Where Have They All Gone? Part 1: Considering a Spiritless Church

My school recently renovated our student center. It’s beautiful and new and exiting, complete with cafeteria restaurants and gender-neutral bathrooms. As a whole, our campus is fairly diverse—right in the heart of Detroit. We’re situated between churches, mosques, museums, art galleries, concert halls, and iconic bars. My friends and fellow students on campus are a kaleidoscope of various skin colors, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, genders, religions, and abilities. Inclusiveness is in our mission statement. We’re far from perfect; but I think we try to give each other enough room to breathe.

Detroit from WSU.png

Last Sunday my Pastor continued a recent conversation in our church about healing and allowing the power and presence of God to transform us. I’ll have to download it because I was working in the back with the kids. But he gave the teachers his sermon notes. On it, the following quote:

“If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”1

The central aim of Jesus Christ is the establishment of his kingdom. In John 6:38, we see this invasion. Jesus comes to do the will of his father (i.e. to see the dominion of God expanded on the earth). We get this sense as Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the same way: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”2

This kingdom looks entirely contrary to the world around it. The reality of heaven is manifested through Jesus as he heals the sick, raises the dead, and casts out demons—and this is his instructions for those who follow him.3 This is the beautiful world Christ came to restablish: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news.”4

But as the quote points out, this radical nature of Christianity is missing in our churches. Eugene Peterson writes:

“The church in which I live and have been called to write and speak has become more like the culture . . . than counter to it.”5

My recent podcast gathered perceptions from non-Christians about their perception of Christianity and Christians in general. The response was hard but necessary: the Church has become the very antithesis of Christ’s message. We’re known for judgment and hypocriticalness—certainly nothing distinctly Christ like.

Several years ago, my pastor reviewed Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden. He shared his response to a few passages in the book:

“For a growing number of people in our world, it appears that many Christians support some of the very things Jesus came to set people free from” (18). I agree. American “Christianity” is largely far, far from the Jesus story.6

In Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Michael Brown writes:

“We are so used to the ‘outer fringe of his His works’ that we often forget the inner essence of His ways (Job 26:14).”7

In my podcast, I recorded a dear friend of mine and member of the LGBT community who shared his experience of religion in his church. Christianity had excommunicated him from his family and community for being gay. This religion told him that he was deformed and cursed. In the end, he rebuked Christians for not following their own advice—love. He quoted 1 John 4:8, that “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” He simply asked that Christians would treat LGBT as humans.

We’ve lost the “inner essence of His ways.” We’ve forgotten how to love. How far have we fallen when those outside the church are asking that we treat them with basic human decency?

My pastor continued his review:

“How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, ‘I have been anointed to preach good news to the poor?'” A great, guiding question. And I’ll bang my drum loudly again: How do kids swimming in the waters of philosophical naturalism take seriously a Messiah who turned water into wine and rose from the dead?8

So what should the Church look like?

“The church is the living, breathing, life-giving, system-confronting, empire-subverting picture of the new humanity” (169). Truly. And not without the Holy Spirit’s power. Otherwise we might as well start waving candles and singing “Imagine.”9

Part 2: Facing Facts on the Exclusion of LGBT in the Church

[1] Michael L. Brown. Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire. Charisma House: 54-55.
[2] Matthew 6:10.
[3] See Matthew 10:5-11 and John 14:12.
[4] Matthew 11:5.
[5] Eugene Peterson. Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life. NavPress: 107-08.
[6] See #2: http://www.johnpiippo.com/2009/01/jesus-wants-to-save-christians.html.
[7] Brown, 27.
[8] See #12: http://www.johnpiippo.com/2009/01/jesus-wants-to-save-christians.html.
[9] See #16: http://www.johnpiippo.com/2009/01/jesus-wants-to-save-christians.html.


3 thoughts on “Where Have They All Gone? Part 1: Considering a Spiritless Church

  1. I’ve attended a number of churches in this area and I know that they’re not diverse nor accepting. It’s a lot of mostly old white people who run things the way that they want to. I remember hearing the pastor say: “If a gay couple walks in here holding hands and kissing on each other; we’re going to accept them and love them!” Then he proceeded to give a sermon about Biblical marriage, gender roles, male headship, and female submission. I think such attitudes are why members of the LBGTQ community in this area know better than to bother attending churches in this region; because they would be viewed as terrible sinners who are a renovation project that they have to fix by gutting them and rebuilding them in the Church’s image.

    1. I think you’re right. When we focus our conversation around sin, we’re inherently connecting an entire group of people with failure. Churches tend to focus these issues around sin instead of grace—and our members become projects instead of family. I’m certainly not asking anyone to compromise their moral fiber. But let’s not allow our theology to compromise our capacity to love.

      Thanks for comment.

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