Church Folk

Over the past couple months, a statement has been working its way around social media with regard to church attendance. Although not always the same, it goes something like this – “Stop using ‘church folk’ as an excuse to not attend church. There are messy people in the club, but you still go.” The more I saw this statement, and seeing others support the idea, it began to bother me. As I understand the argument, those who stop attending church based on mistreatment by other people in the church should look past those negative interactions and continue to attend for their spiritual well-being, especially if they are willing to put up with those types of interactions in other settings. I disagree with this premise for the following three reasons.

The first reason is that the statement contains what I find to be a logical fallacy.[1]The presence of a similar thing in different environments doesn’t make both of those environments worthy of your presence. To argue that people should continue to come to church despite the messy people there simply because they put up with messy people in the club is like arguing that someone should continue to patronize a roach infested restaurant because they work at an insect zoo. The church is not supposed to be the club, and if I expect messy people at the club I do not have to expect messy people at church. And here is where part of the problem lies. For too long we have held the church out as a place where people have attained instead of a place where people are still growing, Moreover, we have not done a good enough job of shielding the most vulnerable among us from those who through their words and their actions can do serious and lasting damage. If we were more honest about what a church is then people would not have unrealistic expectations about the interactions they may experience.[2]

My second reason comes in the form of a theological query – what is it exactly that makes the church a unique, special, and mandatory place for Christian community? This genuinely confuses me. Sometimes as Adventists and Christians we act as if weekly church attendance is the only way you can have a relationship with Christ and a Christian community.[3]And while it is true that we should “not forsak[e] the assembling of ourselves together,” where is the biblical mandate that this assembly must be the institutionalized church?[4]For example, if a person is attending a regular bible study in which they are creating the bonds of love, friendship, and community with fellow believers, I think that is more than sufficient for their spiritual well-being. Especially if their local church has become a setting for emotional trauma.

Third and finally, I think the original statement engages in misguided victim blaming. The main problem in the case of the lapsed member and the church folk is not the person who left the church. The issue is with the church folk who mistreated that person and caused them to not want to be there.[5]To place the blame on the individual as opposed to the institution or the community is allowing the blame to roll downhill to the least powerful entity. To blame the person who left is to abdicate our responsibility as the church to love and care for the souls entrusted to our care. Instead the church should be a welcoming place where people can come to draw close to Christ, learn and grow, and find a loving community that will protect and care for them as they go through that process.

[1]Besides the most obvious one that there may be some people who don’t go to church but don’t go to the club either. Or the one that recognizes the possibility that someone might actually be treated better at the club than they are at church.

[2]At the same time, a change in culture (and maybe even theology) is warranted as well. It is also true that some of these negative interactions are based not only in how we act, but what we believe.

[3]In colloquial parlance one might say that we come to church to “meet God there,” as if the physical church building was the only place you could to meet God.

[5]Obviously any individual circumstance will be incredibly nuanced, but the pattern tends to be the same – someone (usually a younger person) is improperly and repeatedly chastised for some element of their behavior and they stop attending church because they decide they don’t have to put up with that treatment.

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/jason-hines

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8787
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Our Adventist LGBT community has been the most marginalized, shunned, shamed, denigrated, diminished, despised, and dismissed by church members/congregations.

Quite appropriately, they have voted with their feet.

Although the demographics of LGBT individuals is four per cent (one in twenty five)) of the wider population, I doubt 0.5% of church attendees over the age of twenty five are gay/lesbian.

A good friend, an astute long term pastor of a congregation comprising 1600 members, could not identify one adult gay/lesbian in his congregation!

If the normal demographic were present, he should have SIXTY FOUR adult gay/lesbian members.

That none attend, is a reflection/indictment of the shabby, shameful way Adventists have treated their gay/lesbian offspring.

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Well said. A very god reason not to attend a particular church is because it is dysfunctional and insists on being that way. These churches are generally run by bullies. This is not something you have to be a part of.

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It all centers on our judgmental religion. I have spent 73 years in this church and every single minute of that time has been consumed by either feeling not close enough to following the rules, or later in life, being intolerant of the Pharisees among us. Most of my young life I felt that there was no way “I would be good enough to make it to the kingdom”. Now I have the same feelings but from a different perspective. I find myself being totally disgusted with all the finger pointing and judgmental people I come in contact with at church. Either way, I loose.

Jesus will return, not when this church is behaving perfectly, but rather, when we start to love and accept one another for who we are. God is LOVE, not some rule book and heaven was paid for not by our behavior but solely by the blood of Jesus, who loves us, whether we are well behaved, gay, covered with tattoos and jewelry, or work in an abortion clinic. The behaviors I mentioned by no means cover everyone that God loves. If you think differently, your part of the reason people are no longer in the pews. You’re part of the problem.

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Would you agree that the judgementalism, legalism, and the ubiquitous feelings of never being good enough that is rampant in Adventism, is from the very beginnings of the SDA church?

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I don’t need 20 characters to say YES.

