Another Look by David Faust
Flipping through the TV channels, I ask myself, “If I were not a believer, what would these religious programs tell me about the Lord?” It’s not a pretty picture. One channel shows a preacher yelling dramatically and ungrammatically while organ music wails in the background. Another channel takes me to a group of expressionless nuns chanting “Hail Marys.” Another shows a big-haired woman with heavy makeup sitting on gaudy gilded furniture while the audience shouts “hallelujah”—especially when she mentions healing and prosperity. Still another program features a woman making incomprehensible statements about the Bible, and “incomprehensible” isn’t an overstatement; hardly a single sentence makes sense.
What does it say to the watching world when a Florida minister grabs headlines by threatening to burn the Koran on 9/11? Or when another church demands in a Supreme Court lawsuit to carry signs that say “God hates you” and “Thank God for dead soldiers” at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq? What does it say when ministers hesitate to say the name of Jesus in a public prayer?
What are we saying about God when we worship carelessly? I visited a church where the minister prepared the congregation for the Lord’s Supper while two servers carrying Communion trays stood in the back of the room laughing and joking, oblivious to the holy emblems they held in their hands. At another church a bored-looking lady sat filing her fingernails—loudly—throughout the sermon. Matters of personal hygiene aside, I couldn’t blame her for seeking a diversion. The preacher, obviously unprepared, asked the congregation, “What does sanctification mean?” (An important topic, but maybe not the most pressing question his listeners were facing that week.) The preacher explained that “sanctification” means “to be sanctified!” That was the extent of his answer. (It’s hard to argue the point.) But none of us can claim immunity to careless worshiping. Have you ever sung “I Surrender All” while holding onto a selfish desire? Have I ever prayed “Thy kingdom come” without being willing to say “My kingdom go”?
What are we saying about God when we divide needlessly? A quarrelsome church fractured by conflict and sectarian hair-splitting doesn’t appeal to a world in need. Most of our un-churched neighbors couldn’t care less about our Christian intramural debates, but they will know we are Christians by our love. That’s why we must make every effort to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In his book, Together in Christ: More Than a Dream (College Press, 2006), Victor Knowles observes, “Our disunity has been a disservice to the world. . . . Many a lost soul has pointed a finger of accusation at a divided church. ‘If you people who claim to be Christians can’t get along, why should I come and join you? I’ve got enough troubles of my own.’”
What are we saying about God when we live hypocritically? Two-faced Christians obscure the face of Christ. Remember how Jesus described the Pharisees? “They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer” (Matthew 23:3, The Message).
In a social climate adrift in religious confusion, the church needs to speak with a steady, unified, and reasonable voice. God has a life-saving message for the world. Let’s make sure we deliver the mail.