’t want to be a hang up for someone else, a person who Keller says is “overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self-improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). What strikes us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.”
What would happen if we would fully commit to the gospel? To love? What would the world look like if “Christians” would stop fighting, forcing their beliefs on everyone, judging, and focus on being humble, caring, loving, giving, and selfless? I’m not sure what the answer to those questions are, but I do know there is only one person who I can control and that’s me. The change in heart and attitude starts with me.