Western Civ to Go

Just another WordPress site

Worse Than Nothing, Part 2

Posted By on December 24, 2017

by Teri Ong 

We have already looked with sadness on the problem of churches cancelling services for reasons that are less than legitimate. Their reasons often are pragmatic and/or humanistic, but they don’t stand up to Biblical scrutiny. As sad as it is when churches cancel services, it is even sadder that there is a large population of people who profess to be members of the body of Christ – the church universal– that cancel service in church for themselves on an almost weekly basis. They find many reasons for forsaking the assembly. 

I have met many people who were church-goers at one time, who now won’t “risk” uncomfortable human interactions to give God His due on His chosen day. Most will not come right out and say, “We don’t go to church because it is more comfortable, physically and socially, to relax at home,” but that is what their given reasons boil down to. Most have been emotionally wounded by a pastor, church staffer, or fellow member, and “just can’t face being wounded again.” One devotional writer whose name I can’t remember right now astutely pointed out that when we say, “I can’t,” to God, we are really saying, “I won’t,” since God always empowers us to do His will. 

Since so many godly men have addressed the issues at stake here, I have constructed an imaginary round table discussion between a wounded saint and a number of wise men of the past. John Newton once wrote of his friend William Cowper, “His satire, if it may be called so, is benevolent (like the operations of a humane and skillful surgeon, who wounds only to heal) dictated by a just regard for the honour of God, and indignant grief excited by the profligacy of the age, and a tender compassion for the souls of men.” (1)   

Though I possess much less skill, it is in Cowper’s spirit that I offer this dialogue for your consideration.  

Moderator:I understand you are having trouble finding a church body in which to fellowship and serve in your town.  

Wounded:Yes, we have visited almost every evangelical church within a reasonable driving distance from our home. We just haven’t found anything to meet our needs. 

 Moderator:How large is your town?  

 Wounded:Oh, about 100,000, I guess. 

 Moderator:That’s pretty large, and I understand you live in America where there is freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. It would be very unusual if there were no Bible-preaching churches in an area that size. 

 Wounded:There are plenty of churches where the pastor preaches from the Bible– probably 20 or 30 at least– but there are other considerations, you know. 

 Moderator:Twenty or thirty! That’s amazing. For most of the history of Christendom, the Lord’s people have had very few choices. In the first place, most of them have had to walk to  church. If they were particularly blessed, they might have had a cart or carriage, but still they were limited to something very near their home. If there was a Bible-preaching church within walking distance, there was probably only one. And often, God’s people were restricted by law to one state-approved parish church, perhaps with an unskilled or unsaved pastor. In other places and times people risked their lives to worship with others in secret. Mr. John Paton, please tell Wounded about your family. 

 John Paton: Oh, aye. My father would walk us some four miles into town for church on the Lord’s day. Of course, not all of us could walk that far. Mother and the little ones had to stay home, but Father would get all he could from the minister’s sermon. Then, when we got home late in the afternoon, we would have family worship and Father would repeat the sermon to Mother and all the children who didn’t get to go. 

 Moderator: That is amazing! Surely your family must not have kept that up for very long.  

 John Paton: Oh, no. You are mistaken. In the forty years that my family lived in Torthorwald, my father only missed church three times. Once when the snow was so deep he couldn’t find the road, once when there was so much ice my father had to climb back up our brae on his hands and knees to get home, and once when Dumfries was closed to travelers because of a cholera outbreak. It wasn’t so hard really. I would have given almost anything to have such easy access to church like that once my wife and I got to the island of Tanna. With the cannibals there, our lives were at risk every moment, but we were there to share the love of Jesus, no matter what. (2) 

 Wounded: Well, yes. That all shows remarkable dedication. But since our whole family can  go, we would like to find something that suits everyone. You must understand, we would like a pastor that is encouraging and uplifting, but not over-long. We want music that is upbeat– not stodgy and dead. We need a good youth program that isn’t all fun and games. And we need a children’s program so we don’t have to wrestle with the youngsters in the worship service. It would be nice if most of the others in the group made the same kinds of lifestyle choices we make, too, so we could feel comfortable. 

 Moderator: I see. John Murray– didn’t your son go to church with you when you were an itinerant pastor to several Scottish villages in the 1950’s? 

Murray: Yes, that’s right. Often our services would go on for two or three hours because it was so hard for folks to get there. My churches were in very rural areas. Many of the roads were little better than sheep tracks. Once the people were at church, they might as well get a good fill of the Word of God and fellowship with other believers. My son was very young at the time and his mother was home with our new baby and taking care of my elderly sister on our croft.  