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My next question to you and all SDA’s, how can things ever change to any great degree, when the legalism/judgementalism is foundational? It’s akin to thinking that the LDS church can change to an orthodox Christian denomination, and still have Joseph Smith as the Prophet. I know that many SDA’s would like to truly have the church based solely on Scripture, but I don’t see how that is possible, unless some major, earthquake-level changes take place…and this would cause such an upheaval, that I don’t think anybody wants to go there.

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The very nature of Adventism is what could be termed as putting people under law. And, no matter how we try to dress it up, and emphasize righteousness by faith and the gospel, the reality is that the Law, connected to apocalyptic eschatology (essentially one commandment and food laws), is what is truly the centerpiece of Adventist belief and theology…not Christ. It is Adventism’s reason for being; the name of the denomination says as much. The fruit of judgementalism, conspiracy theorizing, etc., speaks for itself.

The only hope is what happened with the WWCofG. They had leaders who had the guts to look at the gospel and admit where their belief system went off the rails…and then initiated real change. It split the organization, but today, they are a gospel/ grace based church.

I don’t hold out much hope for that, but one never knows. God can bring people with theological perspective and integrity into the picture.

Thanks…

Frank

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Not to make excuses for hurtful behavior…but if one reads the NT, the churches seen there were messy places, filled with messy people. Just look at Paul’s letters. There were no halcyon days. I guess there is nothing new under the sun.

With that said, the denominational institution has no monopoly on Christian fellowship. One must go where they can grow. That can be a place where one is healthily challenged and sometimes uncomfortable…but certainly never where they are abused. If that is part of the culture, head for the doors…

Thanks…

Frank

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True, Frank…

Have you (or others) seen the video, “Called to be Free”, done by the folks who left the WWCofG?

Wow! It’s such a moving and relatable story about their journey out of this group. I wish that all who are under bondage to legalism, or legalistic churches will see this. I watched it twice a few years ago. So well done.

Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWAtvE1xiRk

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Yes, I saw it. Quite moving!

Thanks…

Frank

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Because this just needs repeating…

I’m a witness to that Frank. Thanks.

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I remember it Carol. The degree of integrity that it took for them to recognize and act on that paradigm shift of truth knowing it would splinter their group was so very impactful for me. I filed it under “amazing grace”.

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Sharing "Fear is a Liar"

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Without a doubt this was a traumatic experience for all involved.

I am sorry for the people who weren’t on board with the changes, but I’m still glad to see that some (many?) were set free from such legalistic teachings. I don’t have a clue as to the best way this should have been handled.

Absolutely they do.

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“learn and grow” is the typical generalization that lacks details about process. One grows by eating and working/exercise. Care to make any church parallels?

So that means don’t ever read any bible that offends LGBT, promotes sabbath observance or discourages the eating of pork or shellfish?

ie:There is more exposure to the sabbath commandment in the 4 gospels than all the other 9 commandments put together.

Posters seem to think that church attenders need to be guarded against reading the bible/new testament and hear only culturally correct/accepted/sanitized presentations.

There will always be the rebellious, anarchist element in any group.
Paul mentions them in Rom 10:21

Gideon -

I agree that scripture should never be canceled out - yet my concern is that, while the church teaches that God wants us to do and not do certain things, His instructions are presented as arbitrary displays of His power to boss us around because He created us - rather than His longing for us to be the happiest people in the world. Would you agree?

I love the verse, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” - Deut. 5.29.

It’s my strong belief that the church needs to present His instructions in a way that makes sense to people. We’re counseled that “The man who attempts to keep the commandments of God from a sense of obligation merely—because he is required to do so—will never enter into the joy of obedience. He does not obey.” - {Christ Object Lessons 97.3}. Strong words, and an incentive for soul-searching.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been what I’ve heard in the Adventist Church. We’d do well to pay attention to the light we’ve been given, or we’ll find we’ve been playing right into Satan’s lies about who God is and what He’s like.

The Lectionary Readings for June 3.
Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:6.
The topic is “Lord Of The Sabbath"
When Jesus and the disciples were going through a grainfield [cornfield] of
some sort. Plucking the ripe heads of grain, rolling them in their hands to
take off the shells, and then eating them with CEREMONIAL UNWASHED HANDS.
BIG Trouble!! They were seen by the Pharisees.
But Jesus told a well-known Bible story [Jesus was always full of stories]. Then
said “The Sabbath was made for Adam and Eve and their family. NOT Adam and
Eve for the Sabbath.” THEN [Horrors] says, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”.

They were on their way to the Synagogue for Sabbath services. Entering, Jesus
sees this guy with a withered hand [severe neurological problem of long standing].
Makes the guy come to the front. Tells him to stretch it out. All the tendons stretch,
all the nerves to the muscles suddenly work. He can use his hand, like the other.
[No months of Physical Therapy prescribed.]

Jesus announces that it is Lawful to do good, to do no harm on the Sabbath.
On Sabbath, the Pharisees conspire with the Herodians as to HOW they can
KILL Jesus.

I LIKE Mark! A great story teller. Doesnt draw it out, but keeps your attention. Then
when you think you have it! Drops the punch line in a great twist.

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More support for my constant challenge that SDA pastors & SS teachers are inept.

My advice to them…“You got some explaining to do”

What rubric are you using for judgment?

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