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Monday, January 22, 2007

Church Membership: Shattered Dreams

Have you even been in a perfect church? I don’t mean perfect as in completely ideal, I mean perfect as in, “As good as I can expect human beings to be.” Those who say, “Yes” are clearly in it now, and I would guarantee that they’ve been there less than five years, or they spent less than five years in that perfect church.

Whenever we show up at a new assembly, we have an idea in our minds of what the perfect church looks like. I, myself, thought I had found the perfect church, even acknowledging the standard laziness and selfishness of human beings and the impact that has. Yet, a year in, I found that my dream church was shattered.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? 1 Cor 3:3-4 (KJV)

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and a community the better for both.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions as visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself…When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes first and accuser of the brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. 1 Cor 11:17-19 (KJV)

So what do we do when faced with such a condition? If it is true that every fellowship must face times such as these, what is our response? Again, we return to the Scriptures.

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. Gal 6:1-3 (KJV)

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. Luke 6:40-42

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Heb 2:10-13 (KJV)

Can we not see the value that we must place on our brethren? We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of his grace? not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom , too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words or deeds, but only by that one Word or Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-11 (KJV)

The reaction of the Christian to a brother in sin is not to complain about it, abandon the fellowship or even to correct them, but first, to remove the beam in their own eye. I must ask – where is my sin? When have I done sin like this and been unrepentant? When have I done sin totally unlike this and been unrepentant? What about my heart, my relationship with the risen Christ? May God have mercy on us for our judgmental attitudes and failure to recognize that the presence of a brother who sins is grace – grace in that it reminds me that I am a fallen human as well, sinful, in desperate need of His grace and forgiveness. This doesn’t remove our calling to correct – but it is a prerequisite to correcting. What about your heart?


  • Hammertime,

    I have greatly enjoyed and benefited from your series. Thanks again.

    I'm curious about your strongly worded view of "visionary dreaming". What say you of Nehemiah? Have you read Andy Stanley's book, "Visioneering"?

    Is your comment narrowly focused on the context of this discussion / series? Or, do you feel that visionary leadership is un-Biblical?

    Maybe a series topic?



    By Blogger gomatter, at 1/23/2007 10:15:00 PM  

  • GM,
    There are few Nehemiah's, or Stanley's, for that matter. Nehemiah, Habakkuk, and other prophets were given visions as leaders for a specific purpose. Andy Stanley's Northpoint is an example of what appears to be a divine vision of a church given to him. As much as I may not like some of Rick Warren's later political positions, the story of Saddleback surely seems to qualify as well.

    No, the visionary dreamer that is far more common and almost exclusively destructive is us, who show up in a congregation with our own vision of what the church should be, and subsequently set out to make it that way, no matter what.

    We destroy our fellowships this way, by making the assumption that everyone else must conform to our idea of what church looks like. Far better is it instead to condemn ourselves for our lack of faith and failure to submit to God and our brother than to be disgusted with our brethren. After all, we are as in dire need of grace as they.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 1/28/2007 05:15:00 PM  

  • Hammertime,
    I think you make a very strong case for standing for what is right. And in that spirit, i think you ought to QUOTE and acknowldge the paragraphs that are not your own! I have seen a few in 'your' musings that do not belong to you but to others. Integrity is not only preached, but also shown!



    By Blogger jorge, at 4/27/2007 11:55:00 AM  

  • jorge,
    Please read the sidebar on the front page. I intentionally do not "quote", because then we often are dealing with a person's opinion of the personality associated with the quote, not the idea. If I quote Pope Benedict, there will be some accept or reject the idea solely because it came from the pontiff. That's not the idea.

    This site is an exchange of ideas. The source of the idea is irrelevant.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 4/27/2007 12:21:00 PM  

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