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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ruth Doesn't Get Church

In her splendidly candid post entitled I Still Don't Get Church, Ruth of Journal of Ruth has some interesting things to say. She expresses what I think a large number of Christians feel, things like "I think I have too high an expectations from the church" or "I always feel like I’m outside." One of the biggest, I think, is "They get church. For some reason, they get it and I don’t."

I think that a large number of believers feel like this. I also think that the truth is that most don't. They don't "get church". They don't feel like insiders. They don't even meet their own expectations for church.

One of the comments she made was very interesting to me:
I feel like I can be honest with my non-Christian friends, but I feel like if I really tell Christians what I really feel like, they’ll be uncomfortable.
I suspect she's quite right. I suspect that nearly all believers don't feel like they can be completely honest and up front with their church friends. After all, their church friends get it and they don't. Their church friends are godly folks and they aren't. Their church friends never speak of doubt or temptation or struggles with sin. And, perhaps, the light begins to dawn? They don't feel comfortable speaking about it ... with you, either.

The church has a lot to commend it. First, it is biblical. It was established by God for God. It is commanded. "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another" (Heb. 10:24-25). But it is also very beneficial. It promotes unity, spiritual growth, worship. It provides fellowship, a place where we can bear one another's burdens, a place to teach and be taught, to sharpen one another, to comfort one another. All well and good.

So ... what's wrong? Why is it that many think we have to revamp the Church or lose it? Why do so many feel like "I don't get it" and so few others know it? I suspect the answer is not simple. Part of it is that many, many churches have lost the notion of what church is supposed to be. A large number believe that church is intended to make converts. The Bible says it is intended to build believers. I think many churches have lost the notion of discipleship, part of the Great Commission that seems to be nearly lost today. (We aren't commanded "Go into all the world and make converts." We are commanded to make disciples ... and, oh, by the way, "teaching them all that I have commanded you.") I think there is a scarcity of churches (and, subsequently, Christians) that even know what worship is anymore.

I suspect, however, that the biggest problem is sin. Perhaps it's ignorant sin. Perhaps we aren't aware of it. Perhaps it's not intentional sin. But when we are commanded to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2) and we don't, it's sin. When we are told "confess your sins one to another" (James 5:16) and we don't, it's sin. When the singular hallmark of being a Christian -- love for the brethren (John 13:35) -- is largely missing from the church, it's sin.

I understand Ruth's feelings. I share them. I know what it's like to walk into a church and no one notices. I know what it's like to even try to work your way into the church, to be "inside", and no one notices. I know what it feels like to look at all this "spiritual people" and think, "They get it, and I don't." But these are feelings, and I suspect that the truth is that these feelings are a lie. The problem isn't that they get it. The problem is that we are sinning, refusing to love, and we are not going to talk about it. Now, can we just sing a nice little ditty about how much we love God and get on with the pleasant sermon? Please?

As I said, I don't suppose it's a simple answer. Perhaps there are things the Ruths of Christianity ought to be doing. Perhaps there are things other Christians ought to be doing. Maybe not. But there are clear things that are wrong. Perhaps we -- individuals -- need to start with "I" and work on love and spread that around a bit. We ought to work on "bear one anothers burdens" and "confess your sins" and "love one another" and see ... just see if it makes a difference. I suspect that, at least for the individual who chooses to obey God this way, it will.


Scott Arnold said...


You said, "We aren't commanded "Go into all the world and make converts." We are commanded to make disciples ... and, oh, by the way, "teaching them all that I have commanded you."

Thanks for that insight. Of course, it's true - but I've never considered it in that context.

Now, off to my church to complain... :)


Anonymous said...

I guess I am the odd one out! I feel that I can be far more open with them than any unbeliever.

I suspect a lot of the reasons we do not feel comfortable to be honest with our Christian brothers and sisters has far more to do with our own pride than wanting to be honest.

Anonymous said...

While I do agree with "anonymous" above in some cases, I also know first hand situations where our brothers and sisters in Christ judge us much too harshly when they have never walked in our shoes.

