I confess: I haven’t been to church in a while as of this writing. I don’t make excuses; I don’t pretend that I “don’t have time.” In fact, I almost never use that excuse anymore for anything, since “I don’t have time” is almost always code for “It’s not a priority.” This is true of my church attendance, or lack thereof; I haven’t made it a priority. As for why that’s the case, well, you know how it is. You lose focus and allow other things to intrude and take precedence, even over God. It’s something I need to deal with.
In years past, I was much more faithful in connecting with other believers. I used to attend morning AND evening services on Sunday at my original church, as well as church Bible study Wednesday nights, and even small-group Bible study held in friends’ homes. And I was never one to miss out on fellowship lunch at the Chinese buffet after the Sunday morning service. Missions conference, revival, ladies’ retreats, visitation, choir and praise team, Sunday school/connection group, I wanted to do it all. Especially in the early years of my Christian walk, I took Hebrews 10:25 pretty seriously:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (KJV)
But as time went on while I spent more time with my fellow Christians, I started to become aware of a certain…insularity. I attended several different churches over the years, and in some it was more noticeable than others, but it was always there: A more or less “us versus them” mentality, for the most part non-malicious, but always present to some degree. “We” are the Christians; “they” are the unsaved.
Of course, the Bible makes it clear that we need to make this distinction. In what we call the Great Commission, Jesus himself explicitly commanded us, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” and it wasn’t just a good idea. We, the Christians, have an obligation to show Christ to an unbelieving world, and we congregate together in order to lift each other up.
And here’s the part where C separates from the flock, as per usual, and for the usual reason:
I still think like an unsaved person.
When Christians speak, I hear what a non-believer would hear.
See, whenever you spend ALL your time ONLY with like-minded people, you distance yourself from those who think differently. You lose the ability to relate to them. Worse, you run the risk of putting “those” people in a box of your own making, and thinking of “them” as the enemy.
This isn’t just true of Christians, by the way. It applies to any tight-knit group of people, especially those who have regular real-life gatherings. But it’s the Christians falling into this trap who really break my heart, and yes, I’m including myself.
I’ve seen it over and over: in church services from pastors and speakers, in small groups from people who’ve known Christ for years, and most especially on the Internet where speaking your mind is free, mostly-anonymous, and consequence-free.
There was a home Bible study I used to attend every single week, each Monday at a dear friend’s house. There was food, and laughter, and pop culture references, and hugs, and a beloved elderly man who was gentle, soft-spoken, deaf as a post, and deep in God’s Word who patiently walked us through a chosen Bible book, verse by verse, while we asked questions and got distracted and cross-referenced and rambled on about current events. Unfortunately, I had to quit because I couldn’t bear to listen to what I was hearing more and more of.
One guy in particular had the loudest mouth and the firmest opinions, and he had a lot of them. He pontificated on President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, evolutionists, abortion doctors, homosexuals, Democrats, and non-Christians in general. And he wasn’t alone in expressing these opinions either, though he was the most vocal. He was married with kids, his wife was also in the group, he professed to know Christ, and it wasn’t my place to question that. It wasn’t my home and it wasn’t my class and so it wasn’t my place to say anything, in fact.
But my heart became heavier and heavier, so I spoke privately to our elderly teacher and his wife. I expressed my concerns and dismay and how much it hurt to hear my brothers and sisters in Christ talking this way about lost people. He assured me that I’d done the right thing and he would try to address it in the group without calling anyone out.
And to his credit, he did try. At our next get-together, our teacher gently began to speak about how we should have compassion on those who are in the dark and unsaved, and how important it is for us to pray for them instead of disparage them. But the loud-mouthed guy wasn’t having it, and furiously proclaimed that he would not pray for Obama, nor stop calling evolutionists “idiots,” and on and on and on while I seethed. The sweet, gentle teacher was not one to interrupt, and so I grimly waited until the storm had passed and we said our final prayers before breaking up. I left without speaking and never returned, and it’s a matter of personal pride that I kept my silence.
The Bible has a lot to say about keeping yourself away from dangerous situations, such as Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:29-30:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. (KJV)
I’ve always applied this personally to mean that I need to remove myself from situations where I know I’m likely to sin, especially in the area of losing my temper. I’ve got a hot one and I’ve caused a lot of trouble for myself in my life by REACTING in anger and frustration. I try to be aware of my limits, and when I catch my temper boiling I try hard to just…leave, if I can, rather than make a bad situation worse. Sometimes this disengagement has been long-term or even permanent, like that Bible study class. I couldn’t go back, knowing that if I kept hearing those hateful words, I would probably snap.
There’ve been other times I’ve had to remove myself from Christians for this reason. Like the creationist lecturer who went from church to church teaching people “how to talk to evolutionists,” and who used variations on the word “stupid” dozens of times in his speech (I counted). (And I did lose my temper that time.) There was a pastor who proclaimed in a sermon that people who think about suicide are selfish and should be ashamed. There was a certain churchgoer who would not refrain from making tone-deaf remarks about women, non-Christians, and people with depression, which kept me from our beloved Chinese buffet for some time.
One of these days, hopefully soon, I’ll decide to break my isolation and go back to church. And I know I’m going to see the same insular attitude that I always see, more or less. “Us” needing to bring God’s truth to “them.” And as Christians we do need to do that.
I just wish I could find a way to help other Christians understand how we sound, when we talk about non-believers and people we disagree with politically.
Because it’s not okay.
It’s not okay to wish for the President to be assassinated (no, not even that one, the one you hate). It’s not okay to celebrate death and disease in those whose actions are sinful. It’s not okay to use words like “moron,” “idiot,” and “stupid” about non-believers, even when we’re amongst ourselves, when it’s supposedly “just us.” It’s not Christlike.
If we’re so snug in our clique that we no longer know or care what unsaved people think or feel; if we enjoy feeling superior to them; if we believe church is a place where we can mock those who are lost in the dark because we think they can’t hear; then we’re more use to Satan than we are to Christ.