Keys to the Kingdom

25 08 2008

Have you ever had a bad experience with the Church? Have you ever been hurt, burnt or let down by it? Well I have, and if you’ve read any of my previous posts, particularly “Somethings wrong with this picture” you’ll understand where I’m coming from. There are a lot of people I’ve met who left that particular church. Some suggested the number of people who have left over the years would be equal or greater than the number in that Church. Personally I think that is a very plausible idea.
Recently some people in our homegroup mentioned that they werent really enjoying Church. As much as I understood what they were feeling, I just couldnt bring myself to agree with them. I have been brooding over their words for the past week and I understand why they feel as they do.

Many think they don’t have to attend a church to be a Christian. They believe they that reading their Bibles on their own is more spiritually beneficial. Others feel the sermons are too boring, and irrelevant to their lives. Some of my friends won’t go to Church because the people there aren’t friendly and they feel like outsiders.  There are lots of excuses for not going to Church but very few good ones. While I would encourage every Christian to read their Bible, I would never call it a substitute for attending a Church. There are a number of issues with this excuse. Firstly we should not be interpreting the Bible outside the interpretive community of believers. Every good heresy worth its salt starts this way. The idea that we can come to conclusions about a text that no one in history has ever come to puts us on shaky ground. Secondly the objection assumes that all you get from Church is a healthy dose of knowledge. But that is not Biblical. Jesus himself said that when two or more are gathered in His name, He is present. When we gather together as believers God shows up. Rather we are more aware of Gods presence when we gather together in His name. He moves amongst us. He melts our hearts, convicts us of sin, and teaches us. Church is so much more than a lecture. It is the vehicle God uses to reveal himself to us. Thirdly when we complain about relevancy to our lives we need to bear in mind what “relevant” churches can sometimes become. Seeker sensitive and Megachurches spend millions of dollars on huge auditoriums and tweak services in ways to appeal to certain demographic groups of people. Some go so far as to eliminate the word “sin” from their preaching because it makes people feel bad. These churches become man centred instead of God centered. In my experience the pursuit of being relevant has meant that a lot of Churches water down the gospel. They become like a club or social group that seeks to meet the needs of those in the group. But they’re not all bad, and they certainly are trying to get more people into a church. But I question their eternal value if people do not have any decent understanding of the Gospel.

The objection I understand the most is the one of feeling like an outsider. Everytime i’ve joined a Church I’ve been an outsider for a time. Its just the way it is. Perhaps we have unrealistic expectations of what can happen during the limited time we have Sundays, and how long it takes to form genuine friendships. While I encourage everyone in a Church to be as friendly as possible, and to pursue unity, we all have limits. I cannot be friends with everyone because some friendships will suffer, including my relationship with my wife. Most churches have homegroups, or some sort of programme where people can get together outside of Church. I’ve found that the only way to get to know people in the Church is through these groups. Without fail I was an outsider everytime until I joined up. I know how tough it can be break into social circles in Church. This is truly one of the great shames of the Church today. But people need to be a little more thick skinned, patient and braver. Being integrated into the life of the Church just takes time. It never happens overnight.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
(Matt 16:13-20)

Whatever your interpretation of what the “Keys to the Kingdom of heaven” we cannot miss the significance of what Jesus says about the Church. It is something that is protected by God and he will not allow Hell itself to come against it and prevail. The Church is built on the rock of Jesus, the son of the Living God. He is central, the person we rally around and come to worship when we gather. He is the one who has revealed the Father to us and has sent the spirit to be with us. Its also worth noting that the Church was something Jesus himself established. Do we have any right to put down something Jesus himself established?

I have one final concern for those Christians who no longer go to church because of a bad experience. The concern is over unforgiveness and holding grudges. From my experiences I have just as much a right to hold a grudge as anyone else. I have been guilt tripped into giving more money than you would believe. I have had Christian friends use me to climb the social order, and then drop me once their status improved. I have been ignored and treated harshly by those who should have cared for me when I was sick. I have been treated like a number instead of a person. I have been accused of listening to demonic music. I have been told I am going to Hell for being a Calvinist. All this was done to me by people WITHIN the Church. I have every right to hold a grudge by the worlds standards. But I will not. The Lord will not allow me, and everytime I get close I am convicted.
The same grace that Jesus has shown to me I need to show to others.

