The Difference Between Faith and Religion
Please do not confuse your wounds from Christians as wounds from Christ
I know that the church, and by the church, I mean the entire body of Christ, has wounded far too many. When I wrote the article "I Want to Have a Real Conversation With an Atheist," I received an overwhelming number of responses from those who have been wounded by Christians.
I have experienced its effects in the same church I called home. One of my children made a mistake. He was in a dark place and struggling to put his life back on track. I was beyond thrilled when he agreed to attend church with us one Sunday morning. It was the church where he had been raised and a place that should have felt like a second home.
Though most greeted him warmly, one person in a position of leadership said something like, "It is so good to see you here. Now that you are back at church, I assume we won't see you in trouble again." I am paraphrasing, but that was the gest of the conversation.
It was also the last time my son graced the doors of a church. I have often wondered if that person knows what the damage their careless choice of words did.
He didn't need their judgment or the arrogance of thinking that his struggles would end because he attended a church service. He needed a support system to rally around him and say, "we've got your back in this." Alternatively, they (as most of the church did) could have said nothing except to make him feel loved and welcomed.
Far too many Christians use their breastplates of righteousness to cause harm
I had a conversation with a friend recently that centered around a sensitive issue. She knows of my faith, and in our demanding PC culture, struggled to have an open conversation that wouldn't offend me. Though I love her for her efforts, they were completely unnecessary.
I am not particularly enlightened about myself, but I know the following to be absolute truths. I am a Christian. I am a sinner. I am a human being filled with flaws, and I do not doubt that I had hurt others with my selfishness — on purpose, and when I couldn't see it.
The above statements aren't paradoxes but universal truths.
My friend, who was treading carefully not to offend my beliefs, knows little of the rituals of the church. She believes in God but wasn't raised in the church. See, she isn't familiar with the "rules" of being a good Christian.
Instead, she goes around loving people from all walks of life. She offers a safe place for struggling kids and an ear to a struggling friend. She feeds the hungry, clothes the needy, and gives of both herself and her resources to those she doesn't even know.
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. "(James 2:14–17 ESV)
Religion and church attendance are two actions that people either participate in or they don't. These actions are not what defines being a Christian.
At its most fundamental level, Christianity is about a relationship with God. As a Christian, it can be easy to get lost in the business of "churching" instead of relationship building with our Creator.
The damage we do without realizing it
I wonder if most Christians realize how many people refuse to grace the church's doors because the unspoken message is that you have to get your life together and be "good enough" to come to church? That message, and we do put it out there, is the absolute opposite of everything Jesus taught.
Whatever the denomination and size of the church, it is filled with broken people who sin. The infamous "holier than thou" attitude may have morphed and changed over the years, but it still exists in churches today. I genuinely believe it is one of the primary reasons that church attendance is at an all-time low in the United States.
Gossip. Judgment. Clicks. Hypocrisy. If the church is to thrive again, those of faith will have to take a hard look at what it looks like from the outside looking in.
The church was never meant to be a sanctuary for those living nice, neat, tidy, "Christian" lives without struggling with sin. Instead, the church is meant to be a haven for those who need to know more about salvation, the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of Jesus, and a place where His work is done.
What the Bible says
Please, don't take my word for it. Jesus had plenty to say about the church, sin, and love for one another. I can find nothing in scripture that hints at one needing to "get good enough" to be a Christian or welcome in the church.
Instead, the Bible says:
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23 NIV)
"If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother for whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20 ESV)
This next one is a particular favorite of mine because I know I have been guilty of wanting to help others with the speck in their eye without taking the time to acknowledge the "log" marring my own vision.
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1–5)
How do we reach others for Christ?
As Christians, we know this as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). As Christians, we have no greater calling than to reach others for the kingdom.
Yet, as attendance at churches plummets and our young people flee the churches where they were raised in droves, we spend untold amounts of money on foreign missions.
I am in no way knocking the value of missions in other countries, but what about our own neighborhoods? My children have been in the same youth group for four years, but they have not done a single church mission.
We do family missions, so they have the concept, but what about the church? Well, the church is taking a mission trip to Haiti next year. The church supports missionaries around the world, and that is as it should be.
However, how many older people in the neighborhood could use help mowing their lawn? Given their susceptibility to COVID-19, we have people on our block that need someone else to run errands for them. Serving others doesn't need to come with a sermon to be a mission. It only needs to come from a place of love for one another.
Maybe, just maybe, if we were so busy loving and serving each other and the world, we would be too busy for the judgment and hypocrisy driving others away from the church.