The church can let you down.
It hurts my heart to write those words. Nevertheless, it should be said, as this week I was reminded of the sobering truth by multiple conversations. I was reminded of the failure of a church body to walk along side a member.
In one instance, certain personalities in the church (high ranking personalities at that) had ostracized a member over some differences in preference. Now, let me be sure to outline that this was not church discipline, and these differences were not of a theological or moral nature. Simply put, they did not like this person because she was different.
On another occasion, I had a tear-filled conversation with a student. The past year of their life was filled with hardship and poor decisions. As hurt became depression, the student turned to substance abuse and unhealthy relationships. The student slid into a lifestyle that pulled them far from God and the church. The result was an intentional distancing from friends in the church. And, to the shame of the church, they let her slip away.
Now, to be certain, the guilt for the events that took place in both of my examples must not be laid completely on the respective churches. Indeed, both individuals made poor choices. In both examples, the individuals pulled away from the church. Sin loves secrecy, and it wants people to push away from the rich community church is supposed to provide.
That being said, the church let them down.
Back in the beginning, God made the statement that it is not good for man to be alone. Now, in context, it was this realization that gave birth to the woman and the institution of marriage. However, on a broader level, this was also the birth of human fellowship.
Truly, we were created as relational beings. We were made in the image of God, who exists as community in trinity. Furthermore, God created man a helpmeet and friend, and God walked with Adam in the garden. Simply put, we were made for fellowship. It is a basic need just like food and shelter.
Yet as primary as fellowship is to the human condition, as central as it is to the core of humanity, we have never experienced true fellowship.
Sin destroyed fellowship
As the curse wrapped around all of existence, it sunk its claws deep into fellowship and drained out its life. We have never experienced real community as God fully intended it to be. Most of us have no idea what real community is even supposed to look like. We stab each other. We hurt each other. We let each other down. All the while thinking we are good friends. Even the closest friendship is a shadow of what friendship was intended to be.
So it is with the fall
It is our sin nature that causes us to fail in our relationships, and no one is exempt from letting another down. We have all been the victim and the culprit. And we are all sore, bruised from the effects of human failure in fellowship. You see, fellowship touches the inner most parts of the soul. It, by nature, opens up the vulnerable pieces of a person’s heart. Inevitably, this will cause pain at some point, as someone will abuse it.
For most, the stab digs so deep into those softest parts that they become afraid to let anyone close to them. Once the pain of betrayal is felt, hard calluses develop to shield that which is vulnerable from the possibility of another attack. Then, they live in relative isolation. Sure, they live around people, and even do stuff with people, but they will not let anyone into those shielded areas of their lives
Unfortunately, many churches operate this way.
Why? Because they are made up of people, not because there is something wrong with church altogether. The church as an institution was God’s idea, not ours. We did not establish the church, God did. It is God’s instrument on earth for bringing about his kingdom. When done well, church is the closest expression to true community that has existed since the fall. Though feeble at times, the church is the best picture man has of authentic fellowship. In this, howbeit not exclusively, we proclaim the gospel to those outside our community. However, we frequently forget that we need the gospel just as much inside our doors.
When we begin to struggle, when the world gives us a blow and sin bears down on our soul, as soon as trouble comes our way, the temptation is to hide. We have weak fellowship in the church, and we are afraid that we may get burned, especially in cases of moral failure. The last people in the world we want to tell about our sin are the people in the church. So, we run.
We run from the very thing God gave us to overcome our individual struggles. We push ourselves away from the healing balm of the God-ordained community. This balm stings at first, but over time, it makes the body well again. Nevertheless, in order to avoid the initial sting, we let our calluses harden over the sensitive issue that needs addressed. We keep the medicine of fellowship and accountability from ever reaching the problem.
Let that not be your testimony.
Instead, when the battle is too hard, run deep into the arms of your church. Even if they have hurt you in the past, do not overlook this most precious gift of God. Certainly, it is not a perfect community. Often times, it is far from it. However, it can be a wellspring of grace for the weary and wounded soul.