"Disunity distorts truth, wastes resources, hinders witness, impoverishes worship and discredits the gospel." Statement by an anonymous Irish Methodist; quoted by the Most Reverend George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury at ecumenical vespers, 2000-MAY-17.
Three years ago when the controversial book, “The Shack” came out, I was reticent to read it myself, for fear it would be heretical. A trusted friend talked about how much it challenged her preconceived notions on religious topics, so I decided to tackle the infamous tome myself. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, but one that I was thrilled to take, for it opened to me a new world of understanding of who God is.
Years ago a counselor recommended “Your God is Too Small” to me, by J.B. Phillips. As the title attests, my God was in a box, and I needed to let Him out and know Him as He really is. This was the start of a journey of rediscovery, of breaking the bonds of legalism. The places that say, “We are the only right church,” or “we are the only right Christian organization.”
No matter where I go, I seem to attract people who want to keep God in a box. First in a church that literally said, “We are the only right church.” Then, in a college organization whose secret agenda was, “we are the only right organization.” I had had enough confusion to last me a lifetime.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a new wave of boxed in believers. And in my own church, of which I have been a faithful member for seventeen years. I know my church and the leadership within it are not like my predecessors. Even so, there are some who have created dissension and division, and have put God securely in His box.
Another controversy that has played out in the last few years, including now, is Rob Bell. If spoken, it is as if one had said an offensive word, as it is to some, I presume. After personal experience of others making false judgments of me without getting to know me, I decided to read his work for myself. “Get it from the horse’s mouth,” as it were. Although I don’t agree with everyone
writes, I find his writing style refreshing.
He only says out loud what most of us are thinking. Bell
doesn’t purport to give the final answers, but to challenge us, like “The
Shack,” to open the box and discover God and who He really is. As I like to say, “You can’t throw out the
baby with the bathwater.” As well in
this case, Bell
makes some eye-opening statements that bear thinking.
The boxed in believers like to accuse my church and others of becoming emergent churches. As I said before, I need to go to the source itself to get the truth. The
is a specific organization. The emerging
movement is a postmodern movement in the church community at large. There are different understanding of the
emerging movement, so it is confusing at best, mind-boggling at worst when one
is trying to defends one’s church against accusations of being an ‘emergent
church.’ I don’t purport to be a
seminarian, so I will try to explain this in terms that make sense, I hope. Emergent Village
The first question to ask is do they believe in absolute truth? There is absolute truth, but our doctrine is also affected by our culture, our times, and our communities. Our Christianity is Americanized. Another question to ask is how do they worship? Most churches have a minister, sermon, pews, and once a month communion. The emerging church seeks a more experiential worship, not one that has been so sanitized to be devoid of any emotionality. Another question is what does one believe important? Of course, but another necessary component of Christianity is not only right beliefs but also right behavior. In the story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in that we will be judged by how we treated those who we consider the lowest of society. In being helpful and merciful to the least of these, we are doing the same to Jesus. Another question is who is in and who is out in regards to heaven and hell. The emerging church seems to state that it is not always clear who is on or out. The dividing line is not always so clear. It is not up to us to determine that. Finally, the emerging church tends to lean left politically.
I don’t know if my church is emergent or not. I don’t think that emergent churches are necessarily a bad thing. All I know is that when I discovered Church of the Open Door seventeen years ago, I felt I finally came home. The spirit was alive, and the truth was spoken. Some in the church think things have changed over the last few years. I don’t think so. I just think these same people, the boxed in believers, have anger in their hearts, a padlock on their brains, and an unwillingness to embrace the power-under kingdom that Jesus talks about. Instead of going to the staff at my church, they have chosen to spread their perceptions to others, creating confusion and division in the body. In fact, this is the very thing that Jesus prayed about in John 17: 20-23, that we would live in unity as the Godhead three-in-one, to demonstrate to the world that God loves us. I can see why nonbelievers have trouble trusting us, how can they when we are so divisive? This is not love; it is anger, in which we are called to put aside in Colossians 3:8-15. Instead we must put on love, humility, and patience. In addition, we are called to peace, knowing that Christ is in all of us, all of those who believe.
What can be done about division? I know my church has given sermons about such topics lately, and I don’t know if it has seeped into the boxed in believers’ minds yet. I have known of members who have gone to the church for years and yet still live with such a mindset. This boggles my mind. It’s Church of the ‘Open Door!’ I know I must pray, pray, pray, as Jesus did, so that our witness isn’t ruined. I know I’m not perfect, and have been guilty of this same divisive behavior in the past. It saddens me now, to know how I distorted the truth and portrayed God as an ogre. I still regret that. I need to remember to ask God to help me love those who are angry, instead of being angry myself. Why was I a boxed in believer? I think I wanted to be god, I wanted to control everything and make sense of everything, so I could rest secure in myself and my rules, and be perfect. How deluded I was! I was the epitome of an idol, I idolized myself. I thought I had it all figured out, until division happened while at college. I realized I was my god, and I didn’t know the one and only true God. I had to start over, just reading His Word. I so love the Word, for I can rest assure that it is truth, and it sets me free.
I don’t think division is a problem that can go away. We can’t control what others think. I do think it is the greatest tool that the devil uses to ruin our witness. As I always say, God gave us a brain, and He expects us to use it. Some people just don’t use it. They’d rather let others make decisions for them. That is much easier, but I’d rather be true to myself and God than to an idol. All we can do is pray, and defend the truth, share God’s love, and be free.