A few years ago, I had an experience at a church association meeting that was so egregious that I was compelled to write about it. If you haven’t read that post, it’s worth the read. (The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians). There is something about the ignorance of some people that continues to amaze me. A preacher I spoke with recently said the greatest thing I’d heard in a while, “In my experience I have found that ignorance coupled with arrogance, is a dangerous combination.” It was one of the most refreshing things I’d heard in a while, because he was right. There are so many churches out there dying because of that very destructive combination. It’s sad, but it’s also true.
I’ve been in church my entire life, and in those 52 years, I have seen and experienced a lot of things. There have been things I’ve disagreed with along the way, but nothing that has been a deal-breaker in my faith. It may be a personal choice of music or teaching styles, or it may be the preference of one program or another, but those struggles are going to happen no matter if you are in a church or some other kind of volunteer group. It’s just part of the journey. I even had a pastor who was so totally against women wearing pants to church (which was nothing but a preference), that I wore dresses the entire time I served in the church with him. If you know me at all, you know how much I HATE dresses! My point is that there are a lot of preferential things that can be worked around if you have a willing heart.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately and have wondered why so many people are running from older, conservative churches, even though some of them are teaching the truth of God’s word. Some observers would say it’s because people want a more entertaining experience, or a less convicting one. Some would suppose it’s because people want to have less accountability. Others would claim it’s because no one wants to be humble and submit to God’s way of thinking. Any or all of those could be true, but I believe the reason people are leaving is the product of ignorance coupled with arrogance. Honestly, so many churches have become better Pharisees than the Pharisees of Bible times. I can’t help but think of how Jesus viewed (and continually rebuked) the views and practices of the Pharisees. They were judgmental, arrogant and hypocritical. They were so caught up in their “righteousness,” that they totally missed who Jesus is and what He taught.
As a woman, I am at a disadvantage in the eyes of some churches and pastors. It doesn’t put me at a disadvantage with God, but there are still pastors and churches out there that see women as less than equal to men. The Bible shows over and over God does not hold that opinion of women, but rather He has honored and used women in all kinds of important roles over the course of time. I do believe that God made men and women differently and created us with certain skills and abilities that are fitting for the roles we often fill. We are different creatures, but that doesn’t make women less intelligent or valuable than our male counterparts. I once had a pastor tell me that the reason Eve was deceived instead of Adam was because the serpent knew that women were totally susceptible to believing a lie. Basically, that she was an easy mark, so-to-speak, which is why she was deceived and Adam was not. In so many words, he said that Satan figured he had a better chance with her because she was a woman, and the fact he was successful in deceiving her proved his point was true. This pastor went on to say that the reason women “as a class of humanity” are more susceptible to deception than men, is because it is part of our “innate female psyche.” By nature, Eve was not equipped to make the kind of decisions that the serpent presented to her, because she was not capable of weighing objective facts and coming to an appropriate decision. Although this pastor did state that there were exceptions to the fact that women make decisions based on a value system rather than on objective facts, he also stated these stereotypes are backed up by scripture AND scientific data (like the Meyers Briggs test). Whether you are a man or a woman, I imagine you are scratching your head right about now. Trust me, it didn’t sit well with me at the time either, but I later realized no amount of discussion or rebuttal could ever change the heart of that pastor. Only God can do that, and it is for God alone to handle.
My point in sharing this particular experience with you is to illustrate, in leaps and bounds, the principle I mentioned in the beginning of this post regarding ignorance and arrogance. Mankind has a way of taking God’s principles and perverting them. Churches love to pick and choose when a verse should be interpreted literally versus when its cultural significance needs to be taken into account (practices and customs that cause certain passages to be read differently today). As human beings, we are selfish by nature, which means we often develop our own opinions and then try to use God’s word to justify our perspectives. Let’s be honest, if you want to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or bigoted, you can absolutely pull single verses out of context in the Bible to substantiate or even support your position. You can write paper after paper or present arguments in favor of your positions, but in the process, you leave out the very most important thing God commands us to do: Love.
The Bible tells us that in Christ, we are all the same (Galatians 3:28). Of course, we all fulfill different roles in life, and God calls us all to individual places of service for which He also equips us. Having different traits, backgrounds, or abilities should not divide us. God sees us the same, even though we are each unique in so many ways. Different is not worse. Different is not less. Different does not give us license, as people of faith, to look down on anyone or consider them to be less than we are. Yes, there are many things God tells us to refrain from or be mindful of, but He reveals to us in Proverbs 6:16-19 the seven things He actually hates:
These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
Take another look at that list and tell me what you see. There is a pattern revealed of what bothers God so much that He actually “hates” it. It is the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, aggressive, deceitful nature of people. He commands us, as HIS representatives, to reflect His nature. He commands us to love as He loves. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus tells us exactly what He expects from us. The religious elite had been trying to debate Him or trip Him up on what He was teaching. One sect (the Sadducees) had already failed in their attempt, so another sect (the Pharisees) took a shot at it also.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What a contrast to what so many churches and leaders have become these days. Jesus doesn’t say to love your neighbors unless he/she is of a different race or religion. He doesn’t say to love your neighbor as long as he/she isn’t a homosexual or because he/she gossips, drinks or acts in other ways that seem contrary to God’s word. He doesn’t give us permission to not love anyone, because He didn’t exclude anyone from His love. He so deeply loved every single person, even those who hated and abused Him, that He was willing to die for them…for us. Yes, there are many behaviors and activities in which He doesn’t want us to engage, but I find it interesting that what God chose to list, through His inspired word, as things He truly hates are those behaviors that reveal our pride, arrogance, and ignorance. He is concerned with our hearts and our character. We are all sinners, and if we try to hide behind our church buildings or cover up our prejudiced opinions of others being beneath us, then we have not only failed in the two commandments that Jesus declared hold up every other directive, but we have displayed the very behaviors that God hates. After all, the only antidote for prejudice is humility.
So, I’ll close with the question I was pondering earlier: Why are so many people leaving Bible-teaching churches? Because it doesn’t matter how true your teaching is to God’s word if you aren’t willing to actually live it. There are amazing groups of people out there who are truly focused on serving God by loving, forgiving, caring and teaching as He did. Find them, join them and be open to what God is doing in your life. Love the unlovable, forgive freely, but be wary of those who refuse to see their ignorance because of their arrogance. Bitterness is sure to follow.