Church hurt is real.
Too many times in my personal history, I have been betrayed by people who claimed to love me and pray for me. Too many times, this hurt has been done, “in Jesus name.” None of the following experiences happened at Life Point. In every case, reconciliation was made.
My personal experiences involve false accusations of alcohol abuse when I was still a teenager in youth group. I had a senior pastor try to end my ministry through character assassination before my ministry even began. I had a church member make the baseless accusation that I was compromising the word of God. (He even admitted he couldn’t identify any false doctrine I taught.)
I once called upon a lay minister in a congregation I pastored to preach in my absence. The Sunday I was absent, he called an emergency business meeting to discipline me for the behavior of my kids (all three of whom were preschool aged.)
Those are just my personal experiences. I have heard countless stories of others who have been hurt by the misbehavior of church members and clergy. I have ministered to those who were discouraged by high profile scandals.
As all of this continues, we are increasingly seeing leaders and churches abandon Biblical truth, and attack other churches who refuse to follow suit.
What is happening to Christianity? What is happening to the church in America? How can God be real, and in control, and allow such misbehavior among the people who are called by His name?
There are two simple answers, and then the really deep answer.
Simple answer #1.
People are sinners. The church is an assembly of scripturally baptized believers who have come together to carry out the Lord’s work. These scripturally baptized believers are Christians. They are saved. But they are still sinners. Sinners saved by God’s grace.
With the sin nature still tempting and deceiving these believers, they are still susceptible to sinful choices and self-deception, hence the hurtful behavior. Man’s base instinct is selfishness and pride. Most church hurt is caused by those two things. Selfishness and pride.
Furthermore, many who claim to be Christian aren’t. They don’t believe. They aren’t scripturally baptized. And they don’t gather with the church to advance the Kingdom of God. These false Christians (many of whom have deceived themselves into thinking they are) are often the culprits of church hurt, but not always.
Simple answer #2.
God has a history of being patient with sinners, and with His disobedient children. This patience is marked by His willingness to defer punishment in order to give His children time to repent. Read the history of Israel. They openly rebelled against God for 390 years before He allowed them to be taken captive by the Babylonians. God is patient.
While God’s grace and patience may aggravate those of us who scream for justice, it is incredibly important that we realize that the same patience God has extended to them, He has extended to us. We, too, benefit from God’s patience, for we, too, have sinned, and in some cases, are responsible for the church hurt of others.
And now, the really deep answer.
It’s safe to say that many Christians and churches are not following God’s word, and many have done wrong in the name of the Lord. Many Christians and churches have blasphemed God’s name by tailoring their beliefs and actions to the values of the day, rather than conforming their beliefs and actions to the Bible.
Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen people use scripture to justify racism and segregation, and to justify the marginalization of certain groups of people. We’ve seen people deny the truth of the Bible.
Even worse, we’ve seen high profile preachers fall to sexual sin, some refusing to repent, and others committing financial fraud. Many of these preachers were charlatans to begin with, but the sins of charlatans blaspheme the name of God.
It is easy to focus on our personal church hurt, and the public sins of high-profile Christianity, and (a) become discouraged, (b) assume that Christianity is bad, and (c) walk away from the faith. Such reactions, however, come from not understanding God’s plan with man. The things we see in today’s society do not surprise God. In fact, 2,000 years ago, Christ told us to look for them.
In Matthew 13, Jesus began teaching in parables by giving us the parable of the sower. The parables that followed in Matthew 13 are known as “The Kingdom Parables.” The Kingdom Parables are a prophecy of the future of the Kingdom on Earth, prior to the return of Christ. In them, Christ shows us the future state of the church.
These parables not only explain what is happening in modern Christianity, but they also show that the more these problems persist, the closer we are to the return of Christ. The Lord wants us to understand this, as He said in Matthew 13:11, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus begins the Kingdom Parables with the Parable of the Sower. In Mark 4:13, Jesus said the Parable of the Sower is the key to understanding all parables. That means that the symbols used in the Parable of the Sower carry over to all of the Kingdom Parables. This is an important detail, because failing to apply the same meaning to the same symbols leads to the misinterpretation of the parables, which leads to false expectations, which leads to disillusionment.
Over the coming week, we will explore the Kingdom Parables. However, here is a quick summary.
- The parable of the sower – A man goes forth to sow. Some seed falls by the wayside and is snatched up by the birds (the fowl of the air). Some falls among the thorns and is choked out. Some falls upon stony ground and never takes root in itself. Some falls on good ground and brings forth fruit. Jesus later explains that the sower is the Son of Man (Jesus Himself). The seed is the word. The field is the world. The birds (fowl) is the evil one (Satan and his demons.) Again, these symbols carry over into all of the parables.
- The Wheat and the Tares – A man sows good seed in his field. His enemy sows bad seed (tares). As the plants grow, the man realizes what his enemy has done. Instead of rooting out the tares, the man allows them to abide, fearing that he would lose the wheat in the process. At harvest time, the wheat is separated from the tares. The wheat is gathered into the man’s barns, the tares are burned. This parable symbolizes the effects of a false gospel being spread throughout the world, and how the followers of that false gospel can infiltrate God’s churches. Instead of trying to root out the followers of the false gospel, we should bring forth fruit to honor our Lord. Doing so draws a contrast between the believers of the true Gospel, and the believers of the false gospel. This parable reinforces the symbolism of the Parable of the Sower.
- The Parable of the Mustard Seed – This is one of the most misinterpreted parables. A man (the sower, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ) sowed a grain of mustard seed (the word) in His field. The seed is small, but grows into a mighty tree, such that the birds (Satan and his demons) lodge in the branches thereof. This parable teaches that, as the Gospel and Christianity gain influence in the world, Satan and his demons will show up in order to pollute it. (Seriously, ever seen what an abundance of birds like grackles and buzzards will do to a tree?) This parable explains why bad things happen in churches.
- The Parable of the Leaven – Leaven is always symbolic of sin. It’s why the bread we use for the Lord’s supper is unleavened. Christ was, and is, sinless. It’s why the Israelites were told to sweep out the leaven from their homes in preparation for Passover. That massive cleaning effort symbolized repentance. In the Parable of the Leaven, a woman takes the leaven and hides it in three measures of meal, until the whole lump was leavened. This parable shows how infectious sin is. It can infiltrate everything, and it does. This parable shows that a time will come when even on its best days, sin will be rampant in the church. (And this should be no surprise. The Apostle Paul wrote that even when he would do good, evil was present within him.) This parable not only explains why bad things happen in churches, but also why sometimes it seems that everything is self-serving.
Following the parable of the leaven, the Lord further explains the wheat and the tares before giving a few more parables that explain our salvation and redemption. All together, the parables explain why things go wrong, and how the Lord redeems us from such.
So, when I experience church hurt, I remember that the ones who offended me were merely acting out of their own hurt and misunderstanding, that the Lord loves them, and that He loves me too. Understanding that, along with the fact that the Lord is still in control, and He is still coming to establish His Kingdom on Earth once and for all, I am able to better heal from such hurt, with my faith and relationship with the Lord in tact.
Have you experienced church hurt? Feel free to share your story with us.
Pastor Leland Acker has led Life Point Baptist Church since its founding in 2008.