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I attend two churches, one that tilts a bit to the right and one that tilts a bit to the left.  It took me a year to figure out that when one of them moves their worship service up an hour for the summer and the other one leaves it where it is, I can attend both services on the same Sunday for a few months.  The churches are only a five minute drive from each other.

And so when I thought of a scripture verse and a possible blog post to go with it, and then that general theme (if not the verse) was mentioned at some point during both services that Sunday, I took that as spiritual landing lights to move ahead with it.  So here goes.

I am concerned about the divisions in the body of Christ, the Church.  I am concerned about deep divisions in the United States of America.  Because this country was founded upon Judeo-Christian based values and ideals, augmented by commentaries of some of the best and brightest minds over the centuries, I believe that the two are connected.  I acknowledge that the U.S. has had mixed results in implementing those ideals.  Yet until now, they have been an inspiration for millions and to millions to do better, to want something better, to believe in something better.

Like the tangle of cords beneath my computer desk, it matters little how the mess began.  It might seem like a fruitful exercise to ponder whether a declining America led to a declining Christian church or did a declining Christian church lead to a declining America.  But at this point it would more likely lead to one more thing to disagree about, one more fine mess to get into.  Right now the priority is to get things untangled.

Since the topic was spiritually inspired for me, I will start from that side of it.  What I am seeing is that how the two poles of the Church get things wrong are mirror images of each other.

Let’s look at the Scripture passage that triggered this blog post: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. – Matthew 28:19-20

Now I pledged at the inception of my blog to use the KJV as my source for all Bible quotes.  But the KJV is often not the version used when I am in church or a Bible study or hearing a Christian teaching.  So certain popular verses will come to mind in an alternate translation.  And the more modern translations are consistent in rendering “teach” as “make disciples of”.  The KJV emphasizes the action to be taken.  The newer translations emphasize the desired result: for people of every nation to not only receive the Gospel message, but for it to have an eternal life changing effect on at least some people from every nation and for that change to have a practical manifestation on their lives here on earth.

It was “make disciples of” that resonated with me on Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church.  But how do you make disciples without teaching?  And how do you teach without first witnessing and getting a positive response?  And how do you get a positive response if non-Christians will not even listen to or read your message; if they stop their ears and kick you out from their presence or shame you into silence?

It wasn’t always this way during my lifetime.  I like to watch old television shows.  They are familiar, I find them more entertaining and they provide perspective.  Lately I’ve been watching old quiz and game shows like “What’s My Line?” and “Password”.  Previously I had been watching “Bonanza”, a show that mixed drama, adventure, comedy and some moralizing.

It is not the purpose of this blog post to postulate how we got from there to here in attitude.  But the difference can be startling, even to someone who lived through the gradual change.  It was taken for granted then that Christianity would be a major component of American life on these programs and it was respected.  Jewish game show panelists had no problem wishing people a Merry Christmas.  Every Friday, Allen Ludden would urge the audience members to attend worship services that weekend and show gratitude for their blessings.  Jewish actor Michael Landon not only portrayed a church-going Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, he made Christianity a major theme on “Little House on the Prairie”, and the focus of “Highway to Heaven” was clearly spiritual and Christian.  (Landon’s character is given a Gentile name, and in the very first episode alludes to Christ’s teaching to turn the other cheek, something with no direct equivalent in the Tanakh.)   Even clearer in its focus on Christianity was the Michael Landon created and produced show “Father Murphy”. While these shows continued for nearly twenty years after the end of “Bonanza” and were bucking the secularization trend in Hollywood, they were highly successful and point back to the way things had been.

There is nothing wrong with Christians wishing for a return to the respectful way that Christianity was treated two generations ago and earlier.  However, the way that many Christians try to bring this about can be counterproductive.

One of the biggest errors that some Christians (usually the more conservative ones) make is expecting non-Christians to live by Biblical standards.  If a person doesn’t acknowledge the Bible as authoritative, why would they follow its rules?  That’s like expecting me as an American citizen to live by the constitution of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel or Japan.  A similar problem is expecting non-Christians to automatically understand Christian-speak.  That might have been fairly likely over 50 years ago when the U.S. was steeped in Christian culture and even the biggest reprobate knew what they were straying from.  It’s no longer true and wishing it won’t make it so.

What are some of the biggest objections that non-Christians have to Christians and Christianity?  I was hoping for a poll, but I didn’t find one.  So I had to glean it from online articles: some written by non-Christians and some by Christians taking a hard look at themselves and their fellow believers.  Here are ones that made the list:

  • Judgmental
  • Hypocrites
  • Unfriendly
  • Shaming and sarcastic
  • Unloving
  • Hateful

Now if this was merely due to people living sinful, corrupt, wicked lives feeling uncomfortable, I would praise the Lord for that.  That isn’t because of what the Christians are doing.  That’s their own consciences convicting them of wrongdoing.  Comfortable people have little to no reason to change their ways.  It is only when they become uncomfortable and can find no peace that they are motivated to better themselves.

I also know that non-Christians do their fair share of hypocrisy, judging, shaming, mocking, turning away from and hating Christians.  So this is a two-way street.

But I think back to a Hebrew National commercials from years ago.  It was based on all the things that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (portrayed by Uncle Sam) allowed in hot dogs that they would not put in theirs because they were held to a higher standard by God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAXvEFqLdm8

Any group that claims to follow God automatically puts themselves in a position of being held to a higher standard by both God and man.  So I don’t mind when non-Christians hold Christians to a higher standard, unless there is some violence or tangible loss connected with it.

