Posted tagged ‘legalism’

That Judgmental Evangelical Church!

March 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     March 4, 2019

                      

Carol and I sat back and watched an episode of Criminal Minds last night. We can’t keep up with all the recorded episodes we have on our DVR, thus the episode we watched was from last October.

Without going into the plot too much, a woman is killed and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) team is sent to investigate. In looking at the way the woman has been murdered, investigating who her friends are, and her routines, they summarize that there is some connection between what has happened and the church she attends.

That’s when the term “evangelical” gets used! She was involved in an EVANGELICAL church. The way it’s said you could almost put in parentheses after it “You know…one of those!” as the person turned to the side and spat!

The next scene has the team interviewing the pastor. His character comes off as self-righteous and judgmental. Envision a pastor with a whip! The viewer immediately does not like him and, after all, he’s the pastor of one of those EVANGELICAL churches! You are given the impression that “fun” is a four letter word for him.

Several other indicators are that he and his church are narrow-minded, critical, ready to shun sinners, and legalistic. They probably don’t even drink root beer!

Such is the general public’s, or at least those in the entertainment world, view of evangelicals! I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the episode if they would have just said “church”, but those who produce the show probably don’t understand what evangelical means.

The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangelion”, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, an evangelical church focuses on the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ.

That good news includes the grace of God, forgiveness, love, acceptance, hope, and peace. 

Some evangelicals, rightfully so, have made a mess of evangelicalism! They’ve reversed the mirror of Jesus. Instead of people seeing the image of Christ in his church they see a bunch of people who seem to have been sucking on lemons too long! I’ll be honest! There are a number of people in churches I’ve served who are about as pleasant as hemorrhoids!

It should not be! “Good News” has become religious rhetoric, and grace has been replaced with guilt. 

One of my closest friends in ministry, Rev. Tom Bayes, recently urged me to write a book about “church stuff”. Tom and I, along with our other clergy friend, Rev. Chuck Moore, spent years serving churches in the Lansing, Michigan area and sharing stories over lunches. There was a lot of laughter in the midst of our burger-munching. I think I’ll take him up on his request. The book, however, will revolve around a pastor who laughs, jokes around with the people of his congregation, enjoys life, and exhibits the Joy of life. AND he will be a pastor who firmly holds to the belief that Jesus is “Good News”!

Maybe I’ll even make him…you know…one of those Baptist pastors!

Jesus and Pizza

September 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  September 19, 2018

                                  

My friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, were telling me about a hike they made to an area in Colorado that has some magnificent red rock formations. They were surprised to find people dressed in attire that made them resemble biblical characters. They discovered that the group was there to film a video clip for their church’s Easter service in a few months. A film crew was getting set up. 

And then there was Jesus! He was eating pizza! Ed thought it was pepperoni pizza! 

There’s something strange, but also refreshing, about seeing Jesus sitting on a rock eating pizza. Kind of like seeing the middle school principal dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle at school on Halloween! It just seems out of character or, more accurately, outside of what we expect.

Jesus holding a slice of thin crust pepperoni pizza made my friends stop and stare…and smile!

My daughter, Kecia, who teaches third grade, is always amused by the disbelief she sees on her students’ faces when she encounters them in non-school settings like Target or at a park. She is associated with their understanding of school so much that they have a hard time believing she can be any other place. 

Jesus and pizza would be like that…unexpected and kinda’ cool!

In Jesus’ time people had rabbi stereotypes and messiah expectations. If I read my Bible correctly, there were a number of times when he did and said the unexpected. Sometimes organized religion is more comfortable with a Jesus that is sanitized and spiritually sterile than the Christ who offers grace and forgiveness for the sinful and unclean. In a way, we expect to see Jesus with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, not pepperoni pizza with a splotch of sauce nestled in his beard.

The refreshing thing about Jesus is that he is not confined by our nearsightedness or restricted to our personal legalism. He operates on the basis of who he is, not on who we decide he is to be.

In our concern over keeping anything with a hint of possible sin to it away from Jesus we’ve created a messiah who is about as exciting or appealing as a drink can of Ensure! Thus a non-dancing Jesus, who rarely laughs, never wears clothing featuring vibrant colors, and consumes food that is void of spiciness and sweetness. 

I’ll take a pizza-eating Jesus. Heck! I’m even okay with a Jesus who also has toppings of sausage and ham!

Church Covenants

February 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 23, 2017

                                        

Churches are weird places! I know, I know…that’s a hard thing for a person who pastored for 37 years to say, but I’m owning up to it. Weird…strange…loving, but disapproving…like the free offer you get in the mail, but then find out there’s strings attached.