By refusing to go to church because of a bad experience we rob ourselves. We show how un-Christian our behaviour really is. The Church will always be an imperfect organisation because its filled with imperfect people. But when did we get the idea that we can repay evil with evil? Jesus told us to love our enemies and to overcome evil with Good. We do not wage war with the weapons of this world. We wage war with Love. If you are one of those people who have been hurt by the Church my heart goes out to you. I do not mean to condone or down play what has happened. There are always issues that will need to be dealt with. But as Christians we need to show Grace and Forgiveness to others. We need to let the peace of God reign in our hearts and let everything we do be done in love.

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4 responses

27 08 2008
m slater

“Firstly we should not be interpreting the Bible outside the interpretive community of believers. Every good heresy worth its salt starts this way. The idea that we can come to conclusions about a text that no one in history has ever come to puts us on shaky ground.”

That is certainly a narrow path to follow. Being locked into the beliefs and ways of expression from times past can be damaging and even the kiss of death for the faith’s dynamic growth and continuing study of the Word.
Yet, at the same time the idea that only modern (or post-modern) theological thought has any value is arrogant and naive. The Orthodoxy established by the united Christian church provides a solid foundation for our theological thought and expression, and not one we should challenge lightly. Later theologians and other traditions also must be taken into account if we are to accurately interpret Scripture.
Being able to embrace the insights of both the past community and the present day thought of the Christian community should give us tools to carefully approach the interpretation of the Scriptures.
Doing so on our own though is dangerous ground, sometimes it leads to necessary critiques of current thought, but often it is just an excuse to let our own unacknowledged biases determine our exegesis while deriding others as being biased by ‘tradition’.

27 08 2008
aworthydiscussion

Yeah to some extent the tradition we are a part of determines how we do our exegesis. No doubts about that. If theres one thing Post modernity has shown us is that we bring our own biases and presuppositions to the text. Its impossible not to, at best we can be aware of these. But the problem I have with post modernities deconstructionism is that it creates a false antithises – namely we cannot know anything objectively. We surely can have some objectivity. It might not be 100% objective but it surely is objective enough for what we need.

My point was exhortation to believers not an appeal to tradition or an abandonment of the Sola Scriptura principle. If anything my friends are living a SOLO Scriptura life. Hopefully I made it clear that even when we read the Bible our interpretation should be in line with the interpretive body of believers we belong to, and those who have gone before us. Sometimes I wonder how much is done in the name of tradition. I’d go with Douglas Moo here – if I hear the text saying something different to my tradition I’ll stick with the text, but still keep my fellowship with the tradition.

One thing you should understand about the Church in New Zealand is that its completely different from the Church in America. In America groups are defined, people are Baptist, Reformed, Anglican, Roman Catholic etc…..In New Zealand we have denominations filled with people who care little for denominational boundaries. In my Church we are an independent, we have Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Methodists, Reformed, Arminian, Baptist, and nobody cares or pushes an agenda of their preferred denomination. Its a very different Vibe. The best example of NZ culture is to think of the TV show Ripleys Believe it or not. If the show was made in NZ it would be called “Ripleys: Thats mildly interesting”

I agree that we shouldnt challenge this lightly, only when we see blatantly heretical views being expounded E.g. The health wealth and prosperity gospels, salvation is by merit, Jesus was just a man etc.

28 08 2008
m slater

Interesting, having never been to New Zealand (to my loss from what I have heard) I did not realize how different the landscape was for the churches there. Here you’d have a hard time getting the Reformed and Baptists to get along for a service, let alone getting them to coexist with Anglicans or Catholics (although, those last two might be able to get along alright with each other).
I think this unfortunate reality is a major reason that the emergent church movement has gathered such a following here, the younger generation of Christians is sick of the divisiveness and sectarianism and sees emergent as a way past it.

As for objectivity, truly one of the most positive results of post-modernism is the refuting of this idea that we can ‘just read’ the Bible on its own and get its real meaning, that we can approach a text with no presuppositions. Like you, I think we can minimalize the negative impact they have on our ability to interpret the Scriptures, both by an awareness of them and through the critical-realist hermeneutical approach Wright talks about in The New Testament and the People of God, and other similar proposals like the Hermeneutical Spiral etc.

28 08 2008
aworthydiscussion

Yeah NZ is awesome, I wasnt born here so I’ve got something to compare it to. This place is so green and peaceful its little wonder it has earned the title “Gods own”.

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