 Moderator:You must have had a good nursery or children’s program for your son to be able to attend. 

 Murray:The nursery attendant was very stern– it was I! If my little son became sleepy as the service went on, he would curl up in the bottom of my pulpit and sleep there while I preached. With a congregation of only a dozen or so, we all stayed together to worship our Lord. There was no idea at all that we would split up the families or send the little ones off separately. (3) 

 Wounded:That was very creative on your part, I’m sure. But if we dragged our kids out to sit in a small congregation and listen to two to three hours of preaching, they would rebel and never want to go to church again. And to be perfectly honest, that’s part of the reason we are not going to church now. You see, our children have also been hurt by being snubbed in youth group. And when we tried to talk things out with the parents of those other children, they blamed the problem on OUR children. It was all too much for us emotionally. 

Moderator:It was good that you went to the parents. Did you ask for the pastor’s help? 

 Wounded:Oh, yes. He said he would moderate a meeting between our family and the other families that had been cruel to our children.  But he wouldn’t believe that our children were innocent and the others were the problem. He said he could see issues on both sides, and that hurt our family even more. Later he told us that if we were truly suffering unjustly, we needed to count it as a blessing! Can you believe that?! 

 Moderator:Jesus did say that those who are reviled and persecuted are blessed, especially if people are saying things against you falsely for the Lord’s sake. Isn’t that right, Peter? (Matt. 5:10-11) 

 Peter:That’s right. “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:13-15)  

Wounded:But you don’t know how much they hurt us. You have to understand, we’re sensitive people; we’re not calloused like the brutes that snubbed our children.  

Moderator:Mr. Chambers, Oswald, I remember that you had false accusations brought against you at one point. You are a sensitive, artistic man. How did you handle your tests? You’ve been around the world and seen people of all sorts in the body of Christ. You have spoken often about how Jesus uses our trials. What do you say? 

Chambers:The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man– the very thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will allow us to go on until we break our ignorance over some obstacle, then we are willing to come to Him and receive help from Him. (4) [7-21] 

 Wounded:There you go, now, implying I am conceited and ignorant, even after I just told you I was very sensitive. 

 Chambers:I intend to do you good.  The people who do us good are never those who sympathize with us; they always hinder, because sympathy enervates. [8-10] You cannot keep yourself fit if you give way to self-pity. Our circumstances are the means of manifesting how extraordinarily pure the Son of God is. If God puts you there, in a hard place, He is amply sufficient. [5-14] 

 Wounded:Mr. Chambers, I do understand that God uses hard times to teach us things, but we don’t have to stay in a bad place or put ourselves at risk of being hurt even more unnecessarily.  

Chambers:God is determined to make you pure and holy and right: He will not let you escape for one moment from the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. “Is this a God of mercy and of love?” you say. The moment you realize God’s purpose, which is to get you rightly related to Himself and then to your fellow men, He will tax the last limit of the universe to help you take the right road. If you say, “I wonder why I don’t go on with God?,” I ask you, are you paying your debts from God’s standpoint? [7-1]  

Wounded:What do you mean, “paying my debts?”  

Chambers:Jesus said we are to agree with our adversary quickly. Have you suddenly turned a corner in any relationship and found that you had anger in your heart? Confess it quickly, quickly put it right before God, be reconciled to that one– do it now. [6-30] 

 Wounded:I wouldn’t say I am angry with those who have hurt us: I feel sorry for them. I think I have forgiven them, but I just can’t trust them. It’s not worth the risk of being hurt again. To be honest, that is one of the reasons we aren’t looking too hard for a new church. 

 Chambers:The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much suffering in human life. It works this way– if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. Why our Lord is apparently so severe regarding every human relationship not based on loyalty to Himself is because He knows that every relationship not based on loyalty to Himself will end in disaster. [7-30] 

Wounded:I don’t think I’m being vindictive, and I do love God! But you are right about disasters! 

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART THREE 

 

References: 

(1) Cowper, William. Poems. London: J. Johnson, 1808. In the preface by John Newton, p. i.x. 

 

(2) Paton, John.  John G. Paton. Banner of Truth, 1965 reprint. 

 

(3) Murray, John. 

 

(4) Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, cr. 1963. Date references for the specific quotations are in brackets. 

 

(5) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Business of Heaven. Dates listed in brackets. 

 

(6) Lewis, C. S. The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994. In The Four Loves, p. 279, 280. 

 

Scripture references are from the NASU. 


Comments

Leave a Reply