I think we have a problem. You, I know, are faithful. You love me. You promised to take care of me. You I know.
It's these people who claim to represent you..
I don't like church. I haven't liked going for a very long time, and it's mostly out of habit, and a desire for my children to be around safe people and other children that I go. Though I'm beginning to wonder about that "safe people" thing, given the stories lately. But this thing called church, this so-called community of believers, God.. isn't very much like you.
I have seen more love, more mercy, more acceptance from those who wouldn't have known an altar from a table, who know more rap music than hymns, who sleep in Sunday mornings.. than those who fill the auditorium every week without fail. I have been given more support from outside the church than in it -- far more.
I don't like church, God. It seems so fake, so phony. It's a concert put on to show off, than worship to invite You to show up. It seems designed to pat the good little boys and girls, who never step wrong, on the back, and to burden the rest of us with more rules and platitudes than the old rabbis ever imagined. Grace and mercy seem to be reserved for the spectacular few, while curses and condemnation spread thick over the people already struggling.
I can read just fine. And when I read what You inspired, I am awed and humbled. The overwhelming display of love that is written for the world to see makes me catch my breath every time I read it. But I don't think I read the same version that those in church do, God. Because when they tell me about You, I can't find You in Your book. The god they describe is capricious and mean, demanding and angry. The God I find in the pages filled with Your words is unchangingly merciful, full of care and kindness, patient to the point of death and beyond. How can I explain the difference?
It seems there are only two kinds of so-called Christians, God, and I don't fit in with either. Those who talk about Your holiness and law condemn me and burden me with stipulations and details, from what I wear, to where I go, to the holidays I celebrate and even the food I eat. They blame me and You for every negative circumstance, claiming that I deserved the injustices and the abuses, and that You are causing them so you can be humbling me and molding me through it. Except that when I read Your description of Yourself, I read,
"There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus."
"Come to me, you weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
"Take my yoke, for it is easy and light."
"I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever... they are new every morning."
"Your love endures forever."
"Nothing... can separate us from the love of God."
"God does not tempt man with evil."
"Your faithfulness reaches to the mountains."
"Come let us reason together.. though your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow."
This is not a God who is harsh and unforgiving. But the condemning church has no room for Your mercy.
Those who proclaim Your grace and mercy also condemn me, for not instantly trusting other so-called Christians who have hurt me, equating trust with forgiveness; for expecting actions to follow the words of repentance, claiming that I am not trusting God; for asking them to hold someone accountable, to confront sin, because to them, there is no more sin. It's all "under the blood." According to them, pointing out sin is not love. But when I read Your instructions, I see,
"If a brother has offended you, go to him and point out his offense. If he does not repent, take a witness. And if he still does not repent, bring the elders. After that, put him out of the church."
"Have nothing to do with idolators, sexual immoral people, liars, malicious gossips."
"Separate yourselves and be holy, as your Father in heaven is holy."
"Submit yourselves one to another."
"If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
The call to holiness and accountability seems clear enough to me. But somehow, the condemning church has no room for Your righteousness.
What is a wannabe follower to do?
I'm not a perfect person, God. I fully recognize how far short I come of Your standard. Yet I also recognize that You fulfilled that standard for me, and in You, I am perfect. And becoming more perfect every day. But where can I go to find You.. with arms and feet and words of comfort and instruction? Where do I find Your love in physical form? Where is Your Church?
All I can find is the counterfeit.