It is true that some people are more motivated by the carrot and some are more motivated by the stick.  There are many Christians who only use the carrot and won’t talk about sin and hell at all.  There are many Christians who only use the stick and think they can shame or force non-Christians into conversion and heaven.  Sadly there are Christians who think they are showing love when they are using the stick far too often.  And there are Christians who think they are being compassionate when they are actually hurting others with that compassion.  So it is a complicated topic.

I heard someone’s testimony today.  He found Jesus Christ while in prison.  Upon release he returned home and went to church with a family member.  The people in that church knew about his prison background.  Rather than rejoicing that he would go to church, they all looked at him with expressions of “what are you doing here?”  When it came time for people to greet their neighbor, the person sitting next to him, literally his neighbor on his street as well as in the pew, did not greet him.  No one did.

He left church that day and went back to the streets and his old friends.  Two more years of his life were wasted, all because of a coldhearted church that didn’t evidence Christ in their walk.  But the Lord didn’t give up on him, even if some people representing Christ did.

Driving without a license landed him back in jail for a short period of time.  When he was released, he felt led to walk home 7½ miles instead of calling someone for a ride.  As he walked and meditated, he felt led to start a conversation with the Lord.  He rededicated himself that night.  Praise God, this time he found a church that demonstrated the love of Christ in their walk and in their outreach to a new person.  Many years later, that man now faithfully serves the Lord.

So someone becomes a new creature in Christ and finds your church.  Now what?  Hopefully you greet these people warmly and welcome them into fellowship.  But is that all that’s required of the church?  NO!  They are baby Christians.  On the one hand, their salvation experience may have them on fire for the Lord, but they are still a toddler in their walk.  Going back to that Matthew 28 verse, salvation is only the first step.  They need to be discipled.  They need to learn some discipline, just like any other baby.

Of course it is slowly and lovingly at first.  But this new Christian is only a baby in spirit.  Mentally they are older than that.  So you won’t just be saying “No”, you will be teaching and explaining the right way according to Scriptures.

And just as conservatives are prone to err on the side of legalism with non-Christians, liberals in the body of Christ are prone to err on the side of permissiveness when it comes to baby Christians.  In the name of love, grace and compassion, they are reluctant to correct new Christians for fear of either quenching their spirit or being legalistic.  But while we may disagree on what constitutes sin, it is clear that from the Bible that if we are new creatures, we are also to put off the old sins that beset us and separated us from God.  While we are to remember that we will never achieve perfection in this life, it is the target.

I am currently serving as a mentor in a local high school in a neighboring school district that has a large minority population.  To help us, especially those of us who are white, learn how to best mentor the teenage males, we are being trained by two black men who have made a career in education and mentoring.  Part of that training is reading books they have written.  I have already finished reading “Madd Truth” by Alfonso Wyatt and I am now reading “Soar” by David Banks.  There are similarities in their approach to educating these black teens and helping them grow into young men of achievement.

Discipline isn’t the only element, but it is a key one.  But it has to be the right kind of discipline in the right environment, built upon trust and peer support.  One of the chapters in “Soar” is subtitled “Discipline to teach, not punish”.  When trust is earned, hope for success is instilled and the right kind of peer pressure has been established, teen boys will want to follow the rules, do the right thing and succeed in the tasks put before them, whether in education, athletics, other projects, appearance, or on time attendance.

Yes, they acknowledge racism in society.  But giving black children an excuse to fail in the name of compassion by giving too much weight to racism is not compassionate.  Too many black teens, especially young males, are falling through the cracks when discipline is lacking because it is too tempting to take the easy way out, the excuse that the system is stacked against them.  Just as important, Wyatt and Banks use their lives and the lives of other black mentors to show that success is possible for black men.  Once they have the trust and attention of their students and mentees, their job is to guide and be a resource to help each one find their path of success in their area of interest and talent.  That guidance is based on discipline: discipline in thinking, in choice of friends, in commitment to assignments, even in the route that one takes from school to home.

Not surprisingly, one of these authors, Alfonso Wyatt, is a Christian.  His full title is Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, an elder on the staff of The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York in Jamaica, borough of Queens.  And just as discipline is required for a successful life, especially one when dangers are lurking, discipline is required for a victorious Christian walk.  After all, Christians face spiritual battles.  Even if it is motivated by love and compassion, an undisciplined Christian is likely to succumb in those battles.  A disciplined Christian is equipped to keep faithful to a Christian walk.

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.  And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.  And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.  And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.  Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.  Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.  And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.  But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. – Luke 8:5-8,11-15

Many conservative churches tilt so far towards truth that they become cold, legalistic and fail to show the love of Christ.  They drive people away from Christ.  Many liberal churches tilt so far towards grace that almost anything goes.  They produce little spiritual fruit, although they are a friendly place.  New believers and those seeking God often soon find little reason to stay.  They’d do just as well joining a social club.

Moderation, balancing grace and truth, should be the aim of every Christian church.  Attending two churches on slightly opposite sides of middle ground is a way for me to keep balance and moderation.  While anything inherently sinful cannot be done lawfully in moderation or to any extent at all, moderation is required when one needs to balance two competing virtues.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. – Philippians 4:5

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. – John 1:16-17

God bless,