From an early age, I recall some terrible examples of poor judgment in the church. In eighth grade, my friend Kristin had to stand onstage at our church and repent in front of the entire congregation for making out with a kid at youth camp. In high school, I remember the pain of having to watch my Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and rap CDs burn at the annual New Year "purification" bonfire. Believe me, it wasn't optional if you were to stay in good favor with the rest of the group.
In college, just for kicks I tried a Pentecostal church, and a few friends took me aside to make sure I wasn't being drawn into a cult. Postcollege and into adulthood, it seemed like I was in constant judgment from those inside the church over having a beer, hanging out in saloons, being late the Bible studies, having poor church attendance, and so on. Now that I'm a writer, it gets even uglier. The most personal attacks on my writing always seem to come from inside the ranks with very little attempt to understand my point of view.
I wish I could say that I think these events are isolated, but as I've shared a few of my stories, it seems that many people have had similar experiences. By simply watching Christians bash each other on Facebook, it's quite obvious that we still feel our job is to straighten everyone out. In the end, the idea of love covering a multitude of sins takes a backseat to "expose the immoral brother." We're worse than TMZ!
I understand the pressure to want to call out false teaching and false teachers, but there is a distinct difference between them. False teachers in the time of the New Testament were people who intentionally tried to lead people astray. Those whom Paul and others felt comfy calling out. But most of the people we call out in no way have a heart to tear the church apart. At worst, they are bad teachers and lousy interpreters of Scripture, history, and context—and God is more than able to weather the storm.
Personally, if I had not grown up in the church, I would have a hard time accepting the truth of Christianity because of all the arguing and disagreements among us. In other words, I wouldn't trust the Bible because the Christians I observed would have not compelling authority in handling the Scriptures.
Pick a New Fight
This statement will probably get me outed, but if the church is to regain respect, we are going to have to stop disassociating with each other and build a sense of family unity, even if our view on certain issues are wide and contentious. We need a new fight.
Let me ask you a question. If you were Jesus and you had just one final prayer for the human race before you left, what would you have asked for? Personally I would have asked for God's help in planting thousands of great churches. Others I've talked to said they would have asked for incredible wealth in which to bless the poor. Others still said Jesus should have asked that one of his disciples become the next reigning king so he could change the political climate. All of these are reasonably strategic requests Jesus could have made, but here is his actual prayer recorded for us in John 17:11:
I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Just before this prayer, Jesus was actually teaching the disciples and giving them final instructions. In John 13:34-35 he said,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.