And the thing is, churches don’t intend to be that way, they just kind of warp into that!

One of those weird things about churches is a document that is called “the church covenant.” Depending on the congregation, the church covenant can be very affirming and loving, or it can be more like Ivy League entrance requirements.

I remember the covenant of a church I was on staff for that included restrictions on partaking of alcohol and participating in gambling. Everyone knew that there were a number of church members who included those two activities in their lives, but didn’t talk about it at church.

No church covenant has “abstaining from gluttony” as a part of their membership requirements!

Church covenants get glued on to the last page in the hymnal, like they were an afterthought, but they get trumpeted at hastily called church business meetings to support someone who has an axe to grind!

They are documents that create a “who’s in and who’s out” atmosphere.

The interesting aspect of church covenants to me is that they come out of communities of believers who are saved by grace, and yet operate out of rules and restrictions. Very rarely does a church covenant include procedures on how to restore someone who has screwed up, and yet grace is often referred to like it’s the holy grail of beliefs.

Churches rarely read their covenants. They are like the fine print that Apple puts on their products that read on for infinity. Click the “I agree” button and head to lunch! That’s why the covenants are in the back of the hymnal instead of the front, like the shed in the backyard that you rarely enter because you hate spider webs.

There is the covenantal language of the Bible…and there is church covenantal language. Church covenants say things like “It shall be the duty of members to familiarize themselves with the church covenant…to endeavor with all earnestness to practice the same (Huh?)…to attend habitually the services of this church.”

My suspicion is that most church covenants were “sacredly stolen” from some other congregation. Why reinvent the wheel? So most covenants are like on-line wills that someone has done all the work for already.

Should we have church covenants? Yes, but make them simple! Create them out of mindsets of grace to help people in their walk, not afflict them in their struggles.

I wonder…yes, I wonder how the covenants of new church plants shape up compared with the documents of long established congregations? What is the language like? Or, better yet, do newer congregations even have church covenants? Do they come to a point…like ten years into their journey…when they decide in their warping…they need one?

Or do they simply covenant to journey together, normal people and weird ones, in their pursuit of being the people of God?

The End of Grace

January 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 28, 2017

                                    

All of our neighbors are familiar with a tree that has been in our front yard since before we moved there in 1999. Just to the side of the basketball hoop, it resembled a pine tree that had been on a Slim-Fast diet…for years! Each year it kept growing towards the sky, but not getting any broader at the base. Our former neighbor would always look at it and say “Um, um, um…pitiful!” We never had to worry about rabbits hiding under it, or trash accumulating around its base.

For the past several years Carol and I have looked at it and discussed whether we should chop it down and raise the property value of our house…but it became a symbolic sight for us. We named it “The Grace Tree”, for it was only by the grace of God that it had not met the blade of an axe.

Several times when I preached about grace I’d use the Grace Tree for a sermon illustration. I’d show a couple of pictures of it to the congregation and hear the sighs and facial expressions of pity.

But grace came to an end a couple of weeks ago!

High winds hit our area and we woke up one morning to discover that the Grace Tree had taken a tumble. Think of it as the end of its stay in “Arbor Hospice!” Just kind of keeled over and done with!

We’ve received no condolence notes from our neighbors, no flowers, or other things that grow out of the ground!

Grace came to an untimely end on January 9! We’ll never know now, but perhaps if it had put some firmness and width into its base over the last 20 years or so the January 9th tumbled demise would not have happened. But you know something? Trees quite often have minds of their own. It’s hard to reason with them and make them see the long-term consequences of tree anorexia! As my mom used to say, “You can talk until you’re blue in the face”, but it doesn’t make any difference.

To be honest the Grace Tree received more grace than it deserved, but it was an ongoing message to us: That the tendency in our culture, and, sadly enough, in the church, is to be the executioners of the imperfect instead of the conduits of grace. Many New Testament followers of Jesus still live by Old Testament justice!

Whereas, many of our neighbors are a bit delighted over the passing of our Grace Tree, I’m a bit grieved. Don’t get me wrong! Carol and I aren’t going to put a grace…I mean, grave marker there! It’s just that the reminder won’t be there every day as I back the car out of the garage, or every time I’m shooting baskets in the driveway. (It did act as a ball stop once in a while!) There are a few things in life that we just need reminders about. What will remind me of grace?

I do still have a “selfie pic” of the Grace Tree in the background behind me! Maybe, just maybe, I’ll make that my new screen saver! Wouldn’t that be ironic, the Grace Tree being my screen saver!