Learning the hard way

3 09 2008

There are no new heresies, only old ones repeated. That statement always rings in my head everytime see someone promise us a deeper insight into life that we have missed for centuries. There is one insight that never stops ringing true. Wisdom & Discernment come with age. No matter how much I study the Bible and how well I verse myself in theology I still fall for some of the old heresies that crop up from time to time. One major heresy was that I fell for hook line and sinker was that of a “deeper” spiritual life. Now if we’re honest its something we all want. Who wouldn’t? But in my case it lead to some seriously legalistic behaviour. 
The first church I joined in New Zealand was a large pentecostal/charasmatic Church. One of the largest in the country. They were very professional. They had two video screens going and a congregation of over 2000 people. But as I would come to learn they were almost too proffessional, and being a member of that Church came with a high commitment price tag. The first day the youth pastor invited me and brother over to hang out. He was a nice guy and we skateboarded round his house for a while. He advised me to start with their introduction to church course which would get me involved in the life of the Church and would help me to meet people. So i signed up, and the course took 21 weeks to complete. When I told people about the course many jaws dropped, which I found strange at first, after all I was on a path to a deeper spiritual experience and they were just jealous right? But once the course(s) finished I was in a team, the outreach team. I was thrilled to be a part of furthering God’s kingdom, and being on the frontlines. More importantly for me I was happy to be around people and glad to be making friends. Its not easy when you immigrate to a new country, friends are hard to come by.

What I didnt realise about this team was that the commitment went far beyond a once a week meeting and the odd outreach event. It consumed all of my life and not in a good way. We ended up having a meeting on a tuesday and a wednesday. Thursday nights were prayer meeting nights, Friday was a youth event night. Saturday morning was outreach time until 1pm and on Sunday we were expected to attend both morning and evening services. Now I would have been a fool to rebel against the Church having signed up for this kind of commitment. I needed to learn how to say no, but the expectation that came with that, was that you were less of a Christian if you werent doing all these activities. The pastor preached a sermon on the parable of the Sower once. The thrust of his argument was that if you’re not working hard for the Church you’re a 30 fold Christian instead of 100 fold. The same attitude came from within the congregation. People were always trying to convert me to Christian music. People said my band should play Gospel music and not Rock music. I found it hard to believe that old wineskin was still around. Eventually I left the outreach team, and left that Church in search of greener pastures. There were a lot of things wrong that place, but I’ve come to realise that there are a lot of things wrong with every church. Its easy to look down on them now with hindsight, and with a better theological grounding, but the Holy Spirit will not let me. In their defense, they boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and the only way to salvation. They are trinitarian and preach the word of God every week. They do a fantastic work for this community and have sent plenty of missionaries to the rest of the world. The Apostle Paul would be glad that Christ was preached.

But that same kind of legalism that gripped me gripped my Father over 30 years ago. He moved into a commune with a few people from the Church who wanted to “get spiritual”. Eventually meetings had to be held everyday. Anyone who dissented was unspiritual and guilt trips were the normal way of getting things done. It became a cult. Luckily he emerged largely unscathed. The minister preached from the pulpit that my Father had been found drunk and stoned on the beach that week he left. A complete lie of course. My Father had the right to hold a grude but he didn’t and still doesnt to this day. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in him that has enabled him to forgive.

God is faithful and showed me wisdom through the experiences of my Father. Sometimes we only learn by going through these experiences. I don’t have the benefit of being 57 years old. John Piper echoes the same sentiment, when talking about the quest for the historical Jesus, in his book “What Jesus demands from the world”. Those who are older can be great teachers to the young, especially in the Church. But our treatment of the elderly seldom reflects this. The elderly have a wealth of wisdom and understanding. Particularly those who have studied the scriptures at length. They have gone through all the ups and downs, the good times and the bad times. Many have experienced spiritual depression, and asked all the hard questions. Young people would do well to learn from older people. Sometimes I wished I could have had their insight to avoid making all the mistakes I did. I’ve sure got some good stories out of it though.

Proverbs 20:29 “The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head.” This verse sums it up for me. While we are young we are invincible. Our strength is unbeatable. There is no mountain to high for us to climb, no valley to low for us to plunder its depths. We are energetic, enthusiastic and idealistic about the future. We can beat any sin, solve all the worlds problems, and reconcile all difficult theological problems. The answers are simple to us. We are strong. We bounce back easily. Older people are not the same. Less idealistic, slower to jump into things. The wisdom that comes with their age has taught them all the hard lessons I am slowly learning. One day when I’m old I hope my kids won’t stick me in a home. I hope they will cherish me and value the input I can give. But I’m sure they will do exactly what I did, make all the same mistakes  and grow up to be just like me.

This Sunday is Fathers day and right now my Father is off on holiday in France celebrating over 30 years of marriage to my Mother. I hope that as I grow old my wife and I will be as happy, as solidly grounded in the word, and as wise as them. Of all the things you could want in life good parents are probably near the top of the list. Grace and Peace to you from our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit.




2 responses

5 09 2008
m slater

I think we have all had bad experiences with churches, and the pressure to show your commitment to God through your commitment to church is often part of that.
Now I think it is vitally important for us to be a community, for us to fellowship with other believers. Yet, that said, where do we get the idea that if your church attendance is not perfect, or you don’t go to Sunday School, or mid week prayer group, or whatever else that this makes you a bad Christian or less serious about your faith than other people? I see that all too often, and though I think those are all good things, I can not tell you how frustrating I find that approach to Christian living.

7 09 2008

Yeah I agree, i just wish more Christians would spend more time being human beings than superman. From my experience that idea doesnt just happen in a vaccuum, it comes from the top down and becomes the culture of the Church.
Some of the Churches I went to said Grace wasn’t important for the Christian Faith, and we shouldn’t preach on it. Others said things like “Clean Bible = Dirty Christian”. Somehow they always managed to link your church attendance and activity to Salvation and Security.

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