NOT THINKING LIKE HUMANS
I think it was Loren Eiseley who said if humans had designed the universe, they would have made one disastrous error—they would have tried to make it perfect from the beginning. I think of that when I think about God’s church.
THE PROBLEM WITH PERFECT CHURCHES
When churches set out to be perfect, they encounter similar problems to humans who try to be perfect. The first issue is that of self-righteousness. Their response to their imperfections is either to beat upon themselves for their failures or to attack those they blame for their failure. Second, they quickly become judgmental of others in an attempt to score a small victory through comparison with others of lesser quality. But, perhaps most significant is that they are incapable of dealing with shame, which results in the numbing of their sensibilities toward God’s work in their midst.
Perfect churches distance themselves from the imperfect world and quickly develop a reputation for being judgmental. Ask people who don’t attend church what bothers them about churches and many, if not most, will say that they are always judging others.
FITTING INTO THE WORLD
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the churches who have learned all too well the adjustments necessary to organize a successful church. The idealism of the Gospel must be adjusted to meet the reality of the world is you want to be successful. As some would express it, “You have to be realistic.”
Thou shalt not kill may be one of God’s commandments, but it would be unpatriotic to apply that commandment to certain government-sanctioned actions. What if a military chaplain emphasized such a commandment to the soldiers under his care? Can you imagine how long a church would last if it always lent to those who would borrow and gave to those who would beg? Forgiving each person seventy times seven times would communicate that the church had no standards. Loving your enemy and doing good to those who persecute you cannot be applied to national enemies or even those who have disparaged you in a religious debate. Jesus may have prayed to God that we be one, but surely that doesn’t apply to the heretics among us. And how unrealistic is it for us to try to be perfect even as our father in heaven is perfect.
GROWING COMFORTABLE WITH COMPROMISE
So we don’t want to be self-righteous and judgmental and yet when we shave off the sharp edges of the Bible and Jesus’ preaching, do we finally become so comfortable with the world’s way that we lose our message to the world. We may bristle at those who accuse the church of being hypocritical, but behind that response do we bear a deep sense of shame?
WHAT WAS GOD THINKING?
What did God have in mind when Abraham was called to form a people of God? Did Jesus have an incompetent screening process when he called his disciples? Did God not understand human nature and had a failed plan when the church was formed?