Why does the church do this?

Addie Zierman has a follow up post to her open letter to the church, where she says the cynic she was mostly talking about was herself.
But then she came home, and the Church People smiled empty smiles and spoke empty words, and she spiraled. They joined an evangelical church. A house church. Another evangelical church. All those buildings, all those people, all that hot dish -- and still, she was a ghost.
One night as a last ditch effort, she went to a Beth Moore Bible study, and she needed someone to look at her and see it. She needed them to say, "Are you OK?" But instead they said, "If you were a fruit, what would you be?"And while they giggled and said orange! and raspberry! and pear! she slipped out early, drove home fast and furious, too mad to even cry.
I started wondering why the church does this. Why, when we all proclaim our allegiance to a Savior that comes to seek and to save the lost, who accepts anyone and invites us all to come, do we forget all that and set up a new set of rules to demonstrate that you really know God and are theologically sound and a trustworthy person -- and then say explicitly or implicitly, "do these things, and we'll accept you."

I thought at first maybe we were too fond of the stories where God makes a swift move and the problem goes away. The disease is healed, the new employer calls out of the blue the next day, or the enemy bows their head and accepts the Lord. I'm not sure that is the whole story.

Could it be we still haven't fully accepted the Gospel? Specifically, we haven't accepted the bad news that makes the Good News so good. We really need him. We're messed up without him. We'd like to think we got back on our own feet, maybe. We'd like to think that that desperate moment when we knew all we could do was cry for mercy happened oh so many years ago, and we've advanced so far now. Now we're almost arrived, we're mature and we know how to live. Do we subtly think the plea for mercy because we were so far beyond ourselves was a phase we went through, now we're out the other side, and we can tell ourselves what we need to know now? And all we need now is our standards of behavior, and our complete doctrinal statement?

But if we understood deep down that God loves us and wants to make so much more of us than we can make of ourselves, we could look at desperate people and know what to say. "It's OK, he loves you, and I do too."

The dangers of being too positive

Evangelicals tell and retell stories about dramatic changes and sudden answers to prayer. They're great. I had this need, I had this problem, I prayed, and God answered! The solution appeared! But how often do we talk about those other problems, problems that hang on for years, challenging us when we pray to keep on asking and not give up?

I thought of this when reading Addie Zierman's recent blog post. It is an open letter from people who left the church to the church.
"Once, we believed quickly and entirely, our faith in the church people and in God all tangled into each other. We believed that you who loved God would be different, and no one ever confessed that Christians are broken too ... We are constantly aware of the darkness: yours and ours. The whole wide world, broken and dying, hurling herself into the abyss."
"We need you to sit with us in the mad season for as long as it takes. We need to hear your stories – the messy ones, the hard parts. We need you to tell us the pain of it without skipping ahead to the happy ending."
"Maybe we can face our darkness if you are honest about yours."

She says its hypocrisy to keep silent. I'm not sure its deliberate hypocrisy, at least not for many of us. But if we only tell the stories of God working rapid transformation, we won't talk about hanging on and being faithful with a problem that doesn't go away.

Is waiting part of God's promises?

It seems that way.

  • God promised Abraham his descendants would occupy the land. But he and Sarah had to wait long years for Isaac to be born. 
  • God promised Abraham his descendants would occupy the land. But they still had to go through years of captivity in Egypt.
  • God promised Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. But Isaac had to pray to God so that Rebekah would conceive. (Gen 25:21)
  • Moses believed God would deliver the people of Israel through him. But the call to go to Pharaoh didn't come until he was 80. 
  • God sent plague after plague. But Pharaoh hardened his heart, then God hardened Pharaoh's heart so he wouldn't let the people go. 
  • God gave the prophets promises of a coming Messiah. But the people had to wait for centuries. 
  • We've been in the "last days" for nearly two thousand years. 
So why is it so surprising when we have to wait, when we're confronted with circumstances that seem to deny the promises of God?