For instance as I went through some issues in my marriage there were those who were supportive and gave sound, godly advice, but on the other hand more were those who decided to blame me for my husband's sins. Sins my husband was entangled in long before I ever knew him, he had just managed to hide them from all of us. He had deceived even the godliest of men.

It seems we have a lot of people in church that believe the Bible is a "magical thinking" fix. If I will just do "X" to my husband then the result is my husband must do "Y." God is forced to carry through and force my husband because my gentle, quiet, and submissive actions set it in motion.

It did not work. It just left the children and me in a bad place much longer than God's Word required. Things actually escalated when I quit confronting sin, my husband viewed it as agreement with his sins.

I had to leave a church because they tried to get me to drop a legal court order and let them make the calls on our marriage. My husband was not in submission to them, nor was he even complying with the court order. They wanted to strip my children of protection.

I have honestly found that far more people outside of the church that know my situation have been supportive than those inside who somehow want to believe the Word would have a woman and children stay in abuse, unfaithfulness, and outright evil in the home.

Even had Christians tell me that God would not allow me to catch a disease from my husband, but guess what? Yeah, I get to pay the consequences of his sin too when I stay with him. His sins gave me a disease that causes growths that become cancerous on my cervix and this is a consequence that will NEVER leave my life.

What really gets me, is the more I study the original meaning of the words in the Bible, I find it is not stating in several verses quite what we have translated it to mean. Things that the church uses to keep women in evil marriages. If I had been taught the truth about those Scriptures, I could have protected my children much sooner.

It isn't liberalism about women, it is truth. I hate the arguments of the slippery slope that soon we will take away the deity of Christ and say it is okay to be gay. The same types of arguments some Christians used to say if we made blacks equal to whites and as they tried to use Scripture to justify keeping slaves.

By the way, I don't hate men. My dad and brothers are wonderful men and would NEVER treat their wives like what I have went through. I have a lot of Christian brothers I treasure as just that. I simply have lost any desire to have another relationship with a man as my husband, outside of Christ, after what we have went through.

Stan said...

"What really gets me, is the more I study the original meaning of the words in the Bible, I find it is not stating in several verses quite what we have translated it to mean."

I understand what you're saying in your comment, but I have real difficulty with this idea. Are you suggesting that there is a "grand conspiracy", an attempt on the part of honest, intelligent, believing scholars to translate God's Word in a way that demeans women ... a way God never intended? The implication is that this "conspiracy", real or simply coincidental, has eluded English translators for more than 450 years (and, I guess, other languages as well for longer).

If you were suggesting that "immediate users" -- individuals who are interpreting the texts -- have misused them, I would agree. Individuals often abuse Scripture for their own benefit. But if the best God can do is provide us translations that have been intentionally malformed for the sake of personal false beliefs, and that no believers have been able to catch these intentional mistranslations (implying their complicity in the conspiracy), well, I suppose that's a God I can't trust in a Church I'd have to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that there is a "grand conspiracy", an attempt on the part of honest, intelligent, believing scholars to translate God's Word in a way that demeans women ... a way God never intended?

I don't know that I would go so far as to call it an intentional conspiracy continued in that vein for generations. Though I do question if the first people to interpret it in that manner did so for the wrong purpose.

But I am suggesting that in the last 150 years we have now found a bunch of documents, including legal papers from that time period in Koine Greek that do use certain words quite differently than how we have been translating them. In my opinion the way those words are translated in those documents should be how they are translated in the Bible and absolutely would not contradict it.

From what I understand only a few translations so far have began using the correct interpretations of the words.

I also fully agree, that even if the common translations were correct, a lot of it branches from traditions of men and are wrong interpretations of passages. Not just about women, but several passages.

I think people can get so stuck on "this is what the church has always believed" even if it is clear it is not what the church always believed to many of us, and they refuse to go back to the truth as taught by Jesus and the first century of the church. It is like blinders are on to protect the sacred traditions.

Stan said...

You've suggested that the translations are wrong. I wonder if you could send me an example of some of those translations and what they should be?