During the Friday evening worship service at the CBF annual meeting in Memphis, the CBF director of missional church ministries began his presentation by saying, “I love church.” He then invited the participants to repeat the phrase in unison. I’m not much into cheerleading, so I didn’t open my mouth. I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Let me tell you why.
Sometimes I don’t love church because those who represent the church say things that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. For instance, this past Friday I opened my e-mail and read the tri-weekly e-newsletter I receive from the Baptist Center for Ethics. The first article I read infuriated me.
Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was preaching a series of sermons on “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” at a church in Texas. His comments seem to give approval and permission to men to abuse their wives if the wife refuses to submit to the husband’s God-given authority over her.
According to Ware, women desire to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands because of sin. I don’t think there is anything in the Bible that says it’s ever okay for a man to beat a woman. This pastor seems to think it’s permissible. Will someone please check on his wife and children and make sure they are safe and not covered with bruises from frequent beatings?
I don’t love church when it’s all about numbers. There is a church near Raleigh that updates the message board by the side of the road each week with the number of people who got saved in church the previous Sunday. This past week, 40 people got saved. I often wonder what the number would be if that church posted how many homeless or hungry people they had helped during the past week.
I don’t love church when people ask me how many people attend the church I pastor. Why is the success of a church based on the number of members the church can claim? I’ve taken to responding to such questions by saying: “We don’t base our success on numbers. We base our success on loving God and others.” In the minds of many today, if a church doesn’t include a large campus, mega-sanctuary, family life center, free coffee and a thousand in membership, it’s not a success.
I don’t love church because of the shallowness that often resides there. Church leadership and those in the pews are reluctant to be honest, authentic and open. There is a reluctance to open up their lives for fear of being condemned and judged instead of accepted and loved. In many churches on Sunday mornings, people are invited to smile and greet one another, but seldom have opportunity to experience community and true friendship with those whose hands they grasp for a moment.
I don’t love church because of the harsh, judgmental legalism that is pervasive in many congregations and denominations. Those who profess to be Christians have abused people simply because they didn’t act the “right” way, didn’t believe the “right” way, didn’t think the “right” way and didn’t vote the “right” way.
Christians have stood on street corners holding signs, protesting in the name of God, announcing the end times and telling people they are going to hell. Christians have credited God with causing hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and even the tragedy of 9/11 as punishment for sin. Christians walk along the streets handing out tracts to the homeless, the poor and the hungry with no concern or desire to meet the physical and emotional needs of those they encounter. Such a leap of faith might get messy and complicated.
I don’t love church because of the way it separates people. When you go to church, you get separated into groups and classes, usually based on your age, marital status and whether you have children or not. Sermons are also geared to a certain “target audience” and often focused on marriage and family issues. Is it any wonder that singles often feel excluded at church?
I don’t love church because it is dominated by males and it oppresses females, especially those seeking ordination and positions of ministerial leadership. Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning remains one of the most sexist times in America. (If you want to read more about that, check out the book A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit by Sarah Sentilles.)
And just in case you’re wondering, I do love my church. Why? Because it’s a church for people who don’t like church. Please don’t worry about us. We love Jesus, yes, we do! We love Jesus, how about you?
Jan Cartledge is pastor of HomeStar Fellowship in Raleigh, N.C. She blogs at Cottonhead